Monthly Archives: March 2014

Memory Lane – Shark Lark

Shark Lark was an interesting  effort. Where Battle for Berlin used some hidden placement, Lark was all about it.

So there is a game grid, something like 10 or 15 on a side, all water with beaches along the east and west edge. At the beginning of the game, you could pick how many players (yes, it was multiplayer in a hot-key sorta way) and how many sharks.

Sharks would cruise at one or two squares a turn, holding a course and only turning when they hit a beach or board edge. If they detected a player, they would charge at three. Half the time, their fin would be visible (the “^” character).  If a shark hit a player, he was dead.

Players could run three squares on sand, swim slowly at one and fast at two. Of course, swimming fast mean sharks could detect a player further away (I don’t remember just what these ranges were). Once a player was detected, up came the fin and the race was on.

This game revealed a funny strategy – it someone tipped off the sharks and they were going for him, that was the time to stroke for it because sharks would not switch targets. Also good for laughs were players getting killed on one turn, then killed again and again as other sharks came in over following turns. Hoo boy.

We actually played this game once or twice at the Edain Wargame Club around 1980 or so – it was fun for ten players to try to get across the straits and maybe one or two make it. But I was learning more about coding and from this foundation, I started what would be one of my most solid games, Pits of Seth!

Memory Lane – Battle for Berlin

I bought my Atari 800 for one thing – Star Rangers. But the computer came with Basic (via a cartridge) and a big manual for how to use that language. And since I had a job as a security guard and had nothing to do in the overnight shift save read, I decided to see how programming worked.

I remember sitting on a loading dock at my little presswood desk, the manual in my lap, having an epiphany.

With a computer, you could hide values!

Even better, you could ACCESS those values! And you didn’t even know what those values were!

This was an amazing thought. Back then, games were physical things, with maps and counters and hexagons. The only way you could hide values was to flip a counter upside down (and let’s not talk about the chance of staining the counter with finger oil or ripping the paper backing or anything like that). The moment you had to check that counter’s identity, you knew what it was. The secret was out.

But with a computer, a value could remain secret. In fact, the actual presence of the counter could be hidden. The possibilities (in 1980) were amazing!

Battle For Berlin was my very first working game. Essentially it was nothing more than a three-way battle (between American, German and Russian soldiers) for the 3×3 grid of “Berlin”. You could move or you could shoot. If you saw someone and shot at them, you had so-so chance of killing them. I think some squares had descriptive elements (so you, and others, could figure out your locations). I even seem to recall random artillery coming down, killing players in a given square and moving things right along. As I remember, the point of the game rapidly came down to assembling your little group of randomly placed soldiers back into something like a platoon, so you could pick off individualists.

I remember playing this thing with my brother and his friends and having a pretty good time. And how amazed I was that the computer could act as a dungeon master and referee, hiding things from its players and acting upon circumstances we didn’t even know.  That idea burned in my head, and came to light fully in my next effort, Shark Lark!

A lifetime of games

I can’t say why I’m writing this, other than the fact that I woke up in the pre-dawn stillness, cat curled under my arm, the world silent outside the open window, with a remembrance of all the games I’d written in my life.

I’m going to list them here, and in future posts, will describe each one in detail.

How many have you played? (and if I forget one, please remind me)

The list (in order of creation)

  • Battle for Berlin
  • Shark Lark
  • Pits of Seth
  • ???? of Seth
  • Estates of Seth
  • Game aids for StarWars, Top Secret, Maatac
  • Eagles
  • DeathRace
  • After the Fall
  • CyberTank (and CyberShip)
  • Shark Lark
  • Iron Mike
  • Dispatcher Panel
  • Pits of Seth (Excel Version)
  • System War One
  • Time Tripper
  • Pits of Seth 2
  • Solar Trader
  • Freight Agent

Distracted but returning to orbit

It’s been a long couple of weeks – I released an article about our Dispatcher’s Panel and that resulted in a lot of “favor” coding (I’d like to ask a “favor” if you’d add…). So I had about two or three of these to do (ever look at code you’ve written five years back? Ugh!).

And then there was the delema at the model train club – we use physical cards to forward freight cars between through freights, the yards and various industries. The problem here was that the old dudes were walking off with pocketfuls of cards after their runs. And once you were missing cards (including their lading slips) it was always another trip to Office Max to get more printed. So I took it apon myself to write a switchlist generation program (much harder than it looks, and not for release – see paragraph one for reasons why). And now that’s just about done.

So finally I’m going to get back to ST. We’ve got interceptions by ships neutral and otherwise to work out. So now, when you piss off the mob and jump into your ship and leave that planet behind, they just might have a bounty hunter waiting for you.

Space just got a little more deadly.

Coming soon…