Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Computer Games - Colossal Cave Adventure

Colossal Cave Adventure (shortened to Adventure on my Atari ST) was the first interactive fiction computer game I played.  According to Wikipedia, it was also the first adventure game to be written.

The premise was simple enough - you had to enter a colossal cave (based on the real life Mammoth Cave in Kentucky) and bring all of the treasure you find back to a small building outside.  You controlled your character by moving the around with the compass points and other commands such as 'kill', 'feed', 'drop', 'get'  and 'look' amongst others.

I always enjoyed wandering around the Colossal cave and enjoying the strange and funny encounters.  It had everything - a pirate, a troll, a dragon, dwarves, a bear and much more.  I never won this game.  My highest score was something rubbish like 76/350.  The decisions were a little arbitrary and required trial and error and I never had the patience to try everything.  There were some good tricks that you needed to learn such as learning how to kill the dragon, transporting the vase back to your house safely and getting that elusive final point.  I didn't find most of these things out until I read a walkththrough but the things I did find out I felt very smug about.

Colossal Cave has been an inspiration to other interactive fiction in various ways, not least the use of the phrase 'Xyzzy'.  There are even Xyzzy awards for interactive fiction.

The good thing about Colossal Cave now is that you can get it and play it for free in various ways and if you get stuck, you could find a walkthrough.  If you have an Android phone, you can get a Colossal Cave app for free.

You can play the Colossal Cave Adventure here

You can download Colossal Cave Adventure here.

You can buy a book about interactive fiction here.  The title, Twisty Little Passages, is another nod to a phrase from Colossal cave.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Master of Chaos playthrough

(You can follow Justin McCormack on Facebook and Twitter. You can also support Justin on Patreon and receive exclusive content. Justin is the author of two bestselling novels, a collection of horror stories - "Hush!: A Horror Anthology", and the young adult coming-of-age comedy "Diary of a gay teenage zombie".)

Written by Keith Martin, artwork by David Gallagher

So, Masters of Chaos. Here we go, this should be interesting!

The storyline is as standard as they come for Fighting Fantasy adventures. An evil wizard is causing some chaos (maybe he's the master of the chaos, you could say?) and I have to go and kick him a bit with my Mighty Boot. There's a handful of variations on the sheet, namely that I have the option to select a few specialist skills for my character. I choose Acute Hearing, Climbing, and Move Silently, assuming that these will be the ones that are most likely to be the ones that will prevent instant unavoidable death sections.

The game also has a notoriety score, which measures how alert the city guards are to the devastation that your character will surely leave in his wake. Evidently the author is quite familiar with my roleplay group, then.

The adventure begins with a mage telling you that you're being sent off to stop the evil wizard, because he has nicked their ancient staff of power. The mage is so keen that you maintain a discrete profile that the only help me can offer is two gold coins, and passage on a rather unpleasant boat. And by 'passage', I mean that he arranges for you to be captured by the captain of a slaving ship and chained to the rowing party. I'm not even kidding here. Honestly, the first section reads less like you're on a covert mission to save the world, and more like you just lost a really unfortunate bet.

In all seriousness though, I like the idea of starting the adventure as an oarsman on a slave galley, it's very Conan. Might have worked better for you to learn of the adventure as you progress, rather than this convoluted idea of the mage's. But nevertheless, it isn't long before the crew of the ship get tired of my attempts to stir up a revolution and take over the ship, so I'm promptly fed to the sharks.

Restart the game? Restart the game.

This time I decide to keep my head down and avoid trouble - but when the ship is attacked by a kraken, I save the captain's life by beating the tentacled monstrocity away with my ball-and-chain. In gratitude, the captain orders that I no longer be fed food that gradually reduces my stamina points each time I eat any. You have no idea how grateful I am that the crew are no longer poisoning my meals - so grateful that I'm almost tempted to resist the urge to steal one of the lifeboats and row away to freedom. Almost. But I steal it anyway.

I row my way to the nearby city, and in traditional fantasy adventure fashion, head right for the grimiest pub I can find, only to find that it has actually been turned into a trendy wine bar. I sit around sipping wine, feeling vaguely less than adventure-ish, until I catch sight of a couple of vagabonds who are sneaking out through the kitchen. I follow them, only to be attacked for no apparent reason. I quickly dispatch one of them, but the second takes a hostage. I manage to rescue the hostage, but the book informs me that I'm feeling too tired to interrogate the hostage, so I instead go to bed. All in all, it's been a confusing day.

The next day turns even stranger. I buy a mongoose from a rather unusual gentleman at the market, only to discover that it's a talking mongoose called Jesper. Fearing that I've tragically acquired a comedy sidekick, I'm desperate to get rid of the demonic spawn of darkness that is the talking mongoose. However he is determined to stick by my side, and eventually leads me into what is euphemistically called 'the entertainment district' of the city. The mongoose insists on doing some backflips for a crowd of onlookers, and then informs me that there is a lady moongoose he wishes to visit before we leave the city.

With my comedy sidekick away getting freaky mongoose sex on, I manage to overhear the two people that I killed the night before as they are conspiring their plans. This is, of course, impossible. I can either put it down to a problem in editing for the book, or time travel. I ignore this, and instead go on to have various adventures across the city.

By the time I am done with my escapades, I am left with very little knowledge about the evil wizard. But I do have a considerable amount of gold, the cutlass of the captain of the ship that I had fled, and a camel. Content with my camel, I ride it off into the golden sands of the desert, my trusty talking mongoose by my side. This is all very weird.

It's roughly about this point in the adventure that the game begins to hate me. As we ride through the desert, I am attacked during the night by a hideously mutated orc, who I beat down. I show mercy on the creature, and he tells me the story of how he was kidnapped from his happy little orc village and turned into a mutant by the evil wizard. I'm so touched by this story that I leave him in the middle of the desert and go on my way.

Over the course of the next few sections, my stamina points go into abject freefall, with my provisions quickly turning rancid in the hot air. Without a magic ring of endurance, I am soon losing more stamina points than my remaining provisions can heal, and it's not before long that I am attacked by something called a chaos manticore. The creature flies up and shoots barbs at me, killing my camel in the process! No! That camel was just like a camel to me!

So there I am, struggling to survive, impaled by manticore barbs, stuck in a life-or-death struggle with the manticore. I manage to kill it, with only two remaining stamina points left. I then promptly die from exhaustion, because I don't have that bloody magic ring.

Masters of Chaos isn't an especially difficult adventure, and it's laid out very nicely. In fact, it reminds me quite a lot of Bloodbones in how the city section of the adventure is laid out. I really can't fault that part. It plays smoothly enough, although at the end of the day it feels very generic and you wind up wishing that the clues that I feel you're meant to acquire in the city are more readily telegraphed. The difficulty spike I came across is no doubt mitigated a lot with more careful item selection whilst shopping, but without any significant indication that the ring of endurance was in any way important, it's all a bit of a gamble.

(You can follow Justin McCormack on Facebook and Twitter. You can also support Justin on Patreon and receive exclusive content. Justin is the author of two bestselling novels, a collection of horror stories - "Hush!: A Horror Anthology", and the young adult coming-of-age comedy "Diary of a gay teenage zombie".)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Augmented Reality Gamebook Adventures

The phrase "Augmented Reality" became very popular when Pokemon Go was released just a few months ago, but I've liked the word "Augmented", long before that game made it famous, because of another use apart from computer gaming. Being an average traditional male specimen and also very proud of it, I like women as well as cars quite a bit, but I enjoy both of them even more when they are shown topless. That explains why I have always liked the use of "augmented" associated with the word "breasts" in cosmetic surgery terminology. Don't blame me for being honest here! Have you not noticed that almost all women characters in computer games have undergone some excessive breast enlargement procedures? Lara Croft in Tomb Rider is the perfect, but definitely not the only example here. There is a good reason for that, but I will discuss it in another post later on.
Lara Croft in Tomb Rider is a great example of the average gamer preferences.
Actually, augmenting the world didn't start with the first breast implants back in 1962 either. It predates this miracle of the modern medicine by thousands of years. It has been documented that about two millenniums ago, every fall season, the ancient Celts celebrated the Samhian Festival. They believed that the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred and the ghosts of all recently deceased returned to earth. To ward off those roaming spirits, the Celts would make frightful lanterns for their homes and put on dead-like masks and disguises. It is widely believed that these are the very origins of our modern Halloween parties when we decorate our surroundings to look like a graveyard or some other scary scene of evil descent. This is exactly what Augmented Reality is all about: converting the real world into something else by using decorations or electronic devices.
Halloween is the perfect example of Augmented Reality
Come to think about it, Pokemon Go is not at all what it pretends to be. It fits the description of a location based game much better than Augmented Reality (for more info on this subject, see this article by Sunny Dhillon), but even if it was AR, it would still not be the first game of this kind. My first Augmented Reality gaming experience happened back in 2005 while I was visiting "the waterpark capital of the world": Wisconsin Dells. I remember walking through the main entrance of Wizard Quest and instantly leaving the 21 century. All of a sudden, I found myself in the middle of a fantasy world that was beyond my belief and I fell in love with it from first sight. No, I didn't misspell the name. The Wizard Quest facility in Wisconsin Dells is one of a kind experience and it has nothing to do with the MagiQuest franchise. Although, they both represent the genre of Augmented Reality pretty well and they have very similar game mechanics, MagiQuest uses two-dimensional printed walls to change the environment while Wizard Quest is a much more believable non-computerized three-dimensional experience which makes you feel that you just found yourself right in the middle of the planet Pandora from the movie Avatar.
A real photo taken at the Wizard Quest facility in Wisconsin Dells, USA
But enough about history and theory of Augmented Reality. Lets talk games now! Yes, you can create an adventure for your family and friends fairly easy without having any programming skills. However, you would have to be creative or be willing to spend some money for decorations. The process will consist of three parts: creating the environment (decorating the play area), designing the game (coming up with adventures and tasks for the players) and, of course, playtime.
Medieval Castle Scene Setter
1. Create a parallel world (decorate the play area): You can set the game up in your backyard or at your home. To make it more interesting, challenging and time consuming, I recommend using as much room as you have. First, you would have to decide the setting and the theme of your game. Second, you would have to create (buy cardboard and start drawing) or purchase (find and buy online) enough decorations to be able to augment your game area. You could order scene setters, backdrops, playtents and cardboard cutouts that fit your theme from a party store or on the Internet. Here is just an example of how you can set up one of your rooms as a castle using scene setters: Medieval Scene Setter.
Knight Miniatures Scene
Chances are that you may not be willing to spend that much money, so as an alternative, you could use your kids miniatures to create the game scenes on shelves or tables in different rooms. For an example, one of your rooms could be the fairytale castle, while another one could represent the enchanted forest and a third one can be set up as the evil forces stronghold and so on. Just put your imagination to work! As another alternative to scene setters and miniatures, you could use your computer to print some paper castles, knights, evil creatures, wizards, dragons and everything else you can possibly think of, then cut them out and use glue or tape to create the desired scenes for your game. Whatever you do, make sure that you have enough pieces to design a good storyline and challenges for your game.
The Evil Forces Stronghold
2. Design the game and the game tasks
2.1. Storyline: Your scenario could be as simple as "the dark forces have invaded the earth and you must collect specific artifacts and put an army of creatures together to defeat the evil hordes and free your land of darkness", but the more complex and engaging of a story you have, the more interesting game your friends and family would experience.
2.2. Game Mechanics: Create multiple tasks that have to be completed to win the game. Naturally, to keep the players interested for a long time, you should make them as diverse as possible. Example: Have the kids collect (discover) a fishtail, wing of bat and a mistflower, so they can boil a potion of strength to be able to remove the rock blocking the entrance to the cavern dungeon.
2.2.1. Implement Treasure Hunt Mechanics: find the following items (they would be spread out in multiple scenes and rooms): a magic sword, cloak of invisibility and so on.
2.2.2. Include Collecting Resources: find 100 gold, 5 wood and 10 knights (they should also be spread throughout all rooms and scenes)
2.2.3. Integrate Economics: your players should be able to spend the gold on purchasing magic spells, equipment, healing potions, army units or other things.
2.2.4. If you have multiple players, you could include some boardgame techniques and have them race against each other in completing the tasks.
2.2.5. To make the game even more interesting, design it as a gamebook adventure: collecting information (example: tell the players what clues and items the wicked witch gives them when they find her or when they help her by completing a certain task for her) making difficult meaningful decisions (example: would they spend resources on helping the old farmer defend his home, would they side with the honest king or with his sneaky brother) logic puzzles and riddles (players would gain information or items when solving them) dice battles (the outcome would depend on the items collected and skills gained during the adventure).
You can save a lot of money by getting creative :-)
3. Playtime (Test of Performance): the gameplay process in any game (computer or otherwise) is constructed of three very basic core mechanics: input - test of performance - feedback.
3.1. Gamer input: It is obvious that you can't have your players wave magic wands at the items like in the MagiQuest games, so I would suggest two other ways for you to receive their input:
3.1.1. Have your players find codewords printed on the objects they are looking for (example: name the goldfish 'Jewels', print the name on it and you would know that the player discovered the goldfish if they know its name)
3.1.2. Having cellphone cameras at almost anybody's disposal nowdays, you can have the players take a photo of the object and show it to you to prove that they have located it.
3.1.3. Combine input methods and use codewords for some items and taking photos for other encounters.
3.2. Test of performance: It would be the dungeon master's job (yes, that is you) to figure out if the player has collected the necessary items or hired enough units to complete the quest you assigned them to (example: if they give you the codewords or show you the photos of the fishtail, wing of bat and mistflower, you can tell them that they can find the wicked witch and she will cook the potion of strength for them)
Cardboard Cavern Structure
3.3. Storyteller Feedback: Give them feedback through narrative by explaining what else they need to do in order to succeed (negative feedback) or get them excited that they've done well and they are advancing through the storyline (positive feedback example: Once the player has found the wicked witch and collected all the ingredients, you can tell them that they have enough strength to remove the huge rock blocking the entrance to the cavern dungeon and let them explore that area as well)

Game Design Hint: It is obvious that the core mechanic of this kind of game is the Treasure Hunt, so have as many items scattered throughout the play area as possible and don't make it clear right in the beginning when and how some things would be needed. That way, you will not only provoke the explorer instinct in your players, but you will also have implemented a memory game mechanic, because they'll have to remember where they saw a specific item earlier in the adventure and go back to that location to obtain it when needed. It is a good idea to have most of the play areas (different rooms) "sealed off" in the beginning of the game and have your players complete certain quests in order to "open them" for exploration. That represents the "find a key to unlock this door" mechanic which has proven to be very successful and addicting in all kinds of adventure games.
use Baby Gate to close off certain areas of the adventure until the players gain access to them
The bottom line is that you must decorate well, create a compelling story and set interesting and challenging tasks for your players. To successfully do all of that, you don't need any programming skills, although they could be useful if you already have them, but rather learn how to design a good game by reading some Gamebook Theory here:, or my own blog at Visual Gamebook Adventures.

Peter Agapov
Game Designer at
President and Chief Executive Officer of American Limo Naperville
Former Road Captain of Marine One at Operation "Welcome You Home"

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Ten places from Magic the Gathering that I would like to visit

Basic lands
In Magic the Gathering, you summon creatures and cast spells with mana and you get the mana from lands.  There are five basic lands in Magic the Gathering, but there are many other lands that have other utilities as well as producing mana.  Here are ten places that I would like to visit as an adventurer.

Library of Alexandria

First, I'll start up with a real life place, the Library of Alexandria.  This magnificent place once apparently had a volume of every book ever written at the time.  It would be amazing to walk through the corridors lined with scrolls and books and uncover all of the great secrets locked within.  Places like this are usually needed to advanced the plot in gamebooks, usually as a means for fining how to kill the big villain.  For example, Codex Mortis may come in handy in Night of the Necromancer and joining the Wizards' College in Fabled Lands allows you to gain a lot of knowledge about your travels.  However, as the mechanics of this card suggest, you need to have a certain level of knowledge to make use of the knowledge stored here.  An illiterate barbarian would get nothing from this place.

Bazaar of Baghdad

A good adventurer always needs to prepare and this is generally where they find the food and equipment they need for their travels.  Of course, you will need some money to get started and in terms of value, you generally end up on the losing end.  After all, merchants need to make a profit to survive.  However, you can't  cross a desert and break into a treasure laden tomb with silver coins.  The important thing is what you do with the items you have obtained.

Cabal Coffers

When you have obtained your new equipment, you could do worse than to break into this vault and loot it.  In this story, the cabal rule a city and raise hordes of treasure by hosting arena battles.  This money has all been raised through corruption and bloodshed.

Gemstone Mine

The ground is full of treasures.  If you return from a quest with some gems or precious metals, then you may start a huge rush as miners and opportunists seek to share in your success.  This may lead to the expansion of civilisation.

Buried Ruin

There are also treasures in the far flung corners of the world.  If you discover a ruin, there is no knowing what lost treasures you might uncover.  It could be art beyond price or a powerful magical item, its means of construction having been lost in time.  Of course, that might be a bad thing...

Halimar Depths

The ground is not the only place that hides treasures.  The sea is home to many cities, sunken ships and caves which could hide treasure beyond measure.  Of course, you need to find a way to explore the depths without drowning.

Undiscovered Paradise

Some great treasures are not physical.  Exploration and discovery is a good enough reason for some to face the unknown dangers of the world on a quest and it may lead to a place beyond your wildest dreams.

Mouth of Ronom

Beautiful landscapes do not have to be tropical paradises teeming with life.  There is also much beauty to be found in the snow capped mountains and the tundra as you can see in Tower of Destruction and The Caverns of Kalte.  Of course, these inhospitable places are full of dangers.  Beyond the obvious dangers of cold, avalanches and snow blindness, there are many snow monsters.  It would be wise not to anger the local population either as they will probably be pretty tough to survive out there.

Ancient Ziggurat

One reason to explore inhospitable areas is that you may find the remains of great civilisations and unearth their treasures and knowledge.  I would love to see such an ancient temple.  As an adventurer, you may also end up in such a temple to stop some evil cult from raising a powerful creature.

Mirrodin's Core

Finally, there may be great wonders to be seen in the centre of a world rather than just on the surface.  Descending into a simple cave may lead to a place full of magic and strange creatures.

As well as the basic lands, these are the places that I would like to visit the most.  Adventure takes you to many strange and beautiful places and these ten are only the start of the adventure.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Turning Magic the Gathering creatures into AFF characters

Here are six Advanced Fighting Fantasy character sheets of Magic the Gathering creatures.  Three of them are common creatures and so I have built them from scratch.  The other three are legendary creatures and so I have given them 750 experience points worth of skills, spells and abilities on top of their starting stats.  I have used my conversion table and have tried to stick faithfully to it, but it doesn't work with toughness - stamina conversions.

You can find the files here.

Captain Sisay

Here ability revolves around finding other legends so I have her skills in leadership, con and etiquette.  She is also an accomplished ship's captain and scout so I have given her sea lore, awareness and world lore. 

Ertai, Wizard Adept

His ability revolves around countering spells, so I have put most of his points into magic and spells that either directly disrupt other wizards' spellcasting (such as counterspell) or indirectly (such as tongue twister, pucker and restrain).  The stamina was a problem here.  In AFF, you start with a stamina of 8, which translates to a toughness of 2, so I lowered it in return for 15 extra experience points. 

Kahmal, Pit Fighter

I have given him a high skill (which would reflect his power) and combat reflexes (which reflects his haste).  His damage dealing ability is reflected in his sorcery spells.  I can imagine Kamahl using ZAP and HOT on his enemies while smiting them with his sword.  I think his low toughness can be explained by the fact that he is using his stamina draining spells on his opponents. 

Youthful Knight

I have given this creature the knighted talent (obviously) and given him the skills that 14th century knights would learn.  His conversion was pretty straightforward.  Another stamina problem, which I ignored in this case.   

Samite Healer

Another straightforward conversion where I make him a cleric with the healing power.  Another stamina problem, which I ignored in this case. 

Talas Warriors

Since these warriors are unblockable, I gave them sneak, hide and locks skills.  Since they are pirates, I gave them sea lore and fishing skills.  Another stamina problem, which I ignored in this case.