Happy Halloween Cortana

The Trumpkin

Today Cortana suggested that I use her algorithms to help decide what costume I should wear for Hallowe'en. I gave it a go.

This is NOT how we used to do Halloween 'up north'.
...and the results...
Well, thanks Cortana, but it's going to take more than a lick of paint to make me look like that cat!

New updates to my chatbot

I have spent most of Sunday having very daft conversations with my chatbot, Mac, and I am pleased to say that I am happy with progress so far. His dictionary files have increased in size and he is becoming a much better conversationalist.

If you want to have a pointless conversation with Mac, then you can find him waiting for you here. Try asking him who he thinks will win the race for the White House, or what his opinions are on current affairs. I'm not actually claiming that he will make any sense, but it will be fun finding out. Enjoy!

This year's pumpkin is a Trumpkin

Every year I carve a pumpkin for Hallowe'en. This year's effort is the most frightening yet.

Introducing the Superdecade Games Donald Trumpkin...

Orange skin, hate-filled eyes. It's a trumpkin. I'm not too pleased with it myself, but at least I had a go. The pumpkin was quite expensive from my supermarket, however I'm going to get Donald to pay for it.

Some notable pumpkins from previous years.
Alien pumpkin with a petroleum jelly finish.

nom nom nom
There's something in my eye.

Wishing all my readers a happy Hallowe'en!

If you liked this post then you might like to see some other seasonal posts from back in history:

Putting Vaseline on your pumpkin works - sort of. 2015
Under construction 2014
Happy Hallowe'en 2012

The A-Z of geek: F is for Flowers of Crystal

Primary school children throughout the 1980's got their first experience of computers via an adventure game called Granny's Garden. In this game you had to solve various puzzles with the vague aim of rescuing some fictional children from the evil witch, who would often show-up unannounced, play some horrible music, kill you and annoy your teacher, who had lost count of the number of times they had heard it happen. Granny's Garden was rather well-known (and well-loved), however many people are not aware that 4-Mation software released a sequel....

F is for Flowers of Crystal

In Flowers of Crystal the planet Crystal is in danger, and only primary school children transported across the galaxy can save it. It seems that the evil antagonist, Mr Grubble, an industrialist and entrepreneur, has put the entire planet in danger. Along the way you will meet Jim, protector of the planet Crystal and after a long, convoluted back story, you will discover that your mission involves finding the Flowers of Crystal which have the power to save the entire planet, or something.

I am scared...

As in Granny's Garden, success in Flowers of Crystal involves carefully solving puzzles. The first puzzle involves reading the 'weather report' which gives a hint as to which items will be needed. For example, if the weather report tells you that it is likely to rain, then taking the raincoat might be a good idea.

Part of the world of Crystal - thanks to Super Jim

The next puzzle does not provide you will such an easy hint. You are required to navigate through a map of the game world moving from location to location using or finding other objects along the way. I am sure that when I was a child we managed to make much greater progress through the game (or at least we had guessed the code word for getting onto the second level).  I do know that you need a disguise kit to get into Mr Grubble's bubblegum factory, in which you will discover the security pass allowing you access to the City.  The world of Flower's of Crystal is a fascist police state in which one must always obtain the correct paperwork in order to be granted permissions to travel. I wonder what 4-mation were trying to teach us?

Teachers across the land would plug children into the Flowers of Crystal, and then sneak out for some of their own 'special water'.
Another teletext monster murders you for no reason. So senseless.
Choose wisely or you will be murdered and then some other kid will get a go, and you have to go back to your seat and do long division problems
If you somehow survive the first map, then you will find out a code that allows you to access the second level, which, from memory, was much more fun. It involved a few more puzzles, but crucially, the mini-games were more 'arcade' in style. I seem to remember one puzzle where you have to fly through a cavern avoiding lightning bolts. Or maybe I am just remembering our school corridor at lunchtime. There was also a game of Nokia snake built in, and some sort of creature known as the Exiles who were literally hopping mad. I have no screenshots of that part of the game because I haven't managed to survive long enough however there is a video below.  Playing this game will be much improved by using the 'save state' feature of your emulator, because being randomly killed is no fun.

Not again....
So, if you enjoyed this post and you fancy having a go, stock up on some bubble-gum (the only way to protect yourself from underground worms - obviously), and award yourself some geek experience points.

Video time

The most impressive Little Man Computer Code...so far

What follows is some of the most impressive code written for the Little Man Computer that I have ever seen.

Thanks to Eric and Will, here is a 'general purpose calculator' program, squeezed into the one hundred available memory locations of the LMC.

The program can perform Square root, DIV, addition, square numbers, Integer powers and multiplication.

In order to use the calculator the two operands are entered into the keypad first, and then lastly the operation is entered by selecting the corresponding operation code (listed in the comments).

For example, in order to perform the operation 13 DIV 2,
firstly enter 13 then 2, then 0 to select DIV.

You can download the source code from these pages, or find it listed below.


#Modified by Eric Rodriguez for more than just add and divide

#A general purpose calculator which works with the limitations of the little man computer



#1 or above for SUBTRACT

#0 for DIVIDE

#-1 for ADDITION

#-2 for SQUARE

#-3 for POW

#-4 for SQRT

#5 or below for MULT

#Input 1 is the first number

#Input 2 is the second

#Input 3 is the selection

INP #Enter the first number, this is the number that all the functions will be done to


INP #With square and power, due to limitations of little man computer size, does nothing but is the operating number



BRZ DIVIDE #case 0





BRZ SQUARE #case -2


BRZ POW #case -3


BRZ SQRT #case -4

#else fall through to mult

MULT LDA B #Multiply Function












DIVIDE LDA A #Divide function















ADDITION LDA A #Addition Function



SUBTRACT LDA A #Subtract Function



SQRT LDA A #Square root function
















SQUARE LDA A #Square function (set A = B and let multiply do the rest)
























MULTOUT DAT 684 #default out - to OUTPUT

POWOUT DAT 674 #power out - to MULTRTN






X DAT 001





The A-Z of geek: E is for Elite

When I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I persuaded my father to spend £15 of his hard earned cash on software that I assured him would 'really help me understand astronomy and physics'. In reality, it was a game of intergalactic trade and combat. What followed was many a Friday night of my youth spent battling with pirates and Thargoids on my BBC model 'B'.  Buckle your space-seatbelt for a trip through a procedurally-generated universe...

E is for Elite

Created by a young Ian Bell and David Braben, Elite was the first 3D space simulation game of all time. It featured a universe of 8 galaxies, populated by harmless bug-eyed birds, communist rodents, various coloured frogs, birds, lizards and edible arts graduates who have an exceptional loathing of sitcoms.

Elite running on the BeebEm BBC emulator.  Here I have travelled from the starting point at Lave to Diso (a planet populated by 4 Billion democratic cats).
The aim of the game is: do anything you want. This was rather a new concept for computer games for at the time games gave your three lives and expected you to play for ten minutes. In Elite you can fly to any planet you wish; trade with the various alien species you encounter; do battle with pirates, aliens, trade ships or the police. You can upgrade your space-craft with missiles or lasers, or buy from a variety of other space-technology.

Trying to dock at a space station required matching the roll of your spacecraft to the roll of the space station in addition to some careful initial 'lining up', all the while being careful not to press the trigger on your laser cannons (they don't like it - not one bit).
A photo of the manual showing artistic representation of various polygons, I mean spacecraft that you will encounter.
A list of fun stuff you can do in Elite

  • Watch planets spin below you at ludicrous speed (as the inhabitants all fly into space due to centrifugal force).
  • Wait outside space stations and glooping the police as they emerge to arrest you for glooping the police, who then send more police, who you can gloop...
  • Travel the galaxy by only using your fuel-scoops to refuel.
  • Travel into deep space looking for pirates to gloop (and using your escape pod to get home again).
  • Fill up your cargo bay with questionable products and try to blast your way into the nearest system.
  • Sell your defeated enemies to the slave trade!
  • Gloop innocent traders and steal their stuff (then sell the traders as slaves).
  • Try and find the space-dredgers and the generation ships indicated in the manual (SPOILER: they don't exist).
If you like this game, then you might like...

A few years ago I wrote a 2D space shooter game for Windows.  It is called Starfunk. You may wish to go and play it.

Introducing Star Funk for Windows. Kind of like Elite, but 2D. Visit strange new worlds and encounter mysterious beings, then kill them to death and steal their stuff.

Video time:

The A-Z of geek: D is for DOS

This summer I purchased an IBM PS/1 computer.  This machine was originally released 26 years ago in 1990, the year that the Hubble space telescope was launched; Thatcher was replaced by John Major; Iraq invaded Kuwait; the Channel Tunnel between France and England was completed and Deee-lite released "Groove Is in the heart". 

The IBM PS/1 runs an Intel 80286 processor at 10 MHz and has a massive 1024KiB of RAM.  The system has one 31/2 inch floppy disk-drive and a 40MB hard disk.

...So, prepare to type "cd.." because today...

D is for DOS

DOS is the name for a family of command line disk operating systems popular throughout the 1980s and 90s. My IBM PS/1 runs IBM DOS4.01.

An IBM PS/1 in slightly better condition than mine.

The computer does not run Windows. Instead it has a four-quadrant graphical displaying giving access to a fairly comprehensive system tutorial; MS-Works office tools; file explorer and DOS. The display can be navigated with either the mouse or cursor keys.

The IBM Graphical User Interface.
This machine was designed for home users with little experience of computers, and so everything has been made as simple as possible. In fact, you do not need to know any DOS commands to use the system, but seriously, where is the fun in that?

The IBM has a graphical 'file explorer' program built-in. They have tried to make it look like a filing cabinet, and although it looks great, DOS is much more fun.

The first thing that I needed for my computer was a text editor program to edit bat files.  I chose to use a shareware application called "QEDIT" from SemWare. I then created a bat file in the DOS folder. The bat file contains the following two commands:

c:\utils\qedit\q.exe %1
type %1

The first line is the path to the qedit program which allows an optional parameter. The second line passes the parameter to the qedit program. I then saved the file as "c:\dos\qedit.bat".

This allows me to edit any text file, or create a new text file, by typing "qedit <filename>" from anywhere in the command line.

DOS was really a great system because it allowed you to create as many bat files as you wanted. If they were saved to the DOS folder (or another folder that you could specify in the configuration settings) thus expanding the system's vocabulary.

The second job I did with the IBM was to create a 'help' file to allow me to keep track of all of the user-defined bat files that I was creating.

The help file is accessed by the command 'help' (which, of course, runs the 'c:\dos\help.bat' script), or 'help <topic>' which then gets information about the specified topic.  This is achieved with the following code:

@echo off
ECHO Greeting message
IF %1. == . GOTO showall
IF %1. == helptopic1 GOTO helptopic1
IF %1. == helptopic2 GOTO helptopic2

GOTO end

ECHO SYNTAX: help <topic>
ECHO Help available for the following commands:
ECHO helptopic1, helptopic2, etc
GOTO end

ECHO help provided here
GOTO end

ECHO help provided here
GOTO end

ECHO That's all folks!

Well that's about all I've done with DOS on my IBM PC apart from loading several DOS games, and also playing with the version of BASIC that comes with it.

If you find the need to dust off your DOS computer, then there are a load of DOS games archived on various websites, not least, this one.

So, it's video time.

Here is an IBM PS/1 promotional video, with (hilarious) jab at Apple computers.

IBM PS/1 showing boot-up time.

An IBM running Prince of Persia

An IBM PS/1 running Windows 3.0

The A-Z of geek: C is for Crystal Caves

25 years ago this month, hapless space adventurer, Mylo Steamwitz first entered the caves of planet Altair, search for the crystals that he can sell at the Galactic Trading Post to fund his various schemes.  Yes, folks, if you thought C was for Chuckie Egg, then you were wrong....

C is for Crystal Caves

Screenshot from Crystal Caves volume three (used without permission).

Crystal Caves by Apogee software is a platform game for DOS.  The game features sixteen different levels that can be attempted in any order.  The aim of each level is to collect all of the coloured crystals whilst avoiding the various baddies and hazards along the way.

It terms of game play, it feels a lot like Manic Miner of which there have been many clones, but Crystal Caves is the boss.

Navigation is a simple left, right, jump affair, and you can blast enemies with your rocket pistol. There are also moving platforms and lifts as well as acid its and spikes to avoid. Rocks, stalactites and ooze will tumble from the ceiling and a variety of critters will attempt to get in your way: slug-things, rock-monsters, spiders, snakes, egg-bombing birds, robots and triceratops will all attempt to squish you. Poisonous mushrooms sprout everywhere as well as slime pits that need to be jumped. Along the way you will encounter a multitude of objects from fruit to candles.

Puzzles involve opening coloured doors by pulling the matching coloured lever found somewhere in the level. In some levels you must contend with reverse gravity and blackouts. Shooting the air-regulator by mistake will result in dangerous decompression that is fatal.

I'm struggling to take a screenshot on my IBM PS1, so here is a screenshot that has been shamelessly pinched from google image search for Crystal Caves.

One interesting fact is that Crystal Caves contains a bug that, when run on Windows XP, will rather dangerously reset your clock by one hundred years. Apogee released a patch for this bug fifteen years after the game was released, which wins both the award for longest time between a bug being patched and the actual release of a game, in addition to one geek experience point from us.

If this post has in any way excited you for Crystal Caves, then you may be pleased to know that there is a fan website dedicated to it, although it hasn't been updated for several years.

Crystal Caves gameplay video:

The A-Z of geek: B is for Baron

When I was eleven years old I was walking home from school with a friend to go and play at his house on his BBC microcomputer. I was describing a game in which you must navigate a complex castle, avoid the guards and solve puzzles.  The game I was describing was Castle Quest, but the game my friend introduced me two that night was Baron - and it changed my life.  Get ready to jump over acid pits and test your wits against an army of cute animals....

B is for Baron

Baron, by Superior Software, is indeed a similar game to both Castle Quest and Citadel, but in my mind it is a much better game.  No other game has captured my imagination like Baron.

One of the many infinitely-replaceable guards sent to crush your hopes of rescuing the wizard. And by 'crush' I mean make you lose a few hit points and have to start the screen from the beginning again.

In Baron you play the part of Prince Jason who is on a solo-mission to rescue the King's best wizard from the clutches of the evil Baron.  I don't think that Prince Jason intended to go on a solo mission, it is just that he got separated from the rest of the rescue party and now he is lost in the Baron's forbidding fortress and must make the best of a bad situation.

Enemies that you face include guards that can be dispatched by spitting in their faces.  This does not kill them, however it does force them to disappear off-screen to wipe the offending spittle from their visage whilst cursing your disgusting habits. Homicidal mice and snakes also populate the castle, although in most cases these can be easily avoided by simply jumping over them.  There are also bouncy space-hopper type of monsters who are best avoided by running underneath as they bounce around.

I will crush you unless you stand on exactly the right pixel.  And by 'crush' I mean make you lose a few hit points and have to start the screen from the beginning again.

The similarities... the similarities... oh!
Other enemies include the dreaded skeletons who can only be defeated by solving a puzzles that involve you creating a one-shot sword and shield combo, allowing you to take out one skeleton from the game....but which one?  There are no save positions in Baron, so completing these sort of puzzles is entirely trial by error, and errors, of which there are many, require you to start the game all over again (the save state function of your emulator will help here).

What are YOU lookin' at?
The many puzzles in Baron involve among other things: collecting keys to open gates throughout the dungeon, discovering secret passages and finding teleportation devices.  Useful objects are scattered throughout the castle, however you may only hold two objects at any one time.  That's all part of the fun.

A teleportation machine ready to use.

In order to succeed at Baron the game instructs you to find four magic items that belong to the wizard and teleport them to his cell.  Don't teleport yourself to the cell by mistake though, because that is a one-way journey, and the King has no more sons left to rescue you.  There are also four static baddies that are almost impossible to defeat, one is a mouse, there is also a bear, wolf and a rabbit.  If memory serves correctly, the mouse is defeated by summoning a magical mouse trap, creating a magic cheese knife from the mystical scroll of cheese-platter creation +1, then arming the trap with a small slice of cheese. Phew!

The impassible rabbit, who apart from being in cahoots with the evil Baron, was also a fitness freak.
I never completed Baron.  I did manage to get through just over half of it, which is more than anyone I have ever talked to about the subject.  It dawned on my many years after first starting my quest, aged eleven, that Baron was probably never meant to be completed.  It was created as a filler.  It was just a game to put on side two, of tape two, of the Play it again Sam 11 compilation tapes (along with Pipeline, Barbarian and Monsters).

Baron also contained an interesting bug.  You start the game with two hundred hit points which can be lost through either being touched by an enemy monster or acid pit, or indeed one point is lost every time you spit at a guard.  There are health packs littered around the castle, however the discerning player will want to know how to cheat the game by exploiting this little bug (shhhhh, look below).

An Acquisitions Incorporated joke for those in the know...

Each time you lose four hit points in a row you are forced to start the screen from the position in which you entered.  Presumably, this was to prevent falling into a pit of acid to be fatal Aeofel moment.  Once your health reaches zero then you are killed in a puff of 8-bit animation.  However, should you also spit (thus losing one hit point) at the exact moment you lose enough hit points to take you to zero hit points then you can trick the computer into registering the 'negative one' value of your hit points as nine-hundred and ninety nine hit points (five times more than you start the game with) thus imbuing you with immortality that can be repeated as many times as you can get the timing just right...

Videos of game play:

The A-Z of geek: A is for Arcadians

I have decided to post a series of geeky things in alphabetical order. Most probably these will all be retro computer games that I play on my vintage machines, but as time goes by, well, who knows...? All I can admit is that the geek factor will be high and the memes spicy.

Kicking off the list with...

A is for Arcadians.

Arcadians is an arcade shoot-the-aliens game for the BBC microcomputer, reminiscent of Space Invaders.  In actual fact Arcadians is it a clone of Galaxian licensed to Superior Software.

In Arcadians you control a space craft at the bottom of the screen and defend yourself from the hoards of three-coloured aliens that attack you from above. The aliens have just three tactics: move horizontally; dive down dropping bombs, and dive down in greater numbers dropping more bombs.  You score twice as many points for roasting the aliens whilst they are moving, with the exception of the bosses who can net the skillful pilot up to 800 points with one shot. The aliens attack with ever increasing numbers as the game progresses.  The position at the far left and right of the screen is usually a safe place to hide from the suicidal aliens, however getting there through a hail of bombs is a tough task, and you may only have one missile in the air at any one time.

"We are the Ardacians" they taunt.  Instructions "Destroy all aliens"
Arcadians was one of the first games I ever played on the BBC computer and hence its position in this list is guaranteed.

Video of Arcadians game play (not my video)

Arcadians is available for your retro beeb computer or emulator and is available from the usual places. See if you can beat my hi-score for today of 9210 and earn yourself one geek experience point if you succeed.

The gorgeous MODE 7 introduction screen running in BeebEm