dalliard.net

My favourite game

Rock monsters - poisonous little buggers!

The screenshot that you see above is a capture from what I believe to be the greatest game ever - Dungeon Master.

Back in 1989, I’d not long since had a motorbike accident. I’d been on crutches with my leg in plaster for about six months, nursing a broken fibia/tibia. My insurers, finding me not liable for the accident, paid me an interim damages claim. Having no fear at that age, thoughts turned to getting back on a new bike and riding again.My mother, however, had other ideas and was keen to discourage me from getting back on the seat and having a repeat incident (or worse). Looking over the shoulders of my peers, I bowed to pressure and spent some of the money on an Atari ST, a more serious computer than the rubber wonder I’d been using before.

I remember a couple of my friends having Dungeon Master. It was the game that sold me the entire computer. Historically, it seems I wasn’t alone. There are reports that over half of people who had an Atari ST bought it. It’s no surprise. It rocked - and it still does.

The game has a simple premise - pick four characters and travel through a dungeon, killing stuff, using magic, exploring, pushing buttons, developing your characters and solving puzzles. Despite it’s simplicity, I still remember how amazingly immersive the game was. I used to make a habit of playing at night with the lights off - it added to the atmosphere. Some levels were exceedingly tough. I remember that on sight of a purple worm, I would “run” like hell down corridors and cast fireball spells from a distance. I remember the comical shrieking of the screamers - and how tough it was to get your character resurrected should one die. Carrying their bones back to the altar on level one to resurrect them was not a fun task.

He eats a lot, strange chap.

At the time, I don’t think anyone realised how influential the game would be. There are so many elements that have appeared in similar games that followed - and the game is still fun to play now. I challenge you to find as much fun that fits on a single floppy disk.

Emulation is a wonderful thing. I’ve recently downloaded NoSTalgia for my Mac and have got back into playing the game again, and I suspect that once I’ve completed it (a fair task in itself), I’ll the continue on to play it’s sequel, Chaos Strikes Back.

I’m probably going to sound like an old man when I say it (and you would expect nothing less, I imagine), but a great deal of modern games seem to focus far too much upon graphical realism at the expense of good gameplay. I’ve actually got a couple of gaming devices, but I’ve pretty much stopped using them in favour of retro gems such as this. Maybe I’m getting old, but when I play a game I want it to look like a game, not some version of augmented reality. It’s probably why I enjoy playing Angry Birds so much on my iPhone. Simple works best.

This probably says an awful lot about me - I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. In the meantime, I’ve got to deal with four blue trolls that would like to club me over the head. And I still have my Atari ST now. Twenty years on, it still works.
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The decade that didn't matter.

I’m 38 soon. For some reason, I never though I’d actually hear myself say that - although I’m not entirely sure why. Whether I thought I was going to be one day found face down in a puddle of my own vomit with a kilo of meow-meow by my side, or die jumping the Niagra Falls in a Trabant, I don’t know. I just never thought I’d be talking about myself as someone who’s approaching their forties. Of course, as the majority of the world already knows me as a grumpy old man from back in my twenties, nobody’s actually noticed the difference. I have been consistent, if nothing else.

Indeed, it probably goes to show my age (and to a lesser degree, my geek prowess) when I say that I’ve had an internet presence for at least fifteen years - and to think that in the early nineties, I used to talk about the internet to people would look at me as though I was a babbling idiot. They still do, it’s just that technology has got a bit more user-friendly. I think this is a great shame. Life would be simpler for us geeks if we made the CLI the mandatory interface on all devices.

And so, whilst the site has had different incarnations on different servers, good ‘ol MrDalliard has existed on the web for the lion’s share of time that Britain has had internet connectivity. Spooky. Even before the internet was known in the UK, I administered a BBS that sent e-mail via FidoNet back in 1990 - spookier still. That does make me feel quite old.

So I’m not a youngster any more. I’ve noticed in the last year or so that certain joints in my body are starting to grumble and creak, that I now have a few nice scars across my waist from surgery and that I’ve now got the alcohol tolerance of a three year-old. It won’t be long until I’m a forty-something, a phenomenon that most children would describe as “really old”. Ho hum.

Of course, this doesn’t stop me indulging in a bit of nostalgia every so often - I think the birth of my son has probably spurred that process on a bit. I like to think that it’s something in the genes, destined to ensure that you can suitably embarrass your offspring. As parents, it’s our calling. I’ve started to build up a good collection of eighties music, the music of my teenage years. There’s some good stuff out there - and there’s plenty of dross too. For the last couple weeks I’ve been trying to compile the ultimate eighties mix - I doubt it’ll ever achieve perfection.

I guess that the eighties is my decade of choice. I became eighteen, had a few life-changes, did my GCSEs, went on to further education and met my current partner. There’s a lot of good stuff to remember. That’s not to say that I don’t have memories of other times, it’s just unfortunate that I really don’t rate the nineties. It all just passed me by. The nineties, if you’ll pardon the pun, was a bit of a Blur1.

With the exception of my graduation, not a lot happened during that ten years. Give or take a year or two, a decade could pretty much be removed from my life history and the difference to me would have been negligible. In the grand scheme of things it all just didn’t matter - call it peripheral, if you like. During that ten-year period, I married the wrong person (twice), earned a fantastic amount of money but have nothing to show for it (apart from some broadened horizons) and performed a variety of largely unsatisfying jobs. My travels were enjoyable, but ultimately they served as pure escapism from what I’d say was an unhappy period in my life. In an effort to alleviate the situation, I thought that empty relationships and materialism through “shopping therapy” would cure it. How wrong I was. It’s a mistake that I shan’t fall in to again.

On a more positive note, I can reflect on the last decade (I’m not calling them “the noughties” *shudders*) and recognise it as a decade of achievement. I studied new things and did well, I trained and succeeded, I bought my house, I provided for my future, I found true love and I started a family. That’s a great deal to be chuffed about.

You’re probably thinking that there’s a moral to this story and that I’m about to convert you to a particular school of thought. Actually, more to the contrary. Do the stuff that makes you happy - just don’t be under any illusion that surrounding yourself with stuff brings you happiness, because once we turn into worm-food, our legacy won’t be gold fillings and games consoles. Aren’t I the optimist, eh?

All in all, I feel pretty good about the future. I’ve got a plan, something that’s always good to have - and so far, the plan is coming along nicely. For once, I feel optimistic about what’s to come. Sometimes we have to make choices. For me, the nineties represent the fact that I made a few wrong ones, but in the end it doesn’t matter because all has come good in the end. I’ve got my happy ending - and we all like one of those, don’t we? Happy

1 - You see what I did there? That’s a musical pun, that is. Gosh, aren’t I jolly smart. I could have used “oasis” too.....
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