My Old Room

I've been watching my dad's house while he's out of town for a bit, so I've been hanging out in my old room at lunch some days. That was my room for nearly 20 years, and being the geek that I am, spent a lot of time there, so it's filled with memories, mostly good (or at least comfortable) ones.

It's mostly the same as when I moved out more than 8 years ago - the same fake wood panelling on 3 out of 4 walls, the blue shag carpet, the bed. The old desk I first used for my computer is back in there, after being displaced by a proper computer desk for a while. New wallpaper is on the 4th wall, but I know shadowy ghosts of the generic football players that used to adorn the wall are still lurking there - I saw them myself. The closet is more than half full of my stuff still - comics, part of my large computer magazine collection, some toys, and a bunch of paper.

I rarely throw stuff out - it's got to be completely devoid of any present or future use to fit into my unusually narrow definition of the word "garbage". The paper I mention is covered in my scribblings. Notes from school, projects, and loads of computer printouts. Every time I do computer programming I generate page after page of notes - mostly handwritten in spiral-bound graph paper books, occasionally on the dot-matrix printer and that lovely tractor-fed paper. I've got several foot-tall piles of paper and notebooks, and every so often I delight in flipping through these old notes, remembering what game or other project I was working on at the time.

Carla and I have talked about me making a proper office down in the basement of our house. It was sometimes a problem when I was working at home over the summer, trying to keep the kids from being too distracting with the open layout we have right now.

So, my super weird idea would be to recreate my old bedroom here in the new house, to use as an office. Almost all the material could be pulled (wood panelling and carpet especially) from my old room, since my dad eventually wants to replace that old stuff. I wonder if the huge boost of nostalgia would translate into creative energy? Or is that just too weird and sad?


Permanent Links

I've had this feature here for a while, but I thought I'd point it out. Occasionally I write something here that one of you faithful readers actually wants to forward on to other people (hey, it's happened, at least once!).

Rather than sending them a link to my main blog page, you can send a link for just the particular entry. That way you know that they're going straight to the cute story about Peter, for example, rather than having to read about DVD players, Autoduel, and Dungeons and Dragons, also for example.

So, if you're using Internet Explorer, just right click on the # symbol below (where it says "posted by Robin"). Click on Copy Shortcut, and then you can paste that link into an email.

If you're using another web browser, you're probably smart enough that you don't need instructions.


Batteries Included

It's funny how there seem to be certain unwritten laws about what electronics manufacturers do and don't include.

For example, I bought another DVD player tonight. This one supposedly has progressive scan, so it'll become the main one I watch movies on, while my other one will go downstairs where the kids watch stuff. Just $38 at Walmart, which seems crazy cheap to me. Anyway, no matter how cheap these things get, they still include the audio/video cables (I think Radio Shack wants about $10 for those alone!) and the batteries! It seems that VCRs and DVD players just must include the batteries.

Contrast that with the Lexmark X1155 printer/scanner/copier I also bought tonight, for the surprisingly cheap price of $77. Even though it's absolutely useless without, a USB cable simply isn't included. I was going to rant about that, but then I thought back to buying my Panasonic KXP-1124 dot-matrix printer for $350 in 1990 or so, and I'm almost certain that the parallel printer cable necessary for that printer also wasn't included, which just supports my unwritten law theory.

So, how did these conventions start? I don't have a clue. It's not about necessity, because batteries (included) are needed for the operation of the DVD remote, while a usb cable (not included) is necessary for the operation of the printer. It's not about accessibility, because the (included) batteries are really easy to find in any store, or in a drawer at home, while the (not included) usb cable isn't as common. I mean, you can't just run into the 7-11 and grab a usb cable. It's not about price either. Despite Future Shop wanting an insane $35 for a USB cable (or was it the ethernet cable?) you can grab one at the dollar store for $2. By the way, you can pick up an ethernet cable, and those previously mentioned AV cables there for $2 as well.


Oh oh. I'm on fire.

That's what my 3 year old son Peter says as his onscreen car is blown to bits once again in Vigilante 8: Second Offence on the Dreamcast. I was sort of surprised that he likes the game as much as he does, at first. But then, how can a typical boy not like racing around, smashing into things, flying off cliffs, and firing rockets at other vehicles on the road?

"Rianna! Heidi! Get in my car!" he says to his sisters. Extra chairs are pulled up and suddenly they're riding with him. "Peter, watch out!" "Why are those bad people trying to blow you up?" Peter's favourite vehicle is a hover car - they all like how much air it can get when you race up the side of a crater, in one of the areas available to race.

And then after he's on fire again? "It's okay. I can fix it." And he presses the Start button, and everything is new again...


Car Battler Joe vs. Autoduel

I played Car Battler Joe a second time through, and totally enjoyed it again. It really is a modern remake of Origin's classic Autoduel game, a real favourite of mine - I doubt they could have made this game without being aware of the original.

In both games you're a guy who gets in an armed and armoured car and fights against other similar vehicles. Both games have role-playing (RPG) game elements where your character and vehicle have statistics that change (improve) as the game goes on. Both games feature a network of cities/towns linked by roads. In the towns you're safe to wander from shop to shop, on the roads it's kill (or run) or be killed. When you destroy an opponent's vehicle you can sometimes salvage stuff. You can pick up courier jobs in towns and get paid for safely delivering the goods elsewhere. There's an arena where drivers meet to battle for sport. Both games allow you to do as you please most of the time - they're reasonably non-linear.

The fine details differ, of course. CBJ runs on the Gameboy Advance which means lots of colours, and much more capable hardware than the C64 and Apple II - but I'm not going to criticize differences in hardware.

Autoduel went for a semi-realistic representation graphics-wise (though the C64 can certainly look better than this), while CBJ is done in a Japanese Anime style.

Autoduel has very little in the way of sound effects and music (probably the Apple II influence) while CBJ has some great music. I really should play more Japanese games to know if the CBJ music is just typical, but even after playing the game through twice, I still get into the music. It reminds me a lot of the music from the 70's Japanese cartoon Gatchaman (aka Battle of the Planets) - so perhaps this is just a Japanese style. It's kind of a fusion of jazz, rock, and swing (I know they're all very related) all played by an orchestra. There's about 20 different pieces of music depending on context, great stuff.

Autoduel has very functional but not particularly interesting towns and cities. You wander the barren streets on foot, and when you enter a building, just a screen of text greets you. Sometimes you get a bit dialogue in the truck stop or at the AADA (American Auto-Duel Association), but that's mostly it. Some towns are spiced up a little, with a casino or the Origin headquarters, but generally everything is very similar. CBJ has towns more like the Ultima games, where you wander a scrolling map of the town, with other townsfolk wandering around. Each one has something to say, and it often changes as the plot progresses, making it quite worthwhile to keep visiting back to these different places.

CBJ also has a neat idea where you can develop your garage, and then a town by bringing building materials to your mom, and the town mayor respectively. Cement, Food, Gasoline and Junk are all useful. Your mom builds you a trailer you can tow behind your car that allows you to haul more stuff from place to place. And it's neat seeing the town progress as you bring more material.

Story-wise, Autoduel advances the loose plot with increasingly important courier missions and the occasional bit of special dialogue in truck stops and AADA offices. CBJ has numerous cut-scenes and larger missions (and occasional "side-quests" that don't have much to do with the overall story, but can still be fun) and a much more detailed back story with a missing dad, a doting mom and talk of a previous civilization that somehow got (mostly) destroyed.

CBJ is a more "personal" story, since you're really taking the role of a particular nearly-mute red-headed kid named Joe with parents and a home village, etc. Autoduel is more distant, and perhaps a little more "epic" because you're a generic stick-figure guy with very little character.

The actual car driving & combat is quite a bit different between the two games. Autoduel was viewed from above, while CBJ has a semi-3d effect, viewed from behind your car ("Mode 7" style for you SNES heads). Autoduel required a fair bit of strategy to win battles, due to limited ammunition, manual weapon selection, and very little armour on the car. Also, each side of your car took damage individually, so when the armour on your right side was gone, for example, you definitely changed your driving habits! CBJ, unfortunately, has very simple combat. You've got multiple weapons, but they're automatically selected based on range, and they're only back or forward firing. You've just got overall hit points for your car. So CBJ battles usually boil down to pointing your car at the baddies, holding down fire, and waiting for them to blow up. CBJ tries to make up for the lack of skill and strategy in combat with many baddies - Autoduel has far fewer cars along the road.

It's also very hard to actually "die" in CBJ, and if you manage to, you can just restart either at your last saved point, or even just restart the mission you failed in. Autoduel takes it to the other extreme. When you die (and it's easy to do!) you actually even lose your saved game! The only fix for this is buying (within the game) a very expensive clone, and you still lose your car and any other possessions you had with you. I'd prefer something in the middle between these two extremes, though if I had to choose, I'd take CBJ - I play a game for fun and the experience of it, not to be punished by re-playing parts over and over again.

The roads between cities in Autoduel are quite plain - just scrolling roads with fenced off green areas with trees in them. Occasionally you'll encounter a building or a cow off the side of the road, but they're just static graphics - you can get out of your car but you can't interact with them at all. Strange that they actually included those - I wonder if they had plans for the buildings that never made it in the final game? Autoduel also includes a radar to help with spotting enemies. The roads in CBJ are a more varied lot - but due to the flat-3d, they still come off mostly the same. Instead of a radar, little arrows point off-screen to vehicles and other items of interest that are nearby. Unique items are hidden off the main path on some maps, making it rewarding to explore dead ends.

On the road in CBJ, you can't get out of your car at all. As I mentioned, you can in Autoduel, but it seems to only serve two purposes: to run away if your car breaks down (useful in the arena, but desperate when you're 50 miles out of town) or to salvage the wrecks of other cars where you sometimes find useful stuff. In CBJ, salvage is much more arcade-style - destroy a car, it blows up, and sometimes it leaves behind a power-up, or something else useful. You just drive over it to pick it up.

Once you've successfully driven through a road in CBJ, you then have the option of skipping it in future trips, and just moving from city to city - this is welcome, especially in the later stages of the game. You can sort of do this in Autoduel by taking the bus from a Truck Stop in one city to another - but then you don't arrive with your car. However, you can park cars in various garages in cities, so if you've got it planned right, you'll be fine.

Courier jobs in Autoduel and CBJ are basically the same. However, CBJ has a lot of different jobs that are slightly more involved than just driving from one city to another. Some involve destroying a few cars along a certain road, or picking up a certain number of objects on a road. Simple stuff, but when you add a nice little text explanation of the task, it gives the appearance of a lot of variety, even if it's sometimes goofy. "Little Bo Peep has lost her 6 sheep, go find them" and stuff like that. There's also a couple missions that actually involve extra story, and cut-scenes, where you're driving someone to their family, or to a rock concert, or filling in for someone in a race.

As I mentioned, both games are fairly flexible, allowing you to wander from town to town, blowing up and collecting stuff, and pretty much ignoring your "quest" if you want. Also, once you've completed the story of each, they let you continue to play, further developing your character and vehicle(s), which I think is fantastic. CBJ even takes it a step further by having a few more new courier missions afterwards, and another couple towns to help develop. It's also great visiting all the characters in the game, and see what new things they have to see.

Well, Car Battler Joe isn't perfect, but it's one of my favourite games of all-time anyway. I still have the desire to make my own game like Autoduel and CBJ - either for the C64 or maybe on the PC in Blitz Basic or something.

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