The comp.sys.sinclair Crap Games Competition 2021 - 25th edition!



Author:  "Hedge1970" Model:  48K Spectrum Format:    .TAP
Submission date:  31 January 2021 Documentation:  none Tested on:  Spectaculator 8.0

Download it here

"Monorail, monorail, monorail! MONORAIL!"
- the people of Springfield

"Mono... D'OH!"
- Homer Simpson, one second later

Only a few days ago I was re-familiarising myself with James May's Toy Stories and The Reassembler, in which he often mentions his fascination with toy trains, and his Flying Scotsman... with realistic chuffing sound. Now, "Hedge1970" - who doesn't want to be known as anything other than that - has sent Mono-Rail Simulator, "a quick 20 minute game written in BASIC, inspired by The Train Game from 1983". Crikey! A model railway simulator! Captain Slow will be all over this one, though he may not appreciate the rolling stock - it's too modern for him. In this game, you control what is said in the instructions to be a section of the Docklands Light Railway, even if it's not a section I've ever seen before... and isn't a monorail. The instructions are included as part of the game, they're as clear as optical fibre, and there's even an interactive test of the points so you can have a trial run at some of what you're supposed to do.

And in short, that is: the train will drive itself, you just have to stop it at the stations, and operate the points so that it goes to the station you want. Pick up passengers that are waiting at the stations, and you'll have a set target to advance to the next screen. You'll lose one of your three lives if you crash into a dead end, if too many passengers pile up at any of the stations, or if the battery on the train runs out; lives are shown by the green lights on the status panel. You can recharge your battery by stopping at any station that's open, even if the platform is bare; closing a station, shown by a red square on the status panel on the left, prevents any new passengers from entering, but also prevents any recharging there - and all the stations must be open to finish the level. Pick up the passengers from a closed station and it will automatically re-open, so it's best to keep closed stations as your final targets.

You have three skill levels to choose from - Easy, Normal and Expert. On Easy level you'll have to pick up 10 passengers per screen and the battery maxes out at 45%, on Normal you'll need 12 passengers and have only 30% charge, and on Expert, 16 passengers... with 20% maximum charge. Big Clive would have surely something to say about cheap Chinese batteries and power banks with outrageous capacity claims. The first screen will be similar to the Circle Line with three stations and only two points, the second screen is more like the Central Line with extra branches - five stations and four points - and finally, you'll have to deal with seven stations and nine points, which can send the train in both directions along some of the sections of track.

The controls are not for the faint-hearted - there are 17 control keys: space to stop the train (which is the key you'll need most), 1 to 7 to close the station with that number, and nine letters (Q, U, H, B, J, N, V, Z, A) to operate the points where that letter appears on screen. If it sounds like a Warlock of Firetop Mountain nightmare that warrants a demerit for terrible controls, it doesn't - some of these you may never need to hit, and the letters have been chosen so that, for the most part, their position on the keyboard resembles the position of the points on screen.

I conclude that this is going to be a strong candidate for Least Crap Game Of The Year, and January isn't even done yet. Hedge specifically said this is a "1982/3 style type-in game" - not only would it have well and truly made the grade as a type-in, it'd have been Program Of The Month in any of the magazines of the day. It's 29,282 bytes of BASIC so it wouldn't have been a trivial job to type in; Hedge assured me it was written on a real Spectrum, with only the final tweaks done on an emulator - and I suspect it was a 48K model as all the line numbers are mashed together with very small gaps between them, which suggests there was no "Renumber" available! It must have taken meticulous planning, or a lot of manual renumbering, to avoid a pile-up (just as in the game itself). A lot of the data values and flags are stored in POKEd addresses that are PEEKed when required, rather than using number arrays - maybe, given the size of the game, this was to save some memory so that there was no need for the five bytes of a floating point value. But for bonus Crap points, the UDGs are defined by individual POKE statements, not with a series of DATA values, and the values are all BINs... Hedge isn't infallible after all!

The game doesn't meet any of the Challenge criteria, but given the time it must have taken to get this much BASIC working, which I suspect to be several days, the effort that has gone into it is worth a massive seven Ricks (one of which is for the loading screen). On my own attainment scale, the full ten would go to something that would have been a Crash Smash back in t'olden days, and though this isn't into those hallowed realms, it might have been picked up by a publisher in 1982 and graced the shelves of Woolworths. Given that it's well above what I've reviewed so far but won't take long to beat, I'm giving it five masks, putting it exactly half way between Exploding Border and Quazatron.

Now, Hedge, depending on what happens here, it may be that you have eleven months to prepare for hosting the 2022 CSSCGC. Watch this space!