COMPETITION ENTRY #14: DON'T PANIC
|AN ENTRY FOR THE YELLOW CHALLENGE|
And so it was that on the fifth day of March, 1981, Sinclair computers came of age. The MK14, little more than a jumped-up calculator, was a distant memory and the ZX80, with its flimsy vacuum-formed plastic case, integer arithmetic and meagre 4K RAM, was swept away into obsolescence, replaced by the computer it should really always have been - the ZX81. Exactly 40 years later to the day, I'd been hoping to have a bumper dose of Crap Games for the dear old door wedge, but nothing had been submitted, and my internally-enhanced ZX81 was having a fit of emo (see the first picture below).
And then, at 7:53 pm, an email arrived, and suddenly everything was right with the world again.
Don't Panic is, as more than 42% of you will have twigged, a Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy themed game, which instantly qualifies it for the Yellow Challenge (seeing as that's specifically what I asked for). As the story goes, it may or may not be 8 March 1978, but even so, the Vogons are hanging malevolently over Earth, demolition beams at the ready, grumbling about humanity not having been to Alpha Centauri to read the planning application. The entire population of the Earth is running around like somewhere between 4.3 and 7.8 billion headless chickens in a state of panic...
...and it is your job to reduce or even outright erase that panic. You may or may not be Arthur Dent, or Ford Prefect, or Mr L. Prosser, or a Nutrimatic drinks machine, none of whom would be very good at reducing panic. But you do have a ZX81 with a non-wobbly RAM pack (...in 1978? Maybe Arthur took it with him when he landed on prehistoric Earth and it's now two million years old?), and on loading the game, there will be a short intermission followed by the appearance of the words "DON'T PANIC!" in large, friendly letters. And by that I mean ZX81-grade Chunk-o-vision™.
You have one solitary Chunk-o-vision™ pixel at the bottom of the screen, with which you must eradicate the PANIC. You move it left and right (with Z and X, appropriately) and fire at it with M. If this sounds familiar, then that's because it's a chunky, monochrome answer to Pixel Perfect Shot from earlier this year - except that the pixel won't stop when it collides with anything on screen (mainly because the ZX81 doesn't have the POINT function...), it will plough straight through it, like a bulldozer through Arthur Dent's house. To clear the level, simply erase everything on the screen with your pixel.
There are, of course, complications. For a start, you'll be given an invisible and random (no, not that one) time limit in which to do so, and by the looks of the listing, if you're unlucky with the random number generator, the allocated time will be tighter than the bend on Hyde Park Corner which Trillian mastered on a moped and served her so well in piloting the Heart of Gold. And Prostetnic Vogon Mark has a nasty trick for those who can clear the second level: the progress bar at the top of the screen will be as invisible as the time limit, thus requiring a level of accuracy and precision that only a Vogon would ever possess. And all that, in order to avoid the wrath of the Vogons, which can only mean one thing. All together now: "Resistance is Useless!" Or, even worse than being thrown out of the ship into outer space: "Oh freddled gruntbuggly..." I think you know the rest.
For attainment: it's tedious, slightly unfair (with the time limit), introduces artificial difficulty, and has a victory screen so underwhelming that Marvin himself could have made it - all of which have been hallmarks of Crap Games of the past, and ensure that a mere two masks are the maximum it can score. For effort, though, this is what I want to see: there's a smattering of machine code, even if Mark admits he didn't write it himself, it ticks off one of the Challenges properly (unlike Blind Snake Moan), there's an attempt at releasing it on several formats, even if the ZX81 isn't very conducive to that (hence the .Z81 snapshot), and there's amusing instructions with a bit of a backstory, a Red Dwarf reference (I wonder what would happen if Arthur Dent and Dave Lister ever met?) and to top it all off, a cassette inlay, just in case anyone is masochistic enough to want to make this into a real tape. Oh, and I nearly forgot: I will now not be treated to the sight of a ZX81 being emo enough to slit its capacitors in sheer despair that the entire Sinclair world forgot its birthday, thus leaking electrolyte all over a carpet that I've got to keep clean before I vacate the current CSSCGC Towers on 29th March.
I'm going to score it at five Ricks. And that, in conjunction with the low attainment score, thrusts this game into pole position for Most Crap Game Of The Year. I can't think of a better way to say: Happy 40th Birthday to the ZX81!