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



Author:  Andy Jenkinson (Uglifruit) Model:  48K Spectrum Format:    .TAP
Submission date:  16 June 2021 Documentation:  brief instructions & background Tested on:  Spectaculator 8.0

Download it here

The late, great Professor Stephen Hawking is one of my all-time heroes. The way he managed to stay at the absolute pinnacle of research in Astrophysics for so long after his body stopped working is phenomenal - especially after 1985, when he lost his real voice permanently to a bout of pneumonia and had to rely on computer technology to communicate via a speech synthesiser. That robotic "voice" was the best available at the time, and became so inextricably associated with him that he chose never to upgrade it for the remaining 33 years of his life.

Had he been lumbered with the Currah Microspeech instead, I doubt he would have survived 33 days before giving up on life through sheer despair. It is one of the least impressive peripherals available for the Spectrum - if not as awful as the dk'tronics Light Pen - but it does have some admirers out there, one of which must be Andy "Uglifruit" Jenkinson, who worked it into last year's Blind Sweeper, one of five very un-crap entries in the 2020 CSSCGC. Here he is again, taunting us with a series of pings and twangs that are apparently a 48K Spectrum saying "I AM SETTING UP THE PUZZLE FOR YOU".

Behind the jazzy UDG-based screen, something looks very familiar. In the accompanying text file, Andy reveals that he took the idea from Kasper Boon's Explorer's Guide to the ZX Spectrum and ZX81 from 1983, in which the author explains a game called Flat Cube:
" is an implementation of something he's first seen on a CASIO Calculator. Which is possible - indeed he uses the number grid as input. But I do wonder how a calculator might have displayed the 3×3 matrix of numbers."

The calculator in question is the Casio MG-777, and I know this because one of my contributions to last year's CSSCGC was the Casio MG-777 Games compilation, in which Flat Cube is essentially Game I! I could identify this just from Andy's text file, before I'd even loaded the game. For the CSSCGC version I bought an MG-777 from eBay to ensure the three games were as close as possible to the originals, though my first remake of Game I was written as far back as 2004, relying on the memories of the MG-777 I had from when I was five. Along the way, I wrote a text file of tactics that I'd worked out during a 2017 update, and so I have an advantage. In much the same way as a Rubik's Cube has a series of moves by which individual sub-cubes can be moved a certain way, so there is also a series of moves in this game, by which individual squares can be moved ahead or behind the others (usually by twos - for example 000|000|000 becomes 242|222|222). Thus any grid can be solved by brute force; the screenshots below are me doing exactly that on my first attempt, and beating the in-built low score by a massive 448 moves. Your assertion that this game is "nigh on impossible" lies in ruins, Mr Jenkinson. Now, where did I put that Quicksilva Game Lord trophy?

Actually, I should put the trophy away again. Examining the listing, Rubik Code scrambles the grid by starting at its victory condition of all zeroes, and making eight moves. And as it's possible to move backwards in this game (i.e. decreasing the numbers on the grid) by pressing CAPS SHIFT with the letter of the relevant square, any grid can be solved with eight backwards moves. If I'd known this before launching headlong into my first game, the brute force tactics means I could have solved the grid in 24 moves, but even that's 16 too many. There is only one level, in which each digit increases to five before rolling round to zero, though whether that's any easier than a grid that can increase to nine, I'll leave you to decide. Eventual victory, should you get there, will be celebrated by a machine code rendition of Ode to Joy (a product of Beepola, I would guess), and the Microspeech twanging out its disbelief like a robotic Victor Meldrew, though with rather more congratulatory tone.

As was proven last year, Andy's games are always a cut above standard CSSCGC fayre. Instructions are included within the game, which will be read out to you by that infernal peripheral, assuming you can ever understand what it "says". The game is presented in a none-more-1980s big font that's the product of four UDGs and the Spectrum's internal chessboard graphics, with a status bar at the bottom that displays marquee-scrolling text, and uses POKE 23606 to jiggle the baseline around a bit when displaying the score. It will also apologise profusely for the quality of the game if you try to quit by pressing 0. Press it on the title screen instead, and you'll get a choice of nine (well, in reality, eight) error reports to finish the game with.

I don't think Andy intended to clone my game from last year, so I'll leave this out of the Green Challenge, but Cyan it most definitely is. It's been given a rudimentary loading screen generated by the initial BASIC loader, and the main program is 9K of BASIC which would have made a substantial type-in, even without the Microspeech and the victory tune. It's been very well programmed to make its graphics work the way they do, and the Microspeech's lines must have taken an incredible amount of patience to get right. All this adds up to five Ricks for effort. I'll stick with three masks for attainment - it's above the standard bottom line, but would have to be bringing me back for more to get a fourth... and I've played my own version far too much!