COMPETITION ENTRY #33: ZOMBIE DICE
|AN ENTRY FOR THE MAGENTA CHALLENGE|
In the beginning, in the glorious land of Albion, there lived a wizard (of sorts) called Steve Jackson. He and Ian Livingstone founded Games Workshop (a bullet which I'm glad to say I dodged), and the Fighting Fantasy gamebook series (which I found rather amusing, given that my local library had a few in stock in the late 1980s). Meanwhile, over the other side of the Atlantic, there was another Steve Jackson, also a game designer, who was the creator of GURPS - and the original Zombie Dice.
And then, some time later, there was Andy Jenkinson, who was armed with an AY-equipped ZX Spectrum. He looked upon Zombie Dice, and he saw that it was good. Good enough for a Crap Game conversion - which, as we have now come to expect, has not been done by halves.
The rules of this game do not look all that simple. The game is for two to eight players, any of which can be computer-controlled. In each round, each player rolls three dice from a pool of 13, which will have three symbols: a brain, a shotgun, or footprints (the "runner"). Any brains or shotguns are banked, and the player can pass to the next one, adding the banked brains to the score, or roll again, with any dice showing a runner re-used and joined by more dice, up to three, from the pool. Three accumulated shotguns ("shot to death") ends that player's turn, losing the banked brains. At the end of a round, the game will end if one or more players has 13 or more brains, and the winner is the player with the most brains.
Play the game a few times, and the rules will become clear a lot faster than they will from my explanation. There are tactics involved; not only do you need to keep an eye on how many shotguns you've accumulated, but also the likelihood that one will appear so you lose all your brains for that round, and the key is in the colour of the dice. There are four yellow dice with two of each symbol, six green dice with three brains, two runners and one shotgun, and three red dice with three shotguns, two runners and one brain. You will be warned which three dice you've picked before rolling them, but you do not get the option to change them - and should you risk re-rolling a red or yellow runner?
Now that the game's been explained - and I'd wager that it's simple enough to be done on a ZX81 - I'll tackle all the extra bells and whistles that Andy is so fond of, and which I've been practically demanding at gunpoint for this year's entries. There's a loading screen, which Andy provides extra information about in the comprehensive accompanying documentation. There's a marvellous custom font, which Andy assures me is his own work (and I did go looking through Damien Guard's repository of 166 Spectrum fonts to see that it wasn't borrowed from there, not that this would be a problem), and there's also a larger, scalable font that is used to print the title and "scrawl" each players' initials (that's what it actually says in the game), that is literally drawn with a series of DRAW commands, governed by a matrix of 26 DATA statements (which Andy has admitted would be more efficiently done in machine code). Best of all, though, amongst the listing there are two glittering nuggets of Magenta Challenge gold: there's a string that holds a load of array names, which is then sliced up and read by VAL$, and the curtain-raising routine at the start of the game is an ingenious use of INPUT AT! These are what I identified as two of Spectrum BASIC's least-used features, and were the reasons why I put the Magenta Challenge in here in the first place.
Finally, I must mention the AY soundtrack - which, as with Cliff Richard Loves Rihanna... FACT!, can be accessed via a Melodik Soundbox on a 48K Spectrum, which would otherwise be resolutely silent. If you're not a fan of the Cranberries - and I'm really not - then this could be the preferable option if you don't want Zombie stuck in your ears for the next six weeks. Even if you are a fan, it'll probably get repetitive after a while, and even breaking into the program to examine the listing won't stop it. (RANDOMIZE USR 49093 will, though.) Overall, I will concede that the choice of song was appropriate, and counts as even more extraneous fluff that I wanted to see (or hear) in this year's entries, so I will count it as a positive.
It's a cracker, this one. It's up there with this year's Officially Least Crap entries, which doesn't really come as a surprise, given Andy's previous work; it's worth five of those razzing South American voodoo masks. I reckon it would have scored four Ricks for effort even if it had been bare-bones, but look how much else there is to consider: the loading screen, the custom font, the scalable "scrawl" font on top of that, the soundtrack, the Magenta Challenge answered... about all that it doesn't qualify for is the type-in test, but that's only because none of its essential elements existed in the type-in days - the 128K Spectrum hit our shores in 1986, Zombie was written in 1994, and the dice game itself wasn't invented until 2010! Even public domain electronic magazines like Outlet were too early, although any similar dice game with all these embellishments would have been welcomed onto one of those discs with open arms in the mid-1990s. And for this reason, Rick Dangerous makes eight appearances below.
Sound the horns: we have a new Least Crap Game of the Year, displacing Mono-Rail Simulator. I rather enjoyed that game, so send your condolences to Hedge1970.