omega: A poke at the genre, rendered in ASCII

One of my favorite games way back in the day of the Commodore 64 was Ultima II. Yes, I know, it was among the least of the Ultimas, but for its time it was a masterstroke.

Part of the appeal to my as-yet undeveloped brain was the snide humor it sometimes employed, whether it was a random guard reminding me to “pay your taxes,” or hotel clerks pocketing my hard-earned gold … rather than boosting my ability scores. I don’t hold a grudge though, even years later. … :evil:

A touch of that off-the-wall humor is in omega, which keeps some of the format but loses some of the seriousness of its brethren.

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omega mixes a weird recipe of fantasy and science fiction elements, along with a few touches of contemporary culture too. So while it also adds an environment beyond the archetypal dungeon fetch quest, it also has a bank with ATM cards, a gladiator arena, a fast food joint that sells fried lizards by the bucket, and a few other oddball touches.

omega has a few high points and a few low points, from my cursory examination. The opening city offers more than enough entertainment for quite a while. Dungeons are out there, in the wilderness, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep yourself busy in the shops, bars and arenas in the city.

omega also adopts the “play yourself” format that was popular around the late 1980s, where you answer a dialog to determine “your” character statistics and play as you.

On top of that, omega offers a number of different ways to “win,” some of which are simply to become successful in some sort of in-game organization. Look at the overview in the help pages if you are seeking an alternative ending.

Its inventory system is the right way to do things, with specific slots and carrying spaces that are occupied by objects. It’s not nearly as comprehensive as, for example, the intricacy of cataclysm (where you can actually choose how to layer your clothes, to afford yourself more pockets), but its a practical improvement over endless lists of accumulated crud.

On the downside, that inventory system is a little kludgey to navigate, in my opinion. Each slot can be filled, but if you want to move items between locations, shuffling things becomes cumbersome.

omega also seems strapped for screen space, trapping dialogs in the first three lines of the screen, plus a flashing “MORE” prompt, but occasionally has to take over the lower part of the screen — or all of the right side — to display lists or logs. Compare that with something like angband, and there’s definitely a conservation-of-space issue to be solved in omega.

A few other issues: Sometimes the game uses arrow keys, sometimes it uses the HJKL sequence. Wilderness travel will require you to carry about six or seven buckets of fried lizards to reach a dungeon. The backspace key isn’t available when naming your character, which means I have one or two personas named Km^GM^G^G^G^D^G^G^D^G. The map will display characters or items that you can’t examine because they’re out of your line of sight … but they’re on your map, so … ? O_o

The title page for omega suggests it dates back to 1987, but the version I have comes from the AUR, and links back to this Github page. Apparently though, other renditions exist. Take your pick. Perhaps some of those avoid the issues I listed above.

I admire omega for having the brass to add a little snarky humor to the genre, but also for finding new ways to handle inventories and alternative win conditions. It doesn’t have enough pull to drag me away from angband or adom, but I can see returning to it when its brethren get too serious. :)

unnethack: Improving the improvement

The deeper I delve (pun intended) into my list of roguelike games, the more I realize that a lot of them are simply forks of forks of forks. Someone along the line didn’t like that the capital letter K was used to signify a kobold instead of a Kirin, and so re-drew the entire game along slightly different lines.

unnethack is an example, as a fork of nethack, which I suppose could be called a duplicate of hack, which in turn was intended as a knockoff of rogue.


Regardless of its bloodline, unnethack — developer’s blog here, with updates within the past month or so — keeps to the original form (of the original form of the original form of the …) but adds just enough new ideas to be an improvement over its forefather.

Looking around the web site, some of those improvements include a vampire race, some extra monsters and items, color in the interface (which is always good), and some tweaks to levels and contents.

I certainly can’t fault any of that, but the biggest improvement for me was the addition of a tutorial. Of course, after playing so many roguelike games over the past week, I am starting to get a sixth sense on how to maneuver through the dungeons. But it’s still very helpful.

I don’t think it would be fair to downplay unnethack in light of things like crawl, adom, angband or cataclysm, because I tackled these out of evolutionary sequence. So instead I’m going to give a thumbs-up to unnethack as a definite improvement over the original nethack.

Which was an improvement over hack. Which was an improvement over rogue. Which was an improvement over … ? :???:

Starlanes: A refreshing economic endeavour

It takes a little while to learn what’s happening in Starlanes, but once the general idea is clear, it’s a lot of fun.

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Starlanes is an economic strategy game, broken into two phases: In the first phase, there’s a territorial selection. In the second phase, there’s a market acquisition phase, with stock sales between five companies.

Now if you hear that, and you’re first thought is of M.U.L.E., you wouldn’t be far off the mark. Naturally there are some differences, but there’s definitely a theme at work here.

The game starts with a selection of up to five different territories. Positions orthogonally close to stars (asterisks) boost your company’s value, but locations near black holes (atpersands) drain its value. They do occasionally also swallow up entire corporations. Black holes are like that. :roll:

Once everyone has selected a new territory, a stock trade session follows, and you can buy stock in companies that appear to have potential (are near stars) or sell out of companies that don’t (are near black holes).

Mergers are where the game twists though. Two adjoining companies, or a company near an unaffiliated company (plus signs) will merge, with the larger taking possession of the smaller’s operations. In that way, entire swaths of the board will suddenly shift possession, and stock prices go nutty.

The game ends when a majority of the board is under the control of companies. Worth is calculated out against the stock held and the company’s value, and — again, much like M.U.L.E. — the leader board can list unexpected results.

Starlanes is a simple but great game for me, mostly because it’s very unlike anything that I’ve seen in the past, but also because it’s well thought out. Controls are primarily through number keys or arrows, and there’s no need for decoding cryptic symbols. Color is obvious and adds to readability, and nothing is lost in a crammed-together display.

I’d like to see the territory selection process mimic something like M.U.L.E., just because a lot of the “random” options make no business sense (the initial rounds should just be a frenzy to cluster around stars). And it would be fun to have an occasional territory “auction,” just to spend some of that leftover cash.

Other than that, my only suggestion would be to allow for larger starfields on larger terminal displays, but that might be stretching the limits of politeness. ;)

I’m more than willing to hand out a K.Mandla gold star to Starlanes, for being original, obvious, easy to control, visually concise, colorful, intelligent, challenging, strategic, surprising and most of all, proof that it’s possible to make a really great game without relying on gobs of 3D graphics. :star: ;) Enjoy!

tetrix: Only satisfactory, by comparison

At this point in time, the danger in trying out a new Tetris clone, is that the field is already filled with contenders, and some of them are very good.

To be fair though, and afford equal time to all the applicants, here’s Tetrix:

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Tetrix has a nice arrangement, a good selection of default keys, decent use of color, keeps high scores and plenty of on-screen help. It’s light, compiles in seconds, and won’t tie up your system.

From that list, you’d think Tetrix would qualify for a star. But it doesn’t really, because of a few things.

For one, a couple of commands that are shown in the help box don’t seem to work. The “beep” and the “pause” keys both seem to have no effect. And in the case of the pause key, that’s a big problem.

And second, I have a real hard time measuring where a block will fall. Part of that is my fault, since I run the font in my terminal emulator one-pixel tight. But even in a virtual console, the height of the drop and the position of the block are hard to gauge.

The biggest reason I can’t give a superior mark to Tetrix though, is because there are already some really great Tetris clones out there, that make Tetrix look stale. vitetris, as I’ve mentioned countless times, is simply the gold standard for Tetris clones, and if you read that page, you’ll see why.

And yetris, which is the effort of a relative newcomer, has enough visual flair to satisfy even the most curmudgeonly GUI fan. It does not quite have all the bells and whistles of vitetris, but it’s making a run at the title.

So it’s not that Tetrix is a bad game — it does do almost everything right, and were it not for the two small shortcomings I mentioned, it might get a more enthusiastic thumbs-up. But the competition is way ahead of Tetrix, with makes it look only satisfactory, by comparison.

sudognu: Sort of a game, sort of a game generator

I’m going to include sudognu in this list, even though the argument could be made that it’s not really a game, so much as a game solver and generator.


As you can see there, one of the main uses for sudognu is to generate PDFs of sudoku puzzles, ready to print and maybe even republish elsewhere. sudognu does this without the need for wacky dependencies or outside libraries, so just compile and go.

sudognu can also generate puzzles as 81-digit strings representing the filled and unfilled squares of a sudoku puzzle, and if you need help, can solve them too, by feeding a puzzle back in the same format.

So, no more waiting for the next day’s newspaper to arrive, to check your work. ;)

As an added bonus, the sudognu package comes with tools and scripts to help you set up a server that can do much the same thing with puzzles submitted through a web page. I didn’t take the time to set that up, but I imagine it looks a lot like the sudognu home page.

sudognu isn’t interactive like nsudoku was, but then again, it wasn’t intended to be. I know it’s not so much a game as a lot of other things we’ve seen in the past week, but it probably fits here better than anywhere else.

P.S.: Yeah, I know. Acrobat Reader. Blech. :P

gnushogi: We know the lion by his claw

gnugo gave me a shudder because it looked and behaved so much like my mortal enemy gnuchess. Seeing gnushogi is like catching a doppelgänger.


Shogi, in case you are not familiar with it, is also known as Japanese chess and is probably famous for allowing captured pieces to return to the board in the service of the captor. It’s not an easy game to master, possibly because it has (in my opinion) a more complex arrangement than the traditional chess game.

Which means I am hopeless at it. A friend tried to teach me more than once, but he was quite skilled and I was more fascinated by the kanji written on each piece. I appreciate pictures and colors, you see. :roll:

I will leave it to you to learn the rules and strategies, and speak to the gnushogi text client only. Of which, I must admit, I have no particular love for.

I complained about gnuchess almost a year ago, and to be honest, I have the same critique of gnushogi. It’s not only obvious that one was built from the other, but that they both suffer from the same faults.

Controls are obtuse coordinate sets. The board is not labeled. You have to ask to see it. The game updates by scrolling, but only provides a numbered move, and its results. I could go on, but I said most of this a year ago.

I understand that the program is intended as a backend for the XShogi application, but that only reinforces my belief that it’s not really intended to be used as a console game. And if it was, its designers did a terrible job.

No matter. Games like gnushogi and gnugo, and even gnuchess, if I must be honest, are probably better played on a real board, rather than fighting an uncomfortable interface or a dense display. At least until something better comes along. … ;)

arkanoid.sed, sedtris and sokoban.sed: sed-tacular

I mentioned with that I was willing to overlook its core game in order to praise its underlying structure. I have to do that again now, and applaud three simple console arcade games that — believe it or not — are written in sed.

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Left to right, that’s arkanoid.sed, sedtris and sokoban.sed. As if you couldn’t tell. … :roll:

I am thoroughly impressed at this point. I am lucky if I can get sed to swap two characters in a single file, let alone handle collisions, rebound angles, blocked paths and shape matches. My hat is off.

All three programs play much like you might expect, although both arkanoid.sed and sokoban.sed will require you to press Enter to start, and after each command. It’s an inconvenience, but I can’t very well find fault. (sedtris, on the other hand, doesn’t need prompting.)

I should point out that these are not all by the same author, which means there is more than one high wizard of sed out there in the wild. I obviously have a lot to learn. :(