robohack: The only legitimate use of a computer

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, supposedly. If that’s the case with robohack, the flattery is well earned.

The name might be a hint, but if you don’t know about Robotron: 2084, it might not work to know what game robohack hopes to imitate. If you remember the golden age of arcade games, then you won’t need to click on this link as a reminder. πŸ˜‰

From personal experience, I can tell you two things about Robotron that stick out in my memory, and after that I’ll tell you the most amazing thing I know about it.

First, Robotron was an out-and-out action slugfest, and it worked because of the dual joystick model. It took a little while (or a few dollars, I guess I should say) to get used to the idea of moving and shooting in different directions, but once you got the hang of it, everything else seemed primitive.

Second, Robotron’s sound effects were fantastic, not just in technical terms, but because they fit the mood of the game as well. You can find fault in the cutoffs or splits between effects (only one audio channel to work with in 1982), but from an atmospheric perspective, those noises and zings were perfect.

And the amazing thing? The whole business ran on a 1Mhz Motorola CPU. πŸ˜• And what have you accomplished today, with your quad-core system with 12Gb of RAM and 4Tb of storage? I didn’t think so.

robohack pays homage to the original in a text-only environment, and does a pretty good job, if I may say so.

2014-11-10-jsgqk71-robohack-01 2014-11-10-jsgqk71-robohack-02

A lot of the action is lost in those static shots, but I’m sure whatever computer you’re viewing this page on is plenty powerful to put together a live version. You’re operating with thousands of times more power than the original game had, and it’s working only on an 80×24 screen. πŸ˜‰

Movement is with the E-S-F-D keys in four directions, and firing is with I-J-K-L-Y-U-B-N in eight. That more or less mimics the original Robotron layout, but I would prefer a tighter set of keys for the eight-direction set.

You could conceivably adjust the source code to accept different keystrokes, then recompile, but I’m not going to count that as any degree of “customization.” πŸ™„

Your goal is to collect as many members of the last Human family, designated by capital M characters. Your pursuers are Grunt robots marked by the letter G, and Hulks as letter H, the latter of which cannot be destroyed. Collect a family member and win points, but you’ll be destroyed if robots collide with you, or if you touch glowing Electrodes.

And that is the formula for a pretty darned good action console game.

High points: Awesome title screen. Excellent explosion animations and firing effects. Great use of color, speedy action and a tough challenge. Grunts will throng after you quite quickly, and sidestepping them and the Electrodes can be tough.

The playing field is a good size even if it doesn’t draw out to the ends of your screen. And the Humans are sufficiently stupid to make you tapdance to collect them, which only further frustrates your quest. And yes, that’s a good thing.

Low points: You might do well to focus on either moving or shooting while you learn the controls. Unless you’re a pianist, it might take a while to get the hang of the needing both hands. But again, that’s part of the game.

Occasionally robohack stutters while it collects movement or firing instructions, meaning you can’t just hold down one key to move while firing in another direction. It doesn’t seem to read the keys that way, and until you get used to that, it’s going to be frustrating.

The original game had a Hulk “stagger effect,” where firing into a Hulk caused them to stagger back a half step before continuing their pursuit. That is somewhat mimicked here, where firing at a Hulk causes it to pause for a moment before continuing. I suppose that’s the best that could be expected under the circumstances.

The necessity of the animation and collision effects means there’s a possibility you’ll get killed by a Grunt seemingly out of nowhere. The original game drew a straight line to your character, and each Grunt moved one step in that line. With only a 72×20 (or so) map to work with, their “lines” of travel might catch you off-step when they get very close. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

And I’m at a loss as to why I can fire in eight directions but only move in four … ?

No sound. 😦

But I’m quite pleased with robohack as a game that has reached its first decade and still shows potential. It’s fast, it’s tough to learn, and it’s got great visual effects for a console adaptation.

So this is an easy decision … one super-valuable and highly rare K.Mandla gold star for robohack: ⭐ πŸ˜‰ Enjoy … because as one of the creators of the original game once said, “The only legitimate use of a computer is to play games.” 😎