Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

The Ancient Games of the Rampant Coyote, Part 1

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 22, 2011

My first games, mainly for the Commodore 64, have been lost forever.  This is not what anybody should consider a tragedy to the art of gaming. But when I’ve found old stories, dungeon write-ups, and so forth from an earlier era of my life, I often do find it pretty inspirational. I would love to merge the raw energy and creativity I had at age 15 with the skill and practicality I have now.  If that combination can actually exist together.

A year or so ago I stumbled across a 3.25 inch floppy diskette containing some old game projects of mine from my early twenties. Yes, that’s right – I could fit multiple projects on a single 1.4 meg diskette. This was an era where I think my entire hard drive was a whopping 320 megabytes. With every desktop computer upgrade, I’ve always sprung for a floppy drive. Why? Because I still have a bunch of old games in that format I may still want to load up and play some day, that’s why. And for a case just like this one where I can dredge up the past a little bit.

Anyway – I put a bunch of these old projects – plus a couple of slightly more recent ones – in a directory on my hard drive. I don’t know if I can compile these things anymore without major modifications — I believe I wrote them using a version of Borland C++ (Turbo C++?).

This first one is one I’d love to revisit some day. I called it “Netrunner: Pawn’s Gambit,” a cyberpunk-style action-RPG I wrote around 1994 that drew inspiration from William Gibson, R. Talsorian’s Cyberpunk RPG, Interplay’s Neuromancer (based on Gibson’s novel of the same name), Steve Jackson’s Hacker boardgame, and – significantly – the old Synapse Software game Shamus and its sequel (which in turn were inspired by the arcade game Berzerk).

The core idea is that you play a futuristic computer hacker who plugs into “Cyberspace” (the speculative fiction version of what the Internet would some day be) via interface electronics right into his brain, controlling your actions (and hacking) at the speed of thought – necessary to react fast enough to the AI counter-intrusion programs.

Rather than make it a 3D experience (3D was pretty ugly back then, and while I was writing some 3D games back then, they were with flat-shaded colored polygons), I decided that THIS game’s interface into the cybernetic Internet would be in the 2D. It’s easier to get situational awareness that way, you know?

Anyway, the main menu of the game (pictured above) was the bulk of the “meat space” (real world) interaction. Instead of “leveling up,” exactly, you’d upgrade your hardware and software.  You’d earn money (instead of XP) by siphoning off money from bank accounts you’d hack access to at various locations on the Net, and by fencing hot data (or used hardware) to Fish the Fence.

Once you’d “jack into the Net”, you’d get this screen to the left. This was a map of all the locations in the world. They were color-coded based upon their difficulty. I think their shape meant something as well… circles were businesses or personal sites, then there were other shapes that meant things like government or military installations. I don’t remember, and haven’t looked at that code to see if I had any comments to say what I intended them for. I never got that far in making the game.

The map screen was really not much of a game – nothing would happen there. But when you’d move onto a grid spot with a node, then you could try and enter the node – which was where the real gameplay happened.

Inside a node, it was pretty much standard action game fare. You’d move from room to room, fighting off the AI defenses and navigating the static defenses (most popular being the ubiquitous locks… which you could either crack with software (if possible), or would have to hunt for inside the system, dodging and fighting defense programs as you went. Your “deck” (cyberdeck) could hold so many points worth of software at a time, and more advanced software couldn’t run on weaker systems.  You could download the software if you found it on any deck, but just couldn’t run it.

The software formed your tools and weapons. “Bullet” and its kin were the standard ranged attack program – you’d shoot projectiles with it of varying strength, speed, and special qualities. Landmine would drop a bomb invisible to the AI, which would explode whenever an AI got within a particular proximity.  Then there were “freeze” programs that would cause the AI programs to freeze in place, harmlessly, for a bit. Incidentally (I discovered, playing it), “killing” an AI program only reset it – it would respawn instantly in its original location. Maybe a slight delay before respawning would have been a better approach…

The nice thing about this all being a “virtual reality” system is that I didn’t need to worry about my graphics being realistic at all. They were all projections created by the neural interface, after all. And you can see even then my tendency for absolutely glaring misuse of color, a habit I still have not licked today.

The AI were supposed to be of all shapes, flavors, and strengths.  I think I had two or three implemented.  Similar-appearing AI (of different colors) were supposed to have similar attacks and styles.  Some would hang out and shoot at you. Some would shoot homing weapons at you. Some would chase you. Some would do damage to you (which would damage your hardware and your own health). Others would freeze you in place, allowing you to take actions but not move, making you easy prey for the other AI. And so forth.

You’d find passwords and keys in the different rooms. Then there was data areas, where you’d collect your “treasure” (in the form of skimmed bank account info, sellable data, or storyline text). The “story” of the game, as in Neuromancer, was in the form of text files found scattered across the Net pointing to a grand conspiracy, and conversations in the “Gentleman Boozer” bar with other hackers like you.

I wish I remembered what the story was about, because the bits and pieces I’ve found in the game were tantalizing. I remember it involved – as in Neuromancer – a big fight with an AI which used a 3D realtime-rendered polygon face (a very simple mesh). My 3D rendering code – with the simple flat-shaded polygon rasterization – is all in there.

In the same directory is a sprite-making program I wrote for the game (I dunno why I used that instead of a shareware pain program), and a map editor. And a couple more programs that I haven’t looked at and don’t remember what they were for. Editors or test programs, probably.

As I said, this would be a cool concept for me to dust off and revisit someday, maybe as a web game. It would be pretty easy to do. The idea still sounds like a nice fusion of ideas, though I don’t know how well the cyberpunk / “netrunner” idea would really fly today.

But the most important thing about this half-finished game is that it was at least partly responsible for my career as a game developer. This was what I showed from my “portfolio” to two prospective employers, and both companies offered me a job.




Filed Under: Retro - Comments: 13 Comments to Read

  • UDM said,

    Speaking of Neuromancer, I finally got around to reading the original book by Gibson a few months back. I have to agree with some of the critics on Amazon – it has a brilliant concept, but the storytelling leaves much to be desired. It’s disjointed in many places, with short fragments or one-liners that suddenly break the flow, and sudden metaphors and figurative phrases muddling up the text. It has its moments, not to spoil anything, and I was most engrossed when Case was trapped in his hallucinations; it also does get better later on. But yeah, can’t say I’m huge on the writing style overall.

    But I’m digressing. Sorry. 🙂

  • Calibrator said,

    I love those casual comments like “it has its moments” on a book that has won the three major SF awards in the year it was published…

  • UDM said,

    So what are you getting at?

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I dunno if Gibson is a master storyteller – I tend to be captured more by his vision than his execution, too. But that doesn’t stop Neuromancer from being one of my all-time favorite books. I haven’t read it in a while, though.

  • Felix Pleșoianu said,

    My favorite moment is when Case walks along a row of payphones and each of them rings ah he passes by… but only once. Neuromancer has many good moments, but that one really stuck in my mind. Oh, and when Molly is walking through a bazaar and Case is looking through her eyes… he wants to turn his head and gawk at the stalls, but can’t. That moment speaks so loudly.

    As for the game, fans of traditional cyberpunk would surely recognize and appreciate the tropes. In other words, it would cater to a niche. But that’s nothing new to an indie, now is it?

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Pay phones? What are those? 😉

    I keep hoping they’ll make a movie out of it someday. That, and Ender’s Game.

  • UDM said,

    Felix: don’t forget when Molly takes a finger and circles it around her left nipple, the first time Case flips 😉

    Yeah Jay I don’t deny that the man has a huge vision, and that it was likely because it opened the world’s eyes to a new fictitious culture that led to Gibson’s achievements. And Calibrator still hasn’t told me what he was clawing at. Sad.

  • Xenovore said,

    @ UDM:
    William Gibson has a writing style that either you get or you don’t get. I don’t think you get it. (I think that’s what Calibrator was implying.) =)

    @ Rampant: I like your Netrunner game concept! When I first started playing Cyberpunk and saw how the netrunning worked, I thought, “That would make an awesome video game!”

    In particular, it would make a great RPG. And with its high-tech, sci-fi style it would provide a welcome change from the usual (over-used) medieval fantasy conventions.

  • Calibrator said,

    Sorry about not coming back to you sooner and making you wait – but do you really not understand what I meant?

    Come on: “It has it’s moments” !?

    In my book that’s about the same as:
    “2001 – A Space Odyssey” was mostly bollocks, nice concept of realistic space ships but, man, what a long, draggy affair! From shitty ape costumes in the beginning to a space baby in the end – WTF was Kubrick smoking?

    We could endlessly debate about the importance of Neuromancer in the SF literature (you read it because of that), Gibson being one (if not *the*) founding father of the cyberpunk genre with this book, about writing styles and personal preferences (straightforward prose that leaves no questions open or collage style).
    I would be the very last person on earth claiming that Neuromancer is perfect but I’m definitely accepting it as a “whole unit”, that is worth more than the sum of its parts.

    Like it or not, but with this novel he built a home for many SF readers, however pathetic that sounds. I bet many of them were sad that after the Sprawl series Gibson moved on, together with his peers, producing stuff like Steampunk or simply vanishing in obscurity.

    Obviously, in 2011, Amazon and other forums are populated with scholars of literature, experienced critics, that are able to rip a classic to shreds – and, naturally, deservedly so…

    You know, there is a difference between experessing personal opinion and stating something as being fact. What you are still doing. Which I think isn’t sad, by the way, but perhaps normal behaviour of the modern netizen.

  • UDM said,

    Well pardon me for not saying “It has its moments IMO” then. I wasn’t stating it as fact. I honestly didn’t get a good read out of it, and while I can appreciate what Gibson did for the genre, I still stand by my comments when I implied that he could have brought forth his ideas in a far more impressive manner, or at least one that would sit right with me. Nor did I intend to come here and spark an academic debate and carefully scrutinize every literary detail on the text itself. No, I just saw that Jay made a post on a game he’d made, inspired by Neuromancer, and made a passing comment on the book itself, which I didn’t like (opinion, not fact btw). If I had to write a 2000-word essay for every time I feel like making a quick comment, God forbid I would ever have time to do anything else.

    That analogy on Space Odyssey is also taking things too far out of context, and deviating from my original remark of simply commenting on Gibson’s writing style. If you would be so kind as to quote the specific parts of my post which gave you that impression, that would be good. It would, rather, be more akin to saying “Eh Nethack is good, I love its ideas, but it’s graphics are a bit too skeletal for my liking. It has its moments though, but yeah, not a big fan of ASCII”, or “Ultima Underworld has a great concept yeah, but I just didn’t like the whole underground thing; didn’t settle right with me” (I’m a huge fan of both games btw). Maybe you misinterpreted the quote “has its moments”, so just to be clear, I meant it in a way that these “moments” would be the segments that struck all the right chords. To cover the rest of the bases, I did not imply that the book was boring (and why should I be faulted even if I did? It would simply be an opinion anyway). Oh I might have stated that “sentences are fragmented and disjointed”, but there we go, that’s probably the only fact that I will acknowledge in my post. Which is true, by academic accounts. Now, me saying “sentences are fragmented and made it a difficult read”, that would be an opinion. Again, I’m sorry if I’d misled you by not explicitly stating it was one.

    You’d also probably be right if I came in and said “Gibson is overrated” or “Gibson is actually a talentless hack”. Which I didn’t, as that would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I appreciate his vision, but I found his writing too fragmented for my liking (again, IMO). Nor was I particularly impressed with the way he handled the final beach scene, which (IMO) had its ups and downs. No, I don’t think I’m conforming to the “normal behaviour of the modern netizen” in this case. In fact, I’d be well guilty of being an outright liar if I just went along with everyone else to herald Neuromancer as one of the best books ever written. The source of inspiration for the evolution of the cyberpunk genre – yes I would unhesitatingly agree to that (again, based on my opinion). Credit given where due, but that’s where the rest would border on my personal opinion.

    Regardless, it seems like you’re reading more into my comment than I would have expected someone else to. I’m a huge fan of adventure classics, such as L’Amour, Robert E Howard, Jack London etc, and Neuromancer’s narrative differs quite a fair bit from proses from these authors (again, IMO), so that might have been why I couldn’t really get into the spirit of the book. Perhaps the “It has its moments” part is something you don’t quite agree with, but then taking into consideration that I also wouldn’t agree with someone who would call Gibson a “storytelling master”, I sure as heck would think it puerile to downplay that person’s opinions just because I don’t see eye to eye with him.

    IMO (IMO) I think you’re placing too much emphasis on the fact that he won the Philip K Dick and the 2 other awards, and hence upset by my remarks. I don’t care for who wins what awards. I just read for fun, and I’ll just end off with a note saying that if I don’t like a book in particular, for whatever the reason, it’s simply my opinion, and you don’t have to worry about me going out on a crusade to tarnish its good name. I even recommended the book to a fellow graduate student who was doing research on the post-human theme, simply because I thought it deserved it for the explication of the setting. So, in a nutshell, do I hate the book? It wasn’t a particularly good read for me, but it showed me what a man can do with his imagination. Do I think its influence is undeniable? Based on the existing academic literature as facts, yes.

  • UDM said,

    And that Amazon part, not quite sure what the problem is there. I don’t think me agreeing with those people makes my opinion any less valid based on what I’d read, just because of the possibility that they’re not all academic professionals.

  • Captain Kal said,

    Have you ever heard of “Decker”

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Nope, but thanks for the link.