Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Revisited: “How Do I Get Past the Harpies?”

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 4, 2011

Word from testers have been coming back over the last couple of weeks. Seeing other people enjoy a world that you’ve created is a tremendous feeling. It’s also motivating – you see parts that aren’t working well (these guys are testing the game, so I get a lot of that), and want to fix them.

This reminded me of a story I shared about five years ago on the old blog, and thought I’d share it here, with some minor revisions. Indie wannabes who haven’t yet released a game (even freeware) to the public: This is what it’s all about. I got my first taste of it before I was even in high school. Times and technology change, but the thrill of making games for others does not.

“How Do I Get Past the Harpies?”

Back in the 1980s (but still true today), if you happened to know a thing or two about computers, people assumed you were an expert on the subject. And you’d get called on to fix other people’s computers. At the age of 14, I knew how to program in BASIC and a little bit of 6502 machine code; I knew what a floppy disk was (they were mainly 5 1/4″ back then); and a little bit about booting up different kinds of machines. That made me a “whiz kid” and earned me some measure of respect and awe from adults. Which was of course, very cool.

But it also came with the expectation that when an adult didn’t know how to make their computer work, I’d be able to help.

One Saturday a woman from our church needed help with her computer, and had asked my parents if I could come over and take a look at it. She lived a distance away, so my dad dropped me off to take a look at it, promising to be back in a few hours.

This lady was very gracious, but had no clue what to do with this machine on her kitchen table. This was a “portable computer.” Back in 1983 or so, a “portable computer” was jokingly referred to as a “luggable.” They were about 25 pounds or so, had a built-in 4″ screen, and were about the size of a small suitcase.

I spent about 20 minutes fiddling around with the system, asking the lady for her boot disks and anything else that came with her system. I figured out the problem, but I wasn’t able to fix it (I think it was a bad disk, and she didn’t have a backup). I gave her my best advice, and I was done. And… I still had a few hours to wait before my dad would pick me up. She gave me some lemonade, and said that she thought there was a couple of games on her assortment of floppies.

The one game I found held my interest for a few minutes (it was some game about a garden maze full of monsters – all ASCII characters), but then I found a disk with a version of BASIC. I booted it up, and began programming.

By the time my dad arrived to pick me up, I’d written a short little text-adventure game. I only had time to do a really simple text parser, and it had something like 20 areas and a dozen items scattered through them. I left the computer running, and forgot about it. The lady thanked me again for my help and advice (what little I’d done), and I went home and forgot about it.

Shortly after dinner that night, we got a phone call from this lady. It was for me. I was wondering if there was something else wrong with her computer. I answered the call.

How do I get past the harpies?!?” she begged me.

It took me a few seconds to realize what she was talking about. She’d discovered my little adventure game — and had gotten most of the way through it. She was stuck at the harpies, which kept killing her.

“Oh, you get the wax from the candles and put them in your ears. Just ‘Use wax.’ That way you won’t be affected by their song,” I responded.

“Thank you!” she said. And she explained that she’d been playing it all evening, and had been trying to get past the harpies for over an hour, and it had been driving her nuts. She thanked me for the solution, and hung up – presumably to finish the game. It had taken her as long to play as it had taken me to write. Boy, that doesn’t happen anymore…

As for me, I felt GREAT. This was the first time someone else had played one of my games – and she’d apparently been hooked on it the entire evening. She’d liked it. And she was not a geeky computer-game addict like me… just some woman who used her computer for her home business. But my little invention was of worth to her.

There have been a lot of games since then, and a lot of players. And the feeling hasn’t changed much.

It still feels great.

Filed Under: Adventure Games, Geek Life, Retro - Comments: 5 Comments to Read

  • AtkinsSJ said,

    Wow, that’s really inspiring. 🙂

    Personally, I’ve never got at all close to finishing developing a game. Maybe one day!

  • JTippetts said,

    Heh, that’s awesome. I had a similar experience once, long ago. I was writing a little tile-based game (16 colors, EGA, the screen redraw rate was similar to the flow rate of frozen molasses) and left it running on my dad’s computer while I headed off to school. Got home and found him hunched over the keyboard, peering at the little blob-shaped blue dude representing the player. “I just learned fireball,” he said. “These green guys are easy now, but I still can’t kill this yellow thing.” It is an awesome feeling.

  • Megabyte said,

    There’s nothing like showing your creations to someone. The first time I showed my game to my girlfriend, we had a very nice make-out session afterwards :).

  • Ten Reasons *Not* to Make Indie Games said,

    […] joy, inspiration,or provoked thought. Connecting with an audience, no matter how small. There’s nothing quite like it in the world.  Maybe if you are cut from the same cloth as J. D. Sallinger, you’ll have an allergic […]

  • Zed said,

    Back in high school round ’97, I made a DOS game in QBasic where two players dueled with all kinda fun weapons in a randomly generated destructable maze. Some of the best times I ever had with my school buddies with the shitty 2d graphics blasting each other apart, and watching them play and have fun was truly the biggest part of it. 🙂