Author Topic: "8-bit Stories" preview: Moon Quest II  (Read 1431 times)

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Offline mr_lou

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"8-bit Stories" preview: Moon Quest II
« on: 08:55, 14 January 16 »
Hey all.

I thought it might be time to put out a feeler, to see if there's any public interest in this project I've been working on for the past 4 years now.

It is a collection of stories from my childhood about the computers I experienced back then, which was mainly the Amstrad CPC, but also the Philips Videopac G7000 and Amiga.

I think it'll end up containing about 60 stories in total.

Here is a preview story: The story of the time my cousin and I created "Moon Quest II" animation together.

Feedback welcome! I'm very much interested in hearing what you think. Is this something you would enjoy reading (more of)?

Supplemental screenshots and video will be part of the final version: A blu-ray eBook in a diskmag-like GUI.




"Moon Quest II"

It was now November 1987, and I'd had my new CPC for probably about a month or two.

Back in May 1986 I'd created a small "cartoon" for my grandma on her CPC464. It had been given the name "Moon Quest" by my grandma herself.

My cousin (on my mums side) only saw "Moon Quest" recently and thought it was such an awesome creation that he very enthusiastically suggested that we teamed up on creating a sequel.

I thought that was pretty much the most awesome idea I'd heard all my life. In fact, it had multiple dimensions of awesomeness written all over it!
To learn that my cousin apparently was just as passionate about Amstrad CPC BASIC programming as myself, was extremely awesome. This told me that the near future would contain lots of Amstrad CPC BASIC coding with my cousin - and that was awesome too! And creating a sequel to "Moon Quest" could only be categorized as awesome too. So it was very clear that this whole thing was simply going to be plain awesome!

I didn't know it at the time, but this was the beginning of almost half a decade of a great Amstrad CPC time with my cousin. Those years still stand as one of the absolute best times in my life.

My cousin had the CPC6128 (that came with an internal disk-drive), and then he also had an external tape-player. I "only" had the CPC464 (that came with an internal tape-player), and I didn't have an external disk-drive (yet).
So, since we could both use tapes, theoretically it wouldn't matter if we worked on the project at his place or my place. As long as we saved our work on tape, then we could both load it on each of our CPC's.

But I hadn't forgotten the problems my grandma and I had back in 1985, when we were trying to load the game "Commando" on her CPC464. It was the very first time I tried loading anything on a CPC, and it proved to be quite a challenge. It had taught me that a program saved on one CPC didn't necessarily work on another CPC.
I pictured myself coming home from my cousin with the tape containing our awesome BASIC project, only to see the read error messages when trying to load it on my own CPC. It was a scary scenario that I would very much like to avoid.

Therefore it was decided that we should work on the project at my cousin's place, and use the disk-drive in his CPC6128 to save our work. That way we'd of course also spend less time on loading and saving. In return, I knew there was a chance I'd never be able to watch our creation on my own CPC.

So, for the next week or two we met at his place almost daily. At age 12 that was a very long time to spend on such a project. Developing the first "Moon Quest" had only taken me a single afternoon.

Brainstorming
"What should the story be about?", I asked.
"Well, he's just landed on the moon, so how about it takes place there?", my cousin replied.
"That's brilliant!"

Everything was brilliant back then. The kind of joy we experienced by being creative back then never came back again later in life. Not that it isn't still great being creative. (Otherwise I obviously wouldn't have spent years making 8-bit Stories). But being creative was just much more fun and intriguing back then.
Just knowing that we were about to create a cartoon on the CPC together that took place on the moon, was ridiculously exciting.

Without thinking more about the plot or story, we began typing in lines of BASIC.

"So how did you do it when you created the first story?", my cousin asked.
I then explained to him how I used LOCATE to place a symbol from the ASCII table on the screen, then used a FOR loop to wait a while, before clearing the symbol again and placing a new one on another location.
"Wow... that's a lot of work", he replied.

After explaining my methods to my cousin, he insisted there had to be a better way of doing it. And sure enough, the next day or so he had found what he was looking for in one of his Amstrad CPC magazines. There was a listing showing a much more efficient way of moving a symbol across the screen: By using the variable of a FOR loop with the LOCATE command.

Suddenly we could move a symbol across the whole screen using only 1 line of BASIC commands instead of using 3 lines of commands to move the symbol a single step as I had previously done.
We were learning a lot, and this was the very first time in my life I experienced the reward of working together in a team: Sharing valuable knowledge with each other, and being equally ecstatic when seeing the result appear on the screen. This had to be what teamwork was all about.

This new discovery made everything much more intriguing, which was a bit difficult to comprehend, because it was already extremely intriguing as it was. With this awesome new knowledge we were now able to produce much more in far less time!
It was instantly clear to the both of us that "Moon Quest II" would definitely be bigger, longer and better than its prequel. It would indeed become a most worthy sequel. No doubt about that.

Story writing
All we had to do now was to make up a story. One that would be really interesting for the viewer while remaining doable for us with our limited set of skills. Meaning; the animations should be amazing - but not too complicated.

"He should walk over a hill!", my cousin suggested rather enthusiastically.

The very first suggestion on the table couldn't take advantage of the awesome new technique we'd just discovered. I was a bit annoyed by that, because I'd really gotten hooked on using that technique now. But my cousin promised that we'd use it a lot after the "hill-climbing" part.

He then started typing in BASIC lines to make his vision of the hill-climbing scene come to life. He was very devoted, and was set on making it realistic: While our hero was walking up the hill my cousin made longer pauses between the frames, to illustrate that it was harder to walk up a hill than walking on flat ground.
Likewise, when our hero was walking down the hill on the other side, the pauses between frames were shorter.

Executing the BASIC lines and thus seeing his vision come to life was clearly one of the most satisfying experiences he'd ever had - just like it had been for me when doing the first "Moon Quest". We'd clearly found a hobby that we both really enjoyed.

After completing the small "hill-climbing" scene we agreed there should be no more hill-climbing in the story, since it prevented us from using the new clever one-liner technique for moving our character around the screen.

"How about he knocks over a wall?", I asked.
The second suggestion on the table couldn't utilize the new technique either.
"Oh, yea! That'd be awesome! But..  how'd you code that??", he asked back, doubting that something like that was even possible for us to make.

Notice how none of us stopped to question why or how there'd be a wall on the moon. Don't you just miss childhood?

I explained my idea about first placing a vertical line on a location, then replace it with another line 45 degrees tilted, and then replace that again with a horizontal line.
My cousin doubted that it would result in anything looking realistic, because he imagined all of the lines being placed in the middle center of the 8x8 pixel character-space, which would indeed only result in a rotating stick.
That's not what I wanted to do. I (obviously) imagined placing the vertical line to the right in the 8x8 pixel grid, and the horizontal line at the bottom.

It was one of the many things we both learned during this project: It takes great skills to explain anything to anyone using only words. The recipient rarely understands it exactly as you mean it. After failing in explaining things to each other a couple of times, we learned that it was much faster to just go: "I have an idea!" - and then simply type in the BASIC lines needed to show the idea. That procedure took a lot less time and resulted in more ideas coming to life.



When we saw the result with the wall being knocked over, it had both of us burst into laughing joy, astonished by the awesomeness that was now present in this grand creation of ours.
I can't describe with words how excited my cousin was. He ran the program several times to see his hill-climbing part, followed by my wall-tipping part, and he just thought it was unbelievably awesome. I don't think I'm exaggerating when saying that the equivalent amount of joy today would require a winning lottery ticket.

"Ok, next screen. What should happen next?", I asked.

The challenge in this project was to come up with a story we could illustrate using the characters and symbols that the CPC offered.
We didn't know about the SYMBOL command yet (which allows the programmer to create his own symbols), so we had to pick between the predefined symbols in the ASCII table in the back of the instructions manual. Luckily the CPC included a lot of interesting and useful symbols in its ASCII table. They were a great source for inspiration of what should happen in the story next.

"Hmm... how about he sees a rocket?", my cousin suggested.
"A rocket? But... we've only had 2 screens. Surely he shouldn't be returning to earth already?", I complained.
"No no... he tries to take off, but then discovers that the rocket doesn't have any more fuel!", he explained.
I thought this idea sounded boring, but as we'd recently learned, it was always best to just code the idea to see what it looked like rather than dismissing it based on the short verbal explanation. And sure enough, when I saw my cousin's idea on the screen with the added sound-effect that clearly sounded like "rocket trying to take off but can't", then I recognized that it was indeed a great idea.



This was combined story-creation and visualization on a high level, as you can clearly see.
We made up the story as we went along, and then wrote the BASIC lines needed to transform the vision into animation on the screen. Creative freedom when it's best.

The 3rd screen
It really felt like we were on a roll. Plenty of ideas for the story, and great success in writing the BASIC lines to make the ideas come to life on the screen. The two screens we'd made now were definitely much more interesting than the two screens in the first "Moon Quest". Just as you'd expect from a sequel. Everything was going according to plan.

But then the 3rd screen happened...

"Ok, what should happen on the 3rd screen?", one of us asked.
And then, there was silence...

After two great screens with awesome ideas, suddenly none of us could come up with an interesting scene for the 3rd screen. And I'm not talking about a few minutes. No, we spent much longer than a few minutes trying to come up with an idea, but we just couldn't. I was particular puzzled by this because of how fast we'd both had ideas for the first two screens. And now none of us could come up with anything.

We then began nagging at each other for not coming up with anything. After a few minutes of nagging, we agreed to take a break. The day was almost over anyway. Then hopefully one of us would get an idea for the next day.

But no. Next day, neither my cousin nor myself had managed to come up with an idea for the 3rd screen. And now it had become rather frustrating to the both of us to be stuck here and not getting anywhere.
Then we began blaming each other, and discussing who's turn it was to come up with something.

"I came up with the last idea", my cousin said.
"But I don't have any ideas!", I replied, annoyed by everything apparently being my fault. Because he was right. It was my turn to come up with something.

Since it seemed that our imagination had suddenly left us, we finally reluctantly agreed that the 3rd screen had to be the last screen.
I was very disappointed, having thought this project would be so much more than it now appeared it would be. I'm guessing my cousin felt the same way. But when none of us could come up with anything things couldn't really be any different.
The 3rd screen was going to be the last screen. And this meant that it should contain the going-home rocket...

Because, as you well know, the world leaders has strategically placed several "going-home" rockets on the moon, just in case someone ever lands there and finds himself in need a spare rocket to fly back home...

Wrapping it up
Our main character shouldn't just walk up to the rocket though. That would be the most boring screen of the 3 then. No, we had to come up with something a bit more interesting.

My cousin, who suggested the hill-climbing part in the first screen, then suggested that we made a huge mountain in the 3rd screen.
I was against that idea because I didn't believe there were any mountains on the moon.
"It's the moon!", he said, "Everything isn't flat on the moon!"
"Yes it is!", I replied, "There certainly aren't any mountains."
"How would you know? Have you ever been to the moon?", he asked.
"Yes I have!"

Strong disagreements about the whole flat/non-flat terrain question, but since I recognized that we had to move on, my cousin got it his way.
We drew a big mountain on the 3rd screen and placed the rocket on the mountain.
Having already done the hill-climbing thing in the 1st screen, it would seem repetitive to do a mountain-climbing part here in the 3rd screen now. We'd also gotten a bit tired of the project now, so none of us felt like doing all the typing it would require to make our character climb the mountain. The question was therefore: What to do now with this huge mountain now?



"He could blast his way to the rocket", my cousin suggested, "We should have some kind of big explosion".
"Yea, could be great with a big explosion. But we don't have the skills to do that", I replied.

He knew I was right. It was clear to both of us that we didn't have the skills to create an awesome animation of an explosion that threw rocks up in the air in all directions. But my cousin's need for this explosion scene was too big for him to let it go. He thought long and hard about how to come up with an acceptable alternative within the constraints of our skills, and then he began experimenting with different commands.

"If only there was a way to clear the screen a bit slower than a CLS does", he said.
And then I remembered that there was in fact a way to do that.
"You can do that!", I said, "By setting a PAPER first before you call CLS".

So setting a red colour for PAPER and clearing the screen, followed by setting a yellow colour for PAPER and clearing the screen again, and then repeat a few times - that ended up being the acceptable alternative for an awesome explosion animation.

"Alright!", my cousin said, "So he throws a hand grenade, and the whole mountain explodes!"
"Er... what about the rocket then?", I asked.
"....good point...", he hesitated, "Um... the rocket just stands on the ground afterwards!"
"...the whole mountain explodes, and the rocket just stands on the ground?", I asked.
"...yea!", he replied.

After experiencing the advantages of working in a team, it was becoming clear that teamwork also had its disadvantages: Disagreement.
We shared a big interest in Amstrad CPC BASIC programming, and our different visions did also result in a much more interesting story, but we also spent a big part of the time disagreeing.

After a lot of discussion about this explosion scene we agreed to do it the way my cousin wanted, since the top priority right now was to end the story and be done with it.
And thus, the 3rd screen ended up containing a big mountain that got demolished by a special kind of hand grenade that only destroyed moon-rock and which therefore didn't harm the rocket, which resulted in the rocket standing on the ground unharmed after the explosion.
Our main character then walked up to the rocket and the story was over.

THE END

Presenting "Moon Quest II"
Now that we had completed the sequel to "Moon Quest" we naturally wanted to show it to our grandma. The whole project was intended to be a surprise present to her.
But she didn't have her CPC464 any more. It had ended up in my brother's room shortly after my parents gave me my CPC. I imagine my parents must have bought it from her.
So it wouldn't make any sense to visit grandma to show her "Moon Quest II" since she didn't have a CPC anymore. Instead, we had to wait till she came for a visit at either my parents or my cousin's parents.

It ended up being a visit at my parents, and I think the occasion was my mums 34-year old birthday, December 12th 1987.

We copied our creation "Moon Quest II" to tape and made sure it would load on my CPC464.
Then we were ready for the big show.

And it really did feel like a big show for several reasons. One reason of course being that we'd spent many days working on "Moon Quest II", followed by several days waiting for an opportunity to show it.
Another reason was that my grandma had ended up in a wheelchair recently because of a stroke that had left her paralysed in the right side of her body. Therefore she didn't come into my room that often, since it required a bit more effort with the wheelchair.
So when my mum helped grandma into my room in her wheelchair, it was clear that this was indeed a special and rare event.

Grandma was placed in front of the CPC. "Moon Quest II" had already been loaded half an hour ago, so all that was left to do now, was to type RUN and press ENTER.

My cousin and I were excited, watching the screen, then watching grandma and my mum, then looking at each other, then watching the screen again, then grandma. No one spoke a word.
My aunt, who was also there for my mums birthday, recognized that this was a big moment in history that deserved to be documented in a diskmag-like project called "8-bit Stories" 30 years later, so she took a picture of us.



While my grandma and mum watched the screen there wasn't much of a reaction from neither of them, so my cousin and I weren't sure what they were thinking about this masterpiece that we'd just shown them.

It turned out they needed a little explanation about what was going on. Grown-ups apparently aren't that sharp. Surely anyone else could clearly see what was going on in the story. It was certainly clear to my cousin and I.

We started the program again, and this time explained what was going on while watching.
Oh yes, now they could see that this was truly the work of two geniuses. What a great story indeed.

Curtains
The show was over. Grandma left my room to rejoin the other grown-ups in the living-room. Weeks of work and preparation had resulted in a 10-minute long show... and it had gone by way too fast.

We had expected a bit more positive feedback, so we were a little bit disappointed. But we'd learned a few things:
The two people in the audience had both complained there wasn't enough time to read the subtitles. So for future productions it would probably be best if the viewer had to press a key every time a subtitle was displayed, before the story continued.
My cousin also thought it would be a good idea to place the subtitles at the bottom of the screen instead of the top of the screen, simply because that's where people expected to find subtitles. I didn't feel like placing the subtitles at the bottom of the screen - but it didn't matter either. Due to the disagreements we'd had when creating "Moon Quest II" we had agreed that our next animation projects should be solo projects.
« Last Edit: 17:32, 15 January 16 by mr_lou »

Offline Gryzor

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Re: "8-bit Stories" preview: Moon Quest II
« Reply #1 on: 16:02, 15 January 16 »
I really dislike reading long texts on the PC screen, but I liked this :)

Offline mr_lou

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Re: "8-bit Stories" preview: Moon Quest II
« Reply #2 on: 17:33, 15 January 16 »
I really dislike reading long texts on the PC screen, but I liked this :)

Thanks!

I just added 3 screenshots.

Offline ||C|-|E||

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Re: "8-bit Stories" preview: Moon Quest II
« Reply #3 on: 18:46, 15 January 16 »
Reading this story was actually really cool and inspiring!! I liked it a lot and it reminded me my days as a kid programming the Amstrad. Actually, I did quite a lot of animations similar to yours, although I never showed them to anyone (besides my best friend and unimpressed parents). Luckily, I still have all the floppies, one day I really need to check if they work and create some DSKs with them. I would really like to read your full compilation of stories  :D

Offline mr_lou

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Re: "8-bit Stories" preview: Moon Quest II
« Reply #4 on: 19:46, 15 January 16 »
Reading this story was actually really cool and inspiring!! I liked it a lot and it reminded me my days as a kid programming the Amstrad. Actually, I did quite a lot of animations similar to yours, although I never showed them to anyone (besides my best friend and unimpressed parents). Luckily, I still have all the floppies, one day I really need to check if they work and create some DSKs with them. I would really like to read your full compilation of stories  :D

Thanks a lot!  :)

I suspect many people have such amateur stuff lying around, that no one ever saw before except a few friends. And I just think that opens up for a great opportunity. I'd just love to read the stories about those creations and see a video of them too, while wearing my cosy "nostalgic glasses".  :)

I know that writing isn't for everyone. (But if you can write a text-adventure game, then you can also write stories about your childhood CPC creations, and how you experienced the games back then).  ;)

I'd like to encourage everyone who has similar nostalgic childhood memories to start writing them down. Don't rush it. Let it all take all the time it needs. Write every now and then only when you feel like it.
Then slowly add screenshots. And then add a video of the creations too.
Maybe add illustrations too. Illustrations really adds something to the stories I think - but they're also very very time demanding. At least in our case. Because for each illustration, we're using several photos for reference of places and people in order to create a picture of the image I remember. Each illustration thus easily takes 10-20 hours to create for us. (Yes, this is a huge project).

Anyway, work a little on your stories every now and then, and suddenly one day you'll have a collection of great stories that'll (hopefully) be interesting to the retro-computer community, but also your family and children in the future.
At least, that's what I like to imagine.

I'd love to see "8-bit Stories" become a series, where each issue is written by a new author. Issue 1 by me. Who'll create issue 2?  :)

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Re: "8-bit Stories" preview: Moon Quest II
« Reply #5 on: 10:26, 16 January 16 »
Adding the screenshots makes all the difference. A good read :)

Offline mr_lou

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Re: "8-bit Stories" preview: Moon Quest II
« Reply #6 on: 11:47, 16 January 16 »
Adding the screenshots makes all the difference. A good read :)

I'd think adding video would make an even bigger difference.  :)

Offline dodogildo

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Re: "8-bit Stories" preview: Moon Quest II
« Reply #7 on: 02:16, 17 January 16 »
Great story mate. Awesome read for printed format or Kindle but too long for me read on a computer screen, let aside on a disk mag interface :)

Offline mr_lou

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Re: "8-bit Stories" preview: Moon Quest II
« Reply #8 on: 07:00, 17 January 16 »
Great story mate. Awesome read for printed format or Kindle but too long for me read on a computer screen, let aside on a disk mag interface :)

Thanks.  :)

We can definitely agree that very few people wants to read long texts on the computer / web. The web is this place full of headlines and very short texts, mixed with annoying adds. And almost everyone who visits is in a hurry somehow.

One of the main reasons for targeting Blu-ray players is exactly to avoid the computer-screen and web, and instead have the diskmag viewable on the TV in your living-room, and have the reader relax in the couch.

I've thought about a printed version, but unfortunately that would exclude all the videos - and there are many of those. It would also eliminate the cosy relaxing background music. The whole diskmag-look constitutes a big part of the presentation. It's supposed to enhance the retro-feeling.

So, it'll just be the Blu-ray disc. At least at first. There might be other versions later, depending on feedback.

Not sure why you'f feel a diskmag interface is more difficult to read than another eBook format though. It's text on a screen. You can change text-size as you wish, into huge one-column-wide text or smaller two-column text. Easily readable on the TV from a distance.
And if you insist on running the ISO in a software-player on your computer or tablet, you can just select a very small font-size to match the viewing distance.  ;)
« Last Edit: 09:41, 17 January 16 by mr_lou »

Offline seanb

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Re: "8-bit Stories" preview: Moon Quest II
« Reply #9 on: 04:45, 22 January 16 »
Nice read.
Makes me envious I could never achieve anything with programing at that age but then I could've also tried harder to learn.

Would be nice to see the programmes people made no matter how basic.
Thou shall not question Captain Wrong!

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Re: "8-bit Stories" preview: Moon Quest II
« Reply #10 on: 06:36, 22 January 16 »
Thanks for the feedback.  :)

Would be nice to see the programmes people made no matter how basic.

That's what I'm thinking.

I imagine there are many great stories hidden out there in people's heads that could be told, but they keep them to themselves because no one thinks their own stories are interesting.
I bet the rest of us will find them interesting though. I feel it would be a shame to "lose" them.

Some may think they can't remember so far back in such details. I certainly didn't think I could remember that many things. But they just keep popping up while writing. My issue will have about 60 stories in total I think, but when I started the project I only expected to have about 30 stories. That means I've "suddenly" remembered an additional 30 stories while writing. That'll happen to you too.

The work and time required to actually write the stories may scare off some people, but that's because you're thinking of it wrong. If you already like being nostalgic with the CPC in various ways (playing/coding software, building hardware, making YouTube videos etc), then telling your own stories is simply new way of doing this. One that'll bring you great relaxing nostalgia for a long time. I've enjoyed that.
Although a big part of me wants to be done with it so I can release it (and start-up the next project on the list), another part of me is not looking forward to that day, because it means I won't have the stories to write on any more.  :)