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Diecast #85: Old Computers, King’s Quest, Retro Games

By Shamus
on Monday Dec 22, 2014
Filed under:


This week we have a guest on the show. And since it’s December 22nd, I guess this qualifies our Christmas episode. Sort of. Not that we talk about Christmas. But, you know…. Merry Christmas. Or whatever.

Direct download (MP3)
Direct download (ogg Vorbis)
Podcast RSS feed.

Hosts: Shamus, Josh, Rutskarn, the other Josh, and Pushing Up Roses.

Show notes:

2:00 Pushing Up Roses talks about her collection of antique computers.

We talk about the IBM 5150, the Tandy 1000, old keyboards, and THIS monstrosity:

This is what you get when you have your engineer design your human interface devices. And your engineer is Jigsaw.

If this is their “Deluxe Joystick”, then I’d hate to see what their shitty joysticks look like. Everything about this design is wrong. Let’s zoom in:

I want to play a game.

The stick is short and slender, making it both fragile and uncomfortable to hold. And then it’s crowned with a real, actual serrated edge. That’s a real thing that somebody did on purpose. And this design was in use for years.

The button is a nasty stiff cube with a smooth surface and sharp corners, so you can either rest your thumb on the surface and have it slip off, or push on the edge and let it poke you. The little levers beside the joystick are for adjusting the calibration. They’re right there in the open where you can brush against them and throw the joystick out of whack, so be sure to avoid touching those! (You’ll know if you do. They have serrated edges too.)

This joystick hates you.

26:00 King’s Quest is a thing again.

Here is the trailer I was talking about:

Link (YouTube)

35:00 “Retro” games.

At some point the conversation drifts to FMV games. So… watch out for that.

Comments (65)

  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Chris’s introduction sounds a bit sinister.He is The bad santa.

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Super nintendo SNES entertainment system.

  3. Andy_Panthro says:

    I still love the old Sierra adventures, and have replayed many of them over the years. King’s Quest was the first one I played, but Space Quest and Quest for Glory were my preferred series.

    The new King’s Quest trailer looks halfway good, but I am very worried that it’s going to be filled with rubbish arcade sequences and QTEs.

    • Kylroy says:

      …just like the original games? :P

      • krellen says:

        Name the King’s Quest that has arcade sequences or QTEs. Unless you’re counting throwing the boot at the cat in KQ5, which was terrible and bad.

        • Kylroy says:

          Mostly I’m just thinking of all the ones that considered walking a line to be gameplay. And found ways to bring that bad idea into the mouse-controlled ones.

          • Andy_Panthro says:

            The only ones with “proper” arcade sequences were the Space Quest games, which would usually have one particularly annoying sequence per game.

            The navigation puzzles could be particularly hateful though, King’s Quest 3 having a really bad bit where you have to get down a mountainside without falling off (which has at least one point where you go behind a boulder), and of course that damned cat…

            Most of these things were put in to make the game take a bit longer though. In my more recent playthroughs, some of the early games can take as little as an hour or two to complete if you know what you’re doing.

            • Tom says:

              This is the unfortunate truth – when cpus were so slow and memory, both ram and hard disk and on removable media too, was so sparse, making games maddeningly difficult was one of the only ways to make them last any length of time and give your players value for their money*. (The other way was to write interactive fiction or other text-heavy games with really long, engrossing stories).

              *Yes, back in those days, game designers actually thought in those terms.

          • Noimous says:

            The trailer has lots of platforming scenes, unfortunately.

        • Steve C says:

          QTEs were in the Quest For Glory series. It wasn’t Dragon’s Lair but you often did have to press buttons at the right time with limited windows of opportunity. While it wasn’t in cutscenes (since cutscenes weren’t a thing yet) it sometimes did change the view suddenly to something different than what you expected for these sequences.

        • King’s Quest VI had a number of timed sections where: if you failed to find the solution, then you died.

          They’re not quite Quick Time Events as we describe them today, but they sure feel like the predecessor to them.

    • Noimous says:

      The funny thing is, there already are King’s Quest remakes for free, available from http://www.agdinteractive.com/games/games.html. They’re pretty decent.

      Not sure why they want to remake it again. Except for a cash grab, since GOG.com has shown that making old games stable and playable is profitable.

      • Andy_Panthro says:

        The reason is that these remakes are done in the style of King’s Quest V, and therefore probably wont appeal to a modern audience, and they are fan-made so they can’t make any money from them.

        I’d also recommend checking out Infamous Adventures too, who have remade KQ3 and SQ2: http://www.infamous-adventures.com/home/index.php

        • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          It helps with continuity in the series -both in art style, but also in story arc. Things like the Brotherhood of the Black Cloak that were developed in KQV can be retroactively incorporated into KQ2 and KQ3.

          Alas, the remake of KQIV seems to have stalled out. I’d have liked to have the entire series in Point and Click. I hate those old text parsers.

  4. krellen says:

    I shall be spending many hours on Highway 285 today, so this Podcast will be great for that. It’s like you knew, Shamus! Best Christmas Gift Ever!

  5. Wide And Nerdy says:

    Its things like Shamus having on Pushing Up Roses just to talk about the old hardware she collects that assure me I’m in the right audience.

    Here’s the thing. I’m old enough that in theory you’d think I was familiar with a lot of this stuff but I didn’t hear about things like the Trash 80 or the Tandy 1000 till I was an adult. I had old school game consoles like Pong and Atari 2600 and the Apple IIe in school (I played Number Munchers again recently and it still totally holds up). But my family’s first real PC ran Windows 95.

    So I’m grateful to get these little lessons to fill in the missing gaps in my geek background.

    • krellen says:

      Funny. I grew up with both a Trash 80 and a Tandy 1000 in my house. Had the Tandy long enough that when we finally called RadioShack to have it worked on, they didn’t know what to do with it because our 1000 didn’t have any letters tacked on the end.

    • TSi says:

      I didn’t even know people used trash as a nickname for the Tandy 80. Funny. Maybe i’m too young ? When I read or hear trash 80 I think about the music maker Timothy Lamb ( not the trs-80 group even though their name is similar).

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        I picked this nickname up from Knights of the Dinner Table which is sort of my connection to old school attitudes about tabletop RPG gaming (I didn’t start tabletop rpgs till 2000 unless you count HeroQuest).

        See when I came into my own as a geek, I was in my early 20’s and felt like I’d missed out on a childhood of geeking. Oh sure I had my comic books and my Nintendo but there was so much more out there. So I love hearing about the good old days that I was around for but not really a part of. I can see how my generation’s sensibilities played into geekdom and sort of mourn how it was supplanted by Millenial attitudes before I could get much chance to be a part of things.

    • Tom says:

      I had a similar experience – we had a BBC Model B (an 8-bit machine that dominated much of the UK market; about as popular here as the C64 was in the USA) when I was a kid, and kept it so long that the next machine the family got was a 586 with Windows 3.1. We bypassed the 16-bit era entirely, and only ever heard of the likes of the Archimedes, Amiga and Atari ST about a decade later! This means I missed a lot of really classic games.

  6. Ardis Meade says:

    I Won’t have a chance to listen until tonight, but I wanted to take a moment to express joy at Roses’ presence. Will she be on Spoiler Warning this week?

  7. arron says:

    If you think the TRS-80 joysticks were bad, you should try the Texas Instruments TI-99/4A ‘wired controllers’. They were spongy whilst being incredibly stiff. The button acted like it was made of memory foam. No micro-switches were used in the joystick construction.

    In addition, the bases were so narrow compared to the length of the joystick..it’s not like you could even rest them on the table and play with them. You’d pull them over if you tried moving left or right.

    The stiffness was such – after about ten minutes your hand would ache like you’d been working out with a grip-exerciser.

    If you want to see what they looked like, here’s a page on them.


    They were so bad, if the computer game had a keyboard option (such as Parsec) you’d play with the keyboard in preference to the joystick. You’d only play with the joystick if there was no keyboard option as it would be a definite disadvantage.

    • Phill says:

      Oh, I remember those joysticks. Although curiously, I’m not sure I ever had them. I might just have looked lovingly at them in the catalog and not been able to get them, and my unreliable brain has dutifully inserted them into the memory stream.

      I certainly used some equally awful joysticks on the BBC-B and various ZX Spectrum models, most of which were physically painful to use for more than a few minutes, which might be why it all sounds so familiar.

    • Hitch says:

      My favorite “feature” of those joysticks was that the CAPS LOCK key on the keyboard disabled the “up” function on the joystick. If I remember correctly, you had to turn the CAPS LOCK off (which gave you squished, hard to read, upper case letters instead of proper lower case) or the joystick would not recognize being pushed up. Great fun.

      • arron says:

        It’s amazing how a brief discussion with people that all these old memories flood back from two decades ago..!

        The TI-99/4a has a lot of quirks. Apparently the hardware architecture was pretty advanced but seriously hamstrung by hardware design by slowing down memory access by using a 16-bit address space and 8-bit memory access and a huge performance penalty.

        I did like how you could redefine the character set whilst the game was running and all the graphics on the screen would change with the change. It certainly allowed you do do all manner of clever graphical tricks. I did lots of programming on the TI-99/4a and despite it being slow and having a very odd basic that was improved by having the Extended Basic cartridge.

        It’s a shame that when the UK home computing scene was machines like the ZX80 and the Acorn Atom, you had this machine that was in colour and could have been a lot more popular if they’d just designed it better and given more low level access to the machine. Unfortunately it proved to be a relatively unknown piece of kit.

    • Adam Haase says:

      My brother had a TRS-80 Color Computer, so I’m VERY familiar with that awful joystick…

      The TRS-80 had a fairly flexible joystick system; it allowed you to control the amount of X and Y differential based on how far you moved the stick. The problem with that though was it was almost useless for gaming; the only value it had was in a quasi-trackball kind of way for drawing programs.

      I had a TI-99/4a, so I’m also familiar with their “wired remote controllers”. Oh gods yes they hurt your hand after awhile… although I got pretty damn good at Munchman on them until I snapped the handle off. I eventually bought an Epyx 500XJ and never looked back.

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        You know? I could see the value for a guy like me of a joystick with adjustable x y sensitivity for drawing. My hand just isn’t that steady working with any other type of drawing interface I’ve tried. (Maybe I could do the same with a mouse).

        Certainly pens on tablets take a lot of getting used to.

    • Stranger says:

      I cut my gaming teeth on a TI99/4A.

      . . . my dad was smart enough to get non-standard joysticks which fit the port and did the same job. I only used them for Centipede. I used keyboard for Parsec so I could use speed control better.

      But my favorite games didn’t use joystick at all. That would be “Hunt the Wumpus”, “Tombstone City” and “Tunnels of Doom”.

    • Tom says:

      Oh gods, that is some perverse, demented electromechanical design. Am I seeing what I think I’m seeing? Membrane keys without the membrane? With a flexible pcb instead??? A giant hunk of sponge to provide the centring force and reset the buttons???? Some idiot must have thought that was more “elegant” than individual springs, I guess.

  8. Andy says:

    The secret of the black button: if you hold the base of the stick with your left hand, fingers curled around the back, the red button is under your thumb, and the black button is under your forefinger. Right hand, side of palm is on desk, thumb and forefinger on stick proper. I used these sticks for everything (Tandy 1000EX). Not saying they’re perfect, but they were far superior to their predecessors (and successor – the gray pistol-grippy ones are hideous, and not analog IIRC).

    And Shamus, if you’re gripping it firmly enough that you’re having issues with the serrations making you bleed, you’re gonna break it. The analog guts were pretty fragile (my kid hands broke at least two of them – we had two, and eventually we had zero :) ).

  9. Wide And Nerdy says:

    Regarding the FMV idle loop, what if you had the video run forward then backward and loop that? Use something where both forward and backward look natural and it only becomes obvious after you’ve looped a few times and can perceive the pattern.

    Also, Loading Ready Run did a sketch “LRR CD ROM Game” that parodies what it would be like if they wanted the game to proceed whether the player is idle or not.

    Side note: May I just say that its great when Shamus is doing is genially evil thing?

    • Doing a loop by doing forward then backward may work but if you look on GIF anims on the net you can see that almost everyone keeps screwing that up.

      But in theory you could. “Breathing” animations are a form of idle loop.

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        Thank you for the info. I’m not a video editor myself. If Windows Movie Maker can’t do it, I haven’t tried it (and it can’t do reverse video that I can tell, I’ve tried.)

        But yeah, thought it might work for breathing or for things like Chris’ standing around thing (with the natural bobbing and swaying that people do.) Might be worth a shot.

        • The thing that is tricky is the “reversing” frame, a mistake many do is do the first and last frame twice.

          This causes a weird micro-pause. Instead you want

          Another thing to keep in mind is that the start and end of a movement tend to be slower than the middle, and that the end of a movement is slower than the start.
          This may vary depending on the action and what part of someone is moving.

          A rather obvious tip is to watch an example, so use your phone or camera to film yourself breathing and study that.
          If you are making small pixel art then you need to exaggerate it, but do not do that too much though, nothing weirder to watch than a character looking like they are hyperventilating.

          Some Japanese Fantasy RPGs tend to have odd looping animations for characters during tactical view combat sequences they always seem odd to me.

          Also note that looping animation is not the same as repeating animation.
          You can for example mix it up, a person tend to shift their weight, scratch, look around or at something or fiddle or yawn or cough.

          And if a Adventure/RPG in a old school style there is nothing more amusing than a character suddenly breaking the fourth wall “Oh for crying out loud, do something will’ya?”
          But other thins like whistling or humming can be amusing, tying/checking your shoelaces.
          Lighting a smoke (though these days e-cigarettes or personal vaporizes are the thing (these may be with or without nicotine) and a much better role model so go with that unless you are doing a period piece where you need to use cigarettes.)

          A slightly humorous game could for example have a character interact with the environment if left idling to long. Outside the bathroom? Have him/her walk inside (but not let the player look inside, just walk through the door) and then you hear flushing etc. And if the player suddenly tries to enter it have the character say “I just went!”
          This way you can have a “functional” bathroom but not one the player can interact with. Sure it’s kind of design cheating but…

          If you are clever about it the characters can seem to have a life of their own.

  10. RejjeN says:

    Dunno if this is just a problem for me, but if I try to stream your podcasts they just stop playing and reset to 0:00 after about 2-3 minutes. It’s not a major hassle since I can just download it, but felt it was worth mentioning.

    I’m using Chrome if that’s any help.

    Happy Holidays :P

    • Supahewok says:

      I’ve had that same problem I think, using Chrome, for a very long time. ogg Vorbis is the only streaming that reliably works for me, so I always use that.

    • Ivan says:

      Always happens to me as well. I also use chrome.

      I will add to this that no matter what I do, the first time I hit that play button I get the first 15 seconds before it stops and I have to refresh the page, then it runs fine until the end.

  11. ThaneofFife says:

    We totally had that joystick when I was a kid. My dad worked for Tandy in the late 80’s/early 90’s, so we owned a lot of PCs–two 1000s, and a 3000, iirc.

    Keeping in mind that I was about 5 years old when that joystick was new, here are the things that I remember about it:

    – It worked with virtually no games.
    – For the games it did work with, the keyboard worked better.
    – I totally played with it anyway, because it was fun and made me feel like I was in an arcade (all of which were closing just as I got interested in them).
    – It definitely chafed your hands.

    All of this was ultimately forgotten once we got (1) the original Sid Myer’s Railroad Tycoon, and (2) Master of Orion. The early 90’s were the glory days of DOS gaming…

    More misc. reminiscences re: Tandy:

    Tandy had its headquarters in a multi-level shopping mall in downtown Ft. Worth, Texas. My dad worked in a small, windowless cubicle above the smaller side of the Tandy Center mall. The mall was weirdly laid-out, being almost entirely vertical with a giant atrium in the center, but it had an ice rink (and an arcade!) on the bottom level. It was also connected to the largest privately-owned subway in the world, which was about 1km long, and went to a free parking lot outside downtown. The mall is still there, but it’s not called the Tandy Center any more. The subway and parking lot were demolished (along with the neighboring low-income apts.) to make room for Tandy’s (now Radio Shack’s) new headquarters in the early 2000s.

    I don’t know what my dad did at Tandy (guess I should ask him sometime), but we spent a lot of time in Radio Shacks because he had a lot of friends working there (and got an employee discount). We stopped going after Tandy laid him off during the 1992(?) recession. Walking into a Radio Shack nowadays is (1) a potent form of nostalgia for my childhood, and (2) completely pointless, unless you want to buy a cell phone charger or a remote-control car.

  12. Jamas Enright says:

    So, how do you guys (from Shamus and co to the commentators) feel about the upcoming Spectrum Vega?

  13. Trainzack says:

    The picture still lists the music as by Kevin McLeod. Just thought you might like to know.

  14. Steve C says:

    @21:10 I checked the drawer I keep old computer accessories out of curiosity. Right on the top- Gravis Gamepad. 10 seconds later Roses asks about a Gravis Gamepad. BTW you screw in the stick, not press it in.

    Now I’m curious what else I’ve still got. Too bad my laziness outweighs my curiosity to start digging.

  15. krellen says:

    That “as far as you know” from Shamus at the end was such a GM thing to say.

  16. Kagato says:

    Funnily enough, Zoe Quinn is in the early stages of developing a super-campy homage/parody/tribute to FMV games.


    Camp's Not Dead is a full-motion video game in the style of old 3DO and Sega CD classics like Night Trap, starring beloved B-Movie actors like Greg Sestero (Mark from The Room), actors from the gaming sphere like Ashly Burch (Hey Ash Whatcha Playin) and being developed by Zoe Quinn (Depression Quest, Jeff Goldblum Staring Contest, Clone) and her merry band of game developers who make weird and interesting things including Jared Rosen (Hot Pepper Gaming, The Muppets). It's Sharknado meets Sewer Shark meets Gameshark.

    Recent events have understandably stalled progress, but it’s still a thing.

  17. Artur CalDazar says:

    Among the programmers I went to college with there was no special preference for keyboards, other than a decently sized shift key. Maybe its that we young ones all listen to our music while working.

    Speaking of my college I once floated the idea of an FMV game and nobody was keen, apparently “Yeah they were terrible it will be great” wasn’t as convincing for others as it was for me.

    • Cuthalion says:

      There’s something to be said for a keyboard where it presses easily, but is also very clear and obvious when you have pressed a key. No mushy or sticky business.

      That said, as long as it has a numpad and a REAL, FULL-SIZED BACKSPACE KEY, I’m fine. (Although I guess my work coding is mostly in Vim now, and I use x or dw to backspace now, but still!)

  18. Around 45 Rutskarn’s dog is barking, then Rutskarn says “Shut up Josh” and the dog stops barking, and for a fraction of a second I thought “Wait.. Rutskarn’s dog is called Josh?”

    So for example…
    Rutskarn: You want a treat? Sit… That’s a good dog Josh, here ya go.
    Rutskarn: Josh, stop humping the legs of my guests.

    Wait, that last one wasn’t the dog was it….?

  19. A FMV would work if you went with rotoscoping though, there is software to help with that and the camera do not need to be that high res.

  20. NotDog says:

    Does anyone suppose the talk of retro games can be related back to those big RPG Kickstarters in the past couple of years? Those games and pitches were premised on the notion that RPGs peaked in the 90s and these games promised to bring that back for better or worse.

  21. Daemian Lucifer says:

    What many designers do wrong about retro games is that they make the game too retro.There is a reason we didnt keep plenty of stuff from old games,like limited lives,no saving,jerky movement,lack of aiming,poor interface,……Those were all fine back in the day,when we didnt have better.And thats why shovel knight succeeded,it didnt go too retro,but juuust the right amount.Thats also why retro design focuses mostly on graphics:because its easier to make old graphics appealing than lack of proper information.

  22. Hi, I never commented here, but I love your website and the Diecast. The problem is, I live in Brazil, so the only way I can access the website is through a Proxy Website (kproxy) – which does not allow me to download Diecast episodes. I could, however, access it freely from my University and download all episodes to listen at home, but since I graduated, that’s not an option anymore so I miss hearing it. Do you guys know some kind of proxy that allows me to download episodes? and, if that is not much of a hassle, is there any way to mirror the episodes to another, unblocked, website?

    Thanks anyway.

  23. Dave B. says:

    The best FMV game is Star Trek: Borg. I haven’t played any other FMV games, but I don’t need to. Because I played the best one.

    Really, John de Lancie plays Q in a performance I love so much that I consider the game to be canonical.

  24. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    Alright, I realize it’s been a week, and I’ve been away, but if we’re going to talk about Kings Quest, someone should drop that there is a fan made sequel which does a pretty good job of tying the original series together and giving it a grand finale:

    The Silver Lining.

    Regrettably unfinished. I rather hope that Sierra blatantly rips them off.

  25. Ah, that monstrosity. Makes me want to find out what it would be like to use that kind of joystick for games. Kind of reminds me of the old Atari joystick, but this one looks meaner. Hate to get my fingers caught on those serated edges, not a fun gaming experience if you ask me.

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