COMPETITION ENTRY #43: OLD BONES
|AN ENTRY FOR THE GREEN CHALLENGE
Recycled from Old Bones (BBC Micro version) by Cascade
The timing of this game couldn't have been better. Barely ten hours before the first ball of the Twenty20 World Cup was bowled (and 363 days and 14 hours after it was supposed to have happened - thanks, China!), a cricket game came winging its way to me. Steve had told me that this was a conversion of a game from the BBC Micro's version of Cassette 50 that didn't have a Spectrum equivalent, and that set the alarm bells ringing. But, given that the BBC Micro was a more powerful computer that cost more than twice as much as a Spectrum, might Cascade have put a bit more effort into this version of their notorious shovelware than the miserable pile of junk that everyone knows they fobbed us off with? Might this game be the equivalent of Scotland's shock win over Bangladesh on day one?
Opening the tape image, I saw a single BASIC block of 1.6K - barely more than an unexpanded ZX81 - so it wasn't going to be of much substance. However, Owzthat is a really simple dice-based cricket simulation that has existed since Harold Larwood was bowling "fast leg theory" (cough!) at Sir Don Bradman, and surely it would fit into a small amount of code - so I was hoping it might be something similar.
It isn't. The title page, in true Cascade style, provides crude instructions - move the bat up and down with Q and A, and hit the ball for a single run. If the ball hits the stumps (which are three "o" characters), you lose a wicket, lose all ten and the game is over - so far, so much like real cricket. The difference is everything that isn't there - there's no multiple runs, no boundaries, no extras, no other dismissals, no bowler, no batsman, no fielders, no wicket keeper, no umpires, and no sledging - it's even more minimalist than Owzthat.
I found it reasonably easy to start with; the ball (which is yellow...? Don't get any ideas, ICC!) can be delivered up to three spaces outside the stumps but the bat is restricted to two spaces, so not every ball can be hit. Most of the time they're delivered from about two thirds of the way across the screen and are easy enough to align the bat with for a run. What I didn't know is that that the ball is randomly generated to appear closer to the bat as more runs are scored - to the point where it can be generated on top of the stumps for an instant wicket. Initially, I thought I could make 100 for no wicket, in the way the England Test openers usually fail to do, but I'd be thwarted. Having first managed 71 all out, my next attempt passed 74 runs at which point a line of balls appeared from left to right, stopping the game with B Integer out of range. What had happened was, the game had calculated a negative column value to PRINT the ball AT, but it looked like the computer was fed up with me playing too well and had taken the ball and run off in a strop!
I had to see how this compared to the original version - fortunately, BeebEm, the only BBC Micro emulator I knew of, is still actively developed. Strike me down with one of Jofra Archer's most vicious bouncers (when he's not injured) if this version isn't even worse! The pitch is blue, the ball is still yellow, but it's accompanied by all sorts of flickering lines as it moves, the bat moves like it's stuck in setting concrete, and the sound effects... oh, the sound effects. There's this weird buzz that lasts a second when scoring a run, but when the stumps are hit it will beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep for five (seemingly interminable) seconds. Clearly Cascade paid as little attention to the BBC Micro Cassette 50 as they did for the Spectrum version (and probably all the others as well), though I doubt the posh kids I was at school with who had Beebs because their parents were rich would ever have had to lower themselves to this.
The attainment score is easy: it's the number of teams in a cricket match. It would also be a two-Rick score for effort, except that I have to add one for meeting the Green Challenge in an interesting way. A blood-curdling scream of "HOWZAT!" from Team Goolu was ruled "Not Out" by the umpire, and his decision was upheld using DRS. What this actually means is, there were a few more problems and I gave Steve a chance to fix them. Once they were fixed, this was the version of the game I reviewed. It's still flawed, but less so than the original BBC Micro version which has to be seen - and suffered, briefly - to be believed. And if anyone is asking about the name - i.e. what Old Bones has to do with cricket - then your guess is as good as mine and I've been watching it for 30 years.
I like to finish on a positive note where possible, so I will add that this has given me another idea for an entry for next year, and provides a route to tackle one of my own challenges. I'll say no more for now, though - I don't want to spoil the surprise.