Thursday, December 31, 2009

Repton Through Wine

A couple of days ago I rather glibly said that the PC versions of the computer game Repton ran fine with WINE on the GNU/Linux operating system. That's not quite true, so I thought I'd take a closer look at running Superior Interactive's PC versions of Repton 1, Repton 2 and Repton 3 on GNU/Linux.

WINE Is Not an Emulator

I have two computers here. They both run the GNU/Linux operating system with the GNOME desktop and have WINE installed. In case you didn't know, WINE is the little bit of free software magic that lets you run programs written for Microsoft Windows on GNU/Linux, Mac OS, FreeBSD and Solaris. My wife's computer runs the Fedora 12 distribution (or distro) of GNU/Linux and the free nouveau graphics driver. I've installed version 1.1.32 of Wine on my wife's computer. My computer currently runs Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic) distro of GNU/Linux with the non-free nVidia driver. It has version 1.1.35 of WINE installed.

WINE 1.1.32 is the version currently available for popular distros such as Ubuntu or Fedora, and will therefore be the version most users are running. WINE 1.1.35 is the very latest version, and instructions on how to obtain it are available here.

The PC Repton games can be run "full screen" or in "windowed" mode, in a window on your desktop. You can toggle between these modes by pressing F10.

Repton 1

On WINE 1.1.32 the game will not run properly in "full screen" mode. It will run in "windowed" mode but suffers from a couple of issues. The first is masking - the masking of sprites and the pointer does not work at all.

Repton 1 masking visible on WINE 1.1.32

The second issue is digits missing from the screen selector boxes on the main menu screen.

The boxes at the base should contain digits

On WINE 1.1.35 Repton 1 runs perfectly in "windowed" mode so if you have WINE 1.1.35 or above I can recommend Repton 1 to anyone running GNU/Linux provided you're happy to have the game running in a window.

No masking visible on WINE 1.1.35

And the digits are present on WINE 1.1.35 too

It also runs reasonably well in "full screen" mode. The sprites are stretched, as no compensation is made for the aspect ratio of my widescreen monitor when making the display full screen. The game also suffers from the masking problems that affected Repton in "windowed" mode on WINE 1.1.32. But it does not suffer from the missing digits on the screen selector boxes that affected WINE 1.1.32.

Apart from the masking issue and the stretched sprites the game plays very well "full screen".

The Repton 1 level and sprite editor works with no issues on both versions of WINE.

Repton 2

On WINE 1.1.32 the game will not run properly in "full screen" mode. It will run in "windowed" mode but suffers from the same masking issue as Repton 1.

Repton 1 & 2 have same mask issue on WINE 1.1.32

On WINE 1.1.35 Repton 2 runs perfectly in "windowed" mode so, again, if you have WINE 1.1.35 or above I can recommend Repton 2 to anyone running GNU/Linux provided you're happy to have the game running in a window.

No mask issues on Repton 2 with WINE 1.1.35

It also runs reasonably well in "full screen" mode. The sprites are stretched, as again no compensation is made for the aspect ratio of my widescreen monitor when making the display full screen. The game also suffers from the masking problems that affected Repton 1 in "windowed" mode on WINE 1.1.32.

On exiting Repton 2 from full screen mode

However, unlike Repton 1, it crashes messily on exiting the program having been in full screen mode.

The level and sprite editor works with no issues on both versions of WINE.

Repton 3

The issues with Repton 3 are identical for both versions of WINE.

The game will not at all in "full screen" mode - in fact, selecting it will cause the game to crash messily. It leaves the screen at low resolution as it crashes so you have to either log out and in again.

Repton 3 in "windowed" mode

It will run in "windowed" mode, with issues. The first is that selecting "Run game in high priority mode" will cause the game to crash, and you need to reinstall the game before you can use it again.

The second is selecting the map. If you try and select the map the game will crash. So, Repton 3 will run (and run very well) in Windowed mode provided you don't try and look at the maps.

I told you not to look at the map...

The level and sprite editor works with no issues on both versions of WINE.


So there you have it. Other than no full screen mode Repton 1 and 2 work well on the latest version of WINE. Repton 3 has a serious fault (the lack of maps) and more minor niggles (no full screen mode, and the crasher upon selecting High Priority mode) but other than that is perfectly playable.

If you have tried to run one of these games with WINE I'd be interested to hear how you got on.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

From The North

Recently I had another nice surprise - Michael S. Repton has uploaded a play-through of ROVERS, the Coronation Street theme I created for the BBC Micro version Superior's Repton 3 in the late 1980s, to his YouTube channel.

I've already described the "Rovers" Repton set here, but as always it's fascinating to watch a player as good as Michael tackle my levels.

You can download the "Rovers" theme for the PC version of Repton 3 from here.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Repton's Silver Jubilee

I've just turned 38, which means I've been a keen Repton fan for 24 years. It seems incredible, but next year is Repton's Silver Jubilee.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, if you look through the Blog Archive you'll see I've talked about the computer game Repton several times: both the cover art and graphics I've done recently for Retro Software and also some of the screens and graphics I designed on my BBC Micro back in the 80s.

This time of year - Christmas and my birthday - always makes me think of Repton. Waiting for Christmas 1986 was almost unbearable as it was then I was going to get a copy of the latest Repton release, Repton 3. I didn't have a disc drive at the time, so my copy of Repton 3 would be on cassette tape for the BBC Micro.

The excitement was because, for the first time ever, I was going to be able to design my own levels and graphics for the game and I couldn't wait. I only had a couple of C15 cassette tapes to store my levels at first, and I as I designed levels and graphics I'd save over my previous work again and again. And sometimes a quirk of the cassette recorder volume or tone control meant that the file wouldn't save properly. I dread to think of the number of levels and character designs I lost.

However, one of the very first levels I designed that Christmas I was so pleased with it just seemed to hang around and hang around and I still have it to this day. The password for the level is "TIMOTHY" - named after my pet goat at the time and it was always screen G (for Goat).

Screen G - TIMOTHY

I actually could only complete this level with great difficulty for many years - I used to be happy if only I died twice when completing it.

Eventually, using information I'd gleaned in a Hac-Man article in The Micro User I culled all the easy levels I'd created on various tapes and 5.25" floppies into one set - Set1.

Set1 also featured a customised set of graphics. I was very disappointed with the graphics in Repton 3. This was because they didn't look like the abandoned diamond mine on the cover art. They were all clean and clinical and didn't have much character. So I sat in front of Repton 2 with coloured pencils and recorded every sprite faithfully on graph paper.

My original drawings from 1986

Then I entered all the character designs into the Repton 3 editor - a process that took a very long time and was rather difficult on a fuzzy Microvitec CUB CRT monitor.

The graphics entered into Repton 3

Recently I've been thoroughly enjoying the Repton level play throughs posted onto YouTube by SentinelProxima, ReptonGeek and TestPilotMonkey. SentinelProxima is the YouTube channel name of Michael S. Repton, undoubtedly the world's best Repton player.

I was curious to see how Michael would tackle Screen G, as I take an age to complete the level even now. Michael very kindly produced a long playthrough of all the screens.

The first four levels are completed here:

And the second four levels are completed here:

It was incredible to watch Michael complete my levels - all far more elegantly and with greater efficiency than I could ever manage. As I've said before, the effect of watching someone so good play Repton is as compulsive as watching a 147 break in snooker. It really was a pleasure to watch, and it was a truly fantastic birthday present.

Lovingly prepared new versions of Repton 1, Repton 2, Repton 3 and Repton Spectacular are available to buy for the Microsoft Windows operating system from Superior Interactive. And, for those lucky enough to use the GNU/Linux operating system, you'll be pleased to hear all three games work reasonably well with WINE.

You can download my levels for Repton 3 for the PC version of Repton 3 from here.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

But what's it for?

When I posted about my VHS and PAL plug-ins for The GIMP, I forgot to say why I originally wrote them. As I was using the VHS plug-in last night, I thought it might be interesting to explain what I was using it for.

I often find myself taking captions found on old multi-generation VHS tapes, and trying to recreate them in Inkscape (or, in the old days, in Macromedia Flash).

The trouble is that VHS changes can change the way captions appear. In particular, it changes the way the text on captions appears. This makes it very hard to match the typefaces used on captions with ones I have in TrueType, Postcript or OpenType format.

Take this caption, for example (click on it to make it bigger).

Could you help someone coping with franchise loss?

When I saw it, I knew immediately that the "PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT" text was in Compacta Bold. However, when you create the caption in Inkscape it simply doesn't look right (click on it to make it bigger).

Together we can beat pipe smoking.

As you can see, the text looks so much thicker it's almost as if I've used the wrong font weight. But I know that the text is not Compacta Medium - that would be far too thin. And I also know there were no other weights of Compacta available to Scraggie and his friends in the Mecanorma or Letraset dry transfer lettering catalogues in the 1970s. So what's going on?

If I load the Inkscape caption into The GIMP and put it through my VHS filter, which reproduces the mangling that VHS inflicts on television pictures, you get something that looks like this.

Dinage isn't the problem it was.

The weight of the font in the caption above looks more like the original - and I've clearly used the right typeface all along.

The Southern Television logo is used courtesy of Nic Ayling.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Hey Jemima let's go popping....

Having got heartily fed up of Ubuntu GNU/Linux snap, crackling and popping at me at the slightest provocation, I ended up looking for a solution. After a quick Google I found the answer. It turns out I'm having this audio issue because Ubuntu is utilising a power saving "feature" of Intel integrated sound hardware.

At the command line, if you type:

gksu gedit /etc/modprobe.d/alsa-base.conf

And then comment out the following line in the gedit window that appears by putting a hash (#) symbol in front of it:

options snd-hda-intel power_save=10 power_save_controller=N

You'll find that, after a reboot, there's no more popping.

I've also finally discovered a music player program for GNU/Linux that does exactly what I want. It's called Quod Libet, and comes with an excellent piece of tagging software called Ex Falso.

What exquisite taste this man has.

I've found it to be utterly fantastic for people like me who like to organise and tag their music to an inch of its life.

Inkscape 0.47 Out Now!

One of the jewels of free software is the vector graphics editing program Inkscape. Inkscape is based on the W3C Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) file format. The SVG format is very exciting and as well as vector graphics includes both fonts and animation - at the rate Inkscape is implementing the features of the SVG specification it won't be long before Adobe's Flash has serious competition.

Inkscape 0.47 has now been released. I've been using betas of the new version for some time now, and one of the attractions of the betas were the new vector effects filters.

For instance, take a copy of my vanilla flavoured TVS .svg file:

Daring, dazzling, death-defyingly dull, divinely decadent...

Now add "Chrome Dark". In one mouse click you've got something very nice indeed. You can click to enlarge the image below:

TVS + Chrome Dark filter

One thing I would recommend when playing with the filters (and which is a bit counter-intuitive seeing as Inkscape is a vector editor), is seeing what effect you get if you make your drawing bigger - much bigger in fact. Some filters seem to work best on larger images.

Inkscape is available for the GNU/Linux, Windows and Mac OS X operating systems and if you haven't already downloaded it I strongly recommend that you do so.

Meanwhile, I'm off to play some more!

The TVS logo was originally designed by John Haiman. The TVS logo and TVS name are registered trademarks of TVS Television Productions, Vinters Park, Maidstone, Kent, ME14 5NZ.

Running Rampant

Yesterday was St. Andrew's Day, so I thought I'd listen to some Al Stewart whilst I did something related to Scottish Television - the company whose license to print money predated Quantitative Easing by quite some margin.

Here it is - traced by hand in Inkscape, from a scan of an original STV pasteboard (courtesy of Gareth Randall).

What's on Channel Ten, hen?

It's interesting, but I've found all the recent work I've been doing on fonts has helped me enormously in hand tracing complex shapes such as this accurately.