2012-11-21

Arduino LCD: Game Conversion Recap

I have completed converting seven old text based games for the Freetronics 16x2 LCD Arduino Shield. I choose this era of gaming because it was perfect for the LCD Shield and to pay my dues. As a child, I learnt to program by copying these types of games from books and modifying them. It's almost duty to give a new life to these things that helped form me. I got better and faster at making such conversions and learned some good lessons along the way.

A main loop controlled by a switch() statement is a good way to organise a program. They allow extensibility and focus. I already knew this from my other programming experience and it was no different here.

Arduino's have limited heap memory of about 1Kb. You get no warning that the heap is exhausted, instead variables end up with weird values and you won't know why. Text strings use up heap memory too. In a few games I needed to used PROGMEM to get around this limitation.

Showing a routine message on a delay is better than making the user click through them. The earlier games require more clicking and the later games just felt better because they were less "clicky". Of course non-routine messages should require a click.

It's easy to flash the backlight, but it's not always a good idea because it can throw a user's comprehension of text out. Save it for the really important stuff only.

Keep videos short. Everybody loves videos and code, but they won't watch an epic. In later conversions I aimed for a minute and treated it more like a teaser than a play through. Youtube analytics shows this approach seems to be paying off when it comes to audience retention. My skills with Windows Live Moviemaker also increased; it's perfectly fine for this type of work and much cheaper than the pro-packages I have at my workplace.

I think that today's gamers expect more of a challenge. Or maybe that's because gamers are much older than the 1970s. I made Hunt the Wumpus, Acey Deucey, Mugwump and Defuse more difficult than the originals while trying to preserve the original spirit of the game.

It did take some thinking to fit UI onto the 16x2 char screens. Many games had a lot of text and status to show and it became a matter of focusing on the key variables that drive the game. Text lines often needed rewording and this was done to preserve as much flavour as possible. A few of the games (Wumpus, Highnoon, Camel)use a side scrolling menu.

The list of games are:

I enjoyed doing this series but it's now time to move onto other Arduino related projects. I may continue to do old game conversions into HTML using Twine as a break from my other priorities. Keep watching the Games Conversions label on my blog. Thanks for watching.