Saturday, November 03, 2007

Most Obscure Blade Runner Trivia of All Time

Me and Squeaky Zip and Rappsta caught the latest release of "Blade Runner" at the Music Box tonight, and it reminded me of the following.

When I was in high school, in 1985, I wrote a computer game with my friend Payman as a project for a programming class. I say I wrote it, because I made up the story and all the "concept" shit, and Payman did about 90% of the actual programming (if not 100%). So I kind of cheated on the programming class a little bit, because we had conned the teacher into letting us make this game instead of doing all the regular class assignments. I guess that's why I only got a 2 out of 5 on the PASCAL Advanced Placement test (3 being the minimum for getting college credit).

Anyway, the game was a Zork-type "text adventure" takeoff on Blade Runner, heavy on the "film noir" schtick. You played a private detective who works as a contractor for a secret government agency, in the year 2167, in a post-apocalyptic colony on a moon of Jupiter, in a decrepit and crime-ridden domed city. The game starts with you getting called into the office to receive an assignment. The assignment is, of course, to find and kill an escaped android. But the twist was, this android had just attempted a full-scale Marxist revolt of all the other androids -- of which there were thousands, but they weren't advanced enough technologically to understand what he meant when he was entreating them to "Revolt!" So the android had run off on his own and was trying to get in touch with the city's cadre of underground Communists, so they could work together to destroy the "American" society in the domed city.

And the other twist was, the android had such amazing "self healing" technology (OK, I ripped off "Terminator," too, a little bit) that he could purposely damage himself and then regenerate himself into the appearance of any person. Which gave it its title: "Doppleganger" (sic).

So you roam around this city and gather clues, and various goofy computer game vignettes happen, with a couple attempted assassination attempts on you, a trip to "the hood" where you dodge getting mugged in order to get information from a source, problems that ensue when the android decides to make himself look like various people you know -- and at one point like you, etc. Eventually you find and break into the Communist headquarters, and discover who the real villain is. The real villain -- whom, to win the game, you have to do away with -- is the cyborg-supported head of Ayatollah Khomeini.

Which was extra-pungent because Payman was a Baha'i refugee from Iran, who fled with his family after the revolution and moved to the Chicago area because of the House of Worship in Wilmette. So he had a pretty amazing thing happen to him, but he couldn't make up stories. He was a genius programmer, but he seemed to be amazed that I could make up all these puzzles and jokes, so he was willing to go along with the class project wangle (especially since it saved him from doing a bunch of boring assignments).

I learned one thing from the project that has stuck with me, though -- programmers are wrong when they tell you things cannot be done. Payman was always telling me that some idea could not be executed, that it would be "impossible." I would tell him to think about it for a while. Always, he'd tell me the next morning, "I figured it out!" Sometimes he claimed to arrive at solutions in dreams. Programmers are helped by some outside pressure, is my firm conviction as a result.

Last I checked (which was about a month ago), the game was still available on the Internet at a website that archives amateur computer games. I haven't tried to play it in more than 10 years ... it's kind of crappily designed, I'm sorry to say, and is unfortunately harder to play than it should be -- and it was never fully polished, so there are some bugs and some text that should have been revised.

For for the meager resources we had -- and the fact that we were 17 -- it had some pretty good features. There were several scenes of dialog with other characters, which was a lot of fun to make up, including the various things that would happen depending on what you said. There was a time aspect to it, in that each "turn" advanced a clock, and you would get hungry and tired and have to eat and sleep at intervals. Which broke the game into three "days," and you had to accomplish certain tasks by the end of a certain day, or else it was too late, and the end of the world happened. There was even some combat -- a gunfight (all in text, but the trick was in getting the timing of your actions right). We also were able to make it so that the android would be in different places at different times -- which is harder than it sounds, because then you have to engineer different possible encounters depending on how the particular game is going. Fun stuff. Not really computer programming, in terms of what I did, but it was fun anyway.

I worked on another computer game by myself after that, using Payman's code. I even figured out how to put some innovations in, such as coming up (on my damn own, I'm geeky proud to say) with a method of making the game bigger by putting it on multiple floppy discs. That one was called "The Stream of Unconsciousness," and was a takeoff on "Time Bandits" and various other fantastical crap. In that one, the game begins with you witnessing the constellation Pleiades fall from the sky, and then finding out that it is up to you to save the cosmos from ... whatever threat I don't quite remember. The usual, evil is afoot etc. And you jump around from place to place using some kind of metaphysical passageway called The Stream of Unconsciousness.

It had a bunch of loosely connected genre-crossing segments -- or it would have, if I'd have finished it. I think the only ones I completed were the "Godfather" gangster plot and the wizard's castle plot, and maybe a couple more I don't remember. It's gone now, forever. The discs are toast, and I don't have a computer that could read them anyway. By the time I stopped working on it, I had three discs' worth of material, which made it three times as big as the last game.

I worked on that game in a feverish fit of creative frenzy for about three weeks between the time I quit my job at Six Flags and started my gig at the Great Lakes Naval Base golf course, during that crazy, crazy summer of 1986 (and that it was). Everyone in the house (OK, I figure my sister probably didn't give a shit, but all the authority figures anyway) was pissed off at me for being unemployed -- my dad, my mom, The Stickler -- but I was totally flying in a world of my own for a while. I have never been able to quite reproduce it. Not only was I making up all this science fiction bullshit, I was actually coming up with the programming code to make it happen.

Fuck, though, that was a sustained high ... not putting energy into much of anything but this crazy open-ended story that was shoooosting out of me. I wanna do that again someday.

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