Review – Usborne Computer Spacegames.

May 11th, 2014

Right, finally another review. This time it’s the partner book to Computer Battlegames. But now we’re IN SPAAAACCCCE!


This book is similar to Computer Battlegames just with different programs to enter. Like Computer Battlegames the last program in the book is a graphical one with different listings for each computer. Now that Orwell has been upgraded to have better text and graphics capability I was able to enter my own version of this game.

To avoid having large chunks of listings in these reviews I have instead made the listing available as a ZIP file here:

All listings now have a CONTROL-C character (HEX 03) at the end of the file. This is an “End of Text” character. With the recent changes to Orwell I updated the load routine so that it automatically exits load mode when the CONTROL-C character is read. Because I am not echoing everything that comes into the serial port back out now I can run it at full speed so loading is much faster and more reliable.

First though lets start with the text based ones.


Starship Takeoff.

A very simple program, less than 20 lines of code. It’s a another silly guess the number game. You have 10 goes to guess a random number and the program says if you are too low or too high.

IMG_1755_1 IMG_1756_1

Next up we have Intergalactic Games.


Another random number guessing game. Ho-hum. But this one uses mathematics to work out the numbers. You basically guess the angle and speed and the program tells you if you were right or in which direction you were wrong.


Next up is Evil Alien.


This one looks more interesting, what do we have to do? Hmmm, guess THREE random numbers. Basically there is a 3 dimensional grid and again you just have to guess the correct random numbers with the computer telling you if you were right or else in which direction you were wrong.


Please, please not another random number guessing game. We now have Beat the Bug eyes.


This looks more promising. Pairs of eyes (or boobs if your imagination runs that way) pop up in random locations on the screen and you then press 1, 2, 3 or 4 to ‘kill’ them. Hang on a sec, it’s just another guess the random thing game. The eyes are shown in random positions but each of the four positions always match the same digit. Not much of a challenge. Not much to photograph in this game but here you are.


Next (please, please, please not another random number game) we have Moonlander.


This one is much more promising. Not a single RND in the whole listing! Basically you are in a moonlander and you specify how much fuel to burn each round and the computer updated your height, velocity and fuel remaining based on what you burnt. You have to land gently enough not to kill everyone.

IMG_1760_1 IMG_1761_1

Out of all the games in the book this one is probably the most fun to actually play and it’s actually quite hard. With no randomness once you figure out a strategy that works you can always win but it’s still fun trying different things. Burn fuel slowly all the way down or let the thing plummet and try to stop it with a massive burn right at the end.

And after that high point we have Monsters of Galacticon.


And it’s another random guessing game. Bugger. There are four types of monster and three types of weapon. I think the point of this listing is to show how arrays work and how you can randomly shuffle them which is interesting I suppose but the game is just boring. It pops up a name, you randomly hit 1, 2 or 3 and maybe something happens.


Next up is Alien Sniper.


By now I am scanning the listing for RNDs and “if guess = RND” type code and this one has it. It’s a match the random code game. It displays a letter and a random number and you have to type the letter in the alphabet that matched the original letter plus the number. So if it shows “D    3” you would press G. It runs in a loop and used INKEY$ so you have to react quickly.


Next we have Asteroid Belt. It is another random number matching game but presented in a slightly (only slightly) more interesting way.


The game displays Asteroids which are basically groups of * characters randomly in a group on screen. You just hit the number key that matches how many asterixis there are. Again it uses INKEY$ so it runs in real time.

IMG_1766_1 IMG_1768_1

Next up we have Trip into the Future.


I don’t know about the future. Seems more like the recent past as it is, and this is probably no surprise, another random guessing game. Bah!

In this one it’s again using some maths to fiddle the random number you have to guess. The premise here is interesting since it’s about relativity and how time passes more slowly for someone travelling in a ship close to the speed of light. Here you just have to randomly guess your speed and distance to try to match the random time the program selects.

IMG_1769_1 IMG_1770_1

Only one guess here so it’s really a boring game!

Next up is Death Valley.


This game is definitely a step up from the rest. It does have lots of RNDs but it uses them well. The game draws, well prints, two walls and you have to pilot your ship between them without hitting the walls. It’s just like Beggar’s Canyon back home!

IMG_1771_1 IMG_1772_1

It works reasonably well!

Next up a totally different kind of game. Space Mines.


OK, this does have randomness in it. Basically it’s a simple resources type game. You buy and sell things and say how much money to spend. Nothing too exciting to be honest. These types of games don’t do much for me.


So moving on we have Space Rescue.



It’s a long listing but a lot of that if the instructions which, on a low line number machine, won’t all fit on the screen at once so when it prints them out the top scrolls off screen!

The game i in two parts. First you have to get to the planet by specifying how to spend your energy. Then random stuff happens and you reach the planet. Then you have to land. To be honest I never played it enough to get to the second part. By now I was completely over random number guessing games.

IMG_1775_1 IMG_1776_1 IMG_1777_1

Luckily the book ends on a high note with Touchdown.





This is a graphical game and so there are different listings for each machine. Since Orwell is a machine I made I had to create my own, unique listing to make this one work. I started with the Apple 2 code since I guessed it would be most similar. It took me quite a bit of messing about to create my own version of this game. I was  not sure how similar it looked to the other versions since there are no screenshots in the book. I did find these online though:

Link to the Spectrum version.

Link to the C64 version.

If you follow those links you can see they are completely different!

My version came out like this:

IMG_1753_1 IMG_1754_1

It was actually a lot of fun to code as I got to play with Orwell’s new graphics routines and also with some of the new characters I have to play with in text mode. I also found some bugs in Orwell’s code when I was doing this.

The game runs in real time and it’s really similar to the earlier game Moonlander. You control your thrust and try to land softly enough not to kill everyone. This game runs in real time, which on Orwell is at the staggering rate of 1 frame per second!

It’s not fast but on my proper tellie instead of the little LCD it actually looks quite good. Very crisp and sharp graphics. I really should go back now and do the same with the graphical game at the end of the Battlegames book.

The last few pages of the book are the same as in Battlegames, summary of BASIC,  hints on writing your own games, ASCII charts, conversions charts and so on. It doesn’t have a further reading section though.

Overall this book was very repetitive. There wasn’t really much that was new in it and the guess the random thing games get old quickly. In terms of Orwell BASIC that is getting quite solid now. Apart from the graphics code I already supported all the commands. The new text modes mean I can try the simple games on my little LCD screen but in 40 column mode which is quite readable. The little LCD doesn’t quite have the resolution to display 80 columns clearly.

I did however find a bug with my INKEY$ implementation and I ended up redoing that completely. Well, it wasn’t so much a bug as I had it totally wrong. I ended up going back to the original MS Basic source and adding in the GET command. That was in BASIC originally, just not in the OSI version. So I just compared versions and added in GET so now Orwell works in a similar way to the VIC/PET computers. Get returns a string and it can be an empty string so now I can do things like this:

110 GET R$
120 IF R$<>”” THEN GOTO 140

Much easier than the broken INKEY$ I had earlier.

So overall it was a boring book but a good one to enter as I found some bugs and further improved Orwell. I also removed the screen width and memory questions from the startup sequence so now startup is much quicker.

Other modifications I have done were just to hardware. I made a universal regulator so I can connect any supply from 7 volts to about 15 volts (AC or DC) to power him. It means I could run him quite easily off a 12 volt battery. I might look at using a small SLA battery. In my tests I found Orwell draws about 300mA. Below you can see he is being powered by my electric drill battery!


So another review done. Lots more to come. Remember the others are all available here:

2 Responses to “Review – Usborne Computer Spacegames.”

  1. Stu Says:

    Hi – know this is a bit naughty – but your asii@ascimation etc didn’t work.

    Just stumbled back on this site again years after originally seeing the asciimation, jet beer cooler etc.

    Good to see some new projects and happy that it is still in its corner of the web where it is supposed to be. I remember loving the above usborne book as a kid – oh the fun you can have now with 3d printers etc at school…

    Very glad to while away a bit of work time by doing some continuing professional development and rekindling dreams of a bit of tinkering like I trained for rather than dilbert and preschools (the preschools of which we are very happy to have – but they do rather leave little time for anything else!)

    Anyway, keep up the good work, will think of you again when I’m dilberting next in Akl – I’ll know there is a warm/cool shed nearby.

    Kind regards


  2. Asciimation » Blog Archives » Orwell joystick. Says:

    […] at a point corresponding to the stick position.  I actually went back to one of the old games, Death Valley,  I had already typed in and made it joystick enabled. That worked well too. So we can call that […]