Tag Archive for 'DOS'

Finals week (and floppy disks)!

Or as it is referred to in Kenya, “exams week.”  I’m not sure if I will be administering exams to my woodshop class or not.  Tomorrow I will clarify the teacher and student expectations.  The reality is that a single exam would be a waste of time… who am I designing it for?  The fastest kid in the class, or the slowest?  Individualized exams won’t tell me much either… I already know where they’re at because they work individually already at the end of each class so I can see what they’re retaining.

I know for sure I don’t test the little kids in art.  Over the weekend I bought some watercolors, though, and if I’m teaching at all this week I’ll see if I can put them to use.  Something tells me clothes are going to get ruined.

So changing the subject, it’s fair to say that I’ve been a bit of a hermit lately, mostly because:

a) I like being a hermit.
b) Its easy to be a hermit here.

This will end soon, though, since after exams I’m free for a couple weeks before I travel to Nairobi for “In-service training” (IST), after which the entire Deaf Ed group (and my highly anticipated visitor from America, ErinRose!) will be heading back to the coast for more vacation time.  In any case, I can forgive myself for being a hermit because I know I will soon be social again.

Yesterday, in addition to paints, I also bought 35 floppy disks, and I intend to make copies of the work I’ve been doing and to take them to IST so other volunteers can pick up disks for themselves and take them wherever.  Because this is my goal, I’ve been spending a lot of time tweaking the floppy disk that I use here at school to make it better and better, testing each change with kids in the library as I go.

Of course, the whole reason I’m trying to squeeze stuff onto one disk, a seemingly frustrating goal considering that I’m perfectly capable of loading up the hard drives here if I wanted to, is so I can do exactly what I’m planning: share the disks and have them put to use with no instructions needed, just put it in and turn it on, no matter how old the computer.  It’s truly an instant teaching tool, even if its hard to get excited about the stone age technology.

In the version that I’m almost done with (1.2), I really made it a point to find more software that uses the mouse.  Version 1.1 had two such programs, but now there are eight.  In a mixed computer environment (sometimes one of the machines in the library runs Windows), I noticed the the kids get “mouse envy” and they hold the mouse even if the program doesn’t use it.  Now they have more options, and they can tell from the menu icons which program use the mouse and which don’t.   I also made changes to make the programs more consistent, especially regarding how to exit them, which was really confusing before.  In DOS, each program has its own internal logic… there is no “X” to click in the corner to make something go away.  I’ve been doing my best to make sure the Escape key nearly always exits the programs now.

The challenge in making this disk is twofold: on one hand, there’s the content.  I really need to think about which programs benefit the kids most, and because space is limited, competition is tough, so it’s tempting to favor old games that are very small.  They teach the right topics, but often aren’t very engaging.  On the other extreme, I could fit two or three really really fancy programs on the disk that would have big appeal, but would leave the kids asking, “What else is there?”  I am glad that I am able to see firsthand with the kids which of the smaller games bore them, so I can slowly weed out the things that aren’t working.  I also try to consider longevity: if the programs “work” and they actually learn the material, then what?  The disk should also have programs that can be used even after the simple teaching programs have been mastered.  Picking those programs is more theoretical.  Thanks to my Internet connection here, I have downloaded and tested about 200 programs so far in my effort to pick the best ones for the disk.  My spreadsheet is embarrassingly detailed.  This is what free time in the Peace Corps does to me.

The other half of this challenge is purely technical: how can I squeeze more onto one disk?  I’ve resorted to using a number of compression optimization and reverse-engineering tools to squeeze out every last byte of space for each program.  I won’t get into the details, but suffice to say that this is the challenge that turns me into a hermit and keeps me up late as I slowly pick away at the fat.  The change from 1.1 to 1.2 is pretty significant as a result, though: 1.1 had 2.51MB worth of learning activities, whereas 1.2 has 3.94MB: a 57% increase.  And 1.1 was already pretty optimized.  Anyhow, this translates into more activities for the kids, which means I have to work that much harder to pick even more programs.

The last technical thing I’ll mention is how excited I am by a new feature that’s now on the disk: the ability for it to copy itself.  If the disk finds it way to some village in the isolated Northeast Province, for example, and a volunteer or teacher there wants to make more copies for a nearby school, they’d previously have a cumbersome process ahead of them, because copying bootable disks isn’t easy.  Now they can just put in another disk and click one button.  That’s it.  I was pretty happy when I got that working.

Well, as exciting as it is to share all of the with you, it’s late, so I’ll leave you with this: the picture of the main menu for the floppy disk, featuring ASCII art designed by yours truly.


3 Responses to “Finals week (and floppy disks)!”

  • That’s really impressive and it looks beautiful!

  • janet robbins

    Nice art work, Paul. I also wrote a reply under KCPE Results. In case you didn’t know, I’m new at blogging!

  • Hey dude,
    I’m an ICT+Maths ed PCV in Tz and just downloaded this thing; super excited to see how my kids respond to it. Hopefully it’ll be a hit and maybe my peers in country at other sites running OLD hardware can use it as a teaching aid as well. Thanks for compiling it!

Adventure games, round 3

1991-1994: Monkey Island 2: LeChucks’ Revenge

scummvm00030The way this game works is close to identical to the CD-ROM version of its Monkey Island 1.  I note only two meaningful differences: maps have compasses, and there is an “easy” mode,” which might be good if the kids have a hard time with the more difficult puzzles.

Otherwise the interface is the same.

1992: Indiana Jones 2: Indian Jones and the Fate of Atlantis

scummvm00028Indy 2 is basically the same as Monkey 1 CD-ROM and Monkey 2.  Verbs have been rearranged slightly and the fonts and colors have changed, but that’s about it.  The map has a compass but no letters to indicate direction.



Maniac Mansion 2: Day of the Tentacle

scummvm00043Let’s start with the negative: the font is difficult to read.  Especially for early readers, who are used to seeing “proper” text, this may be too much.

scummvm00032On the positive side, the subtitled cutscenes have a lot of fun with text size and placement, which is more engaging… if only this font was more clear at smaller sizes!

scummvm00044Interface changes are otherwise subtle: six inventory items instead of eight, although this stopped mattering when they converted to icons, and (I kind of like this) to “use” or “give” an item you need to drag the icon with the mouse, as you can see here as I use my inventory item “hamster” with the microwave.  If only the text was more prominent along with the icon, this would be more significant.

Otherwise the gameplay is the same for educational purposes as Monkey Island 1 CD-ROM.

1993: Sam & Max Hit the Road

scummvm00048 The beginning of the end.  “Sam & Max” removes the text element from LucasArts adventure games.  There is no longer a verb list: verbs are now represented as icons (the fist as an example for “use” or “do”).

scummvm00049Inventory is made up as icons, as before, but this time with no text representation.  You can optionally look at the items using the eyeball icon, but that elicits a more verbose description, not a simple vocab word.

scummvm00050Even the conversation trees have been simplified, narrowed down to icons for “question,” “exclamation,” “non-sequitur.”

I’m pretty sure that the three remaining games I was going to look at, “Full Throttle,” “The Dig,” and “Monkey Island 3: Curse of Monkey Island” continue down this path.  If memory serves, they are all good games, but simply not the English language tools that the earlier games are.

The use of icons saves money for video game developers: less time reviewing the English text, less time and money in translation, etc.  For my purposes, though, the earlier games provide similar enjoyment for the students but with the benefit of doubling as a reading and pseudo-writing exercise.

Two final points: 1) I know that many of these games have fan-made sequels using similar gameplay.  This may offer similar benefits in the classroom without the complexity of licensing from LucasArts, and 2) Adventure games are only a very small part of the puzzle, so I’ll be looking at a lot of different programs, but I don’t want to turn my blog a software review site.  Likely I’ll be setting up a wiki for my comments in order to separate it from the blog.  In this way, I hope to get feedback and suggestions for other programs… I only have so much time and I can’t look at all these things myself!

2 Responses to “Adventure games, round 3”

  • António Calado

    Hey Paul!

    Antonio here! I’m loving your blog!

    I simply love this game page! I played all these games when I was a kid and teenager. It really brings me my memories back!

    Let me know if you need any old games. I believe I still have some floppy discs with these. I might try to find them for you!


    • I may take you up on this. Or maybe you can just bring them when you vacation to Mombasa, where Vasco da Gama was the first European to visit!

Adventure games, round 2

Some more notes on more LucasArts adventure games!  Two very different kinds of games today.

1989-1992: Indiana Jones 1: Indian Jones and the Last Crusade

Picking up where Zak left off, gameplay-wise, you play as Indy, meaning no character choice yet again.  It’s looking like Maniac Mansion is unique in this regard.  The six-item inventory also carried over from the 1990 Zak game, as does the overall way of dealing with the “action” mode.  Verbs have changed yet again, this time with “read” being replaced with the more generic “look,” and “Put on” and “Take off” have been scratched (they were new experiments in Zak, who apparently needed to dress and undress a lot) and replaced with “Talk” and “Travel,” which are unique in a number of ways.

scummvm00008To start, they grey out when not relevant, which lowers the regular verb count to 12, which is kind of a bummer, but it’s worth it.  When lit up, selecting “Talk” actually begins building the phrase, “Talk to,” which is a subtle but nice lesson in word context.

scummvm00003“Talking” is sometimes just canned conversation, which we’ve seen in the older games, but new for this game is that you must occasionally decide what you are going to say based on a list of options.  This is has much more potential as an active reading activity than simply watching cutscenes, and it reinforces proper English instead of simple command-grammar.

scummvm00005“Travel” in Indy is more like “New kid” in Maniac Mansion than anything else.  It’s not used like the other verbs; rather; the next screen offers some choices that complete the phrase, and then you get a change in location.  This phrase-building is better for sentence construction skills than “New kid,” which simply presented a list of names.

scummvm00006Not to mention that a little geography never hurt anyone.  Actually, in addition to maps as a cool part of the cutscenes, Indy actually adds even more game controls on top of the “action” mode and the new “talk” mode.  I haven’t gotten very far into the game, but from what I’ve read, the game occasionally takes breaks and allows you to control Indy in a fistfight (throwing punches instead of words), as a pilot of a plane, or even in an overhead maze challenge.  It also keeps track of points for doing these things, which adds a nice math element to the game.  I can’t comment on the specifics of all these sections, but a little variety sounds good to me.

In many ways Indy supersedes its predecessors… lots of little improvements make this a very good English reinforcing tool.

1990-1992: Loom

scummvm00013 Wow, this games is a complete departure from the momentum behind Indy.  There are no verbs whatsoever, and no inventory list.  When clicking an item, a version appears as an icon with text (“leaf” example at right), but that’s it.  Text also appears during conversations and similar events, but there are no conversation trees, as there were in Indy.

On the surface, this game would seem more accessible to non-readers, because of the icon representation of the items.  Seemingly the game does not depend on reading skills.  It is good that the icon also has text for reinforcement; however, there seems to be little repetition in this game, so this is likely no not be that valuable.


The game’s puzzles are all music-oriented, but that doesn’t mean it’s inaccessible to the Deaf.  This is because each note is also conveyed visually in two ways: a segment of the magic stick lights up, and the note appears in written letter form.  The songs are also short, maybe four notes or so.  I am playing the note “d” in the picture at right.  Over the course of the game, I learn new songs, each of which seems to correspond more or less to a verb, although this is not explicit (see examples here).  For instance, the seagulls taught me (visually, without text) a song for “Open,” which I used to open a clam, and then a clue (written) later suggested that I “open the sky,” so I knew to use my Open Song.

I give this example because it shows that this game, potentially, demands even better reading comprehension of its players.  In previous games, as an early reader I might recognize a word in a written clue as being in my inventory, and then try it.  In this case, I need to see it in writing, and then make the connection to the concept I learned earlier.  It is hard to say if early readers will enjoy this game as a result; however, this is moot, there is little to be learned here that isn’t done better in the other games. 

There are two good things, though.

scummvm00014I like the icon with text, which makes is more clear what has been clicked on.  In previous games, if something was not visually clear, it could be clarified only through text.  “What is that little black thing under the door mat?  Oh, a key” (Example from Maniac Mansion).  This could be done better for the early readers who may not know the word key, so the clarification is lost on them.  An extra close-up visual is very good.  The other positive about this game is that it teaches rudimentary C-cleft music reading, although that is of dubious value to the Deaf.

1990-1992: Monkey’s Island 1: The Secret of Monkey Island


Now we’re back on track.  Monkey’s Island is in most ways like Indy.  Verbs changed only a little, with “What is” completely removed (finally, “What is bushes” really irritated me) and “Travel” (which was new for Indy) is gone also, although there are maps in this game, too.  ““Look” is now “Look at,” “Talk” is now “Talk to,” but otherwise things are the same.  Inventory is still six items, and the conversation trees are present, and are actually pretty funny.

scummvm00021 Improvements are present; however, and one of them is significant from my perspective.  In previous games, items needed to be clicked in order to see their text equivalents, but in this game, hovering the mouse accomplishes the same thing.  This make the game more playable, but more interestingly, it means that a player will experience more text repetition just by moving the mouse around.

scummvm00018 A few minor changes that also involve text: a right-click behavior is now highlighted in yellow by default when hovering the mouse.  In the pictures above, you can see that it is “Talk to” for the storekeeper and “Look at” for the chickens.  This will help guide early readers in getting around, although solving puzzles still requires using the gamut of verbs.  Subtitles are also now more involving, with the text appearing near the speaker’s head instead of in the top letterboxed area.  It is sometimes used stylistically, as with the three laughing pirates above.  This is a small improvement, I think, in the level of engagement with younger readers.

scummvm00024 This game is also significant in that when it was released for CD-ROM, the interface was revamped with icons for the inventory items, similar to Loom.  The differences is that in Loom, every item you interact with has in icon.  In Monkey Island, only your inventory items do.  Of course, Loom had no inventory, so it’s apples-and-oranges, but Monkey Island is still a step behind in that regard.  Also, text equivalents of items only appear when you hover the mouse over the item (like “Look at sword,” above), whereas Loom always showed the picture and the text. 

scummvm00025 Monkey Island CD-ROM also drops the “Turn On” and “Turn Off” verbs, which is too bad, and the “Walk to” verb gets a special default status, so it doesn’t appear with the other nine; rather, it appears when you click anywhere on the screen that doesn’t trigger another verb, which is think is better for gameplay and doesn’t really hurt learning, as it still appears on screen a lot.

All in all, it’s difficult to say whether the CD-ROM is better or worse for the kids, mostly because of the inventory icons.  On one hand, there is far less text exposure, but on the other hand, seeing the word and the picture together makes for more meaningful learning when it does happen.  I am very happy with this game, so using one of each version in the library may be a good experiment… perhaps CD for younger kids and floppy for older ones?

But that all depends on the the round of games…

0 Responses to “Adventure games, round 2”