Memory Lane – Game aids for StarWars, Top Secret, Maatac

At this point in my life, I started looking at the computer from its tool perspective rather than its game-creation angle. For one thing, I was doing a lot of DMing for my StarWars universe (hosting at least two games a week at VPI).

Here, the computer came in very handy. First off, back then there was very little home word processing – for college papers, I’d hand-write them and then take them to a secretary pool to get them typed up. For games, all the tables that people needed turned into over-Xeroxed messes covered with hit-point notes and pizza stains. Suddenly, with the word processing cartridge in my Atari, I could actually type in these charts and print out a bunch for my players! Revolutionary!

Also, more importantly, I wrote a program to handle a lot of the heavy table-trashing that combat took up. Now, when resolving roleplaying combat, I could run down a form (while off-handedly describing the action) and tell people what they needed to roll to hit (call it legacy, but the players still wanted to roll their own dice to hit – having the computer do it nearly raised a revolt!). And, in tuning the gameplay, I actually remembering writing a program to shoot 10,000 stormtroopers 10,000 times to get the percentages of deaths, knockouts and still-standings. It took the Atari about a minute to clump through the run.

There were other play aids developed. Besides the Role Playing game Top Secret, I also coding it the laborious combat tables for Maatac, the futuristic tank-to-tank miniature game. Now, instead of looking up every weapon system, one at a time, for each tank’s barrage, the player would just call out “Two heavies, range twenty one, armor C” to the person manning the keyboard. Somehow, using a computer to resolve a simulated computer’s combat efforts seemed more nature than our early attempts to fully automate StarWars. Nobody protested.

It was truly a labor-saving device.

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