The ISA-Bus

One blog to bind them all.

Monthly Archives: May 2011

Fruits Fields for Windows

Sometimes I get into the situation that I upload something and have to rewrite it completely almost immediately. That happened now with Fruits Fields. It started with the name. It’s really Fruits Fields, not Fruit Fields, as I had erroneously read it first.

Fruits Fields is a Japanese game. It was first published by Compac for Sharp X68000 (some info and screenshots here and here). The original author seems to be unknown. It has obviously become something of a classic in Japan and other parts of eastern Asia. It has been remade for Palm and as a browser game in CGI and Java. And there is this Windows version by Leslie Tsang, a resident of Hongkong.

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Asylum by New Zone Productions

Around 1993, there was a short-lived Canadian outfit that went by the name of New Zone Productions and seems to have specialized on remaking other people’s puzzle games as Windows shareware with fancy graphics, fancy by 1993 Windows standards at least. Their best known game, found on many locations, is The Aztec Curse. There were at least two more, Asylum and Trice. I was not particularly impressed with The Aztec Curse. There is another Windows game, only a few months older, named Nuts! that implements the same concept with graphics that are simpler, but actually better fit to the task, and it’s freeware. Trice I know only from the readmes of the other games. Asylum I discovered only now, and it has a certain charm.

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Bypassing Windows installers

Many installers from the second half of the 90s on are just self-extracting archives with a setup utility and a cab file. Usually you can open the archive and the cab file in WinRAR. Do not start a program directly out of the cab file if it contains Visual Basic 5 or 6 runtimes. Some of these files need to be registered, and having them accessed in a temporary location will screw up the registration.

Many games of the Windows 3.x era come as a setup utility and all the necessary files in compressed format, with the last letter of the extension replaced by an underscore. These can be expanded with Microsoft’s EXPAND utility, which has been part of every Windows distribution at least since 3.1. EXPAND is somewhere in the path, usually in the Windows directory I think, so you can access it from anywhere. But you have to know what the missing letter is, which is in some cases not obvious. There is usually a SETUP.INI or similar file with a complete file list.

As for the InstallShield installers, I know of no way to bypass them and don’t know if it’s possible at all.

Othello was not a Swede

After I added GSReversi 1.22 (an Amiga game) to Download Central yesterday, I noticed with some astonishment that it was the first Swedish Othello in my list. Why astonishment?

Well, on the one hand Othello has always been very popular with programmers. There are certainly many more Tetris clones than Othello games, but we’re talking similar dimensions here. On the other hand there are lots of computer games from Sweden, more than from many countries with a larger population, and Swedish games are often implementations of standard concepts. That these two large sets should have such a small intersection is astonishing.

When I looked closer I found a few more interesting details. Currently the Othello list contains only one game each for the other two Scandinavian countries (both Mac games BTW). It contains only one from the Netherlands, and none at all from Finland.

Like many other game concepts, Othello is popular mainly in a few specific countries: USA, UK, France, Italy. But since most of these countries have quite a large output of computer games in general, it’s less obvious than with other concepts.

Ignacio Pérez Gil

People interested in retrogaming and retro-remakes may know Ignacio Pérez Gil, who remade a number of classic Spanish and ZX games. Apart from that, he created a few Visual Basic 3.0 games, which I recently uploaded. Since he started programming in 1997, these are some of the latest games for 16-bit Windows.

Master Mind

90% of the people who start programming games, he writes, make a Master Mind. And I’m not the exception…


Qúbix is a 3D Tic-Tac-Toe, developed up to version 3 in 2000. Though the author says that it has three difficulty levels: easy, very easy and ridiculously easy, I found it quite tough to beat. Maybe I just don’t play very well. I liked the way it occasionally comments in the title bar.


Parchís is the Spanish variant of the cross and circle game family. This is possibly the only implementation for 16-bit Windows, developed up to version 2.1, 2001.

Deflektor PC 1.6

Deflektor PC was his last Visual Basic game, the only one that runs in 256 colors, and the only one with an optional English interface. He started to work on it in 1998, originally just as a practice, like the other games. In 2004 he abandoned it and started from scratch in C/Allegro, with completely new graphics. The graphics of the VB version are actually very good, since they retain the look and feel of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, yet improve it in subtle ways, which is exactly what remakes should be about.

The mysterious Fia med knuff

In one point I was wrong in my cross and circle games overview: Fia med knuff is not the equivalent of Mensch ärgere Dich nicht, but it could be considered a variant of the latter. Let me list the actual facts:

  • But for one element the boards of the two games are functionally equivalent.
  • This one element is the center: While in Mensch ärgere Dich nicht, the goal is to place all four tokens on the ladder, in Fia med knuff the goal is to put them into the center field.
  • Apart from the functional equivalence, the boards are very similar in the graphics too. While all earlier Pachisi derivates had angular fields, Mensch ärgere Dich nicht had circles connected with lines. Fia med knuff has circles too, though usually not connected.
  • Another small visual difference is that Mensch ärgere Dich nicht has four colored circles per player where the pawns are placed on at the beginning of the game, while Fia med knuff has only one large circle.
  • There are some other rule differences: Players can leave the jail on rolling six or one, cannot overtake their own pawns, do not have to capture those of their contrahents.

Everything else is rather mysterious. It starts with the name. The name of the game is Fia, med knuff is just an add-on meaning with push, referring to pushing your adversaries’ pawns off the board. But what does Fia mean? Acoording to one manufacturer, Namnet Fia kommer från det latinska ordet fiat som betyder gång. Google translates gång as time, but fiat actually means let there be or let it be done, which makes no sense in connection with the game.

I get the impression that Fia med knuff is not anyone’s trademark, and that it is generally used more as a name for the concept than for a specific game with a specific look and feel (as is the case with Mensch ärgere Dich nicht).

There are two scenarios I can think of. One is that some Swedish publisher saw the success of Mensch ärgere Dich nicht in the 1920s and brought out a very similar game under a different name.

The other is that Fia med knuff is actually older, and was what inspired Schmidt to his game. It is remarkable that where the two games are different, Fia med knuff is often more similar to the older Ludo. Of course this theory wouldn’t go well with the Germans, who consider Mensch ärgere Dich nicht as one of their 50 greatest inventions, along with aspirin, the thermos flask, and the theory of relativity.

An interesting Ludo – in pewter!

After finishing the last entry, I did some idle googling and came across this interesting Ludo. It was designed by Alberto Tabellini and is made of pewter. I especially liked the pieces, they seem to be made of brass, and since they all have the same color, each player has a shape of his own. You find the same solution in older monochrome computer games, for example H.A.B. Smals’ Mens erger je niet on Hercules and CGA.

And of course, the pun potential of pewter and computer did not completely escape my notice either.

Cross and circle games, an overview

I’m trying to get an overview over the variants that exist of the Pachisi/Ludo concept. I’m not interested in the moment in the traditional games (Pachisi, Chaupar, Yut) but the imports into Europe and the Americas. And of course I’m especially interested in the computer implementations.

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Mandavoshka, the Russian Ludo

This is something I just came across and don’t know much about yet: There is a specifically Russian version of Pachisi/Ludo (cross-and-circle, if you prefer the more generic term) called Mandavoshka. The Russian Wikipedia has no article about it, just a subsection on the Parchís page. According to that, it is usually played with two dice and five tokens per player, but rules vary locally.

The name is a bit strange. According to the Alternative Russian Dictionary, мандавошка is a genital louse, but the word is often used to name any unknown insect. A google search brings all kinds of weird results, obviously some people use it as a screen name too.

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Germany, Russia, Italy, Sweden

I’ve always been interested in where games come from, and I’ve listed the games I write about or offer for download by country for years. Now I looked at the Download Central stats to see from which country listings people actually click through. The results were not what I was expecting. There’s a steep curve, each entry in the following list has about half as many clicks as the one above it:

  1. Germany
  2. Russia
  3. Italy
  4. Sweden

All the other country listings create so few click-throughs that the numbers are hardly relevant and might well be a product of chance.

Of course I cannot say how relevant these numbers are at all. I do not know if people come to these pages because they are interested in games from that country, or if the page just turned up in the search for a game they were looking for. But it’s interesting.

One thing that baffles me is that there is absolutely no relation between the number of games I have from a certain country and the number of clicks. UK, France and Canada for example are very long lists, longer than anything except Germany. I’m especially astonished that there was not a single click from the Finland listing, since this is quite a long list as well and one of the few countries with a distinct game culture of its own.