TIS-100: A puzzle from the dawn of computing

I think you wanted to make that zero a four?
I think you wanted to make that zero a four?

If you ever thought back with longing to beautiful summer days spent filling out code sheets with a worn-down pencil and a well-thumbed processor instruction code book your only companions, well, Zachtronics' TIS-100 might just be your worst nightmare.

The thin plot has your Aunt Doris sending you a bunch of your recently-deceased uncle's belongings, including the TIS-100 and its manual, the last thing on which he was working. Because of some cryptic hints in the manual, and because you have more curiosity than sense, you decide to recreate his work and discover the hidden purpose of this mysterious device.

All this is merely a wrapper to the meat of the game, which is to write programs in assembly language to solve little problems. The TIS-100 is comprised of up to twelve processing nodes which run independently, connected to adjacent nodes via ports. There is no RAM, and the instruction set is 70s-era microprocessor simple.

Like its predecessor, SpaceChem, TIS-100 is a puzzle game where solving the challenge is usually only the start of the fun. The number of nodes you used, the execution time, and the number of instructions used is compared to everyone else who has solved the puzzle. Your solution too slow? Back to the drawing board.

TIS-100 is in Steam early access, but I'm not seeing anything terribly unfinished about it. The user interface is fairly functional, and that's part of its charm. You can even go full screen for the complete old-school experience.

I just can't imagine anyone but programmers, especially those of us who actually had to do this kind of stuff back in the day, really enjoying this. The manual is minimal (but hilarious in a geeky way). The TIS-100 doesn't do a fantastic job of introducing people to parallel programming or even the sort of assembly language likely to be used by anyone — this is a really stripped down set.

That said, you may just have found the hardcore programming game you never knew you were missing. SpaceChem with all that distracting space and chemistry stuff removed…. I'm having a heck of a great time with it.

D&D: On the road again!

Trouble at the Inn
Trouble at the Inn

Since last I wrote of our adventures, we nearly met death in a dungeon guarded by a half dragon and a roper… which was pretty exciting. It was there that I learned that even immobile creatures will move to prevent Cloud of Daggers from hitting them. It was there I first learned that ropers — creatures that mimic stalagmites — can move, actually.

Deadly creatures. I’m even looking at kobolds with new respect. And I say that as one who uses a kobold costume as part of her famous traveling show, “The Kobold and the Kanary”. Not a misspelling — Kanaries are like canaries, except with scales instead of feathers. and they weigh three tons.

Once we’d limped back to Greenest with news as to the fate of the kobolds and cultists who’d pillaged the city, we were sent to Baldur’s Gate to join a caravan and learn more of the cultists. We opted to take a steamship down the Chionthar River on its way from Scornubel. Well, you know what they say about Scornubel. It’s nice, but it’s no Baldur’s Gate.

The steamship ride wasn’t without its own drama. My inspired hurdy-gurdy rendition of the Sacking of Greenest was getting rave reviews from the audience until the bassoon player clubbed me from behind. You know, I guess I should have expected it. Jealousy is such a terrible thing. Of course I was wearing my kobold costume — and it would have made sense if I’d been ALLOWED to continue. I imagine my adoring public was livid at not being able to appreciate the rest of my performance. But then, Gina got accosted by an old lover of hers, and her love’s family had some objections, yadda yadda yadda, long story short, we were asked to disembark.

Looking for a reason to join the caravan to Waterdeep, we attended a mercenary job fair/speed dating event. Still a little wobbly from the assault upon my person by Mister Bassoon, I wasn’t able to get us a good posting, but Gina or Zalandrin did get us a job guarding the wagons of a shrill harridan — an Elf, of course, if you needed to ask.

We were flush with cash after earning so many rewards and having so few places to spend it, before now. My cabin boy Ellryn bought a pony and a good supply of healing potions; everyone else did the same. Instead of healing potions, though, I went to the local luthier and found there a cittern which was said to be magical. A cittern? Well, of course, we did study citterns and other lute-like instruments at Bard College, but the hurdy-gurdy, the traditional music of my home in the Stripscrew Caverns… ah, what the heck. Maybe it was the bassoon talking, but I traded the hurdy-gurdy and most of my gold for this cittern.

We left early the next morning. Everyone was quiet and a little grumpy. I dozed off and felt a sudden psychic link with my cittern… a vision where I met people dying on a battlefield… I tried to help but could not, but then I did, and I understood my cittern’s charm. It was the Cittern of Mac-Fuirmidh (pronounced “furmy” as far as I can tell), and could not only act as a mean spell focus, but could cure wounds once a day. Nice!

Te road to Waterdeep wended through some pretty seriously named territory. We were trying to keep an eye on the wagon carrying cultists, some of whom we recognized from the cultist camp. We didn’t want to be recognized by them… One evening, it began to rain in sight of a large inn. Well, we just had to go see if we could get out of the rain.

Unfortunately, though the inn seemed to be nearly empty, the proprietor regretfully informed us that there were no available rooms. He gave a little side-eye at four nobles muttering insolently from one of the few tables that had any customers. Never one to be shy, I had the innkeep send them a round, on me, and dragged up a chair to join them.

The nobles weren’t having any of it. I guess we amused them, somehow. Every time we tried to get a conversation going, they just got nastier and nastier. Eventually Mom came in (Mom is what we call our Elf boss) and started yelling at us for not properly caring for her horse, not believing us when we said our imaginary druid was in fact taking care of all our horses right then! After a couple more remarks from the noble peanut gallery, she started yelling at them, too! Other caravaneers started filtering in, also unable to get rooms, and just stood around smirking at this display.

Something Zalandrin said struck a nerve with the nobles, and the nobles pulled out their swords. Zalandrin drew his, and I guess the time for words was over.

Zalandrin went all elf on the nobles as only elves can. Gina swung her beard and axe with deadly purpose. Ellryn exploited his ability to get several attacks in per round to do some deadly damage. Me, I cast Sleep (to no effect), Cloud of Daggers (to no effect), and eventually just fell back to casting the occasional heal while plinking away with my crossbow. Ellryn and I got poisoned for our troubles; we both nearly died. Gina wasn’t looking too good, either. Zalandrin — I think he was okay. Somehow, we pulled through — narrowly.

Me, I just wanted a place to sleep. I was all for just going up and taking the first empty room we came to — and if the nasty nobles objected, well, that was on them. But I guess they just saw us as easy kills.

Hey, we’ve been killed by better than you, guys.

Act III: The Anger of the Gods

When I got to Act III in Pillars of Eternity, I stopped. One of the first quests I got asked me to strengthen the future bloodline of a long-established family by culling its weak souls so stronger ones could take their place. The weak soul the quest giver had in mind was currently in a child.

Now, in the Pillars world, past lives are a real thing, and death is not the end. Dealing with past lives drives the plot of the game. Aloth shares his mind with a barbaric woman from the past; the ranger companion is tracking down a reincarnated hero of her tribe; the protagonist and the villain of the game… well, no spoilers here.

So, in the GAME world, killing a child to let its soul find a new body isn't as terrible as it would be in the real world, and the quest giver gave his reasons why this should be done — the bloodline needs to remain strong in order to continue defending the realm, as they have done for centuries.

But in the REAL world, of course, such a crime would be unthinkable. and so I set Act III aside, and explored the Paths of the Endless, did a lot of bounties, worked on companion quests… I eventually decided that I could not, and should not, look at these quest decisions from game terms. Killing a child versus killing the person who asked me to kill a child… where's the hesitation coming from?

I still hoped I could just find a middle ground where nobody died. I explained to the quest giver the plot against him, and that I was to give him poison. But, he flew into a rage and attacked me.

That brought everything into focus. If you're going to attack me… well…

Thing is, if I'd had some stronger stats, there were other conversation options I might have tried instead.

With Act III now opened to me, I've been doing the various god quests, which have, so far, ended poorly for the god's current supplicants. I only need one god's favor, but there's an achievement for getting the favor of all the remaining gods, so… with Belrath's favor gained, I'm working on Gawain's, next.