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Battle Chess (wikipedia.org)
132 points by tosh on Nov 24, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 90 comments

I assume this is being posted largely due to the duck story:

> An apocryphal story of the development was the invention of "The Duck" (an example of Parkinson's law of triviality): The producers of the game were known to demand changes to the game, presumably to make their mark on the finished product. To this end, one animator added a small duck around the queen piece, but made sure that the sprite would be easily removable. Come review, the producers, predictably, okayed everything but asked for the duck to be removed.

I’ve heard (do not recall where) that this might not be true to reality, but it is amusing nonetheless.

This has burned me in the past for frontend design.

I would add an obviously hideous element in order to get feedback and for a higher-up to make a decision, with the element being a temporary, WIP.

Instead, it is happily included in production.

I used to do something similar all the time as a designer--

Present the client with 3 options. Two of them were terrible. The third was the one I wanted them to choose.

It usually worked. Usually.

Oh yes. When you pick the most godawful colour scheme for your UI to ensure the designers actually make a decision, and it sticks around long enough for everyone to get used to it and become standard.

You should have added deliberation duck and not irony duck.

It's suspiciously similar to the "hairy arms" of Disney lore:

> So the story goes that probably a long while ago - probably in the '30s or '40s - they had a lead animators, but they also had creative directors. And when the lead animators would make concept designs, meaning, like, character development, they'd be so proud of these characters. And they would go to their art directors, and their art directors would change something constantly even though they thought it was their best work.

> So what they realized after working with these art directors - that what they hated the most was anything added to the character, especially hair on the arms 'cause this is, you know, '30s and '40s. Things had to look very slick. So what they did was to distract the art directors from making other changes, they would automatically put hair on the arms of each character.


Though both stories could be true, it's also possible that somebody familiar with the Disney story created another narrative based on it. I'm not even sure that the Disney version is real, but I'd give it a higher likelihood.

Heh, my supervisor from a postdoc liked to call that a "shit magnet". Put something egregious in an article so the reviewers have something to complain about.

It sounds ethically dubious but if you think about it, it also makes some sense -- reviewers are engaged specifically to find problems in your work -- so if they don't find problems, they feel like they are not doing their job. So it's not in their interests to ever say, "this is fine, nothing to change." A shit magnet thus is not just to distract, but to legitimately give reviewers an "out" while saving face.

Happens in all different contexts. If you've ever had to take a car over the pits to get it re-registered or get a defect notice removed, you might have been given the advice to take out one of the tail-light globes. Then the inspectors feel useful because they have something to write down, it's trivial for you to 'fix', and everyone's happy.

Where I work the strategy is called "throwing a bone to the dog" during a technical review.

I'd bet on this strategy being independently discovered by frustrated subordinates many times through history. Not unlike birds, bats and bugs independently evolving flight.

That seems quite probable to me as well, but one or both of these specific examples might be fabrications with that still being the case.

The duck can be used for both tricking reviewers as suggest, but also for making sure the thing you asked to be reviewed actually got reviewed (if they don't find the duck, did they really review it?).

It reminds me of the Van Halen brown M&Ms story.

In the contract for a Van Halen concert, there was a line telling organizers that there should be a bowl of M&Ms, with all the brown candies removed. Otherwise the show would be cancelled at full price.

Even though it sounds just like another eccentricity from celebrities, the idea was that if brown M&Ms are present, it meant that organizers didn't read the papers, which also contained safety-critical points.

I have a reference to this in my CV ("watching out for brown M&Ms" in the "Outside of work" section). So far nobody has asked about it

Here's the snopes article on it, with a great example at the end from when the contract wasn't followed:


I put a picture of “this is Sparta” in my portfolio. So far, no company has asked me about it. But if they did, they’d get extra preference from me, since they actually looked at my work.

I remember seeing that in a portfolio when I was reviewing candidates and thought you might not be serious about the job or that you made a mistake, which highlighted you as a risk. As such you did not make our preferred candidate list.

Hehe. I’m fine with that outcome. I think it’s a good filter for companies that are too stringent. Humor is an important metric in work-life balance.

There are plenty of jobs. Once we run into another recession, maybe I’ll put on a suit.

The legend is that this explains the scene in Buckaroo Banzai that includes a watermelon in a hydraulic press. It was added to see if anyone at the studio was paying attention, nobody noticed it, and they left it in anyway.

I hear about people doing this sort of thing, but I can't imagine it working on a regular basis. In my experience, if you show a person two options, and one of them you dislike, that's the option they're more likely to choose.

I played Battle Chess back in the day and I distinctly remember the duck with the Queen. So either it wasn’t removed or it was put back in?

I see no duck: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_Chess#/media/File:ST_Ba...

I would consider the possibility that your water-based memory is flawed, and you were already primed to think of a duck by the time you tried to recall the details of the queen's design.

Edit: or this could be an example of the Mandela Effect, and you just switched from a universe where the designer was shocked by their bosses okaying a superfluous duck!

Or it may have been re-added in one of the later versions. I remember there being several full-3D versions of the game (though I don't recall any idea of whether they were officially linked to the original shown here).

More likely it's a false memory created after hearing the duck story.

You know that’s what apocryphal means right?

To save anyone else from googling:

"(of a story or statement) of doubtful authenticity, although widely circulated as being true."

Well, sure, that's the story of its meaning.

Urban legend?

This is why I always add a sql injection vuln to my PRs.

I remember playing this as a kid. I barely knew how to play chess, but just loved the intricate animations when a kill happened.

I played Battle Chess 4000 back then.

That was on a 386 computer without sound card, but BC4000 could play digitized sound through the PC speaker! Amazing stuff.

Same. This game was incredibly difficult for me but I mostly played for the animations.

I actually learned how to play chess through trial and error with BattleChess on my dad's computer. If I'm doing the math right, I was 6 years old. My primary motivation was to see every permutation of piece encounters.

Me too. Loved it so much. Had to try every combination of pieces to see them all

Those were the days.

Anyone remember Archon and ArchonII for the Commodore 64? It was a game that looked like chess, but the figures had to fight a real duel in an arena. The Pawns had just a club, there where dragons that could spit fire, etc. Much closer to an action game than to real chess. Nevertheless, we had a lot of fun paying it. https://www.c64-wiki.com/wiki/Archon

Yes! I had Archon II as a kid and loved it. I remember that playing against the AI was a very different game than playing against another person, as the AI could do things during the fights with perfect aim and split-second reflexes that made it very overpowered with certain units that another human had a hard time using well. But it's strategy wasn't as good, so I could outplay it on the board enough to get a win, especially after I figured out which units I could use effectively against the AI.

That’s what the article reminded me of and Archon was one of my absolute favorite games on Commodore 64. Complete masterpiece!

You might also love Dark Legions [0] by Silicon Knights/SSI, based on the same concept as Archon; turn-based strategy with real-time battles. Had a lot of fun on it in hot-seat multiplayer.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNherpNAhnw

Played Archon to death with my coder friends on the Atari. The games became so intense that friendships were sometimes be tested. The instant response from killing a unicorn was a sudden punch to the thigh. Sometimes this could even done with a goblin for greatest upset.

Yep, I loved playing archon (and later battle chess) with my best friend Phil on his Commodore 64!

Yeah, remember playing that on the Amiga; definitely added something more to the game than battle chess, which was just, well chess with animations.

This is the only place I'll ever get to post this... in undergrad, I took a teaching seminar in which we had 5 minutes to present on any topic. I chose to present on Battle Chess, and somehow framed it as a conspiracy theory involving Hiroshi Yamauchi (founder of Nintendo) and Bill Gates... now I'm tempted to go dig that up.

EDIT: Damn it, I found it! Enjoy: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ACvnjrThPNVQAOteI0okg5kSoTG...

Any time the green square is on a slide, I am currently telling accurate history.

You gotta share this with us! Dont leave us high and dry.

It is done.

Haha oh wow. I must see this.


I loved this as a kid, and remember when we got a new computer (a 286?) and it was "too fast" to run Battle Chess [not sure how that was, but memory].

So, a few years ago I looked for it online - found an exe that I tried to run with WIne on my Mac, but could not get it to run.

Would love it if there was some way to still play!

> it was "too fast" to run Battle Chess [not sure how that was, but memory]

The Clipper database program ran a check on startup to see how fast the CPU was (it ran some code and timed how long it took). "Modern" CPUs are fast enough that the runtime of the function is effectively zero, so when it gets used as the denominator of a division a bit later on in the startup the program crashes on a divide by zero.


Same thing happened in Screamer 2 (the racing game). Worked fine up to a certain CPU speed but crashed on anything faster than that.

I also loved and played this game as a kid and I don't remember it being "too fast" (on my 80286).

> So, a few years ago I looked for it online - found an exe that I tried to run with WIne on my Mac, but could not get it to run.

Well, Wine is for Windows software; this is MSDOS software. It probably works fine in a DOS emulator such as DOSemu, or a VM which runs say FreeDOS.

A fun thing about this game was that every possible kill combination had a different animation. If you don't have any other plans for the next 9 minutes of your life, you can watch them all here:


Loved playing this when I was a kid. I still have a memory of picking it out on the shelf of the computer store.

The battle animations made chess a lot more interesting - one of the favorites: the knight v. knight homage to Monty Python, taking one limb off at a time. Merely a flesh wound!

It looks like they had a problem with the king takes queen animation. This video [1] includes that animation.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YcRkzCvPHI

The knight-takes-knight is a fun reference to the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

What’s the problem?

Well, if the queen would take the king, the queen was able to get the king basically naked. Which I suppose is some kind of problem in the USA.

I played this game as a kid, and I loved the sounds and especially the visuals. It taught me chess, and it enforced me to explore how to beat the computer with different moves (because I wanted to see all the moves, or a specific move). So it was fun to explore.

I think it's censored... I remember playing this on our old Amiga 600 and I'm sure I remember that same pixelated wall when the king takes the queen.

I remember when the Boston Science Museum had this in their little off-in-the-corner computer room.

In a following year they had removed it "for being too bloody//violent". I'm sure many parents at the time were happy about that. I'm sure some of those children who remember that are now parents, and I wonder what they think.

I've wondered that as well. I know so many friends who are now parents that grew up with Doom or Duke Nukem and choose to shelter their children from absolutely everything. Since I don't have children I'm not allowed to talk about parenting though.

I learnt far too much chess theory trying to take the king with a pawn, which was the last animation I had not seen.

IIRC they grab the crown with their pike and it somehow ends up on their head.

How could you take a king with a pawn? Does the game allow it?

As someone who used the ability to setup custom piece arrangements in Battlechess to see all the animations:

Place the enemy king in middle. Use four rooks at the edges of the board (two on the left, two on the top) to ensure the king can't move off his square. Give him a pawn to move to avoid a stalemate ending. Then place your desired checkmating piece where it can take one move and threaten the enemy king.

The piece that moves before checkmate takes the king.

Ah that makes sense, like a finale animation after the game has ended.

Brings up memories of a whole different time : when you would visit friends and family and be exposed to something completely new.

I remember this for Battle Chess. But also for Teletext. And Windows 1.0 ( or was 2.0 ? ).

> Battle Chess was the first title developed and published by Interplay Entertainment themselves after ending their relationship with Electronic Arts, besides Neuromancer.

So... the second?

Mediagenic published Neuromancer, so Battle Chess is the first one published by Interplay themselves. But I'm not sure why the sentence brings Neuromancer up at all.

Archive has several versions available to play using in browser emulators. https://archive.org/details/battle_chess_1988

I recall thoroughly enjoying the little fights, sans one: the rook eating the queen always made me uneasy. Not being able to play batttle chess on more advanced hardware was my first exposure to software becoming obsolete.

I fondly remember this game has having great animations, plus it could be beaten :P which was a plus, more modern Chess games were really hard to beat

As a moderately bad chess player, I would love to see chess AIs get better at playing bad chess — that is, in being bad at chess in the same way that the average human who knows all the rules and plays a few games of chess every year is.

I find that most chess programs on the lowest difficulty settings seem to play in a way that’s bad but unrealistic — like they’re playing their normal good chess but randomly making a deliberately terrible move every now and then.

Try using an early net of LCZero. You used to be able to adjust how many "rollouts" it plays with, and what generation net to play against. Since it's a neural net, it has the "intuition" of a 1000 elo player, or 1500, etc. I.e. it does not play expert then blunder. Hopefully they get the play.lczero.org website back up and running sometime. I didn't have too much success getting the other links to work... https://blog.lczero.org/2018/11/where-to-play-leela-online.h...

Let me know if you find an easy way to play "human" level LCZero AIs.

Edit: Main project website: https://lczero.org/

I had Chessmaster 8000 and the engine behind it was always really good at mimicing realistic playstyles. It had presets, and you could control things like pawn weakness, willingness to trade, king safety, and preferred pieces.

Modern chess engines usually have a notion of "contempt". I've found that if you turn contempt way up and limit the number of concurrent lines, in combination with adjusting the target rating, you can get a reasonably good approximation of real play. At casual (< 2100 maybe?) levels of play, this simulates the human tendency to make blunders while fixating on a plan.

I see a practical use of this when you are offline and without a chessboard or someone else.

Otherwise, you can play online quite easily. For a game I only wait for a few seconds on lichess.org

>randomly making a deliberately terrible move every now and then.

To be fair though, that is kind of how I end up playing chess. I'll do pretty well and pay attention, then I end up losing track, making a stupid mistake and doing something that should have been obviously bad and losing.

I remember when I was about 9 or 10 I beat this game on its hardest difficulty level, even though I was not that great at chess. I just set two computer players on hardest difficulty against each other and recorded every move they made, then started a new game and played the part of the one which had won. :D

re: strange chess variants

I scooped up a handful of Knightmare Chess decks when I saw 'em really cheap. Still haven't tried, but the idea of a chess variant with physical cards that Do Things to the game, sounded very interesting


I came up with a great chess variant ages ago, and finally got around to making a computer version of it last week.

Implied Chess:

Rule 1: Chess

Rule 2: You can't capture normally

Rule 3: Any piece threatened by two enemy pieces is captured (except kings)

Rule 4: The player who just moved captures first

Rule 5: No En Passant (it just doesn't make sense)

Rule 6: Check and checkmate are normal


That's quite fun (especially chain-capturing!), can't beat Alpha Beta 3 yet. Any reasons for Rule 6?


Check and checkmate are normal because it's just way too hard to checkmate the king with dual threats.

I can't beat Alpha Beta 3 yet either. If anyone starts beating 4 I'll put some effort into optimizing the search so it can go deeper. Going 10 ply deep is pretty standard for a chess engine, so it's pretty embarrassing for humanity that nobody is beating the 3-ply setting. I think this game actually favors computers over humans more than regular chess does.

I learned to play chess with the help of this game on an Atari ST.

I have a lot of nostalgic memories about Battle Chess. If someone released a version of this game for iOS/Android, I would buy it in a heartbeat.

Battle Chess was one of the biggest reasons I fantasized about owning an Amiga, along with Populous and Sim City. :)

Used to love this game... would love a refresh with modern models and animation.

It would certainly run in a web page. It would be fantastic to interest children in chess. I'm in!

Fond memories playing this at my granddads house!

Remember playing this on 286

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