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|Mode(s)||Single player, Multiplayer|
In The Bilestoad, players control "meatlings" that hack and battle with axes and shields from a top-view perspective. The name is derived from the German words Beil (axe) and Tod (death). The odd spelling reflects Goodman's idea of a future language similar to A Clockwork Orange's Nadsat in which English has been modified by the borrowing of foreign words. Although the game may seem medieval, the backstory in the manual explains that the axe fighting is actually a future virtual reality game designed to reduce real violence.
The Bilestoad allows a human player to fight against either a computer-controlled opponent or another human. One can also pit two robots against each other. Movement and combat is accomplished with the keyboard, pressing keys to swing the gladiator's axe or shield outwards or inwards, or to make the gladiator turn, stop or walk. The game play is quite violent and bloody—players lop off their opponents' shield or sword arms, and dispatch them by decapitation.
Players progress through levels by successfully defeating their opponent. The highest level is called the 'Master' level.
The arena of combat is a small island, maps of which (at short, medium, and long range) are shown at the right side of the screen. Scattered around the arena are various objects, including yin/yang discs which players can stand on to accelerate their movement, stars that transport players to other points in the arena, and "faces" that allow players to leave the level. The game offers more strategic variation than many fighting games, letting the player run away and be chased around the island. The musical soundtrack begins with Beethoven's "Für Elise".
Players control the gladiators using two groupings of keys: one on the left side of the keyboard, the other on the right.
|Action||Player 1||Player 2|
|Swing axe outward / Stop / Swing axe inward||Q||W||E||I||O||P|
|Turn counterclockwise / Stop / Turn clockwise||A||S||D||K||L||;|
|Bring shield outward / Stop / Bring shield inward||Z||X||C||,||.||/|
|Walk forward||button zero||button one|
The Apple II has no built-in tone generator; all sound (including music) is produced by toggling (on/off) the speaker at appropriate intervals to generate the desired frequency. Interleaving sound generation with live action (as opposed to paused screen) was difficulat. The game's incorporation of music with game play was therefore a quite impressive technical feat.
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In the mid-1990s, Marc Goodman also released an alpha demo of a higher-resolution re-working of the game for the color Macintosh platform. Peter Akemann cited The Bilestoad as a major inspiration for his game Die by the Sword.