Reviews of the latest software.
by Steve Panak
Let's talk about copy protection. Or, rather, the lack of it.
I've noticed that quite a few companies have exorcised the curse of copy protection from their entertainment software. I'm sure you know the curse. It often manifests itself in the 49th hour of a 50-hour adventure game when, during the final play session-and often with spectators gathered for the climactic slaying of the dragon-the disk fails to load properly. Despite numerous retries (and perhaps flexing and/or blowing on the disk), rather than felling an awesome beast, the gallant warrior is himself struck down-by a few bytes of corrupt data. This horror is slowly being rectified.
The companies have been somewhat sympathetic, while trying to balance customer relations (as well as the cost and burden of disk replacement) against the very real danger of piracy. And they have come up with a number of innovative, but oft-times clumsy solutions. Some trusting souls just allow unlimited copies to be made. That is, until the realities of the marketplace sink them deep in a sea of red ink, because only a fraction of their programs are actually being paid for.
The survivors have come up with a number of alternatives, all tied around the basic theme of requiring some sort of unique user input. These alternatives allow the disk to be copied, but don't give carte blanche to make and distribute copies of the games to all your friends. Such piracy not only robs the creators of the fruits of their efforts (and thus dissuades them from providing more entertainment in the future), but it's a crime as well. While it's unlikely you'll get caught, convicted and cooked for that disk you're now nervously hiding under your mattress, it is stealing, which is something I have trouble sleeping with. Unfortunately, the practicality and effectiveness of these methods most likely give their designers and users nightmares, equally.
Probably the best method employed requires that a small device be placed in one of the joystick ports. Assuming the game doesn't require all such ports for play, this is the least annoying, and does the least possible evil. While I'm sure someone can duplicate whatever's in that little port plug (have I coined a term?), it looks like a pretty tough job.
Another solution requires some random user input or password obtained from the documentation. Of course, defeating this scheme would just be a matter of copying the documentation-not a bad idea if one were to pirate software, since the documentation is useful, and copy machines are prevalent and easily accessible. Thus, this method offers only a slight impediment to copying.
My biggest complaint is having to look up the requested code every time I play. And some of the programs are so rude as to ask for the password part way into the game. Most distracting. Which is probably what this rambling of mine is getting to be. So let's get on with the first game.
Just remember: if you see something you like here, support the people responsible for bringing it to you. The cost of good software is really quite reasonable.
by Steve Meretzky
125 CambridgePark Drive
Cambridge, MA 02140
48K Disk $34.95
Infocom has a long history of innovation. Okay, so the company has only been around for about eight years. But in those years, as the first (and foremost) producers of interactive fiction, they have defined and refined this medium to perfection. And they've done so without resorting to sequels. Oh, there were the Zork and Enchanter trilogies, as well as the interactive version of Hitchhiker's Guide, but no true sequels. Until now.
Stationfall is the latest work by Steve Meretzky, whose twisted mind has given us such visions as Leather Goddesses of Phobos and Planetfall. Stationfall continues the adventure begun in the latter, promoting you to the rank of Lieutenant First Class and thrusting you headlong into an exciting life of paperpushing. In fact, your first mission requires you to travel to Space Station Gamma Delta Gamma 777-G 59/59 Sector Alpha-Mu-79 to pick up a load of Request for Stellar Patrol Issue Regulation Black Form Binders Request Form Forms. To lighten up this mission, you find yourself reunited with your old friend Floyd, a robot whose antics have made it one of Infocom's all-time favorite characters.
After solving (and surviving) the first in a series of entertaining and logical puzzles, you leave in a spacecraft with your loyal pal. Upon arriving at your destination-a space station with a seedy colony attached-you find the entire place deserted, except for a strange alien spacecraft and the mummified remains of one of its crew members. Upon further exploration, you discover another robot named Plato, and he and Floyd become what will probably be known as the greatest comedy team ever in interactive fiction. After hours of careful exploration and clever problem solving, you will (if you're lucky) discover the secret of the strange saucer.
The prose in this game is up to Infocorn's high standards. Detailed descriptions of the various locations bring the story to life, while the interaction of the robots keeps the game lively. Floyd darts in and out of your screen, stealing scenes left and right. Plato is the perfect foil for his mischievous antics. The irrepressible Floyd is scrawling his name on a bulkhead one minute, staring out of the computer screen the next, defying infringement of the copyright notice.
Plato offers up his own brand of wisdom, commenting that the stubbed-toe-induced whimpering of Floyd is ". . . a reaction [which] will not reduce the level of pain:" After tickling Floyd, the mishap is forgotten. But it's unlikely these characters will soon disappear from your memory-or your computer's.
I found the space station and attached colony great fun to explore. The colony, a strange amalgamation of "Gunsmoke" and Star Wars, contains a large variety of small rooms, with many gadgets and devices. Some of the bad points are the unavailability of the X abbreviation for examine (I've grown accustomed to that abbreviation) and the repetitive nature of a lot of Floyd's activities. These are, of course, due to the limited memory of the machine. While it may seem lame when Floyd plays with his paddle ball for the umpteenth time, you can be sure that he will ultimately entertain you-and possibly save your life.
The packaging continues the use of Infocoms new book-box. Included within the nested container are a technical manual (containing information on program operation), three forms, a Stellar Patrol Patch and blueprints of the space station. I found this latter packet to be most helpful, as I'm lazy and hate to draw maps. Unfortunately for me, the prints didn't contain a layout of the parasitic colony attached to the station. You'll have to carefully chart out its many dirty and winding alleys and corridors if you want any chance of escaping from them. Finally, a mail-in coupon allows you to experience Planetfall for a special price, if you've not already had the pleasure.
Generally, I don't like sequels. This is because, by their very nature, they cash in on (and ultimately degrade) the good name of their predecessors-usually without delivering anything new. But Stationfall delivers a lot of "new;" in the form of a great plot, setting and characters. The main similarity between the two games is Floyd, your robot helper, and he ends up providing more than his share of entertainment. Fall into Stationfall and you'll have trouble climbing back out.