Classic Computer Magazine Archive A.N.A.L.O.G. ISSUE 63 / AUGUST 1988 / PAGE 92

Panak Strikes


by Steve Panak

As promised, this month we're going to take a look at some of the many simulations out on the market. And while the term simulation, at least in my mind, immediately places me on the battlefield, poised to relive some historic military confrontation, the true simulation genre is much broader, encompassing both warfare snd peacetime activities, such as flight simulation and chess. Today, though, we will dive into battle, I have a little bad news.

    Infocom, like some other manufacturers, has dropped Atari 8-bit support, citing memory constraints. While this is understandable in Infocom's case (as their text intensive works of interactive fiction eat up gobs of both RAM and disk space), the drop of support from other companies is less easily explained. The XE/XL lines have 64K, the same as the similar Commodore lines. Why then is support increasingly gravitating toward Commodore? Flippies (diskettes containing both Commodore and Atari versions, one on each side) have decreased, with games being produced for only one machine (usually the Commodore). This has to be a market phenomenon-there's just not enough demand out there to warrant the creation (or conversion) of an Atari version of many games. Otherwise, the manufacturers, being in this game for the money, would support our machines. While I don't know the underlying cause of this owner apathy, the solution is simple and straightforward.

    Buy Atari hardware.
    Buy Atari software.

    And when someone you know is looking at computers, list the benefits of Atari. The Commodore and Atari lines are virtually identical, except, of course, for the ugly specter of limited software support. It's the old vicious circle, a computerized Catch-22. No one will buy the machines because there's no software available. And manufacturers avoid supporting the machines, fearful that they'll be stuck with excess inventory. But as I'm reporting this month, there really are a lot of games for the Atari. A lot of great games. And to make sure we continue to get more great games, we have to support the designers, programmers and software publishing companies that support us.
    When you see a game you like, buy it, rather than simply borrow it from a fellow user. While sharing might provide you short-term gain, in the long run we'll all lose and possibly be stuck with unsupported machines. And when you see a game you think you'd like, but it's only available in a non-Atari format, write to the software publisher asking "why?" By casting these consumer votes, we are heard, and perhaps we'll get in on all the new games coming out. But if we're silent... well ... I'd rather not even think about it. Enough of this pleading; let's get on to this month's games.
    War simulations. These very specialized games are the easiest to buy and the easiest to review. This is because they are so similar. While each may feature a different battle in a different era, their basic programming structure is typically the same. Based on the old Avalon Hill board games which were just begging to be computerized, these games replace multisided dice and complex tables with the incredible speed of the computer. The resulting games are much easier to learn, much easier to play and much more enjoyable and accessible to the general public
    But whether the battle rages on a monitor, or on a table-top board, play progresses through a number of phases and stages in which you typically issue commands to your trooops and then observe the results. Most games take into account troop strength and speed of movement, while others add additional depth, accounting for such variables as leader charisma and troop morale. Since most games operate just about the same, you'll want to choose your simulation based on the era you wish to examine. Will it be our country's Civil War, or a conflict on some futuristic planet? The choice is up to you.

While I don't know the
underlying cause of this
owner apathy, the
solution is simple and
straightforward: Buy
Atari hardware, Buy
Atari software,

    If the number of titles a company issues in a given genre were the sole indicator of its superiority, SSI would be the simulation king hands-down. Of course, by choosing Strategic Simulations as their name, they've really stuck their necks out. For if SSI's simulations aren't any good, then chances are pretty good that few players would be eager to try any of the many other titles in their massive catalog. And that would be a shame, since SSI simulations are typically the best available. Throughout the years SSI has refined their formula, cramming more and more action and realism into the scant 48K of code that their games occupy.
    The mayhem started many titles ago, and the SSI catalog now stands over two dozen titles strong. And while the company has rendered a lot of their earlier titles obsolete, one of their earliest still stands out as one of their best. NAM is and was my favorite, perhaps because it came out so long ago, before it was acceptable to talk about the Vietnam War. And it was also a welcome change to the Civil War scenarios that make up the bulk of the simulation market. Best of all, NAM uses a joystick, a must for people like me whose backs rebel at the prospect of leaning over a keyboard for the one to four hours it takes to finish the game. Menus made the game easy to learn and sharp arcade-quality graphics kept play exciting. Simply put, NAM blew the competition away.
    Since then, SSI has pumped out a string of Civil War simulations, starting with Battle of Antietam, followed by Gettysburg: The Turning Point. These revolutionary games crammed an incredible amount of realism into the sparse 48K of the 800, and allowed the game's complexity to grow along with the ability of the player. As you progress through the intermediate and advanced games, you'll find the play becoming more complex, more real and more demanding. Each successive game utilizing this system has reached new levels of realism and historical accuracy. Their latest, Shiloh, which we will examine in depth later, continues the evolution of SSI simulation.
    But SSI is no longer alone in the simulation market, since Game Designer's Workshop arrived on the scene and became a force to be reckoned with. The Battle of Chickamauga is every bit as good as SSI's comparable Rebel Charge at Chickamauga, and better in that it allows the use of the joystick (my delicate back breathes a silent sigh of relief). Game Designer's Workshop makes games every bit as good as SSI, and their entry into the marketplace can only mean more and better simulations from both companies, as each tries to capture the limited simulation market. Thus, any of the recent simulations from either of these companies are worthy additions to the war gainer's library.
    For those whose preferences lean toward conflicts of the future, I regret that there are few programs to appease your blood lust. About the only one that springs immediately to mind is Ogre, from Origin Systems. This futuristic game begins with the premise that a nearly invincible robot/tank creature exists, and that it is desirable to destroy it. Unfortunately, this is one tough Ogre, and you'll find it a worthy opponent on even the easiest difficulty settings. This challenging game features ST-like drop-down menus activiated with the joystick and graphics which push the XE to its limit. I've heard a lot of complaints that it was too hard, but no one has dismissed the Ogre as a wimp.
    Another space simulation is Star Fleet. I am at odds with a number of my computer brethren over this one because, although Star Fleet has its followers, I do not count myself among them. But, since it seems unlikely that so many people would be drawn to a really bad game, it can't be as bad as I think it is. In Star Fleet you search the galaxy for enemy encounters, using a number of offensive and defensive systems. Your goal is to progress through the Star Fleet ranks to Admiral Emeritus. Unfortunately, I never got past Ensign. It wasn't that I didn't know how to play, as great game design and superb documentation made play nearly effortless. I just never felt drawn into its world. Since Star Fleet's fervent followers feel otherwise, I am compelled by consensus to advise you to at least take a look at it.
    Unfortunately, that's about all the futuristic simulations there are. Hopefully in the coming year, we'll see a few more. Personally, I'd like to see SSI port over the Roadwar series. These great games drop you in the middle of a world similar to that depicted in the Mad Max movie series. This premise, which lets you travel the globe in vehicular gangs, is not entirely original, but is nonetheless very engaging. And I notice that there is an Apple version running in 48K. How 'bout it, guys, give us an Atari 8-bit version? But until they respond to our pleas, I guess we'll just have to settle for this newest one.

SHILOH: Grant's Trial in the West
by David Landrey
and Chuck Kroegel SSI
1046 N. Rengstorff Avenue
Mountain View, CA 94043
48K Disk $39.95

    In the newest simulation from SSI, the masters again use their patented formula to turn out a game that is not only historically accurate and complex, but also relatively easy to play. Shiloh: Grant's Trial in the West time warps us back to the 1800s, plunging us into the middle of our country's Civil War to experience the bloodiest battle our country had seen to date. Before the battle of Shiloh, General (later President) Giant had had little experience in the field. But that was to change on April 6, 1862, when his troops were surprised by the Confederate Army from Mississippi, under the command of General Johnston. A relatively inexperienced Grant, along with large numbers of untried troops, made for two of the most violent days in the war's history.
    The program utilizes a refined version of the Gettysburg game system, which allows for three levels of play, the first letting the novice learn to play quickly using options, such as hiding enemy troops and elaborate handicapping of each side, keep play interesting for days to come. And it will take days, as each game is rated at 10-15 hours in length. Refinements of the gaming system include the ability to switch between strategic and tactical displays at any time, and special consideration for troops new to battle.
    Play is simple and progresses in two phases, operation and combat. In the operation phase you give troops orders and check their condition, while the combat phase lets you pause as the computer resolves the conflicts. Commands are easily given. You move an on-screen cursor about, reviewing the troops, giving orders to those that require them, pressing the space-bar to access the command menu. Thus you are always advised of a unit's status as well as the available commands.
    A complete manual chock full of informative tables and charts helps you to quickly become familiar with the game and your troops, and a map provides a nice overview. Of particular interest is the section which details the differences between Shiloh and other SSI games, allowing veteran gamers to quickly familiarize themselves with this complex program. All things considered, SSI has achieved another victory with Shiloh. While the program breaks no staggering new ground, it also offers no disappointing surprises.

by Arthur M. Walsh
Artworx Software Company, Inc.
1844 Penfield Road
Penfield, NY 14526
48K Disk $29.95


    As I mentioned before, simulations don't always plunk you down in the middle of a raging battlefield. Indeed, some of the best simulations beat us at mankind's greatest strategy games. There are a number of chess games out there (Chessmaster 2000 being the best), and a backgammon derivative (Pegammon). But while chess is one of mankind's most complex games, bridge claims enough devotees to make it a modern-day classic, and it contains enough complexity to keep them interested. Since I am by no means an expert (or even a novice bridge player), I turned the program over to my mother, who has been addicted to bridge for years.

For those whose
preferences lean toward
conflicts of the future, I
regret that there are
few programs to
appease your
blood lust,

    The program boots up nicely enough, although the graphic limitations of the 8-bit make the cards a little hard to decipher. Bidding, the first phase of play in bridge, is accomplished by typing your bid on the keyboard. The three other hands are bid by the computer. However, my expert found the computer's bids to be faulty at times. For instance, Bridge 5.0 would not arrive at game bid when it was possible, and often would not open with a two bid when the card count merited it. It also did not always respond to a two opening bid or to a jump switch. Finally, it would occasionally rebid a four-card suit, which leads to an incorrect final bid. In addition, my young son displayed to me that pressing keys unexpected by the program caused it to terminate execution and confront us with a rude error code. While the START key got us going again, it did not reset our hand. Most annoying.
    On the plus side, it does supply bridge junkies with 8-bits, an opponent who (presumably) doesn't cheat and never tires of play. Even my mother, who found some of its play faulty, nonetheless continues to play. Expecially appealing was the feature that allows the current hand to be replayed an unlimited number of times, letting you try different strategies, making the program a great learning tool. Unfortunately, the sparse manual tells little about the program and even less about bridge. You'll have to hit the library to learn how to play. Surprisingly, the program does not bid according to Goren or Culbertson, two popular systems, but instead utilizes the standard American bidding method. In addition it follows the Blackwood and Staymen conventions.
    Other features allow you to save up to 66 hands, but unlikethe ST version of the game, it does not let you set up your own hands. All in all, though, Bridge 5.0 is an acceptable and affordable bridge program. While it might not provide the expert with expert play, it does take the place of human opponents when none are available, and it makes a good teaching tool.
    That wraps it up for this month, so I'll just power down. But before I disconnect, I'll remind you that next time we'll move on to fantasy games, my favorite genre. I'll name the best D&D derivative, and warn you which ones aren't worth the media they're stored on. Until then, good gaming.

When you see a game
you think you'd like,
but it's only available in
a non-Atari format,
write to the software
publisher and ask