By Marshal M. Rosenthal
THE BIG WATER
England, the land where the ST rules. Popping over to the underground, we take a quick Tube ride from Victoria Station, transfer to the Picadilly line and take it all the way out to Alexandria Palace, where an Atari ST show happens to be in progress. There, we are treated to a crumbly toasted-cheese sandwich and a few words about The Hound of Shadow from Electronic Arts U.K.
Hound is a role-playing adventure game that adds to the Cthulhu mythos created by the master of the macabre, H.P. Lovecraft. Set in the Roaring '20s, it will use sepia graphics to keep the mood, and requires you to create a character using such attributes as sex, nationality, profession and skills. A new operating system called Timeline enables you to move your character to subsequent adventures while retaining the skills and lessons learned. Timeline also affects the game in response to the character and attributes you've chosen. England may seem genteel and tame, but, in Hound, evil lurks just below the surface (although, I doubt anything can compare with the horror of the cheese sandwich I just consumed).
Jeff Minter is nearby. He's one of the first game programmers in England, having created games for the (gasp!) VIC 20, then moving over to the Atari 8-bit and now the ST. His Super Grid Runner maintains the excellence of fun graphics, nifty sound effects and playability. Grid's premise is simple: You move your spaceship around a geometric grid pattern, avoiding the falling bombs and aliens. Not too complex, eh? Of course, there are the kamikaze spaceships, the replicating snakes which leave pods that turn into bombs, and the invulnerable moving turrets that send blasts along the grid.
Control of the ship is easily handled by mouse movements, coupled with a unique firing mechanism. A special nose-cone can be called over to the ship by pressing the right mouse button. Once there, a tap of the left mouse button fires blasts into the cone, which cause them to exit as multiple rays of greater strength and in planned directions (accessed through Left Shift/Alternate key). The cone can be called over to another area or left where it is. Help also appears in the form of shield tokens which must be grabbed, and a falling Llama, which adds an extra life (Minter has this thing about Llamas, you see). Blasting these little fellas is a no-no.
Graphics are bright and cartoon-like, with the program utilizing the entire 512-color palette. Sound, as in all Minter games, is loud, effective and entertaining. (Why can't other developers handle the sound chip like Jeff does?) Full documentation includes notes and personal comments by Minter, a nice job, except for the Tom Thumb-sized print.
Supernova releases two budget arcade games, Classic Invaders and Pharaoh III. New art-work and characters, but they're still just Space Invaders and Galaxian. Invaders is exactly what it should be: those ugly faces zipping back and forth, as your blaster dodges their fire from beneath three bunkers. Then it's your turn to blast them to bits. Pharaoh III adds some digitized music and an opening story sequence before placing you outside of the Pyramids of Gizeh. Then it's rock-'em, sock-'em time as Egyptian Gods of the Dead try to wipe out descending spacecraft. No surprises here, just solid gameplay.
Personal Nightmare makes its appearance, and it turns out that all the hype noted last time was mostly justified. Nightmare is a graphic/text adventure game with some added perks, most notably the animation in the viewing window.
Set in England, you find that your father, the local vicar, has mysteriously vanished. Arriving at your boyhood home of Tynham Cross, you find the sleepy little village almost unchanged, except for this nagging feeling that something is wrong.
The local pub and hotel is the Dog and Duck, run by the nice (?) Mr. and Mrs. Jones. Plenty of other townsfolk are around, including the local constable, all friendly, going about their business-and concealing a dark secret.
Nightmare is touted as good, clean, inoftensive horror containing "adult themes," meaning there's some violence and general mayhem not suggested for the young (but probably less damaging than a Rambo film). The game progresses well and is easy to access through on-screen icons and mouse. You can click on the compass at the upperleft to move about, and in most cases, clicking on objects and areas accesses them in an intelligent manner (clicking on a door means you want to open it, not put it in your pocket).
Objects picked up are stored in an inventory window that is "turned on" when desired. Sound effects are present throughout and the digitized ones enhance the eerie mood as night descends. The graphics are quite nice as well, even Elvira's appearance with the logo is worth seeing (at least once; then you can bypass all of this to continue a saved game or start a new one).
Perhaps the only complaint is that five disks require a lot of swapping, since no RAM cache is supplied, nor is multiple drive use supported. This can get irksome. Copy-protection is all right, but why can't we go to a hard disk, or at least use another drive? These exceptions aside, Personal Nightmare scores well, an above-average adventure.
For a bit more insight, we turn to the game's designer, Mike Woodruff. "There are a number of things that make Personal Nightmare different," he begins. "Game logic is handled by our AGOS interpreter, a powerful interface that makes interacting easy for the user. Mowing around and typing in responses is part of these games, a bit of a boring part since we're so used to it by now, but there's also some 500 sequences of animation and 600K of digitized sound. Events are ongoing and occur as time passes on. So you will see different things depending on where you are each time you play."
Not wanting to give too much away, Woodruff concedes that supernatural forces are at work here, and scenes that are "very nasty, indeed" lie in store for the player.
The next game out will feature Elvira, Mistress of the Night. You play an average human caught up in the strange and weird as you attempt to rescue Elvira from the evils haunting her medieval castle.
Well, it's time for another sandwich, which means a trip out of the convention hall and on to a McDonald's (such a decadent American, indeed). See you next time.
Marshal M. Rosenthal is a New, York - based writer and photographer whose work takes him throughout the world. Working extensively in the computer/electronic entertairrment,field, his only known fear is the brown-out.
Black Horse House
Exmouth, England EX8 UL
THE HOUND OF SHADOW
Electronic Arts UK
Langley Business Centre
11-49 Station Road
Langley Nr. Slough, Berkshire
England SL3 8YN
Addision Industrial Estate
Blaydon, Tyne & Wear
England NE21 4TE
SUPER GRID RUNNER
49 Mount Pleasant