Pigs For Atari
Orson Scott Card
Editor, COMPUTE! Books
Five-year-old Geoffrey sat down at the computer, and a woman introduced
a wolf named Wasco. "Move him to the magic door," she said. He pushed
his joystick and the wolf walked over to the door, waving his arms and
moving his legs. When he reached the door, the wolf flashed different
colors and disappeared.
Then the picture on the screen changed, as if it
were a camera panning from left to right. Geoffrey saw a straw house,
with a nervous pig inside, wiggling its ears and tail. The straw
salesman walked by as the woman told how the house came to be built.
Then Wasco came back.
"Little pig, little pig, let me in," said the wolf,
in a voice that echoed strangely.
"Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin," said the
Geoffrey laughed aloud. The woman told him to move
Wasco to Door Number One. Geoffrey did it - pausing on the way to let
the wolf have a chance to take a few bites of the pig through the
window. The pig was apparently safe inside, so Geoffrey moved the wolf
the rest of the way to the door.
Huffing And Puffing
The wolf started dancing around while he huffed and puffed. Sure
enough, the sky flashed, the "camera" panned to the right again, and
the house was now a wreck. The same thing happened with the wood house,
and then the wolf failed in two tries at the brick house.
The woman told Geoffrey to move Wasco to the
chimney. When Geoffrey got him there, the wolf climbed up and jumped
down. But there was a pot waiting down in the fireplace, and the wolf
dropped neatly inside.
"I want another story now!" said Geoffrey.
But there was no other story. So Geoffrey happily
repeated "The Three Little Pigs" about six times before his parents
sent him to bed with a promise that he could play it again tomorrow.
The wolf lurks outside the first pig's
house in The Magic Storybook:
Three Little Pigs.
By the fairest standard of judgment I know, that
makes Magic Storybook's animated, interactive computer story a
success. It is meant for children, and my very picky son Geoffrey
thought it was great.
And it was, in many ways. The pictures of the houses
were beautifully done, with display list interrupts allowing eight
colors and many different shades on the screen at a time. The wolf and
the salesman were each made up of four player/missiles combined, and
despite the limitation of the 16-bit-wide format (they were tall and
thin), the animation was well-done.
There were thoughtful extras, too. Stars twinkled. The pigs' eyes,
ears, and tails were in constant motion. The artistry of the screen
display was delightful. The horizontal scrolling was beautifully done -
it even trembled like an earthquake when the wolf blew and blew at the
brick house. The cassette loaded correctly the first time, every time,
and when we wanted to repeat the story, the other side of the tape had
the storytelling soundtrack only, so we didn't have to wait for a load.
There was even a line-drawing replica of the cover picture, for a kid
There were trade-offs, of course. That can't be
helped. To create fluid, lifelike cartoon movements requires a new
picture for every different body position of an onscreen character.
That kind of quality takes a lot of artists a lot of time and money.
That's why cheaply made cartoons have stiff, unnatural movements, faces
that show no expressions, and dull backgrounds that repeat endlessly.
The same limitations apply to computer animation,
only in addition to time and money, a third limitation is memory.
Smooth, lifelike movement requires that every single picture be in RAM,
where it can be accessed instantly. Player/missile graphics compensates
a lot, because figures can be moved smoothly. But as soon as you want
arms and legs to move naturally, or faces to change expressions, you
run into the same old problems - every shape has to be in memory.
But that doesn't excuse all the flaws. For one thing, the interaction
was very limited. All the child can ever do is move the wolf from right
to left. There's a little bit of freedom: the wolf can go up and down
about an inch. But if the child plays around with the wolf too long,
the program takes over and moves the wolf against the child's will.
That seems like an unnecessary precaution. Why
shouldn't children be free to move the wolf all around the house, if
they feel like it, and take as long as they want doing it, too? It
would have taken only a few dozen machine language commands to allow
the wolf to go behind the house in the effort to get inside - a lot of
drama would have been added to the story, and nothing is gained by
making children hurry through the tale.
The sound was another problem. The background music
was tolerable but unexciting. The funny voices for the wolf and the
pigs were great - Geoffrey and his three-year-old sister, Emily,
laughed out loud the first time through the story. But the narrator!
She read in a monotone, as if she were hopelessly bored, repeating an
elocution lesson, carefully pronouncing every vowel and consonant.
I couldn't help but compare Magic Storybook with PDI's
interactive story Sammy the Sea
Serpent. The graphics and programming in Magic Storybook are lightyears
beyond Sammy. But Sammy's narrator is an excellent,
excited storyteller, and the child is given meaningful tasks to perform
and games to play. The six high-resolution screens and player/missile
graphics in Magic Storybook
cost the children the chance to really become part of the story.
The glow on my son's face when the narrator of Sammy the Sea Serpent tells him,
"Sammy is home now. He
have done it without you," just wasn't there at the end of "The Three
Little Pigs." Some things count even more than graphics.
The Three Little Pigs
Amulet Enterprises, Inc.
P.O. Box 25612
Garfield Heights, OH 44125