Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 64 / SEPTEMBER 1985 / PAGE 62

Below The Root

Nick Piazza, Jr.

Requirements: Commodore 64 with a disk drive, Apple II-series computer with at least 48K RAM and a disk drive, IBM PC with at least 64K RAM, a disk drive, and color/graphics adapter, or an Enhanced Model IBM PCjr. A joystick is required for the 64 version and recommended for the Apple and IBM versions.

It didn't take long for Hollywood to realize that great books could often be made into great movies. The software industry appears to have made the same discovery, and Windham Classics has developed a superb adaptation of Zilpha Keatley Snyder's Green Sky Trilogy. (In fact, Snyder collaborated with programmer Dale Disharoon to create Below the Root.)
    The Green Sky Trilogy is set in a fantasy world of trees and tunnels known as Green Sky, and it's up to a character on a quest to save this world from pending destruction. Below the Root casts the player as the quester in an enchanting blend of an action and adventure game. It has been designed for players aged ten to adult, but my seven-year-old daughter was able to enjoy the game while playing with a grownup. It's even more enjoyable when several people join together to guide the quest. Indeed, one of the game's strong points is that it encourages cooperation rather than isolated play or deadly competition.

Colorful Graphics
One of the first things that impresses you about Below the Root is the quality of the screen graphics-the color and detail rival that of any arcade game. There are more than 100 different screens, each a delight to the eye.
    Unlike text adventures, Below the Root doesn't require you to enter your commands by typing short sentences such as "Look North" or "Take Object." Instead, you select functions from various menus of choices (with the joystick, if you're using one). This makes the game more suitable for younger children. For example, the main menu lets you start a new game, save a current game on disk, continue a previously saved game, or view a sample game simply by indicating your choice. The last option, by the way, is particularly recommended for first-time players-it's wise to take a few minutes to orient yourself before plunging headlong into this unknown world.
    After reading the well-written instructions and viewing the sample game, you're ready to start. First, the program asks which of five questers you wish to adopt. Each comes with varying degrees of stamina and "spirit skill." Questers also represent the two races which occupy Green Sky: the tree-loving Kindar and their cousins, the Erdling. Each race has its own attributes and limitations. All the questers, however, can grow in strength and spirit as they progress through the game.
    What really sets this game apart is that questers can be either male or female. My daughter thought it was unfair that she was limited to choosing between three male characters and only two female characters, but still, at a time when computers are becoming increasingly important, it's gratifying to find a game that goes out of its way to encourage young girls as well as boys.
    The level of each quester's spirit skill is an important factor in mastering the environment of Green Sky and successfully completing the quest. Spirit skills include the ability to read the emotions and thoughts of others (pensing), to heal yourself if injured, to influence tree growth (grunspreke), or to move yourself or other objects with your mind (kiniport). Each requires higher levels of spirit skill, and it's up to the player to determine how to raise this level. Those new to Green Sky should select questers with more spirit skill, while those who have played before may want to try questers with less spirit skill for a more challenging game.
    Once you've selected your quester, the game begins in the quester's home. At this point, you have 50 days (in game time) to complete your quest and save Green Sky. Initial supplies are available in the quester's s home, and players decide their course of action by making selections from the options menu. Many of these options are familiar to those who have played text adventures. You can examine, take, buy, eat, offer, drop, or sell various objects. You can also list an inventory of what you're carrying and call upon your spirit skills.

Quester, Heal Thyself
Questers are free to move throughout Green Sky in various ways: They can walk, run, jump, glide, climb, crawl, or enter and exit buildings. Since much of the action occurs in the treetops of Green Sky, you must be careful not to fall-unless you have a shuba for gliding, your quester will suffer a bump on the head. But watching the comical way in which questers rub their heads after a fall may help soothe the pain.
    When you first encounter other characters in the game, an important spirit skill to use is pensing. This allows you to determine if they're friendly before speaking to them. This is vital, because some inhabitants are hostile. From time to time, it's also important to check your status, get adequate rest, eat when you're hungry, and heal yourself of any injuries. If your situation becomes too desperate, you may have to renew yourself. This option returns you home, but costs you a day from your quest.
    The renew option, incidentally, spotlights another attractive feature of Below the Root: Questers are never killed or destroyed during their quest. While the world may be lost, violence rarely befalls the quester. This may be an important consideration for young players who would become upset if a character they created was destroyed during a game, or for parents who are disturbed by violence in computer games.

Below the Root
Windham Classics/Spinnaker Software
One Kendall Square
Cambridge, MA 02139