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.
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
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