Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 75 / AUGUST 1986 / PAGE 62


Charles Brannon, Program Editor

Requirements: Atari ST with color monitor, Commodore Amiga, or Apple Macintosh.

We've come a long way from the days of the original Adventure game. There are many variations in the genre of interactive fiction: text only, text and graphics, and graphics only. The text-only adventure games, best known by Infocom's Zork series and other interactive fiction such as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, depend on detailed prose and a sophisticated parser which decodes the typed commands you give to your invisible alter ego. To explore the adventure world, you type commands like GO WEST or TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER. The game responds by changing the scene, giving you a new page of text to read, or responding with a message like CAN'T GO IN THAT DIRECTION, or CAN'T TAKE THE 'ME'. The latter kind of message reveals the limitations of a command parser. The parser thinks you are trying to TAKE (pick up) the object ME.

This kind of adventure game can sometimes be frustrating, since only a limited number of actions make sense in any one scene. You are basically solving a series of linked or nested puzzles. For instance, you may start by trying to find a scroll that reveals the location of a magic key, which in turn opens the locked door that leads to the treasure you'll need to bribe a gatekeeper. In addition to a bribe, the gatekeeper may insist that you solve a knotty riddle before passing into the domain of a wizard who holds the ultimate object of your quest. Until you solve the gatekeeper's riddle, you can't enter that portion of the adventure world.

The text-only games make you feel you're reading a complex novel in which you are the main character. You help "write" the story by making decisions at various branching points. However, there isn't enough room on the screen or in computer memory for both elaborate text and detailed color illustrations.

Adventure games that use both text and graphics rely on full-screen pictures to tell much of the story. While text-only games like Zork must describe a room, a graphics adventure like Sierra On-Line's King's Quest shows you the room itself, including whatever objects it contains. You still use keyboard commands to control the action, but the pictorial approach is one step closer to a real-life simulation.

Onscreen Alter Ego

Brattaccus is part of a new trend in adventure games in which you control a realistic image of a human or some other character. Instead of typing GO WEST, you move a mouse or a joystick, making your onscreen character walk around, open and close doors, pick up and put down objects, and even fight when necessary. In Brattaccus, the action takes place on a high-resolution stage of platforms, elevators, cantinas, police headquarters, and the criminal underworld. Brattaccus provides much of the interaction of text-only adventure games, but gives you direct, realtime control.

It takes some time to learn to control your character, a genetic engineer named Kyne, In addition to four basic directions, you can modify these four movements to get many more. In the Atari ST and Amiga versions, for example, you can push the mouse to the left, or push to the left with the right mouse button down, or even with both buttons pressed. Usually, your character behaves in a predictable fashion, but it can be frustrating to see him run and crash into a wall when you were merely trying to rotate to face a door.

In the game, Kyne has developed a new genetic technique for creating superhuman beings. The government, however, won't allow such a powerful, destabilizing technology to run rampant (at least, unless it controls the technology, with a race of supersoldiers foremost in mind). As Kyne, you have been falsely charged with selling your secrets to the underworld and are on the run, seeking out the seedy mining asteriod Brattaccus, where you believe you can find evidence to clear your name. The criminal underworld of Brattaccus is not unaware of the potential of your discoveries, so they too are hunting you. Fortunately, you are traveling under an alias, but there is a bartender who can blow your cover.

This would make for a great science-fiction film, and you become the star of the show. You walk Kyne's character around the maze of the asteroid's structure, wandering in and out of bars, floating up and down in elevators, moving from room to room, sometimes talking or fighting with other characters. Some characters let you know they are going to the bar for a drink, a cue for you to follow them for a private talk. These semi-autonomous characters roam throughout Brattaccus in rather aimless fashion. There are several classes of characters, from planetoid personnel and police to the henchmen of the criminal mastermind Kol Worpt.

Once in the bar, the characters ask if you'd like any information, usually in exchange for money or goods which are littered about the planetoid, ready to be plucked up by you or others. You respond to a character's prompt by choosing one of several responses that appear in a thought bubble above Kyne's head. Your choice affects the future of the game.

Realistic Swordplay

At times, you need to draw your sword to defend yourself against attackers. You can duck, parry, and lunge with your sword, but don't walk around with it drawn, since many characters take such behavior as a provocation. Characters whom you kill do not merely disappear, but instead lie on the ground for the rest of the game as a gruesome reminder. The game's graphics are realistic, and some players may object to this violent aspect.

Since many characters in Brattaccus—especially the police and henchmen—are excellent swordsmen, you’ll find that games don't last long if you get carried away with swordplay. Swords, incidentally, are the only permissible weapons on Brattaccus, since other weapons could rupture the air bubble that keeps everyone alive on this desolate asteroid.

The world of Brattaccus is complex and difficult to map. In it you'll find security cameras that scan key corridors; you don't want to be caught fighting on camera. On/off switches let you control the operation of elevators, video screens, and more, but using them is a crime. Some rooms contain tannoys (loudspeakers) that periodically announce special police bulletins. Video screens display special news alerts. There are times where you'll be arrested and dragged off to jail, or captured by thugs and hauled away to an audience with the evil Kol Worpt. You must balance chit-chat, bribery, and measured doses of swordplay to keep things under control.

I don't know if Brattaccus is solvable. Although I've played it for weeks, it's still very hard to grasp all the elements needed to solve the puzzle and find the evidence. In this manner, Brattaccus is no different from other adventure games, which may take months to complete. For many people, this indicates good value, since the game still poses an interesting challenge even after considerable use.

Unrealized Potential

The only negative factors arise not from the game concept, but from its implementation. Brattaccus was first designed on the Atari 520ST, and the program's routines for moving the large objects representing characters can get bogged down when there are many characters on the screen at once. When Brattaccus was translated for the Amiga and Macintosh, apparently it was not rewritten to take advantage of these computers' features.

For instance, the Amiga's blitter chip, which could significantly speed up the animation, does not seem to be utilized to its potential. The game graphics are absolutely identical on both machines. And curiously, though the Amiga works with the same type of joystick as the ST, joystick control is absent from the Amiga version. Also, the Amiga version makes no use of the Amiga's integral speech synthesis.

The Macintosh version's graphics are somewhat disappointing, too. The designers converted the ST color graphics without taking advantage of the greater vertical resolution on the Mac. As a result, the Macintosh version has only 200 lines of vertical resolution and looks squashed compared to the original.

Nevertheless, Brattaccus shows the possibilities for gameplay on powerful 68000-based computers such as the ST, Amiga, and Macintosh. As designers continue to learn more about these machines, we can expect new waves of entertainment software which take advantage of the powerful CPU, large-capacity disks, digital sound, and elaborate screen graphics that make these computers so attractive.


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