Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 2 NO. 5 / SPRING 1988


The Bard's Tale, Rings of Zilfin and Pinball Wizard

by David Plotkin

This issue, we've got two of one, plus a lone wolf- a duo of role-playing adventure games and a construction-set-style arcade game. Luckily, all three are linked by a common thread- they're fast-moving, have splashy graphics and are lots of fun to play!

The Bard's Tale is an animated role-playing adventure in which you guide the actions of a party of up to six adventurers. Your party explores the town of Skara Brae, seeking fame, fortune and a way to defeat the evils of Mangar, who has cursed the town and made it a rather unpleasant place to live.

The Bard's Tale

You can create the members of your adventuring party (choosing from six races and as many character types) or use the pre-built group supplied with the program. There's a map of Skara Brae included with the game, so you can get started quickly, exploring the weapons and energy shops, taverns, temples (where wounds are healed - for a price), and the inevitable dungeons.

On the streets of the town are all sorts of really nasty individuals; some are human, and some are not. When faced by an enemy, you have two choices-run or fight-but clicking on Run doesn't always work. Then you must fight-attacking the enemy or defending yourself.

If any of the adversaries are still alive at the end of the encounter you can again choose to run or fight. Defeating an attacker is good for experience points and gold, always a useful commodity in a world where reincarnation can cost 1,800 pieces of gold.

The main screen in The Bard's Tale is divided into a small window which shows the well-done graphics of the town, a window which prompts you for instructions and an area which shows the current state of your characters. The sound is digitized and quite a large number of tunes are played when the Bard sings. Most commands can be chosen by use of the mouse pointer.

For example, placing the pointer in the "town graphics" window changes the pointer to a direction indicator, so you can choose to move in one of four directions. Unfortunately, the algorithm which reads the mouse buttons needs some work, so multiple presses of the button are often necessary to get the program to acknowledge your choice. You can only save the game at the Adventurer's Guild building If your characters are killed, your character disk is updated to reflect this fact, even for previously-saved games. I recommend you keep a backup character disk, so you can restore from an earlier save and "reincarnate" your characters. haracters.

In The Bard's Tale
you explore the
town of Skara Brae,
seeking fame
and fortune.

The Bard's Tale is a difficult adventure with good graphics and a decent control setup. Be prepared to die a lot until you finally manage to build up some powerful characters. I think you adventuring fiends out there will enjoy this program. A hint book is available from Electronic Arts for $12.95.

Rings of Zilfin (ROZ) is a fantasy role-playing adventure which features puzzles, good graphics and remarkably addicting gameplay. You are the hero, whose ultimate mission is to defeat the evil (of course) Lord Dragos, who has brought darkness to the land of Batinique.

To do this you need money-which you get first by stealing and selling gems, and later by trading goods for a profit. You can move within a town. talking to the townspeople and visiting temples, merchants, healers and fortune tellers. You'll also travel from town to town, which is hazardous-you'll run into all manner of menaces, defending youself with swords, arrows, and magic. You'll also find water that may strengthen or poison you, and magic mushrooms of many varieties.

Rings Of Zilfin

The graphics in ROZ are good. You control a small character on the screen using the mouse or keyboard. All commands are available from the mouse, making the game very easy to play. You can check your inventory and use any object you are carrying. The left mouse button lets you strike in battle, and your character is well animated as he walks along the road or does battle with enemies. The background graphics are also well-done. The scenery scrolls smoothly as you walk along the road, and there are detailed graphics of the interiors of the buildings. Things do move slowly though, and I wish there were some way to bypass some of the more lengthy animation sequences.

Some of the animation does not appear to have been carefully crafted. For example, when there are many enemies on the screen, they all move very slowly, but as you kill them off, the remaining ones move faster (the program is animating fewer characters) to the point that your arrows can pass right through the enemies as they flash across the screen. The animation sequences and graphics have to be loaded from disk, which can slow down the gameplay somewhat, although the files are not that big. ROZ comes on three single-sided disks which you must switch periodically, although this doesn't happen too often. One very nice thing is that the game is not copy-protected in any way. I was able to install it in a folder on my hard drive (requires almost a megabyte free) and play from the hard drive. Needless to say, this speeded things up considerably.

The real place that ROZ shines is playability. The game increases in difficulty only very gradually, so that it is relatively easy to stay alive and build up your health and equipment. The object of the programmers did not seem to be to kill you off, but instead to strain your brain to solve the mysteries. You can die, but with a little care you don't have to deal with "getting killed in the first five minutes" syndrome that can make an adventure game so frustrating. Some of the limits on what you can carry are ridiculously high, perhaps to give a better chance of surviving. For example, when I crossed the pass into Begonia, I was carrying 99 bows, 8,000 arrows, 99 packets of tobacco, 99 toys and 99 bolts of silk. Quite a load for an adventurer wearing heavy armor!

I highly recommend Rings of Zilfin because of the good graphics, excellent playability and demanding gameplay. This adventure has some arcade battle sequences as well as all the elements of a good fantasy adventure.

Pinball Wizard from Accolade is a construction set enabling you to build and play your own pinball games. It allows you to customize the game in many ways, using prebuilt obstacles as well as letting you paint designs on the screen. It's also mouse driven and very easy to use.

There's a built-in game, of course- and it plays a mean game of pinball. You control left and right flippers, and can bang the machine (but not too hard or it'll tilt.) The action is smooth, fast and fun.

But the heart of Pinball Wizard is the construction set that lets you assemble spinners, bumpers, drop targets, lights, kickers, one-way doors, flippers and many other elements into your own pinball games- all mouse-controlled. You can also use the paint menu to draw in 15 colors-either as decorations or obstacles. You can modify characteristics like tilt sensitivity, ball speed, number of balls per game-and, of course, special scoring combinations. When you're satisfied with your design, you can save it to disk-and reload it later if you want to make changes.

Pinball Wizard

The graphics in Pinball Wizard are excellent. The sound is also very realistic, though you cannot choose what sound goes with which target. Another serious limitation is that you must have a copy of Pinball Wizard to play a game designed with it-the games are not stand-alone.

Pinball Wizard
is a construction
set enabling you
to build and play
pinball games.

Pinball Wizard is an easy-to-use construction set for designing pinball games, and it allows you a great deal of freedom in the design of the pinball game itself. You must decide whether it is important to you to be able to customize the score graphic and produce stand-alone games in making your purchase decision.

David Plothin is a chemical engineer employed by Chevron US.A., and is a frequent contributor to START and Antic.


  • Tales of the Unknown, Volume 1, "The Bard's Tale," $49.95. Interplay Productions, distributed by Electronic Arts, 1820 Gateway Drive, San Mateo, CA 94404, (415) 571-7171.
  • Rings of Zilfin, $39.95. Strategic Simulations, Inc., 1064 N. Rengstorff Ave., Mountain View, CA 94043, (415) 964-1200.
  • Pinball Wizard, $34.95. Accolade, 20813 Stevens Creek Blvd, Cupertino, CA 95014, (408) 446-5757.