Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 3 NO. 12 / JULY 1989

For The Fun Of It

Stupidity, Gold and Space

Once again START's editor makes time in his busy schedule to review the latest graphic adventure--this one from Lucasfilm. Also in this issue, we take a look at some impressive new arcade-style games from Magnetic Images and Epyx.


Reviewed by Andrew Reese

Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders marks the happy return of Lucasfilm Games to the Atari market. Any long-time owner of an 8-bit Atari will remember Lucasfilm's last two Atari games with pleasure: Rescue on Fractalus and Ballblazer. They were marked by great graphics, imaginative scenarios and well-conceived gameplay. Zak McKracken certainly shares these qualities.

"Zak" is a graphic adventure, one of that intriguing genre of games made possible by high-powered computers like the ST. Pioneered by Sierra On-Line in their King's Quest games, graphic adventures let you control an animated onscreen protagonist (or in this case, four protagonists) through a colorful graphic world. Sierra's games require occasional keyboard text entry, while Lucasfilm has devised a system that can be played entirely with the mouse or just a few keys. It's an interesting concept that ensures that you won't have to struggle with a command parser that doesn't understand your vocabulary and thought processes. It is a bit cumbersome at times, however, and you can't use the keyboard to speed things up.

mindbenders.jpg In an early
scene from Zak
McKracken and the
Alien Mindbenders,
Zak dons his hat
and nose-glasses,
an essential dis-
guise. Without them,
of course, he can't
pass for an alien
phone company
employee. (If you
don't believe us,
play the game!)

Silly Story, Great Graphics

The storyline is delightfully silly: Zak McKracken is a reporter for a sleazy tabloid, pounding out outlandish fictional "news" stories. Meanwhile, aliens have secretly invaded Earth and taken over the telephone company. In order to reduce Earth's residents to docile stupidity, the aliens are bombarding Earthlings with a 60-cycle hum through the phone lines. It's up to Zak and three friends to foil this dastardly plot.

The graphics are satisfactory and use the ST's low-resolution palette well. (You can play Zak on a monochrome monitor, but it's dull, dull, dull.) Where the graphics sparkle is in the animation. Lucasfilm has created some delightful cut scenes (mini-movies) that are interspersed throughout the game and add to the enjoyment of the story. Also, individual characters are themselves well-animated and the animation window scrolls fairly smoothly when necessary (such as when Zak uses the restroom in the airplane--he needs his privacy!).

The screen in Zak McKracken is divided into five areas. At the top is a message line, where game messages and dialog appear. Below this is the animation window, where your characters move and interact with each other and with people, aliens and objects in each scene. Just below the animation window is the sentence line, where you create commands for your characters. Next down is the verb list and below that is a scrolling inventory list.

To enter a command, you move the cursor to a verb and click once, then to an object and, if the verb requires something else, to the inventory. For example, you might click on "Open" then on the mailbox in the animation window. The game will supply any necessary connecting words, in this case "with" signaling you to select an item in inventory, the key. Once you've created your command, a click on the sentence line or the final word in the command and your character will carry it out.

Red Herrings and Goldfish

Overall, I enjoyed Zak. It's a long and involved game and I don't think I could have finished it without the hint book. (That may say more about my adventure game-playing ability than about the game.) I do have several complaints. First, the game is so large and so bizarre that objects have no obvious immediate purpose. Luckily, your inventory is unlimited, so you just have to pick up or buy everything you can. It's just that finding an appropriate use for it is not easy.

My second complaint is related to the first in some ways. I have become used to Sierra's scoring system. I was disconcerted in Zak to find that I could never tell whether an object I picked up was one I needed or just a red herring. For example, you'll need to pick up your goldfish, Sushi, in order to get to Mars (I won't say why here--it's a long story). But other than the fact that you can pick her up, there's no clue that you should. I'd really like to see a point system so that you can track your progress.

This is a big, big game. It will take you all over the world and off the world as well, so don't count on solving this game in one or two sittings. One aspect that I particularly enjoyed is that, unlike Sierra's linear "you must do this before you can do the next thing" games, Zak can be solved in a number of different ways. There are certain essential actions, but Lucasfilm has built in a number of alternatives to most others.

Read All About It!

Zak comes on three unprotected disks with a slender manual and a clue-filled copy of "The National Inquisitor." Copy protection is via a black-on-brown printed "exit visa" code chart that's not required at the start of the game, but pops up later on whenever you leave the U.S. It's a pretty good protection scheme that puts a minimal strain on the user.

I have to mention the hint book-it's superb. It includes a help list (color-encoded so that you won't "accidentally" see any hints you don't want), a list of objects (including where to find them and how to use them), a travel guide, maps, maze solutions and one complete game solution in narrative form. You can use any part or all of the hint book to solve Zak, but don't be too quick to use it. You can enjoy the wonderful world Lucasfilm has created more if you aren't too compulsive about winning quickly.

Because Zak is on unprotected disks, you can install the game on a hard disk to speed up file access. But this lack of physical copy protection means that you may also be tempted to make a quick copy for a friend. Don't do it! Not only are the National Inquisitor and the exit visa codes required to get very far into the game, but piracy was part of what drove Lucasfilm from the 8-bit Atari market in the first place.

If you want lots and lots of humor, animation, adventure and just plain fun, go out and buy Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders.


Reviewed by John S. Manor

In Gold of the Realm, a graphically appealing, easy-to-play arcade extravaganza, you assume the role of Nigel, an adventurer in search of a lost treasure of gold. There are three difficulty levels and up to four castles to explore, each of which has several floors that you reach by going up or down stair cases. You must seek items such as keys to locked rooms (most of the rooms are locked), food (some of which is poisoned) and special items that will help you get past some obstacles. Bottles of pills--some of which are harmful--are scattered around the mazes. On the most difficult level, the item locations are random, giving you a different game each time you play.

goldoftherealms.jpg In Gold of the
Realm, the
arcade adventure
from Magnetic Im-
ages, there are
three difficulty levels
and up to four cas-
tles to explore, each
of which has several
floors that you
reach by going up
or down staircases.

Staying Alive

There are certain items that you must find, such as a candle for exploring dark areas of the castle, a container that lets you carry more than three things at once and a scroll that tells you what you are holding. (As you collect items, they appear in a window on the screen. The name of your current item--the one you're holding or using--is above the window.)

You also have to keep Nigel healthy and well-fed. A bar at the bottom of the screen shows his level of energy or health. If it shrinks to nothing, he dies and the game is over.

Guards or monsters occupy many of the important rooms you explore. A swift hawk-type monster attacks you repeatedly until you leave his room. A mummy or a skeleton carrying a sword will attack you and, in the higher levels, chase you around the maze. The guards are excellent swordsmen who will cut you down quickly if they catch you. Archers sometimes appear on the wall of a castle to fire arrows at you. A ghost appears at regular intervals to steal whatever you're carrying in your hand at the time or to take some of your life energy. (Hint: to keep the ghost from getting my all-important keys or candle, I often hold a less important item, such as a bottle of pills. If the ghost comes, he gets my pills and not my key!) Most of the monsters (except for the ghost) are easy to evade, as long as you don't spend too much time in one room.

Keep a Map

Gold of the Realm is not a furious arcade-action game, but one of gradual exploration and discovery--an adventure game in the tradition of Temple of Apshai--so it's important to maintain a map. Your maps will cover many pages of a notebook; every floor of each castle needs its own map. Sometimes you must go up one staircase and down another to get at a key or other item. This makes you think in three dimensions when playing or mapping.

In addition to the stairs, there are gray transporter squares at various places in the maze that zap you back outside of the castle if you need a quick way out. I found some small wooden buildings on paths outside the castles that held important items such as the candle. One held a poisoned apple that nearly killed Nigel. Then there's the maze of hedges that hides an object that you'll need for the hardest level.

The mazes contain some ingenious and nasty traps. I particularly liked the bridges over ravines and rooms with no floors. If you run blindly into these rooms, you'll fall down to the next level. You have to watch your step when exploring the realm.


The graphics in Gold of the Realm are sharp and colorful. The castle hallways and rooms scroll smoothly as Nigel explores them. Nigel and his monstrous foes are well-animated--he even looks stunned after a fall. The music that plays while a game is loading or saving adds to the wandering mood of the game.

Gold of the Realm comes on a single-sided disk with a glossy instruction manual that gives the simple rules for the game and some historical background on the lost treasure.

Though I prefer games with more action than there is in Gold of the Realm, I enjoyed exploring its intricate mazes. They're extensive and should be a real challenge to the stout-hearted computer adventurer for a long time.


Reviewed by Scot Tumlin

Mitral, the primary moon of the planet Evath, is about to explode. If it does, the force of the explosion will knock Evath out of its orbit and cause untold destruction of the planet's surface and people. Your mission is to prevent Mitral from blowing up. Thus goes the premise of Space Station Oblivion, Epyx' new action adventure. A color monitor is required.

Eighteen sectors (mining stations) were constructed on Mitral. After years of mining, large amounts of natural gases have been trapped underneath these sectors. From a first-person perspective, you must locate the proper site and set up a drilling rig to release the pressurized gas. Each of the 18 sectors must be drilled, and you have only four Mitral hours to complete the mission!

The Sectors

Each sector is unique in its defensive capabilities and supply of Rubicon crystals. These crystals are important--they provide energy for your Excavation Probe (see below). Fortunately you start the game in the Amethyst sector where the drilling spot is marked and crystals are plentiful.

Some of the sectors contain neutral areas (buildings and supply rooms) that offer protection from enemy laser fire. Some of the neutral areas even contain crystals.

Four teleporters allow transportation between Amethyst, Emerald, Ruby and Beryl sectors. They're invisible until activated. When a teleporter is activated, a large "T" will appear. Drive the excavation probe into the "T" to transport to a different sector.

Each sector is defended by one or more of Mitral's automatic security systems. Laser beacons fire a deadly high-voltage laser beam. The cannon rotates around its tower stopping momentarily at North, South, East and West positions. To avoid fire, maneuver around the turret, but make sure to stay opposite the side the cannon faces. Ketar Skanners orbit certain sectors. They're well-armed, so don't try to destroy them. Mines are few and far between, just don't drive over one.

Some of the Mitral's defenses are controlled by switches that appear as colored objects. Fire at a switch to turn a defense off or cause a hidden door to appear that can take you to another sector.

oblivion.jpg Impressive graphics
and slick arcade-
like gameplay make
Space Station
Oblivion a quality
entry into the ST
game arena.

The Excavation Probe and Reconnaissance Jet

Space Station Oblivion gives you two vehicles at your disposal: an Excavation Probe and a Reconnaissance Jet.

The probe needs a constant supply of crystals to maintain high energy and shield strength. Fire at a crystal to increase your energy or shield strength. Use the mouse to move the probe forward, backward or left and right. The probe can be elevated, lowered and tilted to see over and around objects. A step-size adjustment alters the distance traveled in one move, great for those quick dashes across open areas. An angle adjustment alters the angle of turn. Both of these features are the first I've seen in a computer game--nice touch!

For defense the probe comes standard with a quadruple dual-action laser cannon. In drive mode the cannon is centered--move the probe to adjust your aim. In attack mode, use the mouse to place the cannon sights on a target, then press either button to fire.

Once a drilling location has been selected, a drill rig must be teleported from Evath. You have 18 rigs and each must be placed correctly. Before the drilling process begins, you have the option to cancel the rig and return it to Evath. The rigs bore through the surface with an extremely powerful laser. Once tapped, the gas is released in a safe, controlled manner.

The Reconnaissance Jet gives you a birds-eye view of Mitral. At the start of the game the location of the jet is unknown, but it's easy enough to find. The jet uses most of the probe's controls, the same laser cannon and also gains its power from the crystals. Movement is the same but with the addition of altitude. Unlike the probe, the jet can fly over a sector, but it cannot transport a drilling rig. Flying the jet takes some getting used to. The jet relies on the sector's surface for stability. Flying off a sector's edge can leave you stranded with nowhere to go--talk about the world being flat!


Space Station Oblivion is a nice game. It's not as quick as Starglider, but it takes more deductive effort to complete. To solve its puzzles requires unorthodox thinking. Any object can help solve the game, but some objects must be used in a certain way. Locating the drilling sites is hard enough, but getting the probe to the location (in one piece) is even harder. Don't worry--a load/save game option is included. As an aside: if you find Space Station Oblivion too difficult, there is a nifty hint book available from Epyx. Believe me, you'll find it to be a great help.

Andrew Reese is the Editor of START Magazine. John Manor has written extensively for Antic magazine and this is his first review for START. Scot Tumlin is Systems Manager for Antic Software.


Zak McKracken and the Allen Mindbenders, $44.95; Hint Book, $7.95. Lucasfilm Games (distributed by Mediagenic), 3885 Bohannon Drive, Menlo Park, CA 94025, (415) 329-0800.

Gold of the Realm, $39.95. Magnetic Images P.O. Box 17422, Phoenix, AZ 85011, (602) 265-7849

Space Station Oblivion, $19.95. Hint Book, $7.99, Epyx Software, P.O. Box 8020, 600 Galveston Drive, Redwood City, CA 94063, (415) 368-3200.