Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 3 NO. 3 / OCTOBER 1988

START Spotlight

Obliterator, Universal Military Simulator and Prime Time

obliterator.jpg You're the Oblitera-
tor: a lean, mean,
genetically enhanced
fighting machine.

This issue's Spotlight focuses on battles--some fought in space, some in history, and some waged fiercely on the bloodiest ground of them all--the vast terrifying wasteland known as television!


by Scot Tumlin

You are Drak, the last of the Obliterators, an elite team of genetically enhanced fighting machines. Your mission is to infiltrate and disable an alien cruiser before it destroys the Earth. The fate of mankind rests on your shoulders!

Obliterator is the latest release from Psygnosis, the England-based software company responsible for Terrorpods, Barbarian, Deep Space and Arena. In Obliterator, your goal is to maneuver through several rooms in the alien ship, locate and remove five objects and get out. The first three objects control the ship's engines, shields and weapons systems; once they're gone, the systems shut down. The fourth object is a computer datapack containing important data about the aliens and their ship. (Your superiors need this information--find it.) The last object gives you access to the shuttle.

Locating all five objects sets off a countdown sequence. If you plan on surviving, make sure you're on the shuttle before the counter reaches zero--because that's when an assault team from Earth attacks the alien ship.

At the bottom of your screen is a display of either several icons or your weapons. Pressing the spacebar toggles between them. Clicking on an icon will move Drak in that direction, but you can gain more control by placing the mouse pointer in the top half of the screen. This method is also handy for firing a weapon at an odd angle.


Actually moving Drak through the game takes some getting used to. You can use a mouse, joystick or keyboard; I strongly recommend using the mouse. Controlling Drak or knowing what move to make at a given moment can be frustrating, though: I spent my first few hours of gameplay running into walls.

There is also a slight delay before an action is carried out. During combat, Drak will fall when hit by a missile. By the time he's back on his feet, another missile could knock him over again. Drak has a defensive shield that allows multiple hits, but after three or four, the shield offers little protection. The best way to avoid getting zapped is to pop into a room, scan for bad guys and leave. Then select a weapon, go back in, fire, then go into Defend mode, which prepares Drak for an incoming attack from one of the numerous creatures aboard the alien ship.

At one point, after I had entered an empty room, a hidden gun turret appeared suddenly and fired two shots at me. I selected a Defend move, and Drak executed a perfect tuck-and-roll just as the missiles screamed overhead. The moral of this story is, "It don't matter how ya play the game, just as long as ya look good whilst doing it!"

As you move Drak through the alien ship, you'll find different weapons--and ammunition. The need to find ammo adds realism to the game; there's nothing like running out of ammo as a large, nasty thing slithers toward you.

A few tips: Make a map of your surroundings, including what objects can be found where. After firing a weapon, go into Defend mode immediately--if the enemy gets off a shot, the missile should pass right by Drak. Some weapons are better against certain types of enemy targets--make sure you use the proper weapon for the proper threat. And finally, the manual says that you will enter towards the rear of the alien ship. Remember this--it becomes important later on.

Booting Peeves

Obliterator comes on two disks. Cold-booting disk A starts the game. A series of screens appears, accompanied by some of the best music I've ever heard in an ST game. Eventually you're prompted to insert disk B. This procedure is fine on a one-drive computer system, but I was shocked to find that, on a two-drive system, I still had to swap disks. The program should have detected that two drives were installed and engaged drive B at the proper moment. I hope that future versions will fix this problem.

Still, Obliterator is a must-have for any arcade game library. Once you've mastered player movement, you'll appreciate the amount of control you'll have over Drak. The manual is clear and concise, with all functions and features explained in an easy-to-read format. I had a few minor gripes, but none took anything away from the fun of playing the game. To this battle-hardened ST gamer, Obliterator is "the move "


by George Miller

Rainbird's Universal Military Simulator (UMS) is a wargame that lets you recreate famous battles or create new ones. With it you can simulate a conflict between any two opposing forces in history--or fantasy--place them on any battlefield, and then control the action from any vantage point, zooming in on areas of interest to command the smallest unit.

militarysim.jpg With the Universal
Military Simulator
you can simulate a
battle between any
two opposing forces
in history--or fantasy.

UMS contains five battles, including those considered turning points in history--the Battle of Arbela between Alexander the Great and Darius III, the Battle of Hastings (which lead to the signing of the Magna Carta), the Battle of Waterloo and of Gettysburg.

Opening The Box

The UMS package contains one disk and two manuals: the User Instructions and the Scenario Handbook. The User Instructions contain detailed instructions for every mode of UMS. (However, at least one of the illustrations in the manual showed options that weren't available in the version I played.) The Scenario Manual includes a capsule summary of each scenario, providing historical background information on each clash. There's also a list of the Order of Battle and a brief outline of the strength of the opposing forces.

The UMS disk is unprotected so it's easy to backup or install the program on your hard disk. (The program asks for a specific word from the manual upon bootup--a reasonable means of protection.) The program supports two floppy disks and two hard drives, but caution: UMS may lock up your ST if you have any desk accessories installed, even the Control Panel. Before booting UMS, remove all desk accessories and disable everything in your auto folder.

To Fight The Good Fight

UMS's opening menu selector screen lets you choose whether to run a previously created simulation, create a new scenario, design a new map, design a new army or quit. If you select "Run Simulation," you can then choose one of the included scenarios or read a different scenario from disk. It's easy to make selections, since UMS has full GEM support (as well as keyboard commands).

After you select a scenario, UMS initializes all variables and then displays the GEM Battlefield Window. Although UMS uses 3-D graphics, they aren't particularly impressive--wireframe grids for hills and valleys. However, the graphics are effective in representing the changes in terrain on the battlefield. Unfortunately, the programmers have chosen to show each unit as a flag containing the name of the unit with an arrow pointing to the occupied coordinates, rather than using traditional wargame simulation icons. With a large army it's difficult to really judge the composition of the battlefield. Even experienced wargamers will have difficulty adjusting to this view.

In defense of UMS, you can change perspectives and zoom in or out on areas of the battlefield, although it's difficult--and time-consuming--to get an overview of the battle to plot your next moves.

Next, you issue individual commands to each units. You can't order a division or battalion to do something and expect all subordinate units to respond accordingly. Less experienced wargamers might break up a fighting unit by issuing orders that move an infantry brigade away from its supporting artillery units. It may help to use the "Print Map" option, which will let you keep track of where your units actually are in relation to each other as you issue your orders, but the map is just a screen dump.

After sending your orders, you're ready to do battle, and you must choose the logic the computer will use during this phase--the ST can control all or some of the battle options of either (or both) sides. UMS uses rudimentary artificial intelligence to supervise the battle, although again, the zooming display mode complicates things. UMS displays information boxes that report losses for both sides at each point of conflict.

It's not possible to play a quick game because of the rather repetitive control structure. Fighting the Battle of Gettysburg took me nearly 48 hours at the computer; the real battle only took three days, with the most serious conflicts occurring during the daylight hours! UMS has a Save Game function--use it often.

Napoleon Vs. Shermon?

Since you can use UMS to create real or fictional battles, playing "What if" is where really UMS shines. You can place any army (histoncal or fantasy) on any battlefield against any other army and see what happens. Creating your own scenarios takes considerable time and planning, however. My early efforts were poor; later I learned to do more research and plan everything carefully on paper before beginning to design with UMS.

UMS: The Universal Military Simulator is for advanced wargamers looking for a new challenge. Although it's so complex that novices may be overwhelmed, experienced players will enjoy the level of control. If you're ready to create your own game and willing to deal with diversions from the traditional displays, give UMS a try.


by Andrew Reese

Just when you thought that everything that could be simulated on your ST had been, along comes Prime Time by First Row Software to change your mind.

Imagine yourself as a TV network programming executive competing for ratings and ad revenues. Imagine yourself developing your own slate of top-notch teenage sitcoms packed with sex and violence. Will you win the battle of Sweeps Week--or lose your job? Tune in to Prime Time to find out!

Prime Time is a game for one to three players; if you play alone, your ST manages the competing networks. You can name your network to please your fancy, but you start your season with a lineup of shows randomly determined by the computer. And these aren't just your average TV shows: they're all parodies of real shows, past and present, shows like "Piles of the Rich and Famous" and "The 'ay Team."

Dancin' With Santa

Each network begins the game with a $15 million budget, but as in the real world, if you lose ratings, you lose ad revenues. On the other hand, if you do well in the ratings, your programming budget increases and you have more money to push (promote) shows, buy hot new shows or develop your own blockbusters. Every month you have the opportunity to bid on specials, everything from the Super Bowl to "Dancin' With Santa," but if you are short on cash, you may lose out in the bidding to your more prosperous competitors. The game ends after you have programmed one full season, September to July, with the winner being the player with the highest overall ratings.

primetime.jpg Prime Time lets you
recreate the triumphs
and Failures of a net-
work television pro-
gramming executive.

As the season continues, you have five minutes to program the next month's line-up of shows. You can check the ratings, move shows around your schedule, shelve them, buy new shows from a number of producers, develop your own new shows, read the trade papers for trends, check your profit-and-loss statement, push one or more shows or dump any dogs. If you have trouble keeping track of your schedule, you can produce a hard copy with your printer. Your turn ends when you decide it's time to do lunch (really! ).

Prime Time is a kick to play. The first few times you play, the shows and their TV Guide-style "blurbs" are fun to read. But if you tire of the canned shows, you can develop your own shows with names and plots even more ridiculous, just like those on TV every year.

You can tailor each show you develop to the audience you think will carry the ratings. The variables at your command include length, type, target audience and the amount of sex and violence you want to include. It's hard to believe, but if one of your bizarre creations starts to move up in the charts, you actually feel a sense of triumph.

And Now A Word From The Screamer

Prime Time's graphics and sound make it a pleasure to play. From the rolling opening credits on, the look and feel is superb. You command your empire from an office complete with a deskpad you can draw on, a light switch that works, a Rolodex with studio names and more. Clicking on the wall calendar brings a digitized yell from Sam (The Screamer) Kinison; calling a studio produces digitized touch-tone dialing sounds and the digitized voice of the studio's receptionist. It's a delightfully complete production done with a wacky sense of humor.

The interface is also well done. You use the mouse for most operations, but can assign the mouse, keyboard or joystick to a player for use during the specials auctions. Moving shows around your schedule is done by entering the Programming Room (the door opens and closes realistically, again, with digitized sound) and grabbing film cans racked in airtime order. The right mouse button brings up a summary box of the show's status and the left grabs the can. There's also a trashcan for your failures.

Prime Time's documentation is complete and has the same sense of humor as the game. There's a contract between you, Sweetie-Baby, and the Big TV Network, an Official Head Honcho Show Scheduling Kit and a TV Wise Guide Player's Manual that explains not only how to play, but also the ins and outs of ratings and programming strategies.

On the downside, there were too many typos in the manual and (occasionally) on the screen, and I was able to bomb the program once under circumstances I was unable to repeat--and I was leading in the ratings at the time, darn it!

But don't let these small complaints deter you from choosing Prime Time. Just make sure you have a color monitor and a good sense of humor. And by the way, if you buy all the specials you can afford and cater to teenagers, you should do fine.

Scot Tumlin is Direct Mail Sales Supervisor for Antic Publishing; George Miller is Director of Product Support for MichTron; Andrew Reese is Editor of START.

Products Mentioned

Obliterator, $39.95. Psygnosis, 1st Floor, Port of Liverpool Building, Pier Head. Liverpool L3 1BY, United Kingdom, 011-44-51-236-8818.

Universal Military Simulator, $49.95. Rainbird Software, PO. Box 2227, Menlo Park, CA 94026, (415) 322-0900.

Prime Time, $39.95. First Row Software Publishing, Inc., 900 East 8th Avenue, Suite 300, King of Prussia, PA 19406, (215) 337-1500.