BY MARK BUTLER
Beginning in the late 20th century, the world fell into the grip of a severe economic depression that lasted a hundred years. But the perfection of space travel in the latter part of the 21st century spawned a new breed of capitalist poised like a hungry tiger to pounce on the emerging interplanetary trade boom. These galactic merchants" are now the watchdogs of the airwaves, listening for buy-low, sell-high options, and are renowned for braving interstellar pirates and meteor showers - anything to get a good deal! Now's your chance to join in all the fun.
|AT A GLANCE|
When you heard the news that Venutian merchants were paying top dollar for back issues of START magazine, you mortgaged your ship and packed it with the goods. Now you find yourself hurling through hyperspace in your galactic freighter, fueled mostly by the dollar signs that race in your mind. By your calculations, if you make it to Venus before your competitors, a handsome profit will be yours. If not, you lose everything. Suddenly, the alarm sounds - pirates! The automatic defenses warm up, ready for the unavoidable - and time-consuming - melee. Maybe you can wipe these guys out and still make it to Venus with plenty of time for lunch. Maybe. Welcome to world of Galactic Merchant.
Are You Game?
If you think you're ready to play, double-click on the archive file GALMERCH.PRG and choose Extract when the dialog box appears. Select a destination disk and the files will un-ARC directly onto that disk. Make sure that SHIP.PI1 and MERCHANT.PRG are in the same folder. To start the program, double click on MERCHANT.PRG.
After a few moments, the title screen will appear with five options. Click on INFORMATION ABOUT HOW TO PLAY for a brief description of game mechanics. INFORMATION ABOUT GAME LOGIC discusses how the game calculates values and gives you a few tips on strategy. Choose either the EASY or HARD level. Click on START GAME to begin to trade.
Tools Of The Trade
You start the game with your ship in orbit. On the screen is your control panel. The large window in the center of the panel displays a map, radio announcements and various economic data as you call for it. The small buttons along the sides of the window describe your view: ALPHA, MAP, VIEW, SHIP and TACT.
Above the window are two rectangular boxes. The left box displays your account balance in the galactic bank. The numbers glow red if you fall into debt. The right box details your ship loan, the amount you owe and the number of months until your next payment is due. Late payments result in service charges. If you get too far behind, your ship can he repossessed.
Along the bottom is the console with buttons that are readable only when their functions are executable. A message box sits above the buttons.
The buttons are:
TAKE OFF: This button engages the computer-controlled take-off sequence. Just sit back and enjoy. You can only take off from a planetary surface, which you can see through the large window. After lift-off you will be in orbit around the planet.
LAND: This button engages the computer-assisted landing sequence. A tactical display to the right of the window depicts your descent. The large window displays an aiming box. If the planet has a starbase, it will land your ship automatically with its homing signal. If there is no starbase or you have a damaged computer console, an auxiliary door opens in the window. It has four arrow keys; you must use them to keep the aiming box inside the safe zone.
BUY: You can buy merchandise from any planet. Click on BUY and the large window displays all their stock available. To buy an item, simply click on it with the left mouse button. Then decide in which of your ship's four cargo bays to store it. If the bay is green, you can store cargo in it.
SELL: You may also sell merchandise to any planet that wants it. Click on SELL and the large window displays your four storage bays, with their contents. It also displays your purchase price and what the planet will pay for them. On the Easy level it displays the percentage of your profit. To sell an item, click on it with the left mouse button. The storage bay is automatically unloaded and your bank balance increased. If the planet doesn't want your wares, the item will be followed by a series of dashes.
COMPUTER: Your ship's computer has several useful functions. The Easy level presents you with a
RADIO: Click on RADIO to read excerpts of news items. These inform you of significant changes in the production or consumption of planetary merchandise and keep you aware of the best interstellar deals. This button glows red when the news changes.
WARP: WARP speed is functional only after you're in orbit. The large window displays a galactic map. The planet you are currently orbiting is highlighted in red; any planets mentioned in current radio broadcasts are in yellow. Left-click to warp to a planet, or right-click on the planet to get information about it. On the Easy level, you get a complete description of all the planet's imports and exports, as well as whether or not it hosts a starbase. On the Hard level, or if your computer console is damaged, you only get the planet's name. If the planet has a starbase, the name is yellow; if it doesn't, the name is red.
The green dashed circle centered around your ship represents the distance you can travel on your fuel. The radius depends on the game level, the status of the engines and your fuel level. You can order your ship to travel past your fuel limit though this is not recommended. Purchase fuel at any starbase.
DEFEND: This button is not available to you. The computer console automatically engages a defense when danger occurs during hyperspace transit. There are two dangers: meteor showers and pirate raiders.
There isn't much you can do in a meteor shower; the ship's relative speed is too fast for human reactions. The computer console connects your ship's sensors to shields and drives and tries to avoid everything. All you can do is hold on!
Your ship's sensors can detect distant pirate ships, however. The large window depicts a tactical display, with your laser's energy level on the right and the enemy ship and aiming box in the center. Try to aim your shot with the box, moving it over the pirate and firing with the left mouse button. Driving pirates away requires several successful hits. If you can't make them leave, they will board your ship and steal all your cargo. And you better have cargo; if you don't have any booty, they'll probably destroy your ship.
STATUS: The STATUS button gives you a schematic display of your ship. Green, yellow and red boxes outline each significant area of your ship. Green means the area is functional; yellow means it's damaged and red means the area is completely destroyed. The STATUS button turns red when changes occur.
STARBASE: On the surface of a planet, you can try connecting with the local starbase. If the starbase answers, your options are listed in the large window. You can purchase fuel, order robots to repair your ship, and make electronic payments. On the Hard level, you can also upgrade parts of your ship.
There are 20 planets in Galactic Merchant. Each planet is a major or minor exporter or importer of goods in 10 categories. When an exporter increases production, the price drops. The reduction is based on the average price of the product on all planets. When an exporter decreases production, the price of the product inflates. When an importer increases demand of a product, the price increases and with a reduction of demand, the price plummets.
Interstellar Trading Tips
Watch the airwaves. Buy merchandise during a massive increase in production; it could mean discounts. For the big money, sell during an increase in demand.
Watch your fuel level. Many merchants have discovered only too late that none of the planets in their small, green, fuel circle has a starbase on it.
Avoid pirates and meteor showers and remember: the customer is always right.
Mark Butler is a Computer Systems Specialist at Chevron in Richmond, Calif. This is his first program for START.