product reviewsROME AND THE BARBARIANS
NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO
P.O. Box 3372
Kansas City, KS 66103
$34.95 each, 32K-disk or cassette
Reviewed by Michael Ciraolo
In 476 A.D., the Roman Empire collapsed. Historians argue about
the causes-internal bureaucratic problems, poor assimilation of conquered
people, failure to withstand the barbarian hordes, etc. Now a game
combines these factors with the number-crunching ability of the microcomputer
and the Atari's graphics.
Rome and the Barbarians looks like a standard military simulation/strategy board game with smooth scrolling and joystick control of the cursor. However, it is not that simple.
The screen shows the location of Roman units, rebel Romans, invading barbarians, allied barbarians, mercenaries and locals. This game's excellence comes from its realistic understanding of historical issues. The instruction manual warns that "Although Rome and the Barbarians is a military simulation, the strategy must be based on economics."
The economics involved are complex, but not overwhelming. You must consider city tax values, troop payment, your treasury, hiring barbarians, collecting taxes, barbarian tribe loyalty and so on.
Use the joystick to move the large, square cursor over a map of Europe. The map's graphics have nice touches, such as the snow-capped mountains turning brown in the summer. The joystick button determines troop movement. The [SELECT] and [OPTION] keys, pressed when the cursor is over one of the factions, cause the computer to display tax values, troop data and treasury information.
Documentation is excellent. It includes tips, insight into the game from designer Steve Krenek, historical observations, a map, and tax charts.
The amount of information that must be absorbed to play the game successfully is significant. This adds staying power to the game, but makes it difficult to simply boot up and play. The example and beginner games help.
Combat is attended by the sound of clanking swords. Because of the general lack of sound, this is abrupt and surprising.
Napoleon at Waterloo is a more basic version of Rome and the Barbarians. It is concerned with the military strategy involved in deploying forces and fighting. You play against the computer, using the same joystick and smooth scrolling from Krenek's other game. Simpler, shorter, and easier to play, Napoleon resembles the study an artist produces prior to painting a masterpiece. It's a good warm-up to Rome.
Strategic Simulations, Inc.
883 Stierlin Road, Building A-200
Mountain View, CA 94043
(800) 227-1617, ext. 335 outside CA
(800) 772-3545, ext. 335 in CA
Reviewed by Jordan Powell
Are you up for saving the world from a deadly infection from outer space?
Epidemic, a new simulation game from SSI, allows you just this opportunity.
Meteorites bearing killer alien microbes are headed towards Earth. Your primary defensive weapons are missiles with nuclear warheads for destroying meteorites still in space. You can't hit all of them, though. And once a meteorite hits, the microbes multiply and spread, starting an epidemic. You combat this epidemic with an array of biological and other weapons. As a last resort, you can detonate nuclear devices to destroy entire areas, stopping the disease at the cost of millions of human lives. The goal is to neutralize the disease and stop the spread of epidemics with the least amount of casualties.
As in any good strategy game, you must juggle many variables and interrelated factors. Since you can only accomplish a certain amount in 24 hours, you must allocate your resources wisely. Should you attempt to destroy a meteorite, and if so, which one? Which area of the planet should receive which remedy? You must also deal with uncontrollable meteor impacts and the spread of a disease across geographical boundaries.
A wealth of information is displayed in various forms each turn, but you must know how to interpret it to make the right decisions. Some of the displays take a long time to develop, but they enhance the game by taking advantage of Atari's graphics. For instance, a map of the globe depicts all areas' current status with various colors and textures. The documentation is a little weak in its description of the displayed data, so you may have to read it a few times and play two or three practice games to understand everything,
A full game can take as long as an hour, but unfortunately, there's no way to save a game in progress. I found Epidemic frustrating to play initially, but as my ability increased the game became much more interesting. If you like games that require thought and the juggling of multiple factors to solve a problem, you'll enjoy Epidemic.
50 Durham Road
Beverly, MA 01915
Reviewed by George Adamson
Star Wars: The Arcade Game (Parker Brothers) brings little to
the Atari world beyond the appeal of the title. In this adaptation
of the movie plot you fly a fighter, firing at other fighters before attempting
to destroy the Death Star.
Moving the joystick moves a gun-sight; stationary cannons in each corner of the screen fire toward the sight. The poor 3-D effect would have been better if the cannons moved with the sight instead of remaining still.
The appearance of the Death Star is disappointing, It doesn't enlarge to give the illusion of approach. Instead, the screen switches without warning to converging lines representing the trench on the Death Star. There is little impression of movement through the trench.
Star Wars features a standard status line with points, level and remaining shields at the top of the screen. Despite bearing the name of a best-selling movie, this game quickly becomes monotonous and adds nothing to the state-of-the-art.
19808 Nordhoff Place
Chatsworth, CA 91311
$34.95, 32K-disk and cassette
Reviewed by Harris Shiffman
Somewhere beneath Earth's surface lies the vast domain of an evil wizard.
Within this realm lie treasures beyond imagining, protected by perils too
great to number. The wizard has guarded his underground fortress
well, and it will take all the skill and cunning of the greatest of all
martial artists to prevail.
Welcome to the world of Bruce Lee, Datasoft's latest entry into the arcade adventure genre. As Lee, you explore the wizard's underground lair in hopes of finding his treasure. Passage from one chamber to the next is achieved by touching the right combination of lanterns that appear throughout the maze. Your only defenses against the dangers of the caverns are your hands, your feet, and years of athletic training.
There are numerous traps located throughout the many chambers. You'll also need to deal with the wizard's private army, a series of black-robed Ninja warriors and a large green fighter called Green Yamo. Although a few well-placed kicks dispatch these fellows, they're soon replaced. Fortunately, you are a good deal harder to kill than they are.
As an arcade-type adventure game, Bruce Lee represents a middle ground. It isn't as demanding of reflexes and endurance as Shamus and Shamus 11, but is more difficult than the elementary Pharoah's Curse (all from Synapse). The background graphics and animation, while not particularly original or innovative, are clean and attractive, and player response to tick movement is very good.
There's one relatively minor flaw. Upon loading the game, a 40-second-long introduction displays Bruce Lee's likeness accompanied by pleasant mood music. It's impossible to cut this short and get on with the game.
Bruce Lee is interesting, challenging, and fun to play. While it could stand an injection of excitement, it is a worthy addition to the adventure maze gamer's collection.
QUEST OF THE SPACE BEAGLE
Avalon Hill Game Company
4517 Harford Road
Baltimore, MD 21214
$35, 48K-disk-requires BASIC
Reviewed by Michael Ciraolo
Like its predecessor, Jupiter Mission 1999, The Quest of the Space Beagle combines a variety of arcade games under a uniting theme-your quest to survive, locate the earth and return home.
There are three parts. In the first, your ineffectual robot fighters battle a space armada as you attempt to capture a planet. Then you try to survive in a maze as your air and water repeatedly dwindle. Finally, your patience and memory skills are tested as you search for Earth among all the stars in the known universe. You can't get from one level to another without completing the first level, although you can save games.
The graphics are fine, but are accompanied by a powerful 60-cycle flickering which is initially distracting and later headache producing.
The second major flaw: there is little incentive to get to the next level, so the game gets boring quickly. You do the same thing again and again. The only reward comes at the end of the game, when you find your way back to Earth. You'll need the attention span of Yoda to succeed.
REALM OF IMPOSSIBILITY
2755 Campus Drive
San Mateo, CA 94403
Reviewed b Jack Powell
A few years ago, a guy named Mike Edwards started to write a football game. Somewhere along the line, the defensive team turned into zombies, spiders and snakes. The playfield twisted and mutated, and the whole thing became a nightmare. Mike called the game "Zombies" and a small software company named BRAM, Inc. put it on the market.
The original Zombies had seven dungeons and a total of 74 rooms, with some of the most stylish graphics seen on the Atari. Along came Electronic Arts, the software marketing marvels. They liked Zombies a lot. So, they went to tiny BRAM, Inc. and Realm of Impossibility was born.
Realm of Impossibility is Zombies, but changes have been made. Some good. Some bad. The best part of Zombies had always been the incredible dungeon called "The Realm of Impossibility", which was fashioned after the intricate optical illusions of illustrator M.C Escher. Electronic Arts sent Mike Edwards back to his computer to design more of these goodies. The result is six new dungeons and 55 additional rooms for a grand total of 129 rooms filled with snakes, spiders and zombies-plus some unusual beasties called "orbs", which bear a striking resemblance to Oreo cookies.
Some things haven't changed. You're still a tiny, frantic creature, jerking and waving in animated panic. The game has what is referred to as a "two player cooperative mode" This means that two of you can explore these mazes, but you must cooperate and help each other because both of you must leave each room together. If your partner dies, you can resurrect him.
In the old game, you searched each dungeon for one of the seven stolen crowns. In Realm of Impossibility, some of the rooms are locked and can't be entered until you find the keys hidden in the other rooms. This adds somewhat to the texture of the game play. There are also four levels of difficulty which I found to be a vast improvement over the original, which was so hard that I yanked the disk out of the drive and gave up in frustration.
Unlike most computer games, you have no weapons here. You can't kill anyone. Instead, you drop little crosses behind you which temporarily block the pursuers. You also collect spells which, when cast, confuse or freeze all opponents for a brief period. The method of casting a spell, however, is ridiculously awkward. First, you've got to stop moving the joystick. When you've got every Monster in the world racing after you, the last thing you want to do is stop. Fortunately, you can simply hit the space bar to cast a spell.
After a while it all becomes the same. It's still too frantic and speedy and little strategy or skill is required. The rooms are marvelous and inventive but they're really nothing more than decorative pathways filled with the same tiny relentless creatures.
Strategic Simulations, Inc.
883 Stierling Road, Building A-200
Mountain View, CA 94043
Reviewed by Christine Lunardini
From unexplored, unsettled wilderness to thriving, industrialized civilization
in 60 years, this country changed as railroads laced the continent during
the 19th century. it was a time of phenomenal growth where personal fortunes
were made and lost as entrepreneurs competed to build industrial empires.
Rails West, (SSI), is one of the best economic simulations ever presented. Written by historian Martin Campion, Rails West reflects a substantial knowledge of 19th century railroad building. The game allows one to eight players to compete against each other or the computer to build a transcontinental railroad connecting Midwest terminals to the west coast. You also compete to build the largest personal fortune.
Rails West is not for the faint of heart. It requires an understanding of free market economics and will challenge your skill as an entrepreneur. To succeed, you must figure out the relationship between issuing stock on the open market, floating bonds, and servicing your debts-while managing to keep enough of your corporation's stocks to prevent interlopers from gaining control of your road.
You can start the game in 1870, when there was only the skeleton of a rail network, or in 1890 when the roads were in place but ripe for takeover. The novice should gain experience playing the 1870 version first.
Rails West is both an educational simulation and a game of skill. Economic conditions fluctuate from year to year, and there is risk as you move from boom times through fair times to depression. The skill is in knowing when you can safely carry a large debt to capitalize your fledgling road, and when to play your cards closer to the vest with the intention of capitalizing on someone else's misfortune. You need not know about railroads or history to play Rails West, but there is a bonus for those who know something of the times.
Rails West is well worth the effort it takes to learn the rudiments of play. It will make an excellent classroom aid, particularly for group participation, and it is a challenging excursion into the land of robber barons for the individual player
ADVENTURES WITH THE ATARI
by Jack Hardy
11480 Sunset Hills Rd.
Reston, VA 22090
Reviewed by Jerry White
If you'd like to start creating your own adventure games, Adventures
With the Atari is all you need.
This 356-page book includes type-in listings of six different adventure game programs. One text adventure and one graphic adventure are supplied in Atari BASIC, in Microsoft BASIC and in Atari PILOT. These well-written programs are clearly printed for easy reading.
You also get two Atari BASIC programs-The Creator and The Interpreter-that let you design and write your own text adventures by simply filling in data. You can use the program shell to create as many different adventures as you like, as long as each game is stored on a separate disk.
The book also includes adventure maps and flowcharts, as well as a variety of useful programming information. And if you'd rather avoid hours of typing, the author will provide readers with the programs on disk for $12.
My congratulations to Jack Hardy and Reston Publishing on a job well done.
X-BASIC & SCROLL-IT
2028 Kinghouse Road
Silver Springs, MD 20904
$29.95, disk or cassette
Reviewed by Lawrence Dziegielewski
There appears to be no end of strong new utilities for your Atari.
SUPERware has taken some of the trouble out of BASIC programming with two
utilities from programmer George Schwenk, X-BASIC and SCROLL-IT.
X-BASIC extends Atari BASIC by adding several powerful features at an extremely affordable price. The utility adds 30 functions, including string arrays, simplified Player/Missile graphics and sound and memory functions.
X-BASIC is loaded into about 2K of RAM. It is called into action from BASIC through the USR function. Each function is a separate, "pre-programmed" machine language subroutine which the user simply inserts into his own BASIC code. You just use the X-BASIC mnemonic (such as DPEEK for a two-byte PEEK), which is easier to use than the standard convention of doing your own machine language subroutines. Sample programs are included on the disk which demonstrate the power of the utility.
The utility's one major drawback is that extensions must be loaded in every time you want to execute an XBASIC coded program. One way to avoid this is to save the X-BASIC source with the BASIC source into one load file. But still, this is not as easy nor as convenient as a cartridge.
Schwenk's other utility is SCROLL-IT, a machine language program that allows the user to produce intricate fine screen scrolling without the hassle of extensive programming. A sample program is included with the program to demonstrate the utility's power.
SCROLL-IT is called from your BASIC program. It uses BASIC line
numbers 29000 to 29199, and is initialized with a USR call from within the program. Before calling in SCROLL-IT, the programmer must define certain variables in the USR call. Once defined, the USR call installs SCROLL-IT and executes it as a Vertical Blank Interrupt. If you have other routines that also execute during VBI, they must be defined and intialized before SCROLL-IT in order for the utility to work properly. Once the utility is in place, you need only POKE the various Page 6 locations to use SCROLL-IT's functions.
Both of these come with adequate documentation, but there is room for improvement. They are not as easy to use as a cartridge-based language, and assume too much skill of a beginning programmer. Once mastered, however, they make powerful tools.
MONTANA READING PROGRAM
95 East Putnam Avenue
Greenwich, CT 06830.
Reviewed by Rhonda Holmes
The Montana Reading Program helps improve a child's reading skills.
Designed for children from five through eight, the program teaches 220
commonly used words that make up the Dolch list. Successful learning
of these words is widely believed to strengthen reading ability.
Target words are displayed in simple sentences. After a sentence is displayed, the target word flashes for a short time and is then erased. A box is set in place of the word, outlining the word's basic shape and length. The child is asked to type in the missing word. If the first try is correct, 150 points are tallied on the pinball-style scoreboard. If the child makes a mistake, the computer gives the message to try again. If the child doesn't get it by the third try, the computer proceeds to the next sentence.
Twelve children, between four and eight, who helped me review this program found its graphics and sound captivating. The concept of moving up in levels through continued play helped motivate the kids. Beyond its benefit to reading skills, this program also builds computer and typing skills ... all increasingly important today.
ASSEMBLY LANGUAGE PROGRAMMING FOR ATARI
by Mark Chasin
1221 Ave. of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
Reviewed by Jerry White
Learning assembly language isn't supposed to be easy, but it just got
easier to understand with Assembly Language Programming for the Atari
This readable 304-page book takes you from the fundamentals of AL Programming to complex examples that fully utilize the Atari's unique architecture. It is the book to read if you want to learn AL or simply AL subroutines.
You'll learn about Atari hardware, assembler software and legally accessing Atari operating system routines. Routines included teach the use of interrupts, I/O, sound and graphics. the source code for these routines is available on disk for $12.95.
Touch Stone Software
3213 South 214th East Avenue
Broken Arrow, OK 74014
Reviewed by Christopher Chabris
CHAOS, the Character Animation Operating System, produces complex
animation by combining the concepts of character and Player/Missile graphics.
Like P/M graphics, CHAOS has movable objects and collision registers. However, it also has eight shapes, each composed of four colors and eight-by-eight pixel resolution. Because you're able to use P/M and CHAOS together, you can have up to 16 moving objects on the screen simultaneously.
CHAOS is accomplished through BASIC's PEEK and POKE function. Objects can be moved automatically in four directions at two speeds. The system places an object's coordinates and collision information in registers that your program can read, so your program can activate the motion with a few POKEs and then rest while CHAOS executes the motion every VBI. This is an excellent feature because it frees your program for other processing.
CHAOS consumes nearly 6K of RAM. If you use DOS 2.0, CHAOS, P/M graphics and Atari BASIC, you could have only 23K RAM free. However, CHAOS uses none of the Page 6 memory and is compatible with BASIC XL.