ST PRODUCT NEWS
THE PINBALL FACTORY
576 S. Telegraph
Pontiac, Michigan 48053
CIRCLE 202 ON READER SERVICE CARD
Reviewed by David Plotkin
Michtron's Pinball Factory allows you to build an ST pinball game, test it, and play it without using up a truckload of quarters. Since I am notoriously bad at the real thing, this software enables me to play electronic pinball to my heart's content.
Pinball Factory is totally mouse-driven and is extremely easy to use. The first step is, of course, to build the game itself. Each pinball board consists of the field itself with bumpers, catchers, flippers, a background design on the left of the screen, and a decorative logo on the right. The field and logo are separately editable, and each has its own set of editing tools. Pinball Factory runs in low resolution (16 colors) only, making for a very colorful pinball game. To select among various options, you merely point to the option you want with the mouse pointer and click.
To edit the pinball field itself, you choose "Edit board" from the main screen which shows both the field and the logo. The logo portion is then replaced by the field editing tools. Two sets of 16 color blocks are available at the top of the screen. The first set is the primary drawing colors, which are those used for lines, circles, rectangles, rays, background fill, and the other drawing options you have. The second set of colors is used for the second color on two-color fill patterns. Selecting a primary or secondary color is just a matter of pointing and clicking on the color you want. Another color option has to do with whether the ball can "see" the color. Some of the primary colors can be made invisible to the ball, enabling you to use them for background designs which the ball will ignore. "Invisible" colors are indicated by a cross on the color box. Obviously, you need to be careful you don't make a bumper color invisible to the ball! You can even change any of the colors by use of three sliders for red, green and blue.
Besides the graphics tools mentioned above, there are
a variety of brushes you can choose. You can also use the "Detail" option,
which magnifies a portion of your picture for detailed work. The upper
left corner continues to show that section of the picture at regular size,
so you can tell what it will look like when finished.
Of course, you have available a wide range of different "bumpers" for the playing surface. There are several sizes of the round-type, rail bumpers (three next to each other, giving a bonus when all are knocked down) as well as many others. There are also catchers, which will hold any ball knocked into them. Upon putting three balls into catchers, all three will be released, making for some pretty hectic action. You can customize your bumpers and place them anywhere on the field. Placing a bumper over an identical bumper and clicking will remove the bumper from the playing field. You can also remove a bumper by using the [REMOVE] button. Clicking on [REMOVE] will highlight a bumper. Clicking on the up and down arrows will highlight other bumpers. When the one you want to remove is highlighted, all you have to do is click on the [!] button.
Editing the Logo window is just as simple. You have all the graphics tools mentioned (except bumpers), as well as several others. These include an airbrush, shadow option, and two sizes of text.
Pinball Factory gives you complete control over the rules of the game as well. You can set gravity, bumper elasticity, the number of balls for each player (up to 4 players) and what score will get you an extra ball. Of course, you can SAVE and LOAD a game, test a game (no score is kept, and you have an unlimited number of balls), or play for real. Playing involves using the up and down arrows to set the ball launch spring, pressing the space bar to launch the ball, and using the mouse buttons or appropriate keys to activate the flippers. You can even move the mouse left and right to "bump" the machine, but be careful you don't TILT!
Comparisons of Pinball Factory with Electronic Art's "Pinball Construction Set" are inevitable. The graphics for Pinball Factory are better than those of Pinball Construction Set (PCS), and the program is very easy to use. Strangely, though, PCS has more features than Pinball Factory. It allows you to wire different bumpers together to get some special effects, such as extra bonus points. This is missing from Pinball Factory. Further, PCS has the option to design up to 10 of your own sounds. Pinball Factory is missing this as well. PCS also allows you to place the flippers anywhere you want on the field, and to use multiple flippers. Pinball Factory allows only one set of flippers, and they are preplaced on the board-you can't change them. Finally, PCS' files are stand-alone-you can give a pinball game you have built to a friend and they can play it without owning PCS. The files generated by Pinball Factory can only be played by someone who owns a copy of the program.
Pinball Factory comes with a thirteen-page manual, which gets the information required for you to use the program across quite nicely. The program is somewhat limited, but still fun to use and play. If you are "into" pinball like I am, then you will enjoy Pinball Factory.
120 Lakefront Drive
Hunt Valley, MD 21030
(301) 667-1151 $50
CIRCLE 281 ON READER SERVICE CARD
Reviewed by Rick Teverbaugh
Just like Hollywood's best submarine adventures, Silent Service takes you to the perilous Pacific Ocean during World War II. Submarines were always a lone-wolf-type of fighting force. You're out there alone, trying to do as much damage as you can for as long as you can. Only a loss of battery power, a limited supply of oxygen or-should I say it-destruction ends the patrol.
In the tradition of such classic films as "Run Silent, Run Deep" and "Das Boot," Silent Service gives a true feel for those capsule-like vessels that played such an important part in the Allied victory over the Japanese.
You'll feel the weight of your responsibility, especially in the five war patrol scenarios, each of which covers a different area of the Pacific and presents a different set of challenges based upon an historic sub's activity. Your job is simply to do battle with Japanese ships. How you go about it is up to you.
And Silent Service gives several ways to work up to the ultimate challenge. The novice commander should start with the torpedo/gun practice. The targets are stationary-line them up and fire away At this level the game appears almost too easy, but it really isn't.
The seven convoy action scenarios aren't as involved as
war patrols, but they do offer the same range of challenges, only with
a predetermined goal. For example, the first scenario occurs on January
18, 1942, when the USS Plunger sighted an escorted cargo ship off southern
Japan. This is your first chance to use your torpedoes against a moving
Each scenario is both realistic and difficult, but there are more ways to adjust the difficulty of the simulation. Choices include repairs to the ship (limited to port), limited visibility, convoys that change course at regular intervals, dud torpedoes, expert destroyers, convoy search, and manual angle-on-bow input for torpedo firing.
If you hold your own against the Japanese with all these reality levels switched on, perhaps the Navy could use your services. Once you've made those choices, the program selects an overall difficulty rating from 1 to 9, and this affects your ranking in the Submariner's Hall of Fame at game's end.
Silent Service provides a you-are-there feeling in so many ways, but the most striking feature is its sound. Some of the things you'll hear while playing include:
Ping!: an enemy destroyer has located your ship on his sonar.
Splash!: sonar reports that the enemy is dropping depth charges.
Whistling explosion: you've been hit by a detroyer's shell.
Metallic grinding sound: either your sub's scraping the bottom or you've been rammed by another ship. Hope for the former.
... and motor sounds: your ship moving (or a torpedo motor if you've just launched an attack).
Graphics certainly are a strong point of the product and lend a realistic feel to every battle. The first of the five battle station screens is the conning tower, from which the other screens are accessed. Any screen can be selected by mouse or keyboard and give you access to the maps, bridge, periscope/binoculars, gauges, damage reports and ship's log. As a novice, spend as much time as possible with the gauges. Learn which ones give the most critical information (battery level, fuel and depth).
Damage to your ship will hamper your efforts in a most realistic manner. A fuel leak will double consumption; damage to the dive plane will cut the rate the sub can dive or surface, and engine damage limits your top speed.
Another enjoyable feature is the time scaling. On patrol, a minute of real time takes about 15 seconds. But you can manually speed up the program to the point where an hour of real time takes about two minutes. This keeps the game from becoming tedious while looking for the enemy. But it's easy to scale the time back down when the enemy is sighted and you need the extra time to make battle station decisions.
Another jewel in the package is the 48-page manual, which does a lot more than tell you what buttons to push. Features include a line drawing of a typical submarine interior, a detailed explanation of torpedo-firing terminology, a map of the Pacific Ocean battle area, information about the historical perspective of the simulation, and tactical situation plots and playing tips.
One of the best tips involves how to attack depending on the time of day of the encounter. Surface attacks are possible at night, but submerged attacks are necessary during daylight hours. Either is effective at dawn or dusk.
Great care has been taken to make Silent Service as real as possible- without making it too difficult for the beginner or too simple for the experienced gamer. It's a traditional MicroProse product and it's nice to see that they've remained dedicated to detail.
Sierra On-Line, Inc.
P.O. Box 485
Coarsegold, CA 93614
CIRCLE 202 ON READER SERVICE CARD
Reviewed by Matthew Loveless
The Black Cauldron is a graphic adventure game based on the Disney film of the same name. It consists of about 70 full-color screens drawn in a 3-D perspective, each frame depicting a different location in the mythical land of Prydain.
Although the pictures are in a chunky low-resolution mode,
obviously ported from another make of computer, the images are slickly
drawn with accurate perspective and subtle shading, producing a nice "cartoonish"
feel. Some frames are still-lifes, others are populated with characters
you may interact with, and at least six screens play arcade-type games.
You may have to negotiate a swamp by leaping across unstable rocks, or
climb a castle wall while soldiers drop rocks from overhead.
Taran, a lifelike animated character, must destroy the infamous cauldron before the infernal horned king can evoke its latent evil and enslave the world. With the mouse, joystick, or keyboard, you move Taran around in simulated 3-D scenes where he can pass in front of and behind screen objects-much like Player/Missile graphics on the 8-bit machines, except that here the objects actually seem to exist in space. You can bump into trees (watch those low branches) and walk between rocks. This effect will be familiar to those who have played King's Quest or other Sierra On-Line games that use similar movement routines.
Unfortunately, the movement algorithm has some annoying problems. For example, you must align yourself at a painstakingly exact angle before you can walk through some doorways. And then there's that occasional tree you can't seem to walk around.
When you reach the edge of one screen, the adjacent screen is loaded in slowly. This becomes frustrating when you accidentally leave a screen and must wait for the next one to load before you can return. This happens frequently because often you must operate close to the screen's edge. One careless flick of the mouse and you'd better be prepared to wait.
Although not mentioned in the documentation, the game speed may be adjusted by typing "slow," "fast" or "normal" and pressing [RETURN]. Also, for those of you who enjoy secret messages and programmer's arcana-try pressing [CONTROL] [P] or [CONTROL] . I recommend frequent saves. However, the save disk is not in GEM format and can't be used for anything but Black Cauldron files.
The Black Cauldron's main problem is typical of early software for newer computers. It doesn't fully utilize the ST's capabilities. For those who bought their ST because of its power, this is a serious drawback. If I wanted IBM PC games, I'd have bought a PC.
There is nothing really extraordinary about the Black Cauldron, but there is nothing really bad about it either. Sierra has again done well in the now over-familiar genre of graphics adventure games. If you like Sierra On-Line's other adventures, you should enjoy this game.
P.O. Box 7219
Grand Rapids, Ml 49510
CIRCLE 282 ON READER SERVICE CARD
Reviewed by John Kintz
Atari ST users familiar with 1ST Word already know how the GEM interface makes word processing easier. Those still pounding away with ST Writer or another non-GEM program should sit up and pay attention. TextPro is loaded with features, not the least of which is full GEM implementation.
TextPro is a line-oriented word processor. This means that data files are handled as single lines instead of a continuous stream of text, providing several advantages to the user, including the ability to go directly to a particular line of text in a document via the GOTO command. Other major features include full printer control, a large text buffer, high-speed input capability and cursor movement, and the unusual ability to print vertical (sideways) text.
TextPro is easy to use primarily because of several commands which can be accessed from pull-down menus. And nearly all of the commands have keyboard equivalents. Like most ST word processing programs, TextPro stores files as ASCII characters, making it compatible with several "writer's helper" programs, including Regent Spell and Thunder!
TextPro is copy-protected and must be loaded from the master disk. Abacus offers a back-up disk for $10 if purchased when you register your program. Upon loading it, you are asked to specify how many columns to display on screen (from 10 to 180). The program is now ready to accept text.
The File menu provides the commands to load, save or delete files from disk, delete files from memory, or change your active drive designation. You can save files in document mode (with formatting commands intact), non-document mode (pure ASCII write-to-disk) or C source program format for faster program editing in C. Also available are options for programming up to 30 function key combinations for macro files, simple output to screen (for print preview) or printer and a quit-to-desktop selection.
The Edit has commands for hyphenating, index marking, contents marking, place holding, inserting blank lines or page breaks, and a command which lets you go directly to any line in your text. Search and replace functions are provided, as are block mark, copy, erase and move commands. An alphabetical sort command is also provided for index creation.
Many powerful features are available through the Style commands, assuming, of course, that your printer can support them. The complete range of GEM-type style commands can be embedded into your text, including boldface, italics, light, underlined, outlined and super/subscripts. You can select from 10, 12 or 15 characters per inch. Also included are 10 special printer commands which can be written into the printer driver easily and called directly from the Style menu. This provides excellent printer flexibility. There are also embedded commands that will insert the system time and/or date into your text automatically.
A full menu of formatting commands includes right and left hanging indents, right, left or full justification, and centering. Insert/overwrite, word wrap on/off, and auto-hyphenation on/off toggles are available. The last option in this menu is the format selection-somewhat of a global format menu in its own right. Here you can specify paper length, line spacing, margins, headers, footers, and up to five columns of print on a single page.
One unique feature of TextPro is the associated Output program provided along with several other utility programs and printer driver files. The Output program lets you re-route the printer output to a disk file or a special file for use with Text Designer, a page layout package from Abacus.
This program also allows chain-printing of multiple files as well as utility routines for mail merge and generating a table of contents or an index specific to your document. The most important feature, however, gives you a choice of either horizontal printing on various printers or vertical printing of your document on any Epson or Epson-compatible printer. This works well for those special applications where you really need more than 80 columns of full size type across the page.
Finally, the manual clearly explains each available function, with illustrations and examples throughout. A customer support number is also provided.
TextPro seems to be well thought out, easy, flexible and fast. The program makes excellent use of the GEM interface and provides lots of small enhancements to make your work go more easily. I did encounter a bug while attempting to use the indent commands, but this can be avoided easily. The publisher is aware of the problem and expects it to be eliminated in future versions.
Whether you're a professional writer or just a casual "hunt and peck" typist, if you have an ST and haven't yet moved up to a GEM word processor, pick up this one and become a text pro.
RO. Box 3
West Simsbury, CT 06092
CIRCLE 204 ON READER SERVICE CARD
Reviewed by Mark Falleroni and Georgi Zamora
Those who appreciate strategy games but are indifferent to graphics might well enjoy Universe II. If you like long-term projects and have plenty of time and patience, Universe II is worth the money, but you'll have to work for your excitement.
The manual doesn't say much about your current mission,
nor does it tell you what are the criteria for winning the game. That is
left for you to discover as a starship captain.
Universe II appeals to me because I appreciate the feeling of being self- directed and in control. I was able to choose not only the type of ship to command, but also my own crew members. Every detail was left up to me, including the brand of equipment I picked to outfit my ship. I could make choices and create an identity, just as in the real world.
Although the basic plot is familiar, the game's outcome is unpredictable because there are so many variables. Having all those different options gave me the feeling of creating my own story.
The game starts with your 24th-century spacecraft in a cluster of 47 planets called the Local Group (LG). The LG hasn't heard from the Home Cluster for 40 years and has nearly destroyed itself. Currently the LG is divided into two hostile governments.
You have been retired from the Fedcrated World Special Forces (FWSF- the good guys) for eight years. The FWSF is an intelligence agency that gathers information and performs covert operations within the United Democratic Planets (the bad guys). Your cover is as a free trader from the planet Vromus Prime, and you can mine for ore or shuttle passengers between planets. But you still occasionally receive secret assignments and funding from the FWSF, and because the FWSF recognizes that the life of a secret agent can be mundane, they will allow you to become a space pirate. But you can only steal from ships within the United Planets.
The starport section is a text adventure without graphics. Unfortunately the parser here is somewhat irritating about demanding exact wording. For example, you can say "Place the ticket in the slot," but not "Put the ticket in the slot." Since the program performs minimal word checking. you have to remember to follow the user's manual closely, or else the game crashes.
Also inconvenient is the fact that the game is played on three disks. Disk A handles most operations, but you need disk B to launch a shuttle and disk C to enter a starport. Since these happen often, you cant avoid constant disk switching-unless you have two disk drives or a hard disk.
Overall, I did enjoy Universe II, but I would recommend
this game primarily for ST owners who enjoy solving vast, intricate puzzles.