Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 6, NO. 4 / AUGUST 1987

Product Reviews

Electronic Arts
2755 Campus Drive
San Mateo, CA 94403
(415) 571-7171
$14.95, 48K disk

Reviewed by Gregg Pearlman

Ali Baba and Heracles, immortalized in mythology, literature and grammar school film strips, come alive on your Atari in Age of Adventure. Electronic Arts' new two-game reissue package contains Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves plus The Return of Heracles. This package is also essentially two variations of one fairly good game format.

Each game has specific quests: Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves sends you on a search for the Sultan's kidnapped daughter, Princess Buddir-al-Buddoor. In The Return of Heracles, you must complete the famous Twelve Labors of Heracles. Both games let you control several characters at once, but only those in Ali Baba can be reincarnated. Decisions are made by cursoring through an options window with the joystick or keyboard.

Ali Baba is the earlier and better of the two games. Your party can feature humans such as Haroud El-Large, a sort of Hulk Hogan-type whose sheer strength makes him as clumsy as he is deadly, and Abdalla, a prisoner (and oaf) you can free—though you may not want to. Other group members include the "rithmil"-attired Celegorm, a sort of all-American elf, the halfling Cinder, who's slow, strong and short, and the dwarf Jatte, the Sultan's strongest warrior.

As you look for the princess, you'll come across hoards of gold ducats, with which you can buy armor and weapons, hint-filled runes, and, more importantly, various thieves and creatures who'll gleefully hack you to ribbons if you're not careful. Those to avoid include Minotaurs (in a sort of cross-mythology from ancient Greece), Sun, Earth and Sky Wanderers, zombies, succubi and, of course, the dreaded Oozing Stenchbeast. Somewhat helpful, however, are Nell the Unicorn, Aladdin and, for some reason, Dr. Who.

The drawback to these ghoulies, ghosties and long-leggity beasties is that, ideally, you're not supposed to harm any of them. This is harder than it sounds, and you'll probably find yourself mincing your opponents out of necessity—or just as a change of pace.

And pace is where the game bogs down. Of the five speed settings, the default is 2 (and 5 isn't all that fast), but the game accesses the disk drive often enough to make your head spin.

Deaths are, shall we say, flamboyant in this game. People or creatures often "turn the toes up to the daisies".

Based on the works of Robert Graves, The Return of Heracles keeps Greek things Greek—including the character set, which is in the kind of eye-wrenching, pseudo-ancient-Greek style found in low-budget films about that era. Adding to (or detracting from) the atmosphere are strange, ear-wrenching little tunes, supposedly played on lyres but actually provided by two Atari voices about a quarter-tone apart. Heracles has nine settings of both monster and message speed, but, as with Ali Baba, the disk drive is accessed constantly.

However, this game is not without its sense of humor. Most characters depart the game by getting dusted in hand-to-hand combat, but there are other ways to leave the action. For instance, if you stand on the threshold of Mount Olympus, you could be rewarded, cursed, cast into Hades or turned into a crab.

The graphics in both games are fairly simple. In Ali Baba, the characters are unmoving icons—fez-adorned heads for elves, stick figures for halflings and E.T. lookalikes for humans, to name a few. In Heracles the characters are represented by two alternating icons—some characters wave swords back and forth, the dogs pant—and so do the amazons.

Age of Adventure is generally a fun package that could keep you happily occupied for several hours. Neither game's puzzles are easy to crack, and they just might obsess you enough to stay riveted to your computer until you solve them.

Origin Systems, Inc.
340 Harvey Road
Manchester, NH 03103
(603) 644-3360
$39.95, 48K disk

Reviewed by Dr. John Stanoch

When Steve Jackson first released Ogre as a board wargame in 1977, it was hailed as a design triumph and swiftly attained the status of "classic" However, in the early '80s when home computers started to burgeon, many wargamers put away their cardboard counters and picked up joysticks. The cardboard version of Ogre became affectionately remembered, but seldom played.

Fortunately this fine game has now been electronically resurrected by Origin Systems. Ogre takes place on a hypothetical battlefield in the 21st century where "Ogres"—huge computer-controlled cybernetic tanks, dominate the conflict. Against this nearly indestructible robotic juggernaut, humanity's defense can muster an array of specialized high-tech weapon systems, including mobile and stationary howitzers, heavy and missile-armed tanks, armored infantry and the versatile ground effect vehicle.

To win, Ogre players must maneuver their machine across most of the board and through the human defenses to destroy the all-important command post. Human players win by simply preserving the command post. The strategies available to both sides offer a wide variety of subtle decisions which can determine the difference between winning and losing.

Ogre has top-notch graphics which show the various unit types clearly and distinctly. The map is almost an exact replica of the original version, showing a 14 x 22 hexagonal (hex) grid. About 75% of the map length is shown onscreen at once, and you can scroll smoothly through its entire length.

The terrain features are color-coded and portray clear, cratered and rubble-strewn surfaces. But Ogre does not stop at excellent graphics. The game's inviting user interface is one of its strongest points. GEM-like tools including dialog boxes, drop-down menus and "double-clicking" are used via joystick input to perform most of the main functions. These methods make Ogre incredibly easy to play.

One excellent feature is the inclusion of a range "button." After targeting a given unit and pressing this button, that unit's silhouette is surrounded by concentric rings of hexes. All of the hexes into which the owning player's unit can move or fire are highlighted.

Combat is performed by arriving at a combat odds ratio—the attacking unit's attack strength is compared to that of the defender's defense strength. Before executing the actual combat by pressing the "fire" button, the computer gives the player the percentage chance of a hit. The Ogre player has an array of varied weapon systems available and can engage in multiple combats in each turn. The human player's units each have one weapon system, but there are multiple units available. Therefore, there's lots of combat action in each turn, especially in mid-game, when both sides are relatively healthy and within each other's firing range.

Lastly, this game has options allowing players not only to change the map terrain and initial unit placement, but also to vary the message speed and the Ogre's skill level in the one-player version. A player can even play a game not conforming to the official rules of game setup.

I can't recommend this game highly enough. I thoroughly enjoyed playing it and will probably boot it up again when I finish this review.

Sysco Software
939 Bross Street
Longmont, CO 80501
(303) 651-3936
Requires BASIC, 40K disk

Direct Lines Software
4755 Bamboo Way
Fair Oaks, CA 95628
(916) 965-7555
48K disk

Reviewed by William Benbow

Your 8-bit Atari computer, coupled with effective software, can be a powerful genealogy research tool. Branches ($45) and its companion program Twigs ($25) from Sysco Software are powerful, full-color programs requiring 40K, Atari BASIC, one disk drive and an Epson-compatible printer. (Because this package involves a fair bit of disk swapping, two disk drives are a good idea.)

Branches, the main database program, organizes genealogical data on family and individual worksheets. Family members are numerically coded, with odd numbers assigned to women and even numbers to men. From this data the program creates five-generation pedigree charts. Each data disk contains records for five generations, including up to 160 children for the 16 great-great-grandparent families. One interesting feature is a timeline with brief accounts of selected dates between 1400 and 1969 to provide historical perspective.

Twigs tracks indirect relatives and provides individual worksheets for cousins, nieces, nephews, et al. Up to 60 more data files are allowed on the Branches data disk, so you can print descendant charts to the screen or printer. You can also determine the relationship between any two people on the same data disk by typing in their respective code numbers.

The package is easy to operate. Its well-written, complete manuals provide step-by-step instruction. Sysco Software is developing a revision that lets you print the worksheets to a disk for use with a word processor that reads ATASCII files, so such data could be included in written reports.

The main problem with this package is its limit of five generations per disk. Some storage capacity is given up for the timeline feature. A full five-generation pedigree would appear to be possible only for the first generation. Also, the program is slow because it's in BASIC. And the worksheets are cumbersome—they separate data into individual and family information, requiring additional searches for certain details that aren't listed on the family worksheets.

Family History ($39.95) by Direct Lines Software is an even more powerful package. It requires 48K, a disk drive and an optional 80-column or 132-column printer. (Again, a second drive is a good idea.) There is no limit to the number of family member records that can be kept, if you expand the data to extra disks. Each disk can store more than 500 individual records of 150 characters each. A record can be 394 characters long, containing 41 fields with up to four spouses, and 15 children per marriage.

Family History can locate direct relatives for five generations, and a five-generation pedigree can be printed for anyone, not just those in the first generation. An index is maintained and sorted separately from the primary data disk. Individual records are located by identification numbers designed to simplify data storage and avoid data duplication in related files.

Four reports can be printed to screen or printer: an individual record of all data from all records in the file; a comprehensive family group chart on any individual in the database, including all immediate family members' names; a pedigree chart for five generations; and an index sorted by name or identification number.

This program has an easy-to-use main menu for choosing five subprograms: File Manager, for editing records; Print/View, for family group charts; Pedigree Chart, Index and Utility—which lets you format and initialize a disk and compress a file to increase data storage. This removes the empty spaces between records and provides for a backup copy.

Family History's main advantage is that it is open-ended in terms of generations, permitting much more flexibility in searching and in producing pedigree charts. It was originally written in BASIC, but it has been compiled, so it runs 10 times faster than a BASIC program. This is valuable for searching large files. Also, it supports double density for increased storage capacity and fewer disk swaps.

However, the pedigree chart lacks place names and is limited to birth and death dates—ignoring marriages and birthplaces. Also, though it can use a letter-quality printer, it only takes paper that's 11 inches wide. And, though the manual is well written, it would help to have more information on assigning identification numbers. The computer can do this automatically, but since there are provisions for personally devised systems, examples would be useful.

While Family History is the more powerful and useful of the two pack ages, Branches and Twigs has advantages too, such as the timeline, files showing indirect relationships and a descendants chart. Both Family History and Branches have upcoming revisions that include utilities for allowing data translation with other types of computers.

Strategic Simulations, Inc.
1046 Rengstorff Avenue
Mountain View, CA 94043
(415) 964-1353
$ 59.95, 48K disk

Reviewed by Rich Moore

USAAF gives you command of either the U.S. Army Air Force bomber groups or Axis air defenses in World War II Europe. You can refight the entire air war from 1943 to 1945, a day at a time. Or you can play a shorter game covering just 30 days from one of three starting dates. Both sides can be handicapped to provide for more challenging competition against either another player or the computer. The computer can take either side—or even both sides, if you just want to sit back and watch.

The U.S. commander's job is to slow the Nazi war machine by attacking a dozen types of strategic industrial targets, mostly as the commander sees fit, but sometimes subject to high-level political goals set and enforced by the computer. While the U.S. goal is to destroy enemy industrial capability, strikes against factories which support the Luftwaffe inevitably affect Axis air defenses. Bombing enemy airfields can be productive, provided the fields have air groups assigned to them. New types of aircraft become available to replace older models according to their historical introduction dates.

The Axis commander must successfully prevent his industries from being heavily damaged at the end of the game. Fighter groups can be moved among 96 airfields and anti-aircraft batteries repositioned between cities everywhere on the continent. New flak batteries are produced in armament centers during the game. New air groups also appear according to history, but the commander can accelerate the availability of new fighters by controlling aircraft production.

While strategically oriented, the game takes on a very tactical flavor when scheduling raids or defending against them. The Axis commander can be kept extremely busy. USAAF is quite complex at first and will force you to do some "operations analysis" to discover how to best employ your forces. Instructions for the game are thorough and include some useful tips that parallel history.

The software spends a lot of time reading routines from disk, which lengthens a game considerably. Quite a bit of time could be saved if the game could check for a 130XE and set itself up for RAMdisk I/O.

The graphics are adequate but disappointing in light of other war games done by SSI. USAAF appears to be a direct conversion from Apple BASIC to compiled Atari BASIC without any upgrade to take advantage of the Atari's scrolling or joystick.

Like many of SSI's games, the cursor is not controlled by the regular cursor control keys, but by the number keys. I finally had to make a strip of paper with the "directions" drawn on them and place it above the number keys on my computer, but control is still awkward since the "move left" keys are located to the right of the "move right" keys. For $59.95, I would expect friendlier software.