The Season's Software Sampler

by Steve Panak

The time is upon us. The yule season has arrived and blanketed us with good spirits, gifts and, depending on your current locale, tons of the white stuff. Alas, but the season has also trapped many of us indoors. Never fear; all you need is your trusty Atari and one of the new software products that are flooding the market in competition for your Christmas cash. In our firstreviewed game, we'll see that Electronic Arts again corners the market on creativity.


by Eric Hammond, Larry Bird and Julius Erving ELECTRONIC ARTS 2755 Campus Drive San Mateo, CA 94403 48K Disk $40.00

Creating a videogame based on a major sport is one of the trickiest tasks imaginable. The main problem is that the marketplace has a nearly- insurmountable rift in it. Fans are irreconcilably at odds with nonfans, so finding common ground to appeal to both groups would be a miracle. Well, meet the miracle. Electronic Arts' One on One not only vaults the chasm, but also makes all other sport software seem shallow in comparison.

I am not a sports fan. The sports I do enjoy can be counted on one hand, and team sports-such as Basketball - are not among these. Thus, I am a logical candidate to appraise the game's appeal to a nonsportsman. In my case, One on One had to be more than good ... it had to be entertaining, have reallife complexity and, finally, overcome all the prejudices against sports I've acquired over the years. And it succeeds. Even if you despise the game of basketball, you have to admire the program for its depth and sophistication.

The players are based on real-life (so I am told) players Julius Erving and Larry Bird. According to my fan friends, One on One does closely duplicate these two men's respective strengths and weaknesses. Shooting percentages are programmed for both players, and each has his own style of play. Dr. J, for example, is best at driving to the basket, while Bird is better from the outside and at rebounding. But the game goes deeper still.

Nearly every human strength and weakness has been anticipated and provided for. Fatigue is built in. Bars at the bottom of the screen fluctuate to show how the players are holding up, and a rest will cost you a timeout. Hot streaks are also built in, but there are no indicators to tell you when this is happening according to Bird, "you have to feel it" In more advanced games, fouls are called, and, again, as in real life, the ref calls most of the fouls against you. But the graphics and their movement are what give One on One the competitive edge.

Gone are the block figures of early video basketball games. The images actually resemble players, to the extent possible given the memory and screen resolution constraints. They are easily distinguishable and, more importantly, move like real players. Spinning to the basket, slamming stunning dunks, fading back for long jump shots-all movements are fluid and child's play for the new armchair star.

One on One.

Thanks to careful program structure, rather than holding an impotent joystick, you are actually the player. Back and forth, right and left are controlled by the stick, while the button does everything else. Depending on where you are and whether offense or defense, a push of the button will spin you around, shoot, steal, rebound or block. Never have I seen full control combined with true simplicity like this. But we mustn't forget that basketball is a spectator sport.

Remarkably, One on One is as much fun to watch as it is to play. Programmer Eric Hammond has accomplished this miracle by inserting a few special features. Not only are there stunning plays as outlined above, but-just like TV-you'll never miss the good plays. If the computer notices a spectacular shot, it will rerun it with slow motion instant replay. A super slam dunk will shatter the backboard, forcing the court janitor to clean up your mess. When fouls are called, a ref strolls out to humiliate and irritate you. Neither is sound forgotten. Present are the roar of the crowd, the swish of the net, the dribbling of the ball-nearly everything but technical foul expletives (it's up to you to supply those).

If you should somehow find yourself without a human opponent, the computer will happily defeat you - with either player. And, if you find yourself improving, four levels of play are available to test your skill. The trait of all great software, versatility, is truly present here. You can play a timed game or to a set point score; "Winner's or Loser's out" controls who gets the ball after a score; and you can play the whole game in slow motion if you wish.

The 24-second shot clock speeds up play, and, in the Pro level, the 3 -point line makes that outside shot especially attractive. All this is carefully explained in full documentation, with helpful hints and strategies garnered from the design sessions between Hammond, Bird and Erving - all contained in the now-familiar Electronic Arts package. But all this has been from a person who can't stand basketball; what do the fans say.

They say that One on One is a great game ... maybe the best. I have had no complaints from numerous playtesters, the ones who usually grumble and groan about the games I have them play. One on One seems to please just about everyone. A game that is nearly as much fun to watch as it is to play, One on One is truly in a league by itself.


by Randy Glover, Stephen Landrum, Jon Leupp, Brian McGhie, Stephen Mudry, Erin Murphy and Scott Nelson EPYX 1043 Kiel Court Sunnyvale, CA 94089 48K Disk $39.95

It's been months since the '84 Olympics, and by now peoples minds have been programmed into forgetfulness. Fortunately, Summer Games has appeared on the horizon as a software souvenir of the supreme sporting event. But the Olympics have been so commercially exploited this year that the thought of someone else trying to make a quick, parasitic buck (even at this late date) really revolts me. So, needless to say, Summer Games had better be good.

Summer Games sets a lofty goal for itself, attempting to recreate the spirit of the games themselves, from opening ceremonies to closing. Summer Games is an extremely complex game, and this complexity surely challenged the programmers and pushed them, like Olympic athletes, to their limits.

After the opening ceremonies, complete with the lighting of the flame and releasing of the doves, the players compete in eight events: pole vault, 4x4OOmeter relay, 100 -meter dash, gymnastics, freestyle relay, 100-meter freestyle and skeet shooting. The contestants sign in and pick their country. All of this is done smoothly, and up to eight players may choose from up to eighteen countries. Other options allow you to compete in only one event, to practice one event, to display the current records (which are stored to disk) or to rewatch the opening ceremony. So no problem with versatility here.

However, a problem does develop during play and rears its ugly head in the form of a nearly-endless series of disk swaps. The program resides on both sides of a double-sided disk, and seven swaps are necessary to complete the games. I found this annoying-often swaps were made just to view the event result screen and hear the gold medal winner's national anthem.

Summer Games.

The control of the athletes is complex and does approximate real life. Most events demand good timing and excellent eye-hand coordination. For example, the pole vault requires you to choose the jump height and pole grip, then press the fire button to begin the run. Pulling back on the stick plants the pole; pushing forward simulates the kick up over the bar; and, finally, another press on the button releases the pole. Only with precise timing will you clear the bar. While some events are this complex, others-like swimming or running depend on correctly timing the press of the button or on how fast you can move the stick back and forth. Converting diving and gymnastics, very artistic sports, to video form is a task I would have thought impossible, but the conversion has been done well. Most events require practice to perfect and obtain record scores.

Documentation is excellent; each event is described, and hints are given as to how to excel. Graphics are superb. The screens for each event are finely detailed, and the athletes movements are fairly true to life.

The biggest flaw in Summer Games is the complexity and grandiose scope of the game. I tired of the various contests before even mastering them. Continuously having to sit through award ceremonies didn't help to win me over, either. Still, it's entertaining and makes a good party game. Regrettably, only one joystick is used and, thus, must be constantly passed around. Although head-to-head competition is never realized (all play is one-at-a-time, against the clock), the competition does get intense. I can heartily recommend Summer Games to the diehard Olympic fan. But, if the real Olympics bore you, you'd probably do well to took before you leap into Summer Games.


by Chris Jochumson, Doug Carlston and Louis Ewens BRODERBUND SOFTWARE, INC. 17 Paul Drive San Rafael, CA 94903 48K Disk $59.95

Is it a game? Is it a utility? It's two, two, two programs in one... If you've ever been ravaged by the desire to create your own arcade action game (and do the professionals one better), then The Arcade Machine is for you.

The Arcade Machine resides on a double-sided disk. The first side contains a program which allows you to build, modify and perfect an arcade game. The second side contains four sample games made with the Machine. These show you the power of this program, as well as giving you basic designs to modify.

The Arcade Machine.

The Arcade Machine is not for the weak of stomach, nor for the weak of mind. Complexity is a key word here. However, despite its complexity, the program is surprisingly user-friendly, thanks to excellent documentation. Sophisticated programs require extensive instruction manuals. How would you feel if you bought word processing software and received with it a 4-page, condensed scrap of instruction material? Fortunately, The Arcade Machine doesn't let you down. It comes with an 86-page booklet whose first chapter includes a section headed "How to use this manual * "

Basically, you create your game by designing shapes (the enemy), explosions and tanks (you). Shapes can be animated or mutated; they can told where, when and how far to move; and you can tell them when to drop bombs on you. Your options are limited only by one essential constraint: fundamental theme. You create the perfect game in the genre of "the enemies lob bombs at you, while you try to kill them" - survival of the fittest.

The program and manual walk you through the creation of your game. The Machine is divided into a number of separate and independent programs, which allow you to create shapes, their paths, game options, level options, background, title pages and sound effects - and then lets you save these to disk. The number of possibilities is astronomical, far too many to mention here-you'll just have to look it over on your own. The result is similar to a word processing program. You can easily refine and edit your creation till it's perfect. Once finished, you'll have a self-booting disk copy of your game which can be used independently of The Arcade Machine.

But ... the process takes time, and this is the real drawback to The Arcade Machine. Many, many, many hours are needed to create and hone your game to perfection-and that's if you're not a perfectionist. If anything, The Arcade Machine will force you to appreciate the time and work that go into the development of a great game. And you have it easy; most of the hard stuff is done for you. Still, if you've got the time, Broderbund has the disk. The Arcade Machine is the perfect utility for the aspiring game designer.


by Frank Cohen DATAMOST 8943 Fullbright Avenue Chatsworth, CA 91311-2750 32K Disk $34.95

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to scaling tall buildings, Cohens Towers appears, to run the Crazy Climber concept into the concrete. Yes, this is a Crazy Climber clone to consider, curse and then condemn. By now, you have a concept of my conclusions. Well, regardless, let's continue and try to get this over as quickly and painlessly as possible.

That's right, high rise buildings are unsafe again. You must help Allen, the mailboy, on his climb up (and fall down) the corporate ladder. It's Crazy Climber in a thin disguise, as you rise on elevators rather than climb up walls, while flower pots threaten to brain you. After a memo appears to tell you your new assignment, you begin gaining points by picking up packages and dropping them off in the mailboxes scattered throughout the levels. But, as usual, there are difficulties.

Cohen's Towers.

Hindering your progress is Killer, the boss' dog. His touch is deadly (must have forgotten the rabies shots for old Killer). The corporate spy will steal your packages from you (it's a jungle out there). And, finally, the secretary will let you kiss her for extra points. I guess that's your fringe benefit.

Actually, the greatest benefit you could give yourself would be not to play this game. And don't even consider buying it. Cohen's Towers gives big business a bad name, and all its copies should be piled up and turned into a towering inferno.


by Tim Ferris DATAMOST 8943 Fullbright Avenue Chatsworth, CA 91311-2750 32K Disk $34.95

The front of the manual for Cosmic Tunnels is proudly emblazoned with the announcement, "Captain Sticky Returns" Maybe I'm in the dark: not only did I not know that he had left, but I haven't the faintest idea who he is. For argument's sake, I can accept the fact that he exists. What I can't accept is Cosmic Tunnels. It's yet another of the arcade ripoffs flooding the software marketplace.

The basis of Cosmic Tunnels seems to be a hodgepodge of Gorf and Gravitar (both of which, unfortunately for Cosmic Tunnels, are among my favorites). You move through four screens on your way through this dog.

On the first screen, you take off toward one of the tunnels, avoiding contact with your base or falling meteors. Once you reach a Cosmic Tunnel, you are whipped into screen two. This phase is a 25-second space warp. You score points by shooting space mines and stay alive by avoiding them. In phase three, you attempt to land on the asteroid. This part is nearly identical to Gravitar, as you try to land with enemy bases shooting at you. Hits don't kill instantly, but merely rob you of valuable power. The object here is to destroy everything and land safely.

Once landed, you exit to collect glowing bars and return them to the ship, one at a time. Thwarting you here are Dynobots, Electric Lizards, Monstrous Munchers and wild Space Turkeys. I can deal with the lizards and munchers, but wild Space Turkeys? If you complete your mission, you reverse your path back to screen one and, of course, do it all over again.

Cosmic Tunnels.

Cosmic Tunnels is further handicapped by packaging which I would not be caught dead holding. I found the entire game juvenile and insulting to anyone of above average intelligence. I cannot recommend this game to anyone who is not my enemy.


by Ken Uston, Bob Polin and Ron Carr EPYX 1043 Kiel Court Sunnyvale, CA 94089 32K Disk $35.00

If you're the type who eternally complains that the software gods never bring out anything new, and all entertainment programs are just variations on a few simple themes, then Puzzle Panic may please you.

In fact, Puzzle Panic is so radically different, so unlike anything else you've ever set your cathode-raybloodshot eyes on, that there's no readily memorable program to compare it with. The closest items to it are the current bestsellers which require you to solve a puzzle to win a chance at a large prize. However, don't run out and spend your prize money all at once, because, even though the game is copyrighted 1984,
the contest ended August 31, 1984. You'll have to purchase Puzzle Panic solely on its merits.

These merits are cut and dried. Puzzle Panic is simply a series of puzzles. Some require luck, others skill; most take a combination of the two. There are eleven puzzles, each with from one to six levels - a total of forty-three problems in all. Basically, you maneuver your cursor, an icon-shaped light bulb named Benny, around the screen, touching the right things or going to the right places. For example, in the Card Sequence, you must identify which group of playing cards should contain a card that's moving across the screen. In Sound Chase, you memorize and repeat a series of sounds and movements. Probably the best way to start out is by playing the puzzles individually. But Puzzle Panic doesn't end with simple puzzles.

Puzzle Panic.

Once you've become familiar with all the different types of puzzles, you may be ready to move on to stage twodetermining the correct order in which to solve the puzzles. At the end of each puzzle, Benny may enter any of a number of gates. If you choose the correct gate, Benny will smile and go on to the next puzzle. If you choose the wrong gate, he'll frown-and you'll remain on the same screen.

Your greatest challenge lies ahead ... it is the Metasequence! The word itself implies the ultimate. If you successfully complete the entire series of puzzles, you're given a shot at this finale. Don't even ask me what it is. 1, like most of you who have already challenged Puzzle Panic, never even got a glimpse of this ellusive epilogue. The only thing I know about it is what the manual says: every puzzle has a clue to solve the Metasequence. The manual gives you just enough information to nudge you in the right direction, providing a chart on the back to keep track of puzzles and their clues.

Puzzle Panic is addictive. Its most dangerous facet is the lack of any natural breaks in the action. When Benny loses a life, the loss to you is only in points (which you've earned in solving each puzzle). Thus, without an "ending" to stop your play (a score of less than zero won't do it), you can easily go on forever.

One thing can be said of Puzzle Panic. I think it may start a trend. With substantial prizes, and enough time to solve the puzzle (to give more of us a shot at the cash), this type of computer age treasure hunt may proliferateand they may be among the best ideas to come our way. I like to see new types of entertainment software, and Puzzle Panic breaks new ground, inviting other producers to enter what could be an exciting new market.