3D Pool (Firebird) Review | Everygamegoing - Everygamegoing


3D Pool
By Firebird

Published in EGG #013: Acorn Electron

3D Pool

Now this is one seriously clever and ambitious game...! Most pool simulations are content with an overhead view of the table but 3D Pool plots the whole game in 3D, allowing you to "walk" around the table, realistically angle the cue, choose the strength and spin of your shot and only then take your chance at potting your target ball. It's technically an amazing achievement, and I played it with a fevered zeal back in the Eighties. It was one of my favourite games in fact. Alas, picking it up again recently I found it nowhere near as addictive and impressive as I remembered it.

The game had an extremely low-key release. Firebird had a few games for the Electron but not very many, and its most famous game was probably Star Drifter which, whilst good, hardly broke as much new ground as this. Worse, when the game hit the shelves, the cover stated BBC only; you would only have known the fact that side B of the cassette contained the Electron version if you'd opened the box and inspected the cassette inside. And you were hardly likely to do that if you were an Electron owner. Indeed, even Electron User missed reviewing it!

If you did have a copy though, you couldn't fail to be overawed by the realism of the game compared to the real thing. Practically every type of shot could be pulled off, and it even included a trick-shot editor. This allowed you to learn trick-shots in the comfort of your own home... then show them off the next time you physically visited the pool hall with your friends. Sounds positively tame now, but in the Eighties this was seriously ahead of its time. Forget "machine learning", this was "human learning by means of copying from a machine".

3D Pool

You can zoom in and out of the pool table, and flip your viewpoint to the opposite end of the pool table. You vary your shot by tapping the Return key once to signal the backward sweep of your arm, and then you can increase (Up key) or decrease (Down key) the power with which to strike the cue ball, adjust exactly where the cue will strike the ball and then tap Return again to finalise. If all goes well, you'll see the cue ball thunder across the table. The perfect reaction of the balls when hit has to be seen to be believed. They move just like they would in real life. There is some damned fine programming at work here.

So why am I so nonplussed picking it up again? Well, it all boils down to patience. By the time I got my mitts on 3D Pool as an adolescent I had a Turbo Electron (a hardware modification that sped the Electron up by about 40-50%). When I went back to 3D Pool a few years ago, I played the BBC version of the game which runs at the same speed as a Turbo Electron. However, to write a fair review for this book I returned to it now with a standard Electron, and a pair of fresh eyes. And what I found was that the computer opponent took such a long time to take his shots that I don't think any modern gamer would persevere with 3D Pool for more than a few minutes.

Modern gamers simply take realistic physics and the ability to control and angle a pool cue for granted. Whilst striking the balls then watching them ricochet around the 3D table still gave me a nostalgic glow, the constant pauses in my match against 'Fast (?!) Freddy' whenever he was "thinking" soon had me reaching for the Break key. What's really needed is the ability to just 'force' the computer opponent to take a shot after, say, ten seconds. When you're waiting over a minute, you would almost come to think the game had actually crashed were it not for the animated "Hmmmmm" speech on the screen.

Thinking it through, maybe this actually why Firebird didn't promote the 'secret' Electron version of the game. The BBC version, on the other side of the tape, runs at about twice the speed and is very enjoyable. The Electron version, with its long "thinking" pauses is a huge disappointment in comparison. Yes, all the functionality is there, and it's identical, but the long pauses just ruin the flow of a pool game - after all, your mate doesn't usually take a whole minute to take a shot!

If you've still got a working Turbo Electron, then you might find a physical version of 3D Pool desirable. And if you collect rare games, this one is seriously hard-to-find on tape, so much so that the last boxed version I saw fetched over £30...!

Dave E

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