Electron User

Indoor Sports

Author: Chris Nixon
Publisher: Tynesoft
Machine: BBC/Electron

Published in Electron User 5.09

When Tynesoft brings out a sports simulation of any type, it's certainly something to sit up and take a look at. So Indoor Sports got the treatment. There are four events on the tape - two less than its recent Winter Olympiad '88 - so I was anxious to find out whether it justified its top of the range price tag. I was to be pleasantly surprised.

First on the tape is 10-Pin Bowling. This realistic simulation is controlled by three keys, of which two are used to position your figure within the lane. All subsequent action is controlled with the spacebar - which led to some initial confusion.

After setting your position, the computer cycles through all the available levels of spin, as shown by the spin meter at the top of the screen. Pressing the spacebar sets the spin, and the computer will begin cycling through the shot angles - displayed on the lane by an arrow.

Indoor Sports

As soon as this is fixed - by releasing the spacebar - your figure begins his run-up to the line. At the right moment the spacebar must again be pressed to bowl - or so I thought - but at this point my figure kept either falling flat on his face, or dropping the bowl on his foot.

This continued until I finally understood the cassette inlay: "Press Space and the bowling action is recorded". What this rather unhelpful instruction means is that you must press it during, not after, the run-up, when your figure happens to be in the best posture for bowling. The bowl will then follow automatically when the figure reaches the line, using the previously recorded posture.

Once this sank in, I settled down to enjoy a really great game. As the ball coasts down the lane the view shifts to cover the run, and when the ball approaches the skittles the viewing angle changes to show the action from behind and slightly above the ball.

Indoor Sports

The hit itself is simulated very realistically, with some skittles teetering for a while before either toppling over or remaining upright. The frustration caused by the ball rolling straight into the gully was balanced by the nerve-wracking anticipation when it actually remained on course.

Darts is next on the tape, and as a mediocre to bad player I thought this would be one to skip over quickly. Not a bit of it. The skills needed are, of course, totally different when playing the real thing, so Tynesoft has added its own skill requirements, making this an addictive game in its own right.

You start off face to face with an accurately drawn dart board. Below is the aiming window, which is the same width as the board. To either side of this window are two meters, one for power and the other for the angle of shot elevation.

Inside the aiming window is a dart, which can be slid left and right. Slid is the operative word, because if it passes over the mid-point, a weird sort of gravity sucks the dart to the other side of the window. Hence aiming requires some concentration.

Pressing RETURN when the dart is where you want it sets the angle meter into action, which is in the form of a continuously growing and shrinking circle sector. Releasing RETURN fixes the angle and starts the power meter climbing, which is represented by three volume meter type bars. Finally, releasing RETURN throws the dart with the selected settings.

The scene then changes to a comfortable-looking pub, where a log fire crackles gently in the corner. In the centre of the screen, poised in front of the dart board - now hanging from the far wall - stands your figure. From behind, which is your only view of him, he could easily pass himself off as Eric Bristow.

Immediately he throws his dart. Well, it's more a flick of the wrist than a throw, but attention is focused on the dart, now flying through the air. This part is quite well done, although there is no inertia on the dart, not is its flight trajectory particularly curved.

I was both surprised and pleased to see that it was possible to hit the metal frame. I was therefore well able to match my real life performance to the Electron, thankfully unwitnessed by any grinning bystanders.

After each throw the enlarged board re-appears, showing the exact spot where the dart hit. Your score is then chalked up, by real chalk - a nice touch - and after three throws it's the Electron's turn.

In actual fact, although very competent and a consistent high-scorer, the Electron tended to hit the frame more often than I did - usually when attempting to show off by going for double-top.

Now on to Table Tennis, my favourite of the four. When the game has loaded, you are presented with a proper perspective view of a ping-pong table, with a bat floating in mid-air at either end. Four keys control your bat, one each moving it left, right, flipping it over for a back-hand stroke and hitting the ball.

Hitting it is not strictly necessary, because as long as the ball hits your bat it'll bounce back up the table. However, you won't win the game by being lazy like this. The real skill in Table Tennis is to press the hit key at the right moment as the ball approaches your bat.

This causes the bat to swing into the screen, and the direction of the rebound depends on which way your bat is facing. The actual angle is determined by the closeness of the ball to the bat when the key is pressed. The further the ball is from your bat when you hit it, the sharper the ball's angle will be as it goes back across the table.

Here lies the way to beat the computer, which seems incapable of producing clever shots for itself. Because the bats can only move at a smooth, slowish pace, you can fool the computer with a sharply-angled shot which just clips the other end of the table and the Electron won't be able to shift its bat across in time to return the shot. But if you swipe too early the ball will shoot straight past your bat's tip to lose you a point.

Pressing the hit key with the ball at varying degrees of closeness results in realistically varying shot angles, and this results is a really satisfying, skilful game.

Table Tennis conforms to the proper rules of the sport, where 21 points wins a game, and service swaps to the other player after every five serves.

Also, this event - like the other three - has several variable playing options, to keep up the interest. You can determine the computer's skill level, and the number of games required to win the match. Most importantly, you can select a two-player option, as Table Tennis really comes into its own when played against someone else.

Finally, and most interesting of all, is Air Ball, a strange hybrid of ice hockey and the old video game, Pong. You and your opponent each control a bat which looks like part of a pin-ball machine, and the object of the exercise is to hit the Smartie-shaped puck into your opponent's goal.

It's quite easy to beat the computer, even on the highest level, but it's no mean feat when there's another person at the controls. The game is fast and furious - by Electron standards - and very addictive, as long as you can find a volunteer to play against you.

Sometimes the game ends in a deadlock, with the puck vibrating furiously between the two bats - but if this is successfully broken it can gain you the advantage of sudden surprise as the puck shoots away up the field.

Air Ball is an unusual game, and it really needs the stimulus of a second player to bring it into its own. The poor old computer opponent seems to get stuck bouncing the puck off a wall more often than not, and isn't really up to much even when playing properly.

Indoor Sports contains a good mixture of entertainment, addictiveness and competitive spirit. If you have Winter Olympiad, you'll be pleasantly surprised at the different approach of these programs, and I enjoyed all four immensely.

Chris Nixon

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