This is the first part of a "Quilled" Quadrilogy produced by a small cottage-industry software-house called Vidipix. Part II, called The Planets will be available in August.
The storyline isn't exactly burning with originality. Set in the far-flung future, news reaches your ears of a valuable space-wreck which, as a space salvage worker, you decide to locate in the hope of making your fortune. The ship, called the Phirious, departed from Earth but was never seen again.
The first part of this four-part bonanza opens on board a ship called Cassiopia, an abandoned hulk that you have decided to investigate on your travels but which has now become your home following the (unexplained) explosion of your own ship. Your task is to escape to Earth to continue with your quest for the Phirious.
I've recounted the plot at some length because I think the problem with this game is that it doesn't have that vital spark of originality that bears evidence of a twisted mind (all good programmers have them!) and an enthralling adventure. The game is pretty typical Quill fare in its presentation and is text-only. The vocabulary is fairly restricted and, of course, you have to cope with that and The Quill's refusal to specify which word it doesn't understand.
One point in the program's favour - the programmers have very sportingly deprotected the code so that you can transfer it to disc if you wish. They've also taken the unusual step (and one which it would be nice to see repeated) of telling you - via the interesting command MAP - whereabouts you are at the beginning of the game in relation to the rest of the playing area. This enables you to start mapping on the right part of your blank sheet of paper without fear of running over the edge after going WEST ten times in succession! Clever, and thoughtful.
The rest of the game, unfortunately, doesn't seem to bear out this early promise of innovation. The game is split into two stages - first on Cassiopia and then on the moon in an underground mining complex. To get from part one to part two you have to leave the ship, and this is where - to my mind - you get a good example of poor game design. Cassiopia is not a difficult ship to explore and all the objects are either visible or easily discoverable - it only took me about twenty-five minutes to persuade this part of the game to yield its secrets. By this stage, I was pretty sure that I knew what I had to do - the question was how, and since the program greets every incorrect entry with the words "You can't do that, my old goos gog" you can see it's a good thing that in space no-one can hear you scream!
The solution is a bit of a cheat to my mind since it involves fixing a machine that is not actually mentioned directly as being visible, but merely implied by a location description. For example, if you found yourself in 'The control room: there is a broken console here', you would be forgiven, I think, for trying to fix the console. Should the solution turn out to be FIX CONTROL and nothing else is acceptable, I think you'll agree that this is slightly aggravating, and the only challenging bit of the first part of the game is based on this sort of confusion rather than on clever logic or inspired puzzles.
The second part of the game is slightly more challenging - there are just over seventy locations in all so there is a fair bit to explore, but of course the descriptions aren't all that long and the atmosphere reeks of a dozen other space-exploration adventures. At £2.50 this game is of average value, but despite the budget price don't expect to give it place of honour - even on the lowest shelf of your collection.