This is a new game from a new company - Global Software, who have a firm commitment to the adventure market.
You can check out the details of their next release in the news section, but first you should definitely find the time and the cash to get acquainted with The Magician's Ball.
The plot of this game isn't startlingly original, but it's gripping enough - a young girl has been turned to stone by an evil Wizard and you must destroy the baddy and reverse the spell. Standard stuff, but this game has quite a few features not normally found in adventures that really makes it stand out as a first release.
First, it's got interactive characters. You can talk to them, and in fact instruct them to do anything that you can get the main character, Caro, to do. They may not obey you, of course, but that's half the fun! Alternatively you may find that you can't speak their language, but in some cases this problem can be overcome through the correct use of various objects.
The characters in The Magician's Ball are truly independent - they will move about of their own accord, get and use objects, and attack or help the player. The only thing they don't do is talk, but this omission doesn't detract much from the fun of the game. There is one other major character called Azul and, as in the Hobbit and Valhalla, you won't be able to complete the game without interacting with him very carefully.
However, the real interest here is that you can actually take control of Azul and 'use' him as the main character - so if by any chance Caro is killed you don't necessarily have to end the game.
Typing 'Azul' automatically transfers control to this character, in a similar way that pressing certain keys in Lords of Midnight enables you to 'see' through the eyes of other Lords. This technique has enormous potential in future games - and I note that Melbourne House are planning to introduce it in Lord Of The Rings.
The parser in The Magician's Ball is also excellent. A rather inferior magazine wrote a preview of the game, claiming that when they tried to enter "Take envelope" (from one of the locations where you can see a small envelope), he was told "I don't understand Envelope". Must have been a bug in his spelling or his version of the game, because mine understood it perfectly, and also understood things like "Look east" (useful for looking into adjacent locations) - though there were some rather odd bugs in the "Throw" routines. Typing "Throw demon at Kipper" gets you the response "Caro throws the smell kipper to the diabolical demon'. A little off, perhaps, but nothing too horrendously wrong there.
Other points about the game include excellent screen design - the graphics are neat, tidy, and don't dominate the display as they do in Ulysses for example. This is important because the smaller the graphics, the more care can be taken over them. The ones in The Magician's Ball incorporate animation and intricate design very effectively.
Other nice points about the display include use of colour when printing text. Your inputs are echoed in yellow and the most recent response is also printed in yellow, but old responses turn to green as they scroll up the page, allowing you to concentrate on the up-to-date info but keeping a record of previous responses on-screen, should you need them.
Finally, there's the music. This is a Commodorised version of Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield. The conversion has been done very well, and you get different sequences in different locations. You can always turn the volume down if you can't stand Mike Oldfield, but I found it gave the game as a whole a pleasantly enhanced atmosphere.
So there you go - a new game from a new company that is well worth adding to your collection.
My only reservation is that there aren't that many locations - around about fifty, I should say, at the most. But what with diabolical demons, wandering trees, and a small female dragon there's plenty to keep you occupied!