Personal Computer News12th January 1985
Published in Personal Computer News #094
One picture may be worth a thousand words, but these text-only adventures for the Beeb prove that words can still pack a punch, says Mike Gerrard.
In A BBC Con-Text
The current quality of Beeb adventures is due to a delusion suffered by software houses that the programs must have graphics, which the machine's memory won't stretch to. Luckily, these three games prove works can eb more evocative than pictures.
In Castle Dracula it appears Transylvania is still not safe and it's up to you to enter the castle and serve the Count a lightly grilled stake. The storyline creaks like an old staircase, but the humour remedies that: not by accident is the empty bottle in the maid's room, and guess why they call it a Wine Cellar? And how did Nicholas Parsons get in here?
I was never quite sure what was going to happen next. At one point a suit of armour blocks your progress - after much fetching, carrying and experimenting I moved it; unfortunately it then began to clank resolutely after me. Then another wretched creature joined in, throwing things at me.
Later I made it to the safety of the kitchens, where I spotted some garlic. Even experienced adventurers know about such things. Hang on, what's this? The smell's too much for me and I'm undead! "Fangs for playing."
With a well-designed screen layout, and quick responses, Castle Dracula shows a nice line in horror - and that's only the jokes.
Wish Upon A Star
The best of the trio is Acornsoft's The Seventh Star. I began by the wreckage of a spacecraft, from where with just a bucket, crowbar and a micro I hoped to return to Earth. Heading north I was soon outside a large city, where a sentry asked my name. Playing sage I said Tony Bridge, but the sentry let me through anyway and gave me a number. I then arrived at a marketplace, where the BBC's sound was effectively used to create the impression of a bustling alien population.
With one or two items I'd collected on the way I obtained a large wad of money, and then I found a gadget shop where I could choose from three items on display: a new battery pack, an electronic scanner and a briefcase. Feeling I was sure to need all three, I bought the scanner, whereupon the shop owner relieved me of some money. The inventory showed I now had a smaller wad of money... just enough to buy a briefcase, in fact.
After a fierce encounter with an old lady in a charity shop, who showed remarkably little charity to me, I had to begin again. Next time, I roamed the city till I found a grating that took me to some slimy passages. Here I met a robot who was obviously related fairly closely to Marvin the Paranoid Android, but he couldn't help me move the rubbish from which came some moans.
After a while we found ourselves, via a different route, back in the city, and outside a phone box. In I went and tried the inevitable: "phone home". It can't have been that inevitable as it asked me what to do with the phone, whereupon I told it, only to be struck by a huge thunderbolt from the heavens, so that was the end of that little escapade.
I'd only scored 6 points out of 100, too. No sense of humour, some adventure writers. Washing my mouth out, I returned to the fray.
The Seventh Star is the latest in a fine series of adventures from Acornsoft, well-written and with not a picture to be seen. But once you get stuck in you don't really miss it.
Last and least of the three is the Electron adventure, where the text has taken a turn for the terse. It does, however, offer some mind-bending puzzles: like how do you take a key into a location where you're not allowed to take anything? The adventure is The Staff of Law from Potter Programs. "You have been summoned to the land of Arda, as the chosen one by the Lord Moram," you're told. The Despiser has taken the Staff of Law and corrupted its power. Only the chosen one can wrest the Staff of Law from the Despiser, and so restore peace and harmony to the land of Arda. Are you up to the task?
Well, not on a screen like this - yellow text on a red background? Enough to give you the screaming ab-dabs, so switching to black and white I find I'm in a hallowed chamber in the company of a stone slab and an exit north. Fixed descriptions are at the top of the screen, with commands and responses scrolling through several closely-packed lines of lower case at the bottom. All in all, not the best adventure layout I've ever seen.
Moving the slab revealed steps that led to a fire chamber where you find a "beater", with which you beat something out of the courtyard via a drawbridge that's down (well we all have days like that!) explore the countryside, a cave, a riverbank and a fairground.
There's little sense of atmosphere: the fairground, for example, seems to exit simply because the author decided a tent pole would come in handy somewhere.
There are, however, some tough teasers, and I'm stuck over an ingenious poser involving a platform which you can raise by tugging at a rope attached to a pulley. You can get off the platform halfway up and step into a chamber where there's a locked door. Now you've got a key with you, but you have to put it down on the platform in order to pull at the rope. If you pick up the key when you reach the chamber, that means dropping the rope and down you plunge. With nothing to tie the rope to, I'm well and truly stuck.