John Fairbairn revels in the delights of games to cheer the half-starved Colour Genie owners
Most people's reaction to the Colour Genie has been, "Nice computer, shame about the software." Only recently has the number of titles on offer topped 100, and some of those have been dreadful.
But despair not Colour Genie owners. At least one company has brought a touch of class to Genie software: JD Tronics of London.
The J is for Justin Barrington, the D for Daniel Brown, a duo who had many years' experience with the TRS-80. They are justifiably proud of their first offerings for the Genie - Micronopoly and Puckman.
I was tickled pink when this easy-to-load program first ran. Unlike most computer Monopolies (for that is what it is of course) it is superbly designed - simple but elegant. Instead of the pure-text versions you mostly see this keeps the text on the right-hand side of the screen and shows the board moving down the left, like a slow-moving cine film - an effect reinforced by the sprocket-hole kind of sound as it moves. I loved it.
But I had one nasty shock. The cassette inlay gives no instructions on how to play but just says, "All standard rules". Rubbish!
It doesn't charge double rent when a person owns all the properties of a set, and I was even more disconcerted when the Genie (it plays against 1-4 humans) bought three houses for Piccadilly when it had only one on Coventry Street and none on Leicester Square.
This is definitely not sanctioned by my 1972 copy of the rules of Monopoly or by Maxine Brady's The Monopoly Book, but friends have assured me lots of people play this way to speed the game up. It's reasonable enough, but I would have preferred it as an option. However, as the program occupies a full 32K, YJD tell me nothing else could be squeezed in.
The Genie itself plays a good game, very aggressive and verging on the reckless, but fortune often favours the brave.
Although it is in Basic, the game is fast. It can seem slow but actually is faster than the real game - at least as played by my family where half the time is spent looking for the dice on the floor. The Genie handles the dice for you, and all the money, and you handle the Genie by a very simple menu system that offers a wide range of options (roll the dice, buy property or houses, mortgage, check list of properties, etc).
There are a couple of bugs to do with user input that don't seem to affect the actual game but cause a little irritation, and I would have liked longer delay loops in some cases. I would also like a "who's got how much" option on the menu, and why does Genie always go first?
Yes, JD, it is another Pacman (they asked me not to say that), but this is the proper arcade version and another superb offering. It hardly needs describing except to confirm that it has the full maze, power pills and ghosts, and is smooth and fast (all machine code). Good sound, good graphics, easy loading, but no joystick control (use the arrow keys).
The title set me to musing about what ever happened to Puck matches, which shows my age and may explain why I'll never get the £100 prize for top score JD is offering all purchasers. My kids, 6 and 12, won't win the prize either - I suspect you have to be around 14-15 to really get the best out of this game; the programmers' top score is 24,300 and the best by a purchaser so far is 13,200.
Incidentally, JD Tronics is set to issue a cassette-based word processor in the New Year. I can't wait.
A rather different approach is taken by Ipswich's A.G. Kneeus, a very pseudonym but a very honest chap who is trying to offer reliable programs at a decent price, while at the same time making them all listable so that owners can rework them or use them for study.
The programs are all in Basic and easy to load. Sound is usually very good, graphics are cute rather than brilliant (but easy for the beginner to follow and change).
Best of the range seems to be Video Paint Pot. It grabbed my kids' attention, but the instructions are so awful they drifted away, frustrated, very quickly. I had to persevere, and eventually discovered the program will do a lot (draw solid or dotted lines in eight directions or circles in a variety of sizes and colours, and paint inside them) but I was still hazy about several things.
Ask for full instructions - get them and you'll get good value for money.
Draughts is another game I think many people could be satisfied with. Not the connoisseurs, that is, but it'll give most people a decent game.
Buzz-Bee-Ball was my favourite. It's football between a little bird (good on the wing) and a man. Using the arrow keys you can play against Genie or a partner. Utterly simple, but it fascinated simple me.
E. T. Aulie is a passable variety of Pacman, but if that's really what you want I'd go for JD Tronics' version any day.
Bust-a-Dam is an uninspired version of Breakout and Retaliation, which is a type of Space Invaders.