Entertainment Software Today: Brick Wars

Call-A.P.P.L.E. Magazine – November 1987 – PP 12,13

How many of you remember Little Brickout? If you do, you may be dating yourself, because it goes back almost ten years. A Lo-Res [gasp] graphics game played with the game paddles, Brickout’s simple object was to knock bricks out of a wall with a bouncing ball. How far things have come since then!

Once upon a time, personal computers were thought of as little more than sophisticated toys, good only for playing games. Little did we know or foresee, the development of the Macintosh and Apple IIGs, machines capable of running complex graphics and application programs such as MacDraw, Page maker, 816/paint, Apple Works and others.

Somewhere along the way, inspired by the pioneering Hi-Res graphics work of Call -AP.P.L.E.’ s own Bob Bishop and Penguin’s Mark Pelczarski, gaming matured and expanded. Where once there were only juvenile text adventure and LoRes graphics games, there are now roleplaying games with plots comparable to those of major motion pictures, playable for weeks at a time, arcade games (although less in vogue currently) that present the ultimate challenge in motor skills, programs which let you create your own games (Pinball Construction Set) educational games, puzzles and composites of all of the preceding. In short, “games” is no longer a sufficient description; “entertainment software” is.

Today, many of us purchase computers and justify the outlay with spreadsheet and checkbook programs to aid us at home and at work. But now, as much for ourselves as for our children, we find we cannot tear ourselves away from the compulsive thrill of winning a few games and beating the odds, or the perverse pleasure found in frustrating losses.

Before we know it, the holidays will be here, so to help counteract those pangs of wordprocessing burnout we all feel at one time or another, we’d like to offer a few gift ideas (even for yourself!) in the form of a generous helping of our picks, and non-picks, from among some of the newest pieces of entertainment software.

Pity Patter

If the name “Lucasfilm” evokes only memories of the Apple-created awardwinning special effects in blockbuster movies like “2001” and “Star Wars,” then you may be pleased to learn that Lucasfilm Games is a prolific producer of quality entertainment software. On reputation alone, one should expect wondrous things from this subsidiary, and we were not disappointed. How things have changed from the early days!

Manic Mansion
Lucasfilm Ltd.
Games Division
PO Box 2009
San Rafael, CA 94912
(415) 662-1600

Maniac Mansion at first glance appears to be a typical graphics adventure game requiring the usual amount of laboriously typed key verbs and nouns to move from place to place, pick up objects, etc. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Imagine running a contemporary mouse-based application, the ease of clicking and double-clicking to indicate choices, etc. Now, by substituting a joystick for a mouse, comes a program that brings this concept to action/ adventure game-playing – Maniac Mansion.

On the primary display screen, where animated characters move in response to player commands, appears a “sentence line” composed of a verb from the two following lines and a noun, selected by clicking on the desired object. Items from the inventory may also be chosen by clicking on the appropriate inventory word. Control is switched from one character to another by selecting “new kid” and clicking on one of three names.

The setting is a mysterious mansion where some strange things have been occurring lately. Several story lines are possible, depending on the order taken by the exploration. From time to time, the story line is interrupted as related but noncontrollable scenes are interspersed. These “cuts” show “behind the scenes” action, just as a movie often cuts away from the main plot to present some pertinent side event.

The Maniac Mansion package includes a half dozen pages of well-written and easy to understand documentation plus a cutesy printed mockup of a campus “bulletin board.” The program is on a two-sided diskette; one is protected. An Apple IIc or lIe with 128K is required. No mention was made of the GS, but we assume it might run on one. Play it safe and check with your dealer first. The only problem we ran into was in the game save function when we inadvertently placed the wrong disk in the drive and the system hung.

We barely got into this exciting adventure before we had to quit and start writing. Pity. It’s good for many hours of genuine first rate entertainment.

Double Down

Applications Plus offers a pair of programs whose avowed purpose is to teach gaming table strategies. In this respect both do well. In most other areas neither meets what this reviewer considers reasonable software and documentation standards. Each program has a number of text files, helpful in content but because of their upper case-only display, somewhat difficult to read. Moreover, because they are written in Pascal, the speed of the HiRes text display leaves something to be desired. Neither program is copy-protected and both run on any model Apple.

Vegas Video Poker simulates video machines where payoff is based on winning hand odds and an initial “bet” of one to five dollars. In 25 hands of play, we retained only $59 from a $100 stake and decided to quit while we still had a shirt.

Play consists of dealing, discarding and drawing, using large excellently designed cards. An option for prompted play was judged helpful for beginners and can be selected from a boot menu. Once selected, it is not possible to change to the opposite state without rebooting. In this mode, pressing “S” after a deal displays a strategy screen with an analysis of the player’s hand and possible action in priority order.

Video Vegas Poker
Beating the House at Black Jack
Applications Plus, Inc.
15720 Harmony Way
Apple Valley, MN 55124
Video Vegas Poker $29.95
Beating the House $24.95

On-screen help was limited and no explanation was made of the mechanics of playing, either in the program or in the accompanying documentation which, although 20 pages long, was directed entirely to poker strategies and techniques.

Like its companion, Beating the House at Blackjack contains virtually no program documentation, either on disk or in printed form. A main menu has four choices, two of which have three- and four-item sub-menus to select tutorial and strategy text files. Terms like “push” and “split,” understood by a seasoned player, are not explained. A beginner might find that confusing.

After booting the disk, no way could be found to directly enter the game-playing mode. Only after exploring each ofthe main menu options in tum did we find a prompt line reading “Press return to start playing.” Once familiar with the content of the parameter and text files, it becomes burdensome to select a menu item, wait for the the sub-menu to load, press return and wait once more while the main program file loads.

The simple Hi-Res graphics display consists only of an outlined blackjack table. The miniscule cards used have space for only a single letter or number indicating their value. The letter “T” on one card stumped us for a moment until we figured out that it represented the figure 10.

It is not often that this reviewer says “thumbs down” on a product. Almost always it is possible to find some saving graces. In the case of Blackjack and Video Poker we did not. While much of the textual material was worthwhile, it can be found in books dealing with techniques and strategies of gambling, and at far less cost. In terms of pure game play, there are better programs.

A Soft Spot

An entertainment package which defies classification is Softdisk, a “magazine” on two double-sided disks. Softdisk appears monthly (the current issue is number 71, which tells us they are just about to celebrate their sixth birthday). It is available at book stores for $9.95 or by subscription at six issues for $39.95, 12 for $69.95. Call (800) 831-2694 to inquire or order.

Softdisk’s organization is like that of a magazine, with an editorial, table of contents, letters to the editor and other textual material. But there the resemblance ends. The balance of this issue is made up of Print ShopTM images, an excellent animated adventure, a jig-saw puzzle, a clever anagram, a quiz, music program and Double Trouble, the feature game by John Besnard (Pensate, Arcade Boot Camp).

All of this is tied together with a highly effective operating system which offers menu choices for each program or feature plus text material concerning the programs. Rumor has it that a new and superior ProDOS-based operating system is in the works.

Double Trouble particularly caught our fancy. An assortment of five arcade games, two at a time are played using a common joystick; thus a move on one of the split screens also affects action on the other screen, fascinating, to say the least. Keeping track of both screens simultaneously is no small challenge.

Considering that you can pay $29.95 up for a single game, Softdisk represents a real bargain to this writer. There are competing disk magazines as well, but none hold the proverbial candle.

Mail Call

Dyed-in-the-wool game fanatics may be interested in Computer Game Forum, a pun-filled, fun-filled non-machine-specific magazine covering many aspects of gaming with emphasis on gaming by mail, a practice of which we were unaware. We counted 15 features within its 26 pages. For more information, contact:

Golden Empire Publications
515 S. Harbor Blvd., Suite C
Anaheim, CA 92805
(714) 535-4435

Christmas is not quite upon us so before you complete your shopping, wait for next month’s issue of Call-APPLE. Magazine and plan to read about a really unusual model train program, a ski tournament construction set and a couple of space war arcade adventures, plus anything that may come our way in the next couple of weeks.

Bon aperitif…

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About the Author

Val J. Golding

Val J. Golding was the founder of Apple Pugetsound Program Library Exchange (A.P.P.L.E.) and served on it's board from 1978 to 1984. and 2002 to 2008. He passed away on 2 July 2008. He was one of the founders of the International Apple Corps, served as the editor of Call-A.P.P.L.E. Magazine as well as Apple Orchard and On Three Magazines.