Memory required: 48K
Retail price: £14.95
Language: machine code
Utility reviews tend to be written by people who know what they are talking about, the sort of technical wizard who can tell you where RAMTOP starts and RAMBOTTOM ends, and what to do with your UDGs in between. This makes a lot of sense in almost every case even, in this particular case, as long as the reader likes to know what makes a utility tick. But Gilsoft’s The Quill program is really far more fundamental than the average utility. The very choice of its name is indicative of its use. It is a writing utility, very much the pen and ink to the adventurer’s paper. Consequently, the success of this utility depends much less on knowing how and why it works than the fact that it does, so in this case a review written by someone who wouldn’t know a RAM from a TOP makes some sense.
What is essential to using The Quill is care, concentration and a developed sense of logic. To a person who has had even minimal experience of Spectrum BASIC, i.e. that gained from the cursory glance through the computer’s manual, the language used by this editor makes immediate sense; moreover, it makes sense in a straightforward way. The result is a utility which will allow anyone to write an adventure with surprisingly large scope and eventually run the program quite independently of The Quill itself. Naturally, this leads to the thought of perhaps marketing that program, and Gilsoft have no objection to that as long as you give them a credit in the program.
The Quill is accompanied by a comprehensive booklet, in as much as it takes you through the stages of constructing a small adventure based on six locations. Despite its size, this is sufficient to get across some quite sophisticated ideas, although as soon as you start to try and write your own, you will no doubt come across some problems not answered easily in the first part of the manual.
In brief, after loading is complete you are presented with a large menu, the important options as far as this review is concerned are:
Object start location
Return to BASIC
A lot of the options are instantly obvious, but the important functions are also far from clear. Vocabulary takes you to a sub-menu and allows you to insert all the words you will want the computer to understand. Each word is given a number. Words may be entered, deleted or the entire list printed on screen for checking, or synonyms of a word printed if they exist in the vocabulary already. The program comes with the most important adventure words already in the vocabulary, like North, South, etc.
Location text is another sub-menu. Your first action is to Amend a text since The Quill comes with location 0 (everything is numbered from zero) already written in. Selecting A brings it to view, where it may be deleted and rewritten to suit your adventure. From then on pressing Insert results in a line at the top saying, ‘Location 1,’ etc. When all the texts are written and entered, the Object Text may be selected. This lists all the objects which may be manipulated in the adventure and gives them an object number. They must be in the vocabulary, of course. Object Start Location is self-evident. Every numbered object must now be entered so that it already exists in the location in which it will first be found. This is done in the form of ‘3 4’ (obj 3 whatever it may be in location 4, whatever that is). Objects such as keys hidden in drawers are entered as ‘not created.’ Similarly objects worn or carried have a special code to denote this fact.
The Movement table is very important. Here the directions which may be taken from any location to any other location are entered. Again, using this part of the editor is simplicity itself and only requires some careful thought in terms of the actual game rather than the program. If from location 1 you can go north to location 2 and west to location 6 this would be entered as 1 N 2 W 6.
The heart of the editor is the Event table, and it is here that the most complex work is undertaken. This controls the inventory and recall or redescribe functions; here you may set up conditions that will allow objects to be picked up, opened, closed, switched on or off, and inhibitions may be placed in the database which only allow certain actions to take place at specific times and/or locations. One of the great flexibilities of The Quill comes with the flag system used in the Event table. Flags can be set up to inform the computer that particular actions have taken place or not and can be used for scoring inhibiting actions until conditions are correct, making rooms light or dark if certain conditions are not met, causing messages to appear, and so on.
Messages are created in the Message text, like ‘I’m hungry,’ ‘I’m dying of starvation,’ ‘I’m dead!’ The messages are entered and numbered so that they can be called up when required.
At all points the adventure may be tested to check that things are happening as they should. When they do not, you begin to realise another point in the logic of using The Quill — the order in which entries relating to an action are made in the Event table.
It would take up far too much space to go into any further detail here, and the booklet accompanying the program is very good despite a very few shortcomings which may become apparent as you go along. But Gilsoft are only too happy to help you out if you should get seriously stuck with a problem.
The Quill opens up a huge area of complex programming to thousands of people. It might be thought that this single program would ruin the market for the commercial software houses selling adventure games, but I don’t think that is at all likely. After all thousands, millions, of people own typewriters, but how many of them write novels? The most critical element that you can’t buy in with The Quill is imagination and actual writing ability of the literary kind. Even if you are not thinking of writing adventures in order to market them The Quill is a massively worthwhile investment since it is one of the few programs for the Spectrum on the market which will give lasting satisfaction and arouse the creative urge. At £14.95 it is almost ludicrously underpriced for what it does and, more importantly, what it allows others to do.
Already, a number of adventures are available which have been written with the aid of The Quill, a recent notable being the engaging and infuriating Denis Through The Drinking Glass by Applications. But Gilsoft themselves are now marketing a range of adventures written by several authors who have used The Quill under the umbrella name of The Gold Collection. We take a look at some of them now.