This month Derek Brewster takes a close look at a space adventure and some games for girls among others. But before that, he discusses some points on presentation...
The format an adventure uses for display is important since it shows you where you are, what items and monsters you see, and how you might leave a location.
It is surprising when well-coded games involving many hours of concerted effort are let down by a cluttered display with all the information jumbled together in a confusing way. An untidy, scrolling list of mixed description and input barely separated from the last location’s mess is hardly the manner in which to present a complex adventure.
An improved format can make use of different colours for objects you come across, the monsters you meet, and especially when in a rush, the exits. Similarly, capital letters, BRIGHT and FLASH could be used more for emphasis.
Temple of Vran has gone some way in tackling these problems with neatly boxed-in location descriptions presented upon a freshly cleared screen and your input bearing a different colour. These are simple changes indeed yet add much to your enjoyment of the game.
The more complicated and involved the game the more important the input routine. Snowball has a very poor, sluggish input routine which hinders fast typing and has no audible confirmation of key depressions; this in an otherwise highly sophisticated game.
Many adventures only use delete when it would be a simple matter to use the Spectrum input routine that allows full cursor control. A game with a broad and friendly language that goes beyond simple verb/noun couplings needs to make full use of the editing facilities of the Spectrum. It would be a useful feature, particularly with those games requiring long, intricate inputs, to enable the rescue of an incorrect input line so it can be brought back on to the screen and corrected. Fantasia Diamond and The Hobbit don’t allow cursor movement through the input characters — only delete is used. In a more straightforward verb/noun adventure this would not be such a drawback but certainly is when dealing with the highly complex sentence analyses featured in these games. Long sentences are often used when communicating with other characters; it would be useful to recall the previous input were it not understood.
Valhalla has complex syntax checking which commendably doesn’t allow the entry of sentence structures it doesn’t understand.
Before leading you through the maze of this month’s adventures let me just point out the simplest advance in presentation — white, or even better yellow, text on a black background which is much easier on the eyes around midnight!