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Software Showdown

Escape (Microdeal)

An exception to this are games that use high-quality graphics, and a fine example of this genre is Escape from Microdeal. Similar to Sultan's Maze and Phantom Slayer (reviewed in last month's Dragon User), this involves escaping from a three- dimensional maze. At the start, you find yourself trapped on the top floor of a building. There are no hidden monsters waiting to pounce on you, all the inhabitants are friendly, and it is even comparatively easy finding your way to the lift (or elevator as this US game prefers it).

The problem lies in the fact that the elevator provides the only means of escape, and unless the correct code is entered, you will plummet to instant death. "The fall is fun, but the stop at the end is a real killer," as the sleeve notes succinctly put it! To obtain the magic combination, you may enter various rooms and attempt to decode mysterious sayings, This is a pleasant combination of several ideas and is an interesting program to add to any collection. It is not so easy to acquire the correct code and I now know the inside of the lift shaFt most intimately!

Deadwood (A 'n F Software)

Since the recent court case, it appears that there is no longer any monopoly on the name Monopoly! A program that uses the format of this popular board game is Deadwood from A & F Software. Instead of the salubrious settings of London and Manhattan, you are transported to Wild West frontierland, and you can acquire ranches or saloons rather than Mayfair or the Old Kent Road. It you feel Lady Luck is on your side, you can gamble away your earnings or trade in gold.

The display shows an exceptionally fine introductory picture, but the game is conducted in a lower resolution, the positions of the players being shown by different colours. The explanations are very clear but the screens flash by rather rapidly. One distinct advantage is that you can set the total length of the game at the start. This is an original variation of an old favourite at £6.90.

Vulcan Noughts And Crosses (Salamander)

Those of you who are Startrek fans will probably be pleased to know that there are several versions of this game available for Dragon owners. Before I come to these, you may be interested in a game inspired by the TV programme. You probably remember the fiendish games of 3-D chess played by Spock and company. Salamander Software has produced a slightly easier version for us mere earthlings, entitled Vulcan Noughts And Crosses. The positions for play are chosen by entering X, Y and Z co-ordinates on a four by four by four board (It's a shame that the origin is at the top left rather than the mathematical convention of bottom left.)

Long before the age of the micro-chip, there used to be a board game very popular with children that used the same principle on a four layer perspex board, and it was easy to align your sight along completed rows. On the computer version it is often difficult to see these rows until it is too late, as the four layers are shown next to each other across the screen. This just serves to keep you on your toes. The response times can be rather Jong as various numbers are selected by the Dragon, but in general it's faster than playing against a human opponent. It is reasonably well-written, but it appears to get into an endless loop if you enter a co-ordinate that is already occupied by a piece. The instructions are clear, and the game is, like all Salamander's efforts, packaged superbly.

Dragontrek (Salamander)

Salamander provides one of the two versions of Startrek both confusingly called Dragontrek. Its version comes complete with a 13-page 'flight manual'. The game originally appeared long before Space Invaders launched themselves upon our TV screens. Indeed, until IBM tightened up its internal security, it used to be a very popular pastime for up-and-coming executives!

The mainframe version used to include all the usual alternatives - short range and long range scans, photon torpedoes, phasers and shields - but did not usually show on-screen movement. This was due probably to the high incidence of line-printers rather than VDUs as terminals. Salamander's version allows use of a joystick to steer round the galaxy (you select the size), and blast to kingdom come any Klingons you discover lurking in your sector. The Wintersoft version is closer to the original game.

I have to admit that I'd rather watch an episode of Startrek on the TV to playing a watered-down computer version, and the Wintersoft one has little innovation to enthral me. The Salamander version, although costing nearly £10.00, uses far more of the screen and is more interesting to play. It also uses characters from the TV series to inform you of your progress. Unfortunately Lt. Uhuru never gave me the message to come to her cabin, as I hoped she would!

Eduquiz I & II

Although the promised Dragon Data educational programs have yet to make an appearance in my review bundles, one or two other firms supply cassettes that could possibly be considered to be in that category. Gem Software sells a couple of tapes called Eduquiz I and II. I am somewhat reticent to term these truly educational as they provide questions on a wealth of subjects without attempting to teach anything. As general knowledge quizzes they are fun, especially as the format is similar to the TV game, Winner Takes All. There are usually five alternative answers offered, and you can gamble your points on different answers. Subjects offered are Geography, Inventions and Kings and Queens on Eduquiz I, with Writers, Painters and Musicians on Eduquiz II. My only criticism is that they are highly priced for text programs at £9.95.

Good educational software is few and far between for the Dragon - simple drill-type programs merely test acquired knowledge and there must be a large market for software that develops thinking skills. I await Dragon Data's efforts with interest. With more quality programs on the market, Dragons could find their way into many classrooms.

Fun & Games (Shards)

There are one or two compendiums on the market at the moment that provide you with a selection of games. I've mentioned before that many of these often contain just one or two mediocre games that give the appearance of being thrown together in a few evenings. When a collection appears that is better value, I try to give it an airing, as I did with B & H Software's Gamestape 1 last month. This month I was pleasantly surprised by Shards Software's Fun and Games. This contains eight games designed apparently for use at a party.

Crosses is a standard game of Noughts and Crosses and is competent but not out of the ordinary. The graphics, however, are large and clear. The rest of the games improve as the tape progresses. The next one is a version of Mastermind (the colour- code breaking game rather than the Magnus Magnusson version). Gold involves steering a tiny cross round a minefield collecting pots ot gold but offers no lasting challenge. Snap shows a sequence of playing cards and allows you to press the space bar when two consecutive cards are the same. The program gives you less time than the average human and you have to be on the ball to beat it.

Anagram, which follows, presents you with jumbled words which make up the names of UK towns and cities. If you're not feeling too bright, you can get the computer to shuffle the letters at random until they give you more of a clue. There are 200 towns held in data statements, so the game could be used as a versatile educational training exercise. Donkey is a good party game - very close to the original. A realistic and colourful animal appears on the screen, and you steer a tail round the screen with a joystick (supposedly while blindfold!). The closer you get, the higher becomes the note from the loudspeaker, and pressing the button fixes the tail. Points are awarded unless you are spot-on, when you are declared the outright winner. Dice is a poker-type game with dice, and Circles relies on memory and estimation skills.

Artist is a very strange program and should appeal to frustrated Miros and Kandinskys everywhere. Up to four people can select a choice of colour, shape and block preferences, and the Dragon proceeds to draw an abstract random picture. When you are happy with the result, it is stored on a graphics page and the other artists have their turn. At the end, a human or the computer (!) can judge which is the best effort. There is no clue what the criteria for a good picture are, but it seems a little unfair for the computer to judge what is actually its own efforts. It is, however, an amusing concept.

Musical is the last program on the cassette and is essentially just for lazy musical chairs players. It uses the computer to switch on and off a music cassette and keeps track of who falls on the floor. Although by no means the most exciting tape in the review, Shards' Fun and Games does provide for £5.00 a selection of eight entertaining games to liven up a children's party.

Tyrant Of Athens (Lothlorien)

Now for two games that you would only produce at a party when you wanted your guests to leave, unless they happened to be war-game fanatics, that is. Some time ago I reviewed the rather blood-thirsty program Samurai Warrior, in which you follow the rules of the Knights of Bushido fairly accurately, i.e. you can achieve quite a good score by ritually disembowelling yourself - just the sort of game to brighten up a rainy evening.

M C Lothlorien has turned to Ancient Greece for its Tyrant of Athens. Without examining the structure of the games in great detail, Tyrant appears to be similar to Samurai, although it is not quite as gory. You are attacked by various armies and navies from other city states and surrounding countries. You have to balance your forces to defeat them as well as controlling the farming economy. This certainly scores over text-only "kingdom"-adventure games, in that it uses graphics as well as can be achieved, given the slowness of Basic. There are maps showing you the origins of your enemies and also rather stylised armies or navies bumping into each other. The instructions on the sleeve insert are clear, in fact rather detailed, and the game is certainly not over-priced at £6.95.

Strategic Command (Romik)

Strategic Command from Romik Software is considerably more complicated than Tyrant of Athens. It can, however, be very addictive, and if you happen to be spirited away to Roy Plomley's island paradise, then you could add this program to the Works of Shakespeare and the Bible - it would certainly keep you occupied for hours - if only working out the complicated instructions.

A map appears on the screen showing the islands upon which you and your opponent do battle. You move land and sea forces with your joysticks until they are close to each other. At this point the forces you have at your command are shown in silhouette on the screen. You don't play against the computer, but it does have the final decision on the state of play. Eventually (two hours later, in my ease!) you may reach your opponent's capital and become the winner. I found it the most complicated original computer game I have played, being something like a cross between Diplomacy, Risk and a true war game.

I would not recommend this to anyone without a lot of patience to cope with the pages of rules, but if one day, you find yourself on a desert island who knows...?

Should your desert island be a reasonable size, you could practise your bunker shots all day. This brings me rather deviously round to the next set of games. There are two golf programs included here (Salamander's rather fine but more expensive version was reviewed two months ago).

Golf (Gem Software)

Golf (£7.95) from Gem Software goes for the more traditional game where you have to know your woods from your irons (the explanations are few and far between). Unkind remarks are made when you choose the wrong one! You need to specify the strength rating and the compass direction of your swing. All this is displayed on a clear bird's eye view of the fairway.

Handicap Golf (CRL)

Handicap Golf from Computer Rentals is less expensive at £6.00 and uses a different procedure to hit your ball. You have to enter strength and direction to tee off.

Unfortunately, the entry routine was not error-trapped and accidental or deliberate out of range inputs caused the excellent map of the fairway to scroll up which means the ball position bears no relation to its on-screen appearance. This results in some strange games - a sort of tactile version of golf which I'm sure wasn't intentional! Of the two, I prefer the Gem version, but it's still not quite up to Salamander's version in spite of its pleasing graphics.

Flag (Dragon Data)

A new game that is much easier on the brain, although it requires fairly fast thinking, is Flag from Dragon Data. A field of hexagons appears on your screen and you can plan a human opponent or the computer. The object is to reach the other side of the playing area and capture a flag. Obstacles appear in your path at random, and the winner is the first player to capture three flags. Although an original computer game, it is reminiscent of a board game I played some time ago, and in spite of being well written, it doesn't really use the potential of the Dragon.

Loading

All these games loaded first time - I'm not sure if manufacturers are improving duplication techniques or whether it's due to my using a new Superscope C19C cassette recorder - although expensive at nearly £40, it's a model I'd recommend to anyone.

Rail Runner (Dragon Data)

In spite of intending to restrict the theme of this review to intellect-testing games, there is a new cartridge from Dragon Data that deserves an honourable mention. Rail Runner is a Frogger-type arcade game that puts you in the role of helping five Herman Hobos across a multi-track railyard. You control a figure named Bill Switchman who must cross the busy tracks and rescue the poor unfortunates from the bottom of the screen. Cursor keys are used in this fast-moving game and although I have reservations on the price - like all cartridges it seems overpriced at £19.95 - it is a game that needs fast fingers and a careful strategy to succeed.

There is certainly a wide range of software available for the Dragon at the moment, and a lot of it uses the graphic and sound potential of the computer well. It's good that at long last Dragon owners have a wide choice, almost as wide as that for any other computer. Now I'm off to hide from the editor for the next month while I sample a new collection of adventure games.