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TidBITS#156/14-Dec-92

We have two types of articles this week. First comes urgent items like Frederic Rinaldi's Trojan report, a short-lived offer for a free AppleLink CD, and an equally short-lived deal on Aldus Personal Press. Then we have a bunch of reviews covering fun programs such as Wordtris, Super Tetris, Maelstrom, Lemmings, Hellcats, Falcon, Star Trek: The Screen Saver, and the quirky, HyperCard-based Beyond Cyberpunk, an interactive hypertext.

Topics:

Copyright 1992 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <info@tidbits.com> Comments: <editors@tidbits.com>


MailBITS/14-Dec-92

We plan to take a few weeks off for Christmas, so this is the last regular issue of 1992. We may release a special "clean out our article database" issue at the end of the year, but no promises. We also have a couple of review issues almost ready; hopefully we'll send those out in the near future as well. It's been another hectic and exciting year, and we wish you all the best for the upcoming 1993. Cheers! -Adam & Tonya

Aldus address -- Sorry about providing the wrong email address for Aldus at the end of the IntelliDraw review last week. I read it from the business card that came with the press information. The manual gives another AppleLink address for IntelliDraw:

D0227@applelink.apple.com

Trojan Warning

Frederic Rinaldi warns: "I have been told that a Trojan Horse stack named "Hermes Optimizer 1.1" has been distributed through the Olympus BBS. The addresses appearing in the About are 70142,210 (CompuServe - my mail was read but I received no reply) and FARRADAY1 (AppleLink - this address seems not to exist). I have received the stack and carefully traced it. The stack claims to "decrease the level of fragmentation in your Hermes Shared file", but it in fact RENAMES ALL FILES on the hard disk, MOVES DIRECTORIES and then DELETES THEM ALL. To do its disgusting stuff, the stack uses many of my XCMDs/XFCNs, and special thanks for my externals appear (!!), along with my name. Please note that I have nothing to do with this sh..., and was never contacted by this criminal fool before its release. Watch out for it."

Information from:
Frederic Rinaldi -- 71170.2111@compuserve.com


Free CD

CD-ROMs are the rage these days, and Apple just added a new twist with its new AppleLink CD. Since a CD based on an online service rapidly becomes obsolete, I find the CD a tad pricey at $299 per year (or $649 for multiple users), though AppleLink itself is a bit expensive as well. The CD includes the technical information library as well as product data, public articles, bulletin board conferences, and documentation for solutions to hardware and software problems. The CD also offers technical, marketing, and support materials from more than 400 third-party vendors, along with 15 MB of Apple software updates and selections of freeware and shareware.

As a hook, Apple is giving away free sample versions of the CD until 31-Dec-92. I have no idea if the sample CD is crippled, but hey, if it's free it can't be all bad, right? To order, call Apple Online Services and ask nicely.

Apple Online Services -- 408/974-3309

Information from:
Mark H. Anbinder, Contributing Editor -- mha@baka.ithaca.ny.us


Greeting Card Deal

For those of you who enjoy creating holiday greeting cards, Aldus has a special offer of $88 for Personal Press 2.0 through 31-Dec-92. The offer includes 100 sheets of Holiday Paper from PaperDirect, 50 matching green envelopes, 50 foil envelope seals, 30 suggested holiday greetings (for greeting-card-writer's block), holiday templates, and 30 T/Maker ClickArt images.

I've never seen Personal Press, so I don't know if I would recommend it or not, but I approve of easier desktop publishing for people who couldn't give a whiz about high-end features like kerning to the millionth of a point and 17-color separation. I have used TimeWorks' Publish-It Easy slightly, and it definitely fits in the same class of low-fuss, low-budget page layout programs. The special price comes in about $10 cheaper than mail order, so it might be worthwhile.

Although a tad expensive, PaperDirect has gorgeous paper and card stock, all designed to work with laser printers. Some are specific for the holidays, some more normal but equally classy. If I did more desktop publishing I'd order more from PaperDirect; instead, I merely drool on their catalog. I'm sure if you call or fax them they'd be more than happy to send you a catalog.

I don't know what sort of clip art comes with the Personal Press deal. I've seen T/Maker's ClickArt Artistry & Borders package, a collection of high quality Encapsulated PostScript (EPS) files - though, as with any clip art package whether or not you'll like the images depends on your individual taste. My only complaint is that all the filenames fit DOS's eight character limitation since EPS is cross-platform and that saves T/Maker some work.

Aldus -- 800/888-6293 ext. 2
PaperDirect -- 800-A-PAPERS -- 201/507-1996
201/507-0817 (fax)
T/Maker -- 415/962-0195 -- 415/962-0201 (fax)

Information from:
Aldus propaganda


Game Review Preamble

As we promised last week, here are a number of game reviews. Games can be hard to review, since they're so individual in their appeal. Nonetheless, I've tried to say what I think and why I think it. In addition, Richard Rubel has contributed several reviews. We'll start with Richard's reviews, move on to a few short ones from me, and finish off with some longer reviews.

Richard's rating scale is simple: One means the game is worthless. Five means it is arcade quality and you should have bought it already. The Overall rating is how much he enjoyed the game, and how much he thinks others will. The Repeat Playability rating is based on how long you should enjoy playing this game. Value is whether it's a good deal for the money.

I haven't had time to check out some of these programs as fully as I would have liked, but such is life. I also don't want to imply that only new games are good - Spaceward Ho! still offers tremendous play, and I feel that SimCity rates as best of the Sim series because it's the only one we can identify with on a gut level rather than an intellectual level.

By the way, Wordtris is one of the games I miss most, having bad wrists that require extra care, and I sincerely ask that if your hands start hurting while playing Wordtris or any other game, stop! It's not worth hurting yourself, perhaps for life.


Lemmings!

by Richard Rubel -- rrr@ideas.com

This game started on the Amiga, moved to the PC, and eventually found its way to the Mac. It was well worth the wait. Full 256-color graphics (plays in any depth, though), multi-voiced music, and all-around cuteness make it a winner.

Your goal is to save lemmings from their doom. Simple, but there's a catch (always is...). They obey your commands, but you can only issue a limited number of commands. Each screen is a puzzle, starting with an entrance and ending with an exit. The bottom of the screen displays a list of actions at your disposal. You can create lemmings that build, dig, tunnel, climb, parachute, block, or explode. There's usually a limit to how many of each you can make, though, and half the fun is finding alternate ways to pass an obstacle. You use these special lemmings to create a path that the rest can follow before time runs out. You're faced with 120 different screens (30 each on FUN, TRICKY, TAXING, and MAYHEM), each with a percentage of lemmings to be saved and a time to save them in.

Lemmings are cute. Each can die in so many interesting ways that it's fun just killing them off...

There's a warning on the box to the effect that the company is not responsible for lost sleep. They're right. Don't buy this game if you have something important to do within the next week. You can't get to the next level within each difficulty rating without completing the level before, and it is easy to want to solve just one more level... and when you complete these, be ready for "Oh No! More Lemmings!" (more levels) and "Lemmings II" (same premise, different actions and ideas), coming soon. If you like a combination of fast reflexes and puzzle solving, this is for you.

Available in stores and mail order houses.
Company: Psygnosis
Price: $29 mail order
Overall: 5
Repeat Playability: 3, once solved
Value: 5

Hellcats and Hellcats: Missions at Leyte Gulf

by Richard Rubel -- rrr@ideas.com

Hellcats has to be the best flight simulator for the Mac today. It combines 256-color, 3-D, shaded graphics with extremely fast, smooth scrolling and military-simulator-quality avionics and creates a fast-paced arcade game.

There are eight missions to fly, ranging from bombing an enemy runway to protecting an Allied carrier from Japanese attack. Your plane is the F6F Hellcat, equipped with machine guns and a pair of bombs. Each target you obliterate gives you points towards promotions through the ranks, but be forewarned: dying in the game is like dying in real life. Your character is gone, and you start again with a new recruit.

The game is best played with a joystick but works fine with a mouse. There are a few bugs, most noticeably a blind search party; bail out near your base, and chances are the rescue party will still pass you by. A program exists called "Hellcats Rescue" (available via anonymous FTP from sumex) that exhumes dead pilots, leaving their scores intact. This is useful when Hellcats pulls a fast one on you.

Missions at Leyte Gulf , the sequel to the smoothest flight simulator on the Mac adds more goodies. In addition to eight more missions, it features rockets (though not completely historically accurate, they are fun), moving targets (ships, trucks, tanks), and smarter fighters. Gameplay seems even faster on my IIci than the original Hellcats. Note that this is only a missions disk - you still need the original program.

Available in stores and mail order houses.
Company: Graphic Simulations
Price: Hellcats: $38 mail order
Missions: $22 mail order
Overall: 5
Repeat Playability: 5
Value: 5

Star Trek: The Screen Saver

This set of After Dark modules from Berkeley Systems should be an instant hit with Star Trek fans, what with modules like one that displays detailed technical information from "Scotty's Files," a Starfleet Final Exam that you can actually take, a Planetary Atlas manual, displays of various ships panels, a display of the tunnelling Horta, a screenful of tribbles, and Spock walking around messing with things. In this respect, there's little wrong with the $40 package.

To play the devil's advocate, I can't recommend Star Trek: The Screen Saver to anyone who isn't a serious Star Trek fan. Sure, the graphics are the correct licensed versions, as are the sounds, but too much of the package feels like a grade B remake of "Captain Kirk Meets The Flying Toasters." In some ways, the fact the hokey graphics aren't a problem; much of the original show's sets were equally as crude. However, I think the displays suffer from translation into another medium - like cartoons of TV shows or stuffed animals based on comic-strip characters, they always feel slightly wrong.

Overall, then, Star Trek: The Screen Saver is a must for the serious Star Trek fan, but not necessarily appropriate for your average After Dark module collector. Note that unlike the More After Dark module package, After Dark itself (and the MultiModule and Randomizer modules) comes with Star Trek: The Screen Saver. This is convenient and also convinces me that Berkeley correctly identified their audience.

Berkeley Systems -- 75300.1376@compuserve.com

Falcon MC

I almost hesitate to mention Spectrum HoloByte's Falcon MC, because as much as it looks neat and was eagerly anticipated by the gaming community, it's too complex for me to learn in the few days I've had it. I immediately managed to get seriously stuck, as happens when I try most flight simulators, and when I found how to change the view, I discovered I was spiralling straight down at full throttle. Ooops.

Perhaps these games are easier if you have a Gravis MouseStick, which the program supports, but I have trouble using a game that attaches a control to almost every key on the keyboard. It's a testament to the accuracy of the simulation of an F-16 fighter though, since the actual planes have numerous controls.

I do like the fact that Falcon MC allows you to interact with computer-generated opponents - various planes and ground forces that generally wish to turn you into a smoking heap of debris (I didn't need help from them). I'm not enough of an aeronautical aficionado to like merely flying around, as one does in Microsoft Flight Simulator. I always fly under the Golden Gate bridge or as close as possible to large city buildings. As such, I anticipate more exploration into Falcon's controls so I can figure out how to destroy a few bad guys.

Richard adds (based on the demo)... -- MacUser still gives 4.5 mice to the original black-and-white version of this game. The new version is similar enough that you don't need to learn to play again, but different enough to hold your attention. The idea is simple - a combat simulator. You fly an F-16 Fighting Falcon against the best enemy Migs around. Meanwhile, landing craft approach your shores...

Your plane comes with several different armaments ranging from chain guns to heat-seeking missiles. The amount of each you have is determined by how much you want your plane to weigh (more weight sacrifices maneuverability).

The biggest and most visible difference is color: four bits worth instead of one. Sounds and aerodynamics are similar. It still feels like I'm flying a Ted Turner-colorized sequel rather than a whole new game.

However, other improvements, including updated armament, smarter enemies, and moving targets, add to the fun. The graphics are detailed, too. The full game adds controls (notably a rudder) not implemented in the demo, and supports a joystick. The demo plays with mouse or keyboard, and gives a fair idea of the game - one full play of the easy level until you die (aided by starting with low fuel).

Spectrum HoloByte -- sphere@aol.com -- 76004.2144@compuserve.com
Available via anonymous FTP from sumex-aim.stanford.edu and
mac.archive.umich.edu.
Full version available January '93
Projected Cost: $39.99 mail order
Overall: 3
Repeat Playability: 3
Value: 3

Wordtris

I'm a word person. You know that, you read my words every week. I enjoy Spectrum HoloByte's Wordtris ($30 mail order) more than Tetris because my brain matches patterns of letters words faster than patterns of shapes.

In principle, Wordtris plays like Tetris - move falling blocks into position so certain patterns form, at which point the pattern dissolves. In Wordtris, though, the patterns are words, and the longer and more complex your words, the more points you get. The letters fall one at a time as though onto the surface of water, and push down until they reach the bottom. Then they pile up toward the top of the screen, presaging the game's end. You can form words horizontally or vertically, and as you move up levels the letters fall all the faster. Each level has a magic word, which scores a bunch of points and clears the unused letters from the screen.

The concept is simple enough, but Spectrum HoloByte threw in a few quirks, such as the scoring. Any monkey can make short words, so you get more points for long words, and you can optionally have the game not give you points for duplicated words (so you can't get points for "the" more than once). You also occasionally get an eraser, which is handy for eliminating extra Q's and Z's that you may have lying around.

What makes Wordtris, though, is its multiplayer abilities. Playing against a computer is OK, but it's more fun to play a person. Wordtris offers several different games, including one where you both try to work on the same screen, although that gets crowded. Network play is even more fun because when you create a word over a certain size immovable rocks appear at the bottom of your opponent's screen, pushing up letters and making life difficult. If you create your magic word (which is always relatively long), you clear your screen and your opponent gets a lot of rocks. Interestingly, the player who runs out of room at the top does not necessarily lose, because network play uses the same scoring system as regular play, so you can cause your opponent to run out of room and still lose on the point scale. Highly recommended.

Spectrum HoloByte -- sphere@aol.com -- 76004.2144@compuserve.com

Super Tetris

As I said, I never actually liked Tetris much because I'm bad at abstract pattern matching, and I always make one mistake that dooms my game. Now I have another threat to my free time that doesn't suffer from Tetris's sensitivity, Super Tetris.

Also from Spectrum HoloByte (and about the same price as Wordtris, although it's not listed in my current catalogs), Super Tetris takes the basic Tetris concept of falling blocks patterns and runs with it. Now the goal is to eliminate rows of rubble in the pit by filling in the holes. As with Tetris, if you let the blocks pile up to the top of the screen, you lose, but you also lose if you don't fill in the pit with the allotted number of pieces. Admittedly, I've never lost by running out of blocks, but it's possible.

Game play hasn't changed much, although Super Tetris has additional gimmicks, the most important of which allows me to play for more than a short time. When you clear one or more rows, you get a proportional number of bombs, each of which clears away one block. These bombs are wonderful, because they allow you to recover from a mistake or a run of poorly shaped block patterns. Super Tetris includes "treasures," special blocks that give you a coveted long block pattern, destroy the row they're on, or give you more blocks.

Super Tetris uses the additional game types shared by Wordtris (and Tetris Classic, though I don't think it's out yet). You can play timed games, trying to achieve the highest score in five, ten, or fifteen minutes, cooperative games with another player (or, as our friend Sandro discovered, with both hands as an exercise in dexterity), competitive on the same board, and finally head-to-head over a network. This combination of options allows a wide range of possibilities and simplifies playing with others. Highly recommended.

Spectrum HoloByte -- sphere@aol.com -- 76004.2144@compuserve.com

Maelstrom

One of the classic arcade games of all time must be Asteroids. A simple concept in which a single ship roams the screen, disintegrating asteroids and trying to stay alive, Asteroids requires fluid, skillful play and provides an increasingly frenetic pace. The arcade version of Asteroids used simple vector graphics, and clones matched it closely. By the time microcomputer graphics had improved significantly, the Asteroids concept had become somewhat passe. Ben Haller's Lunatic Fringe After Dark module used many of the same game play concepts, but instead of moving the ship around the screen, Lunatic Fringe moves the screen around the ship, providing a larger universe but seemingly removing some of the ship's agility.

Now, however, we have a worthy successor to the original Asteroids. Called Maelstrom, this shareware game comes from the talented and prolific Andrew Welch. Maelstrom brings Asteroids graphics into the 90's, and Andrew tweaked the game play to make it more complex.

Asteroids had only two external variables, the asteroids themselves, which split into smaller sizes when shot, and the offensive aliens who enter periodically from one side, shooting at you as they crossed the screen. Maelstrom retains those elements, but adds others, including goodies, which give you additional powers when you run over them and a steel asteroid that you can deflect but never destroy. Andrew's additions should make Maelstrom more intriguing in the long run (it's only been out for a few weeks), while at the same time not detracting from the original appeal of Asteroids.

Despite its short existence, Maelstrom has had two updates, and is at version 1.02. You can find updaters online, and most places should have the proper version available. Overall, Maelstrom is an impressive effort and worth the shareware fee since it's easily equivalent to commercial games. Check it out.

Richard adds... -- This is a very enjoyable version of the classic Asteroids. It plays in 256 colors only, and it uses all 256 well. The object is simple: survival. You start with three lives (more are available every 50,000 points and at random intervals) and you shoot at flying rocks and enemy saucers. But there's where the similarity to Asteroids ends. Brilliantly crafted 3-D objects careen towards you: comets giving bonus points, first-aid cans giving random useful goodies (triple shots, long shots, more shields, and others), supernovas, persistent mines, and still more nasties. The sampled sound effects aren't always appropriate, but they do add to the game (an interesting challenge is figuring out where the author got them from). One downside is that the control-configuration dialog is clumsy and unfriendly, but the author assures me that it will change in the future. There's more than a passing similarity between Maelstrom and Solarian II, but I think this is more a tribute to Ben Haller than anything else. The game supposedly ends at a confrontation with a super-ship, but I haven't gotten that far. Yet.

Available by anonymous FTP from sumex and umich.
Version 1.02 is current
Cost: $15 shareware
Overall: 4.5
Repeat Playability: 4.5
Value: 5

Beyond Cyberpunk

Beyond Cyberpunk: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to the Future almost defies description. I say almost because although I can certainly provide numerous descriptions; all will fail in the end. I simply cannot know how you will react to this quirky, slogan-ridden, and occasionally loud, exposition of what may be the cyberpunk movement, if indeed such a thing exists now or ever existed.

Starting from the top (from whence you must dive into the maelstrom), Beyond Cyberpunk (BCP) is a true hypertext created in HyperCard, complete with good graphics and appropriately strange sounds. I say true hypertext where I should perhaps use the term "non-trivial hypertext," since BCP encompasses a ton of information and provides multitudinous ways of navigating through the essays, definitions, manifestoes, clips from published works, and Net knows what else.

BCP has four (I think) basic sections, Manifestoes (essays and opinions on cyberpunk itself - a metalook at the justification of the stack itself in some respects), Street Tech (which looks at and references "the tools and hardware used to construct a 'cyberculture,'") CyberCulture (the interaction of cyberpunk and culture - I guess), and Media (a look at the publications, films, comics, and whatnot that have helped existentially define the cyberpunk movement). Numerous well-known authors contributed to BCP, including Bruce Sterling, Gareth Branwyn, Rudy Rucker, and no doubt numerous others whose names I didn't trip over in my electronic perambulations.

Like any good hypertext, BCP is big, confusing, and fast - you zip around in it too quickly to completely absorb each essay or section. As I see it, the point is more to bounce off BCP's virtual walls, picking up bits and pieces and gradually coming to have a feel for the whole as you carom around. BCP at times seems have a mind of its own, another good hypertext technique for challenging the reader and deepening the textual interaction. Prime among these random interruptions are quotes like "Inspiration knows no baud rate" (of which you can also get a t-shirt) from BCP's tour guide of the electrons, Kata Sutra, who is also known as "the mistress of recombinant phraseology." Potentially more challenging are the dialogs which force you to click one of two buttons, labeled for instance "Obey" and "Comply." Which is right? Which is OK? There's no way of telling and I certainly can't help.

Probably I can best summarize Beyond Cyberpunk as a must-read for anyone interested in the concepts and ideas around William Gibson's Neuromancer trilogy. BCP is not precisely entertainment, but neither is it an information base; either view misses the point. Damn, I'm losing my grip on BCP again - I'll have to go read some more. Join me?

My main complaint about BCP is that it is hard coded to the size of the compact Mac screen, and it would be nice to have it full screen on my 13" monitor. I've also occasionally found myself unable to switch back to the main navigational screen - no telling why, but in a set of stacks so vast I'm surprised there aren't more HyperTalk coding errors.

BCP is presented by The Computer Lab, and may be obtained for $29.95 directly from The Computer Lab or from Eastgate Systems, publishers of Storyspace and the main company publishing hypertext today. Apparently BCP's price will go up in 1993, so, as the BCP folks urge, "Have Yourself a Very Weird Christmas." The Computer Lab, not unaware of other developments in their field, also sells the Voyager electronic book version of Gibson's Neuromancer trilogy for $19.95, which is barely more than the paperbacks cost and runs well on the PowerBooks. Highly recommended for the cyberpunk in your life.

The Computer Lab -- 703/527-6032 -- 703/527-6207 (fax)
72531.3473@compuserve.com
Eastgate Systems -- 800/562-1638 -- 617/924-9044
76146.262@compuserve.com

Reviews/14-Dec-92


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