[Acorn Gaming]


Acorn World 1996

It's been claimed that this year's Acorn World show at Olympia 2 in London was the best Acorn show to date. Whether or not this is true, one thing is certain - it wasn't the best show for new games. In fact, it was almost certainly the worst. There weren't even half the number of new releases there were at last year's show.

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[Destiny screenshot]Probably the most eagerly awaited Acorn game is Robert Templeman's Destiny, due to be published by DoggySoft. The hype for this game has been regularly and liberally scattered all over comp.sys.acorn.games for the best part of the past year, and so expectations are high. From reading Robert's postings to the group I had reached the conclusion that Destiny was probably all hype and no substance. A dream that would never be properly fulfilled. Fortunately I was wrong.

The first thing that struck me about Destiny was its speed. Despite the fact that the version on display was written half in BASIC it was still running at a respectable speed, especially given that it was running on a Risc PC 600 with its original processor. At first sight the game seemed rather too brightly lit, but closer inspection revealed some interesting features:

  • The game is, in fact, properly lit - the picture here shows the subtle distance fade off
  • The game has a much better lighting model than Doom, which can only alter textures to simulate non distance-related lighting - the lighting effect is either on or off in Doom, whereas Destiny can graduate the effects.
  • The water looked really good, with its height physically undulating rather than Doom's stagnant texture map changes. Impressive.
  • Doors animate when opened, rather than merely sliding aside
  • The game has a proper 3D model, unlike Doom's shortcuts which limit the level design possibilities
  • It can cope with large texture tiles
  • The game can run using a variety of different screen resolutions

[Screenshot]Unfortunately the harddisc Robert brought to the show with the monster handling code on turned out to have become damaged, so the "other lifeforms" were not on display, although a preliminary animation of a running dinosaur was. Robert has access to departmental rendering facilities and hopes to produce some very well animated creatures, although they will be sprite-based (like in Doom) as opposed to Quake's true 3D creatures which plot lots of polygons.

No weapons were on display, and there's obviously still quite a way to go, but the fundamentally important rendering code was certainly looking very promising. Working on the game with Robert Templeman are Robert Alcock, Simon Frazer and Andrew Ingram, with music composed by Mirko Vidovic. They hope to get it finished for the Wakefield show next spring, and it will cost between 30 and 35 pounds, which seems a reasonable enough price.

Have a look at the Destiny WWW page for some more screenshots.

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[TBA Software]

TBA, sadly, didn't have any new games on display, although this was possibly the first time Mirror Image and Merp has been available at a show. TBA didn't think enough of the game to have it on display, however, preferring multiple copies of the game they were most heavily promoting, last year's Cobalt Seed for which they were handing out colour A4 fliers. By the end of Saturday they'd sold out of the game.

Cobalt Seed is an "into the screen" scrolling shoot'em'up with 3D texture-mapped graphics, and uses TBA's TAG game engine. It wasn't discounted for the show however, which seems odd to me since it's tempting just to order it from a reseller for less, with TBA in turn getting far less money. But then if they sold out I suppose most people don't care.

[TBA logo] The best bits of the TBA stand were the bits that weren't on display. TBA's TAG 2 engine, which includes a lighting model with proper shading and is the result of over three years of development, looked impressive, although it's pretty much a StrongARM only thing, with all but the simplest models running too slowly on an ARM 710 (Darkwood, anyone?). Still, it was impressive enough, although I was a bit surprised at its lack of speed, and its object culling seemed a bit trigger happy. The clipping and texture mapping seemed fine, however, and it's probably not optimised yet - so maybe it isn't fair to comment on what was merely a project in progress. The rally game in development using it looked promising, although I hope the visuals will be backed up with a suitable driving model.

TAG 2 is free to developers, although any games developed using it must be sold via TBA, who will naturally deduct royalties. As well as being able to chuck 3D objects at the screen it also includes more general game management code, and desktop designers. It was actually pretty impressive - it was very easy to alter the game parameters and then rerun it, and it appeared stable. TBA mentioned last year that they could run Cobalt Seed with their new TAG 2 engine and it would all work properly, complete with depth shading. I cynically thought that this might be an exaggeration, but it's actually true - I saw it running, although the shading isn't that impressive, really. The graphics weren't designed for shading, apparently, so the game won't be available in this form.

[Acorn World venue]TBA were selling all their previous games (except Dragonball, which I spotted for £2 in the NCS charity sale). Axis is now more expensive than it was at launch, years ago... (it's also still a very impressive game, with its full screen rotation). The other games on sale were FTT, Cyber Ape and Command Ship, and TBA were also selling their pleasingly cheap joypads and - rather incongruously - a file compression system called TBA FS, which seemed slightly overpriced at £25 given the crowded market.

Finally, Peter Otterman's Proposal is apparently still very much in development, and it won't be using TAG. No release date was given for it, and, apart from the forthcoming rally game, no other new releases appear to be in sight.

TBA's web pages have more details about TAG 2.

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[The Fourth Dimension]

4D were at the show, as ever. They didn't have anything very exciting on display, unfortunately, although they did have a three for two special offer on their games, which were also reduced (but then their normal prices are often ridiculously expensive).

They have two new game compilations due out soon. First up is The Real McCoy 5, which includes a new game called Anti Grav, complete with typically poor graphics, Chopper Force, Demon's Lair and Pandora's Box. I'm not sure this is all worth £34.95...

The other new release, Logic Mania, includes a Pipemania-clone called Gloop; a vaguely Tetris-genre game developed from a program published in *Info in Acorn User called Tilt; and two simple-looking puzzle games called Blindfold ("A game of memory. Negotiate the maze - blindfold!". Sounds fun! Not.) and Atomix ("Calculate molecular construction"!). This compilation also costs £34.95.

4D's upgrade policy continues to disgust all right-minded people. How on Earth can they warrant charging £17.50 for most of their upgrades, some of which are very simple!? None of them are improvements, merely fixes. At least they have the decency to recommend that you buy Game On! first since "this may be the cheapest option".

The Fourth Dimension are now selling Superior Software's entire back catalogue of game releases - and at full price! And that's without either Risc PC or StrongARM compatibility guaranteed.

Obviously hoping to cash in on the emulator craze, 4D are now also selling a large range of Acorn 8-bit software, with the Superior Software catalogue, their own games and Aardvark games. Interestingly, they hope to release previously unreleased gams, including Beeb versions of Break 147 and Superpool, new Aardvark games, and Repton Infinity ports of Psyanki and Man at Arms.

Funniest promo award goes to 4D for this:
Dumpmaster £9.95 - Take screenshots of our games, for inclusion in your own fanzines, or maybe to promote us!

What can I say!? (Dumpmaster is a Beeb program, by the way).

The Fourth Dimension can be contacted by email.

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[And the Rest...]

[Tanks screenshot] Werewolf Software were the only company with a brand new game (4Ds' weren't available) - the imaginatively named Tanks. Whilst the game looked fun to play, it's hardly likely to win any awards for originality or graphics. It's one of those simple games where you stand on a hillside, lobbing missiles at your enemies. The most similar commercial game is probably Worms (on which this may well have been modelled). This is the sort of game which is brilliant fun with lots of people - and Tanks allows 12 at once, which must make for some hectic gameplay! I'm not so sure about its merits as a one-player game, however, although it does include computer-controlled opponents.

[Tanks logo] As you earn money by killing your opponents you can upgrade your tank to buy newer, better weapons, including missiles, lasers, shotguns, MIRVs, Nukes, Funky Bombs, shields, parachutes, tracers, deflectors and others. Or so the flyer says.

Apparently the game sold well, so hopefully it'll inspire Werewolf to produce something a bit more adventurous next time...

Werewolf software can be contacted by email or you can connect to their webpage.

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Oregan had no new games, but had an offer of any two of their back issue titles for £24.95, with a choice from Burn 'Out 2067 BC, Sally and Wally, Arcturus and Magnetoids. No Risc PC upgrade was in sight for Quark, which seems a shame.

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Clares were selling some of their old games at show prices. Fervour was £10 (although it's not Risc PC or StrongARM compatible) and the ancient Interdictor 2 was £10 (although £1.50 on the NCS charity stall).

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RComp were selling PC Sound Professional, developed in association with Aleph One and ESP, which they claim improves sound on the PC card under DOS, Windows and Windows '95. It seemed very expensive at £30, with no show or launch discount, and several people have reported that it in fact doesn't work with a lot of games, although I can't confirm the accuracy of this myself. Personally I use my PowerWAVE card with PC games and the MIDI music always works fine, so I'm not so bothered about the odd dodgy sample.

RComp can be contacted on (01925) 755043 or via email.

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Q-Tec Technological Resources were selling a variety of reasonably priced printer-port MIDI interfaces (and, incidentally, had some great offers on Fatar MIDI master keyboards which are open until the 11th November), and were also selling the superb Yamaha DB50-XG board packaged into an external box with a MIDI in. If you've got the money (£199, although this might be a show offer too) go and buy one! You won't regret it. The sound quality is simply superb, and it makes an amazing difference to PC games. Many recent games explicitly support this card, and you can download plenty of MIDI files especially for it. Phone (01429) 890800 for details, or email them.

Q-Tec also had a rather unique product called ARM-Switcher available, which allows you to fit two main processor cards, and switch between them. This could be useful for games ("Ideal for Game Players" said the blurb), and might be worth the investment if you've got a large catalogue of games you want to run!

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Probably the best gaming bargains of the show were on the Norwich Computer Services charity sale, with Heimdall, Iron Lord and others all for £2 each.

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And Finally...

On Saturday I went to the Oregan Cineworks demo which happened to be immediately before the talk on The Future of Acorn. However, I wasn't aware of this (I only read as far as "The StrongARM card, by Chris Cox" and didn't realise it was a two-part presentation...). I didn't half feel stupid when I was one of just two people to leave the theatre only to discover there was a queue of over 900 people outside! (Only a few of whom could get in). Duh...

I found the Oregan demo, by the way, unintentionally hilarious (for me, but not for the poor guy presenting it). Cineworks crashed on loading its second movie - which seemed rather like a word processor crashing when you enter text! It also appeared horrendously slow, but this was apparently due to the CD-ROM drive on the demonstration computer being broken. The software crashed a few times, and at one point a nice blank error box came up, which Oregan tell me was due to bugs in other software installed on the machine - quite believable given the amount of unfinished, not properly-tested software being run and installed on it over the course of the few days. When the machine was reset the errors occurred again. It must have been a nightmare for the speaker...

...this page last updated: 13/11/96...
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