Richard Price gets out his ruler and finds Adrian Mole somewhat lacking
FOR AGEING wrinklies who have not quite snuffed it yet, adolescence tends to be a lost dream of guilt and severe emotional torture punctuated by acne vulgaris.
As the years pass I had forgotten the torment of being an "almost 14 year old undiscovered intellectual" and have been trying to adjust to the idea of being almost 35 (surely some mistake? Ed.) and equally undiscovered.
Until recently, computer games helped to soothe those old pains, rather like Clearasil on a particularly noisome spot. The world they portrayed was a Boys Own fantasy of righteous violence, easily recognised and incorrigibly evil enemies, and damn few gels to spoil the fun.
A Mole Esq has put a stop to all that.
In the latest spin-off of the original book, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole has been translated onto tape. Complete with naughty thoughts, squeezed spots, Big and Bouncy magazines and a few extra events for good measure, the daily doings of the existentialist with the breaking voice can now be loaded up on your Spectrum.
Although my admiration for Mole and all his works is pretty well unbounded I ought to say right now that I'm not sure how well the concept works as a computer game. The suite of four programs is published by Mosaic and programmed by Level 9.
The diary format has been retained and you should not expect to see a standard text adventure set in Mole's sweaty world. What happens is that the diary entries scroll up the screen day by day. At points of decision you are given three choices of possible actions. Events will be affected by those decisions and your status - how popular you are - is shown as a percentage. You can choose to work towards a high or low score depending on your psychological outlook at the time you play the game.
So, for instance, Mole is stuck in Scotland with his mother and her unspeakable insurance-salesman fancy man - 'Bimbo' Lucas. The day's entry runs thus ...
"Went to see Rob Roy's grave. Saw it. Came back. What shall I do?
The style of the game then is very like the options fantasy books so popular in the last few years. In terms of computer gaming, however, the idea imposes quite severe limitations.
Because the diary follows the book very closely indeed, the odd random decision has little long term effect - except upon the score. At one point you get the chance to either hitch-hike to Sheffield, get the train with a ticket or travel without paying. Whichever you choose you will still end up in Sheffield with the same forthcoming choices.
The book's plot exercises a sort of tyranny over your freedom of action and, regrettably, even the chances to choose are few and far between. I suspect that the publishers didn't want Level 9 to interfere too much with the text and storyline. The result is that you read the diary on screen and occasionally press a key.
After I had played the four programs through a few times - each holds a quarter of the year - I felt I might just as well read the book and cut down on eye strain.
There are some good features. There is a command function which allows you to get some biographical details on the characters, print out the text and so on. The pictures can be switched in or out but are no more than motifs of bits of Mole's life. I used the 'picture off' function on two occasions and managed to slow the game down to a painful snail's pace. That must be a bug.
It's disappointing that Level 9 has not been allowed to produce a real adventure. What carries the game through is the book text itself, irreverent and rude. Without that the game would not stand much of a chance. What the program does do is to open up computer games to the real world.
Now back to fairytales ... Once upon a cassette there was a land called Fairlight, a land of peace, blue skies, free beer - a realm where taxi drivers never overcharged and magic prevailed. Then came war and disaster.
This is the readily recognisable setting for Fairlight, a new graphic adventure from the Edge.
Isvar the hero is shown as a moustachioed figure, cloaked and armed. The world he wanders through leaves the gridiron-planned environment of Knight Lore standing in awe, for the castle's plan and geography is as bewildering as a real one.Staircases and corridors lead to halls, cells, gardens and courtyards. Furniture, food and other odd items are scattered around and the place is guarded by scuttling orcs, thuggish trolls and ogres.
Those creatures have some intelligence and will chase and attack if you violate their territory. A combat system will weigh up your respective strengths and you must enter into direct action with the monsters. You must maintain your own strength by regular eating - food can often be found in the orcs' barrack rooms or the finer private apartments of the castle. Many of the objects can be carried but all of them have a weight.
Momentum also exists here and if you push a table loaded with a flagon and chicken the eatables will carry on moving when the table stops. Very realistic and extremely convincing.
The keyboard offers a full range of actions including Fight and you are given the option of using a Kempston stick for the movement combat.
This is one of the most complete and satisfying role-playing graphic games I have yet seen. There is quite simply so much to do, so much to explore and so much to experiment with.
Let's take a look at the orc guards. When you enter a room you may only see a couple of their helmets lying around. Suddenly, the helmet grows into a fully fledged and bellicose warrior. After a while you realise that the orcs regenerate from the helmets. I spent hours on the dungeon level looking for places to imprison the helmets so that they wouldn't bother me. Early on you will find a scroll which will help you to escape when you get utterly entombed.
Fairlight is state-of-the-art. It's a classic in every sense - go get it.
Right, power up your hyperdrive, shoot forward into the 25th Century and set your docking computers for entry to Marsport.
It's 2494 and the Earth has now been besieged for decades by the forces of the Sept - alien beings, they are spacefaring, warlike and merciless. The Earth has been kept safe by means of a power sphere around the orbit of the moon but the Sept have found the original plans for the sphere at Marsport.
Guerrilla fighter John Marsh has been despatched to Mars to locate and retrieve the plans and you must assist him through the ten levels of the dome. Escape is only possible with the plans and there are many ways to die.
The game is controlled and designed in the same movie style of Tir Na Nog and Dun Darach. The space-suited figure of Commander Marsh strides along corridors in much the same way as Cuchullain. Action is smooth and unflickering in a convincing 3D way.
The Warriors are hopping beetle-like creatures who move fast and never ask questions. The Warlords, more noble and less frantic, sit in corridor spaces like arachnid cabbages - only their probosci are scorpion-like and kill on contact.
When you enter the base from the Spacefield your first purpose should be to get some sort of weapon. You are placed on the 'C' level of the base, and must descend to the Daly level where the supplies are kept.
Having explored a bit you'll probably find the Downtube. It's only then that you realise that the lift tubes don't connect one floor to the next as you'd expect ... they miss one out. Now you're on Elis level, a residential section where the Sept have their quarters. Watch out.
There are chutes for refuse, lockers where goods can be stored, points for charging weapons and supply units which will provide you with things like guns, gun permits, charcoal, flour and a wide range of consumer goods.
Try to locate Factor Units - those will assemble two or more objects to make a new one. There are also Key stations situated near doors or wall units. They will open the door if you can insert an appropriate object into them.
Gargoyle has yet again produced an enormously sophisticated program. The introduction of an arcade element with the power-gun adds extra zing (or zap) to the proceedings. Top marks to a firm who deliver consistently fine software.
Lastly this month there are two games from Adventure International. Those are packed together in a Value Pack and are two of the earlier Scott Adams text adventures, Adventureland and Secret Mission.
Adventureland is an archetypal game. It's set in a fantasy world of dragons, magic carpets, lamp genies and the like. The aim is to discover and store a number of treasures, 13 in this case.
The action moves rapidly from forests to underground caverns and dismal swamps and there are magical beings to encounter along your way.
Descriptions are not vast but they're very much to the point and contain all the information you'll need.
Useful hints are provided in response to some inputs and objects can be used by means of prepositions - if you say 'Throw Axe' the interpreter will tell you to 'tell me at what ... like: AT TREE'. That is a handy routine and gets round the limitations of the normal verb/noun input system. The game is fun even if its style and storyline are now a bit dated.
The second game, Secret Mission, has more of a plot and places you on the inside of a nuclear reactor which is threatened by a suicide bomber.
The detective-cum-spy format is set in a futuristic world where you must learn the function of numerous control panels and must find ways to pass security doors guarded by video cameras and electronic security systems. The reactor building is split into a number of colour coded levels and the first task is to discover the correct passes to enter protected sections.
Both programs are well produced and the idea of providing broad hints at difficult points provides an incentive to carry one if you get stuck - which will happen, I assure you.