Letters Issue 45 Contents Spectrum Software Scene 2

Spectrum Software Scene 1

Sinclair User Classic

Software reviews carry a star rating, the basis of which will be value for money. Programming, graphics, speed, presentation, addictive qualities and the rest are taken into account.

Guide to ratings
*****24 carat. Buy it
****Value for money
***Nothing special
*A rip-off


THE AH-64A Apache Advanced Attack Helicopter. Think about it for a moment. It flies at nearly 200 knots maximum. It can climb 1400 feet in a minute. It carries 16 hellfire anti-tank missiles, 1200 130mm cannon rounds, and four pods of 70mm rockets. If that isn't enough to freeze the blood, or rather vaporise it, the pilot's helmet responds to what the pilot is looking at and points the guns at it.

It sounds like an extremely unlikely nightmare, but it's real, and Digital Integration has finally brought out its long talked-about simulation. Tomahawk is the follow-up to Fighter Pilot, which we still rate as the best flight simulation around for the Spectrum. But Tomahawk takes the genre to new levels of sophistication with a variety of options and levels of violence which will surely delight simulation lovers and militaristic Rambo-freaks alike.

The map [Sinclair User Classic]

The chopper is easy enough to fly in training mode, but the landscape you see is very detailed, and since helicopter gunships are all about getting down low and hugging the surface, you'll rapidly discover the delights of cruising eight feet off the ground at 100 knots. Trees and buildings are the least of your worries - there are mountains and pylons which present even more hazardous obstacles.

Then there's the enemy. Dotted around the playing area are tanks, field guns, and an enemy helicopter. Once you get into the proper play mode - even as a trainee - life gets hairy as those blaze away at you whenever they can. They also produce rather impressive explosions if you knock them out.

The control panel is fairly cluttered, but you won't need to look at all the instruments all the time. The controls are responsive, and there's a twin joystick option if you want to put all the controls onto sticks.

Manoeuvres are quite different from flying aircraft. Helicopters tend not to like looping the loop, but the instruction booklet details hair-raising stunts such as torque turn and autorotation, where you reduce the revs and drive the rotors with air passing upwards through them. You can even land a helicopter with the engine completely cut out.

Options include four levels of difficulty, day or night flying, crosswind and turbulence effects, and cloud. The last is great fun. You can select a cloud base from 50ft to 1000ft. At 50ft nearly every object on the terrain can only be seen when you're low enough to hit it. On the other hand, it's tremendous fun dropping like a stone out of the sky in front of the enemy to zap him.

The wireframe graphics are effective and appear well-regulated. Targets appear as dots on the horizon at first, and since there are plenty of bushes and trees about which look identical at long range there's a realistic feel to the business of hunting them out. You'll rely on the cockpit instruments to close in, but once you have visual contact the best tactic is to fly by instinct and keep a sharp eye on the altimeter.

Digital Integration has produced a superb simulation, with plenty of action for games lovers; simulation addicts can forget about the warfare and just slink off to a quiet corner of the map and practise aerobatics and low-level flying. It's the ideal mix, and we recommend it without reservation.

Publisher Digital Integration Price £9.95
Memory 48K Joystick Sinclair, Kempston, Cursor
Chris Bourne


THOSE IRREPRESSIBLE Aussies at Melbourne House seem full of arcade games this Christmas, and are just about to release another, in Gyroscope.

Somewhat less violent that the last two gladiatorial offerings, it casts you as a gyroscope, that small spinning toy which appears to defy the laws of gravity. You must guide the gyroscope down five four-screen courses of increasing difficulty, avoiding the cliff edges, walls, and various hazards which are set in your path.

Amusement arcade fanatics may recognise it as a version of the successful Atari game, Marble Madness, but Melbourne House says there's no connection between the two, and Gyroscope is not based on it. Weird - but never mind, it's a remarkably addictive game of great difficulty.

The graphics are really impressive - a 3D landscape of gridded ramps and cliffs along which the gyroscope teeters, speeding up as it goes down hill, running out of steam when climbing. The secret is to build up just the right speed and angle of movement across each part of the course, so as to move smoothly into the next screen without wasting time. But if you go too fast, you'll fall over the edges - and some of the corners must be negotiated with single-pixel precision to stay spinning.

As you progress, the paths become more treacherous. Directional magnets draw you unwillingly towards disasters, while certain sections of track are coated with glass to disrupt your movement. Then there are patches of what Melbourne House claims to be aliens - they chatter at you and bounce you around until, inevitably, it's over the edge again.

There's a time limit of 60 seconds on each spin, so even if you stay out of trouble you have to shift to make it in time. We managed the first run reasonably easily after a bit of practice, but the second is much nastier and the third - well, hair-raising isn't the word.

Luckily, if you lose a life, you remain on that screen, instead of going back to the beginning of the run, so it is possible to achieve some success even if you use up all your lives to do it.

Melbourne House should have another winner on its hands. It seems a pity that only 20 screens could be fitted into the game - but they're a pretty dazzling 20. Whether or not the game is as original as Melbourne House seems to think, we've never seen anything quite like it on the Spectrum. Buy it and go bananas.

Publisher Melbourne House Price £7.95
Memory 48K Joystick Kempston, Cursor
Chris Bourne


ACTIVISION'S latest may put you in the role of a hacker sitting at your Spectrum trying to break into the local NatWest computer, in a forlorn attempt to raise the dough for a new printer interface, but it's certain no hacker ever encountered what you face.

Logon please

Hacker contains no instructions. The first screen asks you simply to log-on, but what's the password?

Once you've got through that, which is not too difficult as Activision does most of the work for you, you begin to work your way into a global conspiracy of mad multinationals attempting to take over the world by ... well, that would be telling.

The game rapidly leaves the hacking environment of bleeps and teletext messages to send you round the world, supposedly as an agent for the bad guys. Essentially it's a strategy adventure, rather than a pure problem solving fix for hackers. System 15000 it is not - the plot of that classic game was realistic and gripping whereas Hacker seems artificial and unbelievable.

Arcade elements creep in once the company begins to realise there is someone messing about with its equipment, and avoiding satellite tracking systems as you piece the plot together will annoy purists but probably inject variety into the game for those with a more limited attention span.

Take notes of everything which happens and you'll find it simple enough to get into the problems posed - but completing them is another matter, and should take much longer.

Obviously, a review of a game which depends entirely on your knowing nothing about it has to leave a lot out. Whatever we write spoils some fun, but on the other hand, once you have penetrated to the main part of the game, it settles down into an unusual type of adventure which holds rather fewer surprises. Activision might have included a few extra events and less information about what to expect - contained within the game - than it has.

Meanwhile, just because this review is a bit thin on detail, don't be put off Hacker. We've left a lot out, and for those who like a bit of strategy mixed up with their adventuring, and aren't too fussed by the rather wild scenario, Hacker is good value. It's not as revolutionary as Activision claims, but it's still worth buying for the long winter nights.

Publisher Activision Price £7.99
Memory 48K Joystick Kempston, Cursor, Sinclair
Chris Bourne

Back to Skool
Playtime [Sinclair User Classic]

ERIC'S BACK again for a new term at school, and the catapult bullets are flying as thick as ever. In Skooldaze, Eric had to steal his rotten report from the Headmaster's safe. Now he's had all summer to forge a new, glowing version. The problem is, how to get it back in the safe again.

Over the break, there've been a few changes at school. The same old masters, Mr Wacker, Mr Withit, Mr Rockitt, and doddery old Mr Creek still dish out the lines as angrily as ever, but the school has been considerably enlarged. There's a girls' school on the other side of the playground, and Eric's got a girlfriend of his own.

And as well as the catapults and good old fistfights, Eric has access to stink bombs and water pistols to create his own special mayhem. All his old friends are there, such as Angelface the bully and Einstein the sneaky swot, and it's as big a riot as the original Skooldaze.

The task of getting the report back in the safe would be impossible if it wasn't for Eric's big brother, who has thoughtfully provided notes on how he achieved the same feat two years ago. It seems you've got to get the masters drunk on the Headmistress' private sherry in order to reveal the combination for the science storeroom where the frogs are kept.

"The gurls' hedmistris hates frogs" says Eric's brother. So nobble the old bat with the frog and ... ah, but you can't do that unless you have the bike, and the bike's chained to the conker tree, so you'll need to get Mr Wacker to open a window by letting off a stinkbomb ...

The graphics are fabulous, still the same cartoon-like boys and masters lurking in the corridors, the same melee at dinner, the same scramble for seats in overcrowded classrooms. But there's more variety on top of that - a much larger playing area, horrible little girls with hockey sticks, an impressive array of impedimenta in Mr Rockitt's laboratory, desks that open now to reveal water pistols and stink bombs, and so on.

The classrooms

Although it's extremely difficult to get far into the quest, that won't stop you having a good time. It's fun just trying to stay out of trouble - if you get ten thousand lines you're expelled, and what with the fighting and time tables to be reckoned with, you're hard enough pressed just to get to your History lesson on time, or make it back to assembly from the forbidden classrooms of the girls' school. Microsphere has taken pity on Eric though - he might persuade his girlfriend to help him out with the lines.

Meanwhile there's Einstein's incredible knowledge of dates to envy, Angelface's knockout fists to avoid, and lots of incidental mayhem to raise a laugh from spectators as well as players.

Publisher Microsphere Price £6.95
Memory 48K Joystick Kempston, Sinclair, Cursor
Chris Bourne

Critical Mass

A DESOLATE asteroid houses an advanced anti-matter conversion plant, set up by an outlying system of the Terra Federation.

A group of aliens has penetrated its defences and has threatened to destroy the plant, turning it into a black hole which would suck thousands of inhabited planets into its colourless void. Your mission is to disable the plant before it achieves critical mass.

The pod

At the start of the game a 3D representation of a desert world is panned across the main display window until the dome-shaped hover pod launcher comes into view.

Using joystick or keyboard you must orientate the pod and then press the accelerator. The joystick is easier to use as a simple one way movement is enough to control the craft.

There are five zones through which you must travel. In the first zone you will encounter giant worms and dust balls. In the second zone you will have to contend with alien hover pods as well.

Your pod remains intact while its shield has enough power, but bumping into obstacles and being hit drains its resources. When your shields drop the pod will implode, and you must follow directions to the nearest pod launcher to collect another craft.

If you manage to get into the final zone the walls of the power plant soon appear. To enter you must disable the protective wall and destroy the source of the energy beam.

The desert world portrayed in Critical Mass bears a remarkable similarity to Frank Herbert's Dune. Even the hover pods looked like the winged ornithopters portrayed in the film.

Publisher Durell Price £8.95
Memory 48K Joystick Kempston, Sinclair, Downsway, Protek
John Gilbert



HANG FIVE. Hang ten. Hang it all - how does a land-locked Londoner come to terms with the arcane world of surfing? There's absolutely no swell on the Thames!

In Britain, surfing - and we re talking boards that ride the waves, not windsurfing - is such a minority sport as to be almost invisible. It isn't even easy to learn how unless you're lucky enough to live in one or two select spots.

Now along comes a new company called New Concepts with, believe it or not, a new concept - a seven and a half inch long keyboard overlay in the shape of a surfboard for the rubber keyed Spectrum, with a Spectrum Plus version to follow.

At last everyone has the opportunity to ride the wild surf as it rolls in on their television screens. First though, it's worth going through the tutorial side of the tape to learn a little of the history of surfing, the nature of boards and some of the jargon. What is a three fin thruster?

It's worth taking notice because you'll need some of the information when you load the other side of the tape which starts with a report on the day's conditions; air and water temperature, and wind speed and direction. Those will affect your choice of equipment, as will your age, sex and weight. In fact, you'll be learning a fair amount about surfing as you choose the best combination for the conditions.

Now is the time to stow the board on your van and with a cry of 'Surf's up!' its down to the beach, a rocky break to the left, a small island in the distance. This is where the preview copy of the game is most disappointing. While the graphics suffice they are hardly state of the art. However, that is compensated for by what comes next.

Surfer and two screenshots

The surfboard sits over the keyboard, centred on the letter G. Your hand lies flat upon it with fingers on Caps Shift and 1 for left and right. Walk your stick figure along the beach and press gently on the nose of the board and you're in the water. Next, it s out to where the waves start, paddling left and right and dipping the board's nose to porpoise under the waves. It is at that stage you will learn whether your suit choice was right because if you are just wearing pods - shorts - in the chilly North Sea your energy will drain away.

Found the place? Good, because you are now waiting for the perfect wave to roll by. Choose the optimum moment to press 2 and ride it. Suddenly the screen changes, a much larger sprite surfer silhouetted against a wall of water. Quickly move your hand to the back of the board, apply pressure and you're surfing.

At first you will do well to glide down the face of the water but with time you will learn to manoeuvre and that is when the multi-fin boards come into their own. While those are more difficult to handle you will find they are capable of amazing stunts. Practice is aided by a mode which allows you to switch into slow motion.

While that dinky little surf board could so easily have been no more than a gimmick, destined to decorate the mantlepiece, a lot of thought has gone into simulating reality. No way could mere keys capture the control possible from walking the board. The sharpness of each turn is controlled by careful placing of pressure - New Concepts boasts that no fewer than 20 keys are read. You can even trail your hands in the water.

The gamut of surf stunts is open to you. Start with a gentle turn to ride the length of the wave. Then a 360, turning the board right round. Up the wave again and off the lip, going just over the edge, or most spectacularly of all, an aerial cutback where you shoot off into the air then wrench the six foot board back into the soup.

Did I say six foot? Once you get into this it is easy to forget that it is just a computer game, control becoming almost as instinctive as the real thing. I found myself aiming for longer rides, more difficult manoeuvres. Don't get too absorbed though, because rocks present a nasty hazard for the unwary. Providing you avoid them you can surf till your energy runs out.

A clever system of scoring gives you points as awarded in championships, though out of 100,000 rather than 10. New Concepts is promising a competition for those who can beat the previous best score, which is fun, but even if you can't get as high, I think Surfchamp provides an almost unique challenge thanks to that little board which turns Spectrum surfing into something satisfyingly physical.

New Concepts Ltd, Carlow, Ireland.

Jerry Muir

Shadow of the Unicorn
Mithulin on the West Bridge

A LONG, long time ago somebody wrote a book full of evil, and then somebody else found it and read it, and all the evil flew out and infected a vast fantasy land, and you've got to make it right again.

There are ten characters to control, but you start with three - King Mithulin, Avarath the Wizard, and Ulin-Gail the Satyr.

Yes, it's that sort of game - lots of strange names and places to explore, all very Tolkienish. You also get to see the latest wheeze from Mikro-Gen, the Mikro-Plus interface which has 16K of the game ROMmed into it.

Most of the extra memory seems to be about having a really enormous playing area. The graphics themselves are not particularly special, but you get attractive views of the land and your characters, which you play one at a time, are animated.

Avarath at Forn-Gard [Sinclair User Classic]

Mikro-Gen seems to have been unable to reproduce the masking effects of Everyone's a Wally for the graphics, but the colour-clash really isn't too bad.

It's very much an adventure game on a grand scale. Most of the heroes have objects associated with them - Holdin's Helm, or the Veil of Guinol. Clues to the appropriate use of such objects are to be found in a 100 page novelette called Shadow of the Unicorn, written by Dale and Shelley McLoughlin.

The book tells of what happened prior to the adventure. It is particularly helpful in explaining who the various characters are and also filling out places on the map provided with the game - which is neither complete nor entirely accurate.

Characters vary in abilities. Avarath is clearly the most useful to start with, because he can zap the nasties with his magic staff. Unfortunately, he loses energy fast, so he'll have to look out for magic bushes and wells to replenish his energy.

Some characters, such as Avarath and Mithulin, are vital to the game and you lose if they die. Others are less important, and serve to protect or run errands for the major players.

Shadow is obviously a big game, and after hours of play we felt we had only scratched the surface. At the price it's clearly great value, since you get the 16K black box and joystick interface thrown in, as well as a novel. Unfortunately, you can only use the interface with the game.

We've given it a Classic after a bit of soul-searching - somehow you expect miracles just because there's some hardware hanging off the back of the Spectrum, and miracles you don't get. But the full quest, if you can fathom out what's going on, is obviously going to take a while to sort out, and the setting is atmospheric and intelligently worked out.

Publisher Mikro-Gen Price £14.95
Memory 48K + 16K included Joystick Kempston interface included
Chris Bourne

Riddler's Den
Near the river

WHAT HAS it got in its pockets? The answer is important if Trunkie the Manlephant is to find the Great Golden God Gregogo.

You must find the golden tusk. There are four pockets in your elephantine skin to carry four objects. Some of those need to be placed in specific pockets to work.

All the riddles are solved by placing the right objects in the right locations, and to do that you must read the diabolical attempt at verse.

Unfortunately, some of the rooms are off limits until you find certain objects. The game map is split into three sections. The first, in the middle, contains the objects to get into the right-hand section.

Matching objects and locations is an irritating business and it will take you hours to work your way through the right section of the program.

Riddler's Den is easy to play but difficult to solve. The graphics may look conventional - in the Atic Atac mould - but the game has less of the hack and slash that Ultimate has in its products. It is a mind game with arcade overtones and will appeal to those who have had enough of continual killing.

Publisher Electric Dreams Price £7.95
Memory 48K Joystick Cursor, Kempston, Sinclair
John Gilbert


Wham - The Music Box

DON'T BE MISLED by the title. Whatever you may think of the pop group, Wham - The Music Box is as serious a piece of software as Tasword II or The Quill. It's a music making program, and before you all yawn, listen to this - it's the routine responsible for the sound on Fairlight and Way of the Exploding Fist.

Noise mixing desk

The preview copy we have lacks some of the frills promised, but it still helps you write music - in two-part harmony. The bottom two rows of the keyboard behave like a piano keyboard and the notes are printed up on the screen as you type them in.

When both voices are written in, you can save to tape, or compile the tune into code with the two-part routines included - the demo tunes included all took up less then 1K, although the finished product will include tracks from Wham.

Tempo can be changed at will, and you can repeat a bass line if you want, to save hours of typing. Other facilities include a drum sound for rhythms, and white noise effects chosen by moving a cursor over a display of various waveforms.

Extras to come, according to Melbourne House, include a printer routine to print your music in proper musical notation.

It's the only music software which allows our resident Bob Dylan to get his magnum opus onto tape in under two hours. To judge by the awesome effect the song had on other members of staff, Melbourne House has a lot to answer for.

Chris Bourne


CAMERA, sound, action! Try your hand at being Steven Spielberg.

This utility provides all you need to make your own film plot, music and action. The package is split into departments, the first of which is Wordshot, a primitive word processor into which you type your plot and character dialogue.

Next is the recording of the soundtrack. You can choose the time signature, set for high or low notes, and then compose your tune.

Action involves a complex sprite designer which can create static or two-stage animated sprites.

Screenshot provides a similar facility to that of Action but is used for screen design. The computer allows you to create a set by using a freehand drawing or predefined shapes.

Next, move on to Take One. That is the editing and production department where you put your film together frame by frame. Six frames can be used in each production. When you press the Film Run option you will see your creations come to life.

Screenplay requires hours of hard work but the results are usually impressive. The booklet shows how the departments illustrated within the software work in a real production company. It provides an exposé of the film world.

Publisher Macmillan Price £8.95
Memory 48K
John Gilbert

Letters Issue 45 Contents Spectrum Software Scene 2

Sinclair User
December 1985