After a slow start the Amiga now seems firmly on its way to a stronger position on the market and in our homes. Although manufacturers will always have glowing reports to show us, it is the software available for a computer that spells out the true state of affairs.
A year ago, software for the Amiga was not exactly abundant. Today one of the leading Amiga mail order houses has over 150 games on its lists, of which more than a third are adventures of one kind or another.
Does this mean that the average Amiga owner is a clever thoughtful sort of person who does not have lightning reflexes? Or have the arcade writers not yet caught up with all the Amiga's full capabilities? As about 20 of these adventures are from Infocom, which up until now has produced text-only games, it may be that these were easier to convert.
Whatever the reason, the Amiga is an excellent machine for the adventurer. Some of the best games ever written are there waiting for you to play. There need be no delay, they already exist on disk. Just a phone call away and a few pounds (OK, a lot of pounds) well spent and you too could be in an alternative reality of your own choosing.
Adventures are the computer's answer to role playing games (RPGs) such as Dungeons and Dragons by TSR Inc. Unlike most other RPGs, the computer enables one person alone to play to his heart's content. The computer acts as Games Master and provides all the details the player may see, hear, smell, touch or taste on the journey throughout the adventure. They generally allow the player considerable freedom of action within the constraints of the plot and logic of the adventure. You may travel north, south, east, west and look at what is there. You will probably find characters and objects that will help you to solve various puzzles or quests, and having finally reached a solution, the winner's laurels are yours alone.
The majority of earlier adventures were set in fantasy worlds where swords and sorcery were the main theme. Nowadays you can also play detective and solve a murder case, solve a mystery in outer space or even play Arthur Dent, striving to unravel the riddle of the Universe in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
Apart from the obvious differences of plot, computer adventure games can be split into two distinct groups, which I would label active and passive. The latter would include the normal text adventure (with or without graphics), where your aim is to solve a set of puzzles. The solution to each problem helps to add to your knowledge.
The active type of adventure derives from a popular type of game from the early days of the home computer. Here the adventurer roamed around killing monsters and finding their treasures. In addition to gaining knowledge, the adventurer's character gains combat experience. The basic characteristics of the characters - strength, dexterity, wisdom, intelligence or luck may also be improved, the balance of these or similar attributes determining whether they make a better fighter, thief, cleric or magic user.
Of the 50 or so adventures now available on the Amiga, about 10 are of the active variety, with three or four others imminent. Twenty or so are text only and the rest graphic adventures in a variety of different forms.
Three classic adventures in the active class are The Bard's Tale from Electronic Arts, Exodus Ultima III from Origin Systems and Phantasie III from Strategic Simulations. In this country the first two have been around for some time (on other computers) and in my opinion all three give something by which adventures of this type may be judged.
THE plot behind Bard's Tale I - BTII should be here any time now - is simplistic. Mangar the Dark has taken over the town of Skara Brae and locked it away from the rest of the world by a spell of Eternal Winter. You and your unproven companions must free the city of his evil presence.
With Mangar's coming, the hosts of evil poured into town. Even in broad daylight, it is not safe to walk the streets. To tackle Mangar you must first train your group in combat to increase their level of experience. By exploring various unpleasant areas of the city, learn of ways to advance your cause.
Your aim is to defeat the evil Mangar in his lair in the southwest corner of Skara Brae. To do so it is necessary to visit all the other special areas to find clues and objects with which to defeat him.
For the final confrontation with Manger you will need to be truly seasoned veterans. This means shedding the blood of literally thousands of evil creatures - may your sword remain sharp and your magic users healthy.
Getting started may be a little traumatic for those Amiga users who have only used their machine playing games where you put in the disk and the game auto-runs. For the Bard's Tale you have to make up a character disk using the facilities supplies on your Workbench disk. This should be fairly straightforward - except that the instructions are not quite correct.
First you must initialise a new disk. As you are probably aware, our clever clogs Amiga will name such a disk "Empty". Before you type in the new disk name "BARDS TALE CHARAKTER DISK" (not the American spelling of disc), you must delete the previous name of "Empty". The small (but vital) error in the instructions occurs a few lines down when you enter Copy from RAM:#? to "BARDS TALE CHARAKTER DISK:". The instructions show the words with double quotes in upper and lower case, they MUST all be in upper case as shown here.
Six characters are supplied on the disk: you may use these or create your own. If you choose to create one you will first be asked what race the character is to be. There is a choice of seven: Human, Elf, Dwarf, Hobbit, Half-Elf, Half-Orc and Gnome. You will then be given a set of numbers for the character's attributes - strength, dexterity, intelligence, constitution and luck. These are randomly determined and if you do not like what you are given you may choose to re-roll another set.
Next you must decide what class of character you are creating. There are 10 classes of which only the first eight are available to novice adventurers: Warrior, Paladin, Rogue, Hunter, Monk, Bard, Conjurer, Magician, Sorcerer and Wizard. Each class has different abilities and as you may only take out six adventurers into Skara Brae, think carefully about your choice.
Each of those initial attributes is important, but more so in relation to the proposed class: Strength to a fighting man, intelligence to a magic user, dexterity, constitution and luck to all of them.
Most of the action takes place in the narrow streets, passageways and buildings of Skara Brae. Because of this only the first three members of your team can engage the enemy in a fight. The other three can still support them or attack by using magic. Spells are vital to your success. Higher-level magic users can cast spells that will affect whole groups of creatures. If you are faced by hundreds of foes - it can happen - this is the only way to get out alive. The Bard is a strange character, having both fighting ability and access to magic via playing an instrument. Singing makes him thirsty and between drinks, he can only sing as many songs as he has levels of experience. This leaves him a pretty weak magic user in the early stages, although his ability to use magic instruments can make him worthwhile - a fire horn can be used to simulate dragon's breath.
Your fighters must have a strong constitution to withstand heavy punishment. They must also have high dexterity so that they can get their blows in as rapidly as possible. There are several types of fighters to choose from. All will serve you well and their special abilities will improve rapidly as their levels rise. Rogues may be useful, but their ability to find and disarm traps may be duplicated by higher-level magic users.
YOU always start from the Adventurer's Guild in Main Street and on leaving are facing north. The graphics of the houses along the road are good, but the house designs are often similar so it is easy to lose your way. Draw maps from the beginning and you will soon know your way around the back streets as though you were born there.
Killing creatures that attack you will add to your experience and your purse. As your experience grows you can visit the Review Board in Trumpet Street, and if your experience is high enough you will gain a level. This must be one of your main aims, as an increase in level will give you greater hit and spell points and add to one of your main attributes.
A larger number of hit points will enable you to take more damage and spell points determine the number of spells that may be cast. Loss of hit points in a fight can be restored by visiting a temple - in exchange for some of your hard won gold. Spell points slowly restore as time passes, although if you can find Roscoe's Energy Emporium you can buy them back - again, for more gold.
The initial stages of Bard's Tale are not easy. Each character is given on average 150 gold pieces and you must walk up the road a few paces to Garth's Equipment Shoppe and buy them weapons and armour. Needless to say, you can only get some fairly rudimentary items with your low budget. Each item of armour will reduce your armour class, which in turn reduces the damage sustained in battle.
From the start, money is everything. You need to buy better equipment, heal your wounds and as payment to the Review Board for your magic users to learn more spells. Items found on your foes may be sold at Garth's, but it is a touch and go business.
You can, of course, cheat a little by creating additional members, pooling their money with one and then deleting the extra characters. Many adventurers have found this is the only way to keep going.
Round the town streets and buildings you will be attacked by up to eight creatures. As you delve into the sewers, catacombs and castle, the number of assailants will increase. It becomes more and more necessary to have accomplished magic users at your back to cast high-level spells. If possible, aim to take out any opposing magic first, as they can cause expensive damage to your team.
A magic user can start out as Conjurer or Magician, each with a different range of spells. As they progress, it is possible for them to change their class to Sorcerer or Wizard. If a magic user reaches the highest level in each class, he is an Arch Mage. These are much prized members of your team - aim to get at least one.
After you have gained a level of three, you can attempt exploring the sewers under the Scarlet Bard Tavern. Ask the barman for wine and keep your fingers crossed. Each level in these special area is mapped on a 22 x 22 grid, but be warned - they scroll round so that if you kept going east you would come back to where you started.
MAP these areas carefully. You must be certain that you have visited all possible passages. Messages written on the walls or spoken by magic moths are all vital to your future progress. Once you can walk all the levels of the sewers with impunity you can consider entering the catacombs beneath the Mad God's temple. To do so you will need to know the password found in the sewers.
After the catacombs comes the castle. This is guarded by a dragon and only if you are a strong enough party will you even get one step inside. From there keep looking, the clues must be fought for, but the final reward is worth it.
If you decide to try out another class of character it may be worth waiting until your present characters, especially the magic users, are at a fairly high level. It is then possible to fight battles that will give each member tens of thousands of experience points. It is then a simple matter to raise the useful level of a new level character very rapidly indeed.
Commands may be given via the keyboard or mouse. I found that my mouse tended occasionally to suffer from some bounce and one click ended up as two. This is highly embarrassing when selling something - I ended up selling the wrong thing. It is worse still, in trying to deleted an unwanted character: I clicked on D to delete and the character shown on the next menu directly beneath the pointer was deleted. Ouch, he was my high level Bard.
Although you only SAVE your characters when you Leave Game at the Adventurer's Guild, Delete is permanent at any time. The moral here is to make a back-up character disc at fairly regular intervals. This takes time out from the game, but at least you know that a character will not have to start from scratch if something ghastly happens to him.
The graphics are good, with a certain amount of animation thrown in for good measure. Look for the fly buzzing around the nose of the stuffed(?) dragon in the Scarlet Bard. General control of the game is from a series of menus, easy enough to follow but it is well worth using the characters supplied with the game until you are familiar with their use. It would be a pity to lose your own because you were still learning to handle the basics.
If you get really stuck, Electronic Arts Customer Service Department is happy to help on 0753 46465. it also provides a readable clue book, complete with all maps, for £5.