Logic and the inexplicable

Mindfighter logo

Travel through the mists of adventure with Dave Eriksson

THE latest adventure to reach us from Activision is Mindfighter by Abstract Concepts, written by Anna Popkess and programmed by Fergus O'Neill, who is well known for his humorous and satirical adventures as The Boggit and The Colour of Magic.
This is the first adventure produced using the team's new operating system, SWAN - System Without A Name. The game has appeared across many formats, which suggests the system is machine independent, an important advantage for programmers and the distributors who have to meet launch dates.

The team's previous games with their special brand of humour have been very successful. Mindfighter is completely different. It is a departure from their previous style, both in programming and in the story content.

The main character is Robin, a fourteen-year-old whose mind has extraordinary powers. He is one of four students being studied by an old professor at the University of Southampton. Suffering from a series of traumatic events, he attempts to look forward in time to find out his exam results.
Instead he wakes up to find a Southampton devastated by nuclear war. In addition to the horrors or rotting bodies, starvation and radiation sickness, there is also The System, a rigidly-enforced Chinese dictatorship using the survivors as slaves.

Back in the present, his friends manage to make contact with Robin, help him plan the defeat of The System and free the slaves. Robin then returns and they set out to prevent the war starting.

Adventures, however strange the setting, must have a consistent logic to be believable. Either by default, where there is little text and nearly all the detail comes from the player's imagination. Or, as in the case of games from Infocom, Level 9 and Magnetic Scrolls, where the text is lng, descriptive and carefully tailored to the plot. Mindfighter has long descriptive text but read in conjunction with the book it is inconsistent and illogical.

The 150 page book must be presumed to contain clues, and it is in reading this and playing the game that I found difficulty with the logic. Playing the game alone, albeit with its own inconsistencies, would probably not have caused the same build-up of disbelief.

SWAN will accept complex commands and there is some interaction with independent characters. The vocabulary does not seem to be very extensive and the interpreter's responses are limited. "That wasn't possible" appears with monotonous regularity.

This is frustrating. You do no know if you are simply tackling the right problem the wrong way, or if the words you are using aren't recognised. EXAME XXX often gets the bald statement "Robin couldn't examine that". One can live with these shortcomings, but they do not help the game's atmosphere.

Mindfighter has a totally illogical map. Not only can you travel east to go west but in some locations if you go south, the immediately north, you find an entirely different location. Again this is a question of logic. Although I found the mapping an enjoyable challenge, this type of confusion does not inspire confidence in the gameplay as a whole.

Pressing a mouse button or Return with no command entered, brings up an icon display window. This provides a number of options including ram or disc SAVE/LOAD, printer on/of, graphics on/of and OOPS.

The text is very descriptive, not for the squeamish, and dramatically sets the scene. The graphics occupy a small window across the top of the screen and add to the desolate atmosphere of the story. You will not find much humour in Mindfighter, and even Robin turns out to be a three times murderer.

This adventure is not my cup of tea and it will be interesting to hear what you think of it. But with so many previous hits to their credit, SWAN and Mindfighter surely only represent the beginning of what I hope will be a new and productive era for Abstract Concepts.

Mindfighter logo

Mediagenic/Abstract Concepts
Price:£14.99 Cass £19.99 Disk £24.99 Amiga

Robin, an 11-year old boy with some amazing powers, finds himself standing on a mound looking over a scene of desolation and ruin. He's not exactly there, for he is also back at Southampton University in another time, projecting the scene from the mound through his eyes for his fellow students of parapsychology to witness together with their Professor.

They soon reach the conclusion that what they are watching is happening in Southampton, a year hence after a nuclear war. Since this is in the future, it is important that Robin discovers the date and the cause of the war so they can prevent it.

The general populace are being brutally enslaved by 'The System', whose guards mete out a cruel justice for petty crimes and casually kill people who are no longer any use to them. To remain safe while he investigates. Robin has to call upon his extraordinary powers of being able to transform his body into the likeness of an animal or bird, as well as telepathic control.

The game has been written using a new adventure system for Abstract Concepts by Tim Gilberts, of Quill fame. It performs well, accepting multiple complex commands, and has most of the latest features that go to make adventure playing more flexible: OOPS (retract previous command), RAM SAVE, SCRIPT (send game to printer), VERBOSE/BRIEF, and a facility for recalling and editing the previous command entered. Most features are controlled from icons, displayed by pressing RETURN.

Grey and dismal graphics fill the top one third of the screen, and change with an effect similar to the rotating of a series of vertical shutters.

However, a slick system does not necessarily produce a slick end-program, and whilst the section in the instruction manual on command structure gives the impression that this is an Infocom-like parser, the game's performance does not match up expectations. This is due mainly to some glaring omissions in providing suitable messages in anticipation of likely commands, together with a lack of valid synonyms.

For example, EXAMINE all too often brings the response ROBIN COULDN'T EXAMINE THAT, and a newspaper cutting that Robin came across was recognised only NEWSPAPER and not by CUTTING.
Regular adventure players have learned to put up with that, and indeed Mindfighter is better than many - but it is worse than those of a similar price tag.

In the end, it comes down to the story and the puzzles that determine whether you like a particular game. Mindfighter is based on a full-length novel by Anna Popkess, who was also responsible for the game design. The subject has, of course, been tackled before in Infocom's Trinity. Unfortunately, in Mindfighter Anna Popkess handles the theme with nowhere near the sensitivity of Brian Moriarty. Indeed, there are some explicit scenes of brutality in the text in particular. I found the account of the punishment of a thief by the slow amputation of his hand with a blunt knife quite unnecessary, and the subsequent relish of the guard when licking the blood from the knife quite sickening. OK, so perhaps it could happen, one day. But who wants to play it in a GAME?

The fantasy aspect of the story, too, lacks credibility: instead of being put over as pure unashamed fantasy, as it was in Trinity after the player had entered the mushroom door, Mindfighter seeks to lend credibility to the fantastic powers of Robin and his fellow students, attributing them to the result of a day's successful experimentation in the University.

The 150 page book is supplied with the game, which perhaps accounts for the high price of the package. Alas, it is written in a style that for me, at least, made it a boring read, and with a content that named me off.