REVIEWS COURTESY OF ZXSR

Tai-Pan
by Sentient Software Ltd: John Mullins, Clive Paul, Mark R. Jones, Peter Clarke
Ocean Software Ltd
1987
Crash Issue 43, August 1987   (1987-07-30)   page(s) 24,25

In the Year Of Our Lord 1841, the eastern seaways are teeming with traders. And in this game based on James Clavell's best-selling novel you are Dirk Struan, a merchant intent upon amassing a fortune as quickly as possible in the streets and seas of the Orient.

As in any trading game, a financial stake is required; in Tai-Pan it's to be found in the local town of Canton - a loan of $300,000, repayable in six months on pain of death. The sum is sufficient for some of your needs, but not all. For instance, you need a ship, and the three up for sale are a lorcha (a lightly armed, fast smuggling ship) at $150,000, a standard trading clipper with more cannon and crew for ?250,000, and a heavily armed frigate which at $400,000 is out of your range - at first.

The stews of the Far East offer delights, dangers, deals and man-power. Once purchased a vessel must be crewed, either with mercenary sea-dogs or with infinitely cheaper press-ganged labour. The jobcentres for the latter are inns, where only the most exhausted and drunked seafront dregs are incapable of resisting their unceremonious enlistment.

With a full complement of crew (some ships need more sailors than others), the vessel can be loaded with such valuable objects as maps, compass, telescope and sextant, foodstuffs and trading goods bought from warehouses and suppliers.

During these consumer expeditions, you may find gambling dens where you can bet on a race betewen mythical beasts, substantially plumping your wallet or giving it anorexia. Other urban delights include a brothel and inn that can delight - and leave you tired, drunk, and susceptible to press-ganging.

In town, smugglers may accost you and try to sell you highly dangerous contraband, which is very profitable when traded between ports - but carries the risk of gaol.

With purchased itmes stored in your ship's limited cargo space, you choose a shipping route and set sail for distant ports. Weather conditions, wind direction and pirate ships can jeopordise any voyage, but a careful choice of route can diminish such problems.

As you put to sea, the street scenes are replaced by a bird's-eye view of ocean and land. Beneath this geographic scene are seven icons which raise and lower the ship's sails, assess the wind direction, provide a telescope, offer a combat mode, unfurl a map of the China Seas and feed the crew - important, because otherwise they might mutiny from hunger or succumb to scurvy, the sailor's disease caused by lack of vitamin C.

With a powerful frigate, you can turn privateer and plunder other craft. If hit by cannonballs a ship is disabled and can be boarded by sailing alongside and killing its Captain.

But fierce resistance can be expected, and you might have to retreat to your vessel. If too many of your crew are killed in battle, your own ship becomes unsailable. (Likewise, don't kill too many enemy sailors - you'll need them to sail the captured ship.) And fighting reduces your men's stamina, already eaten away by hunger.

Careful cannon fire ensures that the captured vessel and its cargo remain intact and seaworthy and will fetch a high price in port. But other privateers my attempt to take your captured ships and end your quest for fortune.

As you build up your fleet, a great trading empire can be founded, generating enough wealth to repay your debt and leave you a colonial master of the Orient.

COMMENTS
Control keys: Q up, Z down, I left, P right, N fire, SPACE toggle icoon
Joystick: Cursor, Kempston, Sinclair
Use of colour: very good
Graphics: range from simple to detailed and decorative
Sound: a good tune but potentially annoying
Skill levels: one


'This is one of the best trader games around, and very good by any standards. The graphics are colourful, and the sound on the 128 version is very impressive. With such a variety of things to do (trading, killing pirates etc) and a huge playing area it can keep the player enthralled for hours. Tai-Pan is one of the most enjoyable games to come out this year - buy it and you won't regret it!'
ROBIN

'The long wait has been worth it. It's obvious from the first game of Tai-Pan that months of work have gone into making this one of the best trading games around. It's not just because of the attractive and cleverly-designed graphics, but also becuase it's so tremendously addictive and playable. The only bad point is the complexity of this Oriental wonder! The screens at all the ports are exactly the same, though laid out differently - even so it taks ages for boredom to set in. It's all highly original and the realism is unbelievable; you'll have to play it to find out.'
PAUL

'Whereas most licensed novels require some knowledge of the story line, Tai-Pan is an excellent game in itself - and the Oriental scene adds dramatically to the atmosphere. The objective may seem difficult, but the icons and simple question/answer options are a great help and I was soon engrossed. Tai-Pan isn't easy - it requires dedicated mapping and note-keeping. But there's a lot to keep the player occupied: a gambling game, a fast-reaction shoot-'em-up (boarding) and a pseudoGauntlet game. Add to those the astounding street-scene graphics and Oriental electro-bop tune, and you've got one of the most enthralling arcade adventures of the year.'
RICKY

Presentation89%
Graphics93%
Playability90%
Addictiveness94%
Overall93%
Summary: General Rating: An enthralling trade-'em-up adventure with depth and atmosphere.

Award: Crash Smash

Transcript by Chris Bourne

Your Sinclair Issue 20, August 1987   page(s) 30

Confucious, being a canny sort of chap, once said "there's nothing new under the sun". S'funny, but my old mum is always saying exactly the same thing. And on the subject of computer games, this has never been more true than it is now. But what the oriental sage (and my mutti) didn't bargain for was Tai-Pan.

You begin life as a penniless Chinese chappie on the streets of some oriental city. But far from being the sort who'd prefer to sit down and beg for a living, you're a business kind of guy. You want ships to command, money in your pocket, chow mein on the table and a curvy Soo Ming with knitting needles in her hair to serve it for you (heavy on the soy sauce, doll). Yep. you've got high hopes, boy.

But first you've got to buy yourself a junk, a kind of Chinese boat, and to do that you've got to have a few yen to rub together. Having found a gullible (but suitably wealthy) patron, you can scuttle off to the junk shop and purchase a pile of junk... well, hopefully a pile of junk that floats. Having bought your boat and a take-away to chew on the long journey ahead, you must enlist the services of a crew. You can either buy them, or if you're feeling stingy, just bop them on the head with a blunt instrument and throw them on your boat. Then it's off on the high seas to trade and attempt to earn back the money you borrowed.

There are three phases to the game - in the town, on the sea, and a combat scene. In all three phases the actions you take are icon driven (the little pictures at the bottom of the screen) and communication with other characters in the game takes place in a little scrolling text window underneath. As you rake in the cash, your total loose change is shown under Cash, and what you've got invested in cargo and equipment is shown under Assets.

The battle phase is brill, being a hit like Dandy in its plan view map and rapid-fire shoot 'em up action. Having boarded a ship, you can choose to blast the defending crow with your pistol, or if you run out of balls, to run them through with your cutlass. As you can see, the scope for buckling your swash is enormous. (Oo-er).

The best bit about Tai-Pan is the fact that the path your career takes towards the rank of Tai-Pan (Chinese for the Big Cheese) is entirely your own. If you want to be a privateer and go round shouting 'avast there, me hearties!' and stuff like that, robbing everyone in your path, you can. If you just want to be a law abiding trader and work your way up slowly, ending up in a bijou semi-detached pagoda in suburban Wo-King, you can do that too! The fun to be had! The money to be made! The throats to be slit! The houses of ill repute to be visited! Truly, it is written that Tai-Pan is a game for all the family. The number of cities to be visited is huge, and it's entirely possible to exist on trading between them. But as the manual to the game quite rightly states, the way to enjoy the game to its fullest is to indulge in combat, plundering and trading legally.

Enjoyable on almost every level and one of the best original games to come out this year.


Graphics9/10
Playability9/10
Value For Money9/10
Addictiveness9/10
Overall9/10
Summary: A splendid original strategy game with arcade phases. Brilliant fun. So clever, so complex, so buy it!

Award: Your Sinclair Megagame

Transcript by Chris Bourne

Sinclair User Issue 64, July 1987   page(s) 24,25

With the exception of the odd decent soundtrack or two, there has been no reason, so far as commercially available software is concerned, to buy a 128K Spectrum.

Despite reasonably positive noises when the 128K machines came out, mostly the software house have done nothing to put their words into practice.

Yet now we have Taipan, supposedly a real 128K game - developed and conceived as 128K to make use of all the memory and extra sound. The idea is the process works exactly backwards - the 48K version is a stripped down version of the original instead of the 128K edition being a marginally souped up 48K. So, is Taipan anything special?

Taipan is big, that's one sign of the its 128K-ness - and it has a continuous oriental soundtrack. It isn't easy to describe - that's another. Call it an arcade, strategy, buying and selling game and you're halfway there. Playing techniques veer sharply between carefully considered wheeler-dealer financial planning as you allot money to different bits of equipment and the fast-reaction combat part of the game that can only be described as Gauntlet on the high seas.

The object is become the Taipan - head honcho merchant prince of the high China seas - that means making a lot of money. And that means trading - buying goods cheap in one port and selling them expensive in another. This is partly a matter of sound capitalist judgement - one aspect of the game - but also depends of all kinds of arcade skills as you forcibly recruit sailors (by press-ganging them, ie, hitting them over the head) or even offering them money to work for you (wimp) and then try to sail the China seas to another port. The sailing bit is where things really get rough - you are likely to be blown in the wrong direction, or you have to choose your route carefully depending on the time of year, or be attacked by pirates - some inland routes are safer (but slower) than others. On the other hand you may even want to do a little boarding and pillaging of your own.

Actually stealing other people's ships is the best way of making money in Taipan (this is Thatcher's Britain after all). If you capture a ship (by killing the captain) and leave enough members of its crew alive you can control it as your own, thereby adding to your fleet and dramatically increasing the amount of freight you can carry.

On arrival at a port you must find a warehouse, sell off the ship's cargo, reload all your ships with new cargo and send them off again (an idle ship just drains cash in the form of crews wages and food).

There are other features to the game as well - in the first instance your adventuring is financed by a loan - a loan from the kind of people who chop your head off if you don't make the repayments.

You can also earn extra money (in the 128K version) by doing a spot of gambling on a series of rotating tiles representing mythical Chinese animals: Deer, Horse, Fish, Cow, Sheep and Dragon. It works like a cross between horse racing and a fruit machine and you bet cash on the likelihood of one or another tile turning up. It is possible to make or lose absolute fortunes at this game and if therefore not to be recommended except to those who live dangerously.

So there is a lot to Taipan, but how does it actually play and what does it look like? The opening section is in port, and you get to run around and. In the first instance, look for the money to buy a ship and then a ship to buy.

Apart from the odd fact that I was offered a ship by the bank and money in the back of a restaurant I guess you could say this bit worked well. My biggest disappointment was in press-ganging - although I successfully thumped hundreds of drunks over the head I still couldn't knock them out - eventually I decided I needed a ship first.

Until you manage to get a ship, one of the other places you visit will let you buy anything - armoury, supplies etc - on the grounds, I suppose, that you've got nowhere to put what you buy.

When you do finally get a ship, supplies, arms and a crew it's time to quit the port.

Next up is to choose your route - choices are niftily presented on an area map. The choice you make is matter of safe but long routes vs short but very dodgy routes.

At some point in the game, on purpose or by accident you will be involved in a shipboard attack, or as it's usually known, Gauntlet. In this sequence the good guys and bad guys race around the ship deck (which looks astonishingly like a Gaunlet maze) biffing each other over the head. Your objective is to get to the captain and win the ship before you end up killing too many sailors, (you need them to man the ship). It doesn't look quite as good as Gauntlet - for one thing the sailors all seem to have either afro haircuts or fish bowls on their heads but it's fast and furious and a nice change from the rather sedate pace of the other parts of the game.

That's about it really.

I think it adds up to a game which is greater than the sum of its parts.

Despite being divided into very distinct playing sections the whole thing hangs together as well as (though in a completely different way from) Elite in its mixture of trading and arcade.

No individual element is mind blowing - mostly each bit is pretty good.

Taipan is very entertaining and moderately original. At last a 128K game to be proud of.

Label: Ocean
Author: Sentient Software
Price: £7.95
Joystick: various
Memory: 128K (48K cut-down)
Reviewer: Graham Taylor


Overall9/10
Summary: Perhaps the first 'real' 128K game. Taipan is a mixture of trading and arcade that works, Several cred points for Ocean.

Transcript by Chris Bourne

ACE Issue 2, November 1987   page(s) 74

Ocean, £7.95cs
ST version reviewed Issue 1 - ACE Rating 697

You can't expect ST graphics on the Spectrum but you can expect good game play - and that's just what you get with this version of Tai-Pan. The graphical thrills and time wasters have been taken out leaving space for a very enjoyable trading/strategy game.


Ace Rating755/1000
Transcript by Chris Bourne

The Games Machine Issue 1, October 1987   page(s) 70,71

Spectrum 48/128 Cassette: £7.95
Commodore 64 Cassette: £8.95, Diskette: £12.95
Amstrad CPC: Cassette: £8.95, Diskette: £14.95
Atari ST Diskette: 19.95

CHINA PIRACY

Afather blockbusting book from James Clavell makes its debut on the home computer. This time it's Tai-Pan and Ocean who are tempting you with an oriental adventure. The team behind the conversion have taken a very different approach to that used by Virgin about a year ago, when the book and TV series Shogun became a flip-screen arcade adventure.

Journeying back to the mid-nineteenth century you become Dirk Struan, a pirate and smuggler who's patch is the stormy China seas... Make that a penniless pirate and smuggler.

The ultimate goal of the game is to become Tai-pan, the supreme leader and Merchant Prince. Canton town is the starting point, and the first objective is to seek out a kindly soul who will lend you a few thousand. Once a loan has been secured, the handout enables a ship to be purchased, together with a crew, armaments and cargo which may shipped to another town and sold, hopefully for a profit.

A hundred years ago there were no friendly government agencies to help the unemployed in China - the start loan comes with strings attached. Should you fail to make enough money to repay your benefactor within the allotted time, it's game over as you lose your head! A successful first voyage should set you on the path to undreamed of riches. Providing thieves, pirates and unfriendly weather can be overcome.

LUCRATIVE

Several approaches may be taken by the would-be upwardly mobile hero. One ploy is to abide by the law at all times, and leave the press ganging and pirating to the scum. But then the occasional dabble in the naughty side of life, with a quick smuggle here and there, does prove lucrative. Clearly, boarding and looting passing ships or blowing them out of the water, recruiting men against their will and dealing in contraband are the most attractive (and accurate) ways of making it to the top in the China Sea of the 19th century.

No matter what your moral stance on matters piratical, the day-to-day problems of running a successful trading business still have to be attended to. Decisions abound: which ships to buy, how to man them, what cargo to carry, where to sell it and how best to get there are all questions that have to be answered.

INDOORS

While Dirk is on dry land the screen shows the streets and buildings of he town he's visiting. Some buildings can be entered and once inside cargo, passers by, other traders and the law can be bought and sold, The odd useful item may be found lying around indoors.

At sea, in general voyaging mode, a bird's eye-view of the ship and surrounding area is presented on screen. The viewpoint changes when battle begins, depicting the enemy from a vantage point placed behind your cannon. Aiming the weapon, careful consideration needs to be given as to where to place shots if the booty contained in the hold of your target is to be salvaged. Successfully disabling another ship allows your crew to board it, and intimidate the other sailors. If you spare their worthless hides, they tend to join you, handing over their current and future profits to your tender care.

Activities, including buying and selling when in port or reading the map and stewing when at sea are controlled via a panel of icons ranged along the bottom of the screen.

Overall: 77%


Overall77%
Summary: Oriental style backdrops, fried rice music and little people scurrying about all lend a certain instant appeal to this trading game. Surprisingly, while the ST version is a lot prettier, it's nowhere near as fast and playable as this version. No knowledge of the Clavell novel is required to reach the ultimate goal of Tai-Pan, a task which is admirably aided by the simplistic yes/no and icon-driven options. The variety of ways in which you can play adds to the games depth, and interaction with other characters maintains interest. If you fancy a quick plunder without too much discomfort then Tal-pan could be what you've been welting for. We haven't yet played a 48K version, which is going to be multiload - so check out next month's Version Updates for any further details.

Transcript by Chris Bourne

All information in this page is provided by ZXSR instead of ZXDB