Barsak is another Quilled adventure in Gilsoft's Gold Collection. During and after loading it says behind the title 'The Early Days' - does this imply it's only the first of a series? Barsak takes us back to the heartland of traditional adventures, the ancient days of the mythological underworld where the dwarves held the Nine Treasures. They have been lost, and now Barsak seeks to recover them. To complete the game it is necessary to wear or carry all nine treasures and sign the book at the end. Short instructions inform you of some basic facts about Quill adventures, the use of verb nouns format and the fact that the computer only examines the first four letters of a work, so that there is no need to type beyond that number, also that the adventure can be SAVED at any point.
Barsak commences his adventure in a dense forest with only one exit North. This leads to a clearing in which stands a large and rather run down castle. Exits to the north-east and north-west end up leading right round the castle in a circle. Leaving the clearing northwards takes you into the castle itself with its numerous locations in the curtain walls, barracks and keep.
Useful objects in this text-only adventure are shown in a darker blue. The first major problem is to find some food - you only have 17 turns before death sets in through starvation.
Graphics: text only
'Of the four adventures from the Gold Collection, this was the least interesting I thought. As it is strictly text-only, it does require more location description than is provided. After all, playing an adventure like this is a bit like reading a book, The Adventurer needs to have his appetite whetted, and a sense of excitement built up. The descriptions in Barsak are very short and to the point and reminded me a bit of those provided in the manual to The Quill for its tiny example adventure. The limit on surviving before finding food also irritates, not in itself, that would be fine if there were sufficient interest to capture the player before the limit runs out, but in Barsak it seems awfully difficult to get anything done with what you are offered.'
'One of those bare adventures which make you wonder why they're called adventure at all - travelogue would be a better name. But even the "sights" don't amount to very much, and there is hardly anything to do. You can't EXPLORE, EXAMINE, LOOK under or into and the closest I got to food before the seventeenth (dying) move was to be holding a jar of pickled gherkins which I couldn't smash open, even though I was carrying a trusty battle axe. How's that for logic? No doubt someone cleverer will tell me I've missed the point somewhere, but I might have tried harder if I'd been more gripped by it all.'
|Use of Computer||78%|
|Value For Money||48%|
Is Gilsoft weak Quilled? Quentin Heath thinks not.
THE QUILL, an adventure game generator from Gilsoft, has evoked a mixed reaction from critics. The technical excellence of the program is not disputed but its spawn, the games compiled using it, have been treated with suspicion by both seasoned adventure players and critics.
The critics have been quick to say that the plethora of games generated by The Quill, and released by Gilsoft and others, are almost identical in structure and, in many cases, futile and uninventive. The argument is that anything which has been cloned from another program will be inferior to a program which has been handwritten from beginning to end.
Rather than taking the well-worn path and examining The Quill again, I decided to look at the final products from that program which Gilsoft has called the Gold Collection.
The adventures in the Gold series are varied in content and complexity. The six titles are Spyplane, a story of espionage; Magic Castle and Barsak the Dwarf, which lie in the Dungeons and Dragons field; Mindbender, for science fiction enthusiasts, African Gardens, an adventure for lovers of mystery; and Diamond Trail, for the specialist in detection and whodunnits.
Most of the adventures are easy to play but in an irritating way. A case in point is Barsak the Dwarf. You play Barsak, who must search an ancient castle for nine treasures and a visitors' book which you must sign to leave alive. According to the critics the game would be simply a case of wandering round a maze of locations, built around a standard structure, but The Quill is so versatile that it allows a designer to build extra facilities into an adventure.
For instance, in Barsak the author has created a sttuat ion where the main character will die unless he can find food within 17 moves. Once food has been found, in a lar of pickles, a quest for water must begin.
Barsak contains a quest within a quest. The dwarf must look continually for food while searching for treasure. There is no end, except for the limitations of memory space, to the number of quests which can be built into one package.
One criticism of The Quill which can be sustained is that the program has to put some restrictions on the way in which an adventure runs so that it can operate. The Quill limits input to a compiled program to one line at a time. For most entries needing one verb and a noun, that would be sufficient but if, for instance, you want to pick up more than two objects you must select the first two and press 'ENTER', then the second two, and follow the same process until all the objects have been collected. That seems to be the only instance in which The Quill affects an adventure in an adverse way.
To show the types of adventure The Quill can produce I compared Barsak to another adventure from the Gold series, Spyplane. The plot is certainly different and concerns a search for submarines which you see from your aircraft. By comparing the HELP and INVENTORY functions with those of Barsak you can see the differences between the two programs instantly.
Spyplane is more developed as an adventure. The descriptions are lengthy and the INVENTORY has been used more as an additional HELP sheet than as a list of equipment. For instance, you are told about the state of the instruments on that page.
The author has also built in an instructions option which gives hints on how to play a particular part of the game. With HELP you must take pot luck on a reply but INSTRUCTIONS is more informative.
Spyplane is more difficult to play than Barsak as you find yourself in an aircraft and are told very little about what you have to do. By using the instruments you will learn more about your task but at the risk of alerting the enemy.
The descriptions of the terrain are evocative but not over-long. There are no spelling mistakes in the text, which is more than can be said for some handwritten textual adventures.
Spyplane is also supplied with a leaflet showing a map of the area in which your aircraft is flying. That is a necessity, as you cannot use graphics, a growing area in adventure games, with The Quill. No doubt some people would find the lack of graphics, where necessary, a fault with the program. It could, however, be argued that setting-up graphics occupies much space within memory which could be used for more text and locations. The lack of graphics facilities in The Quill is therefore, a benefit to users in the long run.
Looking at The Quill it may be possible to see the way in which an adventure is fitted over a pre-defined grid of locations each time a game is created but the games produced by it hide the mechanical creation process well. It is a case of not being able to see the seams of an adventure, because of the way the author has the imagination to create something different. It is, after all, the programmer and not the program which controls the way a game progresses.
The limitations of The Quill are only those of formatting the screen and the way responses are put into the computer. The Quill is adaptable enough to cope with new ideas of the programmer, such as an instruction function in Spylane or the continual quests for food and drink in Barsak the Dwarf. Neither are there restrictions on the storyline. Games could be set in fictional or realistic surroundings - the program does not differentiate.
Essentially The Quill offers the programmer a new high-level language rather like Basic. Although Basic has only a set number of statements, the number of applications to which you can apply the language are endless and restricted only imagination.
In the proper hands, The Quill produces programs on a par with handwritten commercial programs and it is that qualification which has to be made clear. The Quill is a tool, just as is Basic. With skilled use it can do wonders.
MACHINE: 48K Spectrum
The Adventures Of Barsak The Dwarf is probably the least interesting of the bunch. Assuming the role of a squat, axe-wielding dwarf (no great stretch of the imagination needed there, eh Burton) you must attempt to recover some fabled treasures of the underworld. Original indeed! The treatment is generally lacklustre and the gameplay dull. Even worse there's the dreaded 'starvation' routine to contend with. You can barely open a door before being confronted by some dumb "I'm awful hungry (rumble)" message. Fail to find some eats by the 17th turn and you unceremoniously kick the can. This exact same routine is detailed in the Quill tutorial which can only indicate an immense lack of imagination on the part of the authors. It bodes ill for the rest of the piece.
Gilsoft has demonstrated its faith in its adventure designer program, The Quill, by producing a series of adventures which have been written with its help. Each adventure is excellent and there is great variety in the series.
Africa Gardens is set in a haunted hotel, where voices can be heard in the next room but people can never be seen. Each unnerving location is described in depth and certain sections are illustrated. It is largely an adventure of exploration in which objects found help with movement to other locations.
Mindbender runs along very different lines. The player begins in an office notable only for its lack of interest. One movement, though, sends the bemused player into an intricate Welsh adventure.
Barsak the Dwarf demonstrates the ability of The Quill to set a time limit on an action. Soon after the game begins the player becomes hungry and must find a jar of pickles before starving. Once that problem has been overcome, thirst rears its ugly bead. Again, it is a good adventure but it does not reach the standard of Castle Blackstar, to which it is remarkably similar.
Diamond Trail is possibly the tightest-written adventure on the market. Every object has a use and every location must be visited at least once. Once again, hunger sets in early and there is also a homicidal maniac chasing you with a gun.
Another problem is that taking certain objects results in your being arrested. Can you survive to eat the hamburger, let alone solve the quest? One difficulty occurs late in the game. The author has been unfairly sneaky inside the railway station and once you are there you have almost finished the adventure. Save the game before presenting your ticker or you may find yourself having to repeat the entire adventure.
All in all, an excellent series of very different adventures, produced by Gilsoft, 30 Hawthorn Road, Barry, South Glamorgan, price £5.95 each.
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