Mike Gerrard's trips down adventure lane this week threaten to turn him into a babbling idiot (or is that a babel fish idiot?)
Two adventures this week which bear a few similarities (they're both disk-only adaptations of best-selling science fiction books) but the results are as different as the books they're based on: Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Giuide to the Galaxy and Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous With Rama. The former's a delight, but the latter's a disaster.
First the good news, if you can call being reincarnated as Arthur Dent good news. Still, I suppose it beats coming back to earth as Marvin, or anyone else when your house is about to be demolished by a bulldozer to make way for a by-pass. That's one of Arthur's early problems, as if the humdrum of daily existence wasn't bad enough - like how to stop the room spinning round when you get out of bed? And what is that thing your aunt gave you?
Ho-hum, and it's out of the house to try and deal with that bulldozer. But, too late. You spent too long reading through the junk mail and a fleet of Vogon Constructor ships has arrived to demolish the earth. Better put on your peril-sensitive sunglasses while you look at your score.
You will, of course, already be wearing your "Don't Panic" badge, and will have examined your free piece of pocket fluff and the free microscopic space fleet, and done your best to ignore the equally free demolition order on your house.
Infocom adventures start when you open the packaging, and The Hitchhiker's Giuide to the Galaxy is better than most. The lucky people who can play it are those with an Apple Macintosh, Apple II, DEC Rainbow, IBM PC or CP/M86 (in 8in format), who can fork out £34.50 for the privilege. Common old Commodore 64 and Atari owners can have one at the bargain price of £30.20. All versions are being distributed by Softsel (01-844 2040).
Meanwhile, back at the bulldozers, Arthur has consulted the paperback in which he features and discovered that a good way of stopping the bulldozer is to lie in its path. This he fearlessly does, despite the warnings shouted by Mr. Prosser from the local council. In the nick of time Ford Prefect arrives, and generously offers his towel, then disappears in the direction of the pub.
You risk getting up and following him to the pub, and you're dying for drink... Oops, now you're just dying, hit by a flying brick, and you expire in silence. WAKE UP, you type, ever the optimist. "You keep out of this, you're dead," is the response.
The adventure remains fairly faithful to the book, though relying on it too much will only lead you up the garden path. When you get to the pub, for example, assuming you figure out how to get that far, you discover some peanuts. According to the book you need these, but can you attract the attention of the barman? Well I couldn't, just like in real life. The jukebox contains a generous supply of Beatles' records, and Ford buys a generous supply of beer, though you have to avoid getting a hangover.
Stay sober, rush outside to investigate the noise, and you may just devise some means of getting yourself on the right side of the Vogon Constructor ships. Twelve hours later you might have figured out how to stop yourself roaming round in the dark. Twelve days later and you might have figured out how to get a babel fish out of the babel fish dispenser - I doubt if there's ever been anything funnier on a computer than this.
That goes for the adventure itself which veers from the storyline of the book, but I was so overcome with the excitement at getting a babel fish out of the dispenser that I couldn't go any further. Buy it.
As for Rendezvous With Rama for the Apple II, MSX and Commodore 64, all I can say is don't buy it. It comes from an American company, Trillium, and is one of a series being distributed here by WHSmith for £19.95. It is beautifully packaged, with a glossy colour fold-out sleeve containing notes, maps and two double-sided disks.
The book is a marvellous read about the arrival in our solar system of the Rama, an enormous alien object that goes into orbit around the sun and is seemingly devoid of life. A ship is sent up to investigate the object. You're the captain of that ship, the Endeavour.
Graphics occupy about the top quarter of the screen, with a fairly detailed text beneath, showing you to be in the crew area. Spying a locker I opened it to see that it contained, among other things, some utility suits. GET UTILITY SUIT seemed obvious, but "Bad Obj" came the response and the program crashed.
Annoying, but not a major disater if you keep away from utility suits and provided it doesn't happen again. It does.
There are two arcade games incorporated in the adventure, and apart from their poor quality they both cause the program to crash. You have five lives in each, and when those lives are exhausted... Crash!
You can have a practice session on either game by typing ACTION, or go striaght into the first game. There's no warning that you need a joystick, let along which port to plug it in, and still it crashes when you've lost your lives. It also crashed when I succeeded at the first part of the game, then attempted to dock the Endeavor with the Rama (for which there are also no instructions).
Trillium, however, seems to have recognised that there are problems with Rendezvous With Rama, and says it will be supplying a corrected version. I'll keep you posted.