nasty habit of following you around from
screen to screen). In your favour you
have a trusty sabre for bumping off the
smaller creatures - gaining points in the
process - or causing the larger animals
and tribesmen to turn tail and run. |
FLOWER POWERThe graphics are what we have come to expect of Ultimate - large, bright and frequently with a sort of cute cartoon- like quality (take, for example, the sleeping hippos). Most of them appear to have two stages of animation as they move pixel-wise around the screen. The exception, however, is the wulf, for it is a good example of what Ultimate excels at - giving characters intelligence. The wulf only inhabits a small but vital part of the maze and is extremely vicious; the other characters (though rather less virulent) can still be awkward.
Other than your trusty sword, the most helpful items in the jungle are the orchids; they grow in five different colours, blossoming and withering very quickly. If you can run over an orchid while it's in full bloom, then you'll find yourself affected by its strange powers. Ultimate has designed these to be a help rather than a hindrance. But there are two you don't want to run over - the yellow and the white: the first induces sleep for a few seconds, allowing any graphics to pass straight through you; while the other will 'cure' you of the effects of the other orchids - which is not as useful as it sounds! Of the other orchids, red allows you to run through any nasties without any harm coming to you (or it),
|CRY OF THE |
W U L F
|Those howls aren't coming from the night - it's Ross Holman (winner of Software Projects' JSW competition) pitting his animal wits against Ultimate's mighty Sabre WuIf. Read on ... we dare you!|
Thrust deep into a steamy tropical
jungle, your trusty sword and your wits
are the only defence against the myriad
creatures lurking in the foliage. Yes, you
are the pith-helmeted explorer who has
to collect four parts of an amulet that
have been carelessly left around the
jungle - and then get out safely. |
By now, many should be familiar with the scenario of Ultimate's latest 48K adventure Sabre Wulf - perhaps they've even had enough time to recover from the £10 price tag. For the extra cash you get a large Hobbit-like box which holds one tape and an enlarged glossy version of the cassette sleeve - containing the usual silly storyline, loading instructions and control key info.
STEP INTO DANGERLoading completed, you're met with an options screen attractively bordered by dense tropical plant life. That may look pleasant, but what's less obvious is that the keyboard controls are very poorly selected - left, right, up, down and fight are configured on the 'Q', 'W', 'E', 'R' and 'T' keys. This may be a nice easy way
to do things from the programmer's
viewpoint, but it doesn't help the player
without a joystick; incidentally, most joystick protocols are catered for. |
Press the '0' key and the action begins. Our hero, Sabre Man, is standing in a quiet clearing and soon various unsavoury jungle inhabitants are bursting through the ground (literally!) to attack him. You might at this point spot something of an Atic Atac influence in the way you have to move about within one 'room' at a time, fighting off nasties, then shifting off to the next in a logical way. However, in Sabre Wulf each room contains strips of foliage (to give it that 'outside' feel) and these are all linked by pathways; so overall, the playing area is an intricate maze, with you looking down on just a small part of it at any one time. There's a total of 256 screens that link up to create (surprise, surprise) a 16 by 16 maze bordered by threatening mountainous scenery.
The jungle creatures bent on your destruction can be split generally into two groups - those you can kill (which cannot exit your present screen) and those you can only fight off (which have a
cyan gives you the ability to run much
faster, and the purple bloom reverses the
controls (so that left becomes right, up
becomes down, and so on). |
TROPICAL TACTICSOne important thing to realise about Sabre Wulf is that jungle inhabitants appear in the current 'room' some short while after you've entered. The delay is often enough to manoeuvre Sabre Man to another exit - or at least to a strategic position (remembering that he runs faster when not in fight mode). The technique I employed was to run fast through a room, only pressing the fight key at the sound of the bleep that accompanies the materialisation of either animal or non- killable graphics. But it's advisable to be in fight mode when actually entering a room, because a rhino or similar beast may at that moment be charging across the screen. Even when using a sword, you can be killed by attack from behind - and sometimes from above or below (when in the vertical positions). It pays, therefore, to study how the different characters behave; some go straight for you while others will wait for you to move first. If you learn where they tend to appear, and how to lure them on to the end of your blade, then you're halfway to beating the game.
Another useful trick involves gaining the ability to fight off the larger animals and get past them without dying. You do it by backing them into a corner, keeping your finger on the fight key and moving
closer until you can squeeze past onto a
vertical path. The same approach can
also get you past the tribesmen, although
their greater intelligence makes it more
risky; aggressive fights often result in loss
of life. The other (and sometimes the
only) way to get past awkward situations
is to wait by a nearby orchid until it blossoms into something useful - then run
straight through the blockage. Remember when doing this though, that staying
in one room for too long causes an indestructible flame to start licking at your
boots; you can avoid that by exiting and
re-entering the room every so often. |
The biggest problem you'll encounter is the wulf itself; getting past it involves either 'flower power' or trickery. The wulf patrols a long horizontal passage at the bottom of the maze which has vertical passages leading up from it. Wait under one of these until it appears on your screen, then leap down, pressing and holding down the fight key; this makes the wulf crouch until you release - at which point it'll pounce. Now move into the room above and wait until you think he'll have just gone past, then move back down and run for your life. Don't leave it too long to come back down, or the wulf will have turned around and got you for sure.
SPOT THE AMULETOnce you've mastered techniques like these you'll be able to happily explore a far larger area of the maze; in fact, you'll probably now be thinking that it's very
intricate, although this is partly illusion -
many of the passages don't lead anywhere at all (not even on to the next
logical screen). |
My experience with Atic Atac suggested that pieces of the amulet might perhaps lie in the same rooms each time you load the game. To test the theory, I numbered all the open rooms (the ones the pieces seem to appear in) and started playing a series of five games - finding the pieces and then re-loading. I saw no obvious way of discovering from loading where the pieces would be, but after a while I did find a pattern of sorts. As it turns out, there are a number of set patterns and now, by checking a few rooms, I can predict what pieces are going to be in which rooms. Cutting down your risks in this sort of way makes the game easier to beat - and in many ways, more satisfying.
Finally, for all those whose adrenalin needs a little boost, find all the parts of the amulet and you'll be let in on a riveting secret about Sabre Man. Say no more!
CONCLUSIONThe real attraction of Sabre Wulf is the combination of simplicity and complexity; a straightforward maze game but with elements such as the orchids to raise it to a far higher level. The graphics and animation make it fun to play on one level ... the sheer size of the playing area and all it entails means it's quite a challenge on another.
|Hacker Dave Nicholls cracks Ultimate's latest wide open - but, in the end, was it worth it?|
The thing that really made
Ultimate's previous games
stand out from the crowd for
games players like me was
that they gave you the
opportunity to be killed off by
loads of different meanies;
Sabre Wulf certainly carries
on this tradition. Before
playing, I practised my
swordplay to a level that
would have done credit to
one of the Three Musketeers
- and yet entering the jungle
I was immediately killed by a
little red Zulu. |
The encounters that followed had me being trampled by hippos, rhinos, and other lesser beasts (including several frogs - probably revenge for what I did to them in Frogger!) and only once did I see the Wulf himself as he flattened me from behind. This finally persuaded me that immortality would be a very desirable commodity. I postponed my quest for the Amulet and instead, with a cry of 'Hacking Away', leapt headlong into the machine code jungle in search of the fabled 'infinite lives' POKE.
BREAKING POINTThe first obstacle I had to get past was the fact that
Ultimate doesn't like hackers
like me and so it implements
'clever' things to the code to
try and stop us. In fact, the
things that it does seem pretty
pointless; the method used
(which I won't reveal, and is
different for each game in any
case) provides no protection
against piracy and only takes
about 15 minutes to get
round. It also actually
increases the loading time by
about 20 seconds. |
Having done the necessary, I resumed my search for the POKE, and in the course of finding it (in fact, I found two but one of them is not strictly necessary) I discovered that (due to the way the number of lives that you have left is printed out) you are limited to a maximum of nine lives at a time and any extra lives you gain above this number are ignored. However, having found the POKE for infinite lives I decided to have a quick gander at the rest of it.
The program, as in most other games, is mostly data - but the data in Sabre Wulf is spread throughout the code instead of all being tucked away in one place, as is more usual. This seems to point to the supposition that Ultimate use teams of programmers each working on a separate aspect of the game. This
would also explain why there
are several small subroutines
that use different methods to
achieve the same thing. Sabre Wulf also fails the 'Developed
on a Spectrum' test because it
uses its own routines to print
characters on screen for
menus and so on - instead of
calling the ones in ROM. |
Apart from the data structure for the rooms (which I'll return to later) the program is not really outstanding ... just a very professional piece of coding, even if it does occasionally use self-modifying code. (For non-hackers, this is where a program changes its own instructions as it's running - something that's generally considered bad programming practice.)
THE JUNGLE POKEI discovered that the maze is 16 by 16 rooms in size and that there are 48 different room types within it. Each of these rooms is constructed by using separate 'data blocks' that are stuck together in different forms to produce each room; one example of such a data block is the lake that appears at various places in the jungle. I didn't count how many blocks are used in total, but I'd guess there are over a hundred - perhaps even a couple of hundred; someone at Ultimate must have very sore typing fingers from entering all that lot!
The outcome of this is that with just a few POKEs I managed to move and remove large chunks of foliage; given time (and a good keyboard) it should be possible to re-design the whole thing and have your own personalised jungle to run about in. I also considered finding a POKE that would allow me to stay cyan all the time - thus speeding up the game (as well as making me indestructible!). However, on reflection I decided that it probably wasn't really worth it. The decision later proved to be right. After about three hours searching, I finally managed to find all the bits of the Amulet and escape, making Sabre Wulf the first Ultimate game that I have been able to beat - even if I did have to cheat slightly.
The playing area comprises 256 screens that link up to form an intricate 16 by 16 maze; there are, in fact, only 48 different types of 'room' though when joined together they all look unique. The four pieces of the amulet are hidden in various places in the maze and, once you've found them all, you'll have to battle your way back to the home of the unfriendly statue. Watch out for the jungle path - two paths up from the bottom of the playing area - that's the lair of the Wulf!