|In pursuit of the definitive games book, Phil Cornes and Mike Turner corner a selection of tomes, getting to grips with them all, be they good, bad or just plain ugly.|
To be asked, then, to review some eleven books of games for the Spectrum (with its super Hi-res colour screen and Z80A processor) should have been little short of a pleasure. Little did I know! I found that not only did the games frequently take little advantage of the startling advances in video presentation, but - worse - often had no 'meat' about them at all.
DOWN TO BUSINESSFirst off the pile came Games To Play On Your ZX Spectrum by Martin Wren- Hilton. The listings have been typeset and may therefore contain syntax errors, but your Spectrum will tell you about these when you try to type them in. There's nothing actually exciting in the book and, indeed, the author even admits that one of the listings is the first game he ever wrote! One consolation is that at £1.95 you'll have wasted the least possible amount of money.
The Spectrum Book of Games by Mike James and various others has listings printed on a reasonable quality dot matrix printer. However, these appear to have been word processed and so the same comments as above apply regarding syntax errors. Once more there is nothing outstanding in the selection of games (Fruit Machine, Noughts and Crosses and a dice simulator, for example) although the presentation is good. Objectives for all the games are clearly detailed, together with advice on how to play them, typing-in tips and a list of the main subroutines and details. All well and good but the whole thing is wasted on a poor selection of games. At £5.95 I
really can't describe it as particularly
good value for money. |
60 Games and Applications for the ZX Spectrum by David Harwood is split approximately 50/50 between the author's two groupings. The utilities vary from an eleven line idiot's renumber routine (which only changes program line numbers, ignoring GO TOs and GO SUBs, etc) to a correlation/regression program which produces a value for Pearson's Correlation Coefficient and the linear regression equation, but which requires you to enter all the X co-ordinates followed by all the Y co-ordinates, rather than the more usual X, Y pairs. Equally the games range from a version of Breakout with ZX80 style graphics and a ludicrously complicated set of instructions for running and typing-in, to a version of noughts and crosses which
"unlike many ... allows you to win"(!)
and forces you to start on the centre
square. At £4.95, and despite a reasonable Draughts program by Tim Hartnell,
this book again represents dubious value
for money. |
ALL KINDS OF EVERYTHINGSpectrum Spectacular by Roger Valentine has 50 programs, fewer than 20 of which are games.
There are some useful machine code routines given as both Basic programs and as assembly listings, although these are poorly documented and contain errors. For instance, in one perfectly good left and right scroll routine, the author suggests a couple of modifications for 'fun' effects. One of these, using the SRA instruction to clear the screen with a 'venetian blind' effect, will not work in all
cases. Replacing the SRA with an SRL
(203,62 in decimal) cures the problem.
At £4.95 this seemed fair value for
Instant Arcade Games for the ZX Spectrum by Jean Frost at £3.95 is indeed good value. It's not, however, a book of games listings in the more conventional sense. Take the 'control program listing' for a typical space arcade game; each individual subroutine (producing the backdrop - stars, night skyline and so on - calculating fuel reserves, laser status, and checking for the game endings) is formulated. Then add to this a collection of user-definable spaceships, aliens and tanks with both Basic listings and pictures. Not bad, eh?
Following chapters are on writing your own games and designing your own characters. It's a publication that caters for the two mainstreams of games playing and it definitely comes as recommended reading.
Also highly recommended is Sixty Programs for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum by Robert Erskine and friends. It's a larger format book, making it easier to read than most; on the other hand one or two of the games are of questionable taste ... like Exocet - Let's Play Falklands. This really is the only aspect that lets down an otherwise excellent collection of games of varying length and complexity. They range from Countabout, a counting game for two to five-year olds, to such substantial offerings as Asset Stripper and Evolution 1, 2 and 3. All in all at £4.95 this takes the top spot for best value for money of the pure listings books.
FREE EYE-STRAIN WITH EVERY COPYNext up we find Creating Arcade Games on your ZX Spectrum by Daniel Haywood, a book let down by the variable quality of its listings. These appear to have oozed out of one of the poorer ZX Printers and in parts they're so faint as to constitute a source of severe eye-strain - particularly when struggling with long multi-statement lines. But one or two of the games are of a reasonable standard, explained in depth and supplied with lists of the variables used - together with the functions they serve in the game: this is the book's strongest point. Typical of the contents are ICBM, a version of missile command, and Scramble.
Now let's don protective clothing and really plumb the depths. By any standards, a 64-page book containing 20 trivial programs at just under £7 cannot be classed as good value. Richard Attwasser's Twenty Programs for the ZX Spectrum is, unfortunately, just such a book. Old chestnuts such as Breakout, Android Man and Mastermind are typical of the contents. There's even a program for storing telephone numbers - always a questionable use for cassette- based micros which are switched off most of the time or even dismantled; sorry, but
a card index is still far more efficient. A
cassette of the games in the book is available for an additional £2.95, so at a
combined price of £9.90 for both book
and cassette, this comes close to robbery
with violence. |
Back in the land of thick tomes with lots of listings, 49 Explosive Games for the ZX Spectrum by Tim Hartnell et al proves to be another victim of the ZX Printer. The listing of Frog on a Log (starting on page 133) is surely the worst example of random pixel plotting in any of the eleven books; novice programmers will have little chance of entering it without errors. There are several mammoth adventure listings - Doors of Doom stretches over twenty-four pages (no, I didn't test it!). There are Space games, two-player games, mazes and arcade games, as well as two sections of utility programs in machine code and Basic. One of these is a tape copy program and one has to question the ethics of publishing this, even if it does lack sophistication and will only work with certain machine code programs.
EVERY PICTURE ...Over the Spectrum (edited by Philip Williams) contains 30 programs; two- thirds of which are games - colour screen photographs are included showing most of them in action. The assortment is varied ... in fact, if anything, it attempts to cover too much ground. Freeway Frog, Fruit Machine and Alien Invaders vie for space with Sales Analysis, Payroll and Block Line Delete. It is not entirely clear who this book is aimed at. Still, some of the games have excellent graphics, including Draughts (which has a machine code routine for sorting out the computer's move) and Chess. The latter is not very intelligent and plays quite slowly; in fact, the author even suggests amending the program so it can be used as a human versus human game. There's also a 30-location, eight-problem adventure for those with the patience to type it all in, plus solutions for those who lack the wherewithal to play it. At £6.95 this book leans towards being over-priced.
Finally, reasonably priced at a mere £2.95 is Games for your ZX Spectrum by YS's own Peter Shaw. Twenty-four games are included, all rolled out from yet another temperamental ZX printer (somebody must have the good one, surely?). The games are all fairly short, although some are quite interesting. Pontoon has good graphics, as does Ascot a horse race program. However, by far the best section of this book is a detailed chapter entitled 'How to write better programs'. Here you'll find some good material on writing a fairly complex strategy that uses as an example a game called Dome Dweller. In a similar manner to the Jean Frost opus, series editor Tim Hartnell gives a listing for the main control loop, a collection of things the program has to do and a fairly
detailed description of the variables to be
used. This alone is almost worth the
cover price. |
In addition, there's a glossary and bibliography - which aren't necessary and don't appear to bear any relation to the rest of the book. With these two rogue sections exorcised and 50-75p off the price, Shaw's book would represent excellent value for money.
PICK OF THE BUNCHLooking back over the eleven books for this month, they would seem to fall into four quite distinct groups. Top of the bill, and living up to all my expectations are: Instant Arcade Games for the ZX Spectrum and 60 Programs for the ZX Spectrum. These are the two that no Spectrum owner should be without and they represent the modern equivalent of the ideal tome I yearned for many moons ago.
The next four books, represent good value for money. They are: 49 Explosive Games for the ZX Spectrum, Spectrum Spectacular, Creating Arcade Games on your Spectrum and Games for your ZX Spectrum.
The third block includes Games to Play on your ZX Spectrum, The Spectrum Book of Games, 60 Games and Applications for the ZX Spectrum and Over the Spectrum. These four come into my 'lukewarm' category. The reason for their downgrading are varied, ranging from 'good game presentation wasted on poor games' to 'generally good but over- priced'.
The final category contains only one entry. I doubt that anyone could seriously challenge the fact that the one remaining title is just a waste of paper at the asking price. I stoop to mention the title again.