Quentin Heath assesses a re-issued adventure for the Spectrum which is helping to break new ground in developing graphic stories
THE TIME has come to load your ship with cargo and take off for the stars, because this month I want to talk about a space adventure called Trader. The game has been around for some time, being distributed quietly by Pixel Productions. Now Quicksilva has re-packaged it and there is a version for the Spectrum available. So I expect we shall be seeing plenty of it in the next few months.
Trader comprises three programs which take you around the known galaxy and, it is to be hoped, back again. Your ship may crash, you may run out of fuel, or it may be stolen - but you stand a good chance of survival. The game includes arcade action but the intellectual abilities of the player are also tested.
The first game lands you on your home base of Epsilon, where you can buy the goods which you hope to trade for profit on other planets. You are told that gold is a useless commodity and has little value, but a certain race of robots find it useful, so you should have some on board.
The game is accompanied by a well-presented information booklet but I would not believe everything it tells you, especially where cargo is concerned. Use your own brain and take nothing for granted.
When you have finished buying goods - and that will demand a good knowledge of the game to do successfully - your ship will transport you to the planet Psi. The creatures there have a very strange business sense, as they want some of your brainwaves in exchange for fuel which you need badly.
To get your vibes they will ask questions and if you answer them all correctly, or almost correctly, you will obtain your fuel. If you do not you will lose your ship.
That part of the game requires a good memory; a calculator is helpful to those who cannot multiply, add, subtract, or divide. With a little forethought you can dispense with the calculator and there is no need to find the answers to the mathematical questions. All you need to do is type-in the question. The Psions are not so clever after all.
The encounter with the Psions shows the type of mental activity needed to play the game. You do not have to be a genius but you need to be as cunning as J R Ewing.
The planet Beta is the next port of call for your ship, the Pegasus. This time you can do as the instruction book advises, since the inhabitants are skilful traders and they will not stop at theft. So look after your ship or, like me, you could finish cargoless.
Your encounter with the planet Gamma is one of the animated graphics and arcade sequences where it is important to have a good set of digits rather than a brain full of digits. Once you have sucked the raw fuel from the surface of the planet, and if you do not crash in the process, you can continue to the planet Delta.
That planet is dangerous because almost all the humanoid inhabitants are hooked on Booster Spice. That does not, however, prevent them carrying out criminal acts and the profit you thought you could make on Booster Spice may disappear.
You could also lose your ship and have to search through a maze for it. That part of the game is for arcade buffs, though. Trader seems to have been influenced at the design stage by the Dune trilogy of books from which, I suspect, the idea of Booster Spice was conceived.
Much seems to have been made of the Booster Spice - an illegal narcotic substance on some planets - in the instruction booklet and in the game. It is not until the game ends, however, that you can sell your spice - if you are unlucky. Your business sense will then have to go into over-drive.
One thing of which I would warn fellow-travellers, especially if they are just starting their apprenticeship, is not to BREAK out of any of the programs. If you do so even by accident, you will find that you cannot re-start Trader without loading the other parts of the game again.
The reason is that some of the variables used in the game are placed above RAMTOP so that they can be retrieved by all three programs.
At the time of going to press the Spectrum version of Trader was still being programmed, although from what I have seen of it there are plenty of extra twists in the game and, of course, the graphics are more colourful. The package will be available for the 48K Spectrum and should provide an extended game for mind gamers who like to exercise their laser fingers.
The game is different from other adventure games on the market because it is described as a graphics adventure. There are several available, including Pimania and, to some extent, Black Crystal. That seems to be the direction in which adventures should go, as graphics, either in the form of animation or static pictures, certainly add variety.
Hints and tips
No need for a calculator or computer. The Psions will accept the question as an answer.
If you have views on any mind games or if you have hints and tips on adventure games, computer-moderated games, chess, or anything along those lines you can contact me. I will also try to answer any questions which you may have.