Software reviews are a matter of taste
I WAS AMAZED to read the complete load of farcical rubbish printed in the starter pack section of your June issue. To quote: "The tapes can vary in quality and it is advisable to read the reviews in Sinclair User and use your judgment to find the best."
My complaint is that those who have only just acquired their computer will probably have very little judgment as to what is a good computer game, and will therefore have to rely on the Sinclair User reviews and the Gilbert Factor which can be extremely misleading. Examples of that are the terrible Halls of the Things, which has a totally undeserved factor of nine, and which has received unending praise from John Gilbert, and Maziacs, which despite being boring and very easy, received a factor of eight.
The review of the former prompted me to buy it in my early days of being a computer owner, and I was disappointed to find I had bought a monotonous game which required six hands to play.
To help combat the damage caused by these reviews, which appear to be based purely on the original concept of a game, along with a smattering of John Gilbert's personal taste, I suggest that a team of reviewers replace him in the job of reviewing games. That will provide a wider spectrum of opinions and would probably improve the quality of Sinclair User software reviews.
Steven Robbie, aged 12
John Gilbert replies: Halls of the Things was one of the best products on the software market and was received well by the computer press. Sinclair User did not express the most vociferously favourable opinion on the game but treated it as a program which had just the right amount of technical excellence and playability. There are, of course, differences of opinion but contrary to popular belief I do not produce all the reviews for the magazine. Sinclair User has a panel of five reviewers and, therefore, not all the opinions expressed in the software column of the magazine are necessarily mine.
Same game, new numbers
I BUY as many of your magazines as possible, and I'm amazed to see that all of the programs checked by you, which include random numbers, lack a statement reading: RAND 0. In other words, each time you play the game, having typed in the program, the random numbers will be exactly the same, and in the same sequence.
The function Rnd is pseudo random and follows a set sequence of numbers. Where this sequence starts is easily changeable, using the keyword RAND; RAND 12 will store 12 in memory locations 16434 and 16435. The sequence will then continue.
The important point is that RAND 12 will always give the same sequence of numbers. When the ZX-81 is switched on, RAND is set to 0 and that too gives the same numbers each time a game is played. To demonstrate that switch your computer off and on again and type PRINT RND. The first number printed will always be 0.0011291504 and the second 0.08581543.
In fact, if you type RAND N the next value of RND will be (75*(n+1)-1)/65536.
When switched on, the ZX-81 counts the frames displayed by the TV - 50 per second in England - in memory locations 16436 and 16437. The statement RAND 0 or just RAND on its own, will set the memory locations where the value of RAND is stored, to the values in the timer. That will make the RND sequence start in a different position depending on how long the ZX-81 has been on. That is the nearest the computer can get to a truly random number.
Mark Bensilum, aged 14
Repairing the ZX Printer
AFTER READING the letter sent in by John Cargill, I would also like to express my views. To date I have taken 3 Spectrums and 3 ZX printers back to the shop, the last being at the beginning of April when I returned my printer to W H Smith and was told that all ZX printers were being withdrawn and any repairs would take between 2 to 3 months. I could not wait 2 months at that stage as I was expected to hand in my 'O' Level GCE Project. My last resort was to find an extra £20 to purchase an Alphacom 32 which has performed perfectly.
I also wrote a letter to Sinclair Research and in their reply was told they were sorry for the inconvenience I had suffered but were unable to offer any assistance apart from suggesting I try other shops and outlets to try and obtain a ZX printer.
After all the problems I have experienced with Sinclair I am sceptical about purchasing a Microdrive in case this too should turn out to be faulty.
Hobbit fan requires help
I OWN a 48K Spectrum and if any readers could help me with The Hobbit I would be really happy.
Also if anyone would like to write to me as a pen-pal I would gladly reply to their letters.
I would like to thank S Chadwick - letters, March - for helping me practice Manic Miner on any screen with everlasting lives. Now I have become saner as I have at last passed Eugene's Lair.
Colour and the QL
I ORDERED my QL on the 15 January, a few days after the announcement. It arrived on 28 May.
I can report that it works well with both an ARO 1401 TV and a Microdrive Cub monitor. In one respect, it is better than the brochure. Although sold as an eight colour machine, it can stipple colour together to give 200+. The manual suggests that stippling is only satisfactory on a monitor, but it doesn't look too bad on our TV. The colour codes in the manual are correct only for TV, the monitor exchanging the reds and greens. The DEFine PROCedure is a joy.
My only criticisms are the absence of user defined graphic characters, and a confused indexless manual. I really believe I must be a satisfied customer.
Diet expert bites back
THANK YOU for an excellent magazine. I hope that you will be able to maintain the standards that you have set so successfully.
Recently you reviewed one of my programs marketed by Keysoft, The Dietician for the 48K Spectrum. In the review, you stated "the program seems to calculate the ideal weight more according to fashion than common sense."
That is a strong statement that needs justification. Has the reviewer checked the ideal weight figures given in the major medical and scientific publications? I would think not, because the figures calculated by the program agree with those given in publications such as: The Which Book of Slimming; The Diet Center Book of Dieting; Biometrica Tables; The Book of Diets and Slimming.
You stated also "the diet plans are over simplified." I would like to point out that one of the major problems of somebody following a specific diet course, is the diet set up and the selection of the meals.
The Dietician offers the opportunity to construct your diet in such a way that you are able to live with it. It does not require accurate weighing of various foods and calculation of their calorific content. The simplicity of the approach is its strength because it allows an infinite number of variations in the diet menus.
Whatever diet you decide to follow, you have to devote some time during the initial stages to come to grips with it. No diet method can avoid that but I believe that The Dietician helps you live with your diet.
You cannot judge the effects of a treatment after the first course; you have to follow it to express a valid opinion.
Dr E Frangoulis
Sinclair is not alone
LIKE HUNDREDS of others, I have had problems with my Spectrum - I am now on my third - and I too have had my letters to Sinclair ignored.
I have also written two letters each to Microvitec and Miracle Systems Ltd. Are those companies making so much money that they can ignore possible orders of £200 and £75 respectively?
Compare that to the excellent service received from DRG Business Systems, JLC Display Electronics, Timedata Ltd, who went out of their way to solve the matter for me, even reimbursing the postage.
I suppose those excellent companies do balance those with poor service records but unfortunately it is the latter that cause us so much hindrance in our pursuits.
M S Baines
Help for the handicapped
WE ARE in the process of establishing a database of software for the handicapped - BARDSOFT. Each entry will contain a description of the programs, the handicaps they are suitable for, the type of computer system required, name and address of supplier/developer and price.
The aim of BARDSOFT will be to facilitate the exchange of information on software relevant to the lives of handicapped people, and to promote the database, and therefore the software, abroad. That is what we have been doing successfully for non-software products in the field.
As we are currently collecting and processing information, we would be pleased to hear from any of your readership who may wish to contribute to BARDSOFT.
Sabre Wulf in Scandinavia
WE ARE two boys writing to you from Norway about Sabre Wulf from Ultimate. The game has very impressive graphics and it is really fun to play in the beginning.
You find yourself out in the jungle. There you have to find a ring broken in four pieces. Each time you find a piece there is a verse and a melody. The four verses are:
collect three more and outward bound.
Two pieces are yours to keep,
this score again is what you seek.
One piece more must you amass,
and find the keeper you may pass.
Four pieces found have now made whole,
to find the cave must be your goal.
When you have collected the pieces you will find a picture of a wolf on the screen. Then you must find the cave where the keeper is. He will let you pass if you have brought all the pieces with you, and the game is over. We solved the game on June 28 after spending four days on it. Everything with the game is superb, except that it is as easy as all the other Ultimate games.
Hans Christian Nilsen and Bjorn Tore Eriksen
HAS ANYONE collected all four parts of the magic amulet in Sabre Wulf and escaped from the jungle?
If not, then I am the first. On July 11 finally I passed the guardian and entered the outer world of the Ultimate earth.
The Wizard runs in 16K
A MISTAKE was made in the explanation for the program The Wizard published in the July Sinclair User. The program will run on the 16K Spectrum, not just the 48K as stated. 48K owners will be able to amalgamate all four listings into one, but the 16K computer with the instructions and large data arrays had to be saved separately.
Colour codes explanation
WHILE EXPERIMENTING with the attributes I discovered how to use them in a listing. That can be very useful and can save much time and memory.
To use them press the keys as follows: first select E-mode; for paper colour press any colour key; for ink colour CAPS shift then press any colour key; for Bright 1 press key 9; for Bright 0 press key 8; for Flash 1 CAPS shift, key 9; for Flash 0 CAPS shift, key 8.
If you get the dreaded buzz the best thing is to delete the line and start again.
B H Neal
16K Spectrum is an endangered species
WHAT HAS HAPPENED to the 16K Spectrum? The animal is rarer than a giant panda. After trying 11 retail outlets in my area I had to buy a 48K model, something I didn't want to do as I couldn't really afford the extra £30 and I wanted to fit the extra chips to make 48K myself.
I was told in several shops that 16K machines are only available from Sinclair and then you have to wait a while. Is Sinclair Research unhappy with people buying the smaller machine and converting it to 48K - thereby saving some cash - and consequently ceased distribution of the 16K model?
After several phone calls to Sinclair the only reply I obtained was the "people aren't buying 16K Spectrums anymore." That is hardly surprising if they aren't making them available.
Piracy in the classroom
I FEEL I must write about home computers and the huge software piracy which goes on. In my class at school there are 26 pupils of which 17 have computers. I asked them if they had ever copied a game. All of them admitted they had. I asked them if they had ever bought a game and to my surprise and horror only three had. It's little wonder, then, that software companies are having to merge. I am not saying that I have never copied a game but at least I buy a lot too. I hope that this will make all readers aware of what we are doing to the software industry. The next time you load in The Key or Kopy-Cat, give a thought for the software company you are helping to bust.
Julian Rowland, aged 16
I AM GLAD to inform you that I successfully completed Trashman after two hours of eye-straining agony playing the game.
Do not enter the pub unless you are greatly in need of the points as you end up falling over with drunkenness.
More fun from the hen-house
IN REPLY to Harry Leeson's letter in the June issue of Sinclair User asking whether there is life after level 40 in Chuckie Egg, I can confirm life until 64 with a score of 1,422,760. I hope this encourages him to eat more eggs.