National Lampoon's Chess Maniac 5 Billion and 1
|a game by||Spectrum Holobyte, Inc. Released|
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Chess programs used to be so simple. Chess players had a reputation for wearing Oxfam jackets and having a cavalier attitude to personal hygiene. The programs respected this and were generally graphically undistinguished but with a lot of power. They were written, after all, for and by people who thought that dos was self-explanatory.
Things changed with Battlechess. There was animation and even humour. People murmured 'not quite the place for that sort of thing' as if someone had worn a Viz T-shirt to a funeral. The latest incarnation of Battlechess came on eight hd disks. I said at the time that I thought this was over the top. Silly me. Chess Maniac comes on 12 hd disks and needs 27Mb free on the hard drive. It also makes serious demands on your system; you need a 486 with at least 3Mb to get anywhere with this program.
Installation from disks takes half an hour and decompressing the files takes another 30 minutes. Not something to load up if you just want a quick game.
Never mind, you can while away the time by reading the manual - you know, the one that's 'so fimny you might read it'. 'Our Mighty War Machine is turning aside its craving for destruction'. I read, as adverts for Spectrum HoloByte's other programs Falcon 3 and A 10 Warthog came on the screen. 'We've learned to embrace our former enemies... rainforests are being preserved... You, as a member of this great nation, have the opportunity to make a profound difference.' I'm not a member, but I read on anyway: 'Stop software piracy'. Eh? I read back to see if I'd missed a crucial link, or even a paragraph. No. Boy. I thought, this is wacky.
The waiting game
During the hour it took for the game to install my pc had attracted quite a crowd. Eight people, with differing senses of humour, watched the 'hilarious' opening sequence without even a smile. I set up the computer to play itself, so we could all enjoy the 'sizzling video animation' that accompanies every capture. We watched the pieces go through their small repertoire of moves. Not a giggle. And this group included people like Mr Cursor who laughs when he hears the phrase 'number twos'.
People soon began to drift away, muttering '20. definitely 20' under their breaths. Just Laurence and I were left to watch an end game with the kings, a white pawn and a black rook. The rook didn't attack either of the white pieces and the pawn didn't try for promotion. The kings minced from square to square until, sick of it, we pressed alt x to end the game. It dumped us back into DOS.
The animation is digitised video. It is not as clear or smooth as that of Battlechess 4000 - which was based on stop animation of clay models. Although running in svga. the definition was not good. Faces were particularly ill-defined. The combat sequences between the two sides - Persian and Medieval - are the selling point of the game. No one in the office thought these very funny and the extreme graphic violence of some of the capture sequences was too much even for me. Call me a wimp if you like, but I don't like watching a woman being stabbed repeatedly in the back.
Carry on Capablanca
Before you start, the program will ask if you'd rather be on a desert island with a 'beautiful, voluptuous woman' a gorgeous hunk of a man' or a 'long haired Tibetan mountain goat'. This affects the game slightly, in that your chosen companion congratulates you when you win. The other difference the choice of sex object makes is whether the game says: 'I slept with your wife last night. Dan', or 'I slept with your husband last night. Dan'. (It doesn't say: 'I slept with your goat last night. Dan' - this is specist.) Why does the computer call you Dan? Well, this is part of its wacky, kooky sense of humour. Do you remember an American Vice President called Dan Quayle? Yes, I know it was ages ago. Anyway, the game's habit of always. I mean always, calling you 'Dan' is a reference to Quayle. Not very topical and not very funny.
Clocks and blindfolds
I invited Andy Butcher for a quick game. He prefers to play the 3D view, so we opted for that. It took him a quarter of a minute before he clicked on the magic pixel that enabled him to move his piece. Fortunately, you can rotate the board in all directions. I found that 1 had to move it to a bird's eye view to use it easily. From the menu you can open up a small board - in 2D - and move from that. Or you can switch to the full 2D display - in which case you will lose the animation. You can configure the screen anyway you want - up to a full 'war room' set up with clocks, captured pieces and move record. Notation can be algebraic, co-ordinate or descriptive. The voice will tell you what's going where in any of them. I liked this bit. Other options are fairly standard, allowing you to load and save games, set up problems and so forth. There is a mate finder (which couldn't find fool's mate) and a blindfold option where the pieces of the other side (or both sides) are hidden.
A dekko under the bonnet
Here's a surprise. The chess engine, by Intelart, is a good and powerful one. There are ten levels of difficulty ranging from 'Beginner's Luck' to 'Tie Me Up and Whip Me!' I chose the last. It was a tough game and the computer spent ages thinking of its next move. In fact it spent so long thinking of its First move - a reply to my modest E4, the King's Gambit, the commonest opening move in Chess - that I used the 'Force Move' option. In fact, I used it frequently, as I had an appointment later on in the week.
Although the engine is good there is no database of games, or even a library of openings.
Learn from the manual
The manual opens with this hostage to fortune: 'So, you bought the and copy. You bought the hype. And now you done screwed up and bought the game. It's too late, you know.' Well, it's not too late for you, reader. Be told.