First, I have to be quite honest here. When I first heard of the game Virtual Pool, set in a virtual bar, I thought it was some sort of dating on the Internet. I suppose the lack of the word "cyber" should have given the game away, though. I mean you can buy Cyber-sex body suits with receptors on the inside to simulate the moves your partner is making in his/her suit at the other end of the phone! Apparently. So, an easy mistake, you'll agree. Well I saw the error in my train of thought, which leads me on to my second point...
Which is... I hate pool sims. I hate pool sims, pinball sims... the lot. They're never anywhere near as good as the real thing and more to the point don't involve going to the pub. Imagine taking the "going to the pub" element out of Friday night and replacing it with the "using a computer to recreate it" element. You'd have a program which took $100 out of your wallet, spent all night going "Pardon?", "Sorry?" and "God not Freebird, again" and left you waking up going "Shitshitshitshitshit". Hardly likely to catch on now, is it?
So I began to think to myself on the tube home. "There must be something to this game, I mean it's on CD and that. I suppose 'virtual' implies 3D in the style of those other 'virtual' games and I could always read the manual first... nah."
Creating the right atmosphere
So arriving home (picking up two six packs of aggro-lager from Mr Off Licence on the way) I prepared for a night of drinking and pool -what more could a man want for? Installation complete. Here we go. Select "play pool"... and well blow me that does look good. The whole room and table are recreated in svga and animated as smoothly as you like. The table, the balls, the bar stools, the ceiling fan... s'funny. Where's the bloke insisting that it's winner stays on? But the balls! This engine is so slick it's like watching the real thing. I've never seen such a close simulation in a game. Go for a three ball plant and each ball behaves as one would expect. This game's already looking more than good - it's almost founding its own religion.
But during this moment of jaw-dropping-ness, I managed to knock over a can of lager, creating a huge sticky mess all around the edge of my keyboard. "Authenticity!", I cried (in much the same way as Archimedes' shrieked "Eureka!" upon discovering baths). This is more like it! Only a mere moment had passed before a lit cigarette was balanced on the edge of my keyboard and a line of coins in front of my mouse. "Mouse?", you ask? Yes, and this is the cleverest part of all...
Let loose on yer moose
The mouse is your connection into cyberpool. It's your control. It's your highway into Hooked City. Moving the mouse left, right, forward and back rotates the cue around the cue ball. Click and move for zoom. But here's the sting... press "s", the shoot button, and move the mouse forward and you take a shoot, the strength of which depends on the mouse speed. Clever? I'm convinced. Because the animation is so smooth and fast, the void between player and virtual world is bridged with something Brunei would be proud of. Time it right, too, and the coins should go everywhere. Just like real life. Coupled with realistic sound effects for striking, kisses and cushions and, indeed, I found myself hooked.
I decided to have a browse through the manual to see just what this baby was capable of. Spin, or "English" to give it the correct name, can be had without fear of felt ripping or the ball landing in someone's pint. Power shots, fine tuning - they're all here. Everything you could imagine has been included and more. "More" comes in the form of a number of multimedia "books". There's an animated history of the game itself in a very Gilliam-esque style. This tells of its beginnings as an indoor lawn game and comes with info on some of the 20th century's greatest players. There's also a pool tutor and literally dozens of trick shots all with accompanying videos. I was liking this more and more. At this point I could almost feel my hair going greasy and a need to buy an all-weather, plastic waterproof with the ability to fold up into its own pocket. I ran from my house and made for my local where I spent an interesting couple of hours with an ostrich called Sfaro (12 cans of aggro-lager does me quite nicely, thank you very much).
The next day
The next day got me thinking (an all-new experience and one I must remember to try again). This game has network play. Two players can play over a network. A quick game of pool before lunch, maybe? Or perhaps a quick afternoon taster, to ready yourself for the real thing come evening? Good idea. However it's the modem link option that scares me. The CompuServe children who hang around the Action games forum chatting "across the net" under names like Dr Axe-Head and other such nom de plumes may never get to see a real pool table. If sims are this good, what in five years? We seem to be changing from a social society to a solitary society where everything will be done from the home, across the "superhighway"... we may never see each other again!
Download Virtual Pool
You may recall that one of the most popular games of 1996 was the superb Virtual Pool from Interplay. Now, Interplay has decided to follow up Virtual Pool with another equally exciting green-baize sim, Virtual Snooker. Snooker differs from pool in a number of ways, but mainly in that it's played on a larger table. Like billiards, it has a slightly less raffish reputation than pool, and calls for a little more in the way of strategy and tactics. It's also a little more measured in its pacing, which probably accounts for its greater popularity in Europe and Canada than in America. Virtual Snooker comes to us, as did Virtual Pool, with a money-back guarantee to anyone whose actual snooker game doesn't improve as a result of playing the virtual game. All the play and action of the real game is featured here: it calculates friction, cushion response and cue-ball spin for accurate play.Tracking lines will also help you improve your game. Again, as with its pool predecessor, amazing 3D graphics give a realistic perspective to the game, allowing players to (well,"virtually"...) walk around the table, zoom in, back away, and see the whole table from any angle. A bonus is that you'll be able to enjoy 30 minutes of video footage with six-time world snooker champion, Steve Davis. Developed by Celeris, Inc., the game will feature a frame rate of 29 per second and the same 360-degree environment as Virtual Pool--and you can play it over a network or via modem. So shake off that poolhall chalk and dust, and settle into a game more redolent of the Officers' Mess or the Gentlemen's club than the risky haunts of Fast Eddie Felson and Minnesota Fats.
Interplay effectively brings the pool hall to your PlayStation with Virtual Pool. You can play solo or challenge a friend to 8-Ball, 9-Ball, Straight, and Rotation. A thorough options menu customizes everything from camera angles, stick handling, and shooting the cue ball.
Impressive BD graphics create a real-time, 360-degree environment that lets you move around and view the table from any angle. The controls are exact and enable you to plan each shot using actual pool-table physics. Mixed tunes and good background sound effects complete the experience. Detailed instructions and a clear interface also make this pool game accessible to all skill levels.
- Always keep in mind how your shot affects the 8-ball.
- Apply English by hitting the cue ball off-center and to the left for a left spin (or vice versa). This can also decrease ball speed.
Virtual Pool is the definitive pool simulation game -- from teaching novice players the rudiments of the game to improving the skills of the seasoned pool shark. Interplay worked with a team of physicists and professional pool players to bring Virtual Pool to life and provide the highest degree of accuracy. Balls roll, skid, collide and move on a beautifully rendered pool table that mirrors reality.
Players can "walk" around the table to check out their next shot, take a close-up look, zoom out for the overall picture and line up the shot as they would in a real game with a real table. Virtual Pool also allows players to view the shot from overhead, something unavailable in a real pool game.
World Champion pool player "Machine Gun" Lou Butera is available to teach new players the tricks of the game. In addition to the library of lessons, there are over 30 video clips that show famous trick shots the player can practice. This top-notch pool simulation is so good that Interplay guarantees it will improve your actual pool game -- or your money back.
I've always enjoyed the game of pool, the feel of a good break, the clunk of the ball dropping into the pocket, and the anguish of the cue ball following along for yet another scratch. My biggest problem with pool is that I don't have room for a table at home, so I never get much practice. Virtual Pool takes a full-size pool table and packs it into your computer, providing an extremely accurate simulation of the real game. In addition, Virtual Pool is an amazing tutorial in the finer points of the game for the novice player.
Virtual Pool starts in practice mode -- you're lined up for a simple break shot and ready to go. Starting play is simple, almost as easy as the first time I tried the real game. But the simple interface contains a lot of power. You can move around the table and view it from any angle, even views you can't get in a real game of pool, making it easy to plot your shot. You also have full control of the cue. You can raise or lower it, add some english to the cue ball, control the speed of your shot, and more. You can try any shot you want, and if it goes awry it's simple to reset the table position and do it again.
If you're like me, you probably have no idea what changing the english, spin or angle of the cue shot will actually do. Virtual Pool makes it easy to learn the secrets that can turn you into a pool shark. A selection of video lessons with "Machine Gun" Lou Butera, combined with a tutorial in the manual, teach the basic shots all good pool players should have at their command. In addition to these lessons, there are video clips of Lou making some spectacular trick shots. Watching this master pull off shots that appear to defy the laws of physics is fascinating, and you can set up the trick shots Lou demonstrates and practice them yourself. After practicing some of the trick shots in Virtual Pool, I was amazed to find I could duplicate them on a real table. If this still doesn't get you to the point where you can line up spectacular shots, Virtual Pool includes a tracking mode. Turn it on and the projected paths of all the balls will be displayed. Changing any parameter of the shot immediately updates the projection, making it easy to learn to shoot like a pro.
Once you're through practicing, you can start an actual game of eight-ball, nine-ball, straight pool or rotation -- each game is played according to professional rules. If you don't know how to play, Virtual Pool includes detailed on-line rulebooks for each game. You can select one of nine computer players, play against another person on the same machine, or hook up with a remote player. This new version, like the original DOS version, supports modem, direct serial link and IPX network connections. However, the Windows 95 version also includes support for head-to-head play over the Internet. Now you can play anyone, anywhere in the world -- an addition that makes the upgrade well worth it to owners of the DOS version.
Overall, Virtual Pool for Windows 95 is almost identical to Virtual Pool for DOS. The graphics and gameplay are essentially the same; the game physics have been slightly improved in the new version, but it's not very noticeable. Aside from Internet play, the biggest improvement is in the ease of installation -- on many systems it was difficult, if not impossible, to get the higher-resolution display modes working under the DOS version. DirectX support in the Windows 95 version has made configuration a breeze.
The graphics in the Windows 95 version of Virtual Pool are identical to those in the DOS release; you get the same quality 3D rendering of the table. The cue and balls move smoothly -- you even see the spin on each ball. Some texture smoothing could improve the look of the game, but overall the graphics are fantastic.
The sound in Virtual Pool is amazing. Everything, from the clatter of balls caroming off each other to the sound of a pocketed ball, is realistic enough that you'll swear you're in an actual pool hall. The intensity of sounds -- the balls ricocheting, the cue tip hitting a ball -- change depending on the strength of the contact. The annoying MIDI music tracks from the DOS version are gone -- you now get solid CD audio music tracks. If you don't like the music included with the game, you can listen to your own CDs during game play.
Windows 95: 486/66, 8 MB RAM, CD-ROM drive
Recommended: P75 or faster, 16 MB RAM, 2x CD-ROM drive, and PCI video card. Also included on the CD is a copy of the DOS version, which requires a 386SX 40MHz or higher, VGA graphics, CD-ROM drive, and supports most major sound cards.
Macintosh: PowerPC Macintosh, 2X CD-ROM, System 7.5.1 or higher
Virtual Pool is also available for the Sony PlayStation.
The DOS version of Interplay's Virtual Pool is one of my favorites -- its authentic simulation of the game is top-notch. This new version for Windows 95 has all the features that made the original DOS version so much fun; the added Internet play and better music make it well worth the cost to upgrade. I give Virtual Pool for Windows 95 a score of 85 out of 100.