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Review by
Philippa Irving

 

 
Welcome to Game of the Week! Each week there will be a new featured game on this page. The game may be good, average or diabolically bad, it really doesn't matter! Just look at the pics, read the text and enjoy the nostalgia! :-) Game of the Week! is open to contributions so if you would like to contribute a game article for this page you're more than welcome to! Every article we receive will be considered!
The Shard of Spring
1987 Strategic Simulations Inc.
Programmed by Keith Brors
 
Most text of the present article comes from the review published in the twenty ninth issue of the British C64 magazine ZZAP!64 (street date: August 9th, 1987).
 


RATIONALISED RATINGS

Normal service is resumed this month, after a brief break last month to panic over my finals. Finals at Oxford are conducted in a curious manner, which involves dressing up in black dinner jackets and bow ties and silting for 30 hours in a building made of pink marble. It amounted to psychological disorientation on a grand scale, and left me little time to go to war. What did I get? I don't know yet . . . probably a second like everyone else.

I thought I'd devote this month's introduction to explaining my ratings system in detail.

PRESENTATION
Presentation involves everything that doesn't directly relate to the game, excluding the graphics (which, even in a strategy game, can be said to be part of the gameplay). So that doesn't just mean the packaging (though packaging is important when you've paid for a product), it means the general on-screen appearance, whether the program looks 'tatty round the edges', and -- importantly -- what impression the 'front end' makes. In a strategy game there often has to be a complex orders system, and this can be very badly designed when programmers really make an effort.

GRAPHICS
This is self-explanatory, but I try to consider the distinction between prettiness and usefulness. Good graphics are those which are appropriate to the game, and so a few simple, elegantly designed lines can be better than a screenful of messy colour if the game's idea is better expressed that way.

RULES
Rules are vitally important to a strategy game, which so often has to exist in the imagination. I prefer to see the game mechanics explained (though others don't like this) and therefore I always commend background detail.

AUTHENTICITY
This is a nebulous quality. To what extent can a stylised set of boxes and lines on a television screen ever be said to be authentic -- especially when what they're trying to represent is a noisy, smoking, muddy battlefield in the Napoleonic Wars? Authenticity is the factor by which a game, through its various aspects, manages to reduce the gap between reality and what's on screen.

PLAYABILITY
Playability may be generated differently by arcade games and strategy games, but the effect on the player is much the same. Playability can probably he boiled down to 'the promise of more', and it's faintly analogous to an absorbing plot in a television drama. Empty and unsatisfactory games can have a high degree of initial playability -- who, once started, can resist watching 'Neighbours'?

OVERALL
I feel I can give a game a high overall percentage without much reference to the individual ratings. A game may be badly presented, have weedy and obstructive graphics, rules which hardly cover the back of the inlay, and try to claim that Napoleon invaded India . . . and still remain fascinating. Most of the individual ratings are descriptive, but the last three are evaluative.

Having said all that, I wouldn't take ratings very seriously. Most of what I really have to say about the game is contained within the body of the review, and the best way of judging whether or not you would like to buy it is to study that and decide if it sounds like the sort of game you'd enjoy.
.

 

SHARD OF SPRING
SSI, 19.99 disk only


Shard of Spring is a game of a type I would usually pour scorn upon, the computer 'fantasy roleplaying game'. As a real live roleplayer, I'm deeply convinced that it is not possible to reproduce the experience of this sort of game on a computer. And although Shard of Spring is a very playable piece of entertainment software, it's good for reasons other than those which it intends.

The action takes place on the island of Ymros, where until recently, it was always Spring. This phenomenon wag brought about by the presence on the island of the Shard of the title, and, due apparently to appalling careless security precautions, this desirable piece of crystalware has been stolen by an evil witch called Siriadne. The temptress has threatened to destroy the crystal and thus turn Ymros into an icy wasteland unless the peasants pay tributes to her. The field is clearly wide open for adventurers to do then stuff.

What we really have here is an excuse to string together a collection of dungeons, quests and wilderness encounters (to use the roleplaying technical terms), based around a structure of character advancement and acquisition of wealth. The possibility of eventually winning by achieving the ultimate objective is also held out. Most of the game is spent in melee, so it's fortunate that the close combat system is extremely good.

The first thing to do is to 'roll up' a party. A party must consist of at least two, and can contain as many as five characters. There is no advantage at all in having fewer than five in your party, as they all add to the firepower and don't cost much to feed. A human character can either be a Warner or a Wizard, and the other races have already had the choice made for them.

Characters are allocated statistics in the usual range of 'attributes' by random computer dice-rolls. Although it seems absurd to give a computer character a statistic for its intelligence, the 'intellect' attribute makes itself useful by governing how many skill points can be spent on skills like the ability to use a sword or to hunt. Similarly, the 'skill' attribute itself determines the percentage chance of hitting a target, and strength adds a damage modifier. When the game lunges into melee combat, the use of all the attributes is brought immediately to the surface of the gameplay. They have no feeling of irrelevance, as happens so often in this type of game.

Warrior characters can choose from a list of skills specific to them. They need to have a weapon skill of some sort, but more unusual skills include armoured skin and persuasiveness, which lets the character negotiate a discount on items sold in shops. Wizard skills are slightly different, because choosing one of the five 'rune' skills allows the wizard to have at his command a range of six or seven spells. Finally, and essentially, the character is named. The latter half of this name has a tendency to be swallowed by the program when it feels like it, which gives an amateurish impression.

All characters are stored on a separate disk (one of yours, which the program formats for you), and once you've created as many as you want you can arrange them into parties. There's space on the disk for 25 characters and five parties, but you can only go out adventuring with one party at a time.

Having swapped disks round once more and entered the game, the player finds his party represented by a single figure in the middle of a map. The map is pretty enormous, and I can vouch for that because I've been mapping it. What you see on the screen at any one time is a portion nine by nine square of the landscape surrounding your party. The basic terrain types are plain, forest, mountains and marsh, bounded by water. Special locations, such as towns and the entrances to underground complexes, are easily identifiable. As might be expected, it takes longer to cross a mountain square than a plain square, but the game is not set in 'real time'. The hour of the day and the day of the month can be called up at any time. After a certain number of hours it begins to get dark, and at this point it's a good idea to set up camp and sleep.

You can set up camp at any time of the day, and it's often essential because it's the only way to access a wider range of options. Once encamped the player can examine individual members of the party, try to identify potions and items found, swap round equipment and heal each other's wounds. The inadvisability of taking too literal a view of the game is illustrated in this procedure. If a character buys a weapon and a set of armour in a town, before he can put on the armour and get the weapon ready to hand he has to leave the town, go a little way out into the country, and pitch a tent!

Combat is extremely well-managed -- and this is a good thing, for if it weren't one of the beet aspects of the game, the whole program would be a disaster. When the party stumbles across something to wave its swords at -- and you don't see them coming -- the screen display changes to a blow-up of the area, with characters shown for the first time as individual figures. Combat always starts with the opposing sides a few squares apart. This is where movement points become the currency of combat; it costs two movement points to move one square, one to turn around and three to make an attack. Each character, friend or foe, takes his turn according to speed. A character's accuracy and ability to inflict damage depends on his skill rating, his strength, the type of weapon he's using and the opponent's armour.

The landscape is interspersed with dungeons and towns. At the towns you can buy weapons, armour and foods, take your characters up levels and meet that familiar roleplaying figure . . . the old man in the pub who tells you what your next quest will be. The dungeons take you into the usual subterranean corridors populated with monsters and hiding treasure.

 

Although I'm sceptical on principal about this sort of game, there's no doubt that Shard of Spring is an excellent design. The island is a graded exercise in adventuring, with the wilderness and dungeons on the East side containing easier monsters than those on the West. It's playable to the point of being addictive. Testimony to this is the fact that a friend and I sat up to half past two playing it, when we were in the last weeks before our Finals.

What the game lacks is imaginative design, and because of that, atmosphere. But I can certainly recommend it, even to those who don't think they like roleplaying on a computer.

   


Presentation 55%

A generally lacklustre appearance, including a clumsy orders system and long and irritating pauses for disk access.

Graphics 65%
The representation of the wilderness is adequate but dull.

Rules 88%
Clear descriptions, with tables describing some of the game's mechanics.

Authenticity 60%
Although giving a sense of vastness and variety, disbelief is never suspended for very long.

Playability 90%
Absorbing, tantalising, and satisfying.

Overall 88%
Just short of brilliant.
.

 
 

 

Htmlized by Dimitris Kiminas (9 Oct 2005)
Only the first from the above screenshots existed in the original review.

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