Genie and CompuServe Offer Die-Hard Adventure Fans Wide New On-line Worlds
by Tom MostellorA lot of old-timers got their first exposure to computer games from a program called Adventure, which ran on the DEC PDP-11. Since nobody but big companies and universities actually owned a PDP- 11, Adventure was mostly played by solitary users on stolen time. The game began with the words "You are standing at the end of a road in front of a house." From there, you were on your own, since there was never any documentation included, just a mystery to solve.
While the PC mainstream has shifted to graphically oriented games, such as those published by Sierra On-Line. the spirit of the original Adventure lives on at CompuServe and Genie. The two leading on-line services both offer classic text-only adventure games with the added twist of allowing lots of players to inhabit the game universe at one time. Now, when you find yourself standing at the end of that road, you may be among a crowd of other players.
While both on-line services offer a variety of games, the flagship programs are Genie's Gemstone III and CompuServe's British Legends. Developed by the Simutronics Corp. and Muse (U.K.) Ltd., respectively, these games differ from most in that the program's software does not reside in the PC, but rather on the on-line service's mainframe. This nicely settles any copy protection issues.
The hardware requirements are simple: just use your favorite terminal software to dial up the service as usual, select the service's gaming areas, and you're set. However, I would recommend using a terminal program with a "chat" mode to prevent the game's output from interrupting your input on the screen. Both games share the basic Adventure plot: You're in a mythical universe reminiscent of Arthurian legend. The universe is full of wizards, dragons, and other magical characters. You move from scene to scene by issuing commands like "go east" or "enter cave." Along the way, you encounter various treasures such as keys with which to open doors or torches that cast light into dark places.
Picking up these objects earns you points and helps you to solve the puzzles encountered all over the games' alternative universe. As you score more points. both Gemstone and British Legends elevate your character to higher levels of consciousness and skill, finally allowing you to play the game as a kind of wizard overseer, manipulating things from behind the scenes.
While the games are based on similar premises, Gemstone III is by far the more intense of the two. British Legends allows you to simply choose a name for your character and begin playing the game, for example, but Gemstone has tougher entrance requirements.
You're required to choose a number of personality characteristics, including occupation, race, and so on, right down to the color of your eyes. In fact, the sheer number of options involved in getting started can be so intimidating that a simplified setup process is also provided.
The philosophical differences between the games carry through to the instructions. The manual for British Legends is a breezy nine pages long, while, at nearly 25,OOO words, the Gemstone manual is about half the size of an average novel. Genie should make it available in a compressed format. If you're serious about playing Gemstone, you'll have to print the manual, since there's no help available while you're playing the game. The kinder, gentler British Legends makes a quick command sumrnary available, along with some rather general hints.
Anyone with a passing acquaintance with adventure games will feel at home with either British Legends or Gemstone. While neither game's command interpreter can be considered a big improvement over the original 15-year-old game, both understand a wide enough vocabulary to make them easy to communicate with.
The main twist on the original game is sharing the universe with other players. When I signed on at peak times, there were as many as 50 other players sharing each game. Even at the slowest times, there were seldom fewer than 10 players. While the manuals of both games mention forming teams and roaming together, I saw relatively little of that. Most characters in both games even seemed reluctant to put up with the mechanics of conversation, which can be slow.
SHARING YOUR SPACEHaving other players share your universe can be a problem, since they can pick the scenes clean of the treasures that are needed in order to score points. To keep the play moving, both games provide for periodic restocking of important objects. In addition, some of the other characters can steal your treasures or attack you, although neither game seemed to reward aggressive play, at least on a newcomer's part. I lost every single fight that I picked with other players.
Both of these games offer a lot of interesting puzzles for the veteran gamer, and the challenge of having other players help or hinder you can add to the excitement. Of the two games, Gemstone is the one for people who want to escape reality and really get into playing a role in an incredibly complex world. In my roamings through Gemstone, I never saw the same place twice. Drawing a map is definitely necessary to navigate effectively. (As any gamer worth his salt will tell you, the need for mapping tends to separate the senous player from the once-in-a-while dabbler.)
British Legends is better suited to the occasional user, with its simpler entrance requirements and a universe small enough to enable most players to get around adequately by memory.
It's interesting to note that aside from allowing multiple players, neither of these games offers any basic playing irnprovements over Adventure, which certainly validates that early effort. Balancing this lack of pioneering effort is a purchase price that can't be beat. However, you do have to keep in mind that all the time you're playing, the clock is ticking. Connect charges can add up quickly. You may want to play at 300 bps to save money. This slows the games down, but if you're going to put in long hours, slow and steady may be the way to go.
List Price: British Legends, 1,200 or 2,400 bps, $12.80/hr; 300 bps, $6.30/hr. Requires: CompuServe subscription, modem, communications software. CompuServe Inc., Customer Service, P.O. Box 20212, Columbus, OH 43220; (800) 848-8199.
List Price: Gemstone III, 2,400 bps off-peak, $10/hr; 1,200 bps off-peak, $6/hr; 300 bps off-peak, $5/hr. Peak hours (Monday through Friday, 8 A.M. to 6 P.M.), $18/hr at any speed. Requires: Genie subscription. modem, communications software. Genie, 401 N. Washington St., Rockville, MD 20850; (800) 638-9636.
16th May 1999: pcmjun90.htm