The sound of balls clacking together

Archer Maclean's Pool logo

VIRGIN * £25.99 * 1/2 Meg * Mouse * Out now

Archer Maclean (no relation to the producers of that stripy toothpaste) shook the earth with the supreme brilliance and general all-round greatness of his hit snooker sim Jimmy White's Whirlwind Snooker. Now, several months later, Archer plots to continue his quest for world domination in the field of green tables covered in balls, with his very own rather sexy pool game.

Consequently we find ourselves transported to the familiar scene, you know, pool hall - smoky air, fat bloke with a pint looking enviously at your jeans, Phil Collins and the rest of Genesis trying to make a pop video...

Pool is a game which features balls being hit with a stick and bouncing off one another. The object of the game is to put some balls into little string bags dangling from the corners of a large green table. That's quite easy. However, it's not as simple as that. You can only 'pot' certain balls in a certain order, and that's what people tend to find difficult about playing pool.

Archer's game has an advantage because in this you can't get your trousers stolen. It features the same graphics engine as Jimmy White's Snooker, but he's modified the icon system a bit to try and make it more easy to use.
You can choose whether to play eight-ball USA rules, UK rules, or nine-ball USA rules games.

The eight-ball version uses the familiar red and yellow balls that we all know and love. The nine-ball version features numbered balls complete with scaled numbers on the side, so the closer you get to the ball, the larger the number gets.

There's also the option to play 'Best of' games, where you and a chum battle it out over a hot pool table for three, five, seven or nine games to see who comes out on top (ooo-er).
There's full eight player tournament mode too, so you can invite hordes of your friends over to gasp in awe at your uncanny pool prowess. If it just so happens that your pool skill is something akin to that of a dead newt, then put it into trick shot mode and you can position the balls as you so choose, setting up a shot that not even Stevie Wonder could miss.

There are 20 computer players to choose from instead of the previous four, and they all have an individual style of play. Some of them are so good they can do three-ball cannons, and they're quite difficult to do.

An amusing feature of Jimmy White's were the flies which descended to annoy you if you took too long over a shot, and the silly faces pulled by the balls. Archer was keen to introduce new effects, but has found people preferred the old ones, they're back in all their glory. - And for those of you who like statistics there's a somewhat tasty invention called the Rank-o-meter. This tells you how well you've been doing with a trendy little graph affair the number of balls you've potted, and so on.

The original game oodles of good ratings from virtually every magazine under the sun. The follow-up exactly manages to live up to everything that was expected of it. It does everything the original did and more, only this time it's pool that's being simulated. It's due for release in no less than five languages, and it's a bit of a scorcher to while away those long winter nights.

So get that cue out, chalk it up or do whatever you normally do to it, and prepare to shoot some pool.

Archer Maclean's Pool logo

After the marriage of the Amiga and snooker worked so well with Jimmy White's, can the same be done with the supposedly 'more accessible' pool?

There haven't been many good pool and snooker games written for the Amiga, and it's not difficult to see why. Translating what is essentially a game that should be played while you're down the pub, under the influence of alcohol, on to the relatively clinical Amiga is well nigh impossible.

Last year, though, a breakthrough in computer potting came with the arrival of Jimmy White's Whirlwind Snooker from Virgin Games. Written by Archer MacLean, who was previously responsible for such excellent games as Dropzone and International Karate, the game was widely acclaimed by Amiga gamers everywhere. To such an extent, in fact, that it is still in the top 20 full-price games as I write this!

Now, Virgin and Archer have teamed up again (to the delight of Amiga-owning pool players) to produce Archer MacLean's Pool.

If you don't know already, Whirlwind Snooker was a first-person 3D game which made use of polygons to draw the table and the balls. The table could be rolled around using the mouse, and so viewed from any angle, and you could also zoom in and out at will. The table could even be tilted so that you could take a look at the ball positions from above. Basically, it was a superb game which played well and had loads of options.

For Pool, Archer has taken the same code as he used in Snooker, taken the snooker bits out and put the pool bits in, and some more. Gone are the 15 reds and seven colours, and in are the pool-hall setups of seven reds, seven yellows and a black (8 ball).

We're going to pot
As with Snooker, the game is controlled using the mouse in conjunction with a number of icons in a menu bar at the edge of the screen (see panel below). The menu may be moved to above or to the left of the main play area, depending on your preference.

When you're lining up a shot, adding top-spin or screw to the cue ball is easy by clicking on the appropriate arrow next to the cueball icon. If you're not sure about the line of a shot, then help is at hand from a projected line option, which is useful for doubles or plants. After these options are set, the strength of shot must be chosen by lengthening or shortening the cue icon. To shoot, just click on the cue ball icon, and let your Amiga do the rest.

Depending on the position of the cue ball on the table, some shots are more difficult to play than others. For instance, if the cue ball is placed up against a cushion and then it must be played away, then the cue may only be aimed at the top of the ball - just like real pool. It's touches like this which add a huge amount of realism to the game.

Again Archer has really gone to town on the features: Pool is very addictive and easy to play

Pot Plant
Again, Archer has gone to town on the features. As well as measuring the dimensions of real life pool tables, and including them in the game, he also researched the actual current American pool-hall rules. Not only are the UK Eight-Ball rules included, but also the USA Eight-Ball and tournament Nine Ball rules (see panel). Each type plays differently, and follows the rules perfectly.

Hardened pool addicts may not like the fact that the numbers on the balls don't rotate while the balls are rolling, which is especially noticeable when playing nine ball. I personally don't find this a problem, and I would imagine that including the feature would slow down the game considerably.

Another feature that Pool has over Snooker is in the number of opponents available. Whereas Snooker had four, Pool has 30, and each one has a different playing ability. Their skills at pool are instantly recognisable by their names (such as 'Jimmy Brill', who is an excellent player, and 'Daft Debbie', who is not), so choosing an opponent to match your skills as you progress through the game shouldn't be difficult. It's still much better to play against human opponents, of course, but then that's the same with all multi-player games.

A tournament facility is provided which enables up to eight players to play together, with one or more may be set up as computer opponents from the 30 available. Because this obviously takes a long time to complete, it is possible to save and load the relevant data so that you can continue on a later date. The save option can also be used for ordinary games and trick shots.

There's even an option included which enables you to tweak the rules so that you can play the way you usually play. This is an important feature, because depending on where you are in the country, you will play slightly different rules, such as only one shot when a fool is committed on the black ball, or naming a pocket and sticking to it. It's little features like this which make the game so playable.

Pot luck
After a while, aiming a shot becomes very easy, and you find yourself becoming really engrossed in the game. If you're playing against the computer, you must try and plan your sots especially carefully, because most of the 30 opponents are very clinical, robotic players who will make you pay for miscalculated shots.

The pockets are a lot bigger on Pool than on Snooker, and the table is a lot smaller - so this makes it a game which is much easier to play than its predecessor. People who are bored quickly with Snooker because it's too slow and difficult will have a whale of a time with Pool, but fans of the original game may find it a little too easy. This applies to pool in real life too, though, so it's not a reflection on the quality of the game.

So what more can I say? Pool is a very addictive game with loads of nice touches which make it very easy to play and, unlike some games, it doesn't leave you frustrated because the computer has 'cheated'. It follows each set of rules exactly, and the large number of opponents with different levels of skill mean that even the novice pool player will feel instantly at home.

People who have played Whirlwind Snooker before will not find anything new graphically because, ultimately, it is a very similar game, but some would argue that it uses the same tried-and-trusted formula which made the original game a classic. Some experienced pool players may whinge that the numbers on the balls don't move when the balls do, but that's the only thing that they could complain about.

So instead of going down the pub one evening when it's pouring with rain, get some beer and a few mates and spend the evening playing this. You're guaranteed a great game, and you won't have arguments who's providing the 20-pence pieces...

Archer Maclean's Pool: Control Panel explanation
a. Box of many tricks, including player, name, required ball colour, and exactly what is required for play to continue after a foul - e.g. 'Place the cue ball'
  1. Go to cue ball
  2. View line
  3. Disk options
  4. Chalk cue
  5. Add follow through
  6. Score info/Advise the best shot
b. Change cue power
c. Zoom in
d. Zoom out
  7. Left-hand side
  8. Take shot
  9. Right-hand side
  10. Overhead icons
  11. Add screw-back
  12. Select plan view
e. Tilt table up or down
f. Change cueing angle left or right
g. Opponent's name and other details

Archer MacLean's Pool offers you not one but three different types of pool rules. Here's what they are all about.
Archer Maclean's Pool: Nine Ball
Nine Ball: mainly featured to make the US players feel at home. But where's the blue baize?

Played with nine numbered balls. All the balls must be potted in numerical order, unless they are hit in a 'plant' (i.e. the cue ball hits the lower ball first, which goes on to hit and pot another ball).
The idea is to pot the nine ball first, so if you can manage to pot this using a plant, then you have won the game. If a foul is committed you don't get two shots, but the cue ball is allowed to be moved anywhere on the table.

Archer Maclean's Pool: Seven-red & seven-yellow balls and a black (eight) ball
This is the one you normally play in your local pub with the pocketfuls of 20 pees.

Played with seven red balls, seven yellow balls and a black (eight) ball, the aim of this version of the game is for each player to pot all of one set of colours followed by the Eight ball.
If you commit a foul, your opponent will get two shots, and you may position the cue ball anywhere in the 'D'. If the black ball is potted before all the balls of the player's colour have been sunk, then it's 'Game Over', and time to leave the hall.

Archer Maclean's Pool: Pool using American Rules
Another set of American rules, but this time it's only Eight Ball. Plenty of research has gone into this game.

This has basically the same rules as the British coin-op version except that at the end of the game you must name the pocket that the eight ball is to be potted into.
Like Nine Ball, you don't get two shots when a foul is committed, but the cue ball may be placed anywhere in the top quarter of the table, ready for you to line up a shot - which is going to be a definite advantage.

Zum Kugeln!

Archer Maclean's Pool logo

Gute Neuigkeiten für Filzläuse, die von Whirlwind Snooker begeistert waren, aber eigentlich Pool gespielt hätten: Archer MacLean und Virgin ließen sich nicht lumpen, ab sofort darf auch gepoolt werden!

Na prima, wie steht es da mit Neuerungen? Oder setzte Programmier-Veteran MacLean etwa auf alt und bewährt? Nun, "alt" ist zwar gewiß das falsche Wort, aber die bewährten 3D-Grafikroutinen sind beispielsweise schon dieselben wie beim Snooker. Aber was hätte da auch groß verbessert werden können? Schließlich machten die bunten Kugeln schon vor einem Jahr dem Titel alle Ehre und sausten wie ein leibhaftiger Wirbelwind über den Digi-Filz, von den rasenden Kamerafahrten ganz zu schweigen. Auch die handliche Steuerung (direkt per Maus bzw. indirekt über Icons) blieb bei kleineren Kosmetik-Eingriffen weitgehend erhalten; die FX stammen ebenfalls vom Vorgänger, während der barmäßige Titeltrack zumindest sehr ähnlich klingt.
Kurz und gut, die Veränderungen beschränken sich auf den spielerischen Part des Games.

Hier allerdings hat der gute Archer ein paar ordentliche Schaufeln zugelegt, was sich alleine schon an den verschiedenen Regelvarianten zeigt. So darf man etwa ganz nach Wunsch unter zwei Versionen mit acht Bällen und dem auch hierzulande beheimateten "Neuner" wählen. Schade nur, daß die in Deutschland verbreiteste Version mit 15 Kugeln fehlt, aber man kann halt nicht alles haben. Was man indes haben kann, das sind diverse Spielmodi: Die einzelpartie wird nun durch eine neue Match-Option ergänzt, bei der drei bis neun Durchläufe zu absolvieren sind. Keine Frage, daß der feine Trickstoß-Editor wieder mit dabei ist, und schließlich findet sich gar ein regelrechter Turniermodus mit KO-System für bis zu acht Spieler!

Wo wir gerade von den Queue-Schwingern reden, sei hinzugefügt, daß man natürlich wie vor seinen menschlichen Kumpel bekämpfen kann; darüberhinaus stehen aber 20 verschiedene Computergegner zur Verfügung (gegenüber dreien beim Snooker), deren grundlegende Eigenschaften sich oft schon aus dem Namen erkennen lassen. So ist etwa Boring Bob ein ziemlich langweiliger Geselle, der ewig um den Tisch herumschleicht und meist auf Sicherheit spielt. Aber keine Sorge, es gibt ja auch noch den brillanten Mr Brill...

Interessant ist noch die Bewertung der Erfolge: Da es beim Pool keinen direkt zählbaren Score gibt, hat Mr MacLean das sogenannten "Rankometer" erfunden, welches die gezeigten Leistungen mit einem prozentualen Wert benotet - und der kann, zusätzlich zur Save-Routine für laufende Spiele, auch gespeichert werden. Bei dieser ausgefuchsten Billardsimulation stimmt also so gut wie alles (es soll gar eine Version mit deutschen Screentexten folgen), man wundert sich, wie das Programm mit 512KB und einer Disk auskommen kann. Wenn Archy dennoch keinen Hit eingelocht hat, dann einerseits, weil die Ähnlichkeiten zum Vorgänger halt doch sehr groß sind, und andererseits wegen der fehlenden 15-Kugel-Variante. (jn)

Archer Maclean's Pool logo

Sequels, eh? Love 'em or hate 'em, these days you can't avoid 'em. Still, at least this one's not called Snooker 2.

Three pages? THREE PAGES? For God's sake, Mark... Okay, okay, calm down, Stu. You're a professional journalist, you can cope with this. I mean, how difficult can it possibly be to write three pages of review on a game which everybody in the world already owns in a slightly different incarnation? I mean, think of all the shared experiences you'll be able to draw on. Observational humour's the big thing these days, after all. Um...

Americans, eh? Don't you just hate 'em? (Oh no. - Ed). Oh sure, it's all very nice to have someone fly over to the Middle East at a moment's notice and defend oil prices - er, democracy. And in these post-Cold War days, who else are we going to get to shoot our soldiers when the Army needs a bit of pruning? And I don't know how we ever survived all those years without having our chocolate bars called great things like 'Snickers'. And what we'd have done without The Cosby Show to brighten our evenings and teach us good proper God-fearing morals I can't even begin to imagine. But basically, let's face it, they're crap. Why? Well, my granny always used to say that you can judge a nation by its sport, and I agree totally. Let's take a few examples.
Scotland: Football. The people's game. The most beautiful sport in the world. Enough said.
England: Cricket. Ludicrously over-complicated, unbelievably boring, goes on for days and days to no apparent purpose.
Australia: Australian Rules Football. A gigantic punch-up for lots of drunk bodybuilders in vests. With a ball.
Ireland: Hurling. Australian Rules Football with big sticks. Incredibly dangerous. Also features a ball, but it seems to be completely incidental to the proceedings.
Spain: Bullfighting. Ritualised torture and murder of unarmed dumb animals for no readily apparent reason. Probably something to do with General Franco, I should think.
Germany: Invading Belgium (I think that's quite enough national sports. Ed).

Taken in isolation, this is a fabulous piece of software

Now let's take a look at the Americans. Oddly, the Americans don't really have one particular national sport, but several. Let's have a look at a few.
First, there's American Football, a game where it's perfectly possible to have a 20-year career as a top player without ever touching a ball with your feet. Or indeed touching a ball at all. Basically, American Football is rugby for people who weren't actually skilful enough to play rugby.
Then you've got baseball, i.e. a version of rounders with simplified rules to people who couldn't remember the proper ones. (Are you spotting the theme here yet, kids?). And as for wrestling...

And finally there's pool. Simple snooker. What's wrong boys, I'd have thought snooker was the perfect game for you - lots of scope for ad breaks there...
Actually, I'm just kidding. I don't really hate Americans, or anybody else just because of where they were born. After all, Dr Johnson once said 'patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel'. Mind you, he was an Englishman, so what the bloody hell would he know about anything? But you've got to admit, they've got some pretty stupid ideas about sport. Which, in a sudden burst of relevance, brings us back to Pool. (What do you mean, 'back'? - Ed).

Now you're all sat there thinking 'Yeah, yeah, but it's just exactly the same as Jimmy White's Whirlwind Snooker, innit? Well, sort of. I mean, there's no point in me sitting here brazenly trying to tell you it's a completely different kettle of chalk when it's patently obvious from the evidence in front of your eyes that it's not. You could probably make your own pool game simply by using Snooker's trick shot editor to set up a pool-type ball formation (using reds for one colour, and the colours for, er, the other colour) and then playing on from there. Of course, you'd have to ignore everything the computer said about foul shots and whose go it was and stuff, but it would (as far as I can see) actually work. So what have you got to gain by buying this instead?

Well, for a start, obviously, you'd be getting to play pool on a proper-sized table instead of something more like a football pitch, but there's a bit more to it than that. For a start, Pool gives you 20 opponents compared to Snooker's four. Not only that, but the top players in Pool are a considerably more talented (and more interestingly-named bunch than their Snooker counterparts - two-cushion rebounds and three-ball cannons are well within the capabilities of Cross Eyed Chris, Jimmy Brill, Alex Smartarse and the rest.

Also, and perhaps most interestingly, you get three completely different kinds of game to play. Well, not completely different, they're still pool, but you can play UK bar rules pool, American 9-ball (a strange and fascinating game where the objective is simply to pot the 9 ball regardless of what else is on the table, but you always have to hit the lowest-numbered ball), and American 8-ball Pool which is essentially similar to the UK game but with a few tweaky little differences just to make it a bit more interesting. (Someone hasn't done their research properly around here, and it isn't me. - Ed).

Completing the line-up of differences is a little technical one - you now get tons of save slots on the game disk where Snooker only had one.
So all very fine and dandy then, but is it worth buying if you've already got Whirlwind Snooker? Don't be daft, guv'nor. There are very tangible and worthwhile differences, but be honest with yourself - how much use do you really have for 20 save game slots? And do you really WANT t be thrashed by a computer opponent which can flawlessly pull off the cleverest, most perfect snookers you can land on it, and then go on to clear the entire table in two shots? I certainly don't, mate.

There are quite enough depressingly horrible things that you've got no control over going on in the world without paying out good money to get yourself all frustrated and annoyed over a computer game. Not that that stops it from being a great two-player game, of course, but when you're already paying out 26 quid for a game you shouldn't have to supply someone else to play it with if you want a decent difficulty curve as well. Even the worst of the computer opponents in Pool are disturbingly efficient at the game, and that's a little offputting.

Taken in isolation, this is a fabulous bit of software, but there's no escaping the fact that to all intents and purposes it already exists. If you're new to the Amiga, or so crap at knowing a good game when you see one that you don't have a copy of Whirlwind Snooker, then this is undoubtedly the better of the two to invest a few bob in (if only because Pool is essentially a better and more exciting game than Snooker), but for everyone else, and that has to be the vast majority, this is an unnecessary luxury, and there's precious few of us can afford those these days.

Archer Maclean's Pool logo CU Amiga Screenstar

Can Virgin follow up the immense success of Jimmy White's Whirlwind Snooker? Will Tony Dillon ever write a decent review? Read on for these answers and more...

Back in 1988, Archer Maclean popped into EMAP Towers with an Archimedes disk. It was an early demo of a polygon snooker game which had everyone gasping in astonishment. Three years later it surfaced in the form of Jimmy White's Whirlwind Snooker. Both reviewers and punter loved it, and the game has been in the top thirty on and off ever since. And now Archer has turned his attentions to the other side of the Atlantic to produce Pool, a game which is more than just a cash-in on the previous license.

Pool is, in essence, a far simpler game than snooker. There are two main forms, although 8-Ball has both US and UK rules. 8-Ball basically consists of seven red and 7 yellow balls, and the black. The aim is to knock down all your colour before your opponent has a go at theirs, and then knock down the black to win. In 9-Ball, a US-tournament game, you are presented with nine numbered balls, and the winner is the person who knocks down the 9 ball. The only problem is, you have to hit the lowest ball on the table first. Any balls that go down after that are legal. For example, if on a break you hit the 1 ball, knocking it down, you are the winner. However, if you should hit the 2 ball when the 1 ball is on the table, a foul is called and control switches to the other player.

Naturally, what everyone wants to know is the difference between this game and Whirlwind? To tell you the truth, not a hell of a lot. Instead of reworking the game, Archer has merely added a handful of improvements to the framework, and kept the graphic engine and user interface the same. Now, on top of being able to play one or two player games, you can play 'best of' matches against the computer or a friend, playing 3, 5, 7 or 9 games, with the aim of winning more than your opposing cuester.

The computer intelligence has undergone a major overhaul. There are now twenty computer opponents to play against, each with their own playing styles, from Cross-Eyed Colin and one end (not particularly good at aiming) to Jimmy Brill, the finest potter in the pool world. There are no specific difficulty levels, unlike the original, but it isn't too hard to figure out how good a player is from their name. Actual skills have been improved and increased, however, with computer opponents being able to pull off cannon shots and pot two balls at once. There is a whole range of trick shots at their disposal which will leave you standing at the foot of the table watching enviously.

The other main improvement is the new scoring system. Obviously in pool you don't rack up numerical scores like you do in snooker, so Archer has come up with a novel system of recording how well you're playing. The Rankometer gives you the order of potted balls, your overall skill rating as a percentage and various other statistics. This is what gets saved out at the end of each go.

The most striking thing about Whirlwind Snooker was the graphics. Convincing, smooth and very fast, it isn't hard to understand why it sold so well. Can Archer do the same with Pool, though, as pool balls are numbered, and the 9 ball has a stripe down the middle? Calculating the position of the numbers as they rotate around the ball would call for some serious number crunching, and so Archer has decided not to have rolling numbers. Sadly, this detracts from the game, making the balls looks as though they are gliding around like table hockey pucks. Even so, they still zip around smoothly enough and the 88 different sizes of ball graphics means that the balls all glide across the table realistically.

The game itself plays exactly the same as the previous one. A row of icons gives you all the options necessary, while holding down the left mouse button allows you to rotate the table and holding down the left lets you zoom in and out.

To all intents and purposes, Pool is almost identical to Jimmy White's Whirlwind Snooker, which is why I can only recommend this to you if you (a) don't have the previous title or (b) loved the first one so much you want more of the same.

Here's an interesting titbit of information for you. Did you know that the brainbox who connected Archer Maclean's snooker project with Jimmy White was in fact... Jeremy Beadle? Apparently Archer was demonstrating his game at the Spring 1991 ECTS show when everyone's favorite entertainer walked in on the scene, spotted the program and said 'Why don't you call Barry Hears and license Jimmy White for that?'. Archer liked the idea, got on the blower and the deal was done. And you thought Beadle was just a... (the rest of this sentence has been censored following legal advice from our solicitors).
One thing everyone remembers from the original game were the little extra bits - those Archer Maclean trademarks designed to give you a giggle while you played. Cat Fleas crawled up the screen and balls pulled funny faces - where would the sequel be without a little of that thrown in. Not only are the fleas still included, but new ideas include eyes that blink in the backdrop and a saw that comes up from under the table and makes a little hole!