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
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.
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...