The one utility that the Amiga has been crying out for is a decent adventure writing utility. There are one or two half-heated attempts out there but nothing that makes your heart beat faster. Enter Heyley Software's attempt - Hatrack II. So what happened to 'Hatrack I'? Well, Hatrack II originated from a BBC utility, Adventurescape.
Arriving on one disk, contained in a sturdy wallet plus a nicely printed and bound 106-page manual (with only one or two spelling mistakes noted), this utility was created using HiSoft's BASIC compiler by Tony Heap.
The utility is very BASIC-like in use, actually, with lots of Ifs-ENDIFs and FOR...NEXT loops and all that. Anybody with a smattering of programming experience or who has used AMOS will have no problems with Hatrack II.
The raw beginner, though, should think twice. I would advise them to try to grab a friend's copy, look through the manual and see if the explanations hit your wavelength. If not you might be wiser to approach one of the BASIC beginner textbooks that take a more leisurely and structured approach to programming.
Back to Hatrack now, and a look at the meat of the utility's features starting with the parser. The Hatrack parser is an excellent property of the utility. For example the parser accepts ALL or EVERYTHING. One of the irritating features of many parsers is their stubbornness.
Thankfully, in Hatrack you can examine shoes without, as in other parsers, having to examine every different type and coloured shoes (i.e. exam red shoes, exam blue shoes, etc). You can also use THEN and AND which are ideal linking words that save valuable time. IT, THEM, HIM and HER are also recognised so, to use a manual example, GET BAG AND PUT STONE IN IT will work as you expect. You can also say GET BREAD and then, on the next input, EAT IT. Good, eh? Another nifty feature is the possibility of linking objects. For example, you can say GIVE BALL, BAT AND MOUSE TO JIM.
Containers are also supported as well as the handy OOPS feature that takes you back a move. Brief/Verbose location descriptions can be ordered and an onscreen compass may be placed upon the screen to be activated by the mouse.
Creating your adventure is done via a number of well-laid-out windows, accessed via a menu, displaying all of the necessary prompts and edit options. For example, in the Location edit window you will see, at the top of the screen, a Summary title (e.g. 'Outside the house'), und which is a description heading. Here you type in the location description ('I am standing outside the red house, the wind is blowing, etc'). From this window you can say what location you will end up in if you move in any of the compass directions.
At the moment, Hatrack does not allow you to include graphics in the game (an upgrade is promised) but you will be able to say what graphic goes with what location description from this edit screen. There are a number of clickable gadgets too. A pair of arrows allow to scroll through the locations, Goto takes you directly to a location, while Search specifies a particular text string search. You can also Delete a current entry and Clear a location description. Every edit window (messages, words, variables and puzzles) has a similar 'feel' which gives a friendly look to the utility.
Hatrack II can be recommended as the best Amiga adventure utility around. It is a pity that graphics are not available, but this will, hopefully, be solved with the next update. In addition, the BASIC-look may frighten some users.
The actual programming side of things could have been a little friendlier and Heyley could have given the user more features, as options, to soften the blow (as the PC/ST utility, AGT does). However, these minor criticisms take nothing away from Heyley Software's achievement. I look forward to seeing regular updates to Hatrack II that build upon this impressive first release.