Ripping yarns

Talespin logo

Nick Veitch enters the world of Microdeal's interactive program creator and lives to spin the tale.

WANT to hear a success story? Well, once upon a time there was a man with a computer and a son. Both were very good at drawing. The man decided to get them both together, so he wrote a program. He looked at the program and the program was good - but it could be better. So he developed mouse handling routines, drawing conditions, links and variable definitions. The man took his adventure writing utility - for such it had become - to Microdeal, which signed it up. And he lived happily ever after.

Now Microdeal hopes it can do the same. Talespin, incorrectly called an adventure game on the disc label, is a utility designed to help you make your own adventures, although Microdeal adds somewhat reservedly that it is useful as a teaching aid for business presentations as well.

Programs created with Talespin are icon driven. This is a bit of a misnomer, because the icons are actually part of a picture. As far as the user is concerned though, he or she is just clicking on an area of the picture and not on an isolated icon.
This effect is achieved by defining each part of the picture separately and then overlaying them all, rather like the way an animation cell is built up.

Pictures can be drawn with the en suite art package or standard IFF files may be imported. At least that is what the manual says. The IFF files in question are allowed to be 320 x 200, 16 colours - the NTSC standard favoured by the colonials. If you try loading anything else, it won't crop it - it won't take it at all.

This would not be the end of the world - nor indeed the end of the program - if it were not for the fact that the graphics package included is so primitive. Perhaps I am asking too much, but using an art package without a brush cutting option and associated tools send me straight for an Aeroflot sick bag (They are the biggest).

As John Symes of Microdeal explains: "The graphics package is not terribly good - but wel always envisaged people using Neo or Dega (two ST art packages) and then importing images into Talespin. The internal package is really just for touching up and changing the colours".

This may account for the rather far-out artistic style on the sample adventure included on the disc, which I had previously assumed to be attributed to an intimate knowledge of controlled substances, and I do not mean Apple roms.

THE sound side of things is a little better, but this may be due to the fact that all it has to do is import samples and tag them on to the pictures. You can copy sounds which have been tagged on to other pictures or projects as well, but this is accompanied by a bad bout of disc swapping and menu clicking.

Sound can be replayed at a number of different frequencies, useful for trying to make out that you have more samples than you actually do. If you want nice effects on your own work then you will have to buy your own sampler and software. There are no facilities for editing sounds at all in Talespin. Presumably Microdeal reckons you need a sampler to import your own sound, and if you have a sampler then you probably already got some decent software to drive it. Fair enough, I suppose.

A demo mode can be set up to cycle through the screens and perform actions in a predetermined order. While this is not so useful for an adventure, it could be very handy if you want to create business demonstrations.

Menus are not the usual pull-down type, but are large speech balloon things which invert text on the option chosen. True Amigans will be ill at ease in this unfamiliar environment. The pointer has mutated into a great clumsy ornate arrowhead and the "busy" alternative has turned from the reassuring sleepy cloud to a strangely familiar looking bumble bee. Hmmm.

There is a modest online help feature, which is not context sensitive and only useful to the absolute beginner. Nevertheless, brownie points are awarded for its inclusion. All the menu options are fairly easy to understand, so you should not need to have one limb in the manual all the time.

Ah, the manual. I knew I had forgotten something. Well, it is quite easy to read really. It is well written, but so much of the program is intuitive and easy to use that there is not a lot of point in looking at it more than once. I looked at it about seven times in order to see if I was maybe missing something - but no, that is all he wrote, to corrupt the yankee vernacular.

The cunning idea of writing one large menu in easy to understand language has put an end to the manual being a creative requisite for decoding the options. It is quite possible to use this software without ever having seen the manual at all.

Talespin is being deliberately mis-marketed, It was originally written for children to use, and it shows. All the features, right down to the menus and the shape of the pointers, have been designed with children in mind. That is not to say that it is inferior or non-professional, merely that it was designed for a different objective - one which it is much more able to accomplish.

John Symes himself used it to help his son learn to count, a task which it can perform admirably. With its completely icon-driven system, the kind of environment used by most education packages, it is very suitable for children to learn from. All the elements of early education are present - pictures, sounds and interaction.

With the negative stigma which has attached itself to educational software in the UK, it is easy to understand Microdeal's reticence to bill it as such. Talespin does have the ability to create quite complex adventures, but not of the same style as those currently popular in this country. The whole system is geared towards a multiple choice type of construction. In adventure terms this means the kind of thing that appears in the game books very popular with younger adventurers. The case for the prosecution rests in its defence, Talespin proves that you do not have to spend lots of money on A2000s and video discs to be able to write interactive teaching programs. In this respect, it almost shines.

Child's play to link pictures and sound to produce a story

PICTURES and sound can be easily strung together in Talespin to make a story. This is achieved by using the program's variables, which are not quite true variables but are more like flags with a discrete number of values.

Choices are made by clicking on an area of the screen or highlighting an area of text with the mouse. These actions can then be interpreted to change the screen, play noises, change variables and so on.

For example, in an adventure story say you want to be able to go to a location and pick up a disc. First of all create the graphic for the disc and import it into Talespin. Then from the main menu choose Add Picture To Page.

After specifying the page, go to Variable Definitions, define a variable - let us call it flag - and give it two possible values: 0 or 1.

Set the entry condition for that page to zero. This means that when the program first enters that page, it will assign the variable flag to be have the value of zero. Add a drawing condition to the disc picture to prevent it being drawn when flag becomes 1.

Now add the condition to the drawing that it sets flag to 1. This means that when the drawing is clicked, the value of flag will change to 1, the drawing condtion will no longer be met, and it will be removed.

Follow that? It is a lot easier following the menus because they are in plain English. The above set of operations will put your image on the page. When it is clicked it will disappear, as though it has been picked up. From this example it is easy to see how this simple method of using variables as flags can produce some seemingly complex interactive systems. Sound effects, text and further screens can be added as options in just the same way as the variable was changed. It really is easy enough for a child to use.

Talespin logo

First there was STAC then STOS and then there was SEUCK. Microdeal, in the name of common sense, have released the more conventionally-named Talespin adventure-game creator. MARK HIGHAM steps into the vaults to tell you a tale.

£24.9549.95 * ST & Amiga * Microdeal, Box 68, St Austell, Cornwall PL25 4YB (0726 68020)

So you want an adventure which can take you all the way from the cryptic caverns of an Arthurian legend to the smiling faces of the Acid House gang? Microdeal's Talespin is a do-it-yourself adventure game creator designed to let you build whatever universe you like and maybe (claim Microdeal) even sell it!

Unlike some systems, you won't need a degree in mathematics and 2000 years of programming experience to master Talespin. Even the end product, more of a role playing game than your usual text-with-pretty-pictures-adventure game, is entirely mouse driven so you don't need to have a secretary's skilled typing fingers. Just point and click.

What you will need if you're going to create anything half-decent with Talespin is the ability to draw good pictures using either Neochrome or Degas Elite - not a simple task.

Spinning a yarn
Once you've decided on a basic design, the first step in creating your game is to design lots of relevant backdrops and characters using Degas or Neochrome. You can easily alter the sizing of images, reverse them so that they're facing in the opposite direction, change or edit colour once in Talespin later on.

Armed with all your picture files, your next move is to load Talespin and import them. By making use of the screen editor, incorporating such options as spray, fill, line and an unusual 'blob' feature (a sort of finger-painting exercise), you can do all the essential fine-tuning to make sure your sketches look great.

A Create Page option then allows you to introduce your images. Talespin allocates a separate colour palette to each page - this feature comes in useful if you want to re-use pictures from other screens and make them look different by altering the colours.

Organ donation
The adventure you're aiming at is of the type where the user clicks on a character and up comes a speech bubble saying what's going on and providing game choices to click on.

To construct your games you simply 'walk through' the plot: starting from an initial scene, you import a graphics screen, choose which of your characters should be shown and position them accordingly.

Each character can be allocated a speech bubble which the player will click on - you need to enter the text which is to be displayed, and set up 'variables'. By assigning variables to text entries they're automatically turned into clickable options, determining where the game goes next. You then design the following scenes, and the ones they lead to, and so on until the end. You can mix and match backgrounds and characters from other scenes so you don't need to design a complete Degas screen for each game position.

As an example of variables, you could create the variable DONOR and set it up so that it would exist in three states: HEART, LUNGS and KIDNEYS. Clicking on a certain character when playing the game could then bring up the message: 'Donate which organ?' followed by the possible organs.
Clicking on heart would set the variable DONOR so that it held the value HEART. IN this way when you reached another point in the game you would be able to see if DONOR held HEART and display specific messages or go to a different point in the adventure.

You need to set up one scene for every possible set of options the player might choose, specifying background images, characters, speech text and options for each. Every page has a name, and different strands of your adventure join up at a later stage by going to the same page.

Sound effects can be imported from Microdeal's Replay-4, so in theory you could set up a game to you have your sister's screams coming out every time you click on a grinning wizard. (At £79.95 Replay-4 is a costly but good sound-sampler).

Talespin uses sampled sound effects in their 'raw data' format so it should be possible to use samples created by other packages too, although Microdeal are reluctant to specify which ones. It might have been worthwhile to include simple sound effects designed using Talespin but no such feature is on offer.

The adventure ended
When you've finished designing your adventure you can use the auto-play option to move through the different screens testing all your variables and following the path of the game.

Once you're completely happy you can save it onto disk and set it up to run as an auto-boot program by copying it into an AUTO folder and renaming the game to START.TEL, The player program TELLTALE.TOS is freely redistributable, which means that you can give it away with adventures you write and sell.

Microdeal say that they are currently developing a multi-disk feature so that you'll be able to stretch your game out across two disks. This facility will vastly expand on the possible number of screens and could allow you to create an adventure of truly megaproportions.

End of the tale
Talespin is not a quick way of creating games. It'll undoubtedly take hours to design enough backdrops and characters essential to a good adventure.

Up to 50 completely distinct screens may be included in one game largely as a result of clever file compression methods. An image used on a page can be re-coloured, re-sized and re-used in another without counting as a full new screen. This gives access to potentially thousands of apparently different locations.

As with all non-programming game creators, the resulting adventures have limited possibilities - with the TELLTALE program essential for executing a game, there is no way of disguising the fact that you've used Talespin. However, Talespin does offer the opportunity to create an RPG type of adventure-game, which STAC and STOS certainly won't. It can't improve your drawing abilities and it won't check your spelling but if you're prepared to spend hours creating good graphics then you can achieve something really impressive.


STAC from Incentive has been around for some time and until now it's been the only contender in the adventure-game creator market. STAC games tend to be far more of the usual run-of-the-mill adventure game combining pictures with text. Talespin, on the other hand, offers a role-playing adventure with characters to click on.

By the very nature of Talespin's icon-clicking interface the resulting games will all seem similar, but this is not so with STAC. It offers a better built-in graphic editor which can be used to create pictures as well as touching up Degas or Neochrome files. In addition, the end-product can be entirely stand-alone without the need for a tell-tale of execution program.

Which you prefer depends on the kind of game you want to produce: traditional text descriptions with typed replies are STAC's domain, a more RPG-like icon system is Talespin's. They both work well.


Before you load up Talespin and start drawing all your characters it is a good idea to sit down with a pen and paper and decide what you want to do with the game. Laying it out as a tree structure with a start and end point is probably the bext way to go about designing your adventure, inserting lots of twists, turns and dead-ends all over the place is what keeps this sort of game alive so make sure that the branches linking up the tree-structure are as contorted as possible.

Along the way you can pick up lots of different objects which can then be used in the final part of the game. For example, The Grail had a wizard who wandered through forest and towns to collect the much sought-after Holy Grail. Unless he had performed certain courageous deeds and proved himself a worthy wizard he could not pick up the Grail even if he reached it.

Designing screens using Degas or Neochrome is undoubtedly going to take an age, but it is the graphics which make this type of game popular so it's worth spending the time here. One of Talespin's best features is the ability to create a very simple adventure game and then expand on it more and more to turn it inot something really brilliant. Maybe even a Format Gold contender?


Microdeal released The Grail Adventure last year which was deisgned using Talespin. The game took 4 months to create but the programmer only worked part-time, so there's hope for you yet.

Talespin logo

"Talespin" ist ein Program, mit dem Menschen wie Du und ich (also Leute ohne die Programmierkenntnisse) ganz einfach per Maucklick eigene und komplexe Abenteuerspiele erstellen können... verspricht zumindest die Verpackung. Das klingt eigentlich fast zu schön, um wahr zu sein - schauen wir mal, was wirklich an der Sache dran ist.

Soviel vorweg: es funktioniert tatsächlich, zumindest mit kleinen Einschränkungen. Wer nämlich auf ein Adventure im klassischen Sinn (also mit einem feinen Parser für Texteingaben) hofft, wird enttäuscht. Mit "Talespin" lassen sich vielmehr mausgesteuerte Grafik-Abenteuer erstellen, in denn sich durch Anklicken eines Objekts ein Textfenster öffnet und dem Spieler verschiedene Möglichkeiten zum Handeln anbietet.

Ein Verfahren, das gewöhnlich unter der Bezeichnung "Multiple Choice" bekannt ist. Ein kleines Beispiel aus der Praxis: Nehmen wir an, dass auf einem Screen ein Arzt zu sehen ist, den wir auch sofort anklicken. Nun materialisiert ein Textfenster mit folgendem Inhalt: "Hallo hallo, ich bin Doktor Eisenbart! Willst Du, dass..." - und jetzt die Möglichkeiten, in das Geschehen einzugreifen, z.B. -
a) "ich Dich heile?",
b) "ich Dir einen Rat gebe?",
c) "ich Polen Hermes-Börgschaft anbiete?" (etc.).

Je nachdem, für welche der angebotenen Möglichkeiten man sich entscheidet, nimmt die Geschichte dann ihren Fortgang. Und genau hier liegt der sprichwörtliche Hund begraben, denn mit dieser Methode sind der Phantasie des Spielers doch recht enge Grenzen gesetzt.

Das Erstellen solcher Games geht mit "Talespin" sehr komfortabel und flott von der Hand, immer vorausgesetzt, man verfügt über einen Amiga mit mindestens einem MB Arbeitsspeicher (darunter tut sich gar nichts). Ein zarter Druck auf den rechten Mausknopf genügt, und schon erhält man ein umfangreichen Hauptmenü zur totalen Kontrolle von Bildern, digitalisierten Geräuschen (!), Variablen (keine Sorge, ganz einfach zu handhaben) und, was das Wichtigste ist, von logischen Verknüpfungen. Dazu gehören z.B. Sachen wie:
- Wenn der User den Punkt "...ich Dir einen Rate Gebe?" anwählt, soll die Seite "Doktor warnt User" aufgerufen werden;
- ...oder daß der Menüpunkt "...daß ich Dich heile" nur dann auftaucht, wenn die Spielfigur über ausreichend Bargeld verfügt (etc.).

Auf diese Art und Weise lassen sich schon recht hübsche Adventures erstellen, die bei Bedarf auch einen Umfang von mehreren Disketten haben können! Ein - übrigens frei kopierbarer - "Player" namens "Tell Tale" wird gleich mitgeliefert, mit dessen Hilfe die Spiele Marke Eigenbau dann auf jedem Amiga laufen. So ein selbst gestricktes Abenteuerspiel wäre doch ein schönes und sehr persönliches Geschenk für den Freundeskreis, oder? Wie wäre es z.B. mit "Werner's Quest for Flaschbier" oder gar "Helmuth und Hannelore auf der Suche nach dem heiligen Schal"?

Die erforderlichen Grafiken malt man jedoch besser mit einem eigenen Malprogramm - das in "Talespin" integrierte taugt bestenfalls zum Strichmännchen-Zeichnen. Da sich jedoch komplette IFF-Dateien (Bilder und Digi-Sounds) in das Programm integrieren lassen, stehen dem User eine Menge verblüffender Möglichkeiten zur Verfügung. So können diese Dateien nachträglich verzerrt, vergrößert/verkleinert oder gespiegelt werden (praktisch, man malt einen einzigen Baum und simuliert damit den gesamten Schwarzwald!).

Wer es genauer wissen möchte, findet im ausgezeichneten (und sehr umfangreichen) aber leider englischen Handbuch sogar ein extra Kapitel, das die professionelle Vorausplanung zur Adventure-Erstellung beleuchtet.

Alles in allem ist "Talespin" also durchaus sein Geld wert, da es seinen Besitzern neben der kinderleichten Erstellung von Abenteuerspielen noch eine ganze Palette anderer Möglichkeiten eröffnet: Quizspiele wären ebenso denkbar wie der Einsatz als Nachhilfelehrer für beispielsweise Vokabeln. Störend ist eigentlich nur die amerikanische Tastaturbelegung, aus der sich auch mittels "Setmap d" keine deutlichen Umlaute heraus kitzeln lassen.

Dass das Programm lediglich im Lorus-Modus unter Verwendung nur 16 Farben arbeitet, ist da schon eher zu verschmerzen. Aber was soll's: Keine Rose ohne Dornen! (Felix Bühl)