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.