Byron Software
Not Known
ZX Spectrum 48K

Quentin Heath
Chris Bourne


Is Gilsoft weak Quilled? Quentin Heath thinks not.

THE QUILL, an adventure game generator from Gilsoft, has evoked a mixed reaction from critics. The technical excellence of the program is not disputed but its spawn, the games compiled using it, have been treated with suspicion by both seasoned adventure players and critics.

The critics have been quick to say that the plethora of games generated by The Quill, and released by Gilsoft and others, are almost identical in structure and, in many cases, futile and uninventive. The argument is that anything which has been cloned from another program will be inferior to a program which has been handwritten from beginning to end.

Rather than taking the well-worn path and examining The Quill again, I decided to look at the final products from that program which Gilsoft has called the Gold Collection.

The adventures in the Gold series are varied in content and complexity. The six titles are Spyplane, a story of espionage; Magic Castle and Barsak the Dwarf, which lie in the Dungeons and Dragons field; Mindbender, for science fiction enthusiasts, African Gardens, an adventure for lovers of mystery; and Diamond Trail, for the specialist in detection and whodunnits.

Most of the adventures are easy to play but in an irritating way. A case in point is Barsak the Dwarf. You play Barsak, who must search an ancient castle for nine treasures and a visitors' book which you must sign to leave alive. According to the critics the game would be simply a case of wandering round a maze of locations, built around a standard structure, but The Quill is so versatile that it allows a designer to build extra facilities into an adventure.

For instance, in Barsak the author has created a sttuat ion where the main character will die unless he can find food within 17 moves. Once food has been found, in a lar of pickles, a quest for water must begin.

Barsak contains a quest within a quest. The dwarf must look continually for food while searching for treasure. There is no end, except for the limitations of memory space, to the number of quests which can be built into one package.

One criticism of The Quill which can be sustained is that the program has to put some restrictions on the way in which an adventure runs so that it can operate. The Quill limits input to a compiled program to one line at a time. For most entries needing one verb and a noun, that would be sufficient but if, for instance, you want to pick up more than two objects you must select the first two and press 'ENTER', then the second two, and follow the same process until all the objects have been collected. That seems to be the only instance in which The Quill affects an adventure in an adverse way.

To show the types of adventure The Quill can produce I compared Barsak to another adventure from the Gold series, Spyplane. The plot is certainly different and concerns a search for submarines which you see from your aircraft. By comparing the HELP and INVENTORY functions with those of Barsak you can see the differences between the two programs instantly.

Spyplane is more developed as an adventure. The descriptions are lengthy and the INVENTORY has been used more as an additional HELP sheet than as a list of equipment. For instance, you are told about the state of the instruments on that page.

The author has also built in an instructions option which gives hints on how to play a particular part of the game. With HELP you must take pot luck on a reply but INSTRUCTIONS is more informative.

Spyplane is more difficult to play than Barsak as you find yourself in an aircraft and are told very little about what you have to do. By using the instruments you will learn more about your task but at the risk of alerting the enemy.

The descriptions of the terrain are evocative but not over-long. There are no spelling mistakes in the text, which is more than can be said for some handwritten textual adventures.

Spyplane is also supplied with a leaflet showing a map of the area in which your aircraft is flying. That is a necessity, as you cannot use graphics, a growing area in adventure games, with The Quill. No doubt some people would find the lack of graphics, where necessary, a fault with the program. It could, however, be argued that setting-up graphics occupies much space within memory which could be used for more text and locations. The lack of graphics facilities in The Quill is therefore, a benefit to users in the long run.

Looking at The Quill it may be possible to see the way in which an adventure is fitted over a pre-defined grid of locations each time a game is created but the games produced by it hide the mechanical creation process well. It is a case of not being able to see the seams of an adventure, because of the way the author has the imagination to create something different. It is, after all, the programmer and not the program which controls the way a game progresses.

The limitations of The Quill are only those of formatting the screen and the way responses are put into the computer. The Quill is adaptable enough to cope with new ideas of the programmer, such as an instruction function in Spylane or the continual quests for food and drink in Barsak the Dwarf. Neither are there restrictions on the storyline. Games could be set in fictional or realistic surroundings - the program does not differentiate.

Essentially The Quill offers the programmer a new high-level language rather like Basic. Although Basic has only a set number of statements, the number of applications to which you can apply the language are endless and restricted only imagination.

In the proper hands, The Quill produces programs on a par with handwritten commercial programs and it is that qualification which has to be made clear. The Quill is a tool, just as is Basic. With skilled use it can do wonders.

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