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Activision Inc
1987
Strategy: Management
£9.99
English
ZX Spectrum 128K
Unspecified custom loader

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65
Graham Taylor
Chris Bourne

Mine's called Fido but he doesn't seem to care. Fido is my Little Computer Person. I found him in our Spectrum - the one with the wobbly interface - maybe the rent was lower.

I talk to Fido, I ask him to write me a letter and he does. It is complete drivel. He rambles on and on about how happy he is in his new computer home and how much he likes his dog. He's the sort of person you'd avoid at parties.

You can pet Fido when he sits in his petting chair, extending a little hand out which pats his head. You can give him presents of books and records. You can play simple card games with him you can keep him well fed and watered. You can be kind and treat him as your own little friend. Or not.

If you are unkind your little computer man starts to suffer. At first he types you plaintive little letters gently suggesting that he is a little hungry. Wait a little longer and the letters become more desperate, more pleading. Eventually your little man retires to bed and turns green, he refuses to do what you ask and looks generally as though he's downed one vindaloo too many.

Little Computer People is American. This will come as no surprise since the whole thing is, in one way, a computer equivalent of Cabbage Patch Dolls over which mid-western housewifes drew blood. The thing is, despite being desperately twee in places. Little Computer People is also unique, very well programmed and - in the short term at least - utterly captivating.

It will only work on the 128K Spectrum, the original was a disc-based exercise on the Commodore. This means two things: firstly, the Spectrum 128K version takes ages and ages to load, and secondly some of the features of the game which were especially clever on the Commodore used the instant access disc provided. For example, the beginning of the game is a 'moving in' sequence where the computer man 'arrives' at your computer and wanders around aimlessly looking at his new home. This only ever happens once on the Commodore if you want to avoid it you have to Save the game on tape.

Fido is also naked on the Spectrum. Because otherwise different coloured bits of him would create wonderful attribute problems. It's something I can live with. I'm broadminded. The programming is still pretty remarkable. It's the attention to detail that makes the program. You set up a clock at the beginning of play (?) and a clock in the Little Computer Person's house keeps regular time from then on. The record player actually looks like it's going round and round. Fido can nod, do aerobics, walk around, look happy, sad or indifferent, watch the television (which flickers and, judging by the sound, shows very violent programmes), play some simple games or play with a computer. He can even go to the bog and take a shower (shielded from one's gaze fortunately).

Sound is another key part of the program, important enough to mean that even if this program could be reduced to 48K it wouldn't be worth playing without a decent sound chip to simulate Fido playing the piano or playing records. Fido's taste in music leaves quite a lot to be desired and I recall with envy a Little Computer Person on the Commodore you used to play bizarre electro heavy metal. Music is not the only reason for sound, sound effects of various kinds add greatly to the sense of detail in the program. For example Fido's footsteps are different depending on whether he is walking across carpet (fump, fump) or linoleum (eep, eep).

Fido also talks - a strange language made up of bleeps and whistles, heard when Fido chats on the phone (but to whom?) I spotted one bug though - he keeps chatting even after he puts the phone down - a sure sign of insanity.

This is an excellent conversion, and even though much of the cutesyness of the idea irritates me, it's so well done that I think Little Computer People is a genuine and important step forward in artificial intelligence.

Oh yeah, in the end I just couldn't bring myself to kill Fido - after he failed to respond to my suggestion that he eat the dog I fed him.

Label: Activision
Author: David Crane
Price: £9.99
Memory: 128K only
Reviewer: Graham Taylor

*****

An incredible programming achievement, you'll come closer to actually believing than you can possibly imagine.

5/5