By far the most popular Spectrum adventure writing utility nowadays must be Gilsoft's Professional Adventure Writer. The PAW (as it is commonly and affectionately abbreviated to) provides a very flexible framework to build on. It's normally used in a rather limited fashion, with many of its intricacies, functions and possibilities not being explored to the full. So, when a game like The Mapper comes along, what can a guy do except rave about it?
Despite being a Zenobi game The Mapper comes with rather more packaging than you're usually treated to. You get several sheets of info concerning some of the life forms, flora and fauna that you'll come across whilst exploring and mapping a sector of the planet Pollux 3. (What a funny name for a planet. Ed) This planet is 'potentially habitable'. Y'see, earth's suffered a serious baby-boom over the last few hundred years, so new planets have been targeted for colonisation.
You're a mapper and it s your job to map the 14x14 zone you've been allocated on Pollux 3. You've also got to collect specimens and data that may be of use to either you, or the boffins who are eager to see what lies on Pollux 3. Armed with a self recharging laser, knife and backpack you're ready for anything.
Once the game's loaded a series of display boxes appear. These form the front-end of a rather radical approach to adventure playing. Normally you would have found yourself staring at a screenful of text, but in The Mapper everything is controlled and displayed in, on, or near these display boxes.
The first thing to get to grips with is the area of the screen (a bordered box) that displays your current position on a small 3x3 map. Then you can start exploring. Travel, communication and progress in the game is achieved by typing in directions and issuing various commands. But that is where the similarity between this and most other adventures seems to end. My first (feeble) attempts at doing everyday, mundane things ended more often than not in sudden deaths. SDS (Sudden Death Syndrome) is normally a complete turn-off in any adventure though, for some reason, it's not so bad in this game. Maybe it's because your first priority is to map the game, so you can, to a large extent bypass the areas where you previously found yourself meeting yet another sticky and sudden end. The creatures tend to stay in distinct areas so, once you know where they live, you can normally avoid them.
The graphics are intelligently and sparingly used. There's a little detailed pic for each creature and plant and anything you're carrying.
After I'd been playing for a while it suddenly dawned on me that the only time a bit of 'lengthy' text appears is when you die or do something drastically wrong.
At first, much of the pleasure I got from the game came from the map making process itself. It wasn't 'til I reached a dead end that I began to realise what problems lie within the depths of the game. All the mapping you have to do would normally have sent me mad, but the game manages to combine just enough cartography with the right amount of problems, I've got a feeling that, despite its looks, the game will appeal to RPG-ers, text purists (even though there isn't a lot of text in it), strategy fans and graphic adventurers alike. I'm not overly keen on the fact that it's played in real time, and that you also need to be accurate with the phrasing of certain commands at times. While I'm whining, there aren't too many helpful nudges or informative responses to your failed attempts at doing certain things.
One of the game's good points is that there's a rather wonderful Tutorial program on the B-side of the tape. This is an interactive guide to the adventure system used in The Mapper and will have you up and running in no time at all.