THE YEAR is 2112ADa nd technology has advanced... Citizens do all their shopping by computer, work at their computer and derive all their entertainment by computer... All menial tasks are now carried out by robots...
"The city of London... vast computing complex... running the country... turning into a Dictator... oppressing the British public... power... servants...
No prizes for guessing you're reading extracts from yet another piece of cassette inlay hyperbole, in this instance that accompanying Design Design's latest, 2112AD. Sounds more like 1986 to me, but even if it was, it would be just as irrelevant to what you actually have to do, which can be summed up in fewer words: explore the complex, locate the ROM cards, return them to the central room and insert them in the correct order. This, as the inlay puts it rather less hysterically, "will hopefully bring the computer round to a more sensible way of thinking."
And the game's not at all bad.
It's certainly attractive to look at. Clear, detailed screens depict the various rooms in the computer complex, each room a different colour, full of fancy mechanical thingies, gliding robots and whirring wall discs.
You are in control of the wimpish character who attempts to stride purposefully across the rooms. At his heels - or more often than not, somewhere else entirely - is his faithful robo-hound and K9-lookalike, Poddy. A bit like Tintin and Snowy, really.
In fact, the game looks like an animated Tintin book, with its sideways-on, crisp 2D graphics. As your hero and his mutt explore the complex, you can turn them towards and away from you, and there is scarcely a jerk as they change direction. Impressive masking ensures that they can disappear behind banks of machinery and partitions to reappear, hopefully, on the other side.
Below the large action screen is the scrolling message window and, to the right of that, a very complicated icon display. This is used for picking up, dropping and using objects, checking on the status of man and hound and objects carried by both. There are first aid and food icons, and one for unlocking doors.
There are lots of others on further screens, mostly to do with operation of the computer and the joysticks.
Virtually no explanation of these is found in the cassette inlay, which concerns itself instead with listing what the game does not feature ("Bloody Mushrooms! Spray Mount..."). It took me over 20 minutes just to get the Kempston working, by which time I was almost ready to stuff 2112AD and its bloddy Poddy.
Accessing the icons can be frustrating at times, particularly if you're trying to drop a bomb in the path of some approaching robot, but you'll get the hang of it eventually.
You can carry only three items at any one time, but Poddy is capable of transporting many more, so give him the less immediately important ones, such as cans, can opener and light bulb. Give all fuses to him. You can only give or take things from Poddy if he's in your vicinity, so carry the first aid kit yourself, so you can use it if you get separated from him.
There is no straightforward way of controlling Poddy, who operates very much like a real dog - ie unpredictable and frequently stupid. If you enter a room with Poddy he will tend to meander off on his own, but if you remain stationary he will eventually return to you.
If you want him to return quickly - if, for instance, you're about to leave a room - then place yourself in his direct line of vision and thus manoeuvre him towards the door. Wait until he is at your heels and facing the right direction before leaving a room - he cannot exit a room without you.
On the whole, Poddy is not much use other than for carrying objects - though in that alone he is essential. There are, however, a couple of occasions on which he behaves oddly - and it might be worth paying close attention to the directions in which he moves.
Poddy needs constant recharging, and periodically you should get him close to a wall socket and employ the Poddy power icon, checking the Poddy status icon afterwards to see if he has been recharged sufficiently. If "Poddy feels okay" then you should let him have another burst or two so that he feels "good". Take care not to overcharge him; if he blows a fuse he will be rendered immobile unless he is carrying spares.
Like Poddy, you too will run out of energy, so pick up some cans along the way, find the can opener and enjoy the occasional tasty nibble.
Many of the doors are locked, and are opened using different keys. One of the first you'll come across is the Legge key; another is a Chubb, and a third looks like a cashpoint card. Other useful items to look out for are the bombs. These function rather like land mines and can be placed in the direct path of an oncoming robot. You don't have to wait around for the explosion.
The light bulb should be kept for illuminating a darkened room, and use the first aid kit when you've been immobilised by a robot.
When you find one of the randomly placed ROM cards, take it back to the central room and drop it on the floor. If it appears in one of the cells then it is correct; if not, then you'll have to leave it until you find another.
That's about as far as I got, visiting probably only a tiny area of the complex, before Poddy finally ran out of juice, miles from a wall socket. I did discover one idiosyncracy. On leaving one room - yellow - for another, I was transported inexplicably to the central chamber; a useful shortcut, but it's only one-way. It took me a while of back-tracking to locate the hapless Poddy once more.
2112AD is a departure for Design Design, and for me it works a lot better than some of their more recent efforts. There's nothing stunningly original about the pick-up/use/drop object theme, but the graphics take it above many others of the genre.
Why 2112AD, rather than 2110AD or any other exciting year sufficiently remote from the present? Well, programmer Graham Stafford got married on the 21st December, last year. It's nice to know programmers are human too.
From everyone at Sinclair User, congratulations Graham, and all the best for a long and prosperous future, free of robots... Dictators... oppression... power... servants... etc... etc.
Publisher: Design Design
Programmers: Graham Stafford and Stuart Ruecroft
Joystick: Kempston, Sinclair, cursor
ICON JOYSTICK SELECTION
Using the keyboard layout described in the inlay instructions - bottom row for moving left and right, second and third rows for up and down - position the cursor over the '?' icon and press fire on the joystick. You now get a scrolling menu of all icons, from which you should be able to identify the appropriate one for your stick. Also look out for the 'Load Game' icon.Move the cursor to the 'Load Game' icon. Press fire. You'll now get another icon screen, on which is a 'Select Joystick' icon. Press fire. You now have the correct icons for the various joysticks; identify the right one, press fire. You now have joystick control. Position the cursor over the 'Quit' icon and you're ready to move around the screen.Easy, isn't it?
The central chamber. Poddy's the one on the right.
Another room, with a bomb. Poddy, predictably, has disappeared.