Macmillan have been publishing educational software for some time now, but their latest series, while still being educational in nature, is aimed at a different market. They have decided to combine their book publishing talents with software publishing and have turned out a series of packages under a sub label The Professional Touch. Three packages have been produced so far, one of which is magic, or conjuring if you prefer.
The idea behind the Magic package is to provide the user with information and stimulation to encourage the study and enjoyment of conjuring. The book, some 34 pages thick, is liberally filled with instructions detailing the performance of some fourteen tricks, varying from the simple 'crying coin' trick to effective 'eggs from nowhere'. Each trick is introduced and then presented in the form of step by step instructions with simple drawings to aid your understanding. At the end of each section there is a little box containing the Magician's tip. Generally the tips are designed to help you present the trick to an audience.
Performing tricks is not really a pastime that you can enjoy on your own the fun only begins when you can confound your friends, pets and family. If you are going to put on any sort of a show you must be able to 'dress up' your tricks so that there are no awkward moments while you remove the matchbox or card which you secreted away earlier. The book places great emphasis on this point and quite a lot of attention is paid to the presentation of the tricks, not only in the Magician's tips boxes but there's also a separate section at the end that gives a little advice on practice, patter and preparation.
Only one page of the book is actually devoted to the software. After the program has loaded you will be asked if you want to make a Microdrive copy: an all too-rare feature. There follows a little business of entering a code word, initially set to MAGIC, the idea being to prevent any of your potential audience taking a sneak look into your computerised box of tricks, always assuming that any of your victims could actually set a Spectrum up.
Once you are finally underway you will be asked to select between TRICKS, SEQUENCE and SHOW. The Tricks section demonstrates the inner secrets of nine tricks but does not deal with the type of magic found in the book. Some of the tricks could be better described as puzzles, and are very well known indeed. One of the tricks titled 'Now you see it now you don't' is not a vanishing act as its title suggests, but more a display of optical illusions. You probably know the sort of thing where a picture of a young girl can, with a bit of imagination and screwing up of the eyes, also be seen as an old hag.
The Magic section is subdivided into three parts. The first part explains in words the principle behind the trick or illusion. Secondly, a tips section explains how the trick is performed and how you should put it across to an audience. The graphics associated with the trick are presented on screen while a scrolling message underneath ' talks' you through the performance. The final section allows you to perform a trick any number of times, allowing you to get your speil off pat, and patter off your speil.
Once you have worked your way through the various tricks, and learnt the principles on which they are based, your understanding should enable you to present them to an audience with the panache and confidence of a true performer. The Sequence section of the game allows you to select which of the nine 'acts' you want in your show and you can choose the order they are presented in.
Should you want, you can add some musical embellishment to your show. When you have decided on the content of your performance and are sure that you can present each act competently, then you are ready to begin.
The show begins with the stage curtains closed; press a key and the title of the first act will appear accompanied some music. When the curtains open you will see the same stage set-up that you learned to love so much during rehearsals. However, this time you must present each trick to the audience without any help. Although the computer will perform the actual magic, you are the presenter. If you suddenly find yourself well endowed with over ripe fruit you can assume that you should return to the earlier stages in the game and polish up your performance. Either that or get a new act.
'My lasting impression of this package is that the book, thin though it is, is a great deal more valuable than the software. Having said that I can appreciate that the reverse is true in the case of a younger child, younger than say 10 years old. The book is so well presented it's interesting from beginning to end. The same cannot be said for the software: for one thing the tricks are tedious, and for another two of them will not work under certain circumstances. The 'Total Bemusement' trick causes just that, if the difference of a number and the reverse of that same number is equal to 99. Likewise when, for the 'Number Divination' trick, you enter the remainder of a number being divided by another, as zero then the trick fails. The graphics for each of the tricks are only hovering around the reasonable standard mark, the same can be said for the overall presentation of the program. But if you have an inclining towards wizardry then this package could be a fair introduction. The book is certainly a good introduction.'General Rating: Not Rated