Under the Microscope: Heretic

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Heretic ScreenshotThe mid to late 1990s saw an explosion of first-person shoot ‘em ups very similar to that of Doom and Wolfenstein. Heretic, even though essentially a Doom clone, very much held its own and still holds a very loyal fanbase to this day.

Although visually similar to Doom and the like, Heretic very quickly becomes its own game, featuring a unique roster of demons and monsters as well as a plethora of maze-like maps designed to entertain the explorer in you rather than a rifleman.

Visually, Heretic looks great. The Doom engine which the game is based on has been tweaked and fine-tuned to a professional level, the 3D graphics are excellent and do a fine job of making an atmosphere.

The game’s sound is not great by modern day stands but it does the job, and provides an appropriate atmospheric effect where it’s needed. The soft background music draws you into the game, but there is an aural overload during monster attacks. The sounds of the hero grunting in pain combined with the sounds of the weapon firing can be distracting and annoying. Still, this is not a big drawback.

The game’s storyline follows a mythical theme. Three brothers, known as the Serpent Riders, have used their immense magical powers to turn the seven kings of Parthoris into mindless puppets. The kings, in turn, led their subjects in doing the Serpent Riders’ bidding. However, the Sidhe elves are immune to the Serpent Riders’ spells and had no allegiance to any of the seven kings; the Serpent Riders thus declared the Sidhe as heretics and launched a campaign of genocide against them. In comes the player, you must battle your way through hordes upon hordes of nasty baddies, to save the seven kings of Parthoris and maintain justice and peace.

Heretic is definitely the kind of game that you can spend many hours playing without realizing it. The enjoyment level is really high when you are doing well and drops slightly when you get lost in a maze of caverns. Heretic challenges your brain to figure out each level, it can feel a bit full on at times but ultimately it proves to be rewarding.

The game’s replay value is excellent, there are so many hidden passages to explore, and because few players will achieve success in one or two game sessions.

Heretic has a perfect combination of both intensity and inaction, one second you’ll be pitting your wits against a horde of red, flying ichy-things, then the next minute you’ll be wandering aimlessly through a maze looking for a sacred artefact.

So all in all, Heretic is definitely worth a play if you have a RiscPC, A7000 or a copy of Virtual Acorn at hand, unfortunately newer RISC OS computers are not compatible. You can purchase Heretic along with the equally action-packed Hexen from R-Comp, currently priced at 32.50ukp. Both a CD-Rom and floppy drive is required for installation.

UPDATE! Free ports of both Heretic and Hexen are nearing release and will be uploaded to riscos.info upon completion. You will require commercial copies of the games’ data files in order to play the free ports. The datafiles can be bought through a number of legal online game distribution stores. These versions are also compatible with newer hardware systems and RISC OS 5.

Under the Microscope: CashBook

posted in: Software | 0

screen1A useful application that I utilise quite frequently is CashBook by Steve Fryatt.

Currently at version 1.23 (17/04/11), CashBook is a home accounts manager, which can be used to keep track of home or club accounts. It is free to download and is very well documented.

The application’s system is based around transactions, which correspond to those on bank, building society and credit card statements. These transactions transfer money between accounts, or to and from analysis headings.

My main use for CashBook is keeping track of my my main day-to-day accounts as well as my savings, detailing transfers between them, despoits and withdrawals etc. I actually stumbled across CashBook while looking for an application to keep track of my finances on my phone. The bulk of the apps that I tried were quite feature rich, but in general, were unnecessarily overcomplicated.

CashBook does a nice job of keeping everything simple, which is nice and as I don’t want to do anything overcomplicated, it works very nicely. Not that the application won’t be able to handle any complicated accounts mind you, there’s a plethora of different features and functions available and they are very well documented in the support documentation provided – which makes a really nice change for a free piece of software.

Account transactions, both in and out, can be documented and even reconciled against statements, so errors and suspicious payments will stick out like a sore thumb. A real-time statement view is available for all accounts and analysis headings.

As you update each your account details with transactions, your real-time system will update. Budgets can be set for transactions into and out of analysis headings, so that income and expenditure over time can be monitored and recorded in real-time.

Various reporting options allow detailed information to be produced on many aspects of the accounts and transactions; such reports can be viewed on screen, printed out, or imported into spreadsheets, graphing packages or wordprocessors for further manipulation.

screen2As well as manually entering in transactions, you can set up automatic updates for regular payments such as standing orders, direct debits and salary payments.

CashBook is 26-bit and 32-bit neutral, so it will have no problems running with pre-Iyonix hardware as well as newer machines such as the ARMini and Beagleboard running RISC OS 5. You can download CashBook free of charge from here.

Under the Microscope: Wizard’s Apprentice

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Wizard's Apprentice 4Wizard’s Apprentice, developed by the Greek game studio Fantasia, was met by a whole host of competition on the RISC OS gaming front when it was released in 1997.

A whole host of games were hitting the platform at the time, the majority being ports from other platforms. Despite all this however, Wizard’s Apprentice received a very good reception from users and magazines at the time as well selling quite well.

The first impression you get from Wizard’s Apprentice is the game’s professional and quite impressive introduction sequence, this impression continues throughout the game, combined with decent music, sound effects and graphics.

Upon playing, you control a wizard who is hell-bent on a quest to pick up flowers and even the occasional mushroom. It sounds easy, but that’s where the puzzles come in, you must position rocks around the map to present you with a valid pathway to picking up more flowers.

The game’s graphics are very well presented and is quite nice on the eye with its display set on a high-resolution 640 by 512 mode. The character and object animations are nice to look at, especially considering the age of the game.

The wizard can be guided very easily, the only slight issue is movement can be a little slow at times, especially if you’re moving rocks to and from for large periods of time.

Later in the game, you can choose to control either the wizard or an assisting character – a little blue, blobby creature. This adds a new perspective to the game and keeps things fresh and interesting.

Once you’ve successfully trawled your way through the game’s 100 puzzling levels, you can make your own with the game’s very own level editor. The editor’s inferface has a rather steep learning curve, but once you’ve got the hang of things it is pretty easy to make your own levels.

Wizard's Apprentice 3Compatible with legacy 26-bit RISC OS systems only (and emulators) newer than a standard RiscPC, you can purchase Wizard’s Apprentice from APDL for the modest sum of 7.90ukp, a demo of the game is available to download from here.

The game will play on modern RISC OS platforms through the use of Aemulor, which is free to download for ARMv7 systems like the Raspberry Pi and ARMX6.

No Phoebe for you… Top 5 failed RISC OS projects

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RISC OS has had its fair share of projects that have never come to light, perhaps more than its fair share. From the ill-fated RiscStation Laptop to the Cerilica Nucleus that never appeared, here’s my top five RISC OS projects that never came to be released.

phoeb21 – The Phoebe from Acorn Computers

You all knew it was coming (probably from the title!), the cancellation of the Phoebe or so-called RiscPC 2 was really a dagger in the heart for RISC OS users, overnight both Acorn Computers Ltd. and any hopes of a RiscPC successor had just vanished. Some would say it started the decline that RISC OS has seen since then, although my opinion is that it began a few years before that.

The Phoebe would have come shipped with the next version of the OS, early versions were shipped to developers in the form of RISC OS 3.80. The machine would have run on a 233MHz StrongARM SA110, featured 512MB SDRam and a new VIDC20. You can see full specifications for the Phoebe from Chris’ Acorns.

2 – The RiscStation Portable

The RiscStation Portable was meant to fill a long-standing need for RISC OS users, a laptop (or more specifically, notebook!) running RISC OS natively. This nifty piece of kit, running on a 64MHz ARM7500FE processor was meant to be the answer to many people’s prayers.

The machine was to be shipped to customers running RISC OS 4.02 and a 10GB Hard Disc at the end of April 2002. Many customers waited for two years for any sign of the RiscStation Portable, some had paid in full (around £1,500!). Finally, the RiscStation Portable was put to sleep and a Microsoft Windows laptop was released running Virtual Acorn in its place. You can read a preview of the system from The Icon Bar.

3 – The Oregano 3 web browser

Oregano 3 from GenySys was set to fix most of RISC OS’ web browsing issues, bringing Flash and Javascript capabilities to RISC OS, several years after other platforms. The project however was canned in 2007 due to it not being financially viable, which is no real surprise. You can read an article from Drobe revealing the announcement. Rumour has it, that Richard Brown, the man in charge of the operation, was not willing to pay a five-figure sum to see Oregano 3 released. Oregano 3 would have offered complete HTML 4.01 support, XHTML 1.0, CSS-2, DOM-2, JavaScript 1.5, and Flash 6.0 compatibility if it were ever completed.

A104 – The RISC OS Solo

The RISC OS Solo computer from ExpLAN was intended mainly for use within third-world countries where its ultra-low-power design would have enabled it to be used indefinitely away from sources of mains electricity.

The ARM-7500 based device was to be released in the third quater of 2002 and priced at around the 500ukp mark. Sadly, negotiations broke down and the machine never materialised.

id2bi5 – Iron Dignity from Artex Software

From the makers of Ankh and TEK 1608, Iron Dignity was set to take both the RISC OS and Windows worlds by storm, boasting breathtaking graphics and speedy gameplay.

Sadly, both the RISC OS and Windows versions were never released and the project, much to many RISC OS users’ despair was eventually dropped.

If the game ever came to light, RISC OS machines would have struggled to run it at the time with at least a RiscPC equipped with an Imago board being required. A demo version was made available on the game’s official website, which is sadly no longer available.

Interview: MathMagical Software

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MathMagicalIn recent years, the MathMagical Software Company have been a regular face at RISC OS shows and a source of continual software development. Here’s an interview by the RISC OS Blog with Martin Hansen from MathMagical Software:

ROBlog: I’m sure many people are aware of your recent release Iconizer II, and how the finished product required five weeks of full-time work. What were the hardest and most time consuming areas of Iconizer development?

Martin Hansen: I’m a fairly competent coder of BBC BASIC, and the RISC OS desktop WIMP which meant that those aspects of Iconizer where covered with the first version. However, I realised that what it really needed was a powerful engine to drive the key iterative routine along. This certainly meant writing it in Assembly language which I’d not done before.

The existing BBC BASIC routine in Iconizer I used floating point arithmetic, and I’d read that as RISC OS emulates such calculations in software, the speed increase in moving from BASIC to Assembly Language can be minimal.

I found a way to code the routine using double precision integers with a separate bit for the sign; plus or minus. RISC OS loves integers; it chews through them as fast as any Mac or Windows computer.

It was a lot of coding to see if an experimental idea would work, and I came very close to giving up on it a couple of times. However, it’s done, and my understanding of ARM assembler is much better because of it.

Now that your multimedia application Flicker has been confirmed as compatible with the ARMini and BeagleBoard computers, what are your plans for its future?

It’s got a lot of possibilities. At the moment I see it as a device to attract artists and musicians to RISC OS. An article has just gone up on RISCOScode, Music revival for RISC OS, that gives an idea of the direction I’m taking with it.

There’s a lot of interest in retro-computing, and I’d like to capture some of the old artistic things that folks did with their BBCmicros and Acorn Archimedes computers, and let them know that, via RISC OS, those endeavours are valued and have a future.

Sticking on the subject of your two premier applications Iconizer and Flicker, has the up-take of new versions from customers exceeded your expectations?

I exhibit at many of the RISC OS shows. I’ve always made enough to cover costs, and sometimes even make a small profit. However, I do it because RISC OS computers are such a delight to program. (I’d not have said that when fighting to get Iconizer II working !)

And finally, what do you have in store for the MathMagical Software Company in the coming few months?

It was tough getting two applications updated for the start of this year. I’ve got a major new project in mind but it’ll not be done until next year.

Thanks Martin, looking forward to see future developments.

MathMagical Software, although not confirmed yet, are likely to appear at the upcoming RISC OS London Show in October. You can download RISC OS friendly videos of MathMagical’s presentations at the 2009 and 2010 RISC OS London Shows from here and here.

Their premier applications, Iconizer and Flicker are now fully BeagleBoard and ARMini compatible, as a little celebration, MathMagical have announced that Flicker is available for half price until the 1st of November. For information regarding Iconizer II (article), Flicker and the MathMagical Software Suite visit the official MathMagical Software website.