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.

It’s Doom, but recession-proof

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36810-Doom_[U]-4Jeff Doggett has made available version 1.10 of his Doom port for RISC OS, this new version has added support for FreeDoom game (WAD) files, a game based on the Doom engine but with the primary aim of creating a completely free Doom-based first person shooter. If you’re unfamiliar with Jeff Doggett’s RISC OS port of Doom, it’s built from the Linux Doom sources and has many features that are not present in other Doom ports for RISC OS.Some impressive features include the ability to choose levels, modify gameplay (no monsters, no unhealthy floors, monsters infight etc.) and change screen modes, the latter is the only way for many users to play RISC OS Doom on modern monitors.

Jeff does stress however, that this new version is not 100% stable when playing FreeDoom game files and is subject to some bugs and crashes.

I hadn’t played previous versions of Jeff’s port so I was pleasantly surprised when first playing it, there was minimal set-up involved as you simply drag the WAD file you wish to play over to the Doom icon patiently sitting on the iconbar and hey-presto, you’re shooting baddies.

The range of levels that will play with Jeff Doggett’s !Doom surprised me too, as well as supporting FreeDoom levels, it also supports all WAD files for Doom,  Doom 2, Ultimate Doom and the thousands of user-created levels that are floating around on the internet.

Now back to FreeDoom, it’s currently in an Alpha stage and has many features missing, for example some monsters and other sprites are replaced by placeholder images, some levels are missing and some levels have no music. But you can’t complain, afterall, it’s free!

You can download this shiny new version from Jeff’s website, please note that in order to play official Doom 1 and 2 levels, you must own the registered game files, alternatively you can download the Shareware Doom 1 game files from here.