Under the Microscope: Heretic

posted in: Games, Reviews | 0

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: Reviews, 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

posted in: Games, Reviews | 0

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.