Once again, we send the intrepid JOHN MINSON on a mission. This time, armed with pen, paper and posh suit, he goes to check out the state of play at The Edge, who are finishing off their new game, Fairlight.
Right, they’ve finally done it! CRASH has driven me to the edge. The Edge software house that is, for a sneak preview of Fairlight, their soon-to-be released arcade adventure system. So, togged up in my ultra-trendy new suit — after all, The Edge are located in ultra-trendy Covent Garden — I follow the instructions and venture behind the green door (hang on, isn’t that a song?).
Bo Jangeborg (yes, he’s from Sweden, if you were wondering, but thankfully his English is 10 to the power of infinity better than my Swedish) is already sitting behind a Spectrum equipped with disk drives. He’s been working on Fairlight since March, from ten in the morning to eleven at night, sometimes sleeping at his micro. Such dedication!
When I arrive he’s working on the as yet un-named hero. I suggest Graeme after our beloved Ed! The program isn’t yet quite completed, and the cave system is away with someone else having the finishing touches added, but I am about to step into the land of Fairlight.
First a word about Worldmaker, though. This is the highly advanced graphics development system that lies at the heart of the current program, and which will be used to develop a whole series of adventures. Bo is understandably proud as it provides a Quill-style utility for creating games with an overhead perspective view, something like recent Ultimate games, but with a more realistic consistency.
We’re joined by Tim Langdell, big man at The Edge, as Bo takes our hero walkabout. Certainly the settings are very attractive and the figure is suitably solid and well animated (yes, very much like Graeme). But it’s when he begins to push tables around that I start to get impressed.
Worldmaker’s main feature is that the worlds it creates are credible. Objects are governed by inertia and gravity, which means that a wooden table travels less far when pushed than a small key. This realism also runs to carrying objects. You can manage up to five of them in numbered ‘pockets’, but the crucial factor is weight. With a heavy barrel, you’re unlikely to be able to manage much else without damaging yourself. In fact Bo hopes to include ‘energy drain’ if you carry heavy objects for too long in the final version.
Out of the first chamber, and into a corridor. A lot of care has been taken to produce an accurate-looking castle and it has paid off. Next stop is a dungeon. After the yellow of the previous room, this is dark blue — colour coding being part of the system. Outdoors is pale blue, with the cave system in red.
It’s here that we encounter our first nasty, a troll who is intent on doing us in. The castle is well protected with guards and wraiths plus man-eating plants and wonderful semi-transparent bubbles which sap strength. There’s an ingenious method of dealing with these but I’ve been sworn to secrecy or the gods of Bo’s native Sweden will strike me with thunderbolts.
More wandering through the sixty screens of the castle (the absent caves provide a further twenty) and we pass through a lavish throne room, a courtyard and into a tower. Here we have to stack things to reach a trap door, something which is quite possible because DROP places objects in front of and not beneath you.
In keeping with its realism the castle can be mapped — and should be if you’re to uncover all of its secrets. The combat system isn’t yet completed, but any damage that the hero takes saps his life force, though this can be replenished with food.
With the tour of this desirable residence completed, I’m totally won over. Inevitably, because of the perspective viewpoint, people will compare the game with Ultimate products, but the similarity only exists on the shallowest level. Fairlight is much closer to a role playing game, and it’s no surprise to find that this has been one of Bo’s pastimes over the last seven years. He even devised his own system from which the Fairlight background stems, and it would be a bit of a shock if future releases from The Edge didn’t delve deeper into the land.
Of course, there’s a plot to your quest. You attempt to free a wizard by finding ‘The Book of Light’ which lies hidden somewhere in the complex of chambers. Bo promises ‘a spectacular ending... rather a surprise’ when the magician is reunited with his tome. But the most impressive thing as far as I’m concerned is the creation of such a believable world. ‘You go into a room that feels real, rather than into a little puzzle room,’ Bo says and Tim adds ‘where it strays away from reality, it must have a touch of magic’.
Fairlight will appear on 20th August, I was told, and will be priced at £9.95, though I’m sure that with Bo’s perfectionism he’ll be making changes right up to the last minute. Already Worldmaker is being used to produce a space game which includes laser combat sequences. I don’t think it is risking much to prophesy that this has pushed the arcade adventure over the edge into the realm of true graphic adventuring — and it should make a very big smash when it lands!