A look at the first release from a new software label: NU WAVE

Tired of conventional shoot em ups? Bored with run of the mill adventure games? Had enough of trudging round seemingly endless landscapes trying to solve obscure puzzles? Maybe you’re the sort of person CRL are aiming their latest release, ID, the first piece of software for their new label, Nu Wave.

ID isn’t a game in the usual sense of the word. It’s much more of a computer entertainment — a puzzle, riddle or conundrum on a large scale.

Once you’ve loaded the program, you are presented with an empty screen and a flashing cursor prompts you to type something in. A counter at the bottom of the screen tells you that ‘Trust’ is currently 0%. Perhaps this is your first clue — folks who have fond memories of Deus ex Machina will immediately recognise the typeface in which the word ‘Trust’ appears. Aha! Mel Croucher had something to do with this product. And before he starts sulking, so did Clem Chambers of CRL (the chap on the end of the phone insisted we say this). The ID software is ‘based on an original idea by Clement Chambers’ as they say.

The scenario is rather strange. An alien life form has taken up residence in your computer. This life form, ID, was sent to Earth eons ago to observe, to maintain a watching brief without interfering in the affairs of man. ID has been many things. An electronic entity capable of assuming many forms, ID has witnessed momentous events and has been involved in incidents which have changed the history of the world.

Disorientated, confused, and with its memory shattered, ID is now in your computer. It is up to you to communicate with this creature, build up its trust, teach it and learn from it while gradually trying to draw out details of its past incarnations.

Throw away your joystick — this is a job for the keyboard. This is a text only game: ID uses the screen of your Spectrum as a teletype on which it gives vent to its opinions, fears, emotions. You can communicate with the creature inside the Spectrum via the keyboard, and input your side of the conversation using a maximum of one screen line — thirty two characters’ worth, so keep it short and snappy.

“Hello” is a good way to start your journey with ID. From there on in, you’re firmly on your own, communicating with the computer which displays a fair old of artificial intelligence. You know you’re starting to make progress when ID asks for your name. In the final version, which we have yet to see, the computer, or rather ID will respond to long periods of silence on your part with a series of statements generated from a pool of phrases. In the copy that arrived at CRASH Towers, ID was quite happy to burble along for quite some time before grinding to a halt, and had to be interrupted frequently so someone could get a word in edgeways.

Gradually, as you build up trust, ID begins to piece together half-formed memories into patterns. Swinging between moods, violently at times, ID tells you about the mood that is currently washing over it. “I feel incensed as we talk”, it might say, turning the screen a deep red. It’s up to you to probe, ever so gently at first, into the consciousness that has taken up residence in your machine. Gradually, as trust built up, you begin to make progress, prying answers and piecing together the puzzles that constitute ID’s previous existences.

Rush in with too heavy a dose of curiosity and ID’s trust will wane. Be rude, and you lose trust points. Every so often ID poses questions — honesty and consistency, on the whole, seem to be the best policies if you want to build up a working relationship with your... your... patient?

Describing this game, or computer entertainment, is very difficult to attempt without revealing the details of play. ID’s secrets are there for you to discover, and, according to the inlay, you may well discover something about yourself on the way. The language generation routines used to put words from ID onto the screen are rather neat. Occasionally the persona trapped inside the RAM witters on, spouting near gibberish, but most of the time the sooths that ID has to offer are witty if not downright hilarious. Ever laughed at a Spectrum before?

There are some very neat touches in the responses. As ID chatters away, moving the flashing cursor over the top portion of the screen as the letters form into words on the glass teletype, jolly beeps and burps emanate from the computer. Tell ID to “SHUT UP” and he does so, immediately. And you lose a few trust points for being so crass.

There’s no need for a degree in analytical psychology — anyone can get chatting to ID, but a little historical knowledge comes in handy. Remember, ID has existed in a number of forms in the past and has been involved in historical events.

To begin with this program can be very frustrating as you thrash around, without a clue about what it is, exactly, that you should be trying to achieve. Once a few trust points are in the bag, however, the game opens up and soon you are likely to be hooked. Lateral thinking is vitally important — don’t always go for the blatantly obvious. That’s about the only hint on offer here... And if all this questing after half-formed memories gets a bit much, you could always sit back and let ID do the talking — the program bears a not entirely coincidental resemblance to a famous language generating program, ELIZA. Not that Alan Turing, who lent his name to a test he devised to determine whether a computer was ‘intelligent’, would have been entirely fooled. Ah yes, “that reminds me of a joke I once witnessed a long life ago” as ID might put it.

The program involves some artificial intelligence techniques, and in a sense could be described as experimental software, interesting in its own right. Unfortunately, once you’ve worked out the various identities that ID has had in the past, that’s it, you’ve spoilt it for yourself. Next time you load the game, the problem remains the same and there’s isn’t that much of a challenge left in making ID whole again. But then, the strange being locked inside your computer could be used as a conversation piece — it’s quite fun just sitting back and seeing what it has to say.

This is the first Nu Wave release, and subsequent software will not fit easily into the games mould. The next project on the drawing board, apparently, is an adventure game for the Commodore which is played without text or graphics, using sound as the medium for communication. There are certainly some unusual ideas floating around CRL if ID is anything to go by... maybe they’d like do a follow-up called EGO based on a ZZAP64 reviewer!

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