Alternate Reality: The City / game / commercial

From: Michael Current (aa700@cleveland.Freenet.Edu)
Date: 05/15/92-06:22:04 PM Z

From: aa700@cleveland.Freenet.Edu (Michael Current)
Subject: Alternate Reality: The City / game / commercial
Date: Fri May 15 18:22:04 1992

Reprinted from the Pandora BBS (614)-471-9209


Fine music permeates the soundscape.
Enigmatic, tenacious, exciting and
weaving sounds combine with the
sights of Alternate Reality:  The
City, the first of several proposed
volumes of a first person
perspective fantasy role-playing

Being a fighter of prime-time
television, I enjoyed what this
program had to offer.  My weapons
against everyday television includes
the usual:  role-playing games,
cards, and, primarily:  music.
Ultima III I enjoyed greatly due to
the fine soundtrack.  Yet, I was
briefly disappointed with Ultima IV,
since the Atari version contained
not a set of fine music as did its
predecessor.  I liked the game
nonetheless, yet something else
caught my eye upon the electronic
'shelf' of Software Discounters of
America on Compuserve [SDA-1].
Alternate Reality's description on
that information service claimed
music that 'weaved into the game.'
That is what I got.

Getting into the game, first-off the
player shall find it difficult,
especially after completing an
Ultima.  As with Ultima IV, two
drives are necessity, since two
disks are required for smooth flow
of the program.  Also, loading is so
long, and slow, that only the most
perseverse shall be able to endure
the process the first few times.
The character's easy death during
initial playings only compounds the

The character's vital statistics,
stamina; charm (charisma); strength;
intelligence; wisdom; skill
(dexterity); and hit points, are
generated partialy randomly, and
partly by choice.  Before being able
to enter the City of Alternate
Reality (the City of Xebec's Demise,
as the game calls it), the player
passes his character through a force
field, and when doing so, the
statistics are cemented unto the
being.  The statistics are listed at
the top of the screen, while the
force field waits below.  The
numbers below the statistics
constantly change.  Once the player
moves forward, the numbers freeze,
and the levels for each statistic
(and money) are 'chosen.'  I've
tried many times to make a character
with very high numbers in each of
these statistics (about 18), but
even the most diligent might lose
patience.  Therefore, I have found
that one should just concentrate on
one characteristic and as soon as
that level is high enough, then push

This first volume of Alternate
Reality sets the stage in the large
locale of the City of Xebec's
Demise.  Clues to Xebec, and his (or
her) demise are not given (yet).
The character is placed roughly in
the center of the locale, from where
s/he is expected to solve the quest.
And what is the quest?  Escape can
sum it up.

The introductory scenario given
while booting the program (skipable
by a Start keypress) sets the scene.
An everyday city rests averagely on
an average day.  Traffic moves by
below (by the sounds:  horns, police
whistles, and an ambulance).  Yet,
all that changes as an ornate space
ship decends and hovers over the
city.  Here, the first soundtrack
presents itself unto those present.
The ship 'beams up' four (?) people
from the city and transports them to
the game.  Also, here exists an
innovation in computer music: 
words.  Not spoken or sung, but they
appear on screen, line by line, with
each word highlighted when matched
with its correct note.  Those of
singing caliber could find it simple
to 'sing-along' with the computer.
Now the quest is revealed.  The
player must try to complete all the
volumes of Alternate Reality, and
choose the ultimate moral choice:
Return to Earth, or seek revenge
upon the captors who have brought
the player into Alternate Reality's

Now, those familiar with almost any
role-playing game shall find it easy
to 'map-out' the city (a necessity).
The game assists the beginners by
providing within the instructions a
page of graph-ruled paper with an
initial placement of major hallways
and doors.  The city seems small but
either is much bigger than it seems,
or takes an increased amount of time
to traverse its lengths.

With mapping, the player must
translate what s/he sees in the
first person perspective screen to a
third person perspective map.
Pencil merits priority when mapping
since mistakes are omnipresent
(with me, anyway).  The game is not
like an Ultima (excluding dungeon
settings), where the player sees his
figure upon the landscape, as if the
player looked down from the sky.
Within this game (so far), the
player never sees him/herself.
Instead, the computer gives a view
of the city as if the player were
actually looking out unto it.

Realism is captured in the game by
giving many aspects of real city
life, including:  a rising and
setting sun;  periods of dawn and
dusk;  distant mountains even with
a waterfall;  'cobblestone style'
walls;  falling rain;  and a myriad
of friends (possibly) and foes
(definitely).  Walking down a road
in the city, walls pass, doors
approach, and sounds can be heard.
Mysterious music signafies a near
secret door.  Passing through such
a portal gives another odd melody.
Yet, the author, Philip Price, lost
realism due to the fact that the
player cannot see any other people
moving about the city.  Certainly,
the player encounters many a people:
guards, commoners, couriers,
merchants, thieves, wizards, orcs
and others.  But the player cannot
see the opponent approaching.  The
player only sees such a character
appear suddenly, followed by an
options menu.  Thus, seeing someone
from a distance and 'running-away'
is impossible.

Also, when encountering another
character, the player is presented
with an Engaged menu, and a
Disengaged menu.  The prior offers
various attack methods, while the
latter gives some chances to hail,
or sneak attack, or an attempt to
trick or charm the possible friend
or enemy.  Surviving the city for
the new character fulfills the
imperative of tricking and charming.
The new player is without weapons or
defense, except for a good
personality, or a high intelligence.
A high intelligence allows
successful tricks, whilst a high
charm, charms.  Therefore, when
creating a new character, the user
should concentrate on getting high
levels in at least one of these
atributes.  The effects of charming
or tricking are simple:  death to
the opponent.  By doing this,
treasure (including, importantly, weapons) may be obtained.

However, the player him/herself
chooses whether or not to be an evil
or good character.  A good character
shall not attack good people in
encounters (noted by the fleeting
music), but shall attack the evil
(appropriated by the evil sounding music).  An evil character may
attack anyone.

Also, the entire game does not
entirely take place out-of-doors in
the city.  Existing within its outer
walls the player shall find numerous
shops and businesses.  Banks are
also present, allowing either good
or bad returns upon money (copper,
silver and gold) invested.  Shops
usually sell clothes and compasses.
Guilds offer training and can
remove curses from weapons.  Armour
and weapons need not only be found.
They may be purchased at the
various smithies.  Yet when one
encounters the prices a smithy
charges, one might prefer to take
the chances of winning a possibly
cursed weapon from an opponent.
Weapons may also be magical, but a
smithy never deals with such
trinkets.  Inns merit import due to
the fact that they regenerate hit
points, possible inebriation, and
cure weariness.  Another important
refuge are the many taverns.  The
music of the game shines through
these places, where food, drink and
entertainment are offered.  The
displays within the various
businesses are well drawn and
beautifully colored with gossamer
shading.  Music accompanying the
taverns, smithies and guilds further
provide a tantalizing feast of sight
and sound.

The instructions provide but little
clues to assist the player.  Besides
being in a font that takes
'getting-used-to,' they are sparse.
The same font is used within the
program.  It would have been more
pleasant if the program did load
faster, and perhaps used extra
memory in the various computers,
though.  The loading instructions
may confuse first off, but execution
simplifies after repeated playings.

Furthermore, onto the character
disk, four characters may be saved.
Saving the game at a specific point
does in no way insure return to that
point after an unsuccesful
adventure.  As with the Ultimas,
saving a game allows return to that
point no matter what.  But with
Alternate Reality, death in the
game causes death on the character
disk.  Even just turning off the
computer or giving up destroys the
character on the disk.  Therefore,
backups merit so much of an
important priority.  Even the
Alternate Reality newsletter that
the purchaser receives after sending
in the warranty card stresses
back-ups of the character disk.  I
can not stress that point even more.

The next episode in Alternate
Reality (after The City), is The
Dungeon, which claims to feed off
the users terror and serve it back.
The Arena, which follows, claims to
give the player a chance to actually
see him/herself in combat.  Success
promises chances to mingle with the
martial art experts in The Arena.
The Palace disks supposedly follows
where property may be bought and
sold within The City, and social
standing increases.  Outside The
City exists The Wilderness where an
adventure begins without protective
walls blocking the landscape (I
hope).  Entrances to all these
places can be found within The City.
Going to one, the computer requests
that the user insert the correct
disk for the correct destination.
Also planned is The Revelation,
where all questions about Alternate
Reality are answered.  And finally,
The Destiny:  Seek return to home,
or seek revenge.  The sheer
magnitude of all that is to occur
in the saga of Alternate Reality may
turn off many and may attract even
the least esoteric.

All in all, the series of Alternate
Reality shall require patience.  But
disappointment I have found nowhere
yet.  And The City certainly is much
cheaper than Ultima IV.

Alternate Reality episodes shall be
available for the Atari XL/XE and
compatibles, the Atari ST, the Apple
II series, the Macintosh, the IBM PC
and PC jr, the Amiga and the
commodore 64 and 128.

Review by Sean Kelly
Westminster, Colorado
6 October 1986
 Michael Current, Cleveland Free-Net 8-bit Atari SIGOp   -->>  go atari8  <<--
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