All posts by ntbadmin

Electric Castle

Into the Electric Castle (2001)

Another double CD space rock album from Arjen Lucassen. This is more mellower than “Star One” due to the acoustic guitars.

Reviewed by: courtesy Larry Daglieri
The long awaited disc from brainchild Arjen Anthony Lucassen is finally here. To those who don’t know Arjen, I consider him to be one of the best songwriters ever to grace progressive music, or any music for that matter. I consider Arjen to be the”Steven Spielberg” of music; he takes visions and sets them to music like Spielberg does to movies. Essentially, what Arjen Lucassen gives us is a”musical movie”; not to be viewed, but to be heard. As a movie sweeps you away visually to lands and places far, far away in your mind, Ayreon brings us musically to those places, except that the vision is left up to the listener. It’s an extraordinary experience that every music lover should get to be part of at some time in their musical journey.

As a lover of concept discs, and I can freely admit that concept discs are my favorite discs of all time, and I give my full attention to these discs as they transport me to places I’ve only imagined from movies, but now I am given the chance to create my own vision of those places, having the music as a platform to get there. In addition, I feel that the song writing takes on a new meaning when you have to create discs like Queensryche’s Operation:Mindcrime, Eternity X’s The Edge, Ayreon’s The Final Experiment and the many more concept discs that grace my player on a weekly basis regardless of the age of the disc. It’s inspiring to hear songs that musicians write that wreak of genius, but it’s truly inspiring to “hear” a man’s vision throughout an entire disc through the creation of a storyline. That said, I want to go back to the Dark Ages, and how it all began.

In a phone call, many galaxies away, many moons ago, I asked a certain individual named Ken Golden to recommend something that would make me shudder like Operation:Mindcrime did. I wanted a concept disc, a disc that I would play forever, and something like I’d never heard before. This request alone is certainly not an easy one to fill, but within a couple of days, a disc called The Final Experiment by a band called Ayreon appeared on my doorstep. The opening narration alone told me that this was the band I’d been looking for to fulfill my conceptual needs. An over-the-top, keyboard driven, magical, mystical journey boasting orchestrations, 13 different singers, and a story-line right out of the Spielberg category of great themes, this disc has never left my player, and I consider it to one of the finest concept discs of all time. Somehow, this disc appeals to all facets of listeners; metal, rock, prog rock, prog metal, and others all seem to have something they can grasp onto in this dis c. With a cast of characters that would make Hollywood proud, this gem should be up on a stage, or made into a movie. I’ve had the screenplay written for it in my mind, but Arjen has already stated that it will not go any further than on disc, so I had to scrap that idea. At any rate, this is undoubtedly one of the best “rock operas” ever created, and I was transformed into an Ayreon worshiper instantly.

Soon after I had absorbed all I could out of this disc, and still playing it months after I had gotten it, Ayreon had released another disc called Actual Fantasy. Like many other people do when they get their hands on the ultimate masterpiece, they immediately want another one from their favorite band, and upon first listen of Actual Fantasy, I was convinced that this was no Final Experiment, and almost dismissed it because of this. I managed to put The Final Experiment down, and give Actual Fantasy the time it deserved. Little did I know, that I was going to love this disc as well, despite my initial reaction to it. To sum up this disc, it’s what I deem a”heavy metal Pink Floyd”.

If you take the spacey, dreamy music of Pink Floyd, add in Arjen’s creative juices and crunching guitar work, and add a touch of Beatles background harmony, (yes, I cringe too, but you will learn), throw in enough computerized sounds and keyboards, and you have Actual Fantasy. Still not my favorite Ayreon disc, but a must have for sure. I’ve learned that visions are never the same, and I quickly learned not to expect the same thing twice from a band, especially when it comes to the great Arjen Lucassen and Ayreon.

My Ayreon thrills continued when I first learned that Ayreon would be putting out a double-CD, another concept disc. I couldn’t imagine what this would mean, since The Final Experiment could never be topped in my mind. Here are my thoughts on this disc.

I’ve had it for weeks and weeks, and I haven’t had it long enough to totally immerse myself in it’s source of genius or meaning, but I don’t think I can get any more out of it unless I sat down with it daily for about 3 months with the booklet and played nothing else. So, up to now, this is what I am hearing:


It’s Ayreon – and that is so easy to let stand on that statement. It’s a double-CD, a concept disc as promised, except that this time the disc comes billed as a”Space Opera”. What is a Space Opera ? Well, it’s a version of a Rock Opera, except that it’s set within a time or place that has no physical boundaries. You can’t put your finger or your mind on what or where it is, you just have to close your eyes and imagine for yourself what is actually going on. Again, Arjen Lucassen has left us with the opportunity to create a world within our own mind to visit, with the help of the music as a guide. The music covers many facets of styles; from prog rock, to hard rock, to acoustic, folk, Celtic, blues-rock, and many others. It’s a who’s who of styles, but I will say that the ingredient that is missing here that is present on the others is the”metal” feeling that the others seem to invoke. While there are some heavy parts on this disc, it’s more in a”rock” tradition than it is a metal, and anyone who is not ready to give up their bonecrunching, electric guitar and replace it with acoustic, spacy acoustic and softer electric guitars need not venture further.

It’s keyboard driven, and I can’t imagine how many different keyboards are used on this disc. In addition, the sounds are”spaced out”, meaning that they take on a computerized sound at times, and it’s hard to pinpoint just what instrument is being used. Most of the time, the keyboards are accompanied by acoustic, spacy guitars, and believe when I say, that you will be transported to the outer reaches of space and time, you will not be able to pinpoint where you are or when you are, just that you are here. It’s really the ultimate in audience participation.

With the aid of 9 singers this time, including the likes of Fish (Marillion), Damien Wilson (Threshold), Anneke Van Giersbergen (The Gathering), and a host of others from past Ayreon projects, the story is presented like a play on stage, with each character taking his own part and bringing the story to us. You will need a dark room with a small lamp, a loud stereo, (or headphones cranked to the max), and this booklet Arjen calls a lyric sheet to get the most out of this disc. Please forgive any lack of other band comparisons here, because in no way, shape, or form does Ayreon sound like any other band. It’s always great to be able to give some bands as a basis for comparison, but when you have a mind like Lucassen, you don’t write songs that sound like anyone else. However, in the interest of those who have never heard Ayreon, or especially anything about this disc, the underlying sounds on Into the Electric Castle seem to bear at least a little resemblance to maybe some Marillion, Genesis, Pink Floyd, with the Ayreon sound leading the way. It’s what I call,”harder edged Neo-Progressive Rock meets Progressive Blues Rock”, and that is my personal creation of a new genre I can assure you.

Throughout the disc, you will be led by a narrator, who will guide you through the story, as you will be lost without him, never mind being lost while you’re with him. While you’re listening to his story, you’re anticipating the type of music that is going to follow, or you are focusing on the spacy sounds that accompany the narration. The disc follows NO particular pattern musically. One disc is not heavier than the other; one section contains no more acoustics than the other; one disc contains as much singing as the other; the disc is precisely laid out to spread out the wealth. Even my usual avoidance of lead female singers is put aside; yes, I can tolerate the female singers because it really enhances the story, and they are not singing in a metal format, which is my true problem with them. Prepare for more acoustic guitars than you can handle, more spaced out keyboards than you’ve ever heard, and even some Celtic tendencies along the way. I haven’t fully digested the lyrics, as it’s like reading a b ook. It cannot be called a lyric sheet and I will refer to “The Book” from here on in when I refer to the lyrics. For those of you interested in artwork, it doesn’t get any better than this. It’s absolutely beautiful, and I’d invest in a large version of the painting of the Electric Castle on the CD cover. “The Book” graces the inside of the double package, containing more lyrics than a Broadway play, and is easily read despite the tons of background colors used. If you love previous Ayreon, you will love this disc.


With 9 different singers, 6 people contributing keyboards, violins, cellos, sitars, guitars, mandolines, mellotrons, flutes, massive amounts of synthesizers, bass and drums, there is really no need for me to go into what the band sounds like. Arjen Lucassen himself contributes all guitar work, mandolines, bass, and keyboards in additon to the talent he has surrounded himself with. The mention of the above instruments gives you an idea of what this disc is going to sound like.


I thought that The Final Experiment sounded great, and I was told that it was recorded in a garage. Well, garage or not, the sound is incredible. Actual Fantasy sounded even better, and Arjen certainly wasn’t going to invest all of his creative time just to have some below average sound gracing his discs. Arjen himself produced and mixed most of the Ayreon discs, including this one. So after 2 discs, had Arjen mastered the mixing board as he has his music ? Without a doubt, this is one of the best recordings I’ve ever heard. I will not even go into what each of the instruments sounds like in the mix, as this recording is perfection. What I do notice that is different from the other recordings, is that the vocals are bit more clear this time out, and I imagine it must be tough to handle trying to mix 9-13 different singers, given their different styles and origins. This recording is nothing short of amazing, and how Arjen gets sound this good is a mystery, although I would imagine that t he budget this time around would be a bit more than in the past. Still, if Arjen is willing to share production thoughts, I’d be writing to him if I was a musician and asking “how the hell did you do that” ?

THE COMMENTS: Well, yeah, it’s a great disc. Everyone who wants to know about this disc has the same question:”how does it measure up to The Final Experiment”? It’s not that easy a question to answer. It’s definitely a preference. First, let me say this. It’s Ayreon. To me, that means no matter what it is, I’m buying it. There is no question as to what it is, what it sounds like, or is it better than other Ayreon discs. It’s a blind purchase all the way folks, and believe it or not, it costs less than most double-CD sets that come out in America. This one is from overseas and it costs less; and I’ll tell you,”you get what you pay for” doesn’t apply here. You get much more than you pay for with an Ayreon disc. It’s a standard of music. It’s a given that some of the best songwriting and musicianship in the world is going to be found on an Ayreon disc. Into the Electric Castle is no different; it’s simply brilliant.

Ok, so do I like it better than The Final Experiment ? No, actually I don’t. Given the two discs hand in hand, and asked to spend 1 whole month playing nothing but either of these discs, The Final Experiment will win out for me. Now, this is NOT to say that Into the Electric Castle is not a great disc. It is !!!! It is also entirely different in style than The Final Experiment. Musically, The Castle is certainly more adventurous and wild, but The Final Experiment has the perfect combination of guitars and keyboards in song structures that I find totally right for me. It’s also a bit heavier than ItEC. I will say that metal heads might have a tough time digesting this disc, more so that TFE. If you are flexible and listen to any style of music, then by all means grab this. As a matter of fact, anyone who listens to music in general will love this disc, except for people who will only listen to metal, and want it heavy and crunchy, and t hese are the only ones I would warn off this disc. Other than that, the disc is brilliant. It’s like nothing you’ve heard before, I guarentee it, but just be prepared to tone it down somewhat from previous Ayreon projects. This disc serves to prove that Arjen Lucassen is one of the most creative song writers the world has ever heard. The man has a mind that I’m sure Hollywood would envy, and it’s great to have a great mind like his to give us what we want in the musical world. Ayreon = brilliance in every sense of the word.

Label: Transmission (division of Double Dutch
Record Service BV) (Cat. No. TM-014)
Track Listing: Disc 1: Welcome to the new dimension (3:05) / Isis and Osiris (11:11) a) Let the journey begin, b) The hall of Isis and Osiris, c) Strange constellations / Amazing flight (10:15) a) Amazing flight in space, b) Stardance, c) Flying colours / Time beyond time (6:05) / The decision tree (we’re alive) (6:24) / Tunnel of light (4:05) / Across the rainbow bridge (6:20)

Disc 2: The garden of emotions (9:40) a) In the garden of emotions, b) Voices in the sky, c) The aggression factor / Valley of the queens (2:25) / The castle hall (5:49) / Tower of hope (4:54) / Cosmic fusion (7:27) a) I soar on the breeze, b) Death’s grunt, c) The passing of an eagle / The mirror maze (6:34) a) Inside the mirror maze b) Through the mirror / Evil devolution (6:31) / The two gates (6:28) / “Forever” of the stars (2:02) / Another time, another space (5:20) Total Time: 102:35

Arjen Lucassen – guitars, mandolin, bass,Minimoog,
Mellotron & keyboards
Roland Bakker – Hammonds
Jack Pisters – sitar
Robby Valentine – pianos, synth solos on IIa, IIIa
(disc 1) and IV (disc 2), mellotron on VIa (disc 2)
Ern” Olah – violins
Clive Nolan – synth solos on Vc (disc one)
Rene Merkelbach – synth solos on V (disc one) and
VII (disc 2), harpsichord on II (disc 2)
Tom Scherpenzeel – synth solos on Vc (disc 2)
Ed Warby – drums
Taco Kooistra – celli
Thijs van Leer – flute on IIIc, IV (disc 1) and II &
III (disc 2)
Fish, Damien Wilson, Sharon Den Adel, Anneke
van Giersbergen, Edwin Balogh, Arjen Lucassen,
Jay van Feggelen, and Edward Reeker – vocals


Desmeres Lumineblade

The Redemption of Desmeres
(The Book of Deacon)
by Joseph R. Lallo (2016)
The Redemption of Desmeres is a sidequest in The Book of Deacon Saga.

Desmeres Lumineblade always prided himself on his pragmatism, clarity, and focus. These qualities made him the maker of the finest weapons ever created, and even helped end the Perpetual War. But some choices leave scars on even the steadiest mind, and now the time has come to find balance for his less heroic deeds.

For the first time in his life, Desmeres finds himself without purpose or direction. He has no doubt that every last decision made over his long life, whether the others viewed it as heroic or heinous, has been intelligent and necessary. But as the world recovers from its greatest trial, he finds his mind muddled and filled with uncertainty. For one who has already made himself the enemy of the Elite—the finest warriors of the Alliance Army—such distraction could cost him his freedom, or even his life.



This is a better story than ‘The D’Karon Apprentice’. The major reason is that it doesn’t follow the fantasy troupe of ‘hero’ vs evil. The two main characters are well portrayed from the start. Most of the book consists of Desmeres fighting his past and Genara looking for a new future. Because of it’s structure, the story is engaging and the end is not predetermined (until the end). Unfortunately near the end a rather simplistic villain is introduced. The book would have been better without him.


Paris Monsters

A Monster in Paris (French: Un monstre à Paris) is a 2011 French 3D computer-animated musical comedy fantasy adventure film directed by Bibo Bergeron, produced by Luc Besson, written by Stéphane Kazandjian, distributed by EuropaCorp Distribution, features the voices of Sean Lennon, Vanessa Paradis, Adam Goldberg, Danny Huston, Madeline Zima, Matthew Géczy, Jay Harrington, Catherine O’Hara, and Bob Balaban and based on a story he wrote. Some aspects of the film are (very loosely) based on Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera. It was released on 12 October 2011.


Wonderful film full of charm, music and a double romance. The animation is smooth and graceful and really makes the characters come to life. There are also elements of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’.  Recommended.

2nd Satellite

The Second Satellite
by Edmond Hamilton (1930)

This novelette comes from the August 1930 issue of ‘Astounding Stories of Super-Science’, one of the pulp-era science fiction magazines.

Two pilots travel by plane to another world, orbiting the earth between the earth and moon (!). There they find two civilizations of men and frog-men. As silly as it sounds, this is a well written and exciting adventure from the golden age. Sure,  science and biology makes no sense but Hamilton shows why he was one of the great writers of this era.

Bourne Again

Jason Bourne is a 2016 American spy action thriller film directed by Paul Greengrass and co-written by Greengrass and the film’s editor, Christopher Rouse. It is the fifth installment of the Bourne film series and the direct sequel to The Bourne Ultimatum (2007). Matt Damon reprises his role as the main character, former CIA assassin and psychogenic amnesiac Jason Bourne. In the film, Bourne tries to uncover hidden truths about his past, now remembering who he truly is. The film also stars Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles and Riz Ahmed.


The plot doesn’t really matter in this movie as it’s not that good. There is something about Jason revealing his past and a social media company involved with the CIA.

It’s also an excuse for Bourne and co to visit various locations around the world. There is a long chase sequence at the beginning of the film involving motorbikes. It would be good if you could follow the action but it seems to be necessary to  cut to people watching cameras and narrating the action. What happened to Show Don’t Tell ?

Then there is the shaky camerawork. It’s on during action sequences, conversations and even when just looking at a cellphone. And it’s annoying – very annoying.

For this reason this is just an average movie. Not much of a plot, little understanding of character motivations and backgrounds but lots of action, crashes and an overwhelming soundtrack.


End of All Things

The End of All Things (2015)
(Old Man’s War #6)
by John Scalzi

The direct sequel to 2013’s The Human Division

Humans expanded into space…only to find a universe populated with multiple alien species bent on their destruction. Thus was the Colonial Union formed, to help protect us from a hostile universe. The Colonial Union used the Earth and its excess population for colonists and soldiers. It was a good arrangement…for the Colonial Union. Then the Earth said: no more.

Now the Colonial Union is living on borrowed time—a couple of decades at most, before the ranks of the Colonial Defense Forces are depleted and the struggling human colonies are vulnerable to the alien species who have been waiting for the first sign of weakness, to drive humanity to ruin. And there’s another problem: A group, lurking in the darkness of space, playing human and alien against each other—and against their own kind —for their own unknown reasons.


Here is the problem:  John Scalzi is a great author. He is often compared to Robert Heinlein. I would argue he is better. This ‘book’ is actually four novellas strung together. They tell the same story from a different perspective. The trouble is that once into, and invested in the characters of the first novella, it just stops and you get another set of characters you have to place and work out who they are. The principle character is  Rafe Daquin, a pilot who gets abducted and his brain is detached and used to operate a space ship (shades of Anne McCaffrey’s ‘The Ship who Sang’). He starts the story, is there when it ends and is by far the most interesting character. If the story had been told from his POV, it could have been more interesting. And it could have missed the second more political and slower second novella.

However it’s still Scalzi at his best and an entertaining read, although I did skip his ‘alternative’ ending.


Gaming in the 1990s

Some Reviews of Games from the Past


Archipelago (noun), a sea studded with many islands.
Archipelagos (Logotron) a very different computer game.

The dictionary gives only a hint about the game Archipelagos, add some people called Ancients and strange trees and it starts to look like a game. The ancients have been turned into obelisks, and you have to release their souls.

Essentially this is a puzzle type game, each archipelago has to be solved before moving to the next one. There are 9,999 to solve. To play the game you move around a 3D environment, with the mouse you can rotate 360 degrees and move forward. Destroy the stones and rush back to free the ancient from the obelisk.

Trouble is there are these trees that pollute the ground, and if you stand on infected ground you will die. You can also disinfect the land and create new land from the sea.

The first 19 archipelagos are easy to solve, but at level 20 you have to deal with the “Eggs of blood”. This makes the game much harder, and considerable planning is necessary to complete further levels. The background music adds to the atmosphere of the game.

There are two things that distract from this game. The disk protection method causes a very distressing sound to come from the drive. And the saved games are stored on the original disk, a policy I am not in favour of.

Although this is an original game, and should provide several hours of entertainment, the lack of variety in game play will soon become boring.

Balance of Power 1990

Balance of power comes from Mindscape, makers of Deja Vu, Uninvited and Shadowgate.

Balance of Power 1990 is all about power,(military, economic and political). Over the six years 1989 to 1997 you will be either the leader of the Soviet Union or the United States. At the end of 1997 the winner is the side with the most prestige points.

In charge if billions of dollars of funds, and thousands of troops you must make decisions that will effect the livelihood of the planet. If you fail a nuclear war will destroy the earth.

All you can do is reboot and try again.

The game comes with a double sided disk and a 90 page manual. Despite the complexity of the game it is surprisingly easy to get started without reading even the manual. The screen consists of a map of the world with GEM menus for your decision making. Each year you have to assess the world situation and attempt to influence events using the resources available to you. If you make some radical decisions four advisors will give you their advice on the situation. Ignore their advice at your peril. There are 80 countries to deal with, so each turn can take some time. The “bipolar” option gives access to more possible actions to take, there is even a two player option.

Overall I got the impression that the game was very realistic, the bibliography in the manual lists 22 publications from Henry Kissinger’s autobiography to the “whole earth catalog”. The only flaw is the exclusion of a certain very important south pacific nation. Despite what the manual says I
could not transfer the game to my hard disk.

I can recommend this came to anyone tired of blasting aliens.


Somewhere in space and the twenty-first century is the Gamma solar system. Around the star Dialis orbit nine planets and their nineteen moons. Into this human colony comes the comet Damocles (Haleys father ?). The residents wouldn’t have minded this celestial body if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s path is predicted to collide with the fifth planet Eris (in about 3 hours). So, the object of the game is tosave the planet from destruction.

Lloyds are interested in the comet as a tourist attraction, and will pay if you can avoid destroying the comet.

The game comes on a single disk with a instruction sheet and an A2 poster showing the Gamma system with the orbits and relative sizes of the planets.

Playing the game involves moving through a 3D landscape, finding and using objects. The 3D movement is smooth and colourful, however too many objects in one place will slow the movement down. Movement is by foot, car and spaceship using the joystick.

No text input is required, however if you can find a note book you can read it to get some hints.

Space, as they say is big, so big you couldn’t possibly see it all in the 3 hours you have to save Eris. To make matters worse voyages between planets is governed by Einstein’s theory of relativity. This means that while ship time advances normally, Eris time advances faster (as you reach the speed of light).

You start at Eris, where the President will give you the keys to a space ship and a file to start you on your way. So far I have tracked a Post Office delivery of detonators through three planets and eventually found a “Novabomb”, this could be useful.

Fortunately, even if damocles destroys Eris, you can still explore the planets. There are rumoured to be at least five ways to complete the game.

Moving between planets takes some practice, the planets are positioned by “Gamma system co-ordinates”. In space you use your compass to navigate between the planets (there must be a large magnetic planet beyond the known nine planets).

You can save the game at any time, but are limited to ten positions. I got a “disk error” using a blank disk formatted to 800K, however a disk formatted with the desktop worked.

If you like an adventure game that looks more like a flight simulator, and have lots of time to explore the planets and moons of the gamma system, you won’t be disappointed.

The disk for the June 1990 Issue of ST User contains a demo of the game.

Interphase (1989)

In the future the main form of entertainment is dreaming (just like political promises). Dreamers record their dreams for consumption by the masses. The trouble is that a dreamer has discovered subliminal messages in his dreams.

You play the part of the dreamer (Chad) who, with the help of his girl-friend Kaf-E attempts to find and destroy his dream in the DreamTrack Corporation’s high security building.

Kaf-E moves thorough the building, encountering doors, turntables, security cameras etc. Her movement is seen on a 2D map. You have to unlock doors, turn turntables and overcome droids to get to the lift of each level and progress up to level 12. Then it’s find the dream and get out again.

As Chad you can influence the building’s electronics through a man/machine interface known as the interphase. The interior of the computer is a 3D model populated with strange forms that are not pleased with an intruder.

The game-play involves entering the computer through a data-line to the 3D environment. Consult the map to find where Kaf-E is and manipulate doors, destroy cameras so she gets to the lift.

From the map lock onto an object (like a door that needs opening), exit to the computer and follow the direction arrows to find the object and destroy it. It’s not easy, if you bump into anything you lose energy, and craft run about taking pot shots at you.

Control in 3D is the same as Starglider 2 (using mouse), everything scrolls around smoothly. Because the environment is conceptual, rather than an attempt to recreate a real environment
like Damocles of Starglider 2, interphase succeeds in creating something believable.

The most common problem I had was inadvertently destroying the turntables rather than docking. This effectively halted progress, and I had to start again.

Sound is limited to effects associated with moving around and crashing into walls, shooting etc. At the end of each level the game can be saved. However only one saved game per disk is a problem.

ACE magazine compared Damocles to Interphase and rated Damocles the better game. The main reason is that Interphase is a linear game where it is necessary to think and move quickly to advance. Damocles is a bit more leisurely and more like an adventure game where interphase is more of a puzzle/flight simulator game.

This is an original game that doesn’t take long to master. Solving it will take considerable time. Experience with a flight simulator will help, but your ability to solve the puzzles ultimately determines success.

The story scenario has elements of “Total Recall” and the last film of Natalie Wood (can’t remember the title).

Kult (1989)

Kult comes from EXXOS (a French team), which brought us Captain Blood and Purple Saturn Days. The similarity between Captain Blood and Kult is due to the artwork of Michel Rho (who according to the booklet is a “standard humanoid type 3” and has an exhibit on Zeldar IX).

Fortunately much has been learned from captain Blood about game playability. So while the games look similar, Kult is the better game.

You play the part of Raven, a tuner in a time after the “burn”. Your mission:
– Take part in 5 ordeals to obtain skulls.
– Find your friend SciFi (yes, that’s a rather nice looking female).
– Smash the Protozorg plot (the evil empire)

The first part involving getting the skulls is similar to many adventures, you can manipulate objects and talk to characters. You also have your PSI powers to help, and a strange phonetic type of hint available from your “Gauss”. To get the skulls requires a bit of bravado and lateral thinking (So far I have four skulls). Don’t be deceived by the map given in the manual, the game is much larger. Unlike some games, in Kult you can roam around without having to find keys to doors. A tunnel in the mountain will lead you to the unmapped section of the game. Here I eventually found SciFi, unfortunately she was eaten by a turkey (yes, a turkey).

The graphics are first rate. Apart from the loading music the only sounds used are for effects (a nice clunk when opening doors) and speech. The speech is in some mutant form of french very similar to that used in Captain Blood.

Be sure to read the enclosed play manual and synopsis before starting, not only are they very amusing, but will give you the background necessary to advance in this game.

The overall combination of graphics, spot sounds, humour and game-play makes this one of the best adventure games I have played.

Shadowgate (1987)

Once again JRR Tolkien has a lot to answer for in this adventure. The scenario is vaguely familiar :

“Within the walls of the Castle Shadowgate lies your quest. If the prophecies hold true, the dreaded warlock lord will use his dark magic to raise the Behemoth, the deadliest of titans from the depths of the earth. Only you can stop the warlock lord from darkening our world forever”

Like Kult, Shadowgate is run by the mouse. The centre of the screen shows the current location, to the right the exits, to the left your inventory, and below a text window.

You start outside the castle door, above the door you will find a key. Once inside you will have to constantly watch your torch, if it goes out you will stumble and kill yourself.

The things to look for are keys and jems, just about everything I found has a purpose. To advance you will have to find hidden doors, unlock doors and overcome monsters. The puzzles I found to be a bit harder than those in the Sierra games like “Leisure Suit Larry”. A map will be required, and you will have to create it yourself. The manual gives nothing away about the game and I found I was soon referring to hints in back issues of ST User.

The graphics, while not as good as Kult’s are effective. Sounds are used to good effect and add to the atmosphere of the game (try opening one of the coffins).

This is a well designed game with interesting puzzles to solve, it kept me occupied for about a week before I began to come up against locked doors and impassable rivers.
Recommend to the experienced adventure player.

Time and Magik (1988)

Time and Magik is a trilogy of text adventures from level 9.
The games are “Lords of Time”, “Red Moon” and “The Price of Magik”.

These were originally published separately, here they have a new interpreter, and added graphics. The graphics are first rate and add to the atmosphere of the games, but after playing for some time I found them unnecessary. Graphics can be pushed up the screen in the same manner as a “Magnetic Scrolls” game. A book is included which includes a play guide and short stories which give a background to the games.

The manual acts as a protection method when restoring a game. “Lords of Time” involves using a grandfather clock to move through nine time zones, collecting priceless items that will lead to the downfall of the evil timelords. Because I have hints, this is the only game I have managed to finish so far.

“Red Moon” involves the rescue of a power crystal which has been stolen.

In “The Price of Magik” you have to defeat the magician Mylgar, who has been driven mad by the magic of the moon crystal.

The last two games involve the use of magic.

These games are among the best written I have found, the descriptions of people and places often better than the graphics of other games. Although the commands available are not as extensive as later games (like Corruption) there is the useful Ram save and restore, and using the up and down arrows to scroll back through commands. Interaction with characters is limited to giving instructions and giving objects.

If you enjoy text adventures, these are well worth a try. If you have not played a text adventure, then try “Wombats II” and “Colossal Cave”. Both are public domain from Start Magazine.

ManHunter San Francisco (1989)

From Sierra comes an animated adventure game involving aliens, murder and computers. Having escaped from New York (the previous game was Manhunter New York which I have not played), you find yourself in San Francisco. Upon landing you find someone squashed under the spaceship. Take his identity and travel through San Francisco, discover the secrets of the alien alliance and save humanity from serfdom (yet again). The game is similar to previous Sierra games with the drop down menus for saving games, inventory etc. The first thing you notice about the game are the graphics, these appear to have been converted from IBM CGA format and are very blocky.

The game incorporates arcade sequences, the first being an attempt to get across a room without being stomped on by killer robots.I didn’t like this aspect of the games design. In order to advance in this game involves being able to get through the arcade sequences, some being harder than others. I would have preferred an alternative route that required a bit of deduction rather than ability with a joystick.

Some of the graphics I personally found to be unnecessarily violent, however the packaging does indicate that this game is “thrilling and horrifying”.

The game comes on three disks, and you can put the whole mess on a hard drive. The game has no text input, movement is by using arrow keys and a “Manhunter assignment device” which will transport you around the city and track other people.

This is not the best game that Sierra has released, the combination of adventure and arcade puts it somewhere between the two markets.


Sidewinder is another vertically scrolling shootem-up. The scenario is not important, you either have to save the earth from the aliens or rescue some damsel in distress (who cares). The ship is a standard variety, probably modified from some other game. Anyway, the ship is at the bottom of the screen, the aliens come down towards you and there are ground forces which shoot slow moving bombs at you. Pick up the powerups on the way for more fire-power and destroy more buildings/tanks/aliens etc. The thing I like in this game are the explosions, nice big fireballs
and a good sound BANG.

Another thing that puts this game above most others of this kind is the game design, easy enough to get somewhere, and yet not so easy that you get complacent. Once rapid fire is achieved you can advance several levels.

Perhaps a prize for the person who can do better than my high score of 220,405.


Take five grid iron rugby players, give them armour and put them in an oversized squash court. This is something like speedball. Here is a game that I found very addictive.

Your view is down on the play field, with the joystick you control one of five players or the goal keeper. The object is to score by throwing a ball through an opening in the end walls. As the ball comes near one of your players you get control of that player, he can be moved in eight directions and can pass and lob the ball. Playing against the computer there are ten teams you play, after practice the lowest ranked team is easy to defeat, but the top team is near impossible.

Even more fun if you try the two player mode. Another creation of the bitmap brothers. Recommended


Space, Magic and Mystery. The Epic journey through TIME.
And graphical too, this adventure game is similar to Chronoquest II in that you have to find a time machine and journey through time. The game is large, with three disks and plenty of time periods to discover. The game starts with several minutes of graphics describing what has happened to the planet and how you can save us all from a future of nuclear devastation. Don’t expect to find clues from the enclosed guide this only has three pages of English to describe how to play. An A3 poster is included.

The screen is divided into two areas, a main display showing where you are and underneath icons for inventory, movement, object manipulation and talking. There is no need for text input, you progress through the game mainly by using objects. The graphics are good, and animation of characters clear and detailed. I have not progressed very far through the game, after exploring the space station where you begin I went down to earth to meet Doc Delaney who knows something about movement through time. So either I’m a bit stupid, or this game is a bit on the hard side.

Apart from the puzzles, the main problem with this game is it’s speed. Because of all the graphics, movement from place to place is determined by the speed of the walking figure. Once you have seen something once, you will wish for faster movement. Another problem is that there is very little to read. I find that although a picture may be worth a thousand words, a few lines about where you are helps a game and can give a few more clues about what you should be doing. Apart from these problems it is the story line which will maintain your interest in this game.


CD8 – Another Green World

Another CD case design.
The title is a reference to the Brian Eno 1975 ambient album.
The cloud is an image from my 1.3megalpixel camera. The design is influenced by the Star Trek LCARS interface design.
This image was done in April 2005 and was probably influenced by Star Trek: Insurrection.



John Justin Mallory

Mike Resnick
The John Justin Mallory Mysteries

#1 Stalking the Unicorn (1987)
It’s 8:35 pm on New Year’s Eve, and Private Detective John Justin Mallory is hiding out in his Manhattan office to avoid his landlord’s persistent inquiries about the unpaid rent. As he cheerlessly reflects on the passing of a lousy year, which saw his business partner run off with his wife, he assumes the bourbon is responsible for the appearance of a belligerent elf. This elf informs him that he needs the detective’s help in searching for a unicorn that was stolen from his charge. When Mallory realizes the little green fellow is not going to disappear with the passing of his inebriation, he listens to the elf’s impassioned plea that the stolen magical beast must be returned to his care by daylight or his little green life will be forfeited by the elves’ guild.

#2 Stalking the Vampire (2008)
It’s Halloween, and John Justin Mallory’s partner, Winnifred Carruthers, has been so busy preparing for the biggest holiday of the year (in this Manhattan, anyway) that she seems short of energy and pale. Mallory is worried that she’s been working too hard. Then he notices the two puncture marks on her neck.

#3 Stalking the Dragon (2009)
It’s Valentine’s Day and private detective John Justin Mallory is planning on closing up the office early and taking his partner, Col. Winnifred Carruthers, out to dinner, since he’s sure no one else will do so. But before he can turn off the lights and lock the door,
a panic-stricken Buffalo Bill Brody visits them. It seems that the Eastminster pet show is being held the next day, and his dragon, Fluffy, the heavy favorite, has been kidnapped.

These three Mike Resnick books are not too long (about 70-80,000 words). Call it urban fantasy with heaps of 1930’s style detective fiction. Everyone has an attitude problem and the dialog zings about like a parody of the style. It’s witty and fun, most of the plot is just a device to hang some fun writing on. At times it gets a bit too much into the Piers Anthony territory. But otherwise here are three lightweight and fun humorous fantasy books to enjoy.

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina
by Leo Tolstoy (1875)

The novel was published in serial installments from 1875 to 1877 in the periodical ‘The Russian Messenger’. Tolstoy clashed with editor Mikhail Katkov over political issues that arose in the final installment therefore, the novel’s first complete appearance was in book form in 1878. Widely regarded as a pinnacle in realist fiction, Anna Karenina recounts St. Petersburg aristocrat Anna Karenina’s life story at the backdrop of the late-19th-century feudal Russian society. Having considered War and Peace not a novel, Tolstoy considered Anna Karenina his first true novel. Fyodor Dostoyevsky declared it “flawless as a work of art.” His opinion was shared by Vladimir Nabokov, who especially admired “the flawless magic of Tolstoy’s style,” and by William Faulkner, who described the novel as “the best ever written.” The novel remains popular, as demonstrated by a 2007 poll of 125 contemporary authors in Time, which declared that Anna Karenina is the “greatest book ever written.”

After reading ‘War and Peace’ on a Palm Pilot over the 2008 winter, I had anticipated also reading this novel. However the public broadcast of the 2012 film by Joe Wright was an alternative and shorter means of absorbing the story.

A lot of the story takes place on in a theatre, with actors changing the scenery between each scene. It’s a device not seen before and at first is a novelty but soon becomes distracting.

The best part of the film is the production design, costumes and score. The music really takes over at times, making the film a visual and audio feast for the senses. However the main problem is the story. This is surprising given the screenplay by Tom Stoppard. There is never a sense of involvement with characters. Their backgrounds and motivations are not clear and the result is that the story comes across as a cheap melodrama.

Having red War and Peace, I know that Tolstoy put more into his books than this. Maybe the story would be better told as a miniseries. There have already been seven TV adaptions, so maybe one of these is better than the film.

In the end this film it was a case of style over substance and after an hour it became boring and I gave up.

Recommendation: Read ‘War and Peace’