|★ AMSTRAD CPC ★ SOFTOGRAPHIE ★ PHILIP MITCHELL ★|
|Philip Mitchell||Melbourne House|
PHILIP Mitchell joined Melbourne House two and a half years ago after studying for a computer science degree at the local university.
Whilst studying for his degree, he was already working part-time on a project which was the brain child of Melbourne's ideas man and managing director, Alfred Milgrom.
The project was the Hobbit — which was to take another two years to complete but was due to make a name for Mitchell, Milgrom and Melbourne House — not to mention, a small fortune in the process.
Mitchell modestly refuses to steal all the credit for the Hobbit, "I should say at the start that it was a team effort. Alfred assembled a team ... myself and another programmer called Veronica Megher, a linguistics expert, Stuart Richie, who designed the special adventure language Inglish and an artist who produced the illustrations for the graphics in the game."
Apart from having one of the best fantasy adventures ever written to draw upon, what really made the Hobbit unique was the way the game's characters roamed around the different locations. This made the game a little different every time it was played as the player never knew who might turn up in a particular place.
The Hobbit was also the first adventure game where you didn't have to rely on reproducing the exact two words the programmer had in mind. This is Inglish which allows far longer phrases than the usual adventures, with more than one idea contained within them. Despite this capability, Mitchell is often surprised at the limited sentences which people employ when playing the game.
"I think they have become used to adventures where you can only use one word commands — and tend to play the Hobbit in the same way... this is a pity because the program can cope with quite long sentences."
Inglish is driven by three connected parts of the program: a language analyser which interprets what the player has input, a data base which contains all the accepted words in the program, and an applicator which applies commands to the game.
The analyser takes every command through a chain of checks before producing a response. First every command goes to the "passer" to make sure that the word is in the game's dictionary.
Then it goes to the syntax checker which decides whether or not the command makes logical sense within the context of the game. It does this by classifying commands and words as either actions or objects — and then passing them on to a "semantic analyser" which decides if the command makes sense according to what it already knows.
More simply, it checks if words exist; checks that they make sense according to the rules of grammer as defined by the program, and checks that they make sense in the game itself.
Inglish has been refined and improved to add even greater conversation between player and characters in Melbourne House's next big game — Sherlock Holmes.
This extra word power has been made the basis of the game where you — playing the part of the gentleman sleuth — have to carefully question suspects, and convince other characters about your theory as to who did it.
The model for the new form of Inglish is an artificial intelligence program called Eliza, whose applications have so far been confined to the research laboratory. In experiments carried out with the program, where people have talked to Eliza from another room, they often refused to believe that they were talking to a computer.
Although Melbourne House is not claiming anything like this degree of communication power for Sherlock Holmes, the buzz phrase of "artificial intelligence" is already being used in its promotional literature.
The new game will not be packed with a copy of one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's books but every effort has been made to check the authenticity and consistency of actions in the game with that of the characters in the books.
The story line for the who dunnit adventure game is being produced by a Sherlock Holmes expert, Sarah Byrnes, who is writing it in novel format, drawing together elements of all of the stories rather than basing it on any particular one.
Holmes' trusty companion Dr Watson features prominently, giving advice which is not always helpful. And the stubborn unimaginative Scotland Yard Police Inspector, Lestrade is also on hand. It is Lestrade that Holmes must convince that his suspicions are correct.
This is achieved in conversations where the good inspector will do his best to fault Holmes' logic and demand further proofs.
The scene is naturally turn-of-the-century London and the case is murder with clues, suspects and witnesses in good measure. The game is played in two parts. First you must persuade Lestrade that your proof is unassailable and then the villain must be apprehended.
As with the Hobbit, Sherlock Holmes will be available on the 48K Spectrum first and will be converted to other computers with sufficient memory later.
Sherlock Holmes will have more limited graphics than the Hobbit due to the huge amount of memory taken up by the game's advanced communication system — though Mitchell did say that it will definitely contain "some" graphics.
One thing is for sure when Sherlock Holmes goes on sale in "late January eariy February" 1984, there is going to be a long queue of Hobbit fans armed with £ notes ready and willing to buy Philip Mitchell's new game.
The day to be there is January 15th and you'll need £14.95 to make the purchase.
Next month Keith Campbell has twenty copies of Sherlock Holmes to give away in his Adventure Column. Don't miss our Super Sleuths competition and keep a check on all the latest adventure games news and reviews.