Sixteen Bits Online



by Nick Thomson

Welcome. This month features reviews of Corel Chess, an excellent computer version of chess, Mode, a somewhat weird and way out interactive drama for 18 year-olds and up, and Elmo’s Preschool, a delightful educational game for pre-schoolers and toddlers.

Corel Chess

Corel Chess is a 32-bit, interactive computerised chess game designed for all levels of player, from novice to grand master. Players can compete against the computer, or against opponents over the Internet, via a modem or over a network. It will run under either Win95 or Windows 3.1 (16 bit version). It has a wide range of view and play options, and there are five levels of difficulty available. One can also view and replay over 4,000 championship chess games.

There are a number of windows available three and two dimensional boards, Moves List and Game Clock. These views and the playing pieces can be customised in a number of ways. For the 3-D board one can choose from 6 chess sets, Art Deco, Classic, Glass, Metallic, Roman and Wood (nothing like choice to make it interesting... ed). In each set the pieces are beautifully rendered in 24-bit color graphics, and there are different soundtracks for the different sets. One can also select a variety of options for the 2-D screen, although I found that if one were going to have a ‘’fancy’’ set on the 3-D screen then it was a good idea to have a fairly basic view in the 2-D screen. This made play considerably easier. Both boards can be rotated so that the game can be viewed from the perspec-tive of either white or black, and there are a variety of window displays available. One can enlarge either the 2-D or the 3-D window, or remove one of them altogether.

Game play is relatively straightforward. There are in fact four options;

human against the computer (human is white),
human against computer (human is black),
computer against computer, and
human against human.

In the case of computer against computer, one sets the difficulty level and then watches the computer play against itself. As long as the pace is kept reasonably slow this can be a good way to learn some of the finer points of the game or expert ways to play. In human against human, each player is assigned a colour, and then the players take it in turn to make their moves. As mentioned above, it is also possible to configure the game so that two humans can play each other over a network or via a modem.

I tried a number of options against the computer. To play, one clicks on a piece (on either 2D or 3D view) and drags it to the new position the computer will inform you if your move is illegal. Alternatively you can click on the piece you wish to move then click again on the square you wish to move it to. The computer then makes its move, and the status bar at the bottom of the screen will tell you when it is your turn, or if you are in check and so forth.

One can set the computer’s skill level from Novice to Expert. At Novice level, the computer essentially mimicked most of my moves and was not difficult to beat. However, in three games at moderate level, I (a non-competitionve player who would describe myself as reasonable at the game) was soundly beaten by the computer every time. My one attempt to play at Expert level was won by the computer in an embarrassingly short period of time. It is possible to set time limits or Tournament Rules, and for those who wish to learn from the masters, there are 4,000 historic chess matches available, ranging from the late 19th century to 1993, and including games involving such greats as Korchnoi, Kasparov and Fischer.

There is a small User’s Guide that provides detailed information on how to install the program and use the various features. It includes instructions on how to play over a network. Online help is available. It includes an outline of the rules of chess but no diagrams.

All in all, this is both an entertaining and visually attractive introduction to computerised chess for beginners, and a comprehensive resource for serious chess fanatics. (give me a rusting Valiant anyday...ed)

System requirements:
486 or higher running Windows 3.1/Win95 (Pentium recommended), 8Mb of RAM, Sound Blaster compatible soundcard, double speed CD-ROM, Super VGA display, mouse

Distributor Information:
Dataflow (Tel: 61 2 417 9700) (Fax: 61 2 417 9797)
Tech Pacific Australia (Tel: 61 2 697 8552) (Fax: 61 2 697 8593)
RRP: $69.00


If I may be so bold as to quote from the supplier’s blurb, “An extravagant event is being held at the hotel you are staying in. A party complete with an art, magic and fashion show, put on by Vito Brevis, resident genius and madman. You are one of the partygoers at this event. By interacting with the various other characters at the club you find out about some of the mysterious events that are unfolding behind the scenes.” The program is a sort of interactive drama cum mystery for 18 years and up, and, by varying your interactions with the various characters, you can produce a variety of different outcomes and events. For those who get hooked, the action continues on the Internet at: (

When you start you are treated to a welcome scene on a video monitor, at which point you are informed that you need a dome to get in. In fact it is possible to get in without it, but you run the risk of being ejected from the party at any time. For example, I encountered a languid lady who was into sprouting philosophical gibberish. She described me as a good looking but annoying asshole, and then summoned the bouncer to throw me out. I duly started again, and it was back to the party.

As you move through the party you are treated to live video action, interviews with a variety of characters and confronted with a number of weird and wonderful presentations on the central stage. One of the more interesting innovations of the game is the mood bar. This is located at the bottom of the screen whenever you talk to a character, and it runs from red to blue to green (a sliding scale from negative to positive). Which colour you choose will determine the emotional response of the character you are talking to it might be anger, delight, total lack of interest and so on. The quality of sound and graphics is very good.

The first objective is to try to talk to someone who will give you a dome, the next objective is to try to work out the special function of the dome, Then there are a variety of other plots to be unravelled and mysteries to be solved. The characters range from Gaylord Solomon, an ex-model, fashion director and perfectionist, to Bela Donna Barbieri, a free-spirited model/actress who falls in love easily, to Killer Klown, a street performer with an alcohol problem. Finding a dome is not easy, after a couple of hours of game play, I still haven’t done so. I have been ejected from the party three times. The whole thing is distressingly reminiscent of my mad, bad youth, when I regularly crashed parties and was (equally regularly) thrown out because of my disorderly behavior.

To add to the fun, there are terminals scattered around the party place, where you can access the Mode machine, a sort of puzzle game. I haven’t been able to figure out the point of it, but I was able to eulogise with euphemisms euphonious and euphoric. There is also online help, and it is possible to save your games.

There are three CD-ROMs and over 90 minutes of full motion video. While the target audience is 18 years and up, I have not yet discovered anything R-rated. Some of the concepts and the language are fairly adult. Naomi, the 14 year-old note taker, dismissed it as weirdo and not my scene. Ian, the one who has insane insights, found the concept interesting, but has disappeared to a friend’s farm for the weekend and therefore has not had time to contribute any insights.

System requirements:
Windows: 486 running Windows 3.1, 8Mb of RAM , 16 bit Sound Card, Double speed CD-ROM Drive, SVGA display, Mouse
Macintosh: 68030 running System 7.1, 8 Mb of RAM, 640x480x256 colour graphics, double speed CD-ROM.

Distributor Information:
Dataflow (Tel: 61 2 417 9700) (Fax: 61 2 417 9797)
Tech Pacific Australia (Tel: 61 2 697 8552) (Fax: 61 2 697 8593)
RRP: $45.00

Elmo’s Preschool

Elmo’s Preschool is a collection of well -presented and enjoyable educational games for very young children. It teaches letters, sounds, numbers, shapes, colours, musical concepts and some social skills such as cooperation. It features Elmo and some other characters and locations from Sesame Street.

The game begins on Sesame Street. Elmo appears and welcomes you to the game. From here, users can play by proceeding to one of five different places. Within each location one can explore the various objects in freeplay mode, or participate in one of the structured games. The program automatically monitors children’s answers in the structured games, and it moves them up to a more difficult level once they have answered three questions correctly on the first try.

These are the various locations:

The Music Room, where users experiment with making sounds, associating particular sounds with particular objects, recognising musical instruments and completing repeating patterns;
The Letters Room, here you identify letters by their names and sounds and assemble simple three letter words; The Numbers Clubhouse, where users identify numerals and count collections of objects up to 10;
The Shapes and Colours Tent, where you identify triangles, rectangles and circles of various colours and use them to create or copy patterns;
The Faces Treehouse, where users can assemble eyes, noses, mouths and hair to create a variety of interesting faces (and associate them with emotions such as sad, happy and mad).

Elmo, your onscreen helper, is very friendly, and he engages in more or less constant dialogue with the visitor, suggesting what you might do next and explaining the significance of the item that you are currently pointing at. If you get stuck or make a mistake he is quick to provide a helpful hint. If you do nothing, after a short while he will begin to tap his foot or jump up and down and say things like, “Yoo hoo, hall-ooo, let’s do something!” Correct answers are rewarded with an animation or some sort of exclamation or exploit from Elmo. Sesame Street devotees will love it.

For parents there is a Parent’s Guide. This is on disc and is accessible via a separate icon in the Creative Wonders program group. There are four sections entitled, Expert’s Corner (educators notes); Skill Chart (a summary of the activities, levels and skills); Parent’s Corner (tips on playing the game with your child); and Kid’s Corner where children can customise and print their own certificate. There is also a 27 page User’s Guide. It provides detailed information on how to play the various activities and includes detailed diagrams and screen shots.

All in all, this is an entertaining product that has excellent educational value for toddlers and preschool children, particularly if they are fans of Sesame Street.

Distributor Information:
Electronic Arts (Tel: 61 2 9911 3322) (Fax: 61 2 427 0806)
RRP: $69.95

Nick Thomson is one of the partners of EdRev, an Independent Educational Software Review Service that can be found on the Internet at He can be contacted on (06) 241 3239.

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