Games and software
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Date: 17 March, 2006

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'Machiavellian moves abound and the ultimate winner is the player with the most tricks up their sleeve.'

Mental challenges, art classes and world domination - covers it all really. Ray Hatley with this months software choices.

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Collapse Strategy
Suitable for age 8 and upwards

If you like a mental challenge, then Collapse Strategy, a dinky little Java game from Game House will keep you amused for hours. The idea is to get as many points as you can by clicking on clusters of three or more like-coloured blocks to clear 'em away. Larger clusters mean more points, and very large clusters earn bonuses to further compound your score. To add a little spice to life, small bombs are planted in the wall; to stay in the game, these have to be cleared quickly.

It sounds so easy but every click you make on a block or a bomb will add another row of blocks. You can take as long as you want to make a move, but that move had better be impressive because as soon as the blocks get past the top of the play area, the game is over. Mind you, if you're good enough to clear the required number of lines, you'll move on up to the next level. I managed to clear three levels before peaking – how many can you do?


Teaching you Art Skills - Focus Multimedia
Suitable for all ages

This is a fascinating piece of software for anyone who has ever wanted to be an artist. The blurb on the Art Skills CD case says it is ‘equivalent to one year of art classes’ and although this sounds a bit ambitious, I am inclined to believe it. I know a number of second year art students who would definitely benefit from studying this software! Certainly the content is superb and the way the material is presented is excellent.

The CD covers 5 major art genres: portrait, still life, landscape, life drawing and nude studies using 40 models, 650 narrated steps and 1200 drawings to convey its information. Each step is carefully described to make learning easy. I particularly liked the ‘zoom’ feature which allows you to zoom in to a drawing or diagram to see exactly what is required.

Art skills relies on rotating 3D models to show the structure of individual models while video sequences are used to explain basic techniques. I found the sketching module extremely interesting as it helped me to learn to sketch from memory.

Perspective is a very difficult thing to teach and is possibly this software’s only shortfall. I didn’t feel I understood this section – but I guess the beauty of it is I can go back and watch over and over until I do!

Look round any good games store and you will undoubtedly see a board game called Diplomacy. It has been around for eons and is none the worse for that. The board game is easy to learn but impossible if your fellow players are not up to scratch – which is where Diplomacy for the PC complete with Artificial Intelligence (AI) really comes into its own as this game really does make superb use of AI’s capabilities.

Described variously as ‘one part Risk, one part poker, and one part chess’, Diplomacy is set in the early part of the 20th century and puts you in the role of one of the seven world powers who controlled most of Europe. Your task is to use your negotiating skills to establish ultimate control over a continent. Machiavellian moves abound and the ultimate winner is the player with the most tricks up their sleeve.

Forget fancy graphics as Diplomacy for PC really does take over where the board game left off. Visually you could still be playing with dice and shaker and moving playing pieces around an unfolded cardboard playing area but the game actually plays better because of that. Maybe I have seen too many ‘all singing all dancing’ games lately, but Diplomacy’s ‘retro’ appearance is actually rather refreshing.

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