If you spend enough time looking at word processors, spreadsheets, data bases and personal information managers, you begin to wonder if there's anybody left out there who's actually writing interesting software for PCs these days.
The answer is yes, if you look hard enough. Take the strange band of British programmers who put together a package called the Virtual Reality Studio.
Marketed here by Accolade Software under the Domark label, the $89.95 Virtual Reality Studio is a sophisticated, frustrating and fascinating program that lets you create your own three-dimensional world, move around in it and interact with it in some very odd and magical ways.
While virtual reality has become a popular buzzword in the last few months, the folks who created this package, available for IBM-compatibles and Commodore Amiga computers, have been at it for years.
Unfortunately, they have trouble explaining what they do; hence the 15-minute instructional videotape that comes with the package. Watch it before you use the program. You'll never figure out what this thing is all about by reading the instruction manual.
When you run Virtual Reality Studio, you'll find yourself staring at a screen with a menu bar at the top, a blank landscape in the middle, and a variety of strange buttons and tools at the bottom of the screen.
You use the tools to create and place a variety of familiar, primitive graphic shapes such as cubes, pyramids, pentagons, rectangles, triangles and lines, as well as some that aren't so familiar, such as invisible sensors.
The shapes can be stretched, moved shrunken, rotated, combined and grouped to form anything your imagination desires -- houses, trees, desks, cars, robots, chairs, highways, fences, lamps, rocket ships, submarines or space stations. You can paint any side of any object any color, or make the object invisible (in sci-fi parlance, a force field).
Now the nifty part. With movement keys, you can literally travel over, under around and through the little scene you've created. Lift the roof off the barn and plunk yourself down inside. You can create new objects and change what you've done while looking at the world from any perspective.
You can create up to 64 different areas, each with its own set of objects. You can link these areas in various ways, through a simple but very powerful command language. If you've programmed in BASIC, Pascal or C, it's a snap. If you've never programmed, it's not hard to pick up.
For example, if you put a rectangle on the outside of a building to create a door, you can write a command that tells the program to move you to a different area when you walk into (or as the authors say, collide with) the doorway you've drawn.
That gives you the power to design an entire house, area by area, and link each one so it that appears that you're moving from one room to another. But the rooms don't have to match the size of the house. You can walk into the door of a tiny shack and find yourself in a huge ballroom or a mile-long tunnel. It's up to you. Likewise, you can construct a city, walk down the streets, and pop into any building, or fly into a window.
If this sounds like a game, you're getting the point. In fact, for those who want to venture beyond creating and moving objects, Virtual Reality Studio is a tool kit for creating sophisticated, 3-D graphic adventures.
For example, every object can have a set of "conditions" attached to it. One of the conditions is shooting. If you're using a mouse, you can point at anything and click the button to "shoot" it.
You can also animate objects, or groups of objects to make them move around the screen, all with a few terse programming commands. You can display messages and keep score of hits and misses according to the rules you set up when you designed your objects.
Once you have your little world (or game) the way you like it, you can create a set of customized movement controls and compile it into program that you can distribute to others.
The IBM version of the program requires an AT-class or better computer (80286 or 80386 processor) with 640K of memory and a CGA, EGA or VGA graphics adapter. For information, contact Accolade Software, 550 S. Winchester Blvd., San Jose, CA 95128.
Program: Virtual Reality Studio
Computers: IBM-compatibles and Commodore Amiga
System requirements: IBM version requires an 80286 or better processor, 640K of memory and a color graphics adapter (CGA, EGA or VGA).
Publisher: Accolade Software, 550 S. Winchester Blvd., San Jose, Calif. 95128.