New version provides Tetris' old thrills

Personal computers

July 13, 1992|By Michael J. Himowitz | Michael J. Himowitz,Staff Writer

With vacation around the corner, it's hard to concentrate on serious computer issues. So I decided to look at a couple of entertainment titles before heading off to the lake.

My conclusion is that the surgeon general should make publishers put a warning on some of this stuff -- it's addictive. Here it is, 1 o'clock in the morning, and I don't know where the night went.

It started off innocently enough, with a new version of an old favorite -- Tetris Classic from Spectrum Holobyte ($49.95 list, but who pays list?).

Tetris, originated by Russian programmers Alexey Pajitnov and Vadim Gerasimov, took the country by storm a couple of years ago and probably resulted in more wasted office time than any program.

The publisher has come up with three or four enhanced versions of the game since then, including Wordtris and Super Tetris. But this release shows that the original concept still packs the same wallop -- it's deceptively easy to learn and devilishly difficult to master.

For those who have never seen Tetris, the best description of it is a moving puzzle. You start with an empty, rectangular pit.

Pieces composed of four blocks drop from the top of the pit. The pieces can be square, long and skinny, L-shaped, T-shaped or Z-shaped.

As they fall, you can rotate the pieces and move them left and right. The object is to fill in a solid row at the bottom of the screen, with no gaps. A solid row disappears and wins points for you. A row with gaps stays in place. As the gapped rows build up, you have less and less time to rotate the pieces as they fall. When your blocks reach the top of the pit (and they will, no tTC matter how good you are), the game is over.

It sounds simple, but Tetris can keep you on the edge of your seat for hours as you move from one difficulty level to the next (the pieces fall faster the better you get). What makes this version different are the graphics, music and play options.

The original version displayed the game board on a background of scenes from Moscow. Tetris Classic takes a literary twist, with gorgeous original illustrations based on Pushkin's epic poem "Ruslan and Ludmilla." You'll need a VGA, EGA or MCGA (16-color) video board and monitor to play this one.

Just in case you haven't read "Ruslan and Ludmilla" or heard the opera (which also provides the program's musical background), the instruction manual contains a summary of the plot, so you'll know what you're seeing when the background changes as you move from from one level of difficulty to another.

The programmers have added some nice twists, including competitive and cooperative two-player modes. You can even hook two computers together -- directly with a serial cable or over the phone with a modem -- so that each player can have his own PC instead of trying to share a keyboard, joystick or mouse.

In short, this is an elegant update to a classic game, designed to take advantage of today's improved graphics and sound hardware.

Having whiled away enough time with Tetris, I turned my attention to golf -- PGA Tour Golf (Electronic Arts, $59.95).

I've always liked golf simulations -- golf translates very well to computers because there's only one player to control. I get confused with basketball, football and hockey.

PGA Tour Golf comes in two flavors. One runs under DOS, the other under the Microsoft Windows graphics environment. Windows traditionally has been a business-oriented product, and it's interesting to see that more Windows game titles are appearing (particularly those that appeal to business computer users).

I loaded up the Windows version and found a lot to like about it, along with a few problems that have more to do with Windows than with PGA Tour Golf itself.

The program gives you the choice of four courses. Three of them -- Avenel, Sawgrass, Sterling Shores -- are PGA Players Club courses. These were designed specifically for tournaments -- which means there's plenty of room for spectators and good TV angles. As a result, they're not as picturesque as many older courses, but they're challenging to play. The fourth course is a fantasy course called Sterling Shores, which may be the most interesting of the bunch.

As far as play is concerned, PGA Tour Golf is similar to others of the genre. Your initial view is from behind the golfer. You select your club, use the cursor keys to aim your shot (there's a wind gauge on screen) and tap the the space bar or mouse button three times to control your backswing, downswing and wrist snap. As the ball moves down the fairway, the "camera" angle shifts the other way, so you see the shot landing in front of you -- just as you do on TV.

PGA Tour Golf has a couple of interesting features. One of them is the Hole Browser, which essentially lets you walk the hole or fly over it to see what it looks like in three dimensions. The other is a contour map of each green. This is supposed to it easier to read the breaks, but nothing makes putting easy for me.

Along the way, you'll get advice from 10 tour pros. You'll also find yourself facing 10 lies, random hole placements, changing wind conditions and other goodies. You have your choice of practice or tournament play.

My main complaint, strangely enough, is about the graphics. The program can run in 16- or 256-color mode, but which one you use depends on how you have Windows set up. If, like most Windows users, you're set for 16-color mode (which is faster), you'll have to reinstall your graphics driver to get to better color. That can make other programs run more slowly.

Also, since I'm running Windows in a super-VGA resolution (800 by 600 pixels), the game image filled only half my screen. Once again, this is a Windows problem that most programmers haven't learned to deal with for yet.

Unless you're absolutely wedded to Windows, you might be happier with the DOS version of the program. They're both easy to learn and very playable.

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