Two programs simplify hard-to-do design tasks


January 02, 1995|By MICHAEL J. HIMOWITZ

I've always enjoyed programs that allow me to do things that I don't ordinarily do very well.

Over the holidays I've spent some enjoyable hours fooling with two new Windows titles that fit the bill perfectly: Visio Home 3.0, a drawing program with a decidedly different twist, and Klik & Play, a unique package that threatens to turn any arcade game enthusiast into an arcade game author.

Visio Home is a new, consumer-oriented version of Shapeware's Visio business graphics package. While it can handle routine, boring jobs such as organizational charts, it has specialized templates for a variety of drawings that include maps, genealogical charts, sports tournament diagrams, football plays, house floor plans, landscape plots, science reports, calendars and the ubiquitous greeting card.

Visio Home takes a different approach from Print Shop and other low-end drawing programs by presenting you with a variety of stencils on one side of the screen and a drawing page on the other. To place an object, you just click on the stencil and drag it onto the page, where you can move it around, resize it and connect it to other objects.

There are hundreds of objects, ranging from simple shapes to icons representing home appliances, nuts and bolts, computers, castles, knights in armor, trees, shrubs, doors, windows, whales and dinosaurs, to name a few. While they're generally not as detailed as the clip art available in Print Shop, some of the stencils are quite complex. For example, the biology template includes detailed, labeled drawings of the heart, the brain and other organs, while the chemistry template will plop an entire periodic table of elements into your drawing.

There are lots of goodies for kids here, but adults will appreciate Visio Home's sophistication in its handling of objects, which is far superior to most low-end drawing programs. For example, the program offers smart connectors, which allow you to move elements of a group around but keep the group intact.

To understand this, consider the football play template (by the way, if you're a coach, you should run -- not walk -- to the store and buy this program). You choose the home offense and find yourself looking at a bunch of little circles representing your players. The standard stencil is a variant of the wing-T formation, but if you want a tight-T or a wishbone, you can move your running backs around while keeping the team as a whole intact.

The basic drawing tools are just as intelligent. There's a single pencil tool for drawing both lines and curves, and it can sense from the mouse movement exactly what kind of compound shape you want to draw. I haven't seen any other low-end drawing program do this so easily. While Visio Home may not be as good for greeting cards as Print Shop, or as good at floor plans as architectural design programs, it handles a lot of chores with deceptive ease at a reasonable $50 price. For information, contact Shapeware, 520 Pike St., Suite 1800, Seattle, Wash. 98101.

If you've ever played an arcade game and decided you could design a better one, then Klik & Play, a British CD-ROM import from Maxis software, will give you the chance.

Frankly, I've never seen anything quite like this program, and I've had a lot of fun with it.

Using a combination of backgrounds, moving objects and rules that govern them, you can create an astounding variety of Windows arcade games -- shoot 'em ups, space invaders, skiing, soccer, breakout, racing games, educational software, casino simulations, adventures, or any combination.

At the simplest level, you start with a single "frame," choose a background, and then place various objects on the screen, ranging from spaceships to trucks, to washing machines, to soldiers, to chickens. In what's known as the "level editor," you decide how to animate and control each object -- make it fly, explode, bounce, shoot or change into something else entirely -- by choosing from simple menus.

You can design the game on the fly, watching it progress. When an "event" occurs, such as a bouncing ball leaving the side of the screen or colliding with flying cow, a box pops up asking you how you want to handle it. Do you want the ball to bounce back? Should the cow explode? Should you play a mooing sound, or a bell clanging, or a man yelling "Ouch?" Should the player's score increase?

None of this requires any programming, although once you get past the simplest games, you'll have to think hard about the logic. It can get fairly complex; for example, you can store values in what programmers call counters, so that if you hit three flying skateboarders with flying hamburgers, your player will earn bonus points, and so on.

This is made easier with another screen called the "event editor," a spreadsheet-like presentation that shows each object and logic behind the events that affect it.

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