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Article #17 (74 is last):
Newsgroups: freenet.sci.comp.atari.product.8bit.reviews
From: aa700@cleveland.Freenet.Edu (Michael Current)
Subject: Alternate Reality: The City / game / commercial
Posted-By: xx004 (aa700 - Michael Current)
Reply-To: aa700@cleveland.Freenet.Edu (Michael Current)
Date: Sat Jan 18 12:38:43 1992


Reprinted from A.C.E.C. BBS (614)-471-8559

     (written 12/88 for CURRENT NOTES)
     ALTERNATE REALITY - THE CITY
     Programmed by Philip Price
     Music by Gary Gilbertson
     Microscreen Art by Craig Skinner



          The Alternate Reality series is BY FAR the most popular set of
     adventures ever written for the Atari 8-bits.  If you haven't yet
     discovered why, you're in for a real treat when you do.  The City is
     an absolute masterwork of graphics, music, and fantasy.  I've long
     been an ardent fan of adventure games - especially of good graphic
     adventures.  It wasn't until one night back in the summer of 1986,
     when I decided to try out my new modem on Compuserve's Atari section,
     that I found at least 100 messages pertaining to "Alternate Reality"
     (AR).  Upon reading them, I deduced that AR The City must be a truly
     provocative and fascinating game.

          The documentation is quite adequate and straightforward, though
     after playing the game for awhile, some may find it a bit thin on
     details.  This is a common complaint regarding documentation for
     better adventure games, and the omissions are intentional to preserve
     some of the mysteries and secrets of the games.  If you have two disk
     drives, once you've entered The City, you can play uninterrupted by
     disk swapping (until you wish to save your character).  The game plays
     significantly faster on an XL/XE (less disk access: it uses an extra
     16K as a small ramdisk) than on an 800/400(48K).  Your most important
     tool is the map provided in the Guidebook.  The City is positively
     IMMENSE!  It is laid out in a 64 X 64 square grid.  Within each square
     are 36 positions (6 X 6: it takes 6 steps to cross a square in
     whichever direction).  Within each position you may assume any of 4
     orientations (north, south, east, or west).  In most locations you can
     tell which direction you're facing by the difference in the shapes of
     the mountains and scenery off in the distance.  For those other
     locations where the horizon is not visible, a compass is available for
     purchase at any of the shops in The City to help you regain your
     bearings.  The map only shows you the City Wall (city limits), the two
     Main Streets (one runs north and south, the other runs east and west),
     and the center of The City, where the two Main Streets intersect at
     the Floating Gate.  YOU have to travel to the unmapped areas and draw
     in the walls yourself, based upon what you see in front of you.  The
     square-to-square boundaries are not as clear as they should be, but
     they are visible if you look carefully at the walls.  A few of the
     openings and doorways are shown on your map, but many are invisible,
     or only visible from one side, or passable only in one direction. 
     It's advisable that you make many copies of the original map, and
     either work in pencil or keep plenty of white-out handy - as you're
     bound to make mistakes as you begin filling in the uncharted regions. 
     Once you've run around the streets for a few days, you get to know The
     City just as you would get to know any other unfamiliar town you'd
     explore here on Earth.  Most people I know who've been playing for a
     short while just stroll easily about the familiar parts of The City
     without the map.  You get to know what's nearby the center of town: a
     place to eat, a place to sleep, a couple of places to buy clothes, a









                                                                     page 2


     place to buy weapons, and a place to earn interest on your money.

          In AR The City, you, the adventurer, have undergone abduction by
     aliens who then take you to a strange, walled city on another planet. 
     This is impressively depicted - and accompanied by some of the most
     technically advanced music ever to come out of any 8-bit computer - in
     the game's introduction, which lasts for about five minutes (and can
     be bypassed by pressing START anytime after about 5 seconds into the
     loading).  Somehow, through the use of his "Advanced Music Processor",
     Philip Price has found a method of having more than four voices to
     sound simultaneously.  Those of you who are familiar with music theory
     and harmony: listen closely, and count the voices.  (I've counted at
     least six concurrent voices in a few of the AR City songs.  Try
     playing this game on a stereo-equipped TV or through a stereo VCR with
     a good set of headphones instead of your normal dinky "lo-fi" TV
     speaker.  The sound effects produced by your Atari will BLOW YOU AWAY! 
     The music in The Dungeon sequel - though very nice - doesn't even come
     close, technically.)  The intro rivals many movie intros I've seen. 
     When you regain conciousness, you're in a room with a large portal
     with an energy field glistening across its opening.  Above the door is
     a display panel of seven constantly-changing numbers, each
     representing a critical attribute of your character.  To the lower-
     right is another changing number representing the amount of money
     you'll be starting with.  Each of these numbers changes at a different
     rate.  You may be there for quite awhile waiting for what you hope
     will be the best combination of vital statistics for your character. 
     You can't possibly follow all of these numbers changing at the same
     time, so it's a good idea to pick two or three of what you consider to
     be the more important attributes and wait for them to simultaneously
     display higher numbers.  The instant you've decided that your best
     choice of numbers has rolled up on the panel, you lunge forth with
     abandon through the shimmering energy field (that is - you push ahead
     on the stick or hit any key) and your numbers freeze as you will soon
     be taking your first steps in "The City of Xebec's Demise".

          Note 1: When you're entering The City for the first time, it's a
     good idea to use a "Temporary Character" (option "T" on the "Character
     Decision Menu").  This allows you to quickly enter and roam around to
     get used to your surroundings.  You don't have to worry too much about
     waiting for the perfect set of stats to come up, as you're mostlikely
     gonna die soon anyway.  A temporary character is, of course, not
     savable.

          Note 2: When you feel that you're ready to try a savable
     character (I hesitate to call it a "permanent" character - in that
     world of Assassins, Dragons, and Nightstalkers even the most
     experienced characters have been known to bite the dust!) and you're
     not satisfied with the combination of numbers you've begun with, you
     should reboot the game - without letting the rest of The City load -
      and try running the entrance portal again.  I wish the programmer had
     provided us with a routine for "quitting" the game and re-entering The
     City without having to reboot.  The initial boot (to get to the
     Character Decision Menu and the Entrance Portal) takes about 40
     seconds if you bypass the full introduction.  But the loading of the









                                                                     page 3


     rest of The City takes an average of about 3.5 minutes with disk
     swaps.  AR The Dungeon (which we'll discuss next issue), the first
     sequel to The City, has such a routine and it's quite a convenience.

          Note 3: Once you're satisfied with your initial character, let
     The City finish loading and save the character to disk IMMEDIATELY
     upon reaching the Floating Gate.  Make a few copies of that saved-game
     disk (any sector-copier will work) - because if you don't, if (when!)
     you die, those stats you worked so long and hard to obtain will be
     gone forever! (That is, unless you happen to have a neat little public
     domain utility which I'll tell you more about later.)

          Once you've passed through the ship's portal, you'll find
     yourself at The City's center section facing north, with the Floating
     Gate directly ahead of you.  In the text display toward the lower end
     of the screen, you'll notice a rough indication of your location ("You
     are on a street", "...on an alley", "...in a room", etc.) and how much
     food and water you're carrying.  If you back up or turn around to face
     the direction from which you came, don't even think about backing
     through that door.  The ship has left you - and there's no turning
     back!  As you look around, you'll see the difference in the scenery
     and you'll hear (and almost feel) the wind howling softly around you
     as it flows briskly against the light gray stone walls of the center
     of town.  The actual graphics section of the screen is just a small
     central portion of the display (just roughly 2.7" X 4.9" on a 13"
     television) but due to the great detail of the graphics, it's no
     trouble seeing what's going on from the player's standpoint (and from
     a programmer's point of view, a larger graphics area of such
     meticulous detail would eat up much of the ram reserved for the rest
     of the game).

          As time goes by (if you're still alive!), you'll get to see your
     first sunset (yes, the sun does rise in the east in the morning, and
     it sets in the west at dusk - it's quite beautifully done).  Sometimes
     the air is perfectly still, then all of a sudden a pouring rain begins
     - often complete with lightning and thunder (very realistic! - I've
     left the game in "pause" during a "storm" more than once, and members
     of my family had to do a double-take out the windows to see if it was
     wet outside).  As you pass close to a couple of areas (hint: areas
     which pertain to sequels) during certain times of the day, you can
     hear the distant music and/or activity coming from the other side of
     the walls which is meant to clue you as to where you are.  There are
     so many nice details of this sort written into this game, but I'll
     leave a great majority of them for you to discover.  As you explore
     your new home-town you'll eventually run out of food and get hungry,
     or get tired of walking around all day and night.  For these
     conditions, there are Taverns and Inns at various locations throughout
     The City.  Some are hidden quite well.  In general (but not always!),
     the farther from the center of town, the lower the prices are.  In the
     Taverns, you'll hear much more of the incredibly intricate music of
     composer Gary Gilbertson, accompanied by lyrics which often are
     helpful not only in The City, but are best remembered for later
     sequels as well.  If you don't (or can't afford to) eat or sleep,
     you'll get progressively more hungry and/or tired and your stats will









                                                                     page 4


     diminish with gradually increasing rapidity.  As soon as you get
     enough to eat and/or get enough sleep, you'll regain your previous
     stat levels.  Inns are also the only place where you can find out the
     date and the time of day.  You can even get terribly drunk in this
     game from consuming too many alchoholic beverages in the tavern, or by
     taking a "Potion of Inebriation".  The on-screen effect is quite
     realistic: you stumble against walls, spin around in different
     directions, you even have blackouts.  While this might seem funny to
     some, it can also be suicidal if you're trying to defend yourself
     during an encounter.  You must either find an Inn and sleep it off,
     find and take a "Potion of Cleanse", or pay one of the Healers to cure
     you.

          There are MANY different life-forms traversing The City, and
     there are times when you encounter them quite often.  There are "good"
     entities and "evil" ones.  These can be easily distinguished by the
     short tune which plays just prior to their appearance.  While good
     beings may be met at any time, there are certain evil creatures which
     can only be encountered in the dark of night or during a rainstorm. 
     You may choose to have your own character be either good or evil by
     the manner in which you interact with others.  You may find treasure
     after encounters in the form of precious stones, magic potions,
     weapons, armor, or money.  The jewels and gems you find may be taken
     to any of the three banks in The City and cashed in (prices vary from
     day-to-day, bank-to-bank).  The potions may be anywhere from extremely
     beneficial to extremely detrimental for your character.  Though these
     should be taken with caution, too much delay may cause the potion to
     vanish.  The game doesn't tell you exactly what potion is in the vial
     until you've taken enough of it.  If you're unlucky enough to take a
     potion of Poison, you, in a desperate race with time,  must either
     find and take a potion of Antidote or find one of the two Healers in
     The City (they're not always home, either!).   There is a wide variety
     of weapons and armor to be found after an encounter or purchased from
     a Smithy (mostly Medieval types, which seems a bit anachronistic)
     which may be either mundane, magical, or cursed.  You can always tell
     when you're near a Smithy when you hear him busily hammering away on
     his anvil.  Different types of weapons and armor vary greatly in
     strength, and some creatures can only be defeated by certain special
     types of weapons which are rarely found and only possessed by the
     luckiest adventurers.  You may take any of your City possessions with
     you "downstairs" into The Dungeon sequel (with the exception that
     you're limited to taking only 16 potions).

          There are 12 accessible Guilds in The City.  Although you can't
     join any of the Guilds in this episode (not until you reach The
     Dungeon), each one you find rewards you with increases in your
     character stats.  The Wizards and Mages of the Guilds are the only
     ones who have the power to rid you of any cursed weapons.

          Just a few Complaints:
       (1.) During an encounter, when your adversary steals something from
     you and then you kill him (it), you rarely get back what was taken
     (after a kill in The Dungeon, all that was taken is available for you
     to pick up... even the corpse of your fallen foe).









                                                                     page 5


       (2.) Once as a neophyte in The City, I was dying of thirst.  A
     pouring rain began.  I thought my prayers had been answered, but not
     so.  For some odd reason (oversight?) the game doesn't allow you to
     drink rain (who knows... maybe it's not water???).
       (3.) I don't think all of the "security" during character name input
     at the beginning of the game was necessary, but it's tolerable.
       (4.) There are just a few minor misspellings of some rather
     elementary words, which tend to grate on the nerves of some of us
     perfectionist-types.
       (5.) The most deadly flaw in the game is exitsence of the dreaded
     so-called "kill-squares".  These are two locations which are only one
     square in area, each having a one-way secret (invisible) door to the
     inside, and NO WAY OUT.  There's nothing to do in there but hopelessly
     bash yourself against the walls wishing that a door would appear (it
     won't) and fight off any other hapless victims who are also so unlucky
     to have stumbled in there with you - until you starve and die.  For
     those of you with maps, the locations of the kill squares are at
     coordinates 4N,41E and 6N,47E (don't forget to begin counting with
     ZERO).  Mark them in on your map and avoid these locations AT ALL
     COST!  If you do happen to end up in either one, don't even stop to
     lament, just shut the machine off and reboot.
       (6.) I wish that the documentation went into more detail concerning
     the relative "ranking" of the many types of weapons and armor - or
     even just a simple listing.  It took a group of us (Compuserve users)
     a few months and a couple of phone calls and letters to Philip Price
     (the author) himself (his address can be found by booting disk 1 side
     2) to determine this fairly accurately.  One of the undocumented goals
     of the game is to become the possessor of the most powerful offensive
     weapon (the Magical Flamesword), the best defensive weapon (the
     Magical Tower Shield), and the best armor (Magical Crystal Plate). 
     Only once in over two years of playing have I had one character obtain
     all of these items.  Many others I know were much more lucky than I,
     but there are also many more who've never seen ANY of those weapons
     and they think that Mr. Price forgot to include them on their disks. 
     Believe me, they're there, but your chances of finding them are
     completely governed by lady luck.

          Players who have modems have a tremendous advantage over those
     who don't.  The single greatest source of information in the world on
     Alternate Reality is Compuserve's 8-bit Atari SIG (Special Interest
     Group), command: "Go Atari8".  On no other on-line service have I seen
     anywhere close to such a level of AR enthusiasm.  Though most of the
     current talk concerns The Dungeon, most of us are quite familiar with
     The City and all of its secrets.  There are loads of informational and
     utility files in the "Games & Entertainment" data library and all can
     be found by using the search key "ALTERNATE" or "AR".  One lists each
     of the potions and their characteristics, another (uploaded by yours
     truly) lists all of the beings who exist in The City, what weapons
     they carry, and their moral alignment (good or evil).  There is at
     least one set of files which contains a complete map of The City which
     can either be printed out or viewed in sections in RLE format right on
     your TV (software for viewing RLE pictures is also in the public
     domain and is available free from most on-line services).  There is a
     utility for resurrecting dead City characters.  A very large set of









                                                                     page 6


     files (also compiled and uploaded by me) containing all of the most
     pertinent AR City-related messages over the space of about a year
     (when the AR City talk was at its height back in 1986-1987) would be
     extremely helpful to the AR novice.  That set is literally chock-full
     of helpful hints.
          Before I close, I must divulge just one undocumented City secret. 
     There are actually two extra Guilds, both of which are located in a
     normally inaccessible area.  There is another public domain utility
     available which creates a new door (which the programmers seem to have
     accidentally omitted) which gives you access to a place none of us
     could get to before.  The original Guidebook stated clearly that there
     were 14 Guilds, but when it was realized that the door wasn't there, a
     decision was made to change the Guidebook instead of the program.

          A Gentle Warning: AR The City and The Dungeon can become
     incredibly captivating and consuming.  Often, players have said that
     they don't feel as if they're playing The City, they're LIVING it.  As
     your character hungers and thirsts, YOU feel hungry and your mouth
     begins to feel dry.  As your character tires, YOU feel your eyelids
     become heavy.  There's something special about the first-person 3D
     perspective used which clearly distinguishes the FEEL of this game
     from those such as the Ultimas or some of the SSI role-playing graphic
     adventures, which all employ the second-person view (you see
     yourself).  Even with all its shortcomings, Alternate Reality - The
     City is a spectacular introduction and preparation for Alternate
     Reality - The Dungeon and the sequels (AR - The Arena, The Palace, The
     Wilderness, Revelation, and Destiny) that will hopefully follow!

     (end.)

     My name is Lauren Emery.  Many of those closest to me call me Larry. 
     I'm 31 years of age, a concert pianist, I've played professional
     basketball (briefly) in Spain and Argentina (I'm 6'11" tall, 245
     lbs.), and my hobbies are many.  I'm presently employed as a quality
     control technician for Interspec, Inc., an ultrasound cardiographic
     imaging systems manufacturer in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.  I invite
     anyone with AR questions to either catch me on Compuserve (ID:
     73137,3172) or to write me at the address below:

     Lauren Royce Emery
     6617 Lincoln Drive
     Philadelphia, PA  19119

     Thanks to Len Poggiali, Joe Waters, and all others involved for the
     opportunity to write this, my first "official" software review.

     The game is originally by Datasoft, now owned by Electronic Arts. 
     Current AR programming is handled by:

     Datasoft/IntelliCreations, Inc.
     19808 Nordhoff Place
     Chatsworth, CA  91311
     (818) 886-5922
     List Price: $29.95.


-- 
 Michael Current, Cleveland Free-Net 8-bit Atari SIGOp   -->>  go atari8  <<--
   The Cleveland Free-Net Atari SIG is the Central Atari Information Network
      Internet: currentm@carleton.edu / UUCP: ...!umn-cs!ccnfld!currentm
      BITNET: currentm%carleton.edu@interbit / Cleveland Free-Net: aa700





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