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Acorn Arcade forums: News and features: Oldschool Reviews - SMALL

Oldschool Reviews - SMALL

Posted by Jeffrey Lee on 10:45, 26/1/2007 | , , ,
SMALLWhat better way to start a new series on reviews of old Acorn games than to start with one of the very first Acorn games I ever played?
You are small,
very small.
This place is big,
very big.
Released in late 1993 by Virgo Software, SMALL was a 3D, texture-mapped maze exploration game. With 50 levels of increasing size, there where tens of hours of fun and frustration to be had, as you attempt to fight your way out of the hellhole that the Gods have sent you to as punishment for your arrogance.
Although some people have scorned it for childish graphics, sound effects, and gameplay, it was obviously good enough to provide weeks of entertainment to a 10 year-old me and my family. But is it any good now?

The introduction

Welcome to the finite world of your imagination. Try to get out of here...
Title screenEven by today's standards, I'd say the game has a very snazzy title screen. The game's title zooms into view, shedding particles as it does so, making a scary roaring sound. Once the title settles at the top of the screen, coloured lines of text appear to give some more information about the game - accompanied by more sound effects and particles. And an arachnid or two.
There are a few screens of information like this on offer, which the game loops through indefinitely until you pluck up the courage to play ... or take the easy way out. The only feature that detracts from this excellent title screen is the large status bar on the right - which is visible throughout the entire game.
Enough of the title screen, then. What about the game?

The game

You are small... very small...

Scenario: ESCAPE
Alternative: NONE
Environment: HOSTILE
Success rate: IRRELEVANT
Despite boasting 3D, texture-mapped graphics, the game engine is infact far simpler than that of Wolfenstein 3D. You are only able to move forwards one whole map block at a time, or turn left or right 90 degrees. Furthermore the graphics you see aren't actually 3D models - they're just 2D renders of the models. Realistically, this is the only way the graphics could have been displayed on the hardware of the time, and it did simplify the game design greatly. Although SMALL could have easily been written using a Wolfenstein 3D style engine, it was perhaps a feat outside of the programmer's abilities - or maybe the lack of motion in SMALL was a sacrifice he was willing to make to get more attractive graphics.
Icky icky icky!Unfortunately, those attractive graphics don't respond too well to movement. When you walk forward the screen stretches in a rather unnatural manner, which can take a short while to get used to. Turning results in similar distortion, but it isn't quite as noticeable as it involves a lot of fast motion anyway.
One area where the motion is done right however is that of the maze-dwelling creatures. These creatures are mostly harmful, and some of them are downright nasty if met under the wrong circumstances. This is where the game's stereo sound comes in useful - a good pair of speakers or headphones makes all the difference in surviving the game, as you are able to hear on which side of you an approaching creature is. Although the sound effects are by no means perfect, they are of good enough quality for what was probably a one-man development team.

The gameplay

You won't be able to shoot it!
The game isn't all about running around the maze and blasting whatever crosses your path. There's also a good deal of logic involved. The later levels have mazes large enough that you can easily get lost - although the mini-map helps somewhat in this regard. Many mazes also feature traps which close off passages, and secret walls that open up new ones, as well as one-shot teleporters and portcullises that are only unlocked when you collect the right key. And working out how to best ration your ammunition or how to defeat a certain arrangement of monsters is often a requirement. This is ultimately where the longevity of the game comes from - the last few levels were so hard that I'm not even sure if I've completed them yet.
Should have gone to specsaversAlthough the game doesn't contain any save system, it does provide you with a password every five levels. For a puzzle/action game like this, this is probably the better way of doing things, as being able to save whenever or wherever you want could possible make the game too easy. Alternatively, it could make the game too hard - if you save at a point where it's impossible to complete the current level then you might have to start all over from the beginning!
One feature of the design that does irk me a bit is the restriction on your weapon. Most of the time, you're only allowed to have one bullet (or 'star-shot') in the air at once - meaning that if you're trying to shoot something a long way away, it will take much longer to kill it. Although at first this may seem like a restriction of the game engine, in actuality the game is able to track more than one shot at a time - there's a powerup item that gives you rapid fire. This therefore must have been a constant design decision - one that does actually make the gameplay deeper. When you encounter the powerup you have to make a decision about whether now is the best time to use it.

The verdict

You have taken the short way.
You have died.
Although simple in premise, the game is well thought-out and brought to life in an engaging and immersive manner. There are five different graphical styles of maze, and all look excellent when stood still - only faltering somewhat when movement is required. Some levels are certainly tricky, but the game doesn't seem as hard as I remember - so it may be not be the best choice for the seasoned gamer.
A disc image of SMALL can be downloaded for free from the ex-commercial section of Wocki's Acorn-Site. The game runs fine on my StrongARM RiscPC, but your mileage may vary.
  Oldschool Reviews - SMALL
  andrew (11:47 27/1/2007)
  andrew (11:50 27/1/2007)
    monkeyson2 (13:01 27/1/2007)
      andrew (13:06 27/1/2007)
        ksattic (22:34 27/1/2007)
          andrew (23:46 27/1/2007)
  fantasian (10:49 4/2/2007)
    andrew (13:54 4/2/2007)
      starlord (19:26 11/4/2007)
Andrew Message #97716, posted by andrew at 11:47, 27/1/2007
HandbagHandbag Boi
Posts: 3439
Good idea, re-reviews. I remember Small being reviewed and is one of those low-profile 3D Arc games which don't get much attention, like Alderbaran say. Is there not a cheat for it?
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Andrew Message #97717, posted by andrew at 11:50, 27/1/2007, in reply to message #97716
HandbagHandbag Boi
Posts: 3439
Is there a utility for extracting adf's or do you have to do it manually via the command line still?
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Phil Mellor Message #97718, posted by monkeyson2 at 13:01, 27/1/2007, in reply to message #97717
monkeyson2Please don't let them make me be a monkey butler

Posts: 12380
Is there a utility for extracting adf's or do you have to do it manually via the command line still?
DImager, from here:

  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Andrew Message #97719, posted by andrew at 13:06, 27/1/2007, in reply to message #97718
HandbagHandbag Boi
Posts: 3439
Just found it on the root of my second drive. Thanks!
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Simon Wilson Message #97732, posted by ksattic at 22:34, 27/1/2007, in reply to message #97719
Finally, an avatar!

Posts: 1291
Man, I remember the good old days of waking up on a Saturday morning to find the latest issue of Acorn Computing with cover disks by the door. Good times. I remember this game well. I wonder if I can coax it into working on the Iyonix...
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Andrew Message #97735, posted by andrew at 23:46, 27/1/2007, in reply to message #97732
HandbagHandbag Boi
Posts: 3439
And the BBC subscription disk which Steve Turnbull kept going out of loyalty to BBC users (and even the tape up until about 1992 IIRC) until 1995. He deserves credit for that.
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Bill Kotsias Message #98079, posted by fantasian at 10:49, 4/2/2007, in reply to message #97716
Posts: 1
Small was a showcase for Acorn, with excellent graphics and sound, plus interesting gameplay. It wasn't Doom, but it wasn't supposed to be. I would classify it as a corridor-adventure.

It wasn't 3d at all. It had a nice scaling routine plus a clever technique for "rotating" left and right.

BTW, as you mention Aldebaran, that was another showcase for Acorn computers. It was a technical marvel with awesome real-3d graphics, transparencies and other effects. I remember a comment in Acorn User that "even the ARM guys couldn't grasp how they made it run so smoothly, even on an ARM2". Or something like that. And that said a lot.

Shame, though, Aldebaran was very difficult, it would have succeeded better if it was a straight actioner-shooter. The "adventure-seek" part was too complicated to swallow.
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Andrew Message #98086, posted by andrew at 13:54, 4/2/2007, in reply to message #98079
HandbagHandbag Boi
Posts: 3439
I don't know if Alderbaran can still be obtained but I think it was similar to Guile which Acorn Revival now host. Anybody remember the demo on Acorn Computing?

Not sure if Acorn revivial have got the rights to distribute it from the authors and the other thing is there are no instructions.
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mikael Message #101257, posted by starlord at 19:26, 11/4/2007, in reply to message #98086
Posts: 15
Please help me then: I desperately need an ADF of this game and I would be greatfull if you could give me a hand as I don't know where to find it or purchase it.

The preservation of this game is at stake.

thanks for your advice.

  ^[ Log in to reply ]

Acorn Arcade forums: News and features: Oldschool Reviews - SMALL