COMPETITION ENTRY #9: DON'T SHOOT THE QL
It seems my constant badgering of places outside the obvious realms has paid dividends, as the 2021 CSSCGC's first (and hopefully not last) entry for the QL comes from Dilwyn Jones, "Mr QL" himself. As I've steered this competition towards recreating the spirit of the early 1980s magazine type-ins, Dilwyn is a perfect candidate as he had a few listings published back in the day, as well as a book on further exploration of Spectrum BASIC, before becoming an early adopter of the QL back in the "dongle days" and nailing his colours firmly to that mast (red, green, white and black only, obviously).
Dilwyn's effort, which he describes as "about as naff a game theme as I could come up with", is a simple shoot-'em-up written in SuperBASIC, in which the names of 1980s computers will fly across the screen from left to right (in gloriously colourful Mode 8), and your job is to shoot them down... with one obvious exception that is made glaringly obvious in the title. Each game lasts a minute, carefully timed by the QL's clock, in which the computers will fly at variable rates, and score according to how easy (or not) they are to hit; the longest-named computer, the Spectrum, will score only one point, a Dragon will score two, while a PC or ST will score six points. Your chief target is the Golden Mac which always appears on the top line of the screen - blast it for 20 points. But, of course, Don't Shoot the QL - if you see one, leave it alone, because hitting it will cost you 10 points.
There is a slight issue for those of you who want to have a quick play with an unregistered QemuLator, which will restrict your use to a standard-speed QL, and that is that the SuperBASIC version of this game is very slow - you might get one or two computers crawling onto the screen at the rate of a slug on Mogadon, as the timer still ticks down in real time. There is a Turbo-compiled version in the package (dstheql_task) but unfortunately I've not been able to get it to work so far. Fear not, though, because there is an alternative option: version 5 of QPC2 was recently released, it's freely downloadable (though you are encouraged to donate if you like it) and running the SuperBASIC game through its SMSQ/E environment will be like getting out of a Ford Cortina and into a Saturn V rocket.
Diligent Dilwyn has left no stone unturned in making this game fully customisable. Press F1 to get to the Setup menu, and - most importantly! - you can vary the speed of the game. Set it to 85 if you've got a registered QemuLator with Full Speed set, or 2500 on QPC2, and the game will run at a managable speed. You can vary the length of the game, the number of lines of computers from 3 to 15 (I suggest 12 with the above settings), and also how often the regular computers and the Golden Mac will show up. Furthermore, there is extensive documentation provided - which, for the full QL experience, is available as a Quill document - but also as a raw text file for those of you who don't feel the need to get right back to 1984. The document provides loading instructions, which I've elaborated on to make it as easy as possible for those using QemuLator or QPC2 for the first time, and the SuperBASIC listing is annotated with all sorts of REMarks, with further explanations in the documentation. Dilwyn openly encourages those who want to dive further into QL programming to play around with the listing, and suggests ways in which the game could be modified and improved.
Requirement for Toolkit II aside (which is not a problem for either QemuLator or QPC2 which will both have it enabled by default), this would have made a fine type-in back in the day - QL listings were always a bit thin on the ground and game listings for it even more so. There are still a few gripes, not least the compiled version still playing up (on QemuLator 3.3.1 at least), but as the QL Forum had a hand in beta-testing this game, there might be some further refinements that I'll add onto the end of this review if they surface. Simple though it may be, it's entertaining (I'll have just one more go trying shoot down more Golden Macs!) and its customisability ensures everyone who wants to have a go should be able to do so. With all these extra additions, I reckon it rates four masks for attainment - a cut above the three-mask games I've been getting recently - and the effort rates six Ricks, with all that extra documentation, annotation, explanation and encouragement for QL noobs to tinker with it, like the computing equivalent of a Haynes manual. And as one of the foremost leading lights in the QL world has graced this competition with his presence, I'd hope others will follow.