The TBA Software stand
TBA had one of the better-designed stands at the show, with computers you could use without blocking the aisle or getting stared at by people on the stand, and three fairly approachable people staffing it. They also had the distinct advantage of having a brand new game, Brutal Horse Power, which was on sale for the first time.
You could try out either Brutal Horse Power or Cobalt Seed...
...most of the time, anyway!
The main public face of TBA is presented by Martin Piper, who posts very frequently to the comp.sys.acorn.games Usenet newsgroup. The show gave everyone a chance to speak to the man behind the keyboard face-to-face:
The full personnel complement looked like this:
As well as Brutal Horse Power, a version of Quake which TBA claim to have developed was also on show, although it was on the Acorn stand and not the TBA one. It featured some networked machines playing a level based on the Acorn offices, although the precise origin of this version of Quake was not made clear on the Acorn stand. Several Acorn employees who I spoke to "thought" that it came from TBA Software, and indeed TBA later confirmed that this was the case, claiming it to be a port by one of the TBA Software partners, Martin Piper, based on iD's original source code.
Quake was running at varying frame rates of around the 10fps mark, but Martin claimed that this was a "horrible" version that would eventually be replaced by a version based on TBA's new TAG3 3D-graphics library. He also stated that no license was required to sell such a version that did not use any original iD code, but that such a release would require the user to purchase a copy of the PC version of the game in order to extract the required game level files.
Martin also said that the version of Quake being widely used by Acorn players (and continuously discussed in comp.sys.acorn.games), and which was available from the site http://ns.applause.no/~mickey/, was in fact a port by him. The latest version available from that site at the time of writing, however, is a port by Peter Teichmann, and it has been claimed that the version Martin claimed as his own, previously available from the above web site, was in fact also Peter Teichmann's.
Confusingly, a couple of postings to the Acorn Usenet newsgroups have given contradictory information from Martin's mouth. A posting by Alex Holloway stated that he "Talked to our Mr Piper a bit on the TBA stand, asking if a proper version of Quake will ever be released. Seems that the thing's finished but the licence fee problem means he can't release it."
Unwittingly muddying the waters even more was Toby Haynes's posting, which said "I had a chat with the guys at the TBA stand. The version Acorn were using was not the TBA-Quake port and they were not sure precisely where this version had come from. As I understand the situation, iD are asking a sizeable fee for Quake, which TBA are unable to afford on their own. However, it appears (especially given the notice about a popular networking game sending 'tremors' through the Acorn game scene in the show handout) that Acorn are extremely enthusiastic about seeing Quake on the Acorn platform. So I live in hope still :-)".
TBA's web site now contains an announcement that TBA's own version of Quake will be available "soon", at a cost of £14.99 or £19.99 depending upon the delivery method you choose - email or floppy disc, respectively. See the news pages for further details on Quake.
Brutal Horse Power ran at a constant frame rate - not quite completely smoothly, but smoothly enough - with a reliable graphics engine that did not suffer from undue distortion or clipping problems. It also plotted the scene to a remarkable depth each frame, with absolutely no pop-up what-so-ever evident. In fact, the 3D engine was certainly at least as accurate than the one built into the Sony Playstation, if not more so, although no doubt it lacks many of the niceties of the latter - not least shading and transparencies. I was also fairly surprised by the level of definition of the textures used. They did not excessively pixellate as they approached the screen. What really did impress me was the way the background rotated as the viewing angle did - all-in-all pretty impressive stuff, really!
Of course, none of this reflects on how well the game plays, but first reports suggest that it's pretty good stuff - certainly not a driving simulation, but then it clearly never aimed to be one. It requires a StrongARM, so I'll have to wait until I can use a friend's machine before a review will appear on these pages...
For those who bought the game at the show, an upgrade to version 1.02 can be downloaded from TBA's web pages (3.6M), although TBA sent me an upgrade to 1.01 through the post after the show, which was nice of them, so they may have done this to other people, too.
I raised the issue of 3D graphics cards with Martin, following his repeated statements in comp.sys.acorn.games about his development for a 3Dfx card, and the appearance of a "not faked" 3Dfx development directory in a screenshot of his work published in Computer Shopper magazine. It is clear, however, that no work has yet been undertaken, for Martin admitted that he did not yet know if a driver would be forthcoming for the card, which could connect to the PCI bus on the Risc PC 2. He was adamant that he would write his own, however, if noone else provided one.
Infact, as is mentioned on the 32-bit Acorn Gaming News pages, I told Martin that an American company called Tritech will be releasing a set of PCI drivers for the Acorn for their Pyramid 3D graphics accelerator card. I don't know what the attraction to them is, however. Perhaps someone is paying them to write the driver? This is up-to-date hardware, with PC software developers still using beta-releases of the system - the timescale of the Acorn release is not yet known. No official announcement has yet been made about an Acorn release, and of course despite development work it might never actually see the light of day.
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