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Publisher: Virtual Programming    Genre: Strategy & War
Min OS X: 10.1.2    CPU: G3 @ 300 MHz    Graphics: 16 MB VRAM

MindRover - The Europa Project
December 1, 2003 | Nat Panek

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MindRover: The Europa Project, by CongniToy (Mac version courtesy of Virtual Programming, Ltd.) is not quite like any game Iíve every played before. Itís closest relative is not a game at all but a television program. MindRover appears to have been inspired by the Robot Wars show (and/or its various spinoffs and imitators) in which teams of techno-geeks build machines resembling lawnmowers from hell, festooned with armor and weaponry, and set them loose in an arena to kill or be killed. Even this analogy is not entirely accurate, however; the machines on Robot Wars are not true robots, depending as they do on humans to operate them via remote control. MindRover offers something much closer to actual autonomous robot design and competition.

Thereís a bit of completely unnecessary back story involving bored researchers on Jupiterís moon Europa, cobbling together robotic combatants for their amusement; it has no bearing on the game whatsoever. The game tasks you, the player, with constructing and programming robotic rovers to compete in a variety of scenarios; there are races, battles, sports, and miscellaneous other challenges.

Game play
The game is broken into phases. After selecting a scenario and a mission, players must choose a chassis for their rover. There are three basic types: hovercraft, wheeled, and treaded; each of which is available in small, medium, or large. You cannot, however, get fries with that. Each chassis has its own requirements and capacities; for example, you probably wonít do very well in a battle to the death if you select a small chassis, as thereís not a lot of room there to place weaponry. Conversely, a huge tank of a rover isnít likely to win any races against smaller, lighter chasses. So chassis selection will depend largely on the scenario being played.

The same is true of component selection, which is the next phase. This involves equipping your rover with the physical equipment it will need to accomplish its mission. In a combat mission, this will obviously involve selecting weaponry; choices include machine guns, rocket launchers, and blowtorches for up-close work. In racing scenarios, engine selection is key, as is an effective navigational sensor scheme. The physical equipment available runs the gamut from the indispensable (navigational sensors, radar, steering, power, etc.) to the whimsical (cop lights, speakers, etc.). As indicated above, however, the chasses all have their limits as to what they can carry (think outfitting a Ďmech in the Mechwarrior games), so itís a good idea to choose equipment carefully. Users can navigate several menus filled with items, and just drag and drop the ones they want to use onto a birdís-eye view of their rover.

None of these components will work, however, if they are not connected and controlled by some sort of logic scheme, and this phase is the one in which most of MindRover is played. Wiring, as itís called, involves drawing lines between the components youíve selected, viewing it all in an interface that resembles an electrical schematic. Each of these ďwiresĒ communicates output from items like radar, sensors, timers, switches, etc., to items requiring some sort of input to tell them what to do, such as steering mechanisms, engines, lights, guns, and so on. To supplement the I/O communication between physical components, there is a range of purely logical components, small icons representing mathematical operations, Boolean operators, and other functions. These, obviously, take up no space on the chassis, but are there to facilitate rover programming.


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