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Publisher: Freeverse    Genre: Strategy & War
Min OS X: Any Version    CPU: G3 @ 500 MHz    RAM: 192 MB    Hard Disk: 375 MB    2x CD-ROM    Graphics: 8 MB VRAM

8th Wonder of the World
June 29, 2005 | Richard Hallas

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Interface: Picture-in-Picture
8th Wonder has a rather unusual but well-designed interface which is based on a simple windowing system. There's a wide range of different status windows in the game, but you can do quite a lot to determine what, and how much, you can see at any given time. For instance, there is (as usual) a map window that shows a small-size overview of the playing area, but you can close it down to a small icon if you don't find it helpful. As well as altering the map's zoom level, you can also switch between several display modes or open up a much larger map overview window with numerous information overlay options.

There are many status screens that relate to characters and structures, and these often contain a live-animated image of the subject in question, just like that in the main game view. So, for example, you can set a window to follow a particular character's activities, and watch him in picture-in-picture fashion while the main view is elsewhere, which can be pretty useful at times. Although you can't drag these status windows around, they can be collapsed down to little icons to put them out of the way, so you can either clutter up your screen with loads of big windows, and leave precious little room for the main display, or close all your windows and be left with a nearly full-screen view of your characters and their surroundings. Just about the only interface items that need to be present on the screen at all times are the control icons at the left-hand edge, and a few status details at the top. These are all neat and unobtrusive, though, and are efficient because they require minimal space.

Some of the game windows may contain a bewildering amount of information, but they're actually pretty well thought out and are very efficient and useful once you've become accustomed to them. In other words, 8th Wonder has a pretty well-designed interface overall. There are a few quirks, of course, and some aspects seem to be more complex than might perhaps be necessary, but overall the game's interface is an asset. I also liked the help information screens that were available, and summarized important background details (from game objects to the history of the Wonders).

One regrettable restriction of the game is its limited range of supported screen sizes. Given that it features a pretty efficient window-style interface which could theoretically benefit from a large screen resolution, I was a little disappointed by the restrictive range of resolutions on offer. You can use a screen as small as 640x480 (and at that size, the ability to keep the screen uncluttered is valuable), but the maximum resolution available is only 1280x1024. I would have liked the ability to have even more control over the placement of status windows and to be able to use a higher resolution. I would also have liked the option to be able to play in a window rather than full-screen. The characters in the game, of course, are quite small animated bitmaps, so a higher resolution would have meant more background and relatively tiny characters walking around, which is presumably why there's a fairly low upper limit on screen size. Nevertheless, I felt that a more scalable interface would have been an asset, especially given that you can already zoom the view of the playing area (albeit only a simple two-stage choice between distance and close-up views).

The other interface element worth mentioning is the control icons. As well as the permanent control buttons at the left-hand side of the screen, when you want to order a Viking to do something, you open his action menu. This is not a traditional list-type menu, but rather a ring of icons surrounding the character. Not all possible actions are available at any given time, but the ones that are will appear in their standard positions, and may tell him to do anything from attacking a building to marrying someone.

The problem I had in the early stages was remembering what all the icons meant. To be fair, their positions are standardized and they are grouped together very sensibly, so it's easy to learn both the category and function of each button, and their graphical designs are quite meaningful. Against them, though, all the buttons are in a golden color (so they're not as easy to distinguish from one another as they might be) and they have a tendency to blend into the background. Although there are tooltips to remind you what the buttons do, I would have preferred them to look more individually distinctive (preferably with use of more color in the symbols) and to stand out better from the background graphics.

Graphics: Pretty Primitive?
I was left in two minds about the graphics in 8th Wonder. Basically I liked them very much. The backgrounds are lovely, with plenty of lush variety, the buildings are detailed and "chocolate boxy," and the Vikings themselves, though rather small and pixelated, look appealing and individual. There are some very cute animals, too, and some of the larger structures (such as the Wonders) are quite spectacular.

So, the artwork in the game is really pretty good, and the whole screen is constantly animating. The graphics all look to have been hand-crafted by artists; an aspect that seems quite refreshing compared with the increasing tendency in modern games to use somewhat sterile-looking computer-generated characters based on scalable 3D models.

From that point of view, therefore, I liked the graphics a lot (though some people will undoubtedly condemn them for looking dated). On the other hand, though, there is a clear downside to using hand-drawn bitmap graphics: their inflexibility. Hence my comments above about screen resolution; if you don't have true 3D models, you can't easily scale the contents of the screen. Although 8th Wonder does have a handy two-level zoom facility that allows you to toggle between a close-up view of the action and a more distant overview, that's all you can do. There's no smooth-scaling zoom, so you can't pan in and out, and similarly you can't alter the angle of viewing.

In other words, there's absolutely nothing here for a good graphics card to get its teeth into, and though the graphics are very pretty to look at, the technology behind them is dated.


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