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Crystal Rain Forest: A Learning Adventure

Reviewed by  Mr. Bill & Lela

Is there no hope?A young girl recently wrote to us, asking if we knew somewhere, anywhere, that she could buy this game. She had played it at school, and liked it so much that she wanted her own copy to enjoy at home. The game was first published in the U.K. way back in 1994, but until we received that letter, we had never heard of it. And our search for it soon revealed why. Like The Flying Carpet, it is a game that until now has only been available to schools for use in the classroom, at first only abroad, but more recently also here in the U.S.A.

It is indeed a fascinating game. It was designed to teach children how to program computers by using Crystal Logo... an "easy-to-use, modifiable version of the classic computer language used in schools throughout the world".

Now computer programming is not something that we were taught when we were in school. But because we know of at least one developer who used Logo to create his adventure game, and because we also have aspirations to create one ourselves someday (if we can ever find the spare time), we decided to see what it was all about.

It is set up like a simple adventure game, with a story, a quest, and puzzles to be solved in order to advance. As the manual tell us,

The Cut and Run Gang" The planet Oglo is in big trouble. Its rain forest is disappearing rapidly because the greedy Cut and Run Gang is cutting through it for profit. The King is worried about the rain forests, and he has banned all tree cutting. But now the Cut and Run Gang has poisoned the King, and he lies dangerously ill in the hospital. Only the crystals that are hidden deep within the rain forest can cure him. You can save the King, the rain forest, and the planet if you can just find the magic crystals. But you must be careful... because the Cut and Run Gang is out to stop you! "

This is a point and click game with a narrator, a small inventory, printable maps of the main areas to be explored, and two levels of difficulty. The harder level not only contains more difficult puzzles, but there are also more of them to solve. But you don't have to rush. You can save your position anywhere in the adventure and continue later, or choose to load a preprogrammed save from any one of 26 different starting positions in the game.

This is Hiss.  He is very hungry.As you would expect in a game this old, the graphics are very simple. But they are bright and colorful, and include scenes from the rain forest, as well as some of the wildlife that inhabits it. All with appropriate sound effects and a brief commentary by the excellent narrator, including an occasional remark about the plight of the rain forest.

As the story is told, you are depicted as a little boy and girl. But what you actually move around in the game (what represents you) is a little triangular-shaped icon, called a 'turtle', which you move by clicking on the various action or command buttons that are located beneath the picture. And the view changes from overhead 3rd person, while moving, to a straight-ahead 1st person view, whenever you encounter a special location or a puzzle to be solved.

You begin by exploring Bridgetown, where you will find some objects that you need, and purchase others with money that you earn by helping the people you meet. Then it's off to the surrounding jungle area, where you must solve still more problems before you are allowed to begin your voyage down the river, into the heart of the rain forest to look for the crystals.

Wire Connections Puzzle... to fix the automatic door.The beauty of this little game is that you learn without realizing that you are being taught anything. We can see why children like it. The puzzles that you must solve are like non-threatening little games that have immediate visual feedback, with praise if you get it right, and an opportunity to do it over if you're wrong. And they are based on the assumption that you know absolutely nothing about the subject when you begin, so you start out literally at square one. But your progress is amazingly rapid!

You begin with the 'Robot Temple', where you learn the basic commands necessary to move your turtle, and to estimate distances, by simply crawling through a pyramid. In a 'Tetris'-like game called 'Garden Bridges', you learn to visualize and maneuver shapes by floating them down river to fill in the gaps in some bridges. And in the 'Monkey Puzzle', you learn to alter algebraical dimensions to fit a predetermined shape just by fitting some packages into wagons.

In the museum's 'Automatic Shop', you learn to estimate degrees by buying the items that you need. Then in 'Wire Connections' you put that knowledge to work, estimating angles and distances as you successfully repair an automatic door. In 'Navigating the River', you learn to keep your ship from hitting the bank by creating and using a simple computer program. And in 'Rope Bridges', you learn how to vary such a program to mend the bridges. Finally, in 'Safety Nets', you learn how to define the properties of your commands, as well as how to draw squares and triangles, as you make the nets that you need to catch poisons being dumped in the river.

Behind the waterfall are three monsters... and they have the crystals!And so in no time at all, simply by playing a few little games, you suddenly realize that you have absorbed the basic commands of Logo, how to use those commands to maneuver a turtle, and how to write and execute a computer program for the turtle to follow. But now you must put that newfound knowledge to work, and create the crystals that you need to save the King, because the ones that you found were destroyed!

The rest of the game, and what everything has been leading up to, is spent doing just that... designing, drawing and coloring your own beautiful original 'crystals' by using the Logo computer language that you have learned. And the game can be setup to skip the learning adventure, and just begin at this point. A complete tutorial for using Crystal Logo is included in the manual, along with examples of some of the almost unbelievable possibilities. And you can save and/or print any screen.

The game has several sample programs to get you started, and you can change the commands to vary the results. But perhaps more importantly, you can even create your own commands, or match them to a version of Logo that you already have. And once you have mastered the basics, you can continue your adventure in the sequel 'Mission Control', where you learn control technology programming concepts.

Crystal Rain Forest is a beautifully designed game that demystifies and takes the fear out of an intimidating subject. It builds confidence, and is a wonderful way to introduce any child to the basics of computer programming.

Mr. Bill's first crystal... and it saved the King!
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Note: A New Version (Version 2) is now available to run on newer computers (both PC and MAC).

Developed (1994 - 2008) by Sherston Software and published by Terrapin Software.

Minimum System Requirements:  Windows   MAC

Where To Buy This Game:

Mr. Bill's   Adventureland
Copyright  January 2004
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