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the Beta File

Welcome back to the Beta File, your source for the latest breaking news in OS/2 beta development. Every month we scour the OS/2 world to bring you interesting news of OS/2 software in development. If you have a product that you're sure is going to be the next killer app, or you want a little free exposure for your beta test drop us a note!

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For months now, a dedicated Stanford student named Amit Patel has been tinkering with what could become a really great game in the tradition of SimCity, Warcraft and those that hope to be combinations of the two. The name of this OS/2 only game in the making is SimBlob.

SimBlob is a strategy/simulation game with an emphasis on a dynamic world that can be changed by the players. Instead of generating a world at the beginning of the game and using the same map until the end of the game, SimBlob changes the map as the game progresses. Trees and grass grow, rain falls, seasons pass, rivers flood or change course, mountains erode, and volcanos erupt. The players can also change the map by building walls, cutting down trees, building irrigation canals, altering paths of rivers, and burning down forests. These features create new opportunities in warfare: burning down your opponent's forests, diverting a river away from his town, and destroying a dam to flood a valley are just some of the tactics that make this game different from other strategy/simulation games.

There is no formal beta testing procedure at this time. Instead, anyone can download a current version of the game from the web site and send in comments. It's more of a "simulation" and less of a "game" at this point, since there are no opponents and there is no warfare yet. Still, it can be a lot of fun if you're the type of person who enjoys something like SimCity. The author says, "I once started playing in the morning and didn't get up for six hours!" Most of the testing so far has been done by a handful of people over the last eight months.

Patel tells us that he hopes to have the game mostly complete by the middle of 1997. He is unsure if it will be a shareware, commercial or combination shareware/commercial release. It's possible he will make a "simulation" (with no opponents or warfare) completely free, and sell the full game either as shareware or a commercial product. Expect a price in the US$60-US$70 range if it is commercial, or US$20-US$30 if shareware.

When asked why he is making a game that mimics characteristics of other games already years old, Patel said:

There were a lot of things that I thought when playing other games of the flavor, "If they had allowed this, the game would've been much cooler." I took the things that I wanted from SimCity, Civilization, Dune II, and Warcraft, and came up with a game that combined my favorite parts of those games and the extras that I wish they had. The result is SimBlob. I'm really writing the game for my own enjoyment, and not primarily as something I can sell to others.

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Still in the games department, this time with an old classic, we have Rexx-Adventure by Mike DeSanto. Rexx-Adventure is a text based adventure game that has been kicking around the Internet for some time but has been neglected by some.

The software is actually an engine for writing and playing text adventures. Unlike existing languages (AGT, TADS, Inform, etc.) Rexx-Adventure uses a point and click interface. This stops "guess the verb" problems present in many text adventure games before they start.

About 6 testers have been working on this latest incarnation of Rexx-Adventure for about 3 months and the author is still accepting Beta participants. Since Rexx-Adventure is Freeware, there is little difference between beta testing and using the finished product. Just download it from the web page and send comments to the author.

The new version should be finished for October 1996 and it will be Freeware.

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And for those who still claim that OS/2 has no game developers committed to the platform, here is yet another slick new offering just entering beta testing. This month, many were thrilled to learn that Northwind soft is working on a new arcade-style game for both the DOS and OS/2 platforms.

When questioned about the decision to commit to both platforms, the author commented:

To be Honest with you, the OS/2 version came about as a coincidence. When I looked for a programmer for Drilling Billy I had only the DOS version in mind, but as it turned out that programmer was an OS/2 fan and he argued strongly for an OS/2 version. As a coincidence I'm an old Amiga fan myself and I can see the wisdom in releasing software to a devoted but neglected market like OS/2.
Right on!

The game is to be named, Drilling Billy, and no, it's not a chase Bill Gates around a maze game. It is a super hi-resolution graphics Lode Runner or Dig Dug type game and that has a lot of people excited. The game is not meant to be highly innovative but rather to be as playable and enjoyable as possible.

The testing of the game has been done internally by the company for the last 5 months but external beta testers will be solicited soon. Stay tuned to their home page for more details. And while you're there, check out the amazing graphics that will be included! A playable demo is promised shortly after the time of this writing.

Expect the final product by December '96. The price should be around US$40 or US$50 and it will be a commercial product. This should be a game to watch, because as the developers say, "This game is being made by computer enthusiasts who have worked hard with no salary but with high hopes for the future."

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As always, there is activity on the Internet software front in the OS/2 community. Jerry Levy has just released YarnDial v1.32 beta.

YarnDial is, of course, a front end for Chin Huang's off-line OS/2 usenet news applications, Yarn and Souper. The program is written in REXX; is fully menu-driven; automates dialup, login, fetching and/or sending of mail, news and posts; accommodates several dialers for implementing SL/IP and PPP connections to your provider(s); and facilitates setup. Normal setup if Yarn and Souper are up and running takes under two minutes. And detailed documentation with step-by-step instructions for setting up Yarn and Souper are included in the event help there is needed

This beta is open to anyone. So far, about a dozen people have worked closely with the author and the estimated completion date for this version is October 1, 1996. YarnDial, like Yarn and Souper themselves, is Freeware, and will stay as such. For more information, contact the author.

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Some of the biggest rumblings on the 'net this past month were caused by the folks in Germany at StarDivision GmbH. The news, of course, is that StarOffice 3.1 for OS/2, the international version, is now in beta testing. This version will be available in English, French, Dutch, Italian and Spanish.

StarOffice 3.1 is a suite of office productivity applications containing StarWriter 3.1 (word processor), StarCalc 3.1 (spreadsheet), StarDraw 3.1 (graphics and presentation package), StarImage 3.1 (image manipulation) and StarChart 3.1 (bar-, pie- and other charts). StarOffice also contains a complete WYSIWYG HTML editor that allows drag&drop between the bookmark window and the edit window and offers upload capabilities for pages via HTTP and FTP. It supports HTML 3.0, Netscape Plug Ins and other leading-edge technologies.

The Beta version of StarOffice 3.1 for OS/2 can be downloaded from any of the StarDivision mirror sites. The complete list of all mirror sites can found at their web site.

The international full version of StarOffice for OS/2 will be available in the third quarter of 1996. Pricing has still not been announced but to receive regular news concerning the international version OS/2ers can send e-mail to info-os2.stardivision.com. For further info, call StarDivision in Germany at: 040 23 646 810.

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And what's the biggest beta news on the planet right now? The OS-formerly-known-as-Merlin of course.

IBM quietly released a more or less final gamma version of Merlin to somewhere between fifty and a few hundred testers in the last few weeks of August. The chaotic reams of bug reports characteristic of the beta were replaced by mostly positive comments on the 'net and in industry publications but, as with most software tests, there were detractors too. We'll all get a chance to see what IBM can do in about a month's time.

The current buzz is that late September will see an official product announcement and in fact this has been verified by sources at IBM's Media Relations. Sources tell us that September 25th is indeed the magic day and the grand event is scheduled to take place in SanFrancisco at 11:00 am local time. A one hour announcement will be followed by a two hour showcase. While IBM claims they will have OS/2 v4.0 in users' hands by September 28th, some folks tell us that the actual product will not be available in Canada until the second week of October. It is possible that releases outside of the US will lag somewhat.

Strongly believed now is the fact that the CD Sampler of independent software vendors' products to be included with the release will include some form of WordPro, the StarOffice Suite and various other big name products.

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Did I say the biggest beta news on the planet? As hard as it is to believe, there is news to rival the launch of OS/2 Warp v4.0 this month. Mozilla/2 is coming.

Netscape and IBM announced in a joint teleconference late in August that they would ship a beta version of Netscape Navigator v2.02i for OS/2 in the first few weeks of September. The beta will be freely available from Netscape or IBM to users of OS/2 Warp v3.0 and testers of Merlin. When OS/2 v4.0 ships, it will contain an automatically installed Netscape/2 icon on the Desktop which will link users to a site for immediate download of the beta.

The beta, like the final product, will be free of charge to all OS/2 users, but users of Warp v3.0 will have to purchase a separate Java Update Kit if they want to take advantage of the Java capabilities of Netscape Navigator. Other features to be included are drag and drop support, speech navigation support (for the Warp v4.0 version), QuickList migration tools and plug-in APIs.

Both companies say that the beta will be wrapped up in early October, a few weeks after Warp v4.0 ships. For complete details of the Netscape/IBM teleconference, see our coverage in this issue.

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