IBM Family FunPak for OS/2 Warp- by Bruce Byfield

The IBM Family FunPak (gif 6k) is a 53 megabyte collection of games and home software. It's a package which would have been uneconomical to produce a couple of years ago, when software came on floppies.

However, like satellite dishes, the capacity of CDs has nothing to do with quality. Or, to put things another way, the FunPak can be thought of as the home user's equivalent of Warp's BonusPak. Like the BonusPak, it comes with minimal manuals and support. Its programs range from the unusable to the useful, and, like the BonusPak, what you think of the offerings will depend on your needs and existing software and hardware.

Here are my reactions to the individual programs in the FunPak, in ascending order from worst to best.

Let me confess right away that I never even tried Magic Canvas, the children's paint program. It's a Windows program, and I don't have Windows code on the test machine. While the program was probably included to show Warp's ability to run older operating environments, for me it was on the unusable end of the FunPak spectrum.

Slightly higher on the scale I found OS/2 Poker (gif 9.7k), OS/2 Black Jack, and Havoc. The first two games are extremely basic, with graphics that might have been acceptable around 1987. Havoc is even more dated; it's an asteroids-style game with the sort of line graphics last seen about 1980; the best thing that can be said about it is that it's simple enough to run with a bare minimum of RAM. None of these programs lasted ten minutes on the hard drive. However, they did allow me to try the FunPak's uninstall feature: the uninstaller removes all customization of colours and fonts on the FunPak folder, and returns it to the desktop if it was moved, but all traces of deleted programs are removed from the system (including inside the OS2.INI file).

In the mid-range of acceptability are the serious applications: apparently, IBM's idea of fun for adults. Personally, I have little use for such on-line references in general, and the FunPak's do nothing to make me change my mind. Despite graphics and search functions, on-line references run a distant second to paperbacks in convenience, detail and price.

On these grounds, I discarded the Child Development Guide almost as quickly as Havoc and the card games. A combination of parenting guide and baby album, it is far too general to justify the 22 megabytes of hard drive space it requires.

Similarly, the American Heritage Dictionary (gif 8.1k) is too limited to be useful either. A quarter of the size of the full-length version from Dux Software and lacking the thesaurus function, the FunPak version is simply too limited to be of much use. Nor can it be left on the CD, the way the full version can. And, most important of all, it seems to lack a target audience. Those who should use this dictionary are unlikely to, since it's unconnected to a word processor, while those who would use it will probably find it too limited to be useful.

The third home application, In Charge At Home, is probably the most useful of the serious programs. Although I firmly believe that anyone who can't handle their financial affairs with a calculator and a scrap of paper won't be motivated by a computer program to get organized, if you are used to recording your personal records on the computer, this program should suit your needs. However, if you want to run a business, get the full version.

So much for two-thirds of the FunPak. Having discarded all these programs, I was starting to feel twinges of pain around my wallet. Fortunately, the third which was left redeemed the FunPak for me. This third was exactly what the name "FunPak" originally suggested to me: games.

The first of these is the MicroLearn Game Pack Vol I, a collection of a half-dozen games. Some of these, including Go-Moku, Four Fun and MindSweeper, have been available as shareware on most platforms for years. Others, like The Wall (gif 13.7k) and Soko-PM are new to me, and offer the best value, especially because they include editors for building new levels. Both have the combination of simplicity and strategy which I look for in a game. In Soko-PM, for example, a warehouse worker has to push crates into designated positions while moving around different obstacles, not least of which can be the crates themselves. Similarly, in The Wall, identically marked bricks have to be placed together to make them explode; the trick lies in getting the bricks side by side and in exploding three or more bricks at the same time. Probably few adults will care to play any of these games for long, but all of them will help to pass the time while waiting for a fax or a modem connection.

TD Gammon falls into a similar category. Its main boast is a dedicated artificial intelligence, but, unfortunately, at advanced levels, the AI is frustratingly slow, even on top end machines. There has also been a debate on the Internet about whether the AI cheats at the advanced levels. Still, on the Novice and Beginner levels, TD-Gammon plays a competent brand of backgammon, and, at all levels, the presence of the doubling cube adds an element of bluff. Admittedly, the default interface should be changed immediately, and the program loads slowly for such a simple game. Still, despite such misgivings, TD-Gammon is probably the most challenging backgammon game available for OS/2.

Rapid Assault is a DOS game--another demonstration of OS/2's ability to run fossil drivers. However, with over 70 megabytes of it remaining on the CD, it's a DOS game which could hardly have been possible a couple of years ago. Basically it's an armoured car version of Doom. Players choose which of several different vehicles to drive, and then manoeuvre their choice through a maze of cityscapes, blasting anything that moves and picking up points. As someone with minimal interest in such games, I appreciate the fact that Rapid Assault is divided into levels playable in about fifteen minutes--which is not much longer than my interest holds. The graphics are (to borrow an adjective from "Doonesbury") Pre-Mystian, but good enough for a quick rush of adrenaline.

For me, there's more playability in SimCity for OS/2. This game was widely panned when it was released a year ago, and its bugs justified every bit of criticism. The FunPak version is much improved. The speed is still on the slow side--16 megabytes of RAM is the minimum I'd recommend, and, even on a Pentium 100, it's still less than a third of the speed of the DOS version--but the bugs seem to be gone. The result is a showcase of what a windowed, multi-tasking operating system can do for a game. I've returned again and again to the DOS version of SimCity over the years, but the convenience of the OS/2 version makes me tolerate the lack of speed. Although the FunPak version lacks a few of the scenarios and other extras found in the full version, for me it is one of the two major attractions in the FunPak.

The other major attraction is Star Emperor. Essentially, it's a minor variant on Stardock's popular Galactic Civilization, with the same graphics and layout, but stripped down to a war game. The main difference is that, instead of developing technologies to expand your empire, you expand your empire to gain the special technologies each planet possesses. Getting the right to these technologies, denying them to other civilizations and keeping them all add interest when the inevitable battles start. At the same time, few games will last more than two hours, so that Star Emperor can be over while a game of Galactic Civilization is still in its early stages. The game suffers from many of Galactic Civilization's programming faults, swapping madly on systems with less than 12 megabytes of RAM, crashing unexpectedly and requiring constant refreshing of the star map. Also, the FunPak version will not run in VGA (640x480). Still, it remains highly playable. In fact, although a full version is available, its price is the same as the entire FunPak's so I'm satisfied to stay with this version.

As a showcase of OS/2 games, the FunPak only emphasizes that OS/2 gaming is still in its infancy. It doesn't seem like much of an advertisement for most of the programs in it either. Still, from a consumer's point of view, it seems worthwhile, even if most of its programs are discarded. In the end, I figure that, by buying the FunPak, I spent an average of $12 Canadian ($9 US) on five programs that I'll keep on the hard drive for a while. This price seems about right for the MicroLearn Game Pack and TD-Gammon, and a bargain for Rapid Assault, SimCity and Star Emperor.

Nobody is going to be converted to OS/2 by the Family FunPak. On the other hand, if you are already a user, it offers acceptable, if not outstanding value.

IBM Family FunPak for OS/2 Warp
IBM Corp.
SRP: US$ 49
Bruce Byfield is a freelance editor and technical writer, and an occasional instructor of English.

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