You may recall from previous issues' "Gaming News" columns (sadly, they have been discontinued) a little game being developed in Denmark called "Drilling Billy." I likened the game to Load Runner (still one of my favorites, Sierra-On-Line remade it for Windows a few years ago). Well, Drilling Billy is available now and its gameplay is not a disappointment.
In order to play the OS/2 version of Billy, you are required to first install the DOS version which has all the level information. The DOS installation looks similar to other installations gamers have seen for years and was very straight forward. After that, you have to install EMX .9 (.9c with latest fixes recommended) and unzip the Billy OS/2 upgrade that you download from their web page, not the beta version that's on the CD. There's some documentation that most OS/2 users will be able to get through, but all in all it's a pretty frustrating process -- but more on this later...
While I compared Billy to Lode Runner, Billy is actually more complex in many ways and should also share comparisons with Donkey Kong and Mario Brothers games. Sure, you dig holes and trick the bad guys into dropping into them, but there are a number of things you can pick up that help you. For instance, the tennis ball can be thrown at the bad guys and will kill some of them and bounce others across the screen. Of course, you have to chase the ball down after you use it. Bombs let you dig holes instantly, but you can use them up. There's also a magic wand that lets you create stairs and a jackhammer for digging holes faster, not to mention shoes that let you run faster, and, well, you get the idea. Oh, don't die, because then it's just you and your pickax again.
There are also a variety of different bad guys to deal with. Some are easy and can be killed any number of ways. Some are trickier, requiring you to plan ahead more to deal with them so that you can drop them through multiple holes or knock them off a high ledge with the tennis ball. And of course, some of them seem smarter than others or are really quick to get out of the holes you've dug if you don't come pound them through with your mallet immediately. The bad guys change from level to level and learning about the newest one adds to the fun of getting further into the game.
I played the game with my trusty Gravis Gamepad and wasn't disappointed. I actually had to go back and check before writing this review because I couldn't recall if the game used more than 2 of the buttons, but sure enough it did, so I recommend a joystick, preferable a 4 button kind when playing the game. Of course, since IBM didn't include installing the standard joystick driver as part of Warp 4, you'll need to download and install it. Actually, I think it's even on the device driver CD with Warp 4, but it should have been part of the base install.
The sound and graphics are well done. The CD contains original music in redbook audio format that goes along with the game, so you have to have the CD in to play the game and hear the music. The other little touches throughout the game are also well thought out, like the deep gasp Billy takes when he steps off a high ledge. There is an intro cartoon that didn't play particularly well on my sadly outdated 3X CD-ROM drive, but it, like all the graphics in the game, were animated with a 3D rendering package. The graphical text throughout the game is also done in an unbelievable variety of languages. The web page lists: Bosnian, Catalanian, Croatian, Danish, Dutch, English, Esperanto, Faeroese, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Serbic, Sorabic, Spanish and Swedish.
Sadly, while Northwind has done a great job with the game, the OS/2 version is not quite what I'd call a finished product, and frankly, I don't blame Northwind. For instance, to play the DIVE version of the game, you have to use a 256 color mode. For many, this is normal, for me, it meant a reboot to play. There's also a PM version, but it was too slow to be enjoyable and the full screen version didn't work at all on my system. In order to specify a resolution beyond 800x600, it required the use of a command line switch and it didn't actually scale to my 1280x1024 screen, but ran in the middle of it, looking somewhat tiny even on my 17" monitor. Even after I got it up and running, the game would occasionally crash, and I had better luck with the 1.27 code than the newer 1.29 version now available on their web site. I ended up playing the DOS version in a full screen VDM more than anything, and it worked without a hitch here (except for one problem, but I'm convinced that my aging CD-ROM caused those troubles).
So why don't I blame Northwind? Well, frankly, they've done a fairly good job of porting their game to OS/2, and I'm sure they've put quite a bit of effort into it, but IBM just hasn't provided the tools. Sure, Northwind could do a better job and create an OS/2 based install, and I wouldn't really call the current OS/2 version 100% ready for the prime time, but darn it, it wouldn't be that hard for IBM to include some better graphics tools. DIVE/EnDIVE was a WONDERFUL start when it was first released in 1994-95, but when IBM made their switch from strategy of the month to one really bad strategy that they've decided to stick with until the end of time, they chunked all that development down the tubes. So instead of a nice tool for authors to use, we have a limited tool and people like Northwind choose something hacked together that requires EMX and doesn't work on everyone's system. Could Northwind have used straight DIVE? Yes, and I wish they had, because as much promise as I saw in the EMX-VESA routines from Johannes Martin a year or so ago, the progress just hasn't come and now Drilling Billy is crippled by the fact that it doesn't run in full screen mode on all video cards.
Also of note, and while I'm already on a bit of a tear at IBM for failing miserably to keep OS/2's multimedia subsystem up to par, since OS/2 doesn't have a good mixer board type of applet, in order to hear the CD audio I had to open OS/2's CD player and turn up the volume. And before anyone tells me about a shareware mixer that's out there, I admit to being lazy and not searching Hobbes on this one recently, but frankly, it's something much lacking in the OS/2 base install. Again, maybe Northwind could have tied straight into this with their volume controls and made this a non-issue, but I'm not a serious programmer so I'll withhold judgment on this one.
Drilling Billy is a pretty cool game and I'd give it a shot. At the very least, give the demo version on the web site a try and see what you think. I don't think that Northwind will quit working on getting a version together that will work on every OS/2 system, but until then, I would make sure you're able to get it up and running by running the demo version. If you have trouble, drop them an email and see if they can help, or at least let them know what hardware is still having problems.
Colin Hildinger is a mechanical engineer working for a small company in Oklahoma which makes environmental systems for aircraft. He also maintains The Ultimate OS/2 Gaming Page and the AWE32 and OS/2 page in his spare time.
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