Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

    Need to clear your mind for a few minutes at work? New computer games may be the remedy

    by Alan Zisman (c) 1996 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #374 December 24, 1996   High Tech Office  column

    I don't play computer games at work on company time, and I'm sure you don't, either. Still, as long as people have had access to computers, there's been game-playing when the people in charge haven't been looking.

    Even before there were personal computers on virtually every desktop (or virtual desktops on every personal computer), unauthorized computer users were creating games like the classic Adventure or SpaceWars on government, university, and business mainframes. In the late 1980s, there were even persistent rumours that the wildly popular Tetris, written by Russian Alexi Paszitnov, was a deliberate attempt by the Soviets to sap Western economic productivity. Like many other programs of the era, the freeware Tetris clone, Nyet, includes a 'boss key'--press Escape, and the game screen is replaced by a businesslike spreadsheet.

    More recently, shareware distribution has spread ultra-violent games like Doom onto millions of home and office desktops, promoting the social values of shooting everything that moves.

    If you want a bit of relief from the pressures of work, but don't want to splatter your screen with gore, here are a few of my favourites. Or with holidays upon us, they could be thought of as potential gifts for anyone worth about $70.

    With baseball season over, some may be going through withdrawal symptoms. Or you may have a desire to replay the World Series, perhaps with different teams, different personnel, and perhaps a different outcome. Electronic Arts Canada in Burnaby has for several years produced a series of sports simulations. Triple Play 97 is the company's latest entry for the baseball crowd.

    As with similar hockey, football (U.S. rules), and soccer products, you can choose a simple exhibition game, or set up a season or a playoff series. You pick a team, and manage it by manipulating your lineup, trading players, even creating entirely new players. One player can play the computer, or two players can play on a single machine or over a modem.

    These sports games come out with a new version each year, updating the teams, the rosters, the uniforms. As well, each year, the game graphics become more realistic--at the cost of requiring a more powerful computer. Triple Play 97, for example, includes functionally identical DOS and Windows 95 versions in a single package, and requires at least 26 megs of drive space and a 486-66. For optimal performance, it suggests 60 megs of drive space and a Pentium. A CD-ROM player is required, and computer sound adds a lot to the play--complete with realistic-sounding play-by-play announcing.

    A free demo, allowing three innings of play, can be downloaded from Be prepared for an 8-meg download.

    Hockey fans will find a lot to like in either Electronic Arts' NHL 97 or competitor NHL PowerPlay 96, the latter produced for Virgin Entertainment by Vancouver's Radical Entertainment.

    Software supergiant Microsoft may be better known for serious business programs like Windows or Microsoft Office, but the company has also distributed the classic Flight Simulator (actually written by the Bruce Artwick Organization) for over a decade, and recently announced that it had hired Tetris-creator Paszitnov. Recently, Microsoft has been expanding its game lineup, perhaps in part to charge demand for Windows 95 machines to run games only available for that platform.

    Whatever the rationale, Microsoft's Monster Truck Madness is worth a spin. It puts you at the wheel of one of those big-wheeled racing trucks, with a variety of possible competitions--straight ahead drag racing (aside from having to drive right over a bunch of parked trucks), a variety of race courses, or cross-country rallies. It's nice to have local B.C. Place available as one of the stadiums for these events. You can even custom-design a tournament.

    This is again a big, CD-based game, requiring a lot of computer. Microsoft suggests at least a Pentium, with installation options ranging from a low of 10 megs to a massive 200 megs for best performance. When I played it on my last-generation 486, I was able to make it work by "dumbing down" the graphics; the low-resolution graphics didn't look as good as on the box, but there was still the thrill of crunching around in the big truck, while listening to incessant music and announcing (which can be turned down or off). As with the baseball simulation, it really wants a Pentium: on a powerful enough computer, it looks great.

    And again there's a free, playable demo on the Web, at (Be prepared for a big download with this one too.)

    The game doesn't provide a boss key, so be prepared with an explanation if you get caught playing it on company time. You could claim you're recharging your batteries to be more productive when you have that spreadsheet back on your screen!

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan