Miner (Apple II) review
"Anyone who's had a favorite author and really wanted to learn more about him probably read that author's juvenalia. Which was not very good, but you could make excuses about how it shaped what was to come if you wanted, or you can say "Heck! Even I can do better than this!" and be inspired to write something. Works for software, too. Doug Smith, the creator of Lode Runner,(LR) admitted Miner was not so hot in an interview in the PS1 version of the game. You can see flashes of somet..."
Anyone who's had a favorite author and really wanted to learn more about him probably read that author's juvenalia. Which was not very good, but you could make excuses about how it shaped what was to come if you wanted, or you can say "Heck! Even I can do better than this!" and be inspired to write something. Works for software, too. Doug Smith, the creator of Lode Runner,(LR) admitted Miner was not so hot in an interview in the PS1 version of the game. You can see flashes of something special. So you can say LR is good, and Miner is a prototype, and thank goodness for the people brave enough to tell Doug Smith Miner needed work. But of course, for games, you want there just to be something special all the way through. If you want to critique something, you can go to an art gallery.
And certainly Miner is no art gallery, but that may be the least of its faults. It's still the same basic idea--run over ropes, up ladders, avoid robots and get all the chests before running to the top. But it's rough-edged. It's hard to tell the difference between cement, which you can't dig(robots get trapped in the hole, you don't,) and bricks, which you can. Your man, a white branch stick with choppy animation, avoids red sticks which are none too smart and lump on top of each other. Of course the eventual LR let you trap enemies at times, but these guys give up way too easily. They also aren't big on giving up chests they pick up, so you have a lot more trial and error. There are many ways the game loses track of a chest so you can't progress, too, and when you dig temporary holes for the enemies to fall into, there's no indication when they are about to fill back up, or where enemies stuck in holes regenerate on top. I couldn't change the speed of the action, although when I tried it in an emulator, it was either uncontrollable or too slow.
This array of complaints leads to the old joke about the lousy restaurant. "Such lousy food and such small portions." Well, Miner has only 20 levels, and LR fans will be able to fly through them. Non-LR fans will sour on the whole series playing this first. You can see the sort of tricks that Miner forces you to play--a rope over a cement base, to fall and run under enemies, or a maze of ladders to outsmart the slower enemies, or even a long row of bricks you must trap the enemies in before running by them. There are even dumb enemies just playing safety. You don't have many entombed golds that require intricate digging, or puzzles relying on the ladders that appear after the final gold. That would come later. Again you have the chicken and egg problem--if you saw LR, the puzzles are crashingly simple, but if not, you wonder why anyone would have the patience to work them out.
But Broderbund executives saw potential. Smith used images from Choplifter(people) and Apple Panic(digging holes) for a more realistic look. While LR won't dazzle you, it was needed for the game to be more than a sequence of blips and boops. Smith got rid of the unfair gotchas, to warn people if a hole filled up. He fixed the bugs and added sounds, not pings. And he put in a high score list.
Being a software tester, I understand how these things slip through on the first draft. I'm grateful--without them, no job, and no understanding of emulators. And Miner has been an excellent example sort of bugs to be ironed out in production and customer concerns about usability, and I'm in awe of Doug Smith's creativity and execution to get rid of these bugs. I can see why Miner is never pushed as part of the whole LR package. Fortunately, the game is over quickly enough that you will bear LR no lasting ill will. Those who want to play Miner to see how it all started may get something more basic than they intended. Be warned!
Community review by aschultz (April 03, 2009)
Andrew Schultz used to write a lot of reviews and game guides but made the transition to writing games a while back. He still comes back, wiser and more forgiving of design errors, to write about games he loved, or appreciates more, now.
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