Preview - Magic Carpet (DOS, 1994)

I love to fly. Probably this is because I haven't done much of it, but that's beside the point. There's something graceful about, something natural. And there's scenery, too. When you look at cow pastures from the same first-person perspective for upwards of 20 years they tend to lose what little entertainment value they started with. But a cow pasture from 20,000 feet? Hey, I'll look at that. And enjoy it.

I like to fly in computer games, too, and I'm not alone by any stretch of the imagination. A lot of people like to fly with games like Falcon 3.0 and MS Flight Simulator 5, but not me. That's not flying, that's piloting. "What's the difference?" you may ask. Easy: about 100-300 pages of manual length and multiple days on the learning curve. When I fly, I'm talking about games like Wing Commander 2 or Comanche Maximum Overkill. Pilots will scoff at those choices, rightfully pointing out that they aren't realistic. Fine with me. If I want realism I'll go home and clean the cat box. Realism sucks. Escapism is where it's at. That's what game designers will sell me on.

So I like to fly, but the thing that most frequently ruins computer flight for me is operating an airplane. Dials, gauges, HUDs, landing gear, flaps, thrust, lift . . . who cares? Well, a lot of people actually, but not me. The simpler the craft, the happier I'm likely to be, and if there's something to shoot at while I'm up there, cool. So when I got to take a sneak peak at Magic Carpet, an upcoming flight game Bullfrog is producing for EA, I gravitated toward it like a space marine to a rocket launcher. We bonded, that game and me. The wedding invitations go out next month. It supports modem play, so for a gift you can send us long distance certificates.

Magic Carpet was designed with the goal of creating an extremely simple and uncluttered interface, resulting in a game that you'll be able to play 10 minutes after breaking the shrink-wrap. Instead of learning how to operate a billion dollar piece of hardware that barely needs you at all, you just load up the game, and within seconds you're flying. You're starting to see the game's appeal; I can tell. Instead of being cluttered by gauges, readouts, and other grotesque articles of obscene chumpdom, the instrument panel consists of one small easy to understand status bar which gives you just enough information to let you know your standing in the game. It can even be turned off, for those of you who demand absolutely nothing less than full screen view. (You're the same people who play Doom without the status bar, aren't you. I've never understood you folks.) It's simple because it doesn't need to be complex. You've probably never considered this before, but a rug is much easier to operate than a harrier.

Although just flying around and admiring the scenery is lots of fun on its own, Bullfrog decided that if they're gonna build this cool flight engine they may as well write a game to go along with it. Fortunately for all of us, the game's a good one. Your goal is to liberate the lands you play in by freeing their manna, which is trapped within all sorts of monsters and nasty creatures. You have two primary spells available to you as you fly: a fireball spell and an acquire spell. The use of the fireball is obvious – attacking monsters. When you kill a monster, it releases its manna in the form of shimmering gold blobs which fall out of the sky and roll wherever gravity takes them. You then shoot the gold manna with your acquire spell, which turns it to your color, marking it (however tentatively) as your property.

The manna won't do you much good just lying on the ground, though. This is where one of your other spells comes in handy. The castle spell instantly builds a castle for you, which releases a balloon. The balloon then flies about and collects all the manna of your color, taking it back to the castle for later use. As you stockpile manna you use the castle spell to expand your fortress, giving you more space to store manna and a better structure to defend it with.

Naturally, there's gotta be some opposition. Seven other carpet riders want control of the land too, and before long you'll find yourself in direct competition with them. You can shoot at each other on your carpets, attack each other's castles and balloons, even change their manna to your color and steal it right out from under their noses! Although each land is fairly large, eight is definitely a crowd, and you'll take part in some terrific territorial wars.

Unlike many "realistic" piloting games which tend to heap so many features onto themselves that they suffer great losses in speed and frame rate, Magic Carpet is a simple game that will astonish players with its performance. The terrain is handsomely drawn and very detailed, and you can race along mere feet above the ground, hugging the terrain and using it to your advantage. Think back to the first time you ever played Comanche Maximum Overkill; that's the effect this game has on its players. I've even swooped down from great altitudes to attack individual archers in the battlements of enemy castles! This attention to detail, along with the great speed the game runs at, should win Magic Carpet widespread attention.

When released, Magic Carpet will sport SVGA graphics. It will also support modem and network play. Eight people will be able to compete on a net, and I've heard a rumor that the number may double by the game's release. If you've ever wanted to fly – I mean really fly, without all those namby-pamby aeroplanes getting in your way – let Magic Carpet suck you in. I had a great time taking my rug out for a test flight, and I think you will too.

And not a cow pasture in sight. Life is good.

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