Mind Rover


Genre: Simulation/Programming

Format: CD

Developer: CogniToy

Mac Port: Virtual Programming

Mac Publisher: MacPlay

Minimum System Requirements: 300MHz G3, Mac OS 9.2.1 or Mac OS X v10.1.2, 128MB, 16MB OpenGL accelerator video card, QuickTime 5

Review Computer: 800MHz iMac, 256MB RAM, GeForce 2 MX, Mac OS X v10.2.8
Network Feature: No

Price: $29.99

ESRB Rating: E for Everyone

Availability: Now

Official Website: [url=http://www.mindrover.com]http://www.mindrover.com[/url]

Boy, here's one for the smart kids.

Remember back when you'd get a Lego set and it would come with, like, a
million bricks? Yet you'd always find yourself saying, "Man, I wish I had another hinged four-prong yellow." Or, if you were lucky enough to have a Big Trax, you'd quickly run into the limitations of its programmability, saying, "Boy, I wish this thing was smarter."

If this sounds like you, and if you've got a lot of time to devote to a game, run, don't walk, to your nearest gaming store that sells Mac games (so, online, then), and get yourself a copy of Mind Rover, recently ported by Virtual Programming. Part toy, part game, part introduction to programming, Mind Rover allows you to build robots and send them out into alien landscapes to participate in games and races, and to solve puzzles.

But, if visions of Battle-Bots are dancing in your head, stop them right now. Your little bot will go out on missions, some of them involving combat, but the guts of this game are in designing and debugging the programming for your little bot. I want you to think about this; would you find programming, designing and debugging fun? Think carefully. It's not as glamorous as it sounds.

Set in the future on one of the moons of Jupiter, the player assumes the role of a bored space miner who takes part in robot competitions. You can choose four types of missions—race, sport, battle, and puzzle—and from there you launch into the console to make the type of automaton you think would best win under the given conditions. Now, I'm relatively smart, and I can grasp simple programming concepts, but even with a tutorial, Mind Rover left me scratching my head. This is not a simple matter of adding thrusters and cannons; Mind Rover is actually built on top of a programming language, and part of the challenge of the game is learning how to debug your programming by placing sensors and other detection devices to let you know what your robot does when something goes wrong.

But first, you must put together the basic of your robot, starting with the type of movement (hover, wheeled, or tracked) and the size of the chassis. Then you have to add the equipment you'll need (weapons for combat, fast engines for races), as well as sensors and radar and the like. You can even trick out your ride with lights and other nonessential equipment, but be careful how much you tack on; each chassis only has so many spots available for equipment, and if a
machine gun prevents you from adding the big engine you'll need for a racing scenario, it's back to the drawing board.

Actually, expect to spend a lot of time going back to the drawing board. Mind Rover is a game for people who think programming is fun. And it can be. Think of it in terms of a puzzle, only instead of giving the Green Wizard the Palace Key in order to get the Crystal Chalice to give to the Bog Troll, you're trying to figure out why your @#$%!-ing robot won't turn when it's supposed to! Which takes us to the heart of the game: programming. You can't just drop an engine and a machine gun in and go blasting, you have to hook everything up via wires and a programming language which is, get ready for this...an actual programming language. Now, when I was an eleven-year old dork, I would have been all over a game about programming robots. Nowadays, I'm more interested in watching robots destroy cities. Still, for the budding mad genius in your house, this may be heaven. Anyway, if you want to play Mind Rover, you'd better at least like the idea of programming, because 1.) that's where you'll spend most of your time and 2.) when the scenarios begin, you'll have no control over your robot.

That's right, they're completely autonomous in the field. You can set up logical processes that tell it to destroy enemies when they get into range, but you can't press the fire button yourself. You can make an argument that tells the sensors how to take a curve, but you won't hit the accelerator during the race--the onboard computer will. This is a game of trial and error. You send your machine out, it fails, you reprogram it to deal with the challenge it faces, it'll fail again in a different way, you reprogram it to deal with that, etc. etc. In a lot of ways it reminds me of the Olympics of the Mind challenges they had back in school; the point is to learn how to overcome the problem through trial and error. Those gamers who find two types of fire to be unreasonably complex should probably not even take Mind Rover out of its shrink wrap.

Graphically, the game is a little simple. It's got those simple vector graphics that people used to insist where incredibly realistic, before video cards got good and designers had to confess that, okay, maybe people's shoulders don't end in hard, ninety degree angles. Still, for a game about robots in space, it has a nice look about it. The console for building and programming is less than friendly, however—one of those things where you have to learn the way the interface is designed, rather than having it laid out in an intuitive manner.

Still, if you're looking for a fun way to learn about programming, here's your game. However, I'm not sure that I am looking for a fun way to learn about programming. Mind Rover is a deep and subtle game, a game that, for the most part, takes place in your head as you try to figure out why your 'bot did what it did, and how to correct your programming to solve the problem. For the people who dream of creating a robot, it's a godsend, but there's a reason why they don't make movies about programming robots, only about them going on rampages throughout cities.

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Bill's been using Macs since the late 80s. When he's not making smartass remarks to amuse Kirk Hiner, he enjoys fighting for the user.

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