Publisher: EDI Micro
Compatibility: BBC B, B+, Master 128 & Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #71

I find it very strange that the Acorn Electron was officially released in France. France has a computer history parallel to that of the United Kingdom, but it seems to me, and I freely admit I am an Englishman 'looking in', that France was much more focussed on the computer as a communications device than as a games machine. There are really big, extremely noticeable differences between English and French keyboards which endure to this day - we have QWERTY; they have AZERTY. We have a CAPS LOCK; they have a SHIFT-number system. And of course, they have extra letters - adding graves, acutes and circumflexes to some of their vowels.

Graphisme Et Sons Sur Electron (Graphics and Sounds on the Electron for non-French speakers!) is a compilation of seventeen French programs, the companion disc to the book of the same name - and perhaps one of the most obscure titles we've ever come across. Presumably the book was bundled with the French User Guide (Guide De L'Utilisateur) when those very few Electron setups were sold in France - perhaps it is fitting therefore that we are reviewing it in the very same EUG as the British equivalent Start Programming With The Electron.

This French book is a mixture of games and graphical demonstrations. Unlike the Dutch books available for the Electron, it is an original work, not a translation of an English book of the same name. Great news for collectors therefore because you certainly won't have seen these programs anywhere else.

The disc, which is fully menu-driven, and has a nice Mode 2 backdrop, presents the games first. My French is, despite some 3+ years of learning, not what it should be. Bataille Navale (a French version of Battleships) draws a grid and accepts co-ordinates during which you attempt to sink the Electron's fleet. Now, whilst this may demonstrate a simple game to budding French programmers, the curious omission of a player's own fleet (for the computer to retaliate against!) leaves this very unchallenging. The graphics are nothing special and there are so many separate battleships to find - Some only a single cell on the grid! - that you end up having to methodically plod through every last x and y co-ordinate.

Einvahisseurs (Invaders) is slighly better, a space invaders game in Mode 1 on a blue background. The action is a bit sluggish (the limitations of BASIC all too apparent!) and combined with the 8x8 uninspired character design this game is more cutesy than menacing. That said, there is something rather addictive about it and it keeps your score and is colourful enough to be the best of the bunch.

Poker is the same game in any language. This game helpfully displays the rules before it starts and won't let you bet more than 10 Francs (Oh yes, the Acorn Electron was released a long time before France converted to Euros!) on each bout. You quickly learn about two pairs, three of a kind and the different flushes. As you might imagine, it's poker in its simplest incarnation. You get dealt five cards and can discard up to three of them. You're not playing against any other players. You are just basically going to win a proportionally higher amount based on what you've got in the spectrum between nothing and a royal flush.

Tennis is a two player game (Yay!) based on the classic Ping. This BASIC version animates somewhat jerkily, and the ball always bounces off each bat, and the edges of the screen, at a 45 degree angle. Nevertheless, it remains as fun to play as it always will be. Again the authors have opted for a green background and very simple graphics. These serve the game well and do not distract either player from the reactive element.

Further down the menu comes a collection of demos. These mostly demonstrate graphical techniques with one sound demo thrown in for good measure! Caracters, by the way, is actually a CHR$ designer, not a demo. Anyway, the best of this collection comes in the three animations - which use colour switching to show a ripple effect, a spinning fireglobe and disco-lights blinking. The Surface Pleines (Filling Surfaces) demos show the effect of different PLOT commands as they fill simple shapes. There is also a wavy line (Sinusoide), some cubes and some courbes which will probably hold your attention for precisely half a second.

There's nothing really that's going to change the world on this disc. The strangest thing about the programs, to my mind though, is that all the character accents which many French vowels need have simply been dispensed with! It really wouldn't have been difficult to have VDU 23'ed them so that the text in the games read correctly, especially considering all the programs are written in BASIC. I had a quick scan through the book too to see if any instruction was even given to les gens francais on how to add accents; I would have thought such would be of utmost importance. But no, neither the User Guide nor this book presents any utility to allow them to use French characters in their programming.

To digress for a moment, this makes it seem incroyable Acorn had any faith that their Electron would gain a foothold in the French computer marketplace. It couldn't communicate via the telephone network (Most French computers could!), it had the English alphanumeric QWERTY keyboard (not the French AZERTY one) - and it even needed a special PAL-SECAM aereal converter to show colour pictures on a French television (which French computers didn't)! It couldn't display French letters "out of the box" - and no-one even thought to include a few lines of code to fix this! No wonder it failed very quickly in France.

To come back to this particular disc however, it is noteworthy that it is significantly better than Start Programming. The games demonstrate simple concepts, and the basic graphical and sound capabilities of the Electron are explored in some detail through the demos. Now all that's left for us to track down is the French version of the Introductory Cassette, if it exists...