Product: Take Off With The Electron And BBC Micro
Publisher: Granada
Compatibility: BBC/Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #70

I've reviewed quite a few of Granada's companion discs in my time and by now, I expect to be disappointed. And, well, I was not disappointed in my expection to be disappointed with Take Off With The BBC & Electron. Perhaps the authors meant 'take off' in the sense of 'go away' rather than 'blast off' - the unengaging dross they came up with certainly inspired me to want to pack my little Elk into a bag and fling it off the nearest cliff!

You get eleven separate programs, all done in BASIC and most being about fifty or sixty lines long. Yes, you read that right - fifty or sixty lines in total. Perhaps it's forgivable in the context of the book which they were originally published in - because the book was squarely aimed at children who were complete beginners to programming. The book contains a lot of text describing exactly how the programs work, and encouraging the child to improve upon them.

The programs on the disc from Acorn Electron World come from the official companion cassette to the book which was available from Granada, dressed up with a niceish Mode 2 menu screen. This menu somewhat disguises the poor quality of the games themselves.

You do really start to wonder just how intrigued children would be by such simple fare as a database of birthdays or a pocket money distributor...? Young children need programs with good graphics and large sprites. The potential is there for such with games such as Stunt Car and Attack - but instead we get 8x8 CHR$ definitions and playability with as much pizazz as a wet weekend in Morecambe.

A limerick generator tries to demonstrate artificial intelligence but is nothing more than a collection of random sentences. The music maker tries to teach 'notes by ear' with a completely blank screen. And incredibly simple utilities reward the child who types them in with an exchange rate for pounds to French francs and metres to yards...! Finally we've got oddities like MET REPORT, which asks the player for a weather 'code' and explains what this code means in terms of actual weather. All the potential for graphics of clouds, rain, sunshine and wind is completely wasted in favour of text-only INPUT, PRINT and a few IF statements.

Perhaps the only point in this disc's favour (grasping at straws) is that the programs are error-trapped and a combination of Modes is used. The book is also easy to read and - generally - appropriate for the children it is aimed at. I have some real difficulties in understanding why, when the book is clearly aimed at absolute absolute beginners, we've got a game included in machine code (Attack, but don't get your hopes up about the game itself because it's pants!). Begrudingly I have to come back to my earlier observation that it is the authors' intention to have provided very basic games with the idea that their readers would improve upon them. It is the case that any changes made to them at all would be an improvement!

That said however, there are plenty of books that teach BASIC by including programs that are half decent. Phoenix's Brainteasers, for example, or the three books/discs from the PCW series all have nice, colourful games and programs which really thrill a person who types them in. No doubt the authors would argue that the idea of this book/disc is to keep the programs simple and therefore I am being overly critical by demanding too much of their simple programs.

This is, in some respects, valid. To be honest, I really cannot make up my mind if I am being far too critical of Take Off With The BBC & Electron simply because I have already had to endure the horrors of Adventure Games For The Electron and 40 Educational Games For The Electron. But I do think that all programs should require, for example, nice titles, nice layouts and some meat upon their bones. From everything I have seen from Granada so far, their programs do none of these.