teacher. mentor. ultimate annoyance.

I think there’s a fairly large population of people who like chess but aren’t very good. They want to play it more, but are ashamed to display their lack of skill, and therefore they play very little and don’t improve.

I am one of those people.

I picked up Chessmaster partially in an attempt to get myself to play more chess. I can’t say, yet, whether it’s been effective.

There’s some stuff I can say, though. For one, the interface stinks.

Now, mdxi asked me, when I said that, “How much can the interface on a chess game vary?” Well, on one hand, not much. When you’re actually playing, it’s simple: a pick-up/put-down button and the d-pad. That’s all you need for chess. There’s a little menu for taking moves back and so on, but there’s not much to it.

The problems happen in the rest of the stuff built into Chessmaster. See, Chessmaster can do lots of cool stuff. It’s got piles of tutorials and quizzes and exams and historical games. It can analyze your play. For playing chess against a machine, $0 is a great price for xboard and GNU Chess. I paid the twenty bucks for Chessmaster to get all this other nonsense.

Unfortunately, using it is a total pain in my ass. Text is displayed in small chunks in a hard-to-scroll box. Options are selected with the d-pad, which is cool, but if there are multiple columns, the left analog stick moves between them in an almost-predictable way. I had to quit my first quiz several times because I couldn’t figure out how to confirm that my move was over.

Text entry, which is only used rarely, is incredibly bad. It’s odd that this game, which uses so little text, is the first PS2 game to really make me wish for USB keyboard support. I had to enter several pieces of notation during one quiz, and it was tortue.

I feel like the game must be using the analog features of the face buttons, because often when I tap O or X, it doesn’t register. I need to really depress the button like I mean it. I could almost live with this, if it was an attempt to make sure I didn’t move pieces by accident. Unfortunately, it happens in the menus.

Speaking of moving pieces by accident, if you click in an empty space to which only one of your pieces can move, that piece is moved. If you click on a piece who can make only one move, that piece is moved. It sounds nice until you screw up and have to take moves back.

The graphics are fine. They look pleasant, and the pieces are all OK, too. There are quite a few boards and sets, but I’m really only interested in the classic two-dimensional figures. There’s a Battle Chess-like built-in, but it lacks that games charm.

I can’t say much, yet, about the actual chess. I know it’s sufficient to trounce me. I played one casual game and was mated in about 15. What I need to hope is that there exist opponants in the game who are capable of losing to me.

Written on June 4, 2003
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