Evolutionary Solutions Emerald Hunt 1.2.2
(Updated April 29, 2004)
(Updated June 13, 2007)
Its graphics aren't the greatest, its user interface can be annoying, it's even hazardous to your Pocket PC. So why do I like this game so much? Read on!
You can skip to any section of the review here.
The object of Emerald Hunt is to collect a specified number of (surprise!) emeralds (and, in more difficult levels, diamonds). You do this by moving your bulldozer around the board collecting them, while avoiding falling rocks, bombs, drowning and exploding bugs. Yes, I said exploding bugs. The screen below shows the game's Hardest level to give you a feel for the game.
A Typical Game Screen
In the above screen shot, you see most of the elements that make up the game. They are:
Your bulldozer - the little yellow tractor. To move your bulldozer, you touch the stylus on the screen in the direction you want the bulldozer to move (horizontally or vertically; diagonals are not allowed). For example, to make the bulldozer move up, tap the stylus above the bulldozer. If you hold the stylus down, the bulldozer will keep moving (until it reaches the stylus).
Emeralds - the green diamond-shaped objects. These are each worth one point.
Diamonds - the blue diamond-shaped objects. These are each worth five points, but can be crushed by items falling on them.
Dirt - the brown square with white speckles in them. Your bulldozer can clear these away.
Brick walls - the red walls with white mortar. These are indestructible.
Stone walls - the rounded gray walls with black mortar. Items that fall onto one of these will fall off to either side (unless the stone wall has something solid on either side of it).
Boulders - the gray egg-shaped items. Your bulldozer can push rocks from side to side, but not up or down, as long as nothing solid is next to the rock.
Water - the blue squares with the waves. Your bulldozer can push through these, but they don't disappear unless they get blown up. If your bulldozer is completely surrounded by anything other than open space, and at least one square is water, you will start using air. If you run out of air, you die.
Bombs - Red bombs with fuses. They will blow up if they fall and strike something solid. . It will blow up anything (except brick walls) in the immediately surrounding squares - including you. They will also blow up if something falls on top of them or blows up next to them.
Grenades - Green pineapple-style grenades. Grenades allow you to blow up obstacles (and, if you're good, bugs). To drop a grenade, you tap the Set Grenade button in the lower right corner below the game area. You have a short amount of time to move away from the grenade. Like bombs, they will blow up anything (except brick walls) in adjacent squares.
Air tanks - The orange tanks labeled "AIR". Each one will give you 20 units of air, which you'll need if you go under water. You start with 20 units of air at the start of any game started using the New menu.
Bugs - The blue bugs with red legs. These will move around the game area, but can't go through water or dirt. If one is in a square next to you, it will blow up, killing you. The only way to kill a bug is to drop a rock on it, drop a bomb next to it or drop a grenade that explodes when the bug moves next to it.
To the right of the menu bar, you see how many emeralds (or points) you need to win the game, how many grenades you have left and how much air you have left.
The game is supposedly similar to an old arcade game called Boulder Dash (although I have never seen it). It was created by Evolutionary Solutions and is available for both Palm OS and Pocket PC devices. Evolutionary is primarily a Palm developer, so the Palm version has more features than the Pocket PC version.
This review is of Version 1.2.2 of the game.
Setup consists of installing the program and registering it. I'll cover both of those in the next two sections.
Installing Emerald Hunt is pretty standard. You run the installation executable, and you'll see a dialog describing the game. After you read that, you'll get the license agreement. If you accept the license, you'll get the standard Add/Remove Programs dialog. Once you do the usual steps, the game is ready to play.
Emerald Hunt will take about 91 KB of storage memory. Running the game will take about 184 KB of program memory.
You can start playing the game for free, but every new game will have a countdown nag dialog before the game starts.
Unregistered Nag Dialog
To register, just choose the About... action in the File menu and enter your registration key. After registering, the About dialog will show that the game has been registered successfully. Both versions of the About dialog are shown below.
Unregistered About Dialog
Registered About Dialog
When you start, you'll see the splash screen shown below.
The New menu starts a new game with a difficulty level that you select. The screen shot below shows the menu.
The New Menu
There are five difficulty levels:
Easy - The only obstacles are bombs and falling rocks (and any grenades you may be silly enough to stay next to). You only have to pick up enough emeralds to win.
Medium - The same as Easy, but with water added.
Hard - The same as Medium, but with diamonds added. If you crush more than one diamond, you won't be able to win.
Harder - The same as Hard, but with exploding bugs added.
Hardest - The same as Harder, but with more water or bugs (although I can't really be sure).
The File menu contains options that you usually won't use. The screen shot below shows the menu.
The File Menu
Load Game... allows you to load a specific game. You have to download the optional level editor and create a new level to use this. I tried the level editor, and it looks pretty interesting. It even includes two new game items -- a laser square that disintegrates anything that goes through it and a "cheese" square that grows like bacteria.
Unfortunately, the levels created don't seem compatible with the Pocket PC. You can save them as Palm PDB files or text files, but the Pocket PC version of Emerald Hunt doesn't seem to support either. When I select Load Game, I get an error saying, "This feature is not yet implemented".
About... shows you brief information about Evolutionary Solutions and whether you are registered or not. The About dialog was shown in the Registration section.
To exit the game, you can tap on the "X" to the right of the menu bar.
NOTE: This "X" will disappear during game play, and won't display again unless you tap there.
During installation, a dialog is displayed describing the game. There is no in-game help file, which is a major lack if somebody new is playing the game on your Pocket PC. The help file should describe the various levels and items.
You can buy Emerald Hunt from Evolutionary Solutions Web site. Go to the Emerald Hunt product page and download the version you want. Once you've done that, it's ready to install.
If you like the game and want to register it, you can click on Purchase and you'll be E-mailed a registration code. The game costs $12.00.
Problems are features that don't work as described, crashes or hangs, confusing user interface elements, problems in the documentation or help or anything that detracts from using the program. Suggestions are for features that work as described but could be better or new features that the program could implement. These will be covered in the next two sections.
I found several minor problems in Emerald Hunt, but no real bugs (other than those that wander around the game).
Your bulldozer's starting position is not very smart. This is by far the worst problem in the game. You'll often get started right next to a bug, which blows up and kills you right away. Sometimes you'll get placed under a bomb or in a position where it's not possible to move. This becomes even more annoying if you're playing unregistered with the nag dialog, because you have to wait again.
Winning or losing conditions seem be checked at the wrong point. There are times when the game says that you died, but visually it doesn't look like it.
For example, there are times you think you just avoided a bug or just got out of the water before drowning, but you die. With a bug, you'll see the explosion in all the squares around the bug, and your tractor is drawn one square away from that.
Also, if there is an emerald or diamond next to a bug that will win the game for you, the game allows you to get that gem and credits you with a win, even though you end up right next to a bug.
Reminders firing during the game can cause a problem. Normally, when the game loses focus, it pauses; when you return to the game, it resumes. The one time this doesn't happen is if you're moving your tractor and a reminder fires. After you clear the reminder, your tractor resumes moving in the direction it was going before the reminder popped up, even if your stylus isn't on the screen; you have to tap somewhere to stop it. It seems like the game doesn't know that it lost focus and still thinks the stylus is down.
The program only appears to have a large icon (like the one you see when you're viewing a folder); there doesn't seem to be a small icon. This normally isn't too bad, because in the Start Menu and File Explorer, you'll see the upper-left quarter of the icon. However, on my iPAQ 3870, if I use iTask while the game is running, the full icon is displayed, and can cover up part of the program below it. Also, if you put Emerald Hunt in the Launcher of SnoopSoft's Dashboard, the program two spaces to the right gets the bottom-left corner of the Emerald Hunt icon instead of its own icon. To illustrate these problems, the following two screen shots should help.
Big Icon in iTask
Bad Dashboard Icon (#6 should be Inbox)
In Windows Mobile 2003 on my iPAQ 5550, no icon is displayed in iTask.
The close button shown in the splash screen gets covered up during game play by the counter showing how much air you have remaining.
There are several things I would suggest to improve the game.
Support the directional pad; the latest version on the Palm OS supports the Tungsten's d-pad and all Pocket PCs have had d-pads. Having to use the stylus isn't always the most accurate way to move. I can't tell you how many times I've died because I accidentally moved the wrong way.
Support the Load Game... action on the Pocket PC. Even if PDB files can't be supported, the text file produced by the level editor could probably be parsed.
There should be a way to restart the current game. If you die because you moved the wrong way thanks to the stylus reading, you can't replay that game. Perhaps that could even be extended to allow entering a game number (or starting seed) similar to how FreeCell works.
Provide a method to see where you are (and where bugs are). The game doesn't make it obvious where you are on the board. There have been times that I thought I was at the edge, only to find out that I wasn't. A simple border (like a one-pixel red line) on edge pieces would make it obvious where edges were.
Even better would be a mini-map (or radar) showing the board, your position and maybe the position of any bugs. There have been many times that I've moved into the path of a bug near the edge of the screen.
I realize that there's not much room for a mini-map or radar, though; perhaps it could be included near the Set Grenade button. If that area is too small to show where the bugs are, it could at least give you an idea of where your tractor was on the overall game board.
Add support for statistics. I'd like to see how many times I've played each level, how many times I've won and the most points I've gotten on a win.
A help file would be useful to describe the various levels and items. The only place the game is described is during installation, when a dialog is displayed describing the game.
Improve the menu system. Unlike most Pocket PC programs, the menu bar is at the top of the screen; it probably should be moved to the bottom, along with the status display.
Also, the menu actions should be changed. File should be the left-most menu, and should probably include the Exit action (although that technically conflicts with the Pocket PC UI guidelines). The New menu should probably be called Start and be to the right of the File menu.
Allow configuring the game a bit. The program should allow you to set the starting amount of air and number of grenades you get. There could even be an option for completing the game in a certain amount of time.
The grenade option is especially important, because you always start with none, and sometimes you won't find any in the game. If you happen to need one, you're out of luck. The game always starts you with 20 units of air, so asking for a grenade doesn't seem unreasonable.
Game over messages aren't very descriptive. If you lose, you just get the dialog shown below.
Lost Game Screen
It would be better if the message would tell you why you lost, because it's not always obvious. You could be blown up by a bug, grenade or bomb; killed by something falling on you; or you could run out of air.
If you win, your reward is just the following:
Winning Game Screen
No fireworks, no excitement, nothing. In fact, sometimes when I'm playing and win, I think I've lost because the sound is the same as the Sorry dialog.
Detect situations where the user can't win and give a message. There are two conditions where it is impossible to win that aren't caught.
The first is when you don't have enough emeralds and diamonds left to win (typically if emeralds or diamonds get blown up or diamonds get crushed). The game should give you a message telling you that you can't win, because there's not much point in continuing to play. There should at least be an option to control whether you keep playing or not in this case.
The second condition is harder to catch, and I don't fault Evolutionary for this one. If you're trapped in an area that you can't get out of, or the only emeralds and diamonds left are surrounded by brick walls (or any solid objects if you're out of grenades), you can't win. Detecting that would require a complex algorithm to find that there is no possible path for you to take that would get you any more points.
Add multi-player support. The Palm OS version has competitive and deathmatch play via IR. Supporting Bluetooth would be even better, but that's probably asking for too much.
Of all those suggestions, though, only the first really detracts from the game.
Despite the problems mentioned above, I love this game and play it many times a day. I used to play it on my Sharp Mobilon Handheld PC, and, when I got my iPAQ, I was disappointed to find that there wasn't a Pocket PC version. I wrote Evolutionary and asked them about one, and the author worked with me to create one. That's great support.
You may be wondering why I said it was hazardous to your Pocket PC at the start of this review. Well, when I played this on my Mobilon, I played it so much that the stylus wore tracks in the screen. Worse, the screen eventually cracked. My Mobilon still works, but I have to use keyboard shortcuts for almost everything; the screen rarely registers any taps. You can see my testimonial for Emerald Hunt describing how I cracked my screen playing the game on its Web page. So, if you get this game, I would definitely recommend using a screen protector.
If I rated the game on the typical five-star scale, I'd give it 4.5 stars. If they fix the bad starting position problem and implement most of my suggestions (especially the first four), I'd give it 5 stars.
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