It becomes clear that a system, a habit or a routine is in place when
critiques of the perennial Chessmaster always begin with a few
diatribes. How do we justify the purchase of a fully priced Chessmaster
this year compared to the previous edition? Then the reviewers turn
towards the product feature sheet. What's added? Is the artificial
intelligence improved? Is it noticeable? I think the artificial
intelligence has progressed so much that a good majority of Chessmaster
players can't tell the difference. The final question always boils down
to: Whether it warrants purchasing. I don't think any other game has
caused critics to ask this question so much that game reviewers
themselves are turning into cynical Wall Street analysts. Where are the
profits? What's your guidance? Do you have positive cash flow? How
can you justify your share value?
Humor aside, Chessmaster has actually gotten friendlier with the years
to come. Nowadays, you can find a simple game of chess, even
multiplayer chess on casual gaming sites. Yahoo and MSN, for example,
feature parlor activities for new players. I know at least a few
non-gaming peers who take part in these and think it's a way to cool off
from a day's work. So why in the world would these people buy
Chessmaster? So they can be beaten in a few more million ways? Yes,
but Chessmaster 9000 also features a bundle of high points to turn any
casual player of chess into a pro.
Still, it can be intimidating. Chessmaster has a refined kids-look now
to cater to the young ones. You get to play with players of your own
age (if you were 8 or 10 years old) and the layout becomes a lot
simpler. For example, you won't be bogged down with the A3 to A2 type
of speak. There are also tutorials and quizzes to guide you through the
game. These are lengthy in nature. I believe one of the tutorials to
explain and test you on forming forks and defenses ran at least 170
dialogue pages (not actual pages but still) which are fully narrated.
The tutorials usually explain what the objective of the particular
lesson is and then follows it up by guiding you through a few set
matches. After that, they'll give you traps and puzzles from which you
are to make the correct move. It's good for a refresher but most
tutorials, even for simple things like capturing pawns en passant, run
at least twenty dialogue pages. So if you are prepared to go by the
book, you're going to commit some time to it.
The most productive way of learning, I found out, was just playing the
game itself. You can select from a variety of players and as you play
more games, you'll find out your true rating compared to the
professionals. Chessmaster will also pitch similarly classed players
against you but I found at every level, they were pretty smart; not
prone to make any overtly stupid moves. The piece de resistance of this
part is the fact that you can take back your moves anytime you want.
Chessmaster won't punish you for it. And, the game has aids to show a
lot of things to help you develop your game. You can have pieces that
are threatened turn slightly transparent. A blunder monitor lets you
know if you're about to expose your defense. It doesn't work
constantly, per se. I've had it not warn me about some very bad moves
but it keeps you on your toes. There's also a coach that'll constantly
give predictions and analyze a defined number of moves ahead (by default
it's ten) for you, so you can benefit from the artificial intelligence.
But these aids are all in chess notation, so if you're not comfortable
reading letters and numbers, you might want to try the analysis function
which takes a few seconds timeout to churn out an end-game strategy for
you. I'm not about to judge whether these strategies beat real
computers like Deep Blue (in fact, they rarely work out the way the
computer thinks it will) but I imagine it's doing something good if it
chews up about 50% of my CPU time while I idle.
Chessmaster includes a comprehensive glossary of opening moves and
defenses you can pull, organized by name. Savvy players can even search
its libraries by moves. The best resource by far for learning is the
classical library of chess matches included. It also happens to be the
strength of this game, in my humble opinion. A number of brilliant
matches from the 19th century up until last year are recorded here.
Each game begins with a little blurb on how the match was setup and what
its significance was to the world of chess. Chessmaster 9000 not only
replays these classics but also offers analysis at crucial junctions.
What if Kasparov did this instead of that against Deep Blue? How did
Kramnik beat Kasparov to dethrone one of greatest chess players of our
time? You can see it all play out and I only wished the chess mentor
could offer such advice at critical junctures in my own games but that
may be asking for too much.
Finally, Chessmaster 9000 plays its multiplayer over ubi.com, which
supervises all the ranked and tournament games. You can also play
directly over TCP/IP or LAN. Chessmaster's engine lets you save your
moves at any time, even dump your game to ASCII boards, so it's great
for people who need material to try to improve their game. But for
novices, you might be better sticking with the parlor players unless you
really want to improve your chess game.
I played Chessmaster when it was at 2000 on the Commodore 64. Back
then, companies and products were named 2000 to give a near futuristic
feel. Nowadays, 2000 sounds a little corny and out of date.
Chessmaster pegs itself at 9000 but it's not so far out in the future
that it revolutionizes the game of chess altogether. Chessmaster 9000
may use 3D but it hardly has any effect on the actual game itself, save
to add a few glossy reflections on the chess board. The thrill of
setting up your defense, matching your opponents and then launching the
first salvos towards bloodshed and attrition continues to be a thrilling
prospect. In its execution, Chessmaster 9000 has a dependable design on
a dependable engine. You can switch between the game types with ease
like webpages and the game runs fine in windowed mode, promoting casual
play. I like the fact that every time the game starts up, it has a new
puzzle for you to solve; like how to escape from imminent checkmate.
Incentive is given to existing owners through a $10 US rebate to knock the game's price tag to a fair $29.99 US and you have a very generous April 2003 time limit to apply for it. Though it may seem unspectacular, especially to wallet-conscious fans
who own Chessmaster 8000, it's a purchase that is not unlike buying top
of the line German cars; a BMW 750iL or a Mercedes-Benz S600. Yes, you
may be paying a little too much compared to an Audi or Volvo but you
will never go wrong with your purchase.