Review of Stig of the Dump (Archimedes version)

Micro User October, 1990

Frank Jukes

[Note that the current Windows version of Stig is published by Topologika]

SHERSTON Software have an enviable and well deserved reputation for quality educational software and this version of Stig of the Dump for the BBC A3000 and Archimedes series will do nothing to harm that reputation.

Already available for some time on the BBC B, B+, Master and Compact, Stig has now been released for the Archimedes with improved graphics, a few changes to the adventure tasks and a significant increase in speed. The map and the words that are used are, however, identical.

The adventure comes on two discs. The first is a startup disc which cannot be copied but is used, as its name implies, to start the adventure before being removed and replaced by the user disc . This latter can, and for safety's sake should, be backed up.

This system means that the adventure may then be run on several machines at the same time, a typically thoughtful gesture by Sherston. It also means that games may be saved by differing groups of pupils on their own discs and so precious files are then safe from accidental - or otherwise - overwriting.

Aimed at children between 9 and 13 years of age, Stig of the Dump is intended to encourage them to read a text for meaning and for understanding. In other words, it is Information Technology's answer to the comprehension exercise.

The text in this case is the first three chapters of the long-time favourite, Stig of the Dump, by Clive King. With knowledge gained from these chapters, the pupils have to identify and then complete a series of tasks.

Unlike the traditional comprehension exercise, Stig doesn't stop there. As the excellent and very helpful Teacher's Book points out, the program develops other skills such as mapping which is essential when working on the program if progress is to be made at a sensible speed and provides opportunities for art, drama and written work of many kinds.

Just to prove the point and, no doubt, to bring a smile to many a harassed teacher's face, Sherston have included a flowchart based on the requirements of National Curriculum Science complete with attainment targets. This not a token gesture though - the suggestions it makes are wide ranging, offer first hand experiences for the children and are above all relevant to both the program and an integrated cross curriculum approach.

Opportunities to develop and extend information technology skills are also included. As Sherston point out, the pictures used in the program are standard sprite files suitable for use with an application such as !Paint or, for example, for use with 4mation's Jigsaw.

This means that for those who are feeling particularly adventurous it is possible to alter or even create new pictures to illustrate the various locations. I don't think much could be done to improve the massive screen which the children are presented with when they complete the adventure, but I am sure that it would be very impressive when loaded into Jigsaw.

The excellent graphics add another dimension to the story without at the same time detracting from it by discouraging children from using their imagination. They contain just enough information to work with the text in providing cues and clues and a great deal of thought must have gone into them.

What is interesting is the way that they add atmosphere to the adventure. It took me a while to realise how it was that the interior of Stig's shelter seemed to be dark and almost claustrophobic: The colours used in the border to the picture had been changed. I prefer to approach work such as this with mixed ability groups of preferably three and certainly no more than four children in sessions of about one hour. With this arrangement the problems in the game can be solved by upper juniors over a period of no more than two weeks.

Groups collaborating with each other would, of course, speed things up but although there are many positive whole class behavioural benefits from such collaboration and co-operation, much of the excitement and pleasure of discovery and problem solving is lost.

And it certainly generated a lot of excitement and pleasure even in the attempt to simply to fall over a cliff -Barney did it more easily in the book.

Working your way through at least part of the program is well worth the effort, and a lot of fun, and helps you to appreciate where the children may need help or where the book may need some explanation, especially when using it with younger children.

A full solution and a map are provided in the Teachers' Book for those who are unable to solve it for themselves for whatever reason...

Help is provided by entering HELP or HINT but it is fairly cryptic. For example, in response to HELP when in the pit early in the game the response is Where is Stig? Helpful, but not too helpful and just what is needed. It is also possible to provide help by printing out a list of words which the program understands. A careful look at the list when lost for an idea will sometimes provide a spark to a line of inquiry.

If you would like a closer look at Stig, Sherston Software run an excellent inspection service which allows you to have the software for 28 days before you need to make a decision. Alternatively, if you already have a BBC Micro or Master version and wish to run Stig on an Archimedes as well, for only £5 Sherston will supply a suitable copy. Excellent value.

Summing Up
I can recommend Stig of the Dump without hesitation. It may not stretch the Archimedes to its limits - and not much software comes close to doing that even on the Master - but it does provide a taste of its capabilities and uses its speed to present an educationally sound package well.