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Subject: Kasparov Chessmate review

Author: Alastair Scott

Date: 04:12:45 07/12/03


I finally received this and installed it on PC (XP SP1a, Athlon XP 2800+) and
PalmOS (Zire 71).

The installation, on PC, is uneventful, but the PalmOS one is a bit odd; it
immediately declares what is on the CD-ROM out of date, goes off to Hexacto's
Web site and downloads an updated installer and an updated program file (version
1.0.9), That done, a Hotsync transfers the program across.

Advantages:

- Clean user interface, albeit not using Windows primitives;

- Good 2D and 3D appearance (three basic types; no frivolous pieces or boards);

- Ruffian shows its strength (albeit on a brand new machine);

- Neat method of selecting playing strength; you use a slider which goes from
'600' to '2300', although these 'gradings' are necessarily inexact and, as will
be seen, are way off beam with the PalmOS version. This trick is something other
PalmOS programs could profitably copy;

- Good integration with zone.com, although I haven't tried it much yet.

Disadvantages:

- Rather restricted options (no choice of playing style or opening book; no
user-defined time levels although those chosen by the programmers are sensible;
increment, when selected, is fixed at 3 seconds; no formal analysis, just
"Kasparov" kibitzing);

- Export and hotsync are rather opaque as PGN files, with a derived name,
"appear" in a directory without prompting for filename or any other warning;

- The old problem of selecting one piece immediately behind another on a 3D
board shows up once again.

The authors have made the PalmOS and PC versions functionally identical, apart
from some omissions which could never be squeezed onto a 160x160 screen; this
has entailed porting the user interface across to the handheld and giving it the
same structure and operation. Handheld and desktop user interfaces are
fundamentally different for a reason, and there is an awful lot of tapping
needed because this was not understood by the programmers.

Alas the PalmOS version is a sad letdown, and it's a pity Ruffian's good name is
attached to it. That it is associated with hexacto.com (who appeared to have
their heads screwed on the right way) is also unfortunate.

It is low-res only and has one board type, both of which are understandable, and
there are a couple of particular user interface awkwardnesses:

- pieces have to be dragged, as it is not possible to tap on start and end
squares;

- there is no way to get out of a game being played without it being saved, as
save is automatic whenever a game is completed.

There are two disastrous functional problems. The second is the playing
strength. The '2300' is, I would guess, 1700-1800 at best and, although the
program is 700KB, there are big holes in the opening book. I was surprised to
see that 1.b4 put it out of book, for example. The program also doesn't feel
like Ruffian; in 20 or more games I can't think of a single move which made me
think 'thus is the lion known by its claw' :)

The most serious problem is crashing. Once the program left open a mate in one
(!!), crashed as the mating move was being made and, on restarting, refused to
load so had to be removed and reinstalled; the second time it crashed at no
particularly meaningful time in a game and had to be removed and reinstalled
again.

I would like to have posted games but the remove and reinstall deleted them.
After the third crash there was no comeback; the program is staying permanently
off my Zire 71.

I feel many of these problems are down to a grotesque architectural error; the
games are stored in the PalmOS Saved Preference files. "Preferences" are not
"game records", and having such a file (theoretically) increase in size without
limit must at least be against PalmOS programming guidelines and possibly
contributed to the crashes.

My verdict is that the PC program is not bad although, if you don't want
impressive graphics, you might as well download Arena and Ruffian; the PalmOS
program should not even be installed until there are big changes. Richard Lang
and Christophe Theron got so much right first time, as it turned out.

Alastair



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