I know that this will make me sound a bit sad in some people’s eyes, but I’ve always enjoyed playing and watching snooker. Sadly, when it comes to computer incarnations of the sport, many were… well, a bit rubbish.
Right from the early days of the 8 bit computers, people tried to create snooker games, both licensed and unlicensed. Whilst some were certainly better than others, none really captured the sport fully. The need to implement complex rules, the commonly used, but limited overhead perspective and the lack of computing power to implement proper ball physics all caused issues.
Then, as he has so often done, along came Archer MacLean with Jimmy White’s Whirlwind Snooker to show the world how it should be done.
Aside from the pack-in titles that came with my Amiga, this was the first game I bought for my lovely new 16 bit wonder. It might have aged a bit now, but graphically, it just blew me away at the time. Adopting an impressive 3D perspective, it was the first snooker game to really capture the sense of “being” the player. The 3D view made it easier to line up shots and control the movement of the balls. Things like potting angles become clearer to see and this, combined with a decent physics engine, made the game much more realistic. The option to view the table from multiple angles (or even to walk around it) gave you a better sense of the overall layout of the table and made proper break building possible for the first time. From being a game of hit and hope where you potted one ball and hoped to land on the next, computer snooker took a quantum leap forward. Now it was possible to plan and execute breaks or safety shots properly, and pulling off a great shot in the game felt just as satisfying as on a proper table.
The ball physics felt right. Previous iterations of the sport had tried to implement traditional snooker techniques like stun, screw or side, but didn’t do it very well. Applying them was fiddly and whether or not the balls did what you intended often appeared to be a matter of luck. Jimmy White’s Snooker got it spot on. If you thought things through and understood basic a few basic mathematical and physics principles, you could fairly confidently predict the outcome of a shot. Yes, it could still be fiddly – particularly when you were getting used to the controls – and getting it even slightly wrong could result in you running out of position. But that’s also true of the real-world game, so in that sense it was simply being a faithful simulation.
The control method (a combination of icons and mouse) initially looked daunting and confusing. However, they were logically set out and intuitive so you quickly got the hang of them. As with the real world, there was a difference between being able to use the controls and mastering them and this helped the game feel like a proper simulation. The more you played, the better you understood the nuances of the controls and the physics and so the more your skills improved.
At higher levels, the AI could be unfair, with the computer opponent pulling off outrageous shots that you would never, ever try on a real snooker table. This could be frustrating as you knew that one bad shot was likely to mean the end of the frame. Similarly, at lower levels, the computer would miss some really easy shots which, if you were also not very good, meant that frames could last a very long time. On the intermediate levels, though, it offered a decent challenge.
(If you want to see the computer at its most outrageous, press the F7, F4, F1 keys in sequence during a game. Return to the menu screen and you’ll have a new option to “Do a 147 Break”. Select this and sit back to watch the computer get a maximum break every time.)
If there was a weak point to the presentation, it was the sound. This was fairly minimal – some music, applause, cheers and whistles and an odd little “pop” sound when balls were potted. This latter divided some people: no matter how hard you potted a ball, the little “pop” always remained the same. Some people found this charming; I found it slightly unrealistic (which, given how realistic other game element were, was a little disappointing). Still, the rest of the game was of such top-notch quality that it was never going to affect my love for it.
The other annoying feature was the copy protection system. This was one of those games where you were referred to a specific page, paragraph and word in the manual and had to type it in. Get it wrong three times and the computer reset itself. OK, so it blocked casual pirates, but it was cumbersome and made legitimate buyers of the game like me feel like we were also being punished.
Like the sport itself, Jimmy White’s Whirlwind Snooker was never going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but the fact that it was such a best seller on the Amiga shows how it appealed well beyond the niche market of snooker fans. The top notch presentation, excellent gameplay and the Jimmy White name attracted a lot of people and, if you were prepared to invest a little time learning how to use it, it was an excellent adaptation of snooker. Little wonder that it sneaks into Lemon Amiga’s list of top 100 Amiga games.