Chessmaster 9000, by Feral
Posted: 4-Jan-2008

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Feral Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Michael Murray Class: GAMES

Overview
Chessmaster 9000 is a comprehensive chess game that offers a lot from beginners to experts of all ages in the game of chess. This chess game is not a simple computer rendition of a board game, but instead it offers tutorials, artificially intelligent opponents, a personalized 3D environment, and even the chance to view famous historical games and study their moves. The last Mac version of Chessmaster was Chessmaster 6000, and after a gap of five years, Feral Interactive has brought the game back to the Mac platform in its latest incarnation as Chessmaster 9000.

Features

  • Enjoy and learn from more than 800 classic games, including the best of 2001 and 2002 Grand Master games.
  • Study the best opening moves and learn how to dominate the opponent sitting across from you.
  • New and improved chess engine that allows players to compete against more than 150 different opponents, from beginner to Grandmaster level.
  • New Psychology of Competition chess course taught by International Master Josh Waitzkin.
  • Play using a variety of online, multiplayer options, including rated chess games and high-speed "blitz" chess games.
  • Set up Tournaments to see how you would fare against famous historic chess players, or pit them against each other in a battle of wills.
  • Improved graphics, featuring more than 30 new chess sets and optional, true 3D gameplay.
  • New random opponents for greater replay value.
  • Improve your game with the new Blunder Alert feature that immediately notifies you of better moves when you move your pieces into danger.
  • Test your skills with the new Endgame Quiz from five-time US Chess Champion Larry Evans .
  • Jump right into a game with the new 'Quickstart' play or turn up the action with "speed chess".


Requirements

The following are requirements specified in the Chessmaster 9000 manual:

Minimum   Recommended
Mac OS 10.2   Mac OS 10.3
700 MHz   1GHz
256 Mb RAM   512 Mb RAM
16 Mb VRAM   16Mb VRAM
1.3 Gb HD   1.3 Gb HD
DVD Drive   DVD Drive
Keyboard   Keyboard
Mouse   Mouse

System Requirements

Review Setup

  • iMac Intel 17"
  • MAC OS 10.4.9
  • 1.83 GHz Core Duo
  • 1.5 Gb RAM
  • 128 Mb VRAM (Radeon X1600)
  • DVD-RW Drive


Setup
The installation of Chessmaster 9000 is a typical "drag and drop" routine. Once the folder is placed on the hard drive, all the files are loaded. The game is installed directly from a DVD, which is also needed for game play. There are two language options, French and English, for the installation to the hard drive. There is also a bonus 'Feral Extras' option that contains several other games made by Feral. The bonus application lets you browse the games through an animated interactive menu to view screenshots, trailers and load a demo version of each game to try it out.

After the installation, users with limited rights may need administrative support. I have experienced this with my kids account. However, I was only required to provide a password for the initial run.


Chessmaster 9000 Installation


Gameplay
To play the game, the DVD must first be inserted into the DVD drive before running the game itself. This takes some getting used to when almost all the games or applications I have do not require any discs to be in the drive. While selecting the Chessmaster icon without the DVD installed will not allow any actual gameplay, there is a good set of options where you may set the preferences for the game playing experience. The game itself begins with an inspiring video introduction showing chess played throughout time. Within the game itself, there are many choices on how to begin.

Settings
Before playing the game, you will want to check out the options. Among the options are video settings and the ability to control the behavior of iTunes and iChat while playing the game. The video settings were helpful when operating in a low resolution. The effect of the video setting was most notable in the introduction movie.


Video Options


iTunes and iChat Options


Once the game is started, a short movie begins showing two chess players playing a game while they are transformed from ancient times to the modern day.


Video Introduction

Once the short video is complete, you are presented with the main Chestmaster 9000 menu, providing several choices.


Chessmaster 9000 Main Menu


The first button (aka, "room") I tried was the Kid's Room. As a new user, it is necessary to create a user name with an experience rating to get started. This rating becomes important for the opponents the game chooses and the tutorials. The Kid's Room is a pretty neat place to start for any age, but of course it is designed for kids.


Playing Chess in the Kid's Room


The "Game Room" is a typical place to go. Once in this room, there are several ways to setup the game and atmosphere. Some of the options are the 3D vs. 2D view, the board, chess pieces, and opponent. There are a lot of options for choosing game board and game pieces.


Chessmaster Game Room


Selecting Chess Pieces and Chess Board

There are a couple of options for getting assistance for the new players. You can play through a chess tutorial as well as receive in-game training if desired. If a player simply needs advice every now and then, this is also available. The game appears to fit all ages. The age groups that played this game on my computer ranged from 7 to 36. This is possible because the game evaluates experience and age, and guides the player where to begin. The player is not just guided by a menu, but the game actually interacts with the player. There is a choice on how much interaction there is, but it is very nice to see the graphical highlight of the moves and hear the voice telling the player about the moves.

The gameplay varied depending on what opponent I chose to play against. Many players are already installed with the game to include their ratings and a brief summary of their strength and/or weakness. It is easy to pick the experience levels you want to choose from and the icons for each opponent are actual photos of them. Even the lowest levels of opponents are very easy to underestimate, so there appears to be a constant challenge. Some moves will cause the opponent to pause longer; which gives impression I am playing another person instead of a very quick computer. During the game, the game disallows an illegal move, and the game appears to try and determine if your illegal move needs explanation. In other words, when the game sees what looks like a "silly" move, a voice will calmly and briefly explain the chess piece limitation. By default, there are game timers, but the timers are also easy to adjust to your preference.

The video and graphics are nice. At a lower resolution desktop, I noticed degradable performance during gameplay. Thankfully, there are video options to help. This game is loaded with other options as well, ranging from different games to play to different ways to learn about chess. Despite the plethora of options, the menus and gameplay settings are intuitive and easy to find. Thus, the learning curve for this game is very low. For example, my young children had little trouble figuring out the game operation and how to customize it (if they desired to do so).

Advanced Features
As you may have guessed from the menu screen, there is the ability to play tournament games. This can be against actual tournament players that have their statistics loaded in the game. If you are really into the statistics, there is the ability to view a database of all the moves completed in other recorded tournaments.

If you are a chess historian, this game has a neat feature for you. In the library, there are classic games for review. What is unique about this is the fact that the game can be replayed within Chessmaster, complete with graphics and move announcements. I am sure this can be a great advantage to study strategy and moves of the great players in history.


Classic Chess Tournaments


Support
I had no normal technical difficulties, but there was a unique event that needed support. I had an issue with the DVD in the beginning. The issue was resolved, and although this was not Feral's fault, it did reveal delays in response. This is likely influenced by the fact that Feral is based in the UK. The email support was not a next-day response. However, the response time seemed adequate considering the time difference.

What is unique about Chessmaster 9000 is the built-in tool to generate a test report to send to Feral support when reporting a problem. I did look at this report and noticed many details about what is installed in my desktop. If you do not like revealing a lot of details about your Mac, you may not feel comfortable with this process.

Summary
Feral Chessmaster 9000 is a feature-rich computer chess game. Loaded with a great number of features for game pieces and game boards, game types, video options, and ways to learn chess, Chessmaster's interface is intuitive and still easy enough to use at any age. The installation is simple and the menus are friendly. The technical support is decent, but it could use a US office. For beginners, there are tutorials and several fun virtual rooms. For the hardcore players, there are enough tough computer opponents to make this game serve as a great tool for improving your game. Whether you have an interest in learning and/or improving chess skills, or just enjoy playing a challenging game of chess now and then, Chessmaster is a great game for Mac users of all ages and playing abilities.

Pros

  • Many options from the skill levels to configuring the environment
  • Well designed for learning chess and challenging
  • Appeals to a very broad age range
  • Intuitive and attractive graphical interface


Cons

  • Always requires the CD (or DVD) to be present when playing
  • Long distance technical support for US customers
  • Graphics instability at lower resolutions


Overall Rating

4 out of 5 Mice