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Shot97
Detroit, MI, USA

The Word Master Vocabulary Builder

by Shot97 Tue May 10, 2016 2:25 pm

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The Word Master
Vocabulary Builder
For Grades 3-8
1987 – Unicorn Software

Many of my first and most cherished memories are from educational games on the Commodore Amiga. My dad bought the computer when I was two years old and I was watching him and my sister use it at that very age. I was still too young to be trusted with the more intricate games my father would play, but I was given plenty of opportunities to play educational games. Given my age at the time, these are not only some of my first memories of the Amiga; they are some of my first memories of life.

Word Master was one such game my memories hark back to when thinking of that time. It was released in 1987 by Unicorn Software, a company from Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. They seem to have specialized in educational games and released quite a few from 1986 to 1990, including a couple others I had. The original suggested retail price was $49.95 and required 512k of memory. I’m thinking this would have been an early game designed with the Amiga 500 in mind, as it came out of the box with 512k of memory. An Amiga 1000 would have needed an upgrade to play this game.

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^Advertisement In January 1988 Issue Of Amiga World

An advertisement I found in Amiga World (not the picture above) underlined the games use of speech. Indeed, this is one of many educational games which utilize the often underlooked built in speech synthesis the Amiga offered. I can tell you as a kid this feature was invaluable in keeping my attention. I wish others would give a more serious look at it, rather than the normal swearing they do with the Workbench utility Say.

Upon inserting the game you go through a couple title screens with a nice musical jingle, some very colorful screens, and the Amiga’s voice introducing the company and the game. Upon taking screenshots from my actual Amiga and looking at them in Deluxe Paint, the game has a resolution of 320x200 for all screens and features 32 colors. Based on the pallet of colors I’d say they didn’t utilize more than 20 or so on any given screen, as much of the final colors are various greys that were not used in the picture. They were definitely using more than the next lower color mode of 16 colors though, and every screen features a different pallet. Being an American game I will say this game was designed to be played in NTSC mode filling an entire 4:3 monitor, and would ask all to please consider this when playing it themselves.

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^Main Menu, Screenshot From Real Hardware

A scroll unfolds and you are given various choices: Placement Test, Master’s Review, Vocabulary Challenge, and Master’s Maze. Upon clicking an option you are asked if you want to use the original Word Master disk or a supplemental disk. I’ve noticed many of these educational games were some of the first ever games to offer expansions.

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^The Placement Test, CRT

Placement Test asks to select a level from 1-6 and then explains how you will be given a series of multiple choice questions to answer. The thought behind this is for the game to judge which level you need to be at to learn the most. You will be given a single word like “infinity” and you may click on “being without end”, “part of speech”, or “small particle”. This section lasts an ungodfully long amount of time. It’s like you’re taking an actual test in school. There is little fun to be had in this mode and I believe any kid would struggle keeping their sanity long enough to finish. Personally I went through as many as I could handle and then just kept clicking until the end. Once finished you will be given a score, a placement, and a recommendation.

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^The Master's Review, Screenshot From Actual Hardware

The Master’s Review will ask you to select a level of 1-6 and a word bank from 1-7 or a mixed mode. You will then be shown a nice picture of a mountain and given a single word with its definition. That’s it. It’s just meant for you to study the definitions of words. Thankfully it goes by much faster than the placement test. At the end your asked if you want to review the words (go back again), to print them, or to go the Vocabulary Challenge with those words.

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^The Vocabulary Challenge, Screenshot From Actual Hardware

The Vocabulary Challenge mode brings a few happy smirks to my face, as it’s a mode I remember using. You’re given a single word and asked to pick from 3 the correct meaning. The man present will give various looks of approval/disapproval upon selecting an answer. Unlike the placement test I do believe this tiny extra feature will help kids entertained. Once finished you’re given you right/wrong ratio and asked if you want to review the words you got incorrect.

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^The Master's Maze, CRT

Finally, The Master’s Maze. Again you will select a level and word bank before being taken to a Pac-Man like maze. This one mode are the bulk of my memories from this game. Both from watching my sister play and from playing it myself. It’s really the only bright spot in terms of now being an adult. You might be presented a question like “The general ordered a _____ of his best men to guard the building.” Inside the maze are all the various words that can be chosen. In this case you would navigate using your joystick to “legion” and would then be given a new sentence. I had fun with this mode as an adult just by thinking about various incorrect words I could put in the blanks to make it funnier. I actually had a lot of fun looking back on this mode and I believe it’s the best mode to help children learn and have fun at the same time.

The game was fun for me to take a look back on but it’s mostly from a nostalgia sense. I simply can’t recommend the game to any adult, as it’s mostly boring and would probably not offer any smiles for those that didn't play it as a kid. In terms of educational software for your children, I don’t really see anything bad about it. I’d be interested for anyone to sick this game on their kid in the modern age and see what their kid thinks.

An interesting final note is that buried on the game disks is a readme. It’s interesting because the game will automatically boot and even if you insert it in Workbench there are no icons on the disk. In order to see this you’d have to snoop around in the CLI/Shell. It gives various information about the game including some background on its creation: It was made using assembly language, Deluxe Paint for the graphics, and Applied Visions Future Sound for the sound elements.

Please check out my companion video review of Word Master here..

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^Readme File On Disk

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