Tuesday, March 11, 2008


It's impossible to perfectly replicate a game of pool on the PC - enough complexity to satisfy someone who regularly plays the real thing inevitably results in an overly complex and thoroughly unwieldy set of controls. FooBillard manages to reach a near perfect balance, offering most of what you'd want in a game of pool but also offering simplified systems that allow for the best of both worlds.

This is not to say it's not occasionally clunky, although if you want to play without utilizing english or using the mouse to set the velocity of your shots, it's pretty streamlined. Rotate around the cue ball until the dotted line indicating the ball's path is where you want it to be, adjust the power via a slider bar, and hit the space-bar. Repeat.

If you want to add english to your shot, however, you've got to switch camera modes. Then hold down 'shift' while also holding down the right mouse button, and you can alter where the cue will strike the cue ball. It's not intuitive, but it becomes natural after just a few games.

If you prefer an analog system for making shots, you must be in the same camera mode. This time you hold down 'ctrl' and the left mouse button, moving the mouse down to pull back on the cue, and then back up, determining in the process how hard you strike the ball. It works well enough, but there's no way to aim the direction of shot in this camera mode, so you'll end up switching back and forth at the end of each shot, which is a bit of a drag.

Even that becomes second nature after a bit, and it's a good system, offering as much control as you could want if you're willing to take the time to adjust to it. Clunky systems of input have been around since Rogue, if not longer, and this is at least a case of a necessarily clunky system that has been streamlined as well as can be expected.

The physics are generally great, for the balls that the cue-ball hits, but the cue-ball itself doesn't seem to behave quite like they do in real life, after it impacts a ball. It sort of feels like it's not losing as much kinetic energy as it should in the impact, and bounces around a lot more than it should. I'm not an expert at pool, however, so it's possible I'm just imagining it. Either way, taking it into account wasn't a problem, and outside of that one quibble, everything has a very good feel to it.

The inevitable graphics paragraph: the graphics look nice, if not overly impressive. At 1024x768 in full-screen, with all the highest detail settings, it performed well on my machine but didn't seem to look quite as slick and perfect as BillardGL did. BillardGL was missing virtually all of the features necessary to make it a decent game, however, so any tiny points it gets for slightly better graphics don't matter in the long run.

There is no music, and the sound is just what you'd expect it to be. Clickin' and clackin' as the balls strike. No more, no less. Nothing more needed, or even expected, so all is well here.

Though I didn't test it, it features networked as well as local multiplayer. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the AI player to work, so it suffers a bit as a single-player game. The key to toggle between AI player and human player never seemed to change anything, nor did the 'AI shot suggestion' key, although pressing the latter did prevent me from actually making a shot. It's possible I just didn't understand how the system worked.

There are actually four pool games on offer in FooBillard: 8-ball, 9-ball, carombol, and snooker. I only played the former two, as I wasn't familiar with the latter games. One minor detail that was a bit odd: in 8-ball, it didn't always rack the balls properly.

Rather than having a solid at the top of the pyramid, it was often a striped ball, and sometimes it didn't follower the alternating-stripes-and-solids-around-the-perimeter rule, as a result. The eight was always in the proper spot, so I suppose it doesn't matter much in the long run, and it's possible that in Germany (where they do, in fact, spell the game 'billard') the rule is different.

FooBillard is unquestionably superior to BillardGL and very much a playable game. I had fun with it. It's pretty to look at, with a solid physics engine, and offers the flexibility of a fully-featured aiming system. Add in the network play, and this is definitely a viable option for those who wish to get their pool game on via some open-source software.

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