Fixing date codes is no game, but one can help you prepare

The year 2000 problem is no game--except in this case.


Future Media's Uh-Oh, programmed like the text-based, dragon-chasing adventures made
famous by the now-defunct Infocom in the early 1980s, pits players against a different
kind of monster: the year 2000 software crisis.


Although federal employees are not supposed to play games at work, Uh-Oh is so precise
and so sprinkled with year 2000 information, that it is a potential training tool. It's
just a lot more fun than many other training packages.


You set out on the quest in the same way most federal workers start their day, sitting
in a cubicle surrounded by unfinished paperwork.


Things seem normal at first, but soon you see that you are the only employee who
comprehends the scope of the coming disaster.


You play the game through five phases of increasing difficulty. In Phase 1, you must
scan the office's computer equipment to determine which computers are year 2000-ready.


Then you must draft a report that will persuade the boss to do something about the
computers that aren't.


A suspicious receptionist, who controls the office printer, is just one of the
obstacles in completing Phase 1. Author Scott Covert's descriptions of water-cooler
gossip, outdated computer hardware and nasty interoffice politics come painfully close to
reality.


Phase 2 finds you back in your cubicle come Jan. 1, 2000. Technicians have just
certified your 386 notebook PC as year 2000-ready, destroying your e-mail program in the
process, but then the lights in the building go out because the local power plant
neglected to fix its date code.


You're forced to take intuitive action in a MacGyver sort of way. For example, you can
use the glow from your laptop's blue screen to navigate dark hallways and rescue people
stuck in the elevator.


This phase of the game is reminiscent of the old days of delving through the dungeons
of Zork, because the game refuses to provide any room descriptions unless a light source
is present. At least with Uh-Oh, players don't get eaten by a Grue.


But Uh-Oh is more than an adventure game. It puts you into realistic situations, such
as the one in Phase 4 that requires you to choose year 2000-ready products and supplies in
preparation for disaster. It's surprising how many common items might stop working because
of date code problems.


Uh-Oh quotes more than 50 real-life lawmakers, corporate officials and information
technology professionals on the scope of the software crisis.


One official, for example, complains that he had been interrupted during a speech by
audience members at a trade show who called the year 2000 problem "hype."


The game's interface is text-based. Navigation is easy; just type W for west or E for
east. Embedded help commands give hints if you get stuck somewhere with the lights out.


Players with text adventure game experience will have an edge over those new to the
genre.


Nobody will stay lost for long, however, and the difficulty level isn't too high.
Experienced gamers can solve Phase 1 puzzles in 30 minutes or less.


In that phase, getting the hard-hearted receptionist on your side is nearly as
difficult as assessing the scope of your date code problem. Those with extensive IT
experience will enjoy an edge--and understand more of the inside jokes.


You can download a trial version of the game free at http://www.successinformation.com/game.htm.
A full version of the program requires the purchase of a $10 password. Future Vision will
mail game maps to users who buy the full version.


The final phase of the game departs from the office environment to spin a what-if
scenario.


Fearing social anarchy, you buy a remote cabin and plan to hole up until things get
back on track. Unfortunately, even the remote hills are not safe.


You must use your wits, plus the 2000-ready items bought in the previous phase, to
survive a software-induced holocaust.


Uh-Oh educates players about the year 2000 in a fun, interactive way. The game
postulates a hard-to-believe breakdown of society, but it isn't too far afield about the
struggles of an unprepared government trying to play catch-up during a serious crisis.


The game brings back the text adventures of yesteryear, when programmers had to be
extra-clever because they couldn't fall back on snazzy graphics. It does justice to a real
problem.


Let the fun begin.


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