The Electronic Labyrinth


The oddly named Ntergaid began their forays into hypertext with the shareware program Black Magic (and Black Magic Pro). These products provided similar features to Dart, Orpheus, and HyperShell. Though still available on bulletin boards, Black Magic is no longer supported. We have chosen to focus on its commercial by-product, HyperWriter!.

Now at version 3.04, HyperWriter! provides support for mixed text and graphics in display modes up to SVGA. Sound, video, animation, and video disc media may all be accessed in the base package, currently $495. The support for navigation features is particularly strong. Boolean searches include proximity qualifiers, and may be saved to disk. The history list has no limit, and displays the amount of time spent in each node. Bookmarks may be named and user preferences saved. Tours and local maps are also supported.

The writing environment is the best of the DOS products, with block operations, a spell checker, macros, and full font and style support. HyperWriter! has developed from a page paradigm to include scrolling windows. However, the scroll bars look as though they were a late addition; aesthetically, they do not look one with the window. In addition, they do not support the mouse, though we received assurances from the company that this problem had been fixed for future versions.

Bi-directional reference, expansion, note, and command links are supported. Link attributes include name, author, creation date, and access rights. Best of all is the fact that this plethora of features is available without scripting. Indeed, HyperWriter! does not have an extension language.

Customization is available through the Utilities Kit (an additional $495), which we view as a necessary purchase for serious authoring. With this toolkit, one can develop an install routine, customize the context-sensitive help, create a hyperbook for CD-ROM, compress and encrypt data, create new fonts, and customize the anchor appearance (by colour, symbol, or attribute).

A royalty-free runtime is included with HyperWriter!. The Utilities Kit allows the customization of menus; authors can remove features they don't want readers to use.

ASCII, WordPerfect, and text tagged by Ventura Publisher may all be imported. An included tool can be used to generate an index. The separately available AutoLinker ($695) processes batches of files, automatically creating nodes, links, paragraph tags, and so on. Rather than develop their own scripting language, Ntergaid has wisely chosen to use AWK, a somewhat obscure though powerful pattern-matching language. The initial script is automatically created based on structural analysis of the input files. It may then be customized by the user. This impressive tool appears to be comparable to SmarText.

HyperWriter! is one product which deserves its self-congratulatory exclamation mark. It provides a rich feature set for those who don't require a full windowing environment. Other than a few annoying interface quirks, we found little to criticize. Performance is a bit lacklustre on an AT computer, but this is normal for a full graphics mode display. The thousand dollars necessary to buy the Developers' Bundle (HyperWriter! plus the Utilities Kit) is reasonable when one considers the free runtime.

Ntergaid have announced the imminent arrival of a Microsoft Windows version with the same features. Files will be compatible across platforms. We hope that the company will continue to actively support the DOS version.

2490 Black Rock Tpke
Suite 337
Fairfield, CT

Phone: 203-380-1280

© 1993-2000 Christopher Keep, Tim McLaughlin, Robin Parmar.
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