Considering the success of previous Chessmaster programs, along with the rather fixed nature of the game of chess itself, one must ask how long Software Toolworks, or any other publisher for that matter, can continue to expect consumers to want to upgrade their chess programs. Software Toolwork's Chessmaster is currently up to 9000 series. One might wonder how much can a company add to previous Chessmasters? The answer for this and every incarnation of Chessmaster is - a lot.
What makes every edition worthwhile is its thorough updates to the underlying engine, as well as aesthetic improvements using the computer hardware then available on the market. Chessmaster 3000, for example, offered sharp smooth 256 VGA graphics along with Soundblaster/AdLib sound. There are the usual 2D and 3D displays, as well as some creative icons for those bored with the more traditional chess pieces. The documentation is complete and relatively comprehensive, as is now expected from the exceptional Chessmaster series. The user interface supports a mouse, keyboard and joystick.
In going beyond what was then on the market, Software Toolworks added a number of options that make Chessmaster 3000 truly impressive sequel. One departure from traditional chess programs is in the way computer opponents are presented. Chessmaster 3000 moves away from a strictly hierarchical series of difficulty levels and, instead, presents a number of distinct computer personalities. The inherent skill of these opponents ranges from very simple (Novice) to very difficult (Chessmaster). Between these extremes are fourteen personalities which have no obvious ranking. Some are modeled after great chess players of historical significance while others reflect a particular style of play. The skill each personality is controlled by setting the amount of time that the computer has to think, as well as the number of moves that attempts to plot out. Therefore, any of the personalities can adjusted to meet the level of the human player without altering their personality.
The addition of personality to computer opponents makes the game more enjoyable in both the short and long terms. In the long term, the ability to play repeatedly without encountering a similar strategy time and time again gives Chessmaster real durability in terms of keeping one's attention. In the short term, playing against distinct personalities is simply more entertaining. (Although it is definitely a greater blow: to one's ego to lose to an opponent named Woodpusher than to be defeated by one with the pseudonym of Chessmaster.) This feature made Chessmaster seem almost alive and added an exciting dimension to the game.
It is also possible to create new computer personalities from scratch. Players have the opportunity to set seven characteristics that determine how the opponent will play. For example, one can determine an opponent's: aggressiveness, knowledge of opening moves and ability to see and construct a series of moves. An opponent can also be directed to favor certain pieces over others or to favor positional advantages over the taking of pieces. While some players may be initially thrown off by the lack of an obvious set of difficulty levels, the depth and strength of the system will become clear once the computer personalities and the opponent creation option are fully explored.
One of the real strengths of Chesmaster 3000 is its utility as a learning program. Before playing, one can call up both introductory and advanced strategy tutorials, as well as a database of over 100 openings. This is an excellent way to introduce new players to the game using a hands on approach. New players will want to be familiar with the system of notation in use before attempting to use the tutorials. The war room feature is exceptional, and was included in every Chessmaster sequel since 3000. The war room will actually let you see how a computer plays chess. Your game will improve if you make good use the war room.
One great improvement over older chess programs is the addition of plain language in all aspects of communication between the player and the Chesmaster. While chess notation is still used (and a choice of five styles of notation is provided), the people at Software Toolworks seem to have made a concerted effort to explain as much as possible in user-friendly language (i.e. plain English).
During a game, a variety of different options are available to both assist play and further improve one's playing skills. At any given point Chessmaster can analyze positions, provide a series of advised moves and explain in plain language why a certain move is a sound course of action. Early in the game, this advice revolves around a standard opening and possible variants. However, once in the middle of the game, this analysis is based on the computer's logic alone. Chessmaster will also analyze moves already made for strengths and possible weaknesses.
In conclusion, Chessmaster 3000 is a most impressive upgrade of a generally sound chess system. The addition of plain language, both for notation and online advice, marks a significant step towards a completely accessible chess program. The emphasis on learning is also well done. 3000 was an exceptional chapter in the brilliant Chessmaster series.