Hypercircuit (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

I've been a bit stuck for things to write about lately.  Not that I haven't got lots of possible subjects; it's just that it's been hard to gather my focus sufficiently to nail something down.  And I've been dipping in and out of a number of games, enjoying playing them but not really giving them enough time to justify writing about them.

Mmmm, look at all those lovely points to be had...

Lately, I've been mulling over the idea of writing a retro book.  I've had some good feedback about the idea, too.  That's added a bit of a spring to my step, and this write-up has really come about as a result of that.  While I was pulling together all my thoughts, ideas and plans and read a few old ZZAP! 64 magazines, I realised that I had never played Chris Butler's Hypercircuit.  And so, I decided to put that right.

Hypercircuit was Chris Butler's first Commodore 64 game.  A follow-up to a game he'd programmed on the BBC called Transistor's Revenge, it saw you miniaturised and placed inside a Commodore 64, using a tiny fighter craft to destroy marauding enemies that are intent on damaging the computer's circuit boards.  How dare they?

Am I awesome, or what?

You can't just go rampaging wherever you like in your quest, though... that would cause more harm than good.  Instead, you have to manoeuvre your way around using the wiring on the circuit board.  You have to be careful, though, as those dangerous enemies could lurk around any corner...

So, Hypercircuit is a shoot 'em up, then.  It's presented in classic arcade fashion, with your enemies and their points values set out on the title screen.  And although the gameplay is nothing like it, it's clearly inspired (at least in part) by Defender in the way its bad guys behave.  If you're going to borrow from something, borrow from the best.

Things that need to be shot.

It's not a bad little game, when all is said and done.  It has a few little problems; the screen size is too small, the music gets annoying, there are times when you'll be trundling around a seemingly empty level.  Oh, and it's a bit predictable.  But it's still quite enjoyable to play, in the chase for a high score.  That said, it was improved and refined immeasurably for Chris Butler's next game, Z.  Still, it was a nice introduction to the C64 for Chris Butler, who would go on to have a very interesting career on the machine...

R.I.P. Jack Tramiel

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , ,

When I was a teenager, nothing in this world mattered more to me than my Commodore 64. School became something that just got in the way of my game time. My heroes were not rock stars, or film stars... they were the reviewers at ZZAP! 64, still the best computer magazine of all time. Or the programmers who made such awesome games: Andrew Braybrook; Jeff Minter; Archer MacLean; the guys at Sensible Software; even musician Rob Hubbard. The Commodore 64 has meant more to me than any other possession I have owned. It's part of my soul.

I didn't spare a thought as to how that Commodore 64 ended up in my possession, save for the fact my parents had bought me it for Christmas (which, whether they knew it or not, made them the most awesome people on the planet that Christmas Day). I certainly didn't think for a moment about the people who had designed and manufactured the thing. Why would I? I didn't want a job with them. I just wanted to play games.

I never had any interest in programming, as such. I think that's always been beyond me. Still, the Commodore 64 was the first machine that inspired me to so much as dabble. The first such instance was probably much the same as yours. I'd go into Boots with my mates, and there's be a few computers running in their display. We'd sidle up to the Commodore 64 and type:

20 GOTO 10 

And once we hit the Enter key, the message would infinitely scroll down the screen, and we'd run out of the shop laughing, hoping to avoid a clip from the security guard.

Later, inspired by the ZZAP! lads, I actually programmed, using much the same instructions as the infamous Boots message, an entire catalogue of reviews of the games I owned. I separated them by genre and wrote reviews in the ZZAP! style, with the same categories of ratings and my own personal comments. Somewhere, in a north-east landfill, lies a Boots C15 cassette with that program on it.

Since those days, I've always fancied being a games writer. It's why I love writing for Way of the Rodent, and it's why I've got this blog. I even have thoughts of writing a book about computer games. And it all stems from owning the Commodore 64.

The main man behind the Commodore 64 was Jack Tramiel, and he died this weekend. The videogaming world owes him an awful lot, as do I.

Kikstart 2 (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

Wooooo! Kick Start! Peter Purves and a load of dirty schoolkids, what fun! Erm... hang on a minute...

Actually, that's not what I'm here to talk about. Instead, I'm going to talk about Mastertronic's classic Commodore 64 game, Kikstart 2.

Brmmm, brmmm, look at me go! Oh, wait... is that you finishing?

But why, you might be asking, am I not going to talk about the first Kikstart game? Well, to be honest, I hated it. I played it a few times, and I was absolutely sick of seeing my rider lie flat and fall to the ground with that "Weeeeooooooooo" noise. SO. IRRITATING!

For some reason, though, I gave Kikstart 2 a good go, and I did actually get into it. It was like Dropzone for me, in that regard, in that I repeatedly went back to a game that routinely kicked my arse and eventually got the better of it.

Fire + bike full of fuel = not finishing the race.

Kikstart 2, then, is a motorbike trials game. You're given a multitude of courses to choose from, and you must select five to race over, Your times are added together at the end, and the competitor with the fastest combined time wins.

Sounds simple, but it is a trials game as well as a race game, which means that setting any kind of competitive time is far from straightforward. You can't just zoom across every obstacle at top speed. You have to figure each one out and take it appropriately, whether that's by wheeling, jumping, or going fast or slow. It's not just a trial, it's trial-and-error.

You shouldn't lose your head when racing.

Once you learn how to take each obstacle, you can focus on putting some decent times on the board. But with twenty-four courses to blunder through, there's a lot of learning and falling to be done. Even if you manage to master them all, there's a contruction kit for unlimited kikstarting. And of course, there's the split-screen two-player mode for added fun.

The Kikstart games paved the way for tons of other games, right up to current daddies like Trials HD. I have to say, I absolutely hate Trials. I couldn't even get past the tutorial in it. I find all those games to be too much like puzzle games, rather than racers. That makes it all the stranger that I like Kikstart 2. It was a great game then, and it hasn't really lost anything in all these years.

Budget Day 2012.

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

Hello everyone, and welcome to Budget Day 2012! The house is in session, once again!

Yes, carrying on from last year and therefore possibly making this an annual event, I've taken the day off work to write about 8-bit budget games. And what are these things, you might ask, if you're less than thirty years old and weren't here last year? Well, back in the Eighties you had a couple of price tiers for games. Full-priced games generally sold for between £7.95 and £9.99. Budget games were aimed at taking your pocket money, and cost £1.99 or £2.99.

At first, the budget market relied solely on efforts from bedroom programmers, buying them up cheaply and hoping to make a killing. And this, they often did. But after a while, when the market was much larger, companies that specialised in budget releases would buy up older games and re-release them at budget prices.

It was a good strategy, giving older games a new lease of life as young gamers that hadn't been able to afford games first time around bolstered their collections. The bigger companies, such as Ocean and U.S. Gold, even set up their own budget companies to reissue their own oldies.

I must have owned tons of budget games in my time, both original games and re-releases. For this exercise, though, I intend to focus solely on originals if possible. There was a certain spirit and charm to many budget games that was often lacking in full-priced efforts, even if the games weren't all that good. I'm going to play some games that were favourites of mine in the past, and some that I've never played before. Hopefully it'll be fun, and will keep our minds distracted from that other Budget that's going on today.

On the sixth day of Christmas, A Gamer Forever Voyaging gave to me... six Vs a-slaying.

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

Hey! Whaddya know? I'm revisiting another game! And this time, it's the rather wonderful VVVVVV.

I've actually written about this twice before... the first time was on 28th March 2010, which was when I first played the game. Wow. Was it really as long ago as that? The second time was when it made it into my top 10 games of 2010. It really is that good.

Because it's Christmas, I'll be nice and not show any spikes.

There's not much I can say about VVVVVV that I haven't said in those two earlier posts. Run around a spaceship full of spikes to try and rescue your crew. You can't jump, though. You can flip gravity, which is your jumping alternative. And you'll die a lot. That's the game, right there.

As if it didn't sound old-school-awesome enough, it's very Commodore 64-ish in style, so if you had a beige breadbin in your youth and don't own this game already (and are a Steam user), post a link to this giveaway somewhere, then post in here telling me where you've done the deed. That'll give you a chance to win the magnificent VVVVVV!

Have I Still Got It? Number 1 - The Human Race (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

I've been asked many times if I'd incorporate video into my blog, and I've always thought that it's a good idea in principle, as long as it fits in OK. I've added a few representative gameplay videos lately... I think this is a good idea, although they aren't getting a lot of views. I still think it's better to have them than not... I won't be commentating on them, I prefer to do that through the writing. But sometimes, watching a game in action can be a better memory jog for someone. So they're staying, although I might try and find ways to make them more interesting (all suggestions welcome!).

Another idea I had was to start a new series, called Have I Still Got It?, where I play a game I used to love and be really good at many years ago, and see if I've still got the skillz. I figure that might be a slightly more interesting angle, although I doubt, given my time constraints, that I'll be doing it on a regular basis!

The first game I'm having a go at for this feature is one I've written about before... The Human Race.

I'm not going to go into the game too much... I did that last time. I used to play it so much though... mostly because each level had its own astonishing Rob Hubbard tune. I couldn't get enough of them, and the only way to really listen to them properly was to play the game, and I suppose that was what spurred me on. It got to the point where I could easily complete the game on a single life, which goes to show how often I played it just for that music!

The game itself was a good un, to my mind, and well worth the £1.99, even though it only had five screens. But almost everybody else I've talked to and that knows about the game seems to think it's really difficult! That being the case, it seemed like the ideal candidate for an experimental feature. But the question is... have I still got it? Well, watch the video and find out!

The Human Race - have I still got it?

Morpheus (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

Ambition. It's what drives so many people on. Ambition to be bigger, better, faster stronger. The ambition to do what has never been done before. The ambition to create what has never been created before. Or, perhaps, to refine something into the best it's ever been.

Andrew Braybrook's ambition led him back to the cold black of space for his next game - a game more epic than anything he'd attempted before. A game called Morpheus.

And we're off!

Alleykat hadn't really gone down as well as Braybrook's prior games... it was well-received, certainly, but not spectacularly so. It might have been nice to just be allowed to plug away at the next game, but that wasn't to happen... Morpheus became the feature of ZZAP! 64's Diary of a Game. I don't know how that came about... maybe both parties harkened back to Birth of a Paradroid and hoped that lightning would strike twice. It was certainly possible with such an undoubtedly talented programmer...

You can read the Diary of a Game in HTML format here, via the excellent DEF Guide to ZZAP! 64 site. It's also available in scanned format from the site's front page.

Get it! Get it! Oh, hang on... that's the wrong one.

The diary ambled along for eight months... that's a long time for the development of a Commodore 64 game. It makes for tortured reading at times... there were long periods where AB wasn't sure what he wanted in the game, couldn't come up with enemy designs, had to break from the game foran eye operation, had to break from the game to work on new versions of old games... it's almost a wonder that Morpheus was released at all. And maybe it wasn't... throughout the length of the diary, this was going to be a Hewson game, but it ended up being released by Rainbird.

So, it was hardly a smooth path that Morpheus trod. In such cases, the end product can often be a disappointment. It's difficult to say whether that was the case with Morpheus... I suppose it depends on what you wanted from the game.

Haha, yeah, you wish. It'll take ages before you've earned enough to buy this bad boy.

Morpheus is a space shoot 'em up. But just hold it right there before you go rushing in willy-nilly to wipe out wave after wave of attacking space craft. This game isn't like that at all.

It's a knocking bet that your first game of Morpheus will end in confusion and death. Your ship exits the docking station, which fades away as you enter the vastness of space. Then you blunder around, bumping into creatures indigenous to the area, which will bump into you and shoot you. Then you encounter a pulsing star, which will bombard you with bullets. If you're lucky, you will "de-mat" back to the docking station. There, you will see that you don't have enough money to buy anything, so you'll exit the docking station, and this time you will die.

Red scanner at night - space pilot's delight. That means you've shut down the nucleus.

Then you'll notice that you don't lose the credits you've accumulated. Morpheus is not quite the cruel mistress she appears to be... in storing your credits after you die, you can at least give yourself a sporting chance of getting somewhere. It might take a few games and a bit of time, but eventually you'll have the funds to commission yourself a new unit of some description.

Customisation of your ship is one of Morpheus' strong suits... to a degree. There's a large number of upgrades to choose from... if you have the cash, you can treat yourself to a new, bigger hull (essential if you want to get anywhere, as it can carry more upgrades), and other goodies such as weapons, energy supplies, radar, shields, etc. You might need to experiment a little to find the upgrades that work best for you. It's a very deep system, and it's handled in a very interesting way.

There you go, your first upgrade. Now your path will be clearer...

The upgrades don't work the way of most games, where you might find them floating around and pick them up, or you might go to a shop and buy them. In Morpheus, you must commission a new system (this, of course, is dependent on funds and the availability of a space on your ship for installation). Once a part is commissioned, you'll have to wait for it to be ready. You'll have to fly back into space and do battle for a while, and hope the mechanics will have finished working when you get back.

I like this aspect of the game. In this world of instant gratification, it's refreshing to play something where you have to really earn every upgrade. On the other hand, it doesn't make the game any more accessible, and in my time with it this time around, I never did manage to get a hull upgrade. But this isn't a straightforward arcade shoot 'em up, as the programmer takes great pains to point out.

Oh, bollocks. That didn't last long. What a waste of a grand!

Morpheus has fifty levels, or "timeslices". Getting through them all would be a real challenge... or maybe a chore, depending on your viewpoint. Each timeslice has a positive and negative phase, which you can alternate between depending on how much positive charge you're carrying. It kind of reminds me of the Entropy system in Jeff Minter's Iridis Alpha, but I don't think it's implemented as successfully. Unlike that game, in Morpheus, I never quite knew where I was or how the positive and negative was really working.

I think that Morpheus suffers from being too ambitious. Too ambitious for its time, and the technology of the day. Once you start adding stuff to your ship, especially hulls, everything starts to feel cramped. Even at its smallest, your ship takes up a lot of the screen, and it's easy to just blunder into everything willy-nilly. Of course, adding other units helps to compensate for this, but not entirely. I think that a remade version, taking advantage of today's widescreen tellies and higher resolutions, could really be something. As it was, Morpheus was a game for those with extremely high patience and the love of a stern challenge. It's more likely to appeal to the sort of person that liked Elite, Citadel or Hunter's Moon, which I think might have been the idea while the game was in production. But this one is very much an acquired taste.

Alleykat (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

Uridium was a huge success. Commodore 64 owners lapped up the slick blaster, and with good reason. It was as close to an arcade game as they had seen at that point, looking and sounding spectacular and offering a great and enjoyable challenge.

Talking of challenges... how was Andrew Braybrook going to follow up his latest mega-hit? It must have been tempting to go with another straight shooter, but that wasn't the Braybrook way. Instead, he went with a racing game... with a twist.

Free, you say? Loves a bargain, me.

The game was called Alleykat, and was again set way into the future. This time, though, there were no Dreadnoughts in sight. Alleykat is set squarely on terra firma... well, maybe not terra firma, as this game sees you playing the role of a pilot in an intergalactic racing league.

The league takes place over the course of a year, with each month hosting a number of events. You're able to enter just one of these events per month, and your ability to do so depends on how much cash you've got. When you start out you're skint, as you've spunked all your cash on your racer... luckily the first race of the season is free to enter.

Yeah, just drop me off here mate, I'll be alright.

If you scroll down the calendar, you'll notice that you can peruse each event ahead of time. This is handy, because it means you can pick and choose your career. And you'll want to, because you'll develop your own style and favourite types of races and tracks, and you'll also learn which tracks to avoid...

Different events might range from Time Trial to Demolition to Dodge'em, with more besides. Each title states the obvious, so from that you can work out what you fancy getting up to, and choose accordingly. That's not to say you'll necessarily have an easy time of it from cherry-picking your favourites, though...

Beware the Cater-Killer...

Each type of race has an objective, as specified by its race type. So, obviously, in a Demolition race you'll score more highly for destroying all the scenery; in a Time Trial you'll score more highly for finishing quickly, etc. You can add to your score though, by destroying the hostile craft that patrol the racetracks. They're really thrown in as a distraction from your main objective, though, because unless you're racing on a Demolition track, you're not going to want to break off from what you're concentrating on. And you especially won't want to do that on a Dodg'em course... very dangerous.

Finishing the race will earn you prize money, which is essential to the continuation of your career. As I mentioned earlier, you'll need funds to enter the later, more prestigious events. If you fail to complete a race, you'll get nowt. You can just about afford this early on, but later races cost more to enter, so if you crash, your season is pretty much finished. It does look amazing when you crash though. Small consolation. It might be worth keeping an eye on the track as you race... small amounts of credits are strewn around, waiting to be picked up... another distraction, but it can be worth the effort.

Save the rainforest! No, wait... destroy the rainforest!

This all sounds pretty great... so what's wrong with it? Sadly, the racing itself is flawed. In many of the races, you can simply move to the right, blast everything in your path for an entire lap, and then hightail it outta there at top speed for the rest of the race. This doesn't necessarily serve you for the best in a Demolition race, but it'll get you to the end intact, winning you the money you need to progress. There's not enough of a feeling of threat or danger. The Dodg'ems are more difficult and you'll need a good deal of skill to get through them, but you can just, erm, dodg'em if you want and choose easier races.

I have to say, though... for all Alleykat is a little less-well regarded than earlier Braybrook games, I really enjoyed re-acquainting myself with it. It's not as good a game as the three that came before it, of that there is no doubt. The flaws in this one are a bit bigger and slightly more damaging, but there's still some good fun to be had. The variety of choice as you play through the game and the high score potential combine to keep things relatively fresh, even if you have a session lasting a couple of hours.

Here I go, way too faa-a-aaast, don't slow down I'm gonna craa-a-aaash. Oh... I did.

I actually think that Alleykat was a game ahead of its time. It's a really good idea that was hampered by the limitations of technology. Being a vertical scroller is the obvious orientation for a racer, but with the tracks being so cluttered you're forced to play the game "wrong". As I write this, I'm envisioning a 3D, into-the-screen racer. It could even have the same graphic style, albeit fancied-up with today's technology, but you'd have a better chance of playing it properly on all stages, and it could be really good fun. As it was, Alleykat was a pretty decent game, although many would say it marked the beginning of a slippery slope...

Uridium (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

I doubt that Andrew Braybrook had time to rest on his laurels, or even to really celebrate the success of Paradroid. In those days, time was most definitely money... although you didn't realise it as a thirteen-year-old, the Commodore 64 (and all comparable systems of the era) were saddled with a ticking time-bomb known as shelf-life, and as soon as the next generation of technology became available and affordable, the money to be made on current machines would dwindle dramatically. If you had a big hit, you had to strike while the iron was hot and write another one.

Breathe in... aaaaaand relax.

Braybrook had had a massive hit with Paradroid, so it would be imperative to capitalise on that and get a hot new game out there as soon as possible. He decided to mine a similar vein and set his next game around massive Dreadnought spaceships... but rather than being inside them, you were attacking them from the outside in an arcade space blaster. It was called Uridium.

The game sees our solar system under attack from a fleet of giant Dreadnoughts, and we can't have that. So off you go in your nimble little space fighter to go and bring the blighters down. Each ship is named after a metallic element, getting progressively more valuable (and difficult!) as you go on. The ships are long but narrow, with superstructures causing difficulty in navigating from one end to the other.

Mine! Mine! Mine!

Also making things difficult are the enemy attack ships which fly in to defend each Dreadnought. These things are highly efficient and well-drilled, keeping tight formations in an attempt to bring your little mission to a swift end. This can be their downfall, too... you can obliterate entire formations with just a few blasts. But some of those buggers are really fast and nasty. Luckily your ship is very manouevrable, and a quick flip can see you dodging bullets and heading out of trouble.

As if these dangers weren't enough, there are little portals all over the Dreadnoughts, and if you hang around these for too long, they will release homing mines. Possibly even more dangerous than the craft that shoot at you, these things will chase you around meaning evasive action is imperative. That's all very well if you've got some open space, but if there are any structures nearby, you're in real trouble...

I love... goooooold. The look of it, the smell of it, the texture...

Reach the end of a Dreadnought and survive long enough, and a siren will blare, alerting you that you can "Land now!" If you manage this (not necessarily as easy as it sounds... I've often been blown to pieces before I could hit the runway), then you get to land and set off the destruct sequence. Awesome! All you do, though, is play a quick bonus game for extra points, and then you're outta there, completing a fly-by back to the front of the ship... and watching it dissolve underneath you. You'll then be whisked off to tackle the next, more difficult ship...

Uridium is another game that gave my Zipstik a severe working-over when I was younger. Unfortunately, once the game loads up and the excellent title tune starts, memories come flooding back... of my mate Neil Steadman, dancing stupidly to the music in his bedroom. Some things, once they are seen, can never be unseen...

Phew, it's boiling!

Childhood tortures aside, Uridium is quite literally a blast. You can fire more bullets in this game than almost any other Commodore 64 game, as long as you've got a trigger finger that's up to the task. It's hard to say you'll need them... attack waves are fairly small and well spread out. But there are some vicious bastards in there, so wiping them out as quickly as possible can be quite advantageous, seeing that it's probably the difference between life and death...

A large part of the game, though, does not involve shooting. The Dreadnoughts, you see, are very cleverly designed, getting more and more difficult to navigate the further you progress. It's really important that you memorise each ship's layout if you want to weave your way to the end at speed. When you reach a new one, for the first few goes you have to tiptoe your way through, which is a real problem when you're being assaulted by deadly attack ships. After a few games, though, you start to zip around with more confidence, and it's a real thrill to shoot through a tight gap and onto the runway, with a squadron of enemy fighters on your tail.

Hey, don't go blowing that up, it's platinum! It's worth a fortune!

It's fair to say that Uridium is a mite repetitive, but you could say that about most arcade shooters. What's important is how well it plays, how it feels to play. And Uridium feels really good. There's not much to it... there are no extra weapons to discover, and little new from ship one to ship fifteen. It just gets harder, and challenges you to get better, and it remains enjoyable all the way. It's not perfect... it can be a touch annoying, for instance, having to hwait around for the "Land Now" signal (although this would be rectified a couple of years later...), but it is damn good, it looks fantastic and is certainly one of the best arcade-style shoot 'em ups on the Commodore 64.

Gribbly's Day Out (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , ,

With his toe dipped well and truly into the blue and cyan waters of the Commodore 64, Andrew Braybrook followed up the conversion of Steve Turner's Lunattack by coming up with his own creation, named Gribbly's Day Out. Great. But who or what the hell is Gribbly?

Gribbly (or Gribbly Grobbly, to give him/it his/its full name) is a Blabgorian. That is, a creature from Blabgor. Glad that's clear. Gribbly is a green creature, with no arms and one giant foot. He's not a handsome chap by our standards, but I'm sure on Blabgor he's something of a stunner.

Awww... look at de widdwe baby Gribblets...

Alright, enough of the silliness. Gribbly's Day Out sees you playing the titular monopod in babysitting mode, as eight baby Gribblets find themselves strewn about the Blabgorian landscape. That wouldn't be so bad, but Blabgor is a fairly hostile place, fraught with danger for the little Gribblets, and so Gribbly must collect them all and put them in a safe zone, so they can enjoy their day out without fear of death or kidnap.

Boing, boing... the web can't hurt you when you're in Bounce mode.

Kidnap? What kind of place is this? Well, it's a place of evolution. Although the creatures that inhabit each level start out as simple beings, they evolve into more complex (and dangerous) entities the longer you hang around. And to complete their cycle, they just happen to need Gribblets...

Come back with my baby!

It's very clever, the game's eco-system. If you're quick or observant enough, you can wipe out critters at certain stages of their development, which gives you more time to pick up the Gribblets and get them to safety. If you're not quick enough and a Flyer makes off with a Gribblet, you can still save it... if you're good enough.

Gribbly Grobbly fires bubbles, which (as mentioned before) can destroy certain creatures. One of those creatures is the Flyer, but if you drop it you'll have to catch the Gribblet in mid-air to save it! This will take some tricky manoeuvring on your part... the number of times I've frantically overshot a falling Gribblet, sometimes twice on the same fall, only to see it land safely on some flat ground can't be counted on the toes of one Gribbly Grobbly. Of course, if it doesn't land on flat ground, the consequences don't bear thinking about.

What a lovely place for Gribblets to play! As long as they don't fall in the pool...

This still sounds fairly easy, but you haven't got clear skies to idly roam around. For one, there is an electrified web on each level. This can be deactivated and reactivated easily, using the switches that are handily positioned around the area. But what the hell is an electrified web doing around a kiddies' play area? Well, it's there to contain Seon, the 6809 Beast...

Ah, he's just sitting there, I'll be alright...

I think that Seon is one of the most frightening bosses I've ever encountered. I would go so far as to say he's the Commodore 64 equivalent of Sinistar. He sits there, trapped, as you trundle about, happily collecting Gribblets and putting them into their playpen... until there's only one left, at which point the web completely deactivates. Seon is then free to come at you at speed, and he will. And if you're off-guard, then you're going to get a shock as he ploughs into you, crackling with anger, reducing your health to nothing at a stroke.

Aaaaargh! Ouch! Seon attacks, and Gribbly's precious energy is sapped.

What really makes Gribbly's Day Out work, and what makes it so good, is the control method. The game is a joy to play. There's a tricky inertia at work when Gribbly is flying, and if you're not careful you can find yourself ricocheting between obstacles in an energy-depleting rebound of doom. Once you get the hang of it, though, you can make seamless transitions from flying to bouncing, whizzing about the environment as though you've lived there your whole life. It's very satisfying indeed, never more so than pulling off a spectacular mid-air Gribblet rescue in the nick of time.

There may be grey skies, but it's still pretty.

And yet, even though you're soon patrolling the skies with the grace of a Spitfire... well, maybe a Sopwith Camel... the game never becomes easy. The clever progression system (you advance between one and three levels once you complete the level you're on, depending on how well you did) ensures that you're always on your toes. And even though you may be good at it, it's still very easy for one mistake to cause you real problems.

Gribbly's Day Out is an excellent game. It's really well balanced, enjoyable and challenging even by today's standards. It's one of those games that I'll fire up every now and then for a quick blast, and I usually end up spending an hour or more on it, trying to get further than the last time. There are sixteen levels... I've never seen them all, and I probably never will. But I can't see the time coming when I'll stop trying.

Lunattack (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , ,

And so it's on to Andrew Braybrook's Commodore 64 games, starting at the beginning (a very good place to start, so I hear) with Lunattack. Known as 3D Lunattack on the ZX Spectrum, it was the third in an ongoing series on that machine. When it came to the Commodore 64, it was the first and only entry.

It's been quite difficult to fill this post out. There's a severe lack of information on the internet regarding this game. There's not a single cover/box shot for the Commodore 64 version, and I can't find instructions anywhere. So I've pretty much had to wing it, which is fine... I do that quite often anyway, but I do like to do at least a bit of preparation before I start.

Ugh! What the hell is that? Blast it, quick!

Lunattack sees you piloting a craft above the surface of the moon, in an attempt to destroy the base of the evil Seiddab (if you're among the uninitiated, read that backwards...). It sounds easy enough, but as is always the way, they've had the evil sense to defend this base with an array of deadly weaponry. You're going to have to fight your way through that lot before getting to your main target.

Now, I didn't have a clue what I was doing, and I was probably doing it wrong anyway, so it's difficult to go into the game in any great detail. I read a couple of reviews of the Spectrum version that said it was like Battlezone. I don't think that's entirely accurate, although obviously there are elements of that game here. For instance, although you're flying, you always remain at the same height. This does open up the ability to attack both ground and air units, though. If you can find them, that is...

Tanks at two o'clock!

At times, Lunattack seems like a terribly barren game. You might strafe your way through a tank battalion, and then go for minutes without finding anything at all, other than the odd rock to avoid. Or rather, that's how it will seem until you discover the game's map screen...

Yes, by accidentally pressing the F1 key I found out that your game doesn't just randomly generate some stuff to throw at you if it can be bothered... there's a proper structure to things. Not only that, but the map is massive. And I didn't work out what all the symbols mean for ages, either...

Now, let's see... left at the purple skull... right at the mountain range... no, it's no use. We're lost.

There are plenty of different zones to fly through, with one nice touch being that you can see Earth in the distance if you're flying in the right direction. Some zones will set off a frightening alarm as they cause your hull to overheat... if you don't cool it down quickly, the ship will be destroyed. Others will be filled with tanks, rocks or flying "things", all of which must be either destroyed or avoided if you want to reach the Seiddab base.

If you've ever played an Andrew Braybrook game, you'll know that the presentation is usually excellent. And that's how it is with Lunattack, if you show a bit of patience. Rather than rushing straight into the game, if you let the opening sequence run for a while you'll get a bit of backstory and an explanation of the map's symbols and the game's scoring system. There's also an options screen where you can change your starting stage and level. If only I'd done that when I'd first loaded the game, rather than a couple of hours later...

Kapow! A missile finds its mark. There's lots more where that came from, too.

Lunattack appears to be much more epic than I'd originally thought. I should really have known better. I played it for about two hours and had a high score of 120... now I'm pushing forward and in danger of breaking 1,000. What's more, I want to. Discovering new games is cool... discovering hidden depths within those games is cooler still. I wouldn't say it's a stone cold classic... at least not yet. But it shows the promise that would be fulfilled in future games...

Andrew Braybrook - a quick C64 history.

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , , ,

A while ago (a good while... sorry!), I ran a poll to decide what I should write about next, in series form. I've left it up... it's to the right there. As you'll see, the reading public decided that I should write about Andrew Braybrook's Commodore 64 games. Now, I've had a fair few distractions since then, but I'm moving on with that right now, so buckle up and get ready for a classic Commodore ride.

As is the case with a lot of my articles, I did some research on Andrew Braybrook before I started writing this. I knew a fair bit already... of course I did, he was one of the Commodore 64's biggest celebrities back in the day. I thought he'd written more Commodore 64 games than he actually had... although some of them were rewrites and upgrades. I still haven't decided whether or not to include those yet...

It turns out that I've never played Andrew's first or last Commodore 64 games. That gives me something extra to look forward to over the coming days... for while it's nice to revisit well-loved classics, it's embarking on a voyage of discovery that really makes this exciting for me.

The man himself! Responsible for about 30% of my worst homework assignments...

There was almost always an air of excitement around a new Braybrook game. The first one I followed excitedly was Paradroid, courtesy of ZZAP! 64's "Diary of a Game - The Birth of a Paradroid". You can read that here, at the rather splendid 'Def Guide to ZZAP! 64' website. I didn't even have a Commodore 64 at the time, although friends did, and I would often be found at one of their houses, marvelling at this amazing machine.

Little did I know at the time, but I'd already played an Andrew Braybrook game while I was reading this diary - his Gribbly's Day Out was a favourite from those snatched afternoons. The strange infant-collecting platformer was already renowned as something of a minor classic, and was an indicator of things to come from the programmer...

Paradroid, of course, blazed onto the scene with a fanfare and a shower of awards, and accusations of favouritism in certain quarters... but it really set out Braybrook's stall as a top-notch programmer, not just technically but as someone who could write amazing games. This was reiterated with the release of Uridium, one of the finest arcade shoot 'em ups on the 8-bits not just on its release, but in their entire lifespan.

Andrew released just three more original games on the C64... once its natural life was reaching an end, he started moving toward the more powerful machines. Alleykat was a space racer with guns... which was probably only partially successful. The massive, sprawling space epic Morpheus followed, and then his time on the 64 ended with something of a whimper, with the puzzle game, Intensity.

There's lots to look forward to there, especially if I include any of the Special Edition updates. But first it's back to the beginning, with a game I suspect few of us have played before... Lunattack.

Back to the Future (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , ,

The clocks went forward this morning, but in reality we went back... Back... To The Future!


Still, what better way to use a tenuous link for an impromptu piece of blogging? And with that settled in my mind, I loaded up Back to the Future, on the Commodore 64.

Isn't he a dreamboat?

The Back to the Future game follows the plot of the film, to a degree, in that you're stuck in Hill Valley in 1955, and you need to get your parents-to-be together and get the hell out of then. Naturally, this involves picking up objects and using them in the right places. Yes.

It's not that hard to figure out the puzzles in Back to the Future... there are only five locations, and five items to be used. Even if some of them are a bit obscure... why, for instance, does the radiation suit make Lorraine stand still?... the permutations are so few that you should have it sussed in little time.

Why don't you make like a tree, and get outta here?

To make it more difficult, your time in the game depends upon the photo of your family remaining intact. In effect, this is your energy level, and it has two levels in itself. The photo of Marty decays more quickly... when it is gone, a piece will decay from the family photo. When that one's gone, you're outta time.

That doesn't sound too harsh, but every time you bump into Lorraine, the photos will decay like there's no tomorrow (which, conincidentally, there won't be if you don't complete the game). And as there are so few locations, she's there all the bloody time. It doesn't help that Biff will knock you on your arse every so often, and while you're sitting there, Lorraine is usually standing fawning over you, draining your life all the while.

Jesus, George, it's a wonder I was even born.

You can replenish your photo, though. If you should successfully use an object in the right place on the right person, that'll help. If you can get George and Lorraine to the dance hall and use the guitar, they'll have a little dance and you'll get some energy back. Hurrah!

It all sounds kinda cute, and all, but... it's rubbish. The graphics are horrible, and don't give you any kind of feeling of being in the movie. The lack of locations is a major detriment to longevity with the game, especially seeing as they're all right next to each other. The characters themselves trudge about, looking as though they wished their time was up. And the music, which could have been a high point, consists of a couple of ropey renditions of the film's songs.

The Enchantment Under The Sea Dance! Of course!

If there's a movie tie-in game that Back to the Future reminds me of, it's... E.T. What? Yep... think about it. You have a huge film, but with no obvious gameplay aspects. The game has hardly any locations to visit, and very few characters from the film. The characters in the game are very blocky and barely recognisable. A couple of the characters are huge nuisances that spoil your game for you. You could easily be reading about either E.T. or Back to the Future here. And E.T. is not a great template to use for your film tie-in game. I would hardly say that Back to the Future is a waste of potential, because it would have been hard to make a decent game out of it, but this one makes you wish that the Libyans had got Marty as well.

Zybex (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

Remember an arcade game called Side Arms? It was a horizontally-scrolling shoot 'em up for one or two players, where you flew fellas in suits across the landscape blasting all and sundry, and collecting bolt-on power-ups to upgrade your weaponry. It was an alright blaster, if nothing special.

Hey! Didn't I see you in Delta?

The Commodore 64 version, though, was a bit rubbish. And then, from out of nowhere and from an unassuming little budget software house, came a game called Zybex. It was the first release from Zeppelin Games, and it was a hell of a way to announce their arrival.

Zybex is a one or (simultaneous!) two-player game that sees you blasting your way across sixteen worlds. You always begin your game on the first world, Arcturus, but if you can get to the end, you can choose any of the levels from two to twelve in any order. It's an excellent progression system, and it almost guarantees that you won't get bored. You can also spend a bit of time figuring out a preferred route... it's likely that you'll find some worlds easier than others.

Aargh! UFOs! Kill them all!

A horizontally-scrolling shoot 'em up would be nothing without extra weapons though, and Zybex has plenty. Shooting certain enemies will release these weapons, five in total, and picking up more than one will increase the power of that weapon. Again, it's a great system, with some weapons working better on some enemies, meaning you'll need to switch on the fly, or you can develop your own playing style. Careful though... if you die, you'll lose a power level from the weapon you were using at the time...

This world is called Diablos. Oddly, it's not that difficult.

As you progress, you'll need to keep an eye out, as the only way you can access levels thirteen to sixteen is by collecting tokens that can be found throughout the levels. They're not that difficult to spot, they look totally different from anything else in the game.

Zybex is a tough game, but a really fun one. Even unlocking one of the later levels takes a heck of a lot of doing, but you'll have a good time trying. Again, this is a game I owned and loved back in the day, and it didn't disappoint when I played it again. Another tremendous bargain at £1.99.

Chiller (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , ,

Here's a game that I remember a mate owning but that I never played, simply because I didn't have a Commodore 64 then. It must have been one of Mastertronic's earlier C64 games, and it was programmed by the Darling Brothers, who went on to become Codemasters...

Coz this is Chiller... Chiller night... what?

Apparently they weren't code masters when they programmed this... the emulator version spends a lot of time slagging them off for releasing a broken game that was impossible to complete, and goes into detail about how the cracker had to rewrite the game to make it doable!

It's typical early-years Commodore 64 fare... a simple platformer split into a few screens, where you have to collect everything on one screen in order to progress to the next. You can actually tell it's pretty much a bridge from the Vic 20 or C-16 to the C64. And if you haven't guessed, it's loosely (cough!) based on Michael Jackson's Thriller video...

This film must be rubbish, there's nobody here!

Chiller a very colourful game... almost too colourful... but it's not exactly thrilling, being a fairly slow-moving effort where you just wait for things to pass before collecting the crosses you need. You do have an energy limit which forces some urgency, but completing the task at hand is not really much fun. Still, in those early days I'm sure it kept a fair few people happy for their £1.99.

The Human Race (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

The Human Race is a game that I bought on a whim one day, played to death and loved... only to find that hardly anybody else seems to have heard of it!

Based upon the evolution of man, it's a five-screen game that mixes up a few game styles as you aim to progress from dopey caveman to stylin' sophisticate. There are many obstacles in the way, from dinosaurs early on (yeah, OK), to massive lava-spewing volcanos, crocodiles, giant spiders and finally Fate himself.

Level two, and it's getting a bit hot underfoot...

Each screen was quite difficult in its own right, but once you'd worked it out it was likely that you'd complete it nine times out of ten (although the final level, the race against Fate, was a bit trickier). Graphically it was a bit of a mixed bag, although still quite nice for a budget game. The music, though, was amazing. There was a different Rob Hubbard tune for every screen, and each one was absolutely superb and well-suited to the level.

If I saw a spider that big, I wouldn't make it until tomorrow, never mind another 25,000 years.

With no ZZAP! 64 review of this game, I'm not sure what prompted me to buy it, but I never regretted it. I completed it loads of times, and kept enjoying it, although a large part of playing it again and again was to listen to the music. Funnily enough, though, any time I've asked anyone else to play it, they've found it incredibly difficult and hated it. Even the person that cracked it for use with an emulator built in a scrolling message saying the game is rubbish and far too hard!

Level five, the race against Fate. I really don't see what's so tricky.

I'm not having that, and I'm going to share the love a bit today. For me, The Human Race kept me entertained for the entire life of my C64 and beyond. I know it's not the best game ever, I wouldn't claim that, but I've always enjoyed it and for me it was a fantastic use of £1.99, It's a game that I still fire up now and again, even today. And I still manage to complete it.

Action Biker (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

I reckon that if you ever played Action Biker back in the day, then you can still hum or whistle the music. Altogether now: do-dee-dooo, do-do-dee-doooo...

Lovely, catchy little tune aside, Action Biker (subtitled Clumsy Colin after a marketing deal with KP Skips!) saw you riding a motorbike around town with no real objective other than to pick up an item before time ran out. The quicker you found the next item the higher your score, providing the only real incentive to get a move on.

The last item picked up was a crash helmet. Just as well, if you're going to go dicking around on a building site...

Some of the items would prove useful in extending your game, such as a bigger fuel tank, and you could get items such as turbo boost which could help you complete the race course more quickly. And there were some memorable locations to explore, such as the building site or rollercoaster.

Action Biker was a great Sunday afternoon game, very chilled out and relaxed as you pootled around town. There was no great sense of urgency, even though you had a limitation on your fuel, and the laid-back soundtrack contributed further to that. It never got the heart racing, but Action Biker always left you with a little smile on your face.

I, Ball (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

"I, Ball! I-I-I-I, Ball! I, Ball!"

I just about shit myself the first time I loaded this game and it shouted that at me. They could have put some kind of warning in the instructions or on the loading screen, or something. I'm sure it just said "Music and FX by Rob Hubbard".

It's an odd game, this one. I, Ball's family has been captured by the evil Terry Ball (groan) and I, who managed to escape, is in a hurry to get them back. What follows is something of a race against time, with guns!

GIANT ENEMY CRAB! Well, sort of.

You have to whizz up the screen before time runs out on the level. Making this more difficult are the peculiar obstacles in your way... some are merely that, whereas others are radioactive and deadly to the touch. You just bounce off the ordinary obstacles, but this can cause enough of a problem... bouncing into a deadly obstacle or enemy is not nice!

There are loads of constantly respawning enemies, although it's a few seconds before they become active and therefore threatening. It's best to shoot them at this point, but you have to be careful because your lasers can overheat. To help you out, discs can be picked up along the way, and these can contain all manner of impressive weaponry.

Taste the rainbow of fruit flavours, y'bastards.

With sixteen levels, lots of blasting action and a great Rob Hubbard soundtrack, I,Ball was well worth the £1.99 at the time. I enjoyed playing it again now... there are some niggles, with the collision detection on the obstacles being a bit ropey and causing more problems than necessary. It's still an entertaining and challenging blast, though.

Thrust (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

Although I'll be a mixture of the great and the good and the weird and the wonderful today, it seems only right that I begin with a game that is considered to be perhaps the Godfather of budget games... Thrust.

I'll be honest... I hated Thrust when I first played it. It was keyboard only, for a start. We 64 owners were used to using joysticks to play games. And who wanted that big brown thing perched on their lap? Nope... hated it.

For some reason, though, I kept going back to it. Maybe with it being so highly rated I figured it was me that was wrong about it, maybe I just felt drawn back to it to at least try and complete a couple of levels... but eventually I was drawn in.

This doesn't look like it'll end well...

The premise is pretty simple sci-fi stuff... our planet is running out of energy, but it's known there is a system of planets that was mined to death years ago, and the plan is to send in a ship to retrieve a power pod from each planet, blow up its main generator thus setting off a world-destroying cataclysmic explosion, and then get out of there with the power pod before you're caught in the blast.

Naturally, it's not as easy as it sounds. And the real beauty of Thrust lies in the perfectly balanced gameplay. The controls are absolutely spot on, the inertia is absolutely spot on... when you connect to the power pod and try to lift it clear, you really feel the extra weight. And then you go spinning out of control and implode on a cavern wall. Well, I do.

OK... sooo... now what?

Just when you start getting good at it, the game turns into an utter bastard and will throw in a new element to keep you on the hop and further test your skills. Get a few levels into the game and you'll have to deal with reverse gravity. Get further still and the walls of the caverns become invisible. Yes, that's ridiculous... you can only see the walls when you activate your shield.

Thrust, unbelievably, is twenty-five years old this year. Quite often, home computer games from that time have aged badly, and aren't what you remember them to be. Thrust, however, is still as fresh, playable, demanding and entertaining as it ever was. It seems incredible that it only cost £1.99 when it was released. It's an absolute stone-cold classic, and if you've never played, get it downloaded right now. Better still, get onto eBay and buy the setup you need to play it for real. It's an amazing game.

*Thrust did not originate on the Commodore 64... in fact, it was a full-price release on the BBC computer. Amazing that it wasn't full-price when released on other systems.

March 23rd is Budget Day!

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

Awwww, come on... that's boring!

It's going to be horrible, isn't it? Another Government stooge standing in front of a lot of rowdy blokes (and women), telling them how much they're going to screw everyone (but themselves) for in the coming year.

Well, I'm going to try and lighten things a little. All day (or as much as is humanly possible) it will be Budget Day with A Gamer Forever Voyaging. I am going to be playing and writing about budget games on the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum. If you loved your Mastertronic and Firebird games, this will be the place to visit.

My intention is to do budget-sized articles... two or three paragraphs, so that I can fit more in. The intention is to cover lots of games so that I can bring many a nostalgic smile to faces. And in keeping with the saving money thing... I will be interspersing them with tweets of links to games that I consider to be good bargains. So if you don't follow me on Twitter, now might be a good time to start.

I'm looking forward to it. I've got a huge list of games picked out... let's see which ones I get to...