Charity 8-bit gaming marathon - schedule

by Paul Morrison


Hi all,

I hope you're all aware of my upcoming charity 8-bit gaming marathon.  If you're not, then I'll tell you that I'm going to be playing Commodore 64 and Spectrum games for 12 hours on March 26th, with all donations going to the Young Epilepsy charity.  I'll be streaming it live... see my previous post for more details.

I've been considering how best to approach it and my current thinking is to split each hour into themes.  That way, I'll retain my focus and not be wondering what the hell to play next, and prospective viewers can tune in to segments that look most interesting to them (with the best will in the world, I don't really expect anyone to see out the whole 12 hours with me!).

Soooo... that being the case, I've drawn up a programme for the day.  This is subject to change, but as of this moment, here's the running order.  Of course, you have no idea what games I'm going to play within each segment, which should keep it interesting!

12-1pm Random

1-2pm US Gold

2-3pm Elite Systems

3-4pm Random

4-5pm Gremlin Graphics

5-6pm Spectrum

6-7pm Hewson Consultants

7-8pm Budget Games

8-9pm Commodore 64

9-10pm Graftgold

10-11pm Ocean/Imagine

11pm-12am Random

I hope that looks intriguing enough to you, it's got me excited, anyway!  If you have any suggestions, please give me a shout.  I'll be giving more updates as time goes by so keep checking back.

Also, if you want to have a look at my JustGiving page, here it is.  It goes without saying that all donations are and will be appreciated hugely.


Gaming on Purple Day - all help appreciated

by Paul Morrison


March 26th is Purple Day.  That probably doesn't mean anything to you, which is where I come in.  Purple Day is a World Epilepsy Awareness event.

Epilepsy is a condition that affects many people... in fact, the stats suggest that over 600,000 people in the UK have epilepsy.  For young people, it can be particularly embarrassing... having a seizure in front of friends or classmates can be mortifying as nobody really understands what's going on.

My family was affected by epilepsy in the year 2005 when my brother Jamie, at the age of 26, died as a result of a seizure.  I'd witnessed his seizures and they were terrifying but I was, and we were, in no way prepared for the possibility that this thing could take his life.

For some time now, I've wanted to do something to try and raise awareness (and funds) for a young person's epilepsy charity.  With modern technology and the advent of streaming coming to the fore, I thought I could combine my passion for computer games and this book with a fundraising effort.  I am therefore going to play Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum games all day (not for 24 hours!) on Sunday March 26th and stream my efforts for anyone who might be interested.

I can't promise the most thrilling commentary... I'll be on cam (I think) and will be talking as I play, but hopefully people will dip in and out at the prospect of seeing someone playing one of their old favourites or maybe something they'd never had a chance to play back in the day, and will have a warm pang of nostalgia which might lead to them chucking a couple of quid into the pot.  All proceeds from the event will go to Young Epilepsy, there's a link to the charity's homepage at the bottom of this piece.

I'm not terribly au fait with Twitch, but that's where I'll be.  It has a chat room facility, so I'll be taking suggestions as to what games to play... after all, I'll be on there for at least nine or ten hours so I'll be playing a lot of games!  I'll be drawing up my own list and I might publish a list of highlights with set times when I might be playing some games, but that's over a month away yet so we'll see.  There will be some games which will feature in the book, for sure, but whether I give away any spoilers... we'll see.

Here's my Just Giving page, if you feel like contributing financially: They Were Our Gods - 8-bit gaming marathon

Here's my Twitch page so you can watch me enjoying or torturing myself: Twitch: They Were Our Gods

Here's the Young Epilepsy homepage... go and have a read: Young Epilepsy


The power of visual

by Paul Morrison


I haven't blogged much about this book lately.  Mainly, that's because I'm doing more important writing: namely, the book.  I have almost all my interviews in (there are a couple more I would like, but I could run it quite easily with the ones I have), so I can concentrate primarily on adding to the interviewees' excellent content.

I do post on Twitter a lot, less so on Facebook, but my posts on Twitter are more as part of conversations, rather than specifics about the book.  My posts here have become more sporadic because it gets difficult to add anything fresh.  Do you really want to read "well, I added another 500 words today"?  I don't know, actually.  Do you?

Anyway, it's easy to be overcome with negative thoughts and feelings.  Nobody seems interested... am I wasting my time?... is it any good?  Then there are feelings such as, will I ever finish this thing?  I've never felt that that was in doubt, but sometimes it was hard to see any progress.

However, one conversation gave me a good idea.  I decided to make a spreadsheet.  It sounds like something that would have nothing to do with the writing of a book, but it's serving a valuable purpose.  What I've done is to make a list of everyone I've interviewed, then a range of cells from 0% to 100%, in 10% increments.  Then at the end, columns for the number of words in the interview, and the number of words in the piece once I've replaced the questions with narrative.

I've found that it's a great incentive to me, to have that.  Every time I make a substantial amount of progress, I shade cells against the interviewee in question.  I'm also colour-coding it, so I can see at a glance where I've made most progress and where I have most work left.  Those who are completed, at least for a first pass, are coloured green.  Then it's kind of traffic-lighted down to red for those with most work left.

I don't know if you think that's weird, but it's really working well.  I find that it's hard to concentrate on one person's interview from start to finish, which is why they're all at least partly finished.  I work on them as and where inspiration strikes, which means that I'm always pushing the thing forwards.  Well, almost always... but if I can't be inspired about this project at all on any given day, then I have something else I'm working on which rekindles the mojo...

More about that another time.  For now, you can be assured that progress is being made.  It's there in black and white... or red, orange, yellow and green.


Arcade antics

by Paul Morrison


I've got a little treat for you diehards, a little something to whet your whistles.

When we think back to arcade conversions, we often imagine programmers sitting in the company office, playing an arcade machine for hours at a time, taking notes or recording it so that they could make as accurate a representation as possible.

But what about those who were programming a clone of an arcade game or an unofficial version?  How did they go about the task?  Did they write it from memory, borne out of ploughing coin after coin into the machine, or were there other ways of getting the information they needed?

In this They Were Our Gods exclusive, taken from a much larger interview which will appear in the book, one programmer explains how, without an official licence behind him, the task of getting the information needed to replicate a game was somewhat more difficult...

"We had a big company outing where we identified an outlet that had the game and went out on a mission to take pictures of it. It was true comedy. I had no idea at the time [if] it was even illegal, but as the news sunk in at what we were doing the whole thing started to become a very serious matter. What was even more of a surprise for me (and I think all of us) was the reaction of the coin-op staff who were a very equal rival in the antics. They didn't want anyone taking pictures in their parlour, and so ensued a game of attack and counter-attack of various strategies at taking pictures, some more successful than others, with the police eventually making an appearance as we raced down the street back to our getaway cars and back to the office, booty intact, and mission accomplished."

I can't help but laugh as I picture the scene and wonder if it was commonplace up and down the country at the time!  Feel free to speculate what the game was and who was behind these clandestine photo sessions.  All this and much, much more will be revealed when the book is released...


Polybius - Feed your head to Jeff Minter

by Paul Morrison


I’m writing this in a stream-of-consciousness style on the train on my way home from PlayExpo in Manchester, because, well, what else do you do on train journeys?  I could play a bit of TxK as I have my Vita with me, but that would mean subjecting myself to more Jeff Minter and I’m not really sure I’m up for that again, just yet.

“What’s the problem?”, I hear you ask.  Well, let me tell you what the problem is.  I’ve just played the demo of Llamasoft’s latest creation, Polybius.

If you’ve read Jeff’s latest blog post, you’ll have read the story of how this game came about.  It’s loosely based on the now-mythical brain-melting unreleased arcade game of the same name.  Jeff has seemingly pieced together what fragments of memories remain from his brief experience with the game, and built on top of it with his own unquestionable know-how.

You might also have seen a couple of gameplay videos by now.  If you have, you’ve probably thought, “Oh, there’s Minter at it again with his tube shooters.  Yeah, looks nice.  Probably quite good fun”.  You probably think you have a fair idea of where it’s going.

Let me tell you something.  You have no idea.

The reason I say this is because the game is built to run on VR units.  That means you have to strap on a pair of those funky new goggles and allow yourself to be completely at the mercy of the man who knows how to inflict visual and aural mania upon you better than anyone else.  Once those goggles are on, you belong to him.

Pressing ‘X’ hurls you headlong into the first level, which is a tutorial of sorts, in that it’s fairly inoffensive, at least as far as enemy attacks go.  As soon as you begin, you realise that everything you have seen of the game so far means nothing.

It’s impossible to overstate the effect the VR headset has on this game.  I’d never used one before, and it was simply staggering.  The first level was all well and good, with stunning true 3D bringing Minter’s mindwarps thoroughly to life.  Once I hit the second level, though, things took on an even greater dimension (see what I did there?).

The second level has you inside a tunnel.  You’ve seen and heard that before, but never like this.  You have to traverse all 360 degrees of the tunnel, and that’s when the VR effect really slams home.  I definitely felt a sense of disorientation as I swooped up and down the sides of the tunnel… at first.  Once I figured out how to play the game a bit better, I managed my movements better, became more effective and felt less out of whack with the world.

The feeling you get as things fly from behind you within touching distance, or explosions rush towards you almost making you flinch, is immense.  It’s new.  You haven’t had an experience like this before.  You just haven’t.  As I played it I felt that my jaw was hanging open the whole time, but I was too busy swooping and blasting to even care about closing it.

Later levels throw more and different things at you.  Oh, and each level has a series of bull-horn gates to pass through.  When you do, you increase a bonus multiplier... I think.  I also think that's what triggers an increase in speed.  It might be something else, it was hard to really tell from one short demo.  But when you do start speeding up and tunnels are strobing and things are shooting and exploding, you will truly feel like you're in another dimension.  It is awesome.

The object of the game, by the way, is to shoot things.  Basically, shoot everything and don’t crash into anything.  It’s a tried-and-tested Llamasoft formula, and it works. Here, it just feels natural.  You don’t have to be told what to do.  You just glide into it and go by your instincts.  They’ll serve you well.  Just go with it and enjoy.

If I absolutely have to try and describe it for you, I’d say it’s like playing a shoot ‘em up inside the tunnel at the start of an 80s episode of Doctor Who, whilst simultaneously looking through a kaleidoscope.  It’s like S.T.U.N. Runner meets Cosmic Causeway meets Blaster meets Star Wars meets Race the Sun meets God knows what else.  And yet, it's none of those things.  It’s its own entity, and it’s stunning.  Is it stunning enough to make me spend hundreds on a new piece of kit so I can play it more?  Yes, if I can figure out how to rake the cash together.  Until then, I suppose I’ll have to settle for TxK.


PlayExpo Manchester - Saturday

by Paul Morrison


Hi all!

Are you going to PlayExpo at Manchester tomorrow?  I am!  Not in an official capacity, I hasten to add, but I will be wearing a They Were Our Gods t-shirt.  I guarantee you I'll be the only onw, so if you're there and you see me, come up and say hi!  I'd be happy to chat about pretty much anything, and maybe beat your score on the Gyruss arcade machine.

See ya there!


Book review - A Gremlin in the Works by Mark Hardisty

by Paul Morrison


In the time since I announced that I was writing this book, it seems like the whole world read about it, thought "that's a good idea" and started writing similar books of their own.  There have been dozens of them released in that time, all offering different perspectives on our favourite hobby from our favourite era.  I don't really mind that, because the people in question deserve the exposure and their stories need to be heard.  My only worry has been that some of these books would make mine irrelevant and make it pointless to continue.

That's silly, of course, as mine will be different from all the others out there.  Even if some of the content is similar or even repeated, there will be hundreds of unique pages for your reading pleasure.  So no, nothing is going to stop me from completing my book.  Now my main concern is how good these books are, because I'm buying almost all of them!

The latest such publication is A Gremlin in the Works, and it's one I've been anticipating eagerly for a long time.  Author Mark Hardisty has maintained high visibility on social media, which has served to ramp up the expectations of his book over a long period of time.  That could have been dangerous, had the book not lived up to these expectations.  Hang on... am I giving anything away about its quality with that sentence?  Read on and find out...

As you might have guessed, A Gremlin in the Works is a look at Sheffield's finest computer games publisher, Gremlin Graphics.  It's a name that needs no introduction to any of you reading this, as you're certain to have played many of their games.  With such classic series as Monty Mole, Jack the Nipper and, ummm, MASK, along with countless standalone titles of varying quality, the company made its mark on the industry and our hearts.  Their story is one that's been begging to be told, with books on Ocean Software and US Gold already out there.  This has a different author to those publications though, which makes for a very different reading experience.

The first thing that strikes you about the book is its size.  It's MASSIVE!  It's also heavy!  In fact, it's two books, coming as it does in two hardback volumes held in a very fetching (and sturdy) slipcase.  It oozes quality on first appearance, which is usually a good sign.  Never judge a book by its cover (or slipcase), though... the proof, of course, comes with the reading.

I mentioned earlier that the book is split into two volumes.  This is done across the company's timeline, so volume one covers 1983 - 1989 and volume two covers... well, the rest.  Mark tackles his subject chronologically, paying extra attention to any event or game of particular note.  It's a good way of approaching it... if every game, even the duffers, were covered as comprehensively, then the book would probably run to eight or ten volumes.  By singling out the really important games and giving them the coverage they really deserve, the book holds your interest through every page... there's little or no temptation to skip ahead.

The first volume is the one you will probably be most interested in, covering as it does the "classic" 8-bit years.  Here, you'll find all the Monty Mole games, Thing on a Spring, Bounder and Gauntlet, with masses of quotes from all involved.  There's also a lot of behind-the-scenes information, way more than just the technicalities of each game.  The story of the way the Gauntlet licence was obtained is one such gold nugget that you more than likely haven't heard before... and must read to believe.

Volume two leans more towards the 16-bit era, which for many was their entry point into gaming so if you're a little younger than I am then this might be the more interesting read for you, of the two.  Again, it features many familiar names and games, with the likes of Switchblade, Zool and Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge figuring heavily.  The book even carries through into the Playstation era where Gremlin retained a presence, with Loaded and the Actua sports games being especially notable to those of us who were still gaming at that point.  Things reach a conclusion with Gremlin's eventual demise and Mark wraps things up by catching up with what everyone is up to today... a nice way to let readers follow their favourites in the present day.

It's hard to find the superlatives for this book, but it's my job to try, so here goes.  A Gremlin in the Works is, quite simply, the finest book about any aspect of the British computer games industry written to date.  It's unbelievably comprehensive and includes contributions from anyone who was anyone either at or with Gremlin Graphics, as long as they were alive and contactable at the time of writing.  It has screenshots, magazine adverts, design documents, photos galore and any other relevant trivia you could imagine.  There's so much more I could write, but I think I've given you a general idea.  It's better if you go and read it all for yourself.  It is truly a treasure trove of information about one of Britain's best-loved software houses, and it's no exaggeration to say that if you have even the slightest interest in the subject, you MUST own this book.

You can buy A Gremlin in the Works here: A Gremlin in the Works. Rumour has it that there will soon be extra content available...

Hello!

by Paul Morrison


Hi all,

Wow, I've just realised how long it's been since I posted anything here.  Sorry about that, especially if that led you to believe that this project might be dead.  It definitely isn't, and work is continuing in the same slow, steady vein that it always has.  There was a little spell there where I didn't do much writing, but I took the opportunity to develop an action plan of sorts, to keep track of my progress and help me be more focused (thanks, Andy!).

It is actually quite difficult to write a stream of updates without giving away any of the book's content or secrets.  I'm not at the point where I want to give too much away yet, though.  Maybe once I have every word down and it's all about the layout, then I can start spilling some more interesting beans.  Until then, stick with me as I continue to add my narrative and compete the stories of 38 (and possibly still rising) unbelievable 8-bit talents.  Their accounts are all well worth the wait...


Diary of a Game - John Darnell

by Paul Morrison


Hi gang.

So I haven't posted here as much as I should have lately, but that's purely down to the fact that I'm really writing furiously.  So much for the daily updates, I know... but I've added a LOT of words to this thing over the past month or so (this despite a succession of colds... will they ever end?).

If you do fancy having something to read on a more regular basis, may I point you in the direction of a new game blog by John Darnell?  John, as you may know, wrote a number of games on the Commodore 64 in the Eighties and was kind enough to comment on my look back at Star Paws on this very site (and let's say that has been expanded substantially since, wink!).

John's been re-bitten by the programming bug and has delved into his back catalogue to revisit the first game he ever wrote, which was called Sleepwalker.  This game was completed but never released, and has now been lost in the mists of time.  John thought he still had his original source code but sadly, most of it was lost.

Fear not, though!  John has decided to pick out the best of his original ideas, add some new features and rewrite the game from scratch!  It will be, in effect, a new game entirely, with a reverent passing nod to the original.  Trevor "Smila" Storey is doing the graphics and we could well be on to a winner here.  Either way, we're getting a new Commodore 64 game out of it, which is always a good thing.

You can follow John's progress here:

 

Pop over, check it out and give one of our Gods a bit of encouragement with this new project!


Budget Day 2016 - Alcatrazz Harry (ZX Spectrum)

by Paul Morrison


Someone told me I should go out on a low and suggested this game.  Well, I won't be going out on a low because this is not the last game I'm playing and that game is definitely not a low.  This one is, though.

Harry is banged up in Alcatrazz, but not for long!  He plans on getting out and, not only that, he's taking some secret files with him!  Trouble is, he needs 30 items from around the confines of the camp in order to escape and the secret files are hidden.  Looks like Harry's got some searching to do before he can get away!

Harry meets an untimely end!

Harry meets an untimely end!

Unfortunately for Harry, there are guards everywhere and, if he gets caught, he'll find himself up against the wall in front of the firing squad.  That's no good, so you'd better be good at sneaking around.

It's a good idea, and one that was executed (see what I did there?) much better years later in Ocean's The Great Escape.  Sadly, this game is far too slow and ugly to be worth a go.  It's not the worst game I've ever played, not by a long shot.  But I won't be loading it again.


Budget Day 2016 - Revenge II - Return of the Mutant Camels (Commodore 64)

by Paul Morrison


Here's another recommendation, but this one is not unfamiliar to me.  I'm sure that most of you have guessed, from the title, that Revenge II is a Jeff Minter game.  That means you have a fair idea of what's to follow.

Revenge II - Return of the Mutant Camels is the third in the Mutant Camels series, following Attack of the Mutant Camels and Revenge of the Mutant Camels.  It's a series renowned for its intense blasting action and this game ramps everything up to the max.

The game gives you a grid to conquer, featuring 100 levels.  You always start in the top left corner of the grid, but once you've got through that level you can begin to choose your path.  It's a great system, very Minter-esque, which means it's very difficult to get bored or frustrated.  Struggling with a particular level?  Just go around it.

The best thing about Revenge II, as with many Minter games, is the sense of discovery you get from playing through the levels.  You never know quite what you're going to find each time.  You know it's probably going to be unconventional at the very least, and that's half the fun.  Whether you're being assaulted by giant telephones, marauding Pac-Men or massive returning Rorys, the crazy fun is never ending.

It reminds me of Jeff's classic Ancipital in that respect, and that's not a bad thing at all.  The blasting never lets up and it's loud and obnoxious and very entertaining.  And this time you get to buy extra weapons, too.  Lovely.  It all adds up to a top-notch budget title. even if you're not the biggest fan of ungulates.


Budget Day 2016 - Star Pilot (ZX Spectrum)

by Paul Morrison


Here's one I'm playing on a recommendation, and it seems appropriate to follow one vertically scrolling space shooter with another.  Star Pilot sees you navigating a number of levels, blasting nasties and dodging obstacles.  Get to the end of the level and you receive a large score bonus.

That's about it, really.  Worst write-up ever!  There's a bit more to it than that, as it happens, although not loads.  The game's most notable feature is that it has a split-screen two player mode.  Obviously if you play with your mate, you get to kind of race each other up the screen as you blast through each level.  I imagine that this could be quite a bit of fun because you can speed up and slow down, so you could have challenges as you played, seeing who could clear each level the quickest.

Ha! Wally's getting knocked off the high score table. Dudge is up next...

Ha! Wally's getting knocked off the high score table. Dudge is up next...

I didn't get to do that, though, so in all honesty I found the game a little dull and unremarkable.  The graphics are nice... they're well defined and the scrolling is good.  I'm not a big fan of the tiny play area, though.  It does work for the game, but I think it would be better if the whole of the screen was used.  I suppose it might have been difficult to do that and then switch to the split screens for the two player mode, though.

Star Pilot is not a write-off or anything bad like Dark Star.  It's pretty nondescript, though.  I definitely think I would have enjoyed it more at the time of release.  If I'd played it with a mate sitting next to me, the element of competitiveness from the split-screen mode would have been a good laugh.  As it is, it'll probably fade into obscurity for me.


Budget Day 2016 - Dark Star (Commodore 64)

by Paul Morrison


What do you do when you're 14 years old, dying for a new game and with two quid burning a hole in your pocket, and you go out and buy something on a whim, come home excitedly, load it up, play it, and... it's cack?  You suck it up and play the heck out of it, determined to maximise your pocket money regardless.

That's how it was in the Eighties, and that's how it was when I bought Dark Star.  It was actually one of the first games I bought and one of my first regrets.  It was programmed by the legendary Darling Brothers, although many of their early games were missteps.  In fact, the first game I ever bought for the C64 and regretted spending money on was BMX Trials, which was also programmed by the Darlings.  If I'd have known, I'd have left Dark Star on the shelf.

I'd have put a poster of that on my wall, for sure.

I'd have put a poster of that on my wall, for sure.

In fact, the only reason I picked it up in the first place was because of the awesome Mark J. Brady artwork on the front cover.  It was a fantastic sci-fi piece and its magnificence seduced me into purchasing the game.  Oh, well... that wouldn't be the last time I would make such a mistake...

The game itself was obviously influenced by the iconic trench sequence at the end of Star Wars.  In it, you have to fly up "transport channels" to destroy the Dark Star.  Sounds great, but the switch to an overhead view destroys all the atmosphere of the movie or the Star Wars arcade game.  The juddery scrolling doesn't help matters and the gameplay is not exactly thrilling.

Look at that. Pure evil.

Look at that. Pure evil.

The main problem, for me, is that every so often the channel splits and you have to make a choice as to which fork to take.  All well and good, until you realise that if you take the wrong one, you're dead.  One of the forks is always a dead end and there's no way to escape it.  It's very annoying and basically means you play the game, remember which is the wrong tunnel when you die, play it again and do the same until you can remember every correct tunnel until the end.

That's not a lot of fun, and the all-round lack of quality in every other aspect of the game means that it's not something you'll ever spend a lot of time playing.  Not now, anyway... but back in 1985, when you've just spent two precious pounds on it...


Budget Day 2016 - Slayer (Commodore 64)

by Paul Morrison


Hewson Consultants was a software house of great repute.  They were always known for their quality games, so it stood to reason that when they opened a budget software label, that label would also be a home for top-notch releases.  On the Commodore 64, in particular, they put out a string of excellent original games for pocket money prices and the label stood proudly alongside its parent company.

I bought quite a few Rack-It games but somehow never picked up Slayer... at least, I don't think I did.  I can't remember having owned it and I'm sure I would have, because it's very good.

Forget the plot... all you need to know is that you fly from left to right, avoiding obstacles and landscape and obliterating anything that moves.  It's classic shoot 'em up material, so what matters is how well it's done.

Does this look like your type of game? Hey, don't tell me to shut up!

Does this look like your type of game? Hey, don't tell me to shut up!

Thankfully, Slayer is done very well.  It has a bit of an IO-type feel to it, but without having quite the level of soul-crushing difficulty of that game.  Graphically it's really nice, with large, well-defined and colourful sprites moving around very smoothly indeed.  Your ship handles pretty nicely, and the game gives you a few extra weapons or add-ons to play with.  Not too much... again, it's a lot like IO in terms of what you can pick up.

Slayer was written by Gari Biasillo, who is more renowned for his music than his games... indeed, his title tune here is excellent.  That's a shame, because if he'd written more games and they were all of this standard, we'd all have been very happy gamers indeed.  Still, he does write very nice music so perhaps he made the right choice.  Slayer is an excellent budget game and a brilliant way to banish my post-lunch slump.  Now I'm just wondering what to play next...


Budget Day 2016 - The Wild Bunch (ZX Spectrum)

by Paul Morrison


Here's a game I've always wanted to try and never got around to.  I even own the original but as my Spectrum isn't working then I was snookered.  OK, you might be asking why I haven't played it in an emulator before now.  Good question.  But what better time than today?

The Wild Bunch is a difficult game to categorise, if you're into categorising your games.  It looks like a text adventure but it's not, not really.  It's actually a murder mystery game which throws you, the unwitting player, in at the deep end and makes you become an impromptu detective as you seek to clear your name.

The game opens with you stumbling upon a murder and being mistaken for the killer.  Whoops!  You hotfoot it outta there and from that point on you have to make your way around the five towns in the area in a bid to uncover the killer and escape capture... or death.  Well, this is the Wild West, after all.

So running didn't work, can't see how a bribe would either... OK, put 'em up!

So running didn't work, can't see how a bribe would either... OK, put 'em up!

There are a number of things you can do in each town, depending on the buildings within.  You can visit a saloon and have a drink while checking out the clientele.  Or, if you'd rather, you can clean out the local gambler of his (probably) ill-gotten gains (I was thrilled to pick up a straight in my first hand of poker!).  You can look for leads in the local sheriff's office, or stock up on supplies at the store.  You'll need them on your travels, that's for sure!

I have to say, I found The Wild Bunch really interesting and absorbing.  I liked its sense of humour too (see the screenshot for a good example of that).  I had to force myself to stop playing to write this, otherwise you might have only been reading about two or three games today!  It's a really nice little game and I'd have been extremely happy to have spent my £2.50 on it.


Budget Day 2016 - Hunter Patrol (Commodore 64)

by Paul Morrison


I thought I'd kick off today with a game I've known and loved for over thirty years... Hunter Patrol.

I vividly remember walking into a friend's house before I even owned a Commodore 64 and marvelling at this amazing machine.  Over the course of a few hours, he loaded up about a dozen games in total and I probably loved them all, whether they were any good or not!

Hunter Patrol stuck out for a couple of reasons.  First and foremost was that it had a tremendous Rob Hubbard title tune.  Of course, I didn't know it was Rob Hubbard at that point, I just knew it was one of the best things I'd ever heard coming out of a computer (well, TV, but you know what I mean).  The other thing was that it played quite a bit like the Buck Rogers arcade game, which I really liked.

The target is only half a rainbow away!

The target is only half a rainbow away!

Playing it again now is still a bit of fun, but Hunter Patrol is a very simplistic game indeed.  Basically, you fly into the screen for a bit, avoiding flak and attempting to shoot anything in your path.  Once you have shot enough enemy installations the "end level boss" appears, which is basically a big house that you have to shoot several times to destroy.

That's about it.  It's a no-frills budget shooter which serves it purpose fairly well.  It's a bit irritating at times as your rate of fire is... well, let's call it "slow"... but it's moderately enjoyable nonetheless.  It's not a classic and you'd never play it for hours on end, but it was still a decent choice to kick off the day with.


It's Budget Day 2016!

by Paul Morrison


Hi everyone!

Yes, our annual day of misery and wallet-squeezing is upon us again and, as has become my norm, I've taken the day off work to play and write about those pocket money classics of the Eighties... budget games.

The only bag you need to see outside number 11 today.

The only bag you need to see outside number 11 today.

This is always a fun day for me as I play some of my old favourites and some games I've never played before.  I still have my old list from the past few years and there are tons of games on there that I haven't touched yet, so let's see what we end up with!

I'll be writing these up all through the day and posting them on Twitter and Facebook, feel free to recommend anything you might want to see me play and I'll try and get around to it.  Hope you enjoy!


Tomorrow is Budget Day!

by Paul Morrison


And I forgot about it!  Or rather, I hadn't seen anything about it being tomorrow... normally it's all over the place and I haven't seen a thing about it this year.

I thought I was going to completely miss it but a hastily arranged day off means that I will be doing my customary day-long write-up of 8-bit budget games.  So stay tuned and see if any of your favourites make an appearance.  Better yet, suggest some!  I just might play them!

See you tomorrow!


State of play: February 28th, 2016

by Paul Morrison


Total number of confirmed contributors: 38

Total number of words added this weekend: 3,177

I've done a lot of writing this weekend. finishing one piece and adding a lot to one that was already underway.  That's some good progress, right there!

I was going to do an update yesterday, but then the news broke about Fergus McGovern and I felt compelled to write my piece on him and Probe Software.  Somewhat surprisingly, that piece has had 1,500 views.  I'm not sure where they've all come from, but its testament to Fergus' reach and impact on the games industry.

I'm supposed to be drawing a line as far as interviews go, but I'm happy to say I made contact with someone yesterday who agreed to answer my questions, so I'm working on them right now and they will be another fantastic addition.  Just got to finish up those questions and get them sent off...


Goodbye, Fergus McGovern.

by Paul Morrison


Today is a sad day, as news filtered through of the passing of Probe Software's founder, Fergus McGovern.

One of the reasons I'm writing this book is to document the fantastic work of the era while people are still here to talk about it.  Fergus, though, was not somebody who was on my radar for this book.  He didn't program any of Probe's games.  He wasn't a musician, nor was he an artist.  As an industry "bod", he wasn't the type of person I'm writing about.

Nonetheless, his impact on the world of computer and video games cannot be overstated.

Probe Software started out on the 8-bit machines, where although they released the occasional original title they specialised in releasing high-quality arcade conversions, along with TV and movie licences of, to be fair, varying degrees of quality.

Grant Harrison's excellent version of SCI made up for the C64's poor Chase HQ conversion.

Grant Harrison's excellent version of SCI made up for the C64's poor Chase HQ conversion.

As a Commodore 64 owner, I played a few of Probe's games, but although I owned and used my C64 for a long time, many of their best games were released after I stopped buying games for it.  So although I had a lot of fun with the likes of Solomon's Key (a brilliant puzzle-platformer) and Golden Axe, I've played more of their games in the last few years.  They're notable for their polish and quality, which you would expect as they employed some of the best programmers in the business.

Spectrum owners didn't miss out, either.  Games such as Trantor: The Last Stormtrooper and Savage set new standards in graphics, with huge main characters stomping around colourful environments.  There were plenty of other successes too, with their conversion of Turrican being a particular highlight.

He's a big fella!

He's a big fella!

Probe was an unusual company in that it successfully made the transition from home computers to games consoles, and in fact went from strength to strength.  One of their most successful releases, and campaigns, centred around the console versions of Mortal Kombat.  Possibly taking a cue from Sega's "Sonic 2sday", Probe went all-out with its "Mortal Monday" kampaign (see what I did there?).  It was hugely successful, with the game being a massive seller on all console formats.  What a brilliant piece of advertising, although to be fair, that game probably sold itself!

Sonya is in big trouble...

Sonya is in big trouble...

One of my fondest memories of Probe Software lies with their PS1 and Sega Saturn release, Alien Trilogy.  I was never the greatest fan of first-person shooters... I was useless at Doom and Quake and Duke Nukem 3D.  With that in mind, you'd think I would have steered well clear of Alien Trilogy.  But, as a sucker for the movies, I couldn't resist.  I was well-rewarded... the game was tense, frantic and action-packed and I loved every second of it.  It's one of the few FPS games I ever completed, which is testament to its quality.

Die, alien scum!  (Caption courtesy of generic captions, inc.)

Die, alien scum!  (Caption courtesy of generic captions, inc.)

More recently, Fergus was behind Jakks Pacific's plug and play TV games.  I was living in the US when they first hit the market.  There was quite a bit of hype around them, and as with any retro game product, I was excited.  I bought the first one and it was decent, but the slightly inaccurate emulation bothered me, as a purist.  However, they went from strength to strength and became pretty cool little items to own.  I bet most of you bought at least one!

In total, Probe Software/Entertainment were responsible for over 200 releases, which is a massive amount of games when you think about it.  It's a huge legacy, and one which will surely hold fond memories for everyone who's ever played games.  Take a look at Fergus' page on MobyGames... I guarantee you there will be something there you've played and loved.

Goodbye, Fergus McGovern.  Your legacy is intact, but you will be missed.

I haven't got much Probe representation in the book, but I'd love to hear from any Probe 8-bitters, even if it's just as a comment on this article.