Day 239 - snow means... Horace!

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , ,

If you look at it, any good hardware manufacturer over the last couple of decades has had a mascot.  Sega has (had) Sonic, Nintendo has Mario, Microsoft has Master Chief, Sony has... erm, I dunno, who's Sony's mascot?  Sackboy?  Crash Bandicoot?  Kratos?  I dunno.

Anyway, it wasn't always like this.  Although there were tons of memorable characters in the 80s, not many of them were attached to a platform as a mascot.  Miner Willy, you could argue, might have been the face of the Spectrum.  But if there's one unofficial mascot that endears today, it's got to be the first blue character that did a lot of running (and other things)... Horace.

Om-nom-nom!  Horace fills his belly!
Although he made appearances on other computers, Horace feels synonymous with the Spectrum (which probably had a lot to do with the fact that, on the Spectrum, his games were published by Sinclair).  He only appeared in three games, but it was enough for Horace to stamp himself into pop culture history forever...

The first time we saw the bug-eyed blue fella he was feeling a mite peckish, in Hungry Horace.  A PacMan clone of sorts, it featured Horace running around mazes in a park and eating all the food from within those mazes.  As you would expect, he wasn't left to his own devices.  Vicious parkies patrolled the grounds and wouldn't hesitate to give Horace a good hiding if they caught him.

That parkie's not exactly a handsome lad, is he?
Luckily, Horace could fight back.  Bells were scattered around the mazes, and if Horace picked one up it appeared to play havoc with the parkies' inner ears, rendering them vulnerable to a Horace attack.  This respite was brief, though, and they'd soon be back on Horace's case.

In a slight twist from PacMan, Horace could move on to the next screen without having completed the screen he was on.  However, it wasn't possible to go directly back to that screen; instead, Horace would have to work his way back around to it.  This was an interesting way of providing an escape route, but was probably necessary as the screens were a little cramped.

Hmmm.  This level looks a bit tricky.
Hungry Horace wasn't (and isn't) a bad game at all, and served as a fine introduction to the legendary character.  However, it was his next game which would cement his legacy...

That game was Horace Goes Skiing.  In essence, it was incredibly simple.  Horace was minted up with $40, and fancied going skiing ("Why dollars?" asked a lot of mags at the time... well, remember, it was written by an Australian and that's their currency...).  All he had to do was hop across the road, hand over ten bucks for ski rental, get back across the road, and away he could go, down the slippery slope.

The traffic doesn't look much, but it moves at a fair rate!
In essence, this meant that you played a game of Frogger (or more accurately, Activision's Atari VCS game Freeway) to get your skis, and then played a simplified skiing game with no real goal other than to get to the end without crashing and breaking your skis.

That doesn't sound terribly thrilling, but back in those days it was pretty compulsive stuff.  Running across the road required little skill and more in the way of luck and judgement, but you did feel like you'd achieved something just by getting into that ski hut.

Ahhhh... just look at that.  Look at it, revel in it, drink it in.
Then there was the skiing.  It wasn't very taxing... you didn't go very fast and there weren't many trees to avoid.  Your only real punishment was losing points if you missed the gates, although if you crashed you might break your skis which would force you back to the Freeway.

None of that mattered.  Horace was now an icon, and Horace Goes Skiing destined to go down as a classic game title.  Despite its relative averageness (?), it's fondly remembered by all those that have played it.

Well done, Horace! Pluckier than Eddie the Eagle, and looks better on a T-shirt.
It wasn't the last time we would see Horace.  Rounding out his trilogy (and story) was Horace & the Spiders.

It could be argued that Horace & the Spiders was a very ambitious game.  After all, you have to remember that author William Tang programmed all the Horace games to run on the 16K Spectrum, and Horace & the Spiders had three different (albeit simplistic) game screens.

That spider's got some evil eyes on it.
The first saw Horace running and jumping over spiders in what was almost a simple Moon Patrol variant.  It was very short, and led straight into the next screen in which Horace had to swing across spider threads to get across a chasm.  Once a spider sensed you on its thread it tried to reel you in, and if you didn't get off in time you'd be bitten and poisoned.  Nasty!

Successfully making it to the other side meant that Horace would find himself trapped in a cave full of spiders.  The only way out was to STAMP THEM ALL TO DEATH!

How does Horace hang on without any hands?
That sounds a bit harsh, but in reality all it meant was that you were stuck in a level modelled on arcade game Space Panic.  Horace would clamber around on the webs, stamping holes in them at strategic points.  The spiders would hopefully get miffed at this and come down to repair the holes.  If and when this happened, the evil, heartless monster Horace could pounce!

This variety meant that Horace & the Spiders was a pretty nice little arcade game.  All the Horace games were high score games, which meant that repeated play was inevitable for the arcade-hungry kids of the 80s.  The fact that the games were all simple and straightforward to play pretty much guaranteed they would occupy the tape deck for lengthy spells.

I had a mate called Shaun, and it was on his Spectrum that I was introduced to the joys of Horace.  I would often find myself at his house after school, where along with the likes of Jet Set Willy, Kokotoni Wilf and Stop the Express he owned all the Horace games.  I enjoyed them all, but it's Horace Goes Skiing that has left the biggest mark.  It has that certain something that makes it stay in the memory when other games have long since disappeared.

Sadly, there were no more Horace games.  Apparently William Tang had health problems while he was developing the next, and he never finished it.  I don't know where he is or what he's doing now, but I hope that he's alive and well and knows how much he's appreciated by the now-grown-up kids of the 80s.  And if by some chance he or someone he knows reads this, please get in touch!