There were thousands and thousands of games released for the Commodore 64... in fact, there are still new games being released for it commercially today. I thought it might be nice to talk about some of them in August, seeing as it's Commodore 64 month, but how on Earth do you whittle that number down to just a few? It's actually not that hard... I'm going to talk about some of the computer's best games, and some that made a big impact on me for some reason. Some of them won't even feature in the book, being from the US of A. I feel that it's only right, though, that I kick things off with what is probably my favourite C64 game ever... Paradroid.
Shoot 'em ups were already pretty commonplace by the time of Paradroid's release late in 1985. It was getting to the point where a shmup needed something a bit different to help it stand out from the crowd. Paradroid, having been the subject of ZZAP! 64's first ever Diary of a Game, already had that through the publicity of monthly updates.
Had the game not been stellar, such a build-up would have been disastrous for both the programmer and the magazine. Fortunately it was amazing, featuring a brand of blasting and strategy that had never been seen in an arcade game before. Having said that, for some, initial impressions weren't that great...
Paradroid features what is best described as a visual representation of the action that is taking place on the decks of a fleet of dreadnoughts in space. Imagine controlling the action through a graphic representation of CCTV and you're getting warm. Immediately, you notice the silky-smooth scrolling. It's lovely, if a little slow. Then you notice that all the robots are represented by numbers, and you go "ugh!".
Yes, "ugh". For a game featuring all kinds of death-dealing robots, you kind of expect to see a load of metallic monsters roaming the decks. At first, you're a bit taken aback at seeing all these numbers moving around. After a while, though, you get used to it... and then you realise that it's actually a stroke of genius.
Using a numeric representation of the robots means that you can always tell, at a glance, exactly what you're up against. It means that you can plan your next move... whether to plough in, guns blazing or perhaps switch to transfer mode... or just run away. That's often a viable tactic.
I mentioned transfer mode, and that's one of the game's other strokes of genius. Rather than finding extra weapons or buying upgrades, you actually use your own robot, known as an Influence Device, to take temporary control of more powerful robots. It's a brilliant system, made even more interesting by the method you use to acquire a robot... the transfer game.
Being good at the transfer game defined whether you were able to be any good at Paradroid. Many players couldn't get the hang of it and gave up on the game, which was a shame for them because this added depth contributed massively to the game being much better than "ordinary" shooters.
Paradroid featured several moments that are hard to top when you're in The Zone. Winning a transfer from a 001 to a 999 is an amazing feeling. Another one comes when you transfer to a disruptor droid and go to a lower deck, "smart-bombing" the living daylights out of everything that moves. Fantastic stuff.
Unlike many games of the time, Paradroid was refined and improved over time by its author, Andrew Braybrook. A faster Competition Edition followed on a two-game compilation (which also featured an upgraded version of Uridium, Andrew's follow-up to Paradroid). Later, he would improve it yet again by making it faster still and overhauling the graphics. This was released as Heavy Metal Paradroid, and is his definitive version.
All three versions are great, though, and Paradroid is a game that I'll never get tired of playing and I'll never get tired of writing about. I'm very happy to have a brilliant interview with Andrew Braybrook in the can. I guarantee you that you'll get many pages of great reading from it, once this thing is finished. In the meantime, go and have yourself a few games of Paradroid, in any of its flavours. It's still a brilliant game.
Here's an attempt at clearing the first ship.