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.