Budget Day - Bionic Granny (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,


And finally, as if to show that my day hasn't all been fun and games (well, OK, it has been all games), I thought I'd play what is considered to be one of the biggest abominations in computer games history... Bionic Granny.

If you haven't played it before, and I hadn't, then you aren't prepared for the horrors that lie in wait.  This is truly a throwback to the days when software companies would take anything that loaded and throw it upon an unsuspecting public.  There weren't many reviews mags around in the early days, and they were a little afraid of upsetting software companies, so it was common for poor games to sell way more than they deserved, as nobody knew any better.

Bionic Granny is one such game.

Having said that, I'm pretty sure that nothing could have persuaded me to part with my cash for this.  It's not like they could have had great screenshots on the back of the box.  No amount of mocking up could make this look decent.

Don't go near her, kids. She's a nasty old crone.
The story, too, is shockingly bad.  But I can see why it might have appealed to people under the age of twelve.  I'll quote directly from the title screen, if I may:

"IT'S NEARLY FOUR O' CLOCK AND TIME FOR THE KIDS TO COME HOME FROM SCHOOL.

YOU'R A BIONIC GRANNY AND ARE WAITING OUTSIDE THE SCHOOL TO HIT THE KIDS AS LEAVE.

SOME WILL WALK DOWN THE ROADS BUT OTHERS WILL TRY TO EVADE YOU BY KEEPING OFF THE ROADS.

DON'T LET THE LOLLIPOP LADY THROW LOLLIPOPS AT YOU."

Go on, lollipop lady... get in there and belt her one!
Alright... if you were a granny and were lucky enough to be bionic, why the hell would you use those powers to hit schoolkids on their way home?  Wouldn't you rather be rescuing cats or baking awesome scones, or something?

Also, the instructions say "don't let the lollipop lady throw lollipops at you".  Good luck with that... she roams around the top of the screen flinging them as though her life depended on it.  And as whatever bionic feature you are installed with has the disadvantage of rendering you unable to move forwards or backwards, there's not really much you can do to stop her.

In fact, there's no evidence that this granny is bionic at all... the lollipop lady is substantially quicker than her.  I think she's just a cantankerous old biddy who takes pleasure from whacking kids.  There's a place for menaces like that... and it provides free room and board at Her Majesty's pleasure.

Mad old bat needs locking up.
If the game had any semblance of fun or ironic humour to it, you maybe wouldn't mind.  But it's appalling.  You just toddle about at the bottom of the screen, hoping one of the homebound kids happens to meander into your stick, which will score you points.  There's no comedy, no entertainment, no fun.  It's a horrible piece of software, and if budget games had continued in this vein then the industry would have been in a horrible place indeed.

Fortunately, it became a breeding ground for real talent, as you've seen from today's posts.  We were blessed with imaginative, entertaining and enjoyable games, some of which were very ambitious, some of which were better than many full-priced games.  That era of pocket money games was pretty special, and we never saw it's like again.  We should think ourselves lucky for what we had... the kids of today may be spoiled, but they've missed out on one of the most memorable chapters of gaming history.

Budget Day - Train Robbers (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,


I'm heading back in time again for this latest game, but whereas I played a good guy in Kane, this time I'm playing a positively bad guy in the form of Cactus Pete, in Firebird's Train Robbers.

Cactus Pete is fairly prolific as robbers go... he's currently worth $4,000, which is no small amount of cash.  That doesn't concern Pete, though... he's constantly on the lookout for more trains to rob, and more lovely lolly.  And you're going to help him.

Ooyah!
It's a dangerous business, train robbing.  First of all, you have to actually get on the train.  When you're a robber, you can't just buy a ticket.  Pete's method of entry is a little less straightforward.  He leaps onto his trusty steed and waits by the railway line.  When the train comes buy, he leaps from his horse, climbs the train's ladder, and runs along the rooftop to the cargo carriage at the back of the train.

That sounds like a piece of cake, but you try jumping a gap on a train at 80 miles per hour.  It's tricky.  It's even trickier when you consider that the railway cuts through a number of hills, meaning there are tunnels aplenty.  If Pete doesn't duck in time... well, it doesn't bear thinking about.

Sneak!  Sneak!  Sneak!
When (if) Pete makes it to the loot car, he can fill his boots.  All he has to do is climb down the ladder inside the car, pick up the two keys, unlock the safe and make off with his stash.  Oh, and avoid the two vicious dogs that patrol the carriage...

Should Pete manage to empty the safe without being bitten, he'll find himself back on top of the train.  Now he needs to get back to the front of the train where his horse will be waiting for him.  It's another tricky journey, with mailboxes to jump over or duck under.  Still, with all that adrenalin running from having completed another successful heist, that should pose no problem at all!

Is it dark in here, or is it just me?
Train Robbers is a funny little game.  It's funny as in odd, and funny as in amusing.  It has some great touches... the way the screen goes black and you can only see Pete's eyes when you go through a tunnel is particularly funny.  It's pretty tricky, too... I can say in all honesty that I've never managed to get back on my horse after a robbery, not in 1988 and not in 2013.  But I played it quite a bit, and it remains an entertaining little budget game.

Budget Day - Oh No! (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,


There is no way... no way, that you would buy Oh No! just from looking at the cover art. There's a cow with a space helmet on its head, an odd-looking furry animal, a desert and, in the background, a spacecraft.

The spacecraft is the important part. Oh No! is a shoot 'em up, and although the storyline is odd, the game most certainly is not...

In Oh No!, the year is 1,000,000 AD, and you are a breeder of space oxen. These beasts are very highly coveted by other entities, who will stop at nothing to get their hands or other genetically-modified appendages on them. The rustling bastards. So you must mount up on your trusty space-steed and put a stop to their stealing shenanigans.


Save the clock tower!  I mean, the cows.  Those glowing round things. Save them!
It's much simpler than it sounds as a game... confined within one (scrolling) screen, you must blast anything that comes within range and stop them from taking the oxen off the screen. If all the oxen are lost, the game is over. Them's the rules, and they're easy to follow...

And indeed, the game is simple in theory. Once you start playing it, though, you'll see that it's much more difficult in practice.

Oh No!, to my mind, stands right up there among the finest of frantic shooters. What it essentially does is to cross Robotron: 2084 with Defender and Missile Command. Wait... let me explain.


Right... *cracks knuckles* come on, then...
You have a playfield where you have to protect your oxen... they're like The Last Human Family, but in bovine form. But unlike in Robotron, they're not killed when enemies get to them. Instead, they're captured, and you have a limited amount of time to rescue them before they're taken off the playfield. See, that's like Defender.

The game is split up into different planets, and each planet has nine waves, with each being progressively more manic than the last. There's no break between waves. Once you destroy every enemy in a wave, the next one rushes in without a second thought. If you want any kind of a break for your trigger finger, you'll have to wait nine waves for it.


It's OK... I'll be your Defender...
As your only objective is to save your oxen, it's important to keep them close together or, if it all gets too much, let them all go except for one and be sure to defend that one to the end. That's the Missile Command aspect... it's very similar to your endgame there, where you concentrate on keeping one city intact.

Oh No! is a Sensible Software game, and probably one of their least well-known at that.  It was well-reviewed by ZZAP! 64, but I'm not sure how well it sold or was received in general. Comments on Lemon64 seem to be mixed, but I absolutely loved this game when I bought it and I still play it occasionally now. It's a really pure shoot 'em up high-score experience, guaranteed to get the adrenalin pumping. Lovely stuff.

Budget Day - Raging Beast (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , ,


The matador.

Noble.  Proud.  Cruel.  Foolish.  All adjectives that can and have been used to describe the bullfighter in years gone by.  In today's "civilised" society, the matador is often considered barbaric.  However, the sport and tradition is an ancient one... it's tough to know, in this day and age, when something like bullfighting should be abandoned and when it can justifiably continue.

Or if you don't want to enter that debate, you can play Raging Beast.

A timeless battle is about to begin...
Proving that truly nothing was impossible, Firebird brought us a computer game based on the sport of bullfighting.  It seemed inconceivable that it could be any good, or even that it could be done, and yet here it was.  How could they get away with the slaughtering of bulls for computer entertainment?

They didn't even try.

In fact, the bull is the true star of Raging Beast.  As soon as the two protagonists enter the ring and stare each other down, you know that it's probably not going to end well for you.  When your only form of defence is a little red hankie, you need to be really good... because this bull knows what he's doing.

It appears as though the bull has the upper hand in this bout.
It's quite amazing just how much character has been packed into the few pixels that make up Alfonso the bull.  As soon as you start waving your red rag at him, he'll snort, he'll paw the ground, and then he'll start to approach you.

It's at this point that I make like the weedy guy up against the mighty gladiator in Monty Python's Life of Brian... I turn and run.

Doing this will not win you the game, but it's funny.  You will genuinely laugh as you're haring around the bullring with a hefty bull chasing after you.  But it doesn't get anything done, so at some point you have to grab the bull by the horns (not literally) and attempt to confront Alfonso.

Now... who exactly is in charge of this situation?
I used to be half-decent at this back in the day, and could "Olé" with the best of them.  But I don't mind admitting that I struggled to get to grips with it this time around.  I don't mind admitting it because, again, it was funny.  Getting stomped into the dirt, thrown into the air or flung onto the bull's back for an impromptu ride around the ring is good entertainment.

It can only last so long though, and eventually you get a little bored and want to move on to something else.  But for a unique, amusing and entertaining experience, Raging Beast hits the nail on the head.  And there's not even the slightest risk of injury!

Budget Day - Kane (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,


Boys love playing at being cowboys.  I'm no exception.  The (fairly) recent Red Dead Redemption allowed me to live out those Wild West fantasies in full, riding a horse around glorious barren landscapes in glorious sunsets, playing poker with the boys and taking down the bad guys.  Great stuff.

Of course, there have been cowboy games for almost as long as there have been games.  Possibly the earliest example was the arcade game Boot Hill, where you faced off against an opponent in a one-to-one shootout.  I loved playing against my dad on that game... we would later replicate it at home with Atari's Outlaw.

Anyone fancy a stir fry tonight?
Another of my favourite early Wild West games was Mastertronic's budget effort, Kane.  Written by John Darnell, who would later be responsible for classics such as Star Paws and Escape from Singe's Castle, it was owned (in one form or another) by probably everyone I knew.  We all thought it was a classic, although that might just have been because it was one of the first games we owned!

It was easy to be impressed by Kane, though.  For a start, the main sprite was basically Agent 4125 from Impossible Mission, in a cowboy hat.  And as the good agent was one of the best characters in computer games at the time, that was no bad thing.  The first level saw you shooting ducks with a bow and arrow, and they let out a rather pained sampled squawk when hit.  For a budget game, this first level alone made you sit up and take notice.

Other levels had just as much to impress.  The second and fourth levels feaured a very nicely animated horse... hey, it didn't take much to catch your eye in those days!  That said, those horse-jumping levels were a bit repetitive, and if you fell off in the wrong place you'd be stuck and your game would be over.

Peek-a-boo, I see you!  BLAM!
The third level saw Marshall McGraw, for he was the character you played, holed up in the town of Kane, with bad guys aplenty hiding out and hoping to take you down.  They'd appear in doorways, windows, up on rooftops or from behind barns.  If you weren't Quick Draw McGraw, they'd shoot you dead (or at least, dead enough to remove one of your lives).

Kane certainly had more than enough about it to keep us teens entertained for a good while.  Although it wouldn't have been great value at full price, it was a great little budget game, and it kept us occupied for many an evening whilst waiting for something else to roll into town.

Budget Day - Arnie (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,


If it's the early Nineties and you're making a game about an all-action hardman, you could do a lot worse than calling it Arnie.  Just that one name conjurs up images of a gun-toting muscleman, cutting a swathe through entire squadrons of armed bad guys.  It did then and it still does now, twenty years down the line.

It's appropriate enough, because the Arnie of this game is, indeed, a one-man army.  Dropped into a warzone by chopper, it's up to you to guide this man of steel around the map, shooting down everything in his path, until the inevitable confrontation with the mad dictator at the source of all the troubles.

There's not much that's as satisfying as exploding enemy hardware.
It's a tried-and-tested scenario, but the game is a bit more interesting and enjoyable than its cliched storyline.  That's partly because of the graphical viewpoint... Arnie is in glorious isometric 3D, which is fairly unusual for a game of this type.  It does mean that your viewing area is restricted at time (when you reach the edge of the map), but this doesn't really cause any problems.

Unusually, the game is not split into levels.  You're deposited into the jungle, and from there you just make your way across the landscape until you (hopefully) reach the end.  I often wondered why more action/shooting games weren't like this.  Life isn't split into levels, nor are action films.  Why shouldn't a shooting game be one seamless journey?  It works really well, with not a single break in the action.

That enemy truck looks dangerous. Luckily, my rocket is about to take it out.

Arnie was programmed by Chris Butler, and you get a little bit of a feeling that he was out to prove just how good a shooter he could program, having been hamstrung by Elite when programming (the still very enjoyable) Commando conversion.  This is a bit slower-paced than Commando, but still has plenty going on.  With extra weapons to pick up and new enemies and obstacles introduced along the way, it's never boring.

Arnie was released later in the Commodore 64's lifetime, and as a result it had a more expensive budget price of £3.99.  It was still well worth that bit extra though... I never regretted the purchase, and even today it's a worthwhile blast and a fair old challenge.

Budget Day - Slimey's Mine (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,


"YOU ARE HERE!"

Right now, you're on They Were Our Gods.  Back then, you were in Slimey's Mine, and you'd just picked up a map.  You knew that, because the game shouted it at you.  It shouted a lot of things at you, did Slimey's Mine.

If you've never played Slimey's Mine, you probably should.  I guarantee that you'll crack a smile, at the very least.  It's a completely bonkers game, the sort of concept that was realised regularly in the Eighties and went sadly missing for a long time, but is (thankfully) coming back with a vengeance in this day and age.

There he goes!

Slimey is a frog-like creature, who has somehow managed to get himself trapped in an asteroid belt far, far from home.  All he wants to do is make it back home.  Home is where Slimey's heart is.  Unfortunately, the only way off the asteroid belt comes in the form of a giant balloon... which is on the other side of a yawning chasm.  Slimey's only hope is to venture into the mines in the asteroids and collect frogs, which he can spit into the hole to fill it up, thereby creating a bridge to the balloon, freedom, and home!

If you're wondering what kind of game could possibly be spawned from a storyline like that, then let me tell you: it's a shoot 'em up.  Of course it is.  Each asteroid contains a number of caverns which Slimey must negotiate to get to the frogs.  As you'd expect, it's not as easy as that...

I'm forever blasting bubbles...

The asteroids feature a number of indigenous life forms, and guess what?  They're not friendly.  Some will actively attack Slimey, while others will wander about minding their own business.  Contact with all creatures is harmful to Slimey, though... he'll dry out, and eventually expire!  Fortunately, Slimey can collect water jars, which although not giving him any direct benefit, will turn bubbles to water that Slimey can collect.

There are other benefits to be found, too.  Apples will clear a screen of dirt, leaving you free to wander its entire area.  Banana bombs can be used to attack a number of enemies at once... useful.  A map will appear every so often, which will give you a reminder of the asteroid's internal layout.  And then there are the diamonds...

Eeek!  Get away!  Get away!

Now, don't get me wrong.  Slimey's not a greedy Gertie, Bertie.  But Slimey's only way off a screen is to collect enough diamonds to make a red diamond appear.  Once he collects the red diamond, all the critters disappear, leaving Slimey free to leave the screen.  Well, if he can avoid the death-dealing lasers, that is...

I'm sure that if you haven't played Slimey's Mine, you're probably shaking your head right now.  And you have a good right to be... it sounds ludicrous.  And it is ludicrous... but in that fantastic, imaginative way that fills you with a certain kind of joy.  It's loud and obnoxious, with hilarious sampled screams, gulps and utterances constantly brightening proceedings.   And although it eventually gets repetitive, it's great fun.  This was a terrific purchase back in the day.

Budget Day 2013

by PaulEMoz in , , ,


Good morning all, and welcome to Budget Day 2013!

For those of you that didn't follow my old blog, A Gamer Forever Voyaging, this is something I've done for the last couple of years now.  The intention is to take our minds away from the misery and drudgery of having more taxes imposed upon us and more of our hard-earned money taken from us in the Government's Budget, by going back to the days where a little of our money went a long way.

Often, when buying a budget game, you were taking a bit of a punt. It's quite possible you were buying it on a whim, without having read a review. Maybe you liked the screenshots on the back. Maybe it had a nice cover. Or maybe Rob Hubbard did the music. Whatever it was, there was a reasonable chance that your £1.99 purchase would give you about half an hour's entertainment before being consigned to the back of the bottom drawer. That made it all the more satisfying when it turned out you'd bought a little gem.

My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen... the House is in session. It's Budget Day!


Today, as I have done in the past couple of years, I'll be playing a mix of the great and the good (and the terrible) budget games that graced our Spectrums and Commodores.  Oh yes, I'll probably throw in a couple of stinkers just to remind ourself that not everything in the garden was rosy.  How I suffer for my art!

This particular Budget Day will be a little different, as I'll be reposting a few of the posts from previous years, probably with new screenshots and possibly with a little rewording in some cases.  It's a cheap and easy way to bolster the day's content, but what the heck.

So, sit back and relax as we take a trip back to the days of the budget game, and we'll see if our happy memories are justified or if we just couldn't admit to ourselves that we'd wasted our pocket money...

(C) 64 ways to make your Android/MP3 phone better!

by PaulEMoz in , ,


I think, although I'm not sure, that I can create links to the Commodore 64 ringtone files I made in Dropbox so that you can download them.  Won't that be great if it works?  So I'm going to try and do just that.  If it works, you can pick and choose from any you like the sound of, rather than waiting for me to e-mail you the whole batch.  Everybody wins!

Here's the "track listing":

Commodore 64 ringtones - Android/MP3 versions

The Complete Commodore 64 Ringtone Collection

Action Biker
Beyond Forbidden Forest 1
Beyond Forbidden Forest 2
Beyond Forbidden Forest 3
Beyond Forbidden Forest 4
Beyond Forbidden Forest 5
Beyond Forbidden Forest 6
Beyond Forbidden Forest 7
Beyond Forbidden Forest 8
Beyond Forbidden Forest 9
Bionic Commando
Citadel
Crazy Comets
Cybernoid
Delta
Dragon's Lair Part II
Driller
Dropzone
Finders Keepers
Firelord
Ghosts 'n Goblins
Green Beret
Hades Nebula 1
Hades Nebula 2
Hawkeye
Hunter's Moon
International Karate
Last Ninja 1
Last Ninja 1B
Lazy Jones 21
Monty on the Run 1
Monty on the Run 2
Monty on the Run 3
Mutants 1
Mutants 2
Nemesis the Warlock
Ninja
Novaload
Ocean Loader 1
Ocean Loader Early
Panther
Paradroid 1
Paradroid 2
Parallax 1
Parallax 2
Penetrator 1
Penetrator 2
Platoon
Rock 'n Wrestle
Sanxion 1
Sanxion 2
Spellbound 1
Spellbound 2
Thing on a Spring
UridiumFX
Uridium
Warhawk
Way of the Exploding Fist 1
Way of the Exploding Fist 2
Wizardry 1
Wizardry 2
Wizball
Zoids
Zybex

These are not complete tunes; rather, they're snippets that I reckon make for good ringtones.  I've edited them so that they loop around pretty neatly, and I think there are some really good ringtones here.  Oh, and they're not all tunes...


If you like these, please comment and let me know.  And by all means share this post wherever you think there would be an interest.  They took ages to make so they might as well be spread far and wide!  Don't go pinching them for another website though (at least not without asking)... that wouldn't be nice!


(C) 64 ways to make your iPhone better!

by PaulEMoz in , ,


I think, although I'm not sure, that I can create links to the Commodore 64 ringtone files I made in Dropbox so that you can download them.  Won't that be great if it works?  So I'm going to try and do just that.  If it works, you can pick and choose from any you like the sound of, rather than waiting for me to e-mail you the whole batch.  Everybody wins!

Here's the "track listing":

Commodore 64 ringtones - iPhone versions

The Complete Commodore 64 Ringtone Collection

Action Biker

Beyond Forbidden Forest 1
Beyond Forbidden Forest 2
Beyond Forbidden Forest 3
Beyond Forbidden Forest 4
Beyond Forbidden Forest 5
Beyond Forbidden Forest 6
Beyond Forbidden Forest 7
Beyond Forbidden Forest 8
Beyond Forbidden Forest 9
Bionic Commando
Citadel
Crazy Comets
Cybernoid
Delta
Dragon's Lair Part II
Driller
Dropzone
Finders Keepers
Firelord
Ghosts 'n Goblins
Green Beret
Hades Nebula 1
Hades Nebula 2
Hawkeye
Hunter's Moon
International Karate
Last Ninja 1A
Last Ninja 1B
Lazy Jones 21
Monty on the Run 1
Monty on the Run 2
Monty on the Run 3
Mutants 1
Mutants 2
Nemesis the Warlock
Ninja
Novaload
Ocean Loader 1
Ocean Loader Early
Panther
Paradroid 1
Paradroid 2
Parallax 1
Parallax 2
Penetrator 1
Penetrator 2
Platoon
Rock 'n Wrestle
Sanxion 1
Sanxion 2
Spellbound 1
Spellbound 2
Thing on a Spring
Uridium FX
Uridium
Warhawk
Way of the Exploding Fist 1
Way of the Exploding Fist 2
Wizardry 1
Wizardry 2
Wizball
Zoids
Zybex

Now, iPhones are a bit fiddly, and have their own special format for ringtones.  They can't use MP3s for such purposes.  Luckily for you, I'm awesome, and I have converted these to work on your iPhone.  Just add them to your iTunes and drag them to your phone, and they will automatically populate the Ringtones section.  Simple!

These are not complete tunes; rather, they're snippets that I reckon make for good ringtones.  I've edited them so that they loop around pretty neatly, and I think there are some really good ringtones here.  Oh, and they're not all tunes...

If you like these, please comment and let me know.  And by all means share this post wherever you think there would be an interest.  They took ages to make so they might as well be spread far and wide!  Don't go pinching them for another website though (at least not without asking)... that wouldn't be nice!

64 ways to make your phone better!

by PaulEMoz in , ,


Hey there!  It's my dad's birthday today... 65 today!  Congrats, fella!  And what better way to celebrate than for me to give YOU stuff!  I'm great like that.

In this case, I may be seen to be biased towards one side of my potential readership (sorry, Spec-chums!).  I have created, for your pleasure and enjoyment, sixty-four Commodore 64 ringtones!  Yes, some of the finest Commodore compositions have been hacked into bite-sized chunks by me, for the sole purpose of brightening up your life when you get a text or phone call.

SMILE! as the Crazy Comets bassline signals an incoming call.  GRIN! as your slacker mate phones to the sound of that famous tune from Lazy Jones.  SMIRK! when your girlfriend phones and the soundtrack to Penetrator plays...  LAUGH! at the sheer silliness of having Uridium's "Land Now!" siren blasts to announce a phone call, or even the sound of a Novaload's screech.  Yes, I've thrown a couple of left-field efforts in there, too...

Yes, I recorded the sound from this very screen.
I do enjoy making stuff like this for a bit of fun, and I hope you appreciate and enjoy them too.  You'd better, because it takes me ages!  But if you don't, there's no harm done.

Now for the tricky bit.  I haven't got any webspace at the moment, so you can only obtain these either by e-mail or through Dropbox.  Either way, just send me an e-mail to paul.e.morrison at gmail.com (you know what to do there) and let me know how you'd like to receive them, and I'll arrange it right away.

You can get these for either iPhone or Android (or any operating system that uses MP3s).  So I reckon that most people are covered here.  If you fancy spicing up your life, then get in touch!

Day 247 - Eeeeeeviiiiiiillll!

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , ,


I haven't used this title purely because I've just watched the lost Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy episode with my youngest child.  Ooohhhhh, no.  I'm using it because that's what this post is about.  Pure evil.  And we (almost) all were guilty...

I was just digging through my retro stash (thanks again Mr. Reed), when I came across some of these:

Look at that.  The 80s equivalent of a bar of gold.
Surely everybody that owned a computer, be it C64, Spectrum, Amstrad, Dragon 32, BBC or Oric must have had a stash of these.  They were perfect.  You could fit almost any single-load game on one side, which negated the need for tediously hunting through tapes and writing down counter numbers for each game.  You'd just load up the game, play it, and when you'd finished you'd turn the tape over, rewind it the short distance to the beginning and load up the game on that side.  Brilliant!

Of course, the fact you were doing so meant that you were a filthy, stinking PIRATE!  But to be honest, I don't think many kids back then even knew what that meant or what the consequences were.  It wasn't something I even thought about.

That said, there can have been no other reason for these cassettes to be produced other than for kids to copy games onto.  They were dead cheap (anyone remember exactly how much?), ideal for kids with limited budgets.  And let's face it, how many of us actually wrote our own programs?  Well, I wrote one... a database of ZZAP! 64-style reviews.  But it only consisted or PRINT and IF...THEN...GOTO statements.  Hardly a complex work.

Erm... that's right, m'lud. My reviews database was called "Commando".  Honest.
And for all that, I owned tens of Boots C15 cassettes.  Boots even sold cassette carriers, which held ten or twenty of these things and had a handle... perfect for carrying your evil ill-gotten games to a mate's house.

Of course, there were times when a C15 wouldn't do.  Complex multiloads needed more tape room, for starters.  And then there was the fact that you could get up to ten games on a side of C90 cassette.  So if you didn't have a big enough supply of trusty C15s, then you had to break out the big fella.

I probably sound like a right scumbag now.  But to be fair, I owned over 200 original games for my C64.  The problem was there were just so many great games available, and kids of our age had a very finite amount of cash.  It was simply impossible to buy all the games we wanted, which is where blank cassettes came in.  But I know that I, and most of my mates, had a very impressive collection of original games.  We bought as much as we could, not necessarily because we knew it was right, but because we liked owning this stuff.

That's just WRONG, man!  Who would waste tape on Trivial Pursuit?
I'm much the same now.  I've never owned any copied games for any system beyond my Commodore 64 (except for inherited copies that have come with a second-hand system I've bought).  I'd rather buy and own a film than download it.  And although I will admit to downloading music on occasion, I will either buy it if I like it or delete it if I don't.  Although in this day and age, there are programs available that legally allow you to preview music before you buy it so downloading is becoming a bit of a thing of the past.

I don't really have a point to this.  I'm not staunchly condemning the evil pirate scum or implicitly advocating the purchase of absolutely everything you like.  I just thought it would be fun to write a bit about the old days, having found a box of treasures.  There's not much that's more fun than digging through the past.

Day 238 - Meep! Meep? How's that for a Cliff Hanger?

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , ,


I distinctly remember the first time I played the Road Runner arcade conversion at home.  It looked great, but I couldn't help but feel disappointed by the simplistic gameplay.  Controlling the Road Runner, you ran along a series of roads, avoiding the ravenous Wile E. Coyote who attempted to catch you in a number of mildly amusing ways.

I think the problem with that game was that you played the Road Runner.  You don't watch Road Runner cartoons for the Road Runner, after all.  The fun comes from Wile E. Coyote's misadventures, mishaps and catastrophes.  Why would you play a game that doesn't feature any of that?

See, I just wanted to let the coyote get the Road Runner.  Wile E. is great!
Luckily, none of that mattered, because may years earlier a company called New Generation Software had released a game called Cliff Hanger.  And it was the only Road Runner game you'd ever need.

I doubt I'll ever forget the first time I loaded Cliff Hanger on my C64.  It was buried in the middle of a C90 that I'd borrowed, and as I'd never heard of it before I'd primarily loaded it to get to whatever was next on the tape.  Those feelings appeared to be confirmed when a droning tune burst into life and a crippled looking character (Cliff Hanger himself!) appeared and hobbled across the screen.  The fact that his brother was called Coat almost sealed the deal...

I'm looking at this and thinking that a lot could go wrong...
Still, I'd spent five minutes or so waiting for it to load, and in those days we all had more patience.  So I decided to give it a go.  What would another couple of lost minutes be, really?

Of course, I had no idea what to do.  The first screen appeared, and my character stood in a desolate-looking desert backdrop, appearing to be as clueless as I was.  I pushed the joystick right, and accidentally walked over the ledge.  Wow... what a rubbish game.

Well, that could have gone better. But at least I'm still in one piece.
The game took me back to a title page, but I noticed it had a different name this time.  I pressed fire, and a different scene appeared.  And this time, something was moving!  It was getting closer... a bandit!  I hurriedly ran at the precariously-positioned boulder, knocking it off the edge of the cliff... and squashed the bandit!

OK, so it was a pure fluke, but in that moment I realised what this game was all about.  Set up like a film set, Cliff Hanger has you playing a series of outrageous scenes or stunts in which you, as Cliff, must stop the evil bandit from making his getaway.  Some are relatively straightforward, merely asking you to roll a boulder off a cliff and onto the fleeing criminal.  Others, though, are very complicated and lead to a bit of head-scratching as you try and figure out what you need to do.

Alright, now I'm a bit stuck.
Graphically, the game is very simple... which is perfect.  It helps to generate the look and feel of the Road Runner cartoons.  The simplistic desert settings, although not of the finest quality, could almost have been ripped from your favourite episodes.

Interestingly, the tables are turned in terms of how the characters work.  The bad guy is now effectively the Road Runner, with the hapless Cliff Hanger taking on the role of Wile E. Coyote.  That's why the game is so much fun... you get to act out all the crazy stunts.  When you first start playing, you're never quite sure what's going to happen.  Sure, there are sometimes clues in the title, but when you're faced with a sparse landscape and just a couple of objects, it's all down to trial and error as to whether or not you'll be successful.  And when you set off one of those traps, you're almost hiding your eyes as you do it, wondering how it might go horribly wrong...

Alright, who put that giant rock there?  Thanks, whoever it was!
Cliff Hanger is hilarious and a heck of a lot of fun.  I suspect it was overlooked when it was released, which would be a shame as a lot of people missed out on a great time if that was the case.  There's not much to choose between the Spectrum and C64 versions... for me the Commodore version edges it with its slightly more authentic backdrops and the fact that screens are a lot more randomised, keeping it fresher.  Either way, though, if you like Road Runner you'd love playing Cliff Hanger.

Cliff Hanger was programmed by James Day, who didn't write much else.  I'd love to get his thoughts on the game, and also from New Generation's Malcolm Evans and their other programmers.  New Generation didn't release a lot of games, but there were some genuine groundbreakers among them, and they deserve to be featured in this book.  One can only try...

Day 232 - any time is a good time for a High Noon showdown!

by PaulEMoz in , , ,


I'm going to do more posts about single games from now on... otherwise there's a danger of me only writing one post a month!  That doesn't guarantee the game I write about will be included in the book, so if that happens with any of them you can consider these bonus features!

One of the first Commodore 64 games I ever played, well before I even owned a machine of my own, was Ocean Software's High Noon.  I used to go to a mate's house and he had loads of games for his, even at that early stage.  Some of them might be considered quite obscure by now... for instance, I now distinctly remember playing Jason Perkins' Blue Moon, which I'd completely forgotten about until I started researching Jason Perkins!

Yee-haw, ya rootin'-tootin- varmint!
One game I never forgot was High Noon.  Back in those early days, the prospect of any new game loading was exciting.  This was a fairly typical early Ocean game, with the Novaload squeaking into life and then a basic loading screen, short repetitive tune and scrolling message popping up.  For some reason, even though I was used to the instant access of the Atari VCS' cartridges, the nervous anticipation of seeing a new game was there every time.

Once it loaded, High Noon was one of the best things I'd ever seen.  It may have had really chunky sprites, but it gave them charm and character.  And you could walk into and out of the screen!  This made the play area bigger, although you had to learn a whole new method of bullet dodging as a result!

You can never die with dignity in the Old West.
Speaking of charm and character, for a game where the focus is purely on gunning down as many bad guys as possible, High Noon has a nice sense of humour.  This is evidenced by the undertakers, "Rig + Mortis", who wander out after each kill and drags the still-warm bodies into their lair!  Oh, and this even includes your good self, so try not to get hit if you can...

Later levels ramp up the difficulty, with bandits on horseback throwing you off guard, and then there are the robbers with dynamite to keep a close eye on...

Ah.  So that's what that hissing thing does.
You have to keep your trigger finger warm and active if these guys aren't going to make off with all the bank's money or worse, all the saloon's women!  And while it does get repetitive, the difficulty curve is well-judged and the gameplay remains frantic enough to entertain.  I don't know who wrote High Noon... there is no in-game credit other than "Ocean Software Presents".  But it's a game I've enjoyed for almost thirty years now, and still well worth a little blast today.

Day 189 - CHIIIIIMEEEEERAAAA! CHIMERA!

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,


When I were a lad, one of the main disappointments, if you can call it that, of owning a Commodore 64 was its lack of isometric 3D adventures.  The Spectrum had them in abundance, with Ultimate's offerings being particularly impressive.  I was a bit jealous of my Speccy-owning friends, and could often be found in their houses, pottering around Knight Lore castle in an attempt to rid myself of a lycanthropic curse.

I was delighted, then, when Firebird released, with surprisingly little fanfare, an isometric 3D adventure on the C64 called Chimera.  Set in the future, the game saw the people of Earth thrown into panic when an undoubtedly hostile alien craft was found to be orbiting the planet.  It had to be stopped, and the only way to do that was by beaming you onboard in a robotic space suit, with the aim of finding a way to destroy the ship from within.

This is how it started.
It wasn't a big game, but it was quite tricky and, crucially, it was fast and played pretty well.  It certainly scratched that isometric itch nicely for a good while.  It was also notable for some excellent Rob Hubbard music, and some quite frightening synthesised speech, with the game bellowing its name at you at the start and offering up a blood-curdling scream upon your death.  It was well-received on all formats, and rightly so.

Author Shahid Ahmad was responsible for a number of other games, including the C64 port of Jet Set Willy... which would be very interesting to discuss.  He also wrote the Spectrum and Amstrad versions of Chimera... the latter of those being done in just a week, with no prior experience of the machine!  Remarkable stuff.  There were versions on other platforms, too.


And this is how it looks now!  Which do you prefer?
I was very interested when I read last year that Shahid was attempting a remake of Chimera on the PC.  In fact, the project began in 2010, as his blog shows.  Have a read of it, there's some good stuff there.  There's no real reason for the remake, other than it was something he fancied doing.  Who needs a better reason than that, anyway?

Two years later, and it's finished.  Or, at least, the first playable version has been released.  You can download it on Shahid's blog page for either PC or Mac.  It's pretty faithful to the original, and quite basic as games go these days, but it's fun to potter around in that world again.  It has an appropriately spooky opening, with some random atmospheric sounds playing, and the famous speech makes a return.  Other than that, not much has changed... yet.  You still eat bread and drink tea and die because of radiators and try and make missiles to blow up the ship.

Hurray, I've created a missile! Hang on... where the hell am I?
And that's great, for version 1.0.  But it's just a stepping stone to more, promises Shahid.  There will be some updates to this, but it all appears to be leading toward a Chimera 2.0.  It should have lots more features and ideas, and be a much better game all round.  That makes me happy... it's great to have that to look forward to.  For now, though, have a go at Chimera 2010. It's a nice little piece of unashamedly retro gaming.  I hope to talk to Shahid about it, and of course his 8-bit games, for this book.

Tell you what, the first one of my readers to finish Chimera 2010 gets a free Steam game from me, from my stockpile of gifts.  How can you refuse?

Day 155 - twisted, but in a good way

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , ,


I fancied a bit of old-school gaming this weekend, but then I remembered an e-mail I'd had earlier in the week from my Kickstarter account.  Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams had been released!

I quite enjoyed the original Great Giana Sisters back in the day.  It was as close to Super Mario Bros. as I was ever going to get, and it helped usher in a new breed of platform game.  It was epic, it was fun, and it kept you playing in an attempt to find all the hidden secrets.  It still annoys me that my parents threw my copy away after I moved out of their house!

Poor cute Giana, having to get through this horrible land!
Anyway, I wrote about all this on Day 76, so I doubt you want to hear it again.  You probably want to know whether the new game lives up to its origins.  I'll give you my first impressions...

The first thing you notice is that Giana is beautiful.  Platform games aren't generally renowned for making your jaw drop with their looks, but this game is gorgeous.  In fact, it's doubly gorgeous, because each level has a completely different background, depending on which sister you're playing as.

Musically, it's also a bit of a treat, with both Chris Huelsbeck and Machinae Supremacy providing twists on the original's tunes, and again, these segue seamlessly between one or the other, depending on which sister you happen to be.

Aargh! What a nightmare for punky Giana!
This is exactly the same place as in the screenshot above. What a difference!
The gameplay is a little harder for me to comment on at this point.  It's still early days for me, for one thing... I still have a lot of ground to explore, and many features to discover.  Also, with the game looking as good as it does, it's not running all that quickly on the laptop I played it on.  I'll be putting it on my new laptop soon, though, and I expect that one to cope substantially better.  I expect I'll comment further then.

That said, it's good fun, and retains the tradition of the original Great Giana Sisters while taking it in a different direction.  As you'd expect, collecting diamonds is a large part of each level, although there are now three colours of the gems: blue, which either sister can collect; yellow, which only cute Giana can collect; and red, which only punky Giana can collect (wasn't she called Maria in the original?).

He's a big fella! Bet I'll have to beat him, somewhere down the line.
There are hidden areas to find, as you'd expect, and these are also found through twists on the original's gameplay.  For instance, in the first game, if you stood on bridges for too long, they dissolved away.  In this game, the bridges morph between broken and complete, depending on which persona's world you inhabit, and this helps you find your way to otherwise unreachable areas.

All the hard work and the stress of the Kickstarter appears to have paid off, with Black Forest Games having produced something which is more than worthy of the original's name, and which wears its old-school heart on its sleeve whilst having a really refreshing look and feel to it.  There's a lot of game here, which might eventually pale through lack of variety, but I'm very happy with the outcome and look forward to getting stuck into it properly.

Day 150 - 10,000!

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,


I'm now five months into this project, and today I hit 10,000 page views.  I'll be honest, I'm pretty happy with that.  It's not like I've got any major backing from big websites or anything... there's just me spamming Facebook and Twitter, and website message boards that I was already a member of.  Who knows?  Maybe I'll ramp things up when there's more to talk about.

That said, I'll always appreciate any efforts my readers might want to make in plugging this.  The whole point of doing it is to attract readers, so the more I have the better.  I might even dish out rewards for anyone that gets me some good publicity... I've got about a dozen games on Steam, just waiting to be gifted (I will state that they're not current releases!).

Is there a more recognisable 80s' software house logo?
I will give a shout out to ex-Ocean graphics wiz Mark Jones, who's support of this project is much appreciated.  It's great to have people I intend to write about being so enthusiastic about this book, and quite important to me, too... it helps to validate what I'm doing, and lends it an air of authenticity.

Actually, if you're any kind of 8-bit computer fan, you ought to check out what Mark is doing to showcase Ocean's contribution to computer gaming.  The Ocean Software Facebook page constantly has new material posted, as does the Ocean Software website.  You'll find tons of fascinating pictures, storyboards and background there... it's really interesting.

Questions, questions... but who will I be questioning next?
What comes next, then?  What would you like to see?  I'm conscious of the fact that behind the scenes work isn't terribly interesting.  I'm trying hard to get a pool of stock questions for people, because I intend to send out a big batch of requests soon, but it's pointless doing that if I get a load of positive replies, only to sit there for ages trying to think of good questions!

Anyway, here's to the next 10,000 page views, the next 100 posts, and the next people who jump on board with me.  We're still looking at a great book here, the like of which is just not out there.  Let's get as many people on board as we can!

Allan Shortt - a celebration of his legacy

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , ,


It's always difficult to hear that someone you've admired has passed away.  Ocean Software stalwart Mark Jones Jr has announced on the Ocean Software Facebook page that we have lost Commodore 64 coder Allan Shortt.

His might not be a name that you automatically think of in neon lights and with fanfares sounding, as with some of the luminaries of Eighties gaming.  In fact, he only worked on five games for the Commodore 64 (well, six, technically, but I'm not including a very basic effort writtne for C&VG magazine).  But those games were all great fun, and that's the important standard by which computer games should be measured.

I did not know Allan Shortt, but I certainly knew his games, and I would have loved the chance to talk about them with him for this book.  As for today, I am going to take part in my equivalent of football's "one minute's applause", and play and write about Allan's games.

Yie Ar Kung-Fu II

I remember when the first adverts for Yie Ar Kung-Fu II appeared in games magazines.  I was a little surprised to see them... having played, loved and had my backside kicked by the original arcade game and wrung way more than my nine quid's worth out of the highly respectable Commodore 64 conversion, I hadn't even been aware of a Yie Ar Kung-Fu II arcade machine.

There was a reason for this, of course... there wasn't an arcade machine.  Imagine had taken advantage of the licence and developed an original beat 'em up game, based on the original's successful formula.

Life lesson for you... always be wary of a redhead.
This was a pretty bold move... and one that might be trickier to pull off today, with companies being incredibly protective of their IPs.  In my opinion, it paid off quite handsomely, and the fact the game was developed for home computers rather than converted worked in its favour.  Imagine were able to take a few liberties, and developed a game with more of a sense of humour than the original.

It was also more difficult.  I know that the original was hardly classed as a walk in the park... in fact, the arcade one remains incredibly difficult to this day (and I think I am qualified to say that).  But with the Commodore 64 version, at least, you could go on forever once you found the right groove.  I know I scored over 13 million on it one summer's day.  There was no chance of that happening with Yie Ar 2.

Oi!  Ugly!  Yeah... Fan was much better looking than you!
It was packed with imaginative bad guys to battle, some of whom were inspired by the original game and some who were probably inspired by a night down the pub.  The first enemy, Yen-Pei, for instance, twirls his braided pony tail around and then lashes you with it.  I think he was probably loosely based on Yie Ar Kung-Fu's Chain, but it's definitely an inspired twist.

Beating him takes some doing... I must have played a dozen games just now before I finally saw him on his back.  And then I managed to inexplicably reset my emulator before I could take a screenshot of the second boss!  Aaargh!  Nonetheless, Yie Ar Kung-Fu II stands up pretty well.  There are less moves available, but I think that actually gives you a little more control.  And with a sub-game before you reach the boss and pickups to boost health or give limited invulnerability, this game can stand proudly as a true sequel to the arcade classic.

Mario Bros.

Everyone knows Mario Bros.  Well, now they do, anyway.  In 1987, many of us probably didn't.  I know I didn't... in fact, I didn't know much about Nintendo at all (to be honest, I still don't... even when I've bought their systems I've always preferred third-party games... I know, I'm a heathen).  So when I borrowed an odd little platform game called Mario Bros., I wasn't expecting very much.

As it turns out, it's not exactly earth-shattering.  Mario (and Luigi, if you start a two-player game) are trapped in a series of single-screen levels.  Critters will pour from the pipes, and the only way for the titular brothers to leave is to slaughter them all in cold blood.

Whatcha doin' on your back?  You should be dancin', yeah!
What?  Does that sound a bit harsh?  Well, it's nature's way, so you have to get on with it.  Turtles are the order of the day on the first few screens, then crabs, then turtles and crabs.  And who knows what else?  It might just be that the brothers are trapped forever...

Of course, we know that they weren't, as they went on to star in God knows how many Nintendo games, some of which were amazing and some of which were awful (Mario Superstars Baseball, I'm looking at you here).  Mario Bros. is something of an inauspicious start to their career, though.

There's an obvious, Beavis and Butthead-style caption just waiting here.  But I'll refrain.
I don't think there's anything wrong with the conversion... it looks and sounds really nice, and plays well enough.  It's the limitations of the game itself that put you off playing for any length of time.  It's more fun in two-player mode, though, where you can scupper your friend's game just to survive yourself...

Athena

No, I've never seen an Athena arcade game.  I remember seeing the adverts and reading the reviews, and thinking that someone had made a Rastan game to appeal to girls, even though I'd never played it.

Turns out, that's not too far wide of the mark!  Although having said that, it probably compares better to Wonder Boy in Monster Land.  I can say those things quite confidently, as I enjoy them both.  And now that I've had a good go at Athena, I can say that I enjoy that too.

Yeah... don't go to the right.  It's water.  Games characters don't do well in water.
It wasn't that way to start with.  I was dropped into "World of Sea", where I died.  Repeatedly.  And quickly, I might add.  It seemed that Athena wasn't blessed with a big pair of lungs (shush!), and drowned before I could find another patch of dry land.  Frustrating.

But then I managed to start at "World of Forest", where things picked up considerably.  By that, I mean that I didn't die within seconds.  I found progress came somewhat more easily, especially when I killed a bear and picked up its yo-yo (yes, really).  With this exciting weapon, you can not only batter creatures to death, you can also destroy blocks of landscape and reveal other treats beneath, like shields and boots that give you the ability to "fly" (well, jump a long way).

Aaargh!  I'm not going up there... what the hell is that thing?
Once you've had the chance to do a bit of exploring, the game becomes very enjoyable.  I wish I'd played this one back in the day, as it would have been right up my street.  It looks like a fast-action game, but it's more laid-back with the combat being a necessity if you're going to explore.  I might have a bit more of a go on this one later... it seems pretty epic, with large levels, and I'm in the mood for a bit of a poke about in another world.

Combat School

Oh, Combat School.  This was probably the game that made me glad I used a Zipstik and not something like a Quickshot II.  I was also very happy with this brilliant conversion, because I can't begin to tell you how painful it was the time I trapped the skin on my hand in the trackball on the arcade version.

I definitely had some trepidation regarding this... I wondered whether it could possibly do the arcade game justice.  I didn't think joystick waggling would be as good, and the target shooting sections would surely suffer, wouldn't they?  I needn't have worried for a second, as the conversion really hit the mark.

Come on, get a move on, monkey-man.
Combat School featured seven events.  Cleverly, they were split so that each waggler was followed by a shooting event, giving the player a much-appreciated opportunity to get some feeling back into their waggling arm.

The events were standard military fare: an obstacle course, arm wrestling, an iron man race (not against a bloke in a flying metal suit; that would be unfair), and the target shooting.  The ultimate aim was to reach a qualifying mark in each event, so that you would be deemed worthy of taking on your drill instructor in a one-on-one fight.  Good luck with that one.

Tell you what, the Olympics have got nothing on this.
It's a really enjoyable take on the multi-event game, even today.  Everyone loves to prove their worth at waggling games, and then there's the high-scoring action of the target shooting to add broader appeal.  Combat School can easily be regarded as one of the best arcade conversions of the 8-bit computer era... absolutely top work.

Arkanoid: Revenge of Doh

Allan Shortt's last game on the Commodore 64 was a sequel to the incredibly popular Arkanoid.  Subtitled Revenge of Doh, unlike Yie Ar Kung-Fu II this one actually was an arcade conversion.

You probably all know Arkanoid, in which case you all know it's a Breakout game.  One of the first and simplest games, Arkanoid gave it a big shot in the arm with great sound, massively-improved graphics and loads of extra features, freshening it up and making it a game you wanted to play in the Eighties.

Pew! Pew!  Man, all games are more fun with lasers.
A sequel was inevitable, but what on Earth could you do to improve on the original, erm, improvements?  Where Arkanoid was like the jump from VHS to DVD, Revenge of Doh was more like the move from DVD to BluRay (not that you'd know it then, of course).  It's definitely better than Arkanoid, but not as big an improvement as Arkanoid was over Breakout.

Still, a greater range of power-ups made for better entertainment.  The fact that they dropped more frequently added to the enjoyment... whereas in Arkanoid you might play half a dozen games and only see the laser once, you could be sure of getting it early on and often in Revenge of Doh.  That alone made the fun factor a lot higher.

Ugh, a giant bug!  Quick, where's that laser?  Or a newspaper?
It did have its niggles... the main one being that you could often get stuck with a slow-moving ball and just a couple of bricks to destroy and being too cack-handed to hit the ball in the right direction.  This meant a level could outstay its welcome.  But that was your own fault.  In the main, Arkanoid: Revenge of Doh was a superb Breakout game.

It's obvious from these games that Allan Shortt was a very talented coder, capable of giving us excellent versions of the games we loved in the arcades (and even those we'd never seen before!).  I would imagine that these talents would serve him well in whatever he took on after he'd left the Commodore 64 behind.  From our point of view, he was one of our Gods, and the legacy he left behind will forever live in our memories.  Thanks for the good times, Allan.

Day 113 - U.S. Gold

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , ,


The north-east of England was invaded by the might of the United States of America last week, as they dragged us into a more civilised world with the opening of a massive Krispy Kreme doughnut and coffee shop.


Mmmm... delicious, glazed, doughnutty goodness!
Oh, what?  You thought this post would be about games?  Sorry!  Well, I'll see if I can squeeze some in while I'm here...

When you think about U.S. Gold, you think of a meganormous American company shipping their exotic foreign wares to a grateful British gaming public.  In truth, it wasn't exactly like that.  True, they did produce or publish some amazing stuff, but they also put out more than their fair share of dross, particularly in the early days.

Interestingly, several of their better games, particularly in later years, were programmed by British coders.  One of my favourite U.S. Gold games was Archer MacLean's Dropzone.  That wasn't always the case...

These are the things that will be killing you now.
I first played Dropzone at a mate's house.  I didn't particularly want to, after I'd seen him play it.  Clearly, it was a Defender variant... and I hated Defender, on the grounds that I was rubbish at it.  Still, I gave Dropzone a go... and I was rubbish at that, as well.  It was soul-destroyingly difficult.  Not to worry, I didn't need to play it any more, I had plenty of other games to be getting on with and it wasn't like I owned it or anything.

Then, one fateful day, I was walking around Newcastle with ten pounds to burn.  There was no question in my mind that it would be spent on a game (or some games)... the only question was which game?

I'm so busy, my head is spinning...
It was then that I saw a compilation on the shop shelf... U.S. Gold's Arcade Hall of Fame.  It looked amazing.  Spy Hunter... Tapper... Up 'N' Down... Aztec Challenge... Blue Max.  I'd played all of them before, and the only one I didn't love was Blue Max.  Better still, I didn't own any of them.  It was a must-buy for £9.99.

I had a great time when I got home, loading them up one at a time for an evening of cracking entertainment.  Spy Hunter, Tapper and Up 'N' Down were all excellent arcade conversions.  Aztec Challenge was great fun with excellent music (although if you've ever tried to play it on a black and white telly, you'll know that there's a problem that effectively renders you blind on one of the levels).

It's the end of the world as we know it.
Blue Max was the last game I went to load, because I hadn't much liked it when I played it and so wasn't really bothered about it.  I hit Shift and Run/Stop, pressed Play on tape and started reading the instructions.  I missed the "FOUND" message, but looked up when I heard the familiar screech of the Novaload... whereupon I was dismayed to see the word DROPZONE in the middle of the grey screen.

I didn't even know how this could be.  I mean, I knew I wasn't exactly excited by the prospect of Blue Max, but Dropzone wasn't even supposed to be in this compilation!  Why would they replace Blue Max with that, of all games?  Damn them!

I played it a few times, and only broke the 10,000 barrier once or twice.  It was so hard and I hated it.  I vowed never to play it again.

Some things never change...
But over time I kept reading about how it was a modern classic, and one of the best games ever, and how everyone loved it.  As someone who considered myself a pretty decent gamer, I figured I owed it to myself, and the game, to give it one more shot.

Slowly, with intense concentration, I began to improve.  I reached 20,000, then 30,000... and I found myself enjoying the game.  With the computer on the floor, my left foot on the Commodore key for my invisibility cloak and my right foot on the space bar for the smart bomb, I had a set-up which was comfortable and saw me making decent progress.  And I saw the game for what it really was... an incredibly challenging shoot 'em up which ranked up there with the very best.


Foot, meet face.
I think my high score on Dropzone was about 153,000.  That's not amazing by any stretch, but it's not bad and it shows that I made a more than reasonable effort at learning the game.  I still enjoy it to this day... it's probably Archer MacLean's best game, although the superb International Karate runs it close.  It would be great if I could get a few quotes from Archer in my book, and it goes without saying I'll be including him and his games regardless.

Day 99 - Set myself a Task

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


I'm sure you've noticed my posting has slowed down of late.  There are a few reasons for that.  Real-world stuff has reared its ugly head again, with me having to get my eldest prepared for going back to school this coming week... he's at a new school, and it's ridiculous how much stuff I've had to buy.  I sense another eBay purge in my near future...

Another reason is one I've been both hoping for and dreading at the same time.  I've got through to the next stage of both the jobs I applied for recently, one of which means I have to have an interview.  I've never liked interviews, and it's been fifteen years since I had one.  So I have to prepare really thoroughly for this one.  It's quite important, so I might well be less evident here until it's out of the way.


Pew! Pew! Shoot the little saucer things from your giant Gyro thing!
With that being said, I have to have the odd respite from all that, and this is where games come in to save the day, yet again.  I delved into the depths of my mind, and pulled out the name of one of the more charming software houses, and one who really only existed in the early-ish days of the 8-bit computers... Taskset.

One of my mates had a few of their games before I even owned my Commodore 64 and they were quite distinctive and fun to play, although not many of them would stand out as classics.  They were colourful, with very big, mostly chunky graphics, and an immediately recognisable music style.

Some of their games could only have come from the minds of the British.  Take Bozo's Night Out, for example.  The object of the game was to get Bozo home after an epic night on the lash.  This, of course, is much easier said than done.


Yep, this has all the makings of a good night out.
Bozo is a chunky-looking bloke... and not in a good way.  This doesn't help when he's staggering about after a skinful.  Nor does the fact Bozo has many obstacles to overcome in his quest to sleep it off.  As if avoiding cops, skinheads and, ummm, naked women (?) wasn't bad enough, attempting to take a shortcut through the park sees Bozo bumping into all kinds of horrors.

It's mental stuff, and not all that good in the cold light of day, but back in the day it was entertaining stuff.

Another Taskset game that you wouldn't get from any other nation was Seaside Special.  Borne from the legacy of the seaside postcard but imbued with a British sense of satire, the game saw you trawling a beach for radioactive seaweed, with which you then trooped off to 10 Downing Street to lob at the sackless political residents.



Even Tebbit would be crapping himself at the sight of that stripey loon!
To be fair, it sounds a lot better than it actually was.  Every aspect of the game was simplistic, but again, it was a bit of a laugh to play back in the day... for a while, at least.

All this does make it sound as though Taskset were a bit of a novelty company, who were only there to make up the software numbers at the beginning of the 8-bit revolution.  There were, however, two stone-cold classics in the Taskset lineup... Super Pipeline, and its sequel, Super Pipeline II.

The object of both games is to guide your plumber and his mates around a series of pipes, keeping them open so that the water (or whatever liquid it is) can flow into the barrels at the end.  This sounds easy, but as you would expect, there are a number of obstacles which attempt to make things run far from smoothly...


You know, this would be a lot easier if they built a pipe
that went straight to the barrel.
Rogue tools will make holes in the pipes, and these will need to be fixed.  That's where your mates come in... they're skilled at pipe fixing.  While they're at work, you have to fend off anything that might drag them from the pipes.  And I do mean anything... besides the roving tools, insects and lobsters wander about, and they will drag you and your pals from the pipes at every opportunity.

The Super Pipeline games are frantic, cartoony and great fun to play.  They were unquestionably the jewels in the Taskset crown, and kept me amused for many a long while.  It's a shame that the company died out as things were really taking off with computer and video games... Andy Walker was their key man, maybe I'll get to hear some of his and their story in weeks to come.