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:





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 - Jason's Gem (ZX Spectrum)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

My search for previously unplayed games takes me to many places.  However, sometimes the games I find aren't particularly suitable for blog posts.  Sometimes they're too complicated to get into, or sometimes they're just too bland to write anything interesting about.  I play a lot of games looking for good blog fodder.

Jason's Gem has been sitting on my "to play" list for a couple of years now.  I've meant to play it and never got round to it.  That's partly because I've never played it before, and I've tended to see the name at times when I've needed a quick post.  To write about a game that's new to you, you need a bit of time.  Fortunately, today I've had some.

Aaaargh! My eyes!
The first screen of Jason's Gem is annoying and completely unnecessary.  Your spaceship glides down the screen, and you must land on a moving platform to pick up some cargo.  It's never specified what this cargo is, so unless it's your ship's laser then this irritating screen could have been left on the drawing board.

Having successfully completed this screen, I was horrified to find myself in a Lunar Lander/Caverns of Mars type of game.  Jason must not only pilot his craft to the bottom of the cave, he has to shoot his way through.  This is very difficult... you don't have much time to react and you need to be pixel perfect when moving through gaps.  To make it worse, you can leave a screen in such a position that you die instantly on the next.

That's ridiculous. Did the writers of Galaxy Quest invent this room?
Should you reach the bottom of the cave, Jason exits the ship to go exploring the cave in an attempt to find his missing gem.  I'll tell you what, that must be one hell of a gem because those caverns are terrifying!  Too terrifying for me... I was unable to negotiate my way to the end.

Jason's Gem is alright for a £1.99 game, but certainly not as good as its average rating on World of Spectrum.  I could certainly imagine myself persevering with it in 1985... it would have held up much better back then.  Now, though, it's a bit too obtuse to stick with.

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.

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 - Kwik Snax (ZX Spectrum)

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I figured that any round up of budget games, especially this close to Easter, would not be complete without a Dizzy game.  Trouble was, I didn't much fancy any of that leaping around and putting objects in the right place carry on.  Luckily, Dizzy branched out a bit in later years... and that's how I came to play Kwik Snax.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Kwik Snax, but I don't think I was prepared for a Pengo clone.  After all, Pengo was an old and outdated game even when Kwik Snax was released, never mind now!  Still, if you think you have a good idea, you might as well go with it.  Pity I never really liked Pengo that much...

I like bananas, but I don't like rain.  Go away, rain!
Kwik Snax sees Dizzy in Mario mode, as his friends have all been kidnapped by the evil Zaks, and only Dizzy can rescue them.  As Zaks is insane, Dizzy must rescue them by collecting all the fruit from icy, hazard-filled mazes.  Bad guys were much more imaginative back then.

It's lucky that the walls of the mazes are made from blocks of ice, because Dizzy can push these around to facilitate easier fruit collection.  And not only that, the blocks will crush anything in their path once shoved, making them very handy weapons!

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Pity, I might need him with these vicious critters about!
Should Dizzy collect all the fruit in a level, he will move on to a bonus level.  These play differently in that only a set amount of time is available to collect the fruit, and once you start moving you can only change direction if you're stopped by a wall.  So if you make the wrong move, you're knackered.

It's a very playable and addictive game.  The bonus levels add much-needed variety, and there's a nice little Bomb Jack scoring mechanic, whereby you can collect all the flashing fruits in order for more points.  I had a lot of fun with Kwik Snax, much more than I was expecting, and I think I might go back to it once the day is done.

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 - Booty (ZX Spectrum)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

Arrrr, Jim Lad (fer that be yer name)... yer on a ship that be occupied by naught but ghost pirates. But this ship is laden wi' booty... and it's yours fer the takin', if ye can outwit those scurvy knaves and scabbards, and empty the hold o' its goodies.

Arrrr... enough of that, Talk Like A Pirate Day is months away! Booty is a platform game where you play the put-upon cabin boy who, sick of his lot in life, decides to gather up as much of the pirates' loot as he can and, to use modern parlance for once, "do one".

No, Jim lad! Don't do it!
Naturally, they're not about to give up their ill-gotten gains as easily as all that, and they walk the decks, cutlasses in hand, all ready to hand out a damn good thrashing to anyone wi' sticky fingers. Whoops, sorry.

It's a clever little game, is Booty. For all the pirates and their parrots deal instant death, the biggest obstacle is the layout of the ship. Some of the rooms are really tricky to negotiate, with keys having to be picked up in the right order to allow you access to certain rooms at the right times. Oh, and some of the treasure is booby-trapped...

Do you think J-Lo or Beyonce would like this game?
I first played Booty on a mate's Spectrum, and I liked it so much that it was one of the first games I bought when I got my Commodore 64. Pity, then, that the 64 version was wretched and a huge disappointment (and waste of pocket money!). There's no such problem with the Spectrum version... it was a cracking release from Firebird, and gave me a taxing but enjoyable hour or so when playing it again. Arrrr, that it did. Oh, bugger.

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 - Nonterraqueous (ZX Spectrum)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , ,

Time for a game I've never played before, despite always wanting to... the rather majestically named Nonterraqueous.

It's certainly a name that sticks with you.  Whether it was one of your favourite games or you only read a review, the chances are that if you've ever heard of it, reading this article will ring a small bell in the back of your brain.

Look, it's a bermb.  A bermb?  Yes, a bermb.
I first read about Nonterraqueous in ZZAP! 64, where it was given a lukewarm reception and a 48% review score.  As the Spetrum version seems to be more highly regarded, I thought I'd give that one a try today.  Fingers crossed...

The plot of the game sees a nightmarish future come true.  An evil computer has developed a superior intelligence and is using this to oppress the people that built it.  In an attempt to wrest back their lives and their freedom, the people have constructed a robot seeker droid and have sent it to locate the computer base and destroy it!

Now I'm a sproing helicoptery thing.  Wheeeee!
This isn't an easy task... the game is massive, with over a thousand screens!  So many screens for only £1.99... that would have been pretty much my ideal game in 1986.

My first play lasted seconds, as I absent-mindedly blundered into a photon thruster and died instantly.  Harsh!  Armed with this useful information, I set about my task with a little more caution.

White lines.  Don't do it.
As you make your way around the complex, you'll find bombs lying around, and it would be rude not to pick them up (also silly, as they'll be used to destroy the computer, no doubt).  You'll also notice "SWOP" machines, where you can change your form.  I'm sure this will be very useful in places... I've only done it so far because it looks nice.

Nonterraqueous brings to mind a number of similar games, such as Starquake and Arc of Yesod.  Having played it for a while, I don't think it really comes close to matching those classics.. the main problem being that you start every game on the same screen.  Randomising your starting position would have helped a lot, with so many screens to explore.  But there's undoubtedly a massive challenge here, and a lot of playtime for your couple of quid.

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 - Star Farce (ZX Spectrum)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

Here's another game I played for an earlier edition of Budget Day.  I picked this one because I love the arcade game Star Force. Still, I was a bit wary... would this be a total pisstake?  I'm not necessarily a fan of parody games, unless they're done really well. I suppose there was only one way to find out.

It turns out that Star Farce is a really good vertically-scrolling shooter. The reason for the name lies in the amusing plot... aliens have been trying to make contact with Earth for years, but every time they do, paranoid Earthlings send out waves of attack craft to wipe out these "aggressors". The Universe is collectively sick of this, and to put a stop to it (and to save those that are left), they've sent in a fighter pilot to destroy Earth's resources and attack craft, and all its inhabitants while they're at it. You are that fighter pilot.

Pew, pew, boooom!
I was amazed by Star Farce. For just £1.99, this would have been amazing value. The graphics are really great, being detailed and colourful. Pretty much everything you see is destructible... it felt fantastic to shoot a power generator and see it set off a chain reaction that destroyed everything connected to it.  There are loads of other tricks and surprises, too, one of which sees you going under the planet's surface to tackle a mothership.

It is, however, very, very difficult.  You won't be completing this game any time soon, that's a guarantee.  In fact, you have to start learning the enemy attack patterns to progress, otherwise you'll be creamed in seconds, every time.  I can imagine that might be a problem for some, but it didn't bother me in the slightest here.

Off to see 'Er Indoors...
You also get loads of options before you even start playing the game. Star Farce is one of the most full-featured and entertaining shmups I've seen on either Spectrum or C64, which makes the price (and the tiny 58% review in CRASH) all the more surprising. The only quibble I really had was with the firing rate of the ship, but even that can be eased through a Star Force-style pick-up. Oh, and I suppose the amount of colour can be slightly detrimental at times as it can get har to pick out what's happening on occasions.  That notwithstanding, Star Farce is probably as close to an arcade game as you could get on the Spectrum I had a really great time with it, and quite fancy another go now...

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 - Pippo (ZX Spectrum)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

I played Pippo for my other blog, A Gamer Forever Voyaging, a couple of years ago.  I was using my tried-and-trusted formula of trawling World of Spectrum and picking out highly rated games.  Pippo averages a score of 8.28 from the public vote... high praise indeed!  I felt sure I was in for a minor classic.
My face fell a bit, though, when I read that it was a puzzle game. Not exactly the way I want to spend any time off, playing puzzle games. Still, I was committed, so I loaded it up anyway.
What a dilemma! All that lovely money bouncing around, but you can't pick it up!

It turns out that Pippo is essentially a 2-D Q*Bert clone. That doesn't help much though... I hate Q*Bert as well! In Pippo, you play an odd, fat character, who must hop about the game board, changing the colour of the tiles. There's no reason given for this, that's just what you do.
Naturally, the boards have inhabitants, and they're dead set on stopping you in your tracks. I say that... they're not that dead set; they just potter about on their little paths, seemingly oblivious as to your presence unless you happen to blunder right into them. And they're all a bit odd... numbers, dollar signs and the like are the order of the day.

Ooohhhh, Pippo... whyyyyyy?

If you do happen to find them too offensive to actually share space with, an energy pill appears at times which, if collected, turns the enemies into springs (of course) which you can remove just by bouncing over them. Hurray for odd items that give you supreme power!

That makes Pippo a bit easier and less frustrating than Q*Bert, but on the other hand, it's not terribly exciting, either. It does have some nice touches... the music was better than I'd expected, and there's a sampled (if slightly garbled) scream if you happen to fall off the game world. Pippo is quite good fun and a nice enough diversion. I can at least consider myself a little more enlightened after playing this one.

Budget Day - Slimey's Mine (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,


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...

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 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.


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 175 - get a load of this art (Part 1)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , ,

I'm really busy at the moment... last night, for instance, I left for work at 6:30am and didn't get home until 8pm.  It's not conducive to blog writing, so for now I've taken the unusual step of having a guest writer critique some loading screens from some of our favourite 80s games.  Let me introduce you to Mr. Arthur Critic.  Take it away, Art.

Computer and video games get a rough ride from most art critics.  Roger Ebert has famously said that they cannot be art.  Surely that's a ridiculous assertion.  Art takes many forms, and just because Mr. Ebert likes films and not video games, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are a lesser art form than movies... rather, a different one.

I'm not here to discuss that, though.  I'm going to look at an aspect of computer games that are most definitely art... the loading screen and/or the title screen.

Graphic artists had a difficult job with loading screens or title screens.  They had to convey a sense of excitement and anticipation about the game they represented for a fleeting moment, with the creator having the knowledge that whatever they produced would be instantly forgotten when the "Start" button was pressed.  They could almost have been forgiven for knocking out some quick, barely-representative rubbish, and some did, but many took pride in their work and produced some top quality efforts.  Let's look at some.

Thrust (Commodore 64)

Thrust is an incredibly difficult game, which sees you piloting a craft into the mining systems of planets, retrieving an energy pod and then, if luck and skill allow, escaping before the planet blows to smithereens.

This dramatic piece offers the pilot the light of hope as he heads out of the darkness with his hard-earned prize, yet reminds the player that complacency kills, with even the exit to freedom looking more like the mouth of a monster.  The subtle use of monochrome with just a hint of colour in the ship's tail lights prepare the player for the simplicity of the game's wireframe graphics, but also serve to heighten the effectiveness of the piece.

Eliminator (ZX Spectrum)

The idea of a roadway in space seems ridiculous to those of us trapped squarely on terra firma, but when you think about it, is it any more ridiculous than the idea of a space elevator?  No, it isn't, and that's been mooted for many a year now.

Eliminator has the premise that you must clear these roads of alien infestation.  It's a bit like today's M6, but with more missiles.  This Spectrum loading screen leaves you in no doubt as to what you'll be up against, as it contains all elements of the game: aliens, space, explosions, and a futuristic highway (complete with what might even be road works).  The large spaceship emphasises the fact you are a bad-ass, and this is further enforced by the large yellow ELIMINATOR game logo positioned under your ship.  This is a very effective loading screen.

Tetris (Commodore 64)
Everyone in the developed world knows about Tetris.  It's not just a game, it's a cultural phenomenon.  However, as the game involves nothing more than manipulating coloured bricks into a fixed area, it doesn't really lend itself toward imaginative artwork.

Thankfully, then, this game's loading screen artist eschewed the notion of representing gameplay, choosing instead to portray a naked man in space.  In one image, he appears confident, even seeming to sprinkle magic from his fingertips.  In the other, his back is turned, and he holds his head as he is engulfed by a storm.

I think we can determine from this that the artist wanted to convey the simplicity of the game, with the naked man representing the stripped-back game mechanics.  He may also have been attempting to portray the mental anguish and torment that comes from actually playing Tetris, as the player finds himself addicted to the challenge of continually placing shapes in a manner that will prolong the game.

On the other hand, maybe he just didn't fancy drawing a loading screen featuring a purple 'L'.  We may never know.

Wizball (ZX Spectrum)

The Commodore 64 version of Wizball, a game about colours developed for and programmed on a machine that was very good at handling multiple colours, had a somewhat bland loading screen.  There was lots of white, and a frankly average looking wizard standing in the middle of what ends up being an ellipse, rather than a ball shape.

I find it slightly ironic, then, that the Spectrum version had a markedly superior loading screen, featuring bold images of all the main elements of the game, loads of character, and above all, bags of colour.  Remarkable, for a machine that was mocked for its problems in that area.  This is a loading screen that would have had any Spectrum owner excited at the prospect of the game to come.

Samurai Warrior: The Battles of Usagi Yojimbo (Commodore 64)

The path of a samurai is a noble one.  Usagi Yojimbo is about a samurai rabbit... probably no less noble, but I can see why he would keep his ears under his hat at times.  That said, in the game itself, they are proudly on display, and the peasants he encounters recognise him instantly for it and are humble.

The Spectrum loading screen is a more literal translation of the game box.  I prefer this more imaginative image.  Its use of Japanese symbolism is strong, with the dragonflies signifying the courage and strength of the warrior, and the lotus flowers in the foreground indicative of the purity of the samurai's values.  The picture shows a serenity that the warrior is forced to give up a short way into his tale.

Hydrofool (ZX Spectrum)
At first, I didn't realise this striking effort was a game screen.  It was so markedly different to any Spectrum art I had seen that I thought it was a pack shot.  When  I discovered I was wrong, I was actually quite excited.

Although the game is set on a planet that is like a giant aquarium, I like to think that this image is a metaphor for life, with the protagonist feeling as though he is trapped in a giant fishbowl.  The giant eyes seem to express surprise, or maybe even fear.  Perhaps the artist here was implying that we are all like goldfish, with somebody bigger watching us all the time, in some way.

Sorry, what was I doing again?

Oh well, not to worry.  I've enjoyed this little guest spot.  Maybe I can come back and do it again sometime.  Art, out.

Well, I think that went quite well.  I've called this part one... perhaps our guest columnist will be persuaded to visit again sometime, and discuss more of the graphic delights of our 80s games.  I, for one, would look forward to that.  I hope you enjoyed this enough to look forward to it, too.

Day 168 - in loving memory

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

Seven years ago today, we lost my youngest brother, Jamie.  He was only 26 years old, which is no age at all.  November 10th will always be tinged with sadness, naturally, but we prefer to be more celebratory and remember all the great times.  As he was a real character, there were plenty of them!

For the purposes of the blog, I'm playing some of the Commodore 64 games that I associate with him.  Although he was only born in 1979, he loved computer games from an early age and was soon able to pick up my second Zipstik and get stuck in alongside me.  This was great, because my other brother, Steven, wasn't that much of a games fan.  So it gave me someone to game with when I wasn't with a mate.  To be fair, most of his gaming was done on the Sega Megadrive and Saturn, but we did have some fun with the C64, even if it was on the wane by the time he was interested.

Rock 'N' Wrestle

After the mighty Way of the Exploding Fist, hopes were high among magazine reviewers that the next fighting game from Melbourne House (Fighting Warrior didn't count, did it?) would be amazing.  But they seemed disappointed, with reviews being less than stellar.  I, too, was disappointed... I'd hoped it would be brilliant fun, and the reviewers seemed to be saying it was nothing of the kind.  But then I played it...

That's going to cause a bit of a headache.
It's fair to say that Rock 'N' Wrestle is not an amazing game... but it CAN be brilliant fun!  It certainly has its flaws, but back then, they barely seemed to matter.  The wrestlers were all the same sprite but in different costumes, which didn't impress the magazines.  But to us, with a bit of imagination, they were all wildly different!  Did anyone really want to play as the dodgy moustachioed leather boy, though?

The game had digitized speech... but it was terrible!  If you managed to pin your opponent, the referee would shout out the count, something like this: "KHAAAA!  KHOOOO!  KHREEEE!"  And yet, we loved that!  We'd even shout it out when we were play-fighting!

For all its lack of polish, though, Rock 'N' Wrestle had a lot going for it in terms of gameplay, mainly in its use of the joystick.  There were a variety of moves available, depending on your position in the ring.  When both wrestlers were standing, you could kick, chop or grab.  If you grabbed, you could swing your opponent round, headbutt them, lift them or do a backbreaker.  If you lifted them, you could do a number of moves, including the vicious piledriver.  You could even climb up the turnbuckles, if you wanted.

Woah!  Woooooah!  WOOOOAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!
Even then, there were flaws.  You could batter your opponent senseless, taking away all their energy, but if you got careless they could still beat you!  This annoyed in the single-player game, but it was a real leveller in two-player games, and on more than one occasion I would get cocky and toy with my brother, only for him to grab me, throw me and pin me for the ultimate humiliation!

The Willow Pattern Adventure

This was the first game Jamie ever bought with his own money.  I suspect it was the oversized and different packaging that appealed... it probably looked like you were getting a lot for your money, what with Willow Pattern (as it said on the box) being a budget game.

I want that huge diamond, but I don't fancy scrapping with that fat lad to get it!
He played it a lot.  It was probably a good game for a young un to play and enjoy.  It's quite simplistic, as were many similar games of the time.  The object is to roam around the palace gardens in an attempt to find your way in, then make off with your love, the Princess, whilst avoiding her father.  Naturally this isn't easy, with the palace guards proving a formidable enemy.

It always used to annoy me when I found my way blocked by a guard and I had no sword.  It took me ages to realise that if you could lure a guard into throwing his sword and then get out of its way, the sword would drop to the ground and you could pick it up.  Once armed with that knowledge I could progress fairly well, and games lasted a decent length of time.

The path to true love never does run smooth!
Willow Pattern was never a great game, but this was a popular genre in its time, and this was a pretty classic example of an early budget game.    It appealed to me until games got more sophisticated, but Jamie really loved it, so it will always be a special game for me.


I will, to some degree, feel bad about Bounder until my dying day.  Why, you may ask?  It was a great game, after all.  Well, here's the thing...

It was Jamie's birthday, and he'd been given some money as a present.  I was going into Newcastle that weekend, and he asked if I would buy him a game with his birthday money.  Naturally, I told him I would... after all, I would stand to benefit from this, too.

And so it was that I was entrusted with his ten pounds, and the task of returning home with... The Eidolon.

It's always nice to know you have fans...
I was quite excited about that.  After all, it had received a massive Gold Medal from ZZAP! 64, and it looked amazing.  The prospect of fighting those giant dragons was very appealing indeed.

And yet, when I stood in WH Smiths with the game box in my hand, something didn't feel right.  I'd been looking at all the games, and for some reason I'd found myself drawn towards a game called Bounder.  It was a much more unassuming package, coming in a box which was half the size of The Eidolon's case, and with much less flashy artwork.

It had, though, also received a Gold Medal from ZZAP! 64.  What's more, it had a second game on the other side of the tape!  Surely that would be a better use of his birthday money?  With that rational thinking, I went against my brother's wishes and bought him Bounder with his birthday money.  I made my way home, and handed it over.

It was probably half an hour before he stopped crying.

Not as many questions as I faced when I came home with the wrong game...
To be fair, he was only seven years old.  Even after explaining the "two games for the price of one" aspect, he wasn't remotely appeased.  He wanted the game with the dragons.  I don't think he ever got to play it.

Personally, I loved Bounder right from the off.  What a horrible shit.  He grew to enjoy it, but I don't think he ever really got over the fact that it wasn't The Eidolon.  And I don't think either of us played Metabolis, the "B-side", to any degree.  Oh well, you live and learn.  I've never done that with anyone's money again.

From these early beginnings, Jamie went on to be quite a gamer.  I'd always considered myself good at games, but he would routinely thrash me.  On the Megadrive, we played the very first FIFA International Soccer on Christmas Day.  It was a tense, well-fought battle, which remained goalless until the last kick of the game, whereupon he scored with a screamer from outside the box.  On the Saturn, I would cane the brilliant Sega Rally, only to be crestfallen on my returns home from work to find my high-score table filled with his initials.

Jamie died as a result of epilepsy, a condition that can be tied to video games.  We'll never know if games triggered his attacks, or if it was just one of those things, but his is a very sad loss that may have been avoidable.  To that end, I intend to dedicate this book to him when it's finished, and I'm also giving serious consideration as to what might be involved in donating part of any proceeds to an epilepsy charity.  It's certainly something I've started looking into.

This post in memory of Jamie Neil Morrison: March 2nd 1979 - November 10th 2005.