Budget Day 2016 - The Wild Bunch (ZX Spectrum)

by Paul Morrison

Here's a game I've always wanted to try and never got around to.  I even own the original but as my Spectrum isn't working then I was snookered.  OK, you might be asking why I haven't played it in an emulator before now.  Good question.  But what better time than today?

The Wild Bunch is a difficult game to categorise, if you're into categorising your games.  It looks like a text adventure but it's not, not really.  It's actually a murder mystery game which throws you, the unwitting player, in at the deep end and makes you become an impromptu detective as you seek to clear your name.

The game opens with you stumbling upon a murder and being mistaken for the killer.  Whoops!  You hotfoot it outta there and from that point on you have to make your way around the five towns in the area in a bid to uncover the killer and escape capture... or death.  Well, this is the Wild West, after all.

So running didn't work, can't see how a bribe would either... OK, put 'em up!

So running didn't work, can't see how a bribe would either... OK, put 'em up!

There are a number of things you can do in each town, depending on the buildings within.  You can visit a saloon and have a drink while checking out the clientele.  Or, if you'd rather, you can clean out the local gambler of his (probably) ill-gotten gains (I was thrilled to pick up a straight in my first hand of poker!).  You can look for leads in the local sheriff's office, or stock up on supplies at the store.  You'll need them on your travels, that's for sure!

I have to say, I found The Wild Bunch really interesting and absorbing.  I liked its sense of humour too (see the screenshot for a good example of that).  I had to force myself to stop playing to write this, otherwise you might have only been reading about two or three games today!  It's a really nice little game and I'd have been extremely happy to have spent my £2.50 on it.

Budget Day 2016 - Hunter Patrol (Commodore 64)

by Paul Morrison

I thought I'd kick off today with a game I've known and loved for over thirty years... Hunter Patrol.

I vividly remember walking into a friend's house before I even owned a Commodore 64 and marvelling at this amazing machine.  Over the course of a few hours, he loaded up about a dozen games in total and I probably loved them all, whether they were any good or not!

Hunter Patrol stuck out for a couple of reasons.  First and foremost was that it had a tremendous Rob Hubbard title tune.  Of course, I didn't know it was Rob Hubbard at that point, I just knew it was one of the best things I'd ever heard coming out of a computer (well, TV, but you know what I mean).  The other thing was that it played quite a bit like the Buck Rogers arcade game, which I really liked.

The target is only half a rainbow away!

The target is only half a rainbow away!

Playing it again now is still a bit of fun, but Hunter Patrol is a very simplistic game indeed.  Basically, you fly into the screen for a bit, avoiding flak and attempting to shoot anything in your path.  Once you have shot enough enemy installations the "end level boss" appears, which is basically a big house that you have to shoot several times to destroy.

That's about it.  It's a no-frills budget shooter which serves it purpose fairly well.  It's a bit irritating at times as your rate of fire is... well, let's call it "slow"... but it's moderately enjoyable nonetheless.  It's not a classic and you'd never play it for hours on end, but it was still a decent choice to kick off the day with.

It's Budget Day 2016!

by Paul Morrison

Hi everyone!

Yes, our annual day of misery and wallet-squeezing is upon us again and, as has become my norm, I've taken the day off work to play and write about those pocket money classics of the Eighties... budget games.

The only bag you need to see outside number 11 today.

The only bag you need to see outside number 11 today.

This is always a fun day for me as I play some of my old favourites and some games I've never played before.  I still have my old list from the past few years and there are tons of games on there that I haven't touched yet, so let's see what we end up with!

I'll be writing these up all through the day and posting them on Twitter and Facebook, feel free to recommend anything you might want to see me play and I'll try and get around to it.  Hope you enjoy!

Tomorrow is Budget Day!

by Paul Morrison

And I forgot about it!  Or rather, I hadn't seen anything about it being tomorrow... normally it's all over the place and I haven't seen a thing about it this year.

I thought I was going to completely miss it but a hastily arranged day off means that I will be doing my customary day-long write-up of 8-bit budget games.  So stay tuned and see if any of your favourites make an appearance.  Better yet, suggest some!  I just might play them!

See you tomorrow!

State of play: February 28th, 2016

by Paul Morrison

Total number of confirmed contributors: 38

Total number of words added this weekend: 3,177

I've done a lot of writing this weekend. finishing one piece and adding a lot to one that was already underway.  That's some good progress, right there!

I was going to do an update yesterday, but then the news broke about Fergus McGovern and I felt compelled to write my piece on him and Probe Software.  Somewhat surprisingly, that piece has had 1,500 views.  I'm not sure where they've all come from, but its testament to Fergus' reach and impact on the games industry.

I'm supposed to be drawing a line as far as interviews go, but I'm happy to say I made contact with someone yesterday who agreed to answer my questions, so I'm working on them right now and they will be another fantastic addition.  Just got to finish up those questions and get them sent off...

Goodbye, Fergus McGovern.

by Paul Morrison

Today is a sad day, as news filtered through of the passing of Probe Software's founder, Fergus McGovern.

One of the reasons I'm writing this book is to document the fantastic work of the era while people are still here to talk about it.  Fergus, though, was not somebody who was on my radar for this book.  He didn't program any of Probe's games.  He wasn't a musician, nor was he an artist.  As an industry "bod", he wasn't the type of person I'm writing about.

Nonetheless, his impact on the world of computer and video games cannot be overstated.

Probe Software started out on the 8-bit machines, where although they released the occasional original title they specialised in releasing high-quality arcade conversions, along with TV and movie licences of, to be fair, varying degrees of quality.

Grant Harrison's excellent version of SCI made up for the C64's poor Chase HQ conversion.

Grant Harrison's excellent version of SCI made up for the C64's poor Chase HQ conversion.

As a Commodore 64 owner, I played a few of Probe's games, but although I owned and used my C64 for a long time, many of their best games were released after I stopped buying games for it.  So although I had a lot of fun with the likes of Solomon's Key (a brilliant puzzle-platformer) and Golden Axe, I've played more of their games in the last few years.  They're notable for their polish and quality, which you would expect as they employed some of the best programmers in the business.

Spectrum owners didn't miss out, either.  Games such as Trantor: The Last Stormtrooper and Savage set new standards in graphics, with huge main characters stomping around colourful environments.  There were plenty of other successes too, with their conversion of Turrican being a particular highlight.

He's a big fella!

He's a big fella!

Probe was an unusual company in that it successfully made the transition from home computers to games consoles, and in fact went from strength to strength.  One of their most successful releases, and campaigns, centred around the console versions of Mortal Kombat.  Possibly taking a cue from Sega's "Sonic 2sday", Probe went all-out with its "Mortal Monday" kampaign (see what I did there?).  It was hugely successful, with the game being a massive seller on all console formats.  What a brilliant piece of advertising, although to be fair, that game probably sold itself!

Sonya is in big trouble...

Sonya is in big trouble...

One of my fondest memories of Probe Software lies with their PS1 and Sega Saturn release, Alien Trilogy.  I was never the greatest fan of first-person shooters... I was useless at Doom and Quake and Duke Nukem 3D.  With that in mind, you'd think I would have steered well clear of Alien Trilogy.  But, as a sucker for the movies, I couldn't resist.  I was well-rewarded... the game was tense, frantic and action-packed and I loved every second of it.  It's one of the few FPS games I ever completed, which is testament to its quality.

Die, alien scum!  (Caption courtesy of generic captions, inc.)

Die, alien scum!  (Caption courtesy of generic captions, inc.)

More recently, Fergus was behind Jakks Pacific's plug and play TV games.  I was living in the US when they first hit the market.  There was quite a bit of hype around them, and as with any retro game product, I was excited.  I bought the first one and it was decent, but the slightly inaccurate emulation bothered me, as a purist.  However, they went from strength to strength and became pretty cool little items to own.  I bet most of you bought at least one!

In total, Probe Software/Entertainment were responsible for over 200 releases, which is a massive amount of games when you think about it.  It's a huge legacy, and one which will surely hold fond memories for everyone who's ever played games.  Take a look at Fergus' page on MobyGames... I guarantee you there will be something there you've played and loved.

Goodbye, Fergus McGovern.  Your legacy is intact, but you will be missed.

I haven't got much Probe representation in the book, but I'd love to hear from any Probe 8-bitters, even if it's just as a comment on this article.

State of play: February 23rd, 2016

by Paul Morrison

Total number of confirmed contributors: 38

Total number of words added today: 362

Do you see what I see...?

Yes indeedy, the total number of confirmed contributors has risen again.  Can you imagine how stuffed to the gills this book is going to be?  You're not going to know where to look first, such will be the array of Gods and luminaries jammed into its pages.  I can hardly believe it myself!

I did manage to rattle off a few paragraphs today, which is always a good thing.  Of course, today's contribution means I've given myself lots more work but I promise you it's well worth it, as are they all.  I've always said that I find it very exciting to receive a contribution and read through it and that's been the case with every one of these interviews.  That's me getting them one at a time... how excited will you be to get forty at once?

State of play: February 21st, 2016

by Paul Morrison

Total number of confirmed contributors: 37

Total number of words added today: 2,669

I've had another cold!  All week!  I'm so annoyed... I was getting home from work and then being asleep on the couch by 8:30 on some nights!  There's not much worse than struggling into work then getting home and having literally no time to yourself.

Still, I've tried to make up for it this weekend and thrashed out a pretty big chunk of writing and nearly finished one piece I was working on.  It's always good to see pieces come together like that.  When you make some good progress it makes you feel so much better about the project.

You might think I'm crazy but I got in touch with someone else this weekend with a view to them being in the book.  Again, it's someone you don't hear from very often but they provided some iconic moments.  I'm hoping to hear more on that front soon...

State of play: February 14th, 2016

by Paul Morrison

Total number of confirmed contributors: 37

Total number of words added today: 1,467

It's Valentine's Day!  I love you all!

I've loved writing this weekend, too.  It's been another good day, just short of yesterday in terms of words added and 3,000 of them added over the course of the weekend.  If I can make that sort of progress every day I might even wrap this thing up early!  But don't hold me to that...

Hey, have you played Saboteur Online yet?  It's a browser-based version of the original ZX Spectrum classic, programmed by original author Clive Townsend, but with added features such as an online worldwide high score table... and, let's just say, some extras when you complete the game.

It's well worth purchasing at just £3.99, as it retains all the skill levels of the original so there's plenty of challenge and longevity.  And the extras are definitely worth your while.  Check it out if you're a fan of the original!

State of play: February 13th, 2016

by Paul Morrison

Total number of confirmed contributors: 37

Total number of words added today: 1,538

Well, that was a productive day.  That said, it only represents maybe one eighth of the interview I'm working on, so there's plenty to do on that one yet.  Still, there was some fun writing about one of my favourite budget games, so I've enjoyed today quite a bit.

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day.  Old romantic that I am, I'm hoping to write at least as much again.  The missus won't mind.  In fact, she kinda likes it.  So it should be all systems go for another gppd day of keyboard hammering.  Let's see if I can beat today's total.

State of play: February 12th, 2016

by Paul Morrison

Total number of confirmed contributors: 37

Total number of words added today: 138

Back on it after a week of all kinds of distractions.  Today's word count appears small, but it was another of those occasions where I was ripping stuff out and re-doing it.  I wrote a fair bit more than that, but I'm just counting the number of words added to the total.

Still waiting on the interviews which will push me up to the 40 mark.  I could actually get up to 42, looking at the ones I'm waiting for and going on conversations I've had.  We shall see... 42 sounds like a cool number to have though, if I get there!

OK, back to the writing... let's see if I can get a couple of thousand words added this weekend.

State of play: February 7th, 2016

by Paul Morrison

Total number of confirmed contributors: 37

Total number of words added today: NIL

Apologies for the lack of updates but things have somewhat got in the way this week.  Not to worry, here I am and although I haven't been able to do any actual writing, you might well have noticed that I have ANOTHER confirmed contributor's interview in the bag!  I'm wondering if three in a week is a record...

I'll tell you what, this is going to be one jam-packed book.  I don't suppose any of you has a problem with that?  Of course, the more interviews I get back, the more extra writing I have to do.  But dammit, I want these people in the book!  I'd have 200 in there if I could!  I know you would too, if it were at all possible.

While I'm at it, check out the new issue of Reset magazine.  It came out this weekend and features, among a mountain of excellent content, two interviews I recently conducted: one with adventure games God and current crime novelist Fergus McNeill, and one with Frank Gasking of Games That Weren't 64, along with Martin Pugh, covering their heroic discovery and subsequent release of the long-lost Commodore 64 Daffy Duck game.  You definitely should check it out!

Reset Issue 8

State of play: February 1st, 2016

by Paul Morrison

Total number of confirmed contributors: 36

Total number of words added today: 125

Hey, would you look at that?  I have another confirmed contributor.  This one swells the ranks of the Spectrum programming Gods, and it's yet another top quality interview.  I'm always excited to read them when they come back, and I know you will be too.

There's definitely the potential to receive at least two more interviews this week.  I only have one more to finish writing and send out, otherwise the line is drawn.  I won't be soliciting any more interviews (well... maybe a musician or two...), but I might accept any voluntary submissions.  I pretty much have all the material I need right now.

The range of games covered in here now is pretty massive.  You're going to read so much that you've never read before.  I know this because I read all the same publications as you.  I know there are many names you and I would have loved to have in here and who aren't, but the ones who are here are at least as fascinating, and because they're interviewed less often, their accounts feel fresh.

I'm very confident you're going to love reading all these accounts, so it just remains for me to redouble my efforts and crack on!

State of play: January 30th, 2016

by Paul Morrison

Total number of confirmed contributors: 35

Total number of words added today: 1,664

Well, hello!

I've had a very busy and tiring week, both at work and at home.  That's not exactly conducive to productive writing, but I suppose it's inevitable at times.

Still, I think I've made up for that today.  I've finished writing and sent out an interview to one potential contributor, and had good chats with a couple more who are working on theirs as we speak.  That, plus the large amount of actual writing done, plus some stuff for Reset magazine has made this a very productive today indeed.

I'm excited because, despite what it says at the top of each post, I've just about hit my 40 mark for contributors (I'm expecting several in before much longer).  Then I'll be thinking about exactly when to reveal my complete list of contributors.  I'm excited to do that, but on the other hand, I still kinda want to keep it secret until this is finished!

Anyway, that decision is still a little way off, but it's on the horizon, at least...

State of play: January 25th, 2016

by Paul Morrison

Total number of confirmed contributors: 35

Total number of words added today: Depends how you look at it.

Sorry that I didn't write an update yesterday.  I got really busy with my Reset magazine piece, and just didn't have time to write anything here.

Hopefully today's update will make up for it.  Take a look at the top of this post... yes, up there, at the number of confirmed contributors.  Notice anything?  Of course... it's gone up by one.  I received an excellent interview today... it's one of the longest I've had to date, and it's a cracker.  What's more, it's another interview with someone you don't hear from all that often... something you'll see a lot of in this book.

Anyway, that's why I was so vague with the word count.  I haven't written anything today, so technically the word count is zero.  On the other hand, I have thousands of words added to the overall count by way of that interview.  I'm excited at the prospect of getting to work on it now, not that I don't have plenty to be getting on with!  But it's always invigorating to get some more new material in.  Can't wait to share it with you!

State of play: January 23rd, 2016

by Paul Morrison

Total number of confirmed contributors: 34

Total number of words added today: 112

I've been working on piecing together an epic interview piece for Reset magazine today.  It's going to be a really good read, and it's good practice for me as these pieces basically take an almost-identical format to the pieces in the book.

The one I've been working on all day is not remotely connected to my book, as it happens.  But there will be one in this issue that might well tie in to a book interview eventually.  That's the plan, and it's one of two interviews I need to finish writing and get sent out to the interviewees.

As for the book... just tinkering today as a break from the Reset work.  But that's almost done and then the decks will be cleared again so that I can focus exclusively on this.  I'm also going out to those who are sitting on interview to try and corral them and get their pieces back in.  I'm so close to finalising my list of contributors and I'm excited to see that final list written down.  You will be, too!

State of play: January 22nd, 2016

by Paul Morrison

Total number of confirmed contributors: 34

Total number of words added today: 516

Well, yesterday was a bad day.  I've had a really long work week and I just crashed out before I could do anything.  When I did wake up, I felt rotten, so it was straight up to bed.  I think I managed an hour and a half awake after I got home from work, which isn't good!

Today was better... I've bashed out some words for this and I've also been working hard on an epic interview piece for Reset magazine.  I'm pretty sure you'll like that one... I seem to have written a lot of words for Reset this issue!

Tomorrow should see me finishing the Reset stuff and that lingering interview, as well as plodding on here.  Soon I'll be back to concentrating entirely on book words... for a fair while, at least!

State of play: January 20th, 2016

by Paul Morrison

Total number of confirmed contributors: 34

Total number of words added today: 498

Another nice update today, although I think I need to go back on it and expand a little.  Still, it's not a bad piece and it's pretty much all there, so it's another step forward.

Pity I couldn't have rounded it up to 500 words, though!

State of play: January 19th, 2016

by Paul Morrison

Total number of confirmed contributors: 34

Total number of words added today: 789

A better day today, for sure, with a whole feature written about a game, barring tinkering.  I need to have a lot more days like this one, though.

It's fun to take a feature like this one and use it to try and forecast how many words the book will feature when it's complete.  Current best guess says: huge.  Haha!

Not sure how much I'll get done on it tomorrow as other commitments take over briefly, but there will be some progress, at least.  See how much at the same time tomorrow!

State of play: January 18th, 2016

by Paul Morrison

Total number of confirmed contributors: 34

Total number of words added today: ZERO

Well, I dozed off on the couch before I could write this update.  If only i didn't have a real job, I wouldn't be too tired for this!

Didn't manage to fit in any work on the book today, because I was desperately trying to finish and send an interview.  I didn't quite get that finished either.... just need half a dozen more interesting questions then I can get it sent off.  It'll be another great addition to the book when it comes back, though!

As ever, I will keep you posted tomorrow as to how that goes, and also the work on the book.  See you then!