I’ve Turned Into a Green Thing: Terrible Vic-20 Games

While twittering on the tweetatron this morning the subject of “Asteroids” by S. Munnery came up. This legendarily terrible version of Asteroids was, as I have documented before in the History of Llamasoft, at least partially responsible for the very existence of Llamasoft, mainly due to the sheer cheek of Bug-Byte charging seven whole quid for it and making me think “bloody hell if they want seven quid for that I could bloody do better and people would pay for it”. I’ve been threatening for ages to do some occasional blog posts about bad games from back in the day, because boy was there a metric smegload of them, some of them my own. But let’s begin this look back with the seminal (with the emphasis on semen) “Asteroids” by S. Munnery.

Now Asteroids was a game that was at least in part defined by the smoothness, precision and fluidity of its gameplay. These are not qualities which translate well to objects that are moving in character-sized steps on the Vic-20′s extremely low-resolution screen.

Munnery’s version actually eschews the idea of having separate projectiles fired by the ship in favour of the simple technique of drawing a string of full stops in a line out of the craft’s nose whilst making a sound like a Hoover. In fact the sound effects are evidence of the fact that the programmer wasn’t aware that there were any volume levels at all on the Vic-20 sound chip apart from “OFF” and “HOOVER”.

It’s also pretty hard to see the string of full stops at times because it looks like he doesn’t poke the colour memory behind the full stops to white.

I suppose it wouldn’t've been that bad of a game if you and your mates had knocked it up yourselves while learning your way round the Vic, but at seven quid Bug Byte truly were taking the piss, and exemplifying the lamentable tendency of early software houses to slap the name of a famous arcade game on any old pile of toss they could lay their hands on and charge the masses of eager but naive punters significant coin for it.

Continuing that theme we now present another Munnery classic “Cosmiads”.

- a version of Galaxians in which you are beset by what look like tiny flying cat heads while a chorus of Hoovers drone on in the background (still not discovered the volume settings on the sound chip yet apparently). Now it must be said that although I enjoy taking the piss out of Munnery’s early games it’s evident that he is at least making some kind of effort to put some actual gameplay in there. For all that everything jerks around a bit in character mode the cat heads do recognisably leave the formation and fly down firing at you, and fair play he’s had a crack at trying to make your gun move smoothly even if nothing else does.

But this version of Galaxians is actually awesome compared to our next offering:

“Galaxzions” by Interceptor Micro’s, testament to the bizarre belief shared by a lot of software houses back then that one could avoid copyright issues and the righteous wrath of Atari by the simple expedient of spelling the name of an arcade game with a gratuitous “z” in it or somesuch (we shall not speak of Llamasoft’s own early Vic 20 game “Defenda” in this regard, for that would not be appropriate).

This game looks and plays much like a broken Game and Watch, with enemies not so much moving as just kind of randomly spazzing about on the screen, appearing in semi-random positions whilst the Hoovers blare away. Enemy shots don’t appear to actually move at all; white blobs just appear in set positions every now and again and woe betide you if your strangely knob-and-bollocks-shaped craft should happen to be near them at the time. Munnery’s game seems well-crafted by comparison; this game could probably have been bettered by my ex-cat sneezing at the keyboard while the assembler cartridge was plugged in.

Our next exhibit exemplifies a flaw shared by quite a few early Interceptor Micro’s titles: a complete lack of any gameplay at all.

Created to cash in on the famous arcade game “Defender” (and skilfully sidestepping copyright issues by putting “Jupiter” in front) we have “Jupiter Defender”. Now Defender brought many original features to arcade gaming, not least a world larger than the screen through which the player had to fly in order to perform his defence and rescue mission. With Reverse and Thrust buttons the player could chart his course at will through this game world, using his “Scanner” radar to identify trouble spots and fly to the rescue. Defender was most of all known for its fierce and unrelenting challenge, making it a favourite of those arcade pilots who considered themselves the best of the best.

Jupiter Defender has nothing in common with Defender apart from the name “Defender” in the title, and the vague shapes of some of the ships. You can’t reverse. You can kind of change your speed, but there’s no reason ever to do so. In fact, nothing ever moves in anything but a single horizontal direction, and so the best strategy in the game is simply to stay where you started and hold down the FIRE button. That’s it. You can see me using my awesome skillz to rack up 20,000 points without losing a life in that video.

Our final title for today then is another Interceptor Micro’s gem, “Crazy Kong”.

Superficially it does look a bit like a mashup of some of the levels of Donkey Kong. There’s platforms and ladders and pies, oh my. Unfortunately it is just beyond horrible to play. I’m generally pretty good at playing hokey old computer games in emulation, since collecting old emulator games is kind of a hobby of mine (and I was there to play them back in the day when they first came out too). But I genuinely could not get that little man to do anything apart from turn into a green thing on the bottom of the screen, although I did make his head come off a couple of times. I did once get him onto one of the ladders, where a barrel went through his head, but then I fell off and turned into a green thing again.

Well, that’s it for this instalment of “terrible games”, I’m sure there will be more. And although I did take the piss out of Munnery he was at least trying to make playable versions of the games he cloned; looking at the Interceptor Micro’s ones I’m not sure they were even trying to do that at all, more like they were just putting out things that looked vaguely like famous games and charging six quid for them regardless of the fact that they weren’t any fun to play at all, not even remotely; and that’s far worse than anything poor old S. Munnery ever did.

Interceptor weren’t the only ones doing that; there are plenty more egregious examples which I’ll be back to take the piss out of in other entries, no doubt. But that’s all my poor eyes, ears and thumbs can take for now.

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