No Man’s Sky, eh. What a load of old smeg.

For the last month the Internet has been reverberating with the massed moaning of a nearly infinite galaxy of procedurally-generated nerds all with their knickers in a bollock-binding twist over the fact that the long-anticipated No Man’s Sky turned out to be, in the end, not what they had anticipated at all. Anyone expecting to find a galaxy teeming with intelligent life and full of lots of missions and side quests, anyone thinking that they might be able to explore said universe in the company of their mates online, would be disappointed. It all got a bit nasty and personal with the devs being accused of lying and deliberately misleading people. A long laundry list of stuff that was supposedly promised but not delivered was posted and debated. I don’t need to elaborate, I am sure everyone’s seen it by now and got fully fed up with it to boot.

On the surface of it you could look at the game and argue that the whiners are right. Such plot as is present is stretched exceedingly thin. After the first few hours you will have experienced most of the core gameplay loops and perhaps be wanting for something a bit deeper. It’s evident in various places throughout the game that things that were intended to be in there have been taken out or switched off. You can find “stargates” on some planets but they are deactivated. Observatories – which usually study the stars – refer to locating signals “deep in the cosmos” but inevitably only yield locations on the planet you happen to be on. You have a “reputation” with each of the three alien races which can be improved by doing certain things but it doesn’t seem to have much bearing on anything. Space battles are more of an occasional inconvenience than particularly epic. From some aspects the game is flawed and somewhat incomplete. Planets aren’t rendered photorealistically. There’s not enough variation. I could go on and on but you get the idea.

Despite all that though it’s probably been the game I’ve played the most since Skyrim. Every single night I usually end up with an hour or two of NMS before I go to bed. I think that what’s keeping me there playing is that when I’m playing it I’m seeing and enjoying the stuff that they got right, the things that weren’t omitted, enough that I really don’t care that much about the things that aren’t there.

When I was a nipper I was brought up on a steady diet of Asimov and Clarke. The covers of the books I liked to read looked like this.

Tongue spaceship.

And this.

No cows.

Lovely stuff, and I loved the psychedelic cover artwork as much as the stories inside the books.

I also was there during the paleolithic era of computer graphics, when memory and processor constraints meant that displays had pixels the size of house bricks and being able to display more than eight colours was considered to be the height of graphical sophistication. One of the most astounding games of the day, something which truly had my jaw on the floor the first time I beheld it on my much-loved Atari 8-bit system (already host to the best game of all time at that point in history, “Star Raiders”). The game was called “Rescue on Fractalus” (or “Behind Jaggi Lines” in the pre-release bootleg I had somehow managed to get my hands on). It looked like this:

Rescue on Fractalus

Now of course to anyone in this day and age that looks rough as a badger’s arse, so it’s difficult to relay how astonishing it was for me and others back at that time. Game worlds back then were almost exclusively 2D affairs. Some more adventurous titles ventured into 3D but normally with nothing more than a few stars whizzing by and 2D sprites for enemies, a simple but effective formula used to great effect by the aforementioned Star Raiders. Here came Fractalus though and suddenly you weren’t just floating through sparse starfields any more; you could actually descend to a planet’s surface, see its jagged mountains rendered in solid 3D, and even fly between them and land on the surface, all at a frame rate that nearly approached being quite close to double figures. It was revolutionary, and I sunk many hours into that game even though at the end of the day there was a shockingly small amount of things to actually do there. You flew around, shot some turrets, picked up some dudes and fried some enemies, and once you’d seen one planet you’d seen them all. Pac Man had more advanced actual gameplay when it comes down to it. But that didn’t matter so much to me because it was just awesome to be actually looking out through the window on my spaceship, flying between those mountain peaks, landing and picking up dudes. On a 1MHz 8-bit system it was also a bloody miracle of programming, let me tell you.

The mountains and sky were even that Asimov orange, too. Provided you played it on the Atari, because the Commodore could only display 16 colours, and several of those were variants of “mud”.

Anyway. The years rolled by. I got older and smellier. Graphics evolved too, and eventually pixels got smaller, colour resolution got larger, and games usually no longer looked as rough as a badger’s arse except when done intentionally by ever increasing ranks of indie developers either looking for a nostalgia trip or, like me, unable to employ a proper artist and therefore using low res pixel graphics to excuse crappy programmer art. We came to expect our game worlds to look decent. Nice even.

Then one day a decade ago something happened for the first time, for me. I was playing “Oblivion” on the Xbox 360, riding along on my horse on a path overlooking the Imperial City, and it just looked so lovely I felt compelled just to stop, get off my horse and stand there for a while taking in the view. I think it marked some kind of transition for me, transforming the environment from just being a space where the action took place to… well, the kind of place that you actually want to just stop and gaze out at for a while because it’s beautiful. Somehow this new appreciation of the beauty of the game world made it feel more like you’d been there. And just like in real life when you go to a nice place, sometimes you feel like taking a picture or two to show your mates. I think the first game that turned me into a digital-world photographer was Skyrim, again thanks to Bethesda. I have no end of pictures taken, usually of the scenery and my minotaur companion.


And to return to the subject at hand, nothing has had me getting my virtual camera out quite so much as No Man’s Sky. That is because one of the things they got absolutely, massively right in NMS is nailing that sci-fi book cover look absolutely perfectly. I mean check out that Asimov cover from earlier

Still no cows.

and compare this view of a planet I was on a few nights ago.


The difference being, of course, that the second image isn’t one of some static artwork; that’s an actual place I can spend time in. I can climb those distant mountains if I want to. I can hike around looking for even more spectacular views and a lot of the time when I am playing NMS that is exactly what I am doing. It really is quite astonishing how well they have nailed the sci-fi artstyle. Sometimes I’ll just be stopped gawping at a particularly nice view and as if on cue a flight of sleek starships will perform a perfect flyover, leaving pastel contrails in the Raleigh Chopper purple sky. You could pretty much take any random frames from this game in play, slap an Asimov or Psygnosis logo on top and it’d look authentic. Making every second of your gameplay look like proper sci-fi art is pretty damn amazing. Photo-realistic it certainly isn’t but it was never intended to be. It does what they intended it to do gloriously well. I mean look at this stuff.

There’s that lovely Asimov orange again. Or perhaps you would prefer a more Roger Dean style of planet? Check out the lovely planet of God’s Cow:

God's Cow

Which would have looked lovely on the cover of a Yes album or some Amiga software box.

Some have said that they feel that there isn’t enough variety in the planet generation stuff, and indeed there are a few areas where I think it could be improved aesthetically – having poles with associated different climatic conditions might be nice, and planets would look a bit less samey from a distance if there were features more like the oceans and distinct continents of our own planet. I do think, however, that people perhaps underestimate how difficult it is to make procedural stuff that is both (a) nice looking and (b) widely variable. In a lot of proc stuff you tend to find that niceness occurs in fairly locally constrained clusters and that there are vast tracts of parameter space where things look at best rough and at worst fugly. The designers of the game had to work within certain constraints, throttling back the raw RNG and constraining the proc output so that the planets produced are at least reasonable-looking and also practical to get around on. Sure, you’ll probably go through times during gameplay where you see a few relatively barren rocks one after another, and some elements are common to all planets for reasons of gameplay (if the various mineral-providing features of each world were different everywhere you went it’d make for much slower gameplay having to scan and identify everything anew at each landing).

When you really look at them though there’s beauty and variety even on the bare, rocky worlds; for me part of the gameplay is looking for and finding that beauty in wherever I end up. The places themselves, and the near infinite variety in them (albeit subtle at times) is part of what keeps me playing this game every day. The bits of lore scattered throughout the planets are nice, and I enjoy coming across some monument or other and gently learning more about the history of the three races in the galaxy, learning bits of their languages, gradually expanding the capacity of my ship and exosuit and accumulating space quid by rinsing planets of vortex cubes and albumen pearls and woe betide any sentinels that come between me and my loot. That stuff’s ok, and certainly I would not complain if more of it is added later, reactivating some of the unused objects we see from time to time in the game, fleshing out the endless worlds with more of the kind of game structure that many people expected from the game in the first place.

For me though I suspect I’ll still keep on coming back even once I’m a space millionaire with the best ships and a flawless knowledge of all three cultures and their languages, simply because I’ve come to enjoy the places so much.

Sunset on Donald Trump's Slimy Pucker.

When I fire up the ps4 at the end of the day and climb in my ship I’m not so much off out there in search of space battles and galactic quid. It’s more like going out into the countryside for a walk. I want to find out what the sunsets are like on the next planet. Maybe I’ll even meet some cool beasts, or maybe it’ll be those ones that look like someone stuck bits of a lizard, a chicken and a cow together, and asshole crabs again. Whatever. Wherever I go I enjoy going for nice long walks, looking for the beauty in it, usually finding it too, even on at first unpromising planets. Even the bare rocky ones have their own beauty, and after a run of those it makes it even nicer when you come across somewhere lush and full of life where you just feel like chilling out for a good while before the next hyperjump takes you away.


In the end I’m not so much a galactic trader or a pirate or anything like that; I’m more of a space tourist hopping from system to system looking for the coolest sights, taking virtual pictures to send back to my mates in the real world. The simple core game loops are just a framework to hold everything gently together as I wander from planet to planet looking for the coolest mountains, the loveliest vista against which to park my ship and take a ship-selfie against the sunset. Most of my gameplay is as chilled and empty of structure as the act of going out for a wander in the woods after Sunday lunch. And that’s perfectly OK. A game doesn’t have to be absolutely ram-packed with missions and constant excitement to be relaxing and enjoyable. Sometimes even though you’ve rinsed all the story-context out of a game environment you keep on going back there simply because you like how the place feels. Trust me, I know, having played the same game of Animal Crossing for four years straight a few years ago (I only stopped when Chevre left because after all what is life without Chevre?). And what I’m ultimately getting out of NMS is just that, a nice comfortable place I can go to and enjoy nice walks and pretty sights for a little while before I go to bed.

Do I wish there was more to the traditional gameplay elements? Well yes, I do think it’d be cool to have more lore stuff in the world, more dynamic between the races involved, more of the kinds of things that all those moaning people complain about. But then again I wasn’t really expecting a huge amount of that stuff anyway – the impression I got of the game pre-launch is that it’d likely be something like European Truck Simulator set in a Roger Dean universe, and that’s pretty close to what we got. It’d certainly be nice if, having set the stage, HG now go on to fill things out with more trad gameplay things to help the game appeal to more people. Can’t say I’m that bothered about multiplayer to be honest, the last thing I’d want is griefers invading my nice peaceful galactic Sunday walk simulator.

People have also moaned about the price, and I guess if you bought it and the lack of a lot of structured gameplay upset you then it wasn’t fifty quid well spent (maybe don’t pre-order and wait to see some reviews before dropping that kind of loot next time?) but for me, judging by the number of hours played I think the only thing I have more time logged on is Skyrim, which also cost me £50. So I don’t begrudge them that, and in fact people shouldn’t be reluctant to set decent price points for stuff anyway or we’ll end up with a situation like the App Store where it’s all a radioactive waste of F2P and only a few lumbering monsters survive with everybody else dying an agonising death, and we don’t want that.

As for me I’ll doubtless be continuing to take my nightly excursions ere bed, looking for that perfect sunset, that weirdest beast. I bumped into the Flying Spaghetti Monster last night.


I was blessed by His Noodly Appendages.

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Where have all the iOS games gone?

Gosh it’s been ages since I have posted anything on here.

Anyway I see this question coming up a lot in my twitter stream so I thought I’d post a reply here that I can link to when it comes up.

We spent two years doing games on iOS and in the end we stopped doing them because the income generated from them was so tiny that it ended up actually costing *us* money. Despite excellent reviews both by users and on relevant gaming websites, and notwithstanding the sheer number of iOS devices out there which would, you might think, make it viable for even stuff slightly off mainstream to find enough of an audience to comfortably sustain them, this proved not to be the case and we couldn’t in any way justify carrying on with it.

Which is kind of sad, because I actually rather enjoyed the work. The hardware was nice to work with and well suited to the kind of games I like to do, and I enjoyed the challenge of overcoming the difficulty of doing decent controls on a touchscreen and making something you could happily play on a phone or tablet. In fact to this day the only other thing I play on my phone apart from the contents of my Llamasoft folder is Scrabble.

To give some idea of just how awful iOS was for us, the first non-iOS game I did after spending two years on iOS, released on a Sony handheld that many describe as being “obscure”, generated literally *thousands* of times more income for us than two years and ten games on iOS with its potential billions of users. In the face of that I would have been absolutely daft to spend any more time at all on iOS.

So we quit developing for iOS, but for a few years we still paid the yearly developer fee just so that the games would remain up in the App Store. Not because we were making any money from them (towards the end I’d made pretty much all of them free anyway, since as we weren’t getting any income from them I didn’t see why people shouldn’t just be allowed to take them if they wanted).

Then halfway through the iPhone 6 life cycle we started to hear that newer phones were not working well with some of the games and they were crashing. And the thing is by now we don’t have any working Macs left to do development work on, and we’d effectively have to upgrade stuff and buy new Apple kit to test on and spend time going back and reworking all the games to make them work again and… given just how little we got out of them in the first place, and how skint we are and committed to other work, we just can’t justify supporting them any more. So this time when the dev license came up for renewal we let it lapse. Over time the games are only going to get more broken relative to newer hardware anyway and I didn’t want to leave stuff up there that people would download and increasingly find to be crashy and broken.

I realise it’s not ideal and must be annoying if you have a folder full of our stuff and it disappears when you get a new phone, and I’m sorry that it works out like that, but we simply don’t have the resources to support these games indefinitely on a constantly changing platform like iOS.

My recommendation if you really love the games that much and want to keep them around is to take an old iOS device you have upgraded from – the games should run well even on hardware as old as the old iPhone 3s – jailbreak it and download the games from some pirate site for free with my blessing.

Failing that get ahold of a cheap-ass Android tablet – even the cheapest and assiest out there should have sufficient oomph to run those games in this day and age – and take the free .apks that we have put up for our Android ports of five of the iOS games on this site.

In the end we’re sorry that it’s come to this. The sad thing is that if only there’d been a few more users, if only we’d been able to charge a couple of quid instead of a pittance, I could have been quite happy doing more of those little games indefinitely. I really enjoyed the short turnaround time on projects and being able to work on fun little designs that fit well on the platform. I never really expected to get Angry Birds rich or anything, I would have been quite happy just to get by, but in the end mobile these days seems to be all-or-nothing, with most developers falling to the “nothing” side of the divide, and not much room for that middle ground I was looking for.

Anyway, I really ought to blog a bit more often, it has been ages. And we are doing some fun stuff, and there could be something else good happening too that I can’t say more about just now, but soon.

So hopefully I shall blog more soon :) .

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The Road Ahead

Now that Goatup 2 is out there, it’s time to reveal a bit more about our plans moving forward. Much though we’ve enjoyed working on iOS, it’s clear to us that it’s not a good idea for us to concentrate on that platform alone. So we have a couple of things we’ll be doing, starting immediately.

- We are going to release certain things as “donationware”. What that means is that you can download them in full, use them in a completely unrestricted and DRM free fashion, and then if you like them, you can pay us whatever you like through a donation. This is very close to the old idea of “pure” shareware which we espoused back in the days of Llamatron. We figure this is a nice, fair way to distribute some goodies that were never released, and other things that if sold via conventional App Store means would bring in next to bugger all.

We’ve begun this process with the release of the Android version of “Gridrunner”. You can download it from the donationware page, install it on your Android device, and make sure that it runs nicely and that you enjoy it. If you do, then you can donate whatever you want to us.

The donation page is open for nonspecific donations too, so if you just like us and feel that we’ve done some nice work over the years and want to show support, you can bung us a curry that way too. It’s all good, and keeps us happy and working and hay in the mouths of the sheepies :) .

Over the coming weeks and months we have more items that we’ll be adding to the donationware page, some of which are quite rare and never saw release for various reasons. One of these in particular is quite special; one of the best things we’ve ever made.

The donationware page has been up for a few days now and we’ve had a fair number of donations already; we’d like to thank everyone who has already donated. Thanks guys, it really is appreciated.

Visit our new Donationware page right here!

- Secondly, we are happy to announce that we have just begun work on a new game for the Playstation Vita. I’m very grateful to Shahid Ahmad at Sony for the opportunity; he’s a man on a mission to bring a ton of indie talent to the Vita and we’re fortunate enough to have been invited to the party. And cheers to Gary Liddon from Ruffian, who gently nudged us in the direction of this exciting opportunity.

19 years ago saw the release of one of the best games Llamasoft ever made, a game which came to be recognised as one of the best games on an entire system – Tempest 2000 on the Atari Jaguar. I’ve often thought that one day I would like to revisit that game and do some kind of an updated version on modern hardware.

We’ve had a couple of cracks at it before, it’s true, but neither of them quite managed to achieve the same level of greatness as the original. T3K for the Nuon was in its own way remarkable, given that it was built using shader-like techniques (doing significant per-pixel computations) before shaders even existed, in software, on a 54 MHz CPU. But that game never achieved its full potential given that the NUON chip that it ran on only ever had very limited distribution, and the resolution and framerate were never quite what I hoped they would be.

Then there was Space Giraffe on the X360 and PC – still in my opinion one of the best things we’ve ever made, and a game that pushed boundaries by making sensory overload an integral part of the game’s difficulty. For those players that got what we were trying to do, SG could be an almost transcendental experience, and those people who love it REALLY love it. In that I still feel that we succeeded admirably. But I also have to admit that the game was divisive; some people didn’t like the complete immersion in eyeball-searing psychedelia and the gameplay modifications that made it not quite the pure shooty T2K upgrade that the initial look of the game seemed to promise.

In considering what we could do on the Vita I was thinking about the various things we’ve done with Gridrunner over the years. Super Gridrunner on the ST and Amiga, Gridrunner++ on PocketPC, Gridrunner Revolution on the PC – all good games without a doubt, each more complex than the next. But the best version? I think that’s the recent iOS (and now Android) version. To make that I went back to the core design of the game, and made a new version in that same spirit – modern enough to be satisfying to today’s players, but true to the design of the original game.

And so that brings us to our new project – TxK on the Playstation Vita.

We’re going to base it on the essence of the original T2K. It’ll be the pure, straightforward shooter that maybe you hoped for when you first saw Space Giraffe. We’re not going to overload you with ultra psychedelia, but we will make it fluid and colourful and awesome-looking on the Vita’s delicious, vibrant OLED screen. We’re going to give you a perfect treat for your eyes, ears and thumbs with a modern extrapolation of one of the best shooters ever made on hardware that’s just perfectly suited for it, and in a way that retains the purity of the original design.

It’s going to be *awesome* :) .

Thanks again to Shahid and his team for making this happen and getting us all set up and ready to rock so smoothly. Looks like we’ve got a busy summer ahead but it’s totally going to be so worth it.

We also plan on doing a bit of a development blog as we go along, so watch out for that. I’ll link it up when we make the first entry.

But right now it’s back to the devkit for me!

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GoatUp 2 submitted to Apple

Goatup 2 icon

Well that took a little longer than expected but Goatup 2 is finally off to Apple. Hopefully it’ll all go well there and if so should be available in about a week. This is the first thing I’ve done that involves having level editing and the ability to share game files, and I know Apple can be a little wary of stuff that does that, but I’m hoping it’ll be fine since I’ve done the filesharing part totally by the book through iTunes, and anyway the game files themselves don’t contain any executable code at all, there just a map of brick and object types and positions.

We’ll see! But anyway soon you’ll be able to finally unleash your inner Matthew Smith!

GU2 level

So what kind of game is Goatup 2?

It’s different from Goatup 1 in that it’s no longer an endless climber. It’s a more conventional platformer, with games consisting of a set of self-contained levels. It’s obviously influenced by games like Manic Miner and Miner 2049er, in that you have to traverse the level collecting keys, which then cause an exit to open, allowing you to leave the level.

It’s nowhere near as demandingly finicky as Manic Miner though. By now I am sure you know that I like my platformers to be very flow-y and sloppy with the emphasis on joyously bouncing around rather than sphincter-clenching over every little jump. So the main difference between this and, say, MM, is that in GU2 there’s no penalty for falling from any height. I’ve always hated that in platform games – fall more than 2 inches, BAM you’re dead. So in GU2, if you can land a jump on a platform, you’ll live. Of course there has to be a platform there – you can still fall out of a level to your doom. And you will, oh yes, you will.

Also unlike in Manic Miner you get to kill your enemies. The same mechanic that allows you to attack enemies also allows you to make midair jumps – and it is the humble fart.


As in Goatup 1, certain objects that you collect trail behind you in a long stream. In Goatup 1 those objects were kids (and you “collected” them by giving birth to them). In Goatup 2 these objects can be kids (which you find on platforms, since you are a billy goat this time around) or other things like level keys, the Queen, or a chicken vindaloo curry.

Trailing some objects like a boss

Each object you collect behind you can be traded for one fart. So if you collect a bunch of objects you can effectively fly, Joust-style, for a while by repeatedly pressing the jump button. Under certain circumstances (having a curry when the Queen is not looking) you can have unlimited farts for a few seconds, during which time you can use your extra mobility to explore otherwise unreachable parts of levels, or to attack clusters of enemies.

Yes, your flatus can be directed at enemies, and in most cases it will knock them off their platforms and out of the game. In all it makes for a game that is like a Bomb Jack-type platformer crossed with a shooter. Crossed with Joust. Kinda. And the shots come out your arse. Which may sound weird but is actually pretty fun.

remember the pink hairy things?

Of course it is quite possible to make levels with no farting by simply designing them without any fartable objects to collect, so an individual designer may choose to make levels far more tricky and less loose and sloppy than my own. And that’s good :D .

You can also place The Queen in a level. If The Queen is collected, she starts watching the goat from the side of the level, and of course with Royal eyes upon you you can’t possibly fart. Until you find a curry…

Happy and glorious

The game ships with 4 default level sets (a level set is referred to as a “game” in the editor) of 20 levels each. Game 1 is a set of levels that start extremely easy to introduce the player to the gameplay. Game 4 is a level set that uses a level template and then varies it by using the various types of bricks, objects and enemies that are available in the level editor. It should serve as a good introduction to the game components for those who want to try making their own levels.

An underwater Kongotaur.

Games 2 and 3 are a collection of levels by me, PVB and Precious Pony. With 80 levels there by default there should be plenty there for people to get stuck into even before they consider using the editor or importing other people’s games.

Game 1 is locked and its levels can’t be edited. This is simply so that we can have online leaderboards that make sense for at least one set of levels. If people could edit those levels they’d change the difficulty and scoring, rendering any leaderboards useless. So the game 1 levels are fixed. There are four leaderboards: Pure (best score in game 1, starting from the beginning); Lifetime (the best score you ever got on each level in Game 1, totalled); Pure Time (fastest time for completing all the levels in Game 1) and Lifetime Time (the sum of all your best ever times on each of the levels in Game 1). So you can play the levels for score, or try and speed run them for time. The two different objectives lead to quite different ways of playing each level, so there’s plenty of scope for replaying, and for either sitting down to do a nice long Pure game or simply dipping in to try to improve one’s score or time on a particular level.

Scores and times are saved locally for the other games too, just not put on a global leaderboard, as that makes no sense for editable level sets.

You can still copy any of the levels out of Game 1 and paste them into another game if you just want to look at how they are made and modify them as you see fit.

A level on Game 4

Here is a bit of one of the levels in Game 4, showing the use of telephone kiosks, one-way doorways and bulls.

Of course I am hoping that people will start to use the editor and make their own levels too. I thought building an editor would be pretty quick, and yes, it’s not too hard to have something basic up and running in a short while. But making an editor that’s actually stable and suitable for anyone to use is actually a fair old undertaking and it’s taken a while. But in the end I think it’s come out pretty well, and whereas it’ll never be as convenient as something PC-based it actually works nicely, allowing levels to be built easily and tested quickly right on your device. It’s even just about usable on the iPhone, although it’s obviously easier on the iPad. I made all my game levels on an iPad mini, some of them whilst on the toilet. That’ll do for me :) .

The Editor.

I’ve tried to keep the editor as simple as possible – basically there’s a large area at the top of the screen where you can scroll around the entire tilemap, and a little strip at the bottom where you choose which bricks and objects you want to add to the level. Adding stuff is as simple as drawing it on the screen using your finger. At any time you can press the PLAY button to try out your level.

I’ve made a little guide about how to use the editor. You can view it here, or in-game press the HELP button on the Game Select screen while in Edit mode.

Here’s a couple of videos showing some gameplay and some editor usage that I’ve published before, but which may be interesting if you haven’t seen them yet or just want to get an idea of how the game looks in motion. These are a couple of months old now and some stuff has changed, other stuff has been added, and most things tidied up. But these give a good idea of what the game’s all about.

This shows some GU2 gameplay.

And these two show the editor in use.

The game will be on sale for £2.50 – yes, we’ve decided to move away from the super ultra lowest pricing on the App Store. It’s simply not working out for us to release things at those prices. We’ve done 9 games now so we have a pretty good feel for how things are going and super low prices simply aren’t working for us. We feel that most people who like the work we do wouldn’t begrudge us the price of a pint once every few months, as opposed to the price of a Lion Bar. And as part of our future strategy rather than concentrating on putting out a lot of small iOS games we’re going to aim to do slightly longer projects, on the order of 6 months or so each, and which will be cross-platform on Mac and PC as well as on iOS and Android.

Even so I bet there will still be one or two people who will complain that our games are now “too expensive” at £2.50. But as I said it’s only the price of a pint, and it’s still about one third of what a Llamasoft game cost in 1982!

The upside is that by taking a bit longer to do crossplatform games I should be able to come up with some stuff that’s a bit deeper than most of the iOS work I’ve done, and I think you’ll be quite interested by what I have in mind for my next project. Which will be revealed in due course.

Until then enjoy GoatUp 2 and let’s be seeing some of those user-created levels! I’ll collect up a bunch of my favourites and put them up on the website when there start to be a few around.

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Fun for the Whole Family: Old Computer Ads Revisited

You may remember a few months ago I did a bit of a pisstake of some old ads from out of ancient computer magazines, concluding with this memorable “OH HOLY FUCK, LOOK AT THOSE KNOBBLY GREEN TRIANGLES!” one for the Apple ][.


Computer mags were rife with ads done in that particular style back in the late 70s/early 80s. I guess it was just part of the Universal Lie that was prevalent around home computers and game systems back then: that these things were Educational, would Help With Your Homework, would Bring The Whole Family Together in Joy and Harmony, and not just for little Johnny to shut himself in his room playing Beach Head and Impossible Mission in the hours in between masturbation sessions. Kids told their parents that, and the ads were happily complicit in the lie, representing some kind of nonexistent happy family Utopia in many a ridiculous ad.

spreadsheets are awesome.

Mom is gazing adoringly at the Vic, grinning along with Son, who isn’t doing anything at all apart from gurn at the fingers of Dad’s left hand. He’s also smiling too, in a strange, distant kind of way, and definitely not the expression you would expect of anyone who is actually using a spreadsheet. A spreadsheet on a Vic-20, with absolutely massive characters, which you are doubtless supposed to use with a tape drive. And come on, who *actually* balanced their family accounts in giant characters on a Vic-20 with a tape drive? Nobody at all, not one single bugger. It was just part of the universally-condoned Lie about how your new home computer would be properly useful *and* bring the family together round it, everyone grinning in endless Utopian bliss.

How nice.

Over in the Tandy catalogue at least Awfully Nice Blue Ribbon Girl is allowed to actually play an honest to God game instead of do a bit of family accountancy, even if it does look like a bit of a boring maze game. She seems to be smiling way more than the dreadful palette (what was it with the CoCo/Dragon and that nasty bile green?) and dreadful graphics warrant. Perhaps it’s due to the reassuring hand of Dad, resting on her shoulder while he gazes at the top of her head grinning slackly. And look at Mom. She’s not seeing her little girl playing some crap maze game. She’s in the thrall of the Lie and she’s seeing her daughter Learning Computer Skills and is already mentally at the daughter’s graduation ceremony from MIT.

Holy crap.

Over in the Bible Belt Dad’s looking well smug since he’s not only providing a Computer Education, he’s also on his way to Heaven for sure. Son also looks completely artificially happy given that he’s sat in front of a bloody TI 99/4A instead of the Commodore that all his mates have got, *and* he’s expected to play bloody Jesus games. The little girl knows the score though. Her mouth may be smiling but her eyes are clearly yelling “oh for fuck’s sake”.


This kind of thing has been going on since well back in the black and white age, as this old Atari 800 ad demonstrates. Big nose 70s moustache Dad has done something so amazing (just by holding the joystick by its very tip in one hand) that his entire family are in abject awe. Son is slack jawed, pointing wordlessly at the screen. Mum looks like she’s just done a fat line of coke and it’s just now starting to kick in. Daughter has had all thoughts of My Little Pony princess castle play sets expunged from her mind by the sheer awesomeness of what looks like a complete dog’s breakfast of an effort on the Sony. The home computer in this case seems to be being presented less as an educational tool and more like some kind of shared ecstatic visionary experience.


Even in modern times the same kind of thing persists. Just look at this ad for some kind of Wii sketchpad peripheral. Mum’s beaming while she wields the stylus. Son is clearly ecstatic to see what his mum’s drawn. Whatever can it be? Judging by Dad’s expression and the way he’s holding his hands out like that, perhaps the game is to guess what Mum is drawing and he’s about to ask “is it a horse’s arse”?

Daughter, I think, has just unexpectedly sat on a dildo.

Wii twii

Of course it’s rife in Wii ads. This one shows the happy family from the point of view of the telly itself. Whatever they are playing it seems to encompass a fair range of simultaneous activities for the family members to enjoy. Looks like Mum’s jogging, Son is getting ready to fry an egg, Daughter is disco dancing, and Dad has lost something in some dark recess and is looking for it with a torch and a worried expression.

Coke is it!

Back at the start of the 80s cocaine use was particularly rampant, as evidenced by this buzzing Atari family. The three adult members are plainly off their tits. Mom is clenching like crazy. Older Daughter has a grin that reminds me of Aphex Twin, and Dad is on the verge of drooling while his eyebrows attempt to crawl off his face. All he can do is gesture limply with his right hand, presumably to the mirror just out of shot on top of the TV, indicating that someone should get busy and chop out some more lines with the platinum American Express card.

Son is clearly going to grow up to be a Bucky the Beaver furry.

Helpless Dad

Without everyone else round him gawping and grinning, poor old Dad is left wondering why he can’t find the footy results on this weird new radio thing he’s holding. Now he’s not smiling – his mouth is open as he yells “FUCKING THING!” at it in frustration.

And the dog

Here the McPervert family are shown reacting upon the occasion of their first exposure to Goatse.


Oh come off it Tandy, that is not a Family Computer by any stretch, no matter how you try to spin it. Green screen and another fucking spreadsheet, nary a joystick in sight, parents with huge piles of Serious Software and kids with armfuls of Wholesome Educational Stuff. This is taking “we bought it to help with the homework” way too far in the direction of truth.


Better – that is at least the right machine, as it’s a Commodore 64. The kids are chuffed and earnestly thank you for it Dad, but they are plainly waiting for you to sod off to bed with your earnest face and your earnest educational software. Yes, the diameter of Saturn is all well and good, but there’s Bruce Lee to be played once you’re out of the picture.

also what the hell kind of Commodore 64 is that that only needs one cable?


What you can’t see is that the dog is in this family grouping too. He’s just stuck his nose right up Mom’s skirt, and boy is his nose cold.

pong fu

A few years earlier over in Taiwan families gathered together to learn the art of “pong-fu” – the ability to play Pong without using any kind of paddle controller at all. Just the merest touch of the little finger sufficed for the true masters.

At that time in history raster bars existed only in textile form. Here the family TV sits atop a really early Fairlight demo on the dyed wool platform.

Serious business

It was a man’s life in the insurance business in the swinging 70s, as evidenced by this little scene. Mr. Swinging Business Dude is having a right old fine time with his slightly-too-long hair and approximate moustache, grinning like a monkey as he enjoys a rousing game of Pong in his office. Curiously enough his opponent (presumably his secretary) looks like she is still taking dictation; her hand isn’t even on the console, as his is. Perhaps that thing in her hand is a remote paddle and not a microphone.

The gun lies between them like a threat.


This is clearly, as they say, one for Up The Arse Corner.


Back in the Bible Belt, another Dad who figures he’s on his way to heaven. Little does he realise that Son is going to grow up and become Mr. Goatse. And that look in the girl’s eye isn’t glee. It’s psychosis.

Healthy play

Next door things are also a bit worrying. Dad is toothless and sports the moustache and belt buckle of a true pervert. Older Daughter is concealing a knife in that marsupial pouch thing of her Atari sweatshirt. And they’ve invited their friend Joe over to play and he seems to have forgotten half his t-shirt. Little Johnny’s getting ready to lay his head on that sweet exposed manflesh.

You just know that the joysticks are about to come out.

Super duper Mario

Ahh, Super Mario Brothers, the multiplayer game for all the family! Except that it’s single-player. And whoever’s playing is just jumping Mario down a hole in the ground. I don’t think any of them are actually seeing what’s going on, it’s just a big plurry glow for them by now.


This kid isn’t ecstatic. Those raised thumbs were coerced somehow, perhaps by threatening his dog’s life or something. He’s actually screaming in agony and RAGE at the very idea that anybody would expect him to show any other kind of emotion at the prospect of playing crappy 30 year old Spectrum games in blurry black and white on some piece of Amstrad absolute shite.


Finally, here you can see the kids happily playing VCS Indiana Jones (using one of those weirdly complicated and expensive contraptions you could get back then which bolted to your VCS making it awkwardly unwieldy and prone to glitching and saved you the bother of unplugging a cart and plugging another one in) despite the distress of Dad, who has clearly either trodden on an upturned British plug or experienced an unexpected, anal surprise.

Well that’s it for this time. More old ads, and rubbish game videos, and of course shiny new games from me next year! Nadolig Llawen!

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Being Matthew Smith: A First Look at Goatup 2

I’ve been working lately on a sequel of sorts to “Goatup”. The full title of the sequel is “BUCK! The Tail of Goatup 2″ but I am sure most people will be happy enough to just shorten that to Goatup 2. This video gives a little overview of the game’s editor and a couple of test levels.

As you can see from this, the game this time isn’t continuously scrolling as before. It’s more of a traditional one-screen-per-level platformer (although the “screen” in this case is a large area much bigger than the physical screen, and the view scrolls around as you play).

I want not only to provide players with plenty of platforming fun; I also want them to be able to experience for themselves exactly what it’s like to be Matthew Smith. To that end, although I cannot provide them with any appropriate recreational combustibles, I do provide a level editor with which I hope people will find it easy to experiment and create their own levels. The editor provides a selection of platform game items and an environment in which it’s pretty easy to just “paint” a level using your finger, place items within the level, and try it out instantly by just pressing the PLAY button. There are various different platform types covering most common platformer tropes, collectible items, various bad guys, and “toys” such as the barrel-emitting Kongotaur which can be used to populate your levels.

The platform action itself is kinda Rainbow Islandish, although without the continuous vertical scroll of that game. Collected items follow behind you, and you can trade these items one at a time for a mid-air jump, allowing you to reach otherwise inaccessible places, or to get you out of trouble. Doing such a jump also makes you and any kids you have fart out stars and sparkles, which can be used to knock baddies off platforms. Each kid you collect doubles your bonus multiplier in all items. So there’s a goodly number of ways to complete each level, and you’ll want to go back after initially completing a level to look for ways of completing it with as high a level score as possible, farting away as few bonus items as you can manage.

There’s still a few weeks left in development yet, mainly now just adding more items and toys to the collection, building a good set of default levels, and looking into how we’ll let users share levels they’ve made.

Some people have said they dislike the giant burping noise in the video, and in fact in the final game all you’ll hear for double-jumping is the quiet fart sound effect. The burp was a warning for when your goat was full up from too much grass. It used to be you’d explode if you ate too much, but I took that out, so the burp is now redundant anyway.

Anyway there you go, there’s my master plan to make Matthew Smiths of you all :) .

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Obscure Cult Game System Resurrected on iOS

Caprichoso Arcade

In which the black ox with the blue star (the best ox) out of Super Ox Wars recommends games we’ve been enjoying lately.

One of my first ever trips to the US (to go and visit Human Engineered Software, who were distributing some of my Commodore games at the time) coincided with the launch of a new game system. I’d read about this prior to my visit, and so I was determined that when I was visiting I was going to get hold of one of these new toys and bring it back to Blighty. That proved trickier than I’d initially thought, as the new system was in demand and finding a place that had some in stock proved difficult. I walked many miles all over San Francisco trying to find a shop that had any in, and perseverence eventually paid off and I lugged my prize back to my motel room and prepared for an evening of gaming.

The system in question was called the Vectrex, and it was unusual for a couple of reasons: for one, it had its own screen, whereas all other game systems of that time required that you plug them into the telly for display. And secondly, it had a different kind of screen, one that gamers had seen before, in the arcades, displaying games like Asteroids and Tempest: a vector display. Back in those days graphics in game systems tended to look pretty chunky, due to memory constraints and the low resolution of raster displays. Games made with vector displays looked very sharp and clean by contrast. Objects in such games were made up of lines (“vectors”) that were pure lines, not made out of a bunch of blocks like on a raster display. There were no visible pixels at all – in a way vector displays were the “Retina” displays of their day, and the idea of having such a display in a home system was pretty appealing.

The Vectrex itself was a nice little portable unit, looking quite a lot like the Macintosh that would appear a couple of years later. It was handy to set up and use, just plug it in and start playing without having to faff about with hooking it up to a telly and tuning in the RF signal. Easy to take with you round a mate’s house too (I remember there being a slight flight delay on my trip home from the US and I busted out my Vectrex that was in my hand baggage, plugged it into a wall socket in the departure lounge, and amused myself and some of my fellow passengers with games of Mine Storm, Scramble, Berzerk and Star Trek while we waited).

For a while the future looked good for the little system – gamers liked it, it received good reviews, and in a few months it became available in the UK too; one of my brothers liked mine so much he bought his own, and I was able to buy more games for mine without having to import them from the US. I went to the Summer CES in 1983 and saw on the Vectrex stand all manner of intriguing extras they were planning to release for the system – a light pen, a funky headset thing that used a spinning filter thing to transform the Vectrex’s monochrome display into colour with stereoscopic 3D, and even a keyboard to transform the system into a BASIC home computer.

(Man, I wish I’d had a video camera with me at that show, or at least have taken a bunch of pictures, because i didn’t know it but I was seeing the last peak of the videogame boom before the oncoming Crash of ’83. That show was full of stuff that was never released, shovel-loads of VCS games, computer-keyboard-addons for game systems, all sorts of stuff that in later years would be only dimly remembered or outright lost).

Then the crash happened and the Vectrex was one of the casualties. For a while as shops cleared out their inventories you could pick up brand new systems for £30 each and the games for a few quid; then it vanished, lost and gone forever, and over the years the systems that remained and still worked became increasingly cherished by collectors (I still have two). A Vectrex in good nick commands quite a decent price on ebay these days.

Of course things being what they are, systems are no longer lost and gone forever thanks to emulation, and for a few years now it’s been possible to play the system in emulation on a PC. And just now there’s a new Vectrex emulation out for iOS.

A Vectrex, and stuff.

Emulation on iOS can be a bit of a mixed bag. For one thing it’s rarer than it could be, due to Apple not liking stuff which can run arbitrary ROMS, and it not being practical usually for a developer to license the rights to sell an emulator complete with all its software. The platform is more than capable of decent emulation, but there are significant difficulties in simulating controls which were decidedly physical back in the day on devices that use a multitouch screen for input. Sometimes you can get great emulation but let down by less than great controls (the Atari collection is a bit like that; although the controls have been improved from the initial release they are still a bit of a dog’s breakfast), and sometimes you get lucky and the controls don’t actually suck (the Activision collection is quite playable and worth having).

So when I heard about the new Vectrex emulation in development I was interested but worried about the controls. I always worry about iOS controls. So I was relieved to discover when the app was released that the controls are pretty good. Not perfect – that’s not a criticism of the app, just an acknowledgement of the fact that you are never going to get perfect controls on an emulation of a system that used buttons and joysticks. But what they’ve done is really pretty good, and all the games are playable and fun even using just the touch screen. (The analog stick is emulated by the left touch, and centres where the touch lands; the visible image of the touch location can be turned off, as God and Nature intended. The four fire buttons can be scaled and rotated so as to be positioned as you want under the other hand. It’s always going to be a compromise compared to a proper stick and buttons (and you can have those, if you want, too) but it works well enough that you should be able to make it comfortable to play the games reasonably well on just your bare iOS device).

Scramble on Vectrex

The simulation of the actual vector display is very good too. They’ve even left in authentic-looking amounts of vector flicker and some of the weird background noises that display used to make (which may sound like a bad thing, but actually adds to the charm and realism of the emulation). The Vectrex was a monochrome system, and each game came with a coloured plastic overlay that you’d clip in front of the screen, which defined play areas and added come colour to the scene – these overlays are faithfully reproduced too. As is the option to just go ahead and play in (brighter) monochrome with the overlay off, as many of us real system users did, having misplaced the overlays or not being arsed to put them on when changing games.

For full-on authenticity though you’ll be happy if you’ve got an iCade. If you look at the image of the Vectrex system I posted earlier you can see the iCade next to the original system, and you can see it has the same screen orientation and even pretty much the same joystick and button layout. Although the joystick on the original Veccie was analog, most games just treated it like a digital stick anyway, so most of the games are playable on the iCade in just about as authentic a way as physically possible. It really is a pleasure to play on the iCade, and with the bigger screen and arcade controls could even be considered to be better than the original in some cases.

Vectrex UI

The UI is very posh, and consists of a 3D rendering of a kid’s bedroom from the 80s. Your Vectrex sits on a desk in the corner, and you can pan around to see your game collection on a shelf. Choose a cart from your collection and you can rotate the box and examine it closely. It’s all very nicely done and makes a posh and pretty front end to the emulation.


The game is fond of showering you with lots of little micro-achievements (I farted once while playing and was mildly surprised not to get a “First Wind Broken” achievement at the end of my game) and as you get them a corkboard in your virtual bedroom fills up with little badges for them all.


There’s a blackboard in the bedroom which shows you the current online leaderboard for whatever game you’ve been playing. Yes, that really is me being best in the world at Star Ship. I’m high on a good few of the leaderboards, come on and beat me! :)

There are photos and videos to look at too; the emulation frontend is really very well done, and it adds an extra, modern dimension to these old games to be able to post on global leaderboards. I can’t imagine how awesome that idea would have seemed to 1980s me. We take so much for granted these days :) .

What of the games themselves? After all great emulation, decent controls and a posh frontend all count for bugger all if the games are a pile of wank, and many old games don’t stand the test of time too well. But fortunately by and large the Vectrex games were a pretty decent lot, and given that they are, after all, early 80s games, they remain surprisingly fun to play today, particularly with the addition of online leaderboards. 80s games are all about score, after all.

Out of the chunk of the official library released so far (more games are forthcoming soon, apparently) the only two I don’t play much are the American football one (it makes no more sense to me rendered as tiny Os and Xes than it does on telly with real people) and the soccer one (which actually wasn’t that bad when I tried it, just it’s not really my thing). Some of my favourites:

- Mine Storm (this game was built in to every Vectrex, and is the free game you can play when you download the app). This is a cool and challenging Asteroids-style game. You start with passive mines that just drift about and on later levels progress to mines that shoot back at you, homing mines, and combinations thereof.

- Fortress of Narzod. This is a really fun bottom shooter in which you shoot at baddies who advance down a twisting corridor. You can bounce your shots off the walls and have to be careful not to bounce your own shots back and shoot yourself. After three levels there’s a fireball-hurling boss to kill. Gets satisfyingly fast and challenging as you go on.

- Scramble. Not a game you’d think would translate to vector very well, but in fact this conversion is extremely good and plays very much like its coinop ancestor.

- Pole Position. Again, a game you’d think wouldn’t suit translation to vector, and indeed it does look a bit sparse compared to more colourful raster versions, but it actually plays really well and feels nicer to control than some of the raster versions I’ve played.

- Rip Off. An interesting game in that you have infinite lives and simply have to prevent enemies from stealing a stash of pods in the middle of the screen. Smashing your ship to kill a bad guy is just as important a strategy as shooting them. Games are short and frantic.

- Solar Quest. I believe I’ve mentioned this as being one of the games that inspired Minotaur Rescue, and if you’ve played that you’ll see why when you play this, in which you shoot baddies which release “enemy pilots” (little asterisks) which you can either shoot or rescue before they fall into the sun (sound familiar?).

- Star Castle. A near perfect recreation of a classic vector coinop, at which I am rubbish as I tend to get blasted as soon as the middle cannon is exposed. I suspect I need to work more with the screen wrap to develop a good technique.

- Star Ship. This was released as Star Trek in the US version I had. First-person space shooter incorporating elements of Tail Gunner (shields you can use to bounce incoming enemy shots back off the screen) and Star Raiders (a star base to refuel at, a warp tunnel to use).

- Web Wars. A peculiar game in which you have to fly down a web collecting space insects by licking them with your tongue while avoiding and shooting enemy shots. Sounds odd, and is, but look at the lovely perspective changing web and think of the great version of Tempest they could have done if they’d had the license.

Most of the other released games are well worth a look too, and between them all there’s certainly enough gameplay to justify the investment (you get Mine Storm for free and unlock the rest with a single IAP). Also free are four homebrew games, the best of which is probably a pretty decent implementation of old 8-bit classic “Thrust”.

The price to buy all the games is a fiver, and whereas some might think “a fiver, that’s expensive” when it comes to iOS games, I think it’s a good thing, and I would like to see more developers moving away from the ultra-low price point. 69p does more harm than good in my opinion. For a game priced at 69p to succeed it has to sell absolute bucketloads (which most games don’t, so developers either give up after realising they’d be better off playing the lottery, or start messing about with niggly bits of IAP to try and gouge back their development costs that way). I’d much rather developers be more upfront about it, and charge at least the price of a pint for their work; it’d mean sustainable game development would actually be possible without hanging out for the miracle of “going viral” (and would beneficially impact game design too, since developers wouldn’t necessarily have to feel that they absolutely must design for maximal popularity above all else). Also if you charge a fiver for a game it’s a much more reasonable thing to expect a few updates during its life. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to make updates for 69p games that you’ll never get paid for again.

But I digress. Is Vectrex worth a fiver? Given the nice front end, great presentation, leaderboard integration and a nice collection of games, yes of course it is. If you’ve any enthusiasm for or interest in older game systems then having this beautifully presented collection on your iOS devices (it’s Universal, as all apps should be) is well worth the slightly less than the cost of a vindaloo (without even the rice and pappadoms, never mind the lager) they are asking. Good on them for setting a decent price point I reckon.

It’s not perfect though. There are a few bugs and gotchas in this initial release – it doesn’t run on original iPad 1s and it’s a bit slow and dim on my iPhone 4. It looks and works great on my iPad 3 and mini though, so you should be good on anything rated similar to the iPad 2 or above. There’s a slight emulation glitch which means that sometimes, when playing Mine Storm, the vector display will go a bit funny for a few seconds. One of the developers told me this is a 6809 emulation bug which has since been fixed and there’ll be an update along shortly to fix it. It’s not game breaking usually anyway – if it happens in game to you just sit tight and after a few seconds it’ll go back to normal.

They also say they are working on improving performance, so there’s a chance it’ll become viable on the older iOS versions in due course.

There’s some more games from the original library soon to be released (and you’ll get them for free if you’ve already bought the current game collection), and who knows, maybe they’ll release emulations of some of those funky peripherals I mentioned. I’d quite like to see that if they did because I’ve never actually seen the colour imager thingy, which was released but is pretty rare.

If I were to have a wishlist, I guess I’d ask for a couple of things: it might be nice to be able to set autofire on some of the buttons. To make a game playable on the touchscreen I strongly believe it’s necessary to de-complicate controls as much as possible (which is why many of my games don’t even need a fire button). Every time you have to lift your finger and tap to make a now shot, there’s the chance your finger will wander away from the landing zone for that button. I just think autofire on some games’ fire button might make them feel and play more nicely on the touchscreen.

I don’t know how the vector generation code is broken out inside the emulation, but it might be nice if it were possible to choose some alternate vector styles not possible on the original hardware (good though the emulation actually is). It’d be fun to play the old games in some new funky modern style :) .

So yeah, highly recommended, modulo the few glitches I’ve mentioned (which will be fixed soon anyway). And now i think I feel a game of Fortress of Narzod coming on.

(In fact I wouldn’t mind doing a modern remake of Fortress of Narzod one day. I reckon it’d quite suit my style)…

The app is a free download from here:

Vectrex Regeneration on the App Store

That gets you Mine Storm and the homebrew games and you pay a fiver to get all the rest, including a few more from the original lineup yet to be released.

Posted in Caprichoso Arcade | Comments Off

The odd little world of Commodore 16/Plus 4 Llamasoft game ripoffs

Trawling through my emulator bin the other day I became aware of an odd little subcategory of games I had no idea even existed: C16/Plus4 games that are either copies of, or heavily influenced by, my own games on the Vic-20 and Commodore 64. So I thought it’d be fun to play some of those and have a little looksee.

First off we have XELIEN.

At first you may not recognise this as being directly a clone of any of my games, but if you look a little closer you’ll see that it is in fact a slightly more boring version of my old unexpanded Vic-20 game “Abductor”. Like in Abductor you have little people at the bottom of the screen, and there are some pink ships which will occasionally swoop down and collect your men. Unlike in Abductor though they don’t chuck skulls back down on you when the guys get abducted. To progress all you have to do is shoot all the little cyan Os. Game difficulty seems to consist of subsequent levels having more Os and the pink things dropping more full stops on you as you go on. At least in Abductor there were several different “attack patterns” of the enemy ships; in this it’s just a combination of the aimless wandering about of the pink things and diagonal bouncing of the Os, making the whole thing a bit more boring than the original Abductor, which was itself not dramatically riveting. At least in Abductor you could get a fat doubleship after a couple of levels; no such luck in this one.

Chap was obviously a bit of a Vic 20 fan as he seems to have got all his game concepts wholesale from other peoples’ Vic games (one of his others is basically a clone of the old Rabbit Software game “Myriad” (which I recall I rather enjoyed myself)).

Moving on then, here’s another by the same chap – “Hunter”.

And as you can see by “Hunter” he basically means “Gridrunner”. However (and this is a common theme with these odd clone-games) he seems to have omitted many of the bits that made Gridrunner Gridrunnery, namely the XY Zappers and the Pods that were left behind upon shooting a bad guy. Instead shooting the centipede causes a shot to be fired downwards. Leaving out the pods is a bit of a rubbish thing as they served (like the Mushrooms in Centipede) to create a more complex environment in which the snakes could twist and turn, as well as a bit of a threat as they’d turn into bombs. Without them the game just plays like a rather boring version of Centipede, without sufficient actual Centipedeness or Gridrunneriness to actually be satisfying.

If you’re going to go ahead and nick bits of other people’s games then at least leave the good bits in, I reckon. Why leave bits out, especially if they are the bits that actually help define the game and make it fun? It is a mystery.

Next up is “Zonex”, by the same dude.

As you can see upon starting the game this is something that is mostly Laser Zone mixed with a little bit of Hellgate. Crap doesn’t land on the rails and walk towards you like in Laser Zone, so there’s no diagonal firing (with the attendant possibility of shooting your own ship). It plays more like Hell Gate with two guns as a result. Baddies that look like little bits of that dried cat food, or perhaps Spaghetti Hoops, march towards you and you shoot them. Meanwhile a ball of some description bounces around in the playfield. Just like in Laser Zone a counter indicates how many baddies you have left to shoot until the end of the level.

In a staggeringly original twist subsequent levels introduce walls of bricks into the play area, which get in the way a bit.

Next up is “Spectipede”, not by the same dude, but by a chap who obviously loves him some Matrix.

This is a weird kind of full circle here. If you recall I deliberately changed the style for my own “Centipede-style” games away from actually trying to look like Centipede, in part to avoid the legal wrath of Atari and in part because everybody and his dog and all the dog’s fleas were bunging out Centipede clones on the old Vic at that time. This turned out for the good because it lent the games their own style which distinguished them from Centipede in terms of both theme and gameplay.

In this game the chap’s steered things back towards Centipedesville again, calling it Spectipede and bringing back the traditional mushrooms and insects and things. However he’s set his game basically inside a level of Matrix. Veterans of that game will note the scrolling grid pattern in the background, just like in Matrix (if it were me doing the cloning (well, if it were me technically it wouldn’t be cloning as the original is mine, but hay) I’d've had some different tile scroll pattern shapes and colours on different levels. Instead of the Snitch and the y-zapper at the side there’s just a single side zapper (that fires bombs that look like they generate mushrooms) and there’s the clusters of Deflex-bats out of Matrix just straight copied and plunked in there. The game is awash with the usual Llamasoftian tropes of that era, down to the style of the sound effects, level transitions and even the game over message.

And the “S” in SCORE is all stretched.

Now let’s go back to New Era Dianetics… er, I mean New Multisoft again, for a look at the informatively-titled “Droid”.

This is probably the least Llamasoftian of the lot of them in terms of the actual gameplay, which is far more heavily based on Omega Race. But it’s Omega Race done in character mode and mashed up with Gridrunner yet again. And on some of the levels you get snake-enemies like in Gridrunner. And there are Deflex bats in the corners too. I probably enjoyed playing this a bit more than the games more closely based on Llamasoft titles (not really surprising, who likes playing shit versions of their own games after all). It’s kinda fun moving around the levels zapping stuff, although being character mode you lack the fine control necessary for that kind of thing really. Still, one thing I do like about this guy’s designs, he does believe in giving the player lots of bullets.

Now let’s look at “Diagon”, by S. R. Kellet of Bolton.

I don’t know why it’s called Diagon, because there isn’t much that moves diagonally at all, and in fact I felt the game could have used some extra firing patterns, possibly including diagonals, to help overcome the feeling of constriction that pervades the game. It’s very much like Gridrunner (the little ship is near identical, although the grid is grey) and instead of the XY Zappers there are 4 little ships that traverse the edges, occasionally firing through gaps in the walls. Areas of the main grid are blocked off. This is both an advantage (as you can hide behind the walls) and a pain in the tits, since it means in certain parts of the screen your motion and the range of your shots is quite severely constrained. This is where I think some extra fire patterns (possibly side guns as well as a straight-ahead one) might have improved matters a bit. Level transitions and message styles are all very Llamasoftish.

I have to award this one some points for at least trying to add some novelty to the Gridrunnery style, but I think they could have done more to make things better, particularly with regard to having extra shooting angles the better to be able to shoot within the constraints of the mazes, and doing more with the pods that are left behind when you shoot something (as it is they just kind of get in the way a bit).

Finally let’s finish off with something silly by taking a look at “Hoover Boover”.

I really don’t know what’s gone on here to be honest. Guy starts well by picking a good game to copy, and puts a fair bit of effort into getting together a comprehensive set of menus, options and hiscore tables – fair enough. Then you get into the game and it’s a complete and total dog’s breakfast. The introduction is boring and rubbish (just some scrolling text, no more nice little animation of going to nick your neighbour’s mower). The garden looks dreadful (the flowerbeds are just two little mud patches off to one side, and where are the flowers? You could have done really nice flowers on the Plus 4 given that it had a lot more colours than the C64. What are those round things on the lawn? And the black lines to the right?)

Now Hover Bovver was a humorous game in which part of the fun was being chased by the Neighbour, using the Dog on him, having to pay attention to the mower state and the level of annoyance of the Dog, incurring the wrath of the Gardener… I mean if you removed the dog, neighbour and gardener you’d just be left pushing a mower around an empty screen, which would be about as boring as mowing in real life.

So what do you think they did? They removed the dog, neighbour and gardener, and now the game literally is just moving the mower around, trying not to hit the round things (whatever they are), the lines at the bottom right (whatever they are) and the flowerless flowerbeds. You can see they have obviously seen some of the humour of the original game (the dog is actually in there, but only as a thing that does you damage, completely missing the point of the dog in the game; and some of the messages are obviously attempting to be humorous in a similar style) but in terms of their implementation they have more or less entirely and completely missed the point.

I got frustrated in the end. I can’t see why anyone would go to all the lengths of actually cloning a game, stealing the name and everything, making a bunch of fancy menu screens and then not even copying the game properly. 2/10 for effort really.

Well that’s about it for this week! Who knows what’ll come next. But whatever it is hopefully it’ll be fun taking a look at some more gems from back in the day.

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A peculiar little drama, all unobserved

I’m not great at social media. Twitter I can handle, since its very brevity means that one doesn’t tend to get distractedly too engaged with it, and I quite enjoy emitting occasional silly tweets about things I’m working on. (And I say I can handle it but even at that I am not very good; one time I tried to use a hashtag to promote one of my games and someone basically told me that I’d be unlikely to get anyone to retweet it as apparently I don’t follow enough people, so these days I just tend to make a couple of quiet mentions of new releases on the old tweetstream and leave it at that. I don’t want to be one of those people who tweets HEY GUYS LOOK AT MY NEW GAME every 30 minutes for weeks at a time).

Anyway. Although I joined Facebook years ago until recently I’ve probably only ever logged into it about three times. I just never got into the habit of it. Consequently I’ve had a ton of stacked up friends requests there for ages, and rather than appear rude and exclusionary I’m making a point of going back and acknowledging those and maybe even now and again I’ll try to post something on Facebook just to have a presence there. I’m already too much of a hermit these days as it is.

So just recently I’ve had the FB page open in a tab in Chrome and I’ll occasionally look at that. And the other morning I was on the other computer (my development Mac mini, which is hooked up to my iPads) trying out some stuff in the Goatup 2 level editor. I had my usual complement of stuff open on the PC, including Chrome, although I wasn’t looking at the FB page. So I’m sat there with the editor and I hear some notification sounds coming from the PC. I’m busy so I ignore them for now, I’m not expecting any urgent communications on a Saturday morning. After 5 minutes or so they stop.

A few minutes later I finish with the GU2 editor and check Chrome to see what was making the noises, turns out it’s Facebook. And there’s a chat window thingy, and in that chat window thingy is the following bizarre… I can’t call it an “exchange” as I wasn’t actually there at the time. But there is a most peculiar little drama that played out, in which I am the villain. Observe…

THE Jeff Minter
/me prostrates like a tired LLama
you probably get this a lot
but why was your Xbox360 visualisation so lame?
no yaks or llamas to be seen.
i guess it was on your contract, no llamas or yakz plz we microsoft.
working for any other big corporation since then, Mr. Minter?
there’s plenty to choose from
and they ALL want clever hackers in their projects.
don’t blame ya.
still, if you are just gonna sit there, “listening” to me this is a waste of time, right?
I might as well block my ultimate hero of code along with Hokuto Force and Genesis.
You’ll be one big family on the same blacklist.
Screened, Marked, Blocked, Over.
You really should pay more attention to your fans, Mr. Minter.
/me shakes head

/me shakes head, indeed. From hero to zero and I wasn’t even there.

I guess people have different ideas about social media. Me, I consider it to be asymmetric most of the time: I don’t feel that I am urgently required to reply to tweets, or something someone said on IRC, or stuff on Facebook, until I feel I have time and the inclination to look at those things. Yes, it’s nice if people want to stop by and say hi and especially if they’ve something nice to say that’s cool, but to get the hump about not receiving a reply THIS INSTANT is a bit daft. Surely a normal response would just be to assume I was AFK and try again later or something. I’d hate to be out shopping if this guy came round to visit; on getting no reply to the doorbell he’d likely burn your house down.

Anyway, there’s my little bit of weekend weirdness in an otherwise fairly mundane weekend – how I got blocked from talking to a complete stranger I’d never said a word to, thanks to the wonders of Facebook.

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IAP Abuse Alive and Well and Living In… Equestria?

Sometimes I just come across things that simply beggar belief.

Now anyone who knows me probably knows I’m a massive brony, for my sins. So when I heard that there was to be an “official” MLP game I thought I’d take a look, despite that it’d likely be something rather twee and kiddy-oriented rather than directed towards the more sophisticated brony tastes. And indeed there’s a cutesy kind of town-building game there, and last night I was sat in the pub playing it a bit, various tasks you can do yield in-game currency that you use to expand your town and encourage more ponies to come and live there.

Fiddling about with it I came across the following screen and I had to do not just a double take, but an n-take where n is a fairly high positive integer. Look at this:

What.  the.  smeg.

Yes, those IAPs are labelled in actual pounds. And yes, they go up to SEVENTY FUCKING QUID.

Now I’m finding it hard to imagine any context in which a £70 IAP would be justifiable. Given that entire OS upgrades come in at considerably less than that. Maybe some specialistic add-on to some business app, perhaps. Or some pro-level synth app add-ons, or something expensive in some kind of Photoshop context.

But in a MY LITTLE PONY game? One that is clearly targeted at LITTLE KIDS? SEVENTY FUCKING QUID?

Apparently you can turn off the ability to make IAPs in the game but it’s bloody well on by default.

How the shitty fuck is this morally justifiable? How the hell does whoever put that fucking crap into the game sleep at night? What the ever-living FUCK Hasbro/Gameloft?

I detest IAP abuse at the best of times but attempting to fucking gouge little kids with £70 IAPs takes not only the cake but the entire fucking bakery. Consider me thoroughly sickened. Jesus fuck.

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