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…

OMG
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.
Congratulations.
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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Non-Llamasoft-Related Minotaur-ish iOS Fun

Caprichoso Arcade

In which the black ox with the blue star out of Super Ox Wars takes an occasional look at games we like which aren’t actually ours.

This game was recommended to me by one of its creators, who thought I might enjoy it; and indeed I do, it’s rather nice. It’s called “Monotaur”.

Monotaur

Of course that’s a headstart right away; getting me to take notice of a game is going to be significantly easier if there is a hint of minotaurishness about it. The game itself is almost entirely abstract, its boanthropic reference pared down to nothing more than a tiny circular blob with teeny little horns which somehow nevertheless manages to be quite cute.

It’s a tilt game, and I’m not usually much of a one for tilt games, but this one manages to be quite fun and compelling for such a simple thing. The basic gameplay mode is simply this: you can move your little horny blob round the screen by tilting, and touching the screen causes it to flip between black and white states. As alluded to in the screenshot above, think Ikaruga. (Never played Tilt to Live also mentioned there but I imagine it’s some kind of tilty avoid-em-up).

Various other blobs rez in, sometimes randomly and sometimes in formations, sometimes black and sometimes white. You have to avoid the ones not your current colour, and poke the others with your tiny horns. Like in Ikaruga you earn “chains” for successive undefeated hornings. You attempt to survive as long as possible (in the endurance-style play modes) or to get to the end losing as few lives as possible (in the timed versions) whilst racking up the biggest chain-score you can as you go. It sounds dead simple and it really is not a complex game, but for all its simplicity it is quite addictive and fun.

Other gameplay modes can be unlocked through play (or by paying 69p to unlock everything, which I did, more because I liked the game and wanted to get rid of the ad that otherwise appears at the end of every level than to skip the unlocking process).

Rage Mode

Rage Mode has you scuttling around avoiding the baddies as long as possible whilst picking up “Rage” powerups. By stacking these you can unleash circular blasts of destruction in ever larger radii, your objective being to collect up as much Rage as possible before detonating it, thereby killing as many enemy blobs as possible in a single blast.

There’s a Pacifist Mode where you eschew horn use altogether and just avoid everything for as long as you can (memories of Geom Wars there). And there’s a Master Mode where chains don’t carry over between polarity changes, encouraging you to risk staying one colour as long as possible to get the biggest chain even if it’d be safer perhaps to switch.

Subtle variants on the basic theme which are sufficient to make each of the four variants distinctly enjoyable in their own ways.

Presentation is very tidy, the graphics sparse and abstract and monochrome but nonetheless stylish and even a little bit cute (the little horns!). There’s an appropriately thumping tune that builds in intensity the longer your scoring run goes on.

If you liked Ikaruga and are a fan of the progressively sphincter-tightening sort of feeling you get from these type of chain/avoid games then definitely give this a go, it’s fun and there’s no piss taking with the IAP, just 69p to unlock everything and fuck the ads off, if anything it’s too cheap; any game that’s halfway decent and which entertains you deserves at least a couple of quid I’d say. Bugger 69p, I think it does more harm than good to game development in the end.

But I digress, so I’ll finish off pimping this stylish and very slightly bovine game – give it a try, even if you’re not particularly into tilt games and don’t know what an Ikaruga even is. You may well enjoy it just as I did.

The only thing which could have made it better would have been the occasional minotaurish grunt :) .

MONOTAUR: Free download from the App Store

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The Psychedelic World of Old Computer Ads

I have a bunch of old copies of BYTE magazine and suchlike stashed away on my iPad which I sometimes like to have a read of when i can’t think of anything else to read. It’s kinda fun to see how crap and expensive everything was back then (thousands of dollars for a few megabytes of hard drive, hundreds for a network card) and some of the technical articles in those old BYTEs are still quite interesting in a nerdy kind of way.

Some of the ads though are quite bizarre. The juxtaposition of late 70s/early 80s fashions and the “high tech” of the day, often with egregiously trippy effects on top, makes for some quite amusing reading. I’ve a habit of snapshotting some of the weirder ones against the thought of maybe putting them in a blog entry one day. Well, this is one day, so here’s a few of them.

pervy looking guy

“Now Tommy, I’ve got some… very special… pictures on my computer, but you absolutely must never tell your parents or anybody that you’ve seen them, ok? So… would you like to see?”

plushieeeeees!

“…and then I got myself a modem, and found this amazing place called Usenet, and found my way to alt.sex.stuffed.animals and found out that actually I’m not the only one, I’m not alone in the world, there are others who love their stuffed animals just as much as I do, and in all the same ways! I’m so happy I found them!”

spreadsheet

Mr. Perkins was so engrossed in the charts on his Compaq that he completely failed to notice the smouldering glances that were being exchanged between his boss Harry and Martha, his wife of six years. She gazed into his eyes, mentally loosening the knot of his voluptuous tie, while his brain worked overtime beneath his executive haircut, enumerating the ways he’d be stripping her assets between the spreadsheets later that night…

printer

Dot matrix printers were often used by early 80s electro-punk bands as musical instruments. Their shrieking cadence fit well with the crude electronic bleeping and generally rubbish, out-of-tune vocals that characterised this brand of popular music back in those days. Here Elena Bootstrap of the Static Discharge poses with her prized Juki 6100. For the real pros, however, there was no instrument finer than the mighty Epson FX-80.

TI 994A

“…then there was my weird uncle Rupert, everyone was a bit scared of him. He always smelled slightly of piss and he had this weird computer, Lord only knows what it was, it wasn’t a Commodore or a Speccy or an Amstrad or anything, it was this big ugly thing with rubbish games and he would always ask us if we wanted to go down into his basement and play some games. And he’d waggle his joystick at us.”

Village People

“Look, Brian, not everyone in the Village People gets to prance around on stage and sing, ok? We’re a well-known band now. We’re crossing over into the mainstream, it’s not just the odd gig in the Lavender Club any more. So someone has to sit in front of the Altos and do the spreadsheets and keep everything together while the boys are out on the road and judging by the way you’re dressed I think that has to be you, Brian.”

mormon

“Hi. I hope you don’t mind us calling on you today but we’ve got some really important news that we’d like to share with you. Now… have you ever read the Book of Mormon?”

radiation

“You know I’ve been wondering if I should invest in one of those Rad-O-Shield anti-glare/anti-radiation overlays for my monitor. They do say that you can get cancer from the harmful radiation off a cathode ray tube and I’m sat in front of this one all day and come to think of it maybe I do have the brightness turned up just a tad high…”

psychedelia

“Oh wow, I knew ‘Psychedelia’ by Llamasoft was supposed to be a bit trippy, but I put on some Pink Floyd and smoked one of my brother’s funny cigarettes and now I feel like the entire top of my head is coming off. Oh wow… where can I get a llama jumper from?”

mummy

…yes I know I should be showing an interest on what little Johnny’s been doing with the Apple, we did get it to help with his homework after all, but I honestly haven’t got a clue what it’s doing at all and bloody hell I am so touching cloth right now, five more minutes and then I am absolutely going to have to get to the loo…

GBA SP

“yes I know the GBA SP hasn’t been invented yet so I think I’ll just camouflage myself and sit really still for a couple of decades and I’ll be playing Super Mario eventually.”

TI again

“…then after we’ve finished working on your scales on the TI Billy you can come and work out in my own personal private gym, it’s got weights and a treadmill and even a steam room – would you like to get all sweaty and steamy with me Billy?”

Friendship

“I thought I’d be alone for ever but then I found Usenet and it’s so full of genuine, lovely people, I can’t believe I’ve found a young girl like you who appreciates the mature charms of an old man like me, but you’ve found me and I’ll never be alone any more…”

Steamy spreadsheet action

“I used to be just like those Neanderthals, running off scantily clad into the jungle for hot, passionate sex and unbridled usage of Visicorp products. But now I’ve discovered Profin and Scientology and damned if I’m not going to wear a nice suit and get a great haircut and get down to the serious business of salvaging this sector of the Galaxy. Ron says it’s our only hope.”

Triangles

“Holy crap it’s some triangles. ON AN APPLE. Jesus fuck, look at those triangles. HEY, MUM, DAD! COME AND LOOK AT THESE TRIANGLES! Oh jeez, fucking hell, I’m ecstatic. We’re ALL ecstatic. WOW. Triangles on an Apple. We are just the fucking HAPPIEST FAMILY in the whole 80s right now. Un-fucking-believable triangles. I’m literally shaking with joy now. Dear God maybe it’s even a little bit sexual. Just fucking look at those green-ass triangles. Wait’ll we tell everyone in church about this.”

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Llamasoft titles now appearing on Mac OS X, coming soon to Android

We’re proceeding in our efforts to bring all our games cross-platform. Three of them are now available on the Mac OS X App Store:

Gridrunner is here;

Super Ox Wars is here;

and Five A Day is here.

The games are playable in a window using either keyboard controls or a USB joypad such as the Xbox 360 one (using the appropriate driver). If you are using OS X Lion or later then Lion fullscreen mode is supported along with trackpad control. Users are saying that playing these games in fullscreen with the Magic Trackpad is really excellent, better even than on the iPad.

We did get a bit excited when shortly after release the OS X version of Gridrunner got featured on the front page of New and Noteworthy and for a day or so actually got into the top 10. However at the moment the OS X app store is nothing like as popular as the iOS one, so what would have been a fantastic thing on iOS actually didn’t amount to anything much on OS X. Oh well. Still it was nice to get featured and it can’t hurt to have had a bit of prominence on the OS X app store for a bit.

In other cross platform news, Giles has completed porting our game engine to Android. Here he is showing off Gridrunner on a Nexus 7.

Gridrunner on a Nexus 7

And in the space of a couple of days he also ported Super Ox Wars, Five A Day, Goatup and Caverns of Minos. (That’s the nice thing about our engine, once you get it ported the games just basically fall out quickly. Of course there’s a bit more work to be done on each game before we can release them properly – the Llamasoft online leaderboards have to be set up and coded in, and the games modified so as to be “standard shareware” style, with a truncated “demo” version upgradable to the full version with an IAP. We pretty much need to do it that way on Android, given that it’s such a fragmented market with all kinds of machines with all kinds of different spec out there; we want people to be able to assure themselves that the games run fine on their hardware before they pay anything for the full version).

So there will be a short delay while that stuff gets put into the Android framework, then we’ll be releasing those games in quick order.

And now of course anything new will appear on iOS, Mac OS X and Android more or less simultaneously.

We’re going to be at PLAY Expo in Manchester next weekend, so if you want to check out the Llamasoft games on iOS, OS X or Android we’ll be there with the games on all three platforms for you to play. We’ll also have some old retro machines there for old times’ sake :) .

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Get the game that nearly cost me everything. For next to nothing.

Space Giraffe PC

Space Giraffe.

A game two years in the making, during the production of which I came as close to a nervous breakdown as I ever care to get. A game whose return for the investment of time and effort was so low that we would actually have been better off not bothering doing anything at all and instead been taking the dole, or heroin or something. A game whose production left us pretty much completely skint, in a situation where we can no longer engage in much that is experimental or in fact do anything much at all except run frantically on the iOS treadmill, and as a result left me prone to bouts of abject depression that mean I haven’t listened to any music for five years, find it difficult to connect with my family and am out of touch with my old mates from back in the day, even though I’d actually quite like to see them again one day.

And yet.

Still the best thing we’ve ever made, and the culmination of a life’s work. I’m still incredibly proud of what we made and what we tried to do.

It’s a game that cost me a lot. But it doesn’t have to be the same for you!

The PC version of Space Giraffe (which is the excellent, higher-rez version with the optional kinder, gentler level set for those who are afeared of the full-on psychedelic onslaught of the original) has been included in the latest Bundle In A Box, “Deep Space”. It’s in highly illustrious company too, with other excellent deep-space shooters.

The official lineup of the bundle is as follows:

-Death Ray Manta (PC/Mac)
-Llamasoft’s demented Space Giraffe (PC/Steam)
-frenetic space-combat sim The Wreckless (PC/Mac/Desura)
-surreal RPG/adventure Dark Scavenger (PC/ Mac/Desura)
-the official remake of the Commodore 64 classic Armalyte (PC).

Paying above the average price will allow gamers to enjoy three more excellent games and a selection of interactive Armalyte extras. Said games are:

-stunning space-shooter Sol: Exodus (PC/Steam/Desura)
-just released 2.5D arcade offering Miner Wars Arena (PC/Mac/Desura)
-humorous platformer RobotRiot (PC/Mac/Desura).

The bundle is available on a Pay What You Like basis, with the only limitation being that the minimum price is a puny 99 Earth cents!

Now if that’s not an invitation to get your deep-space blasting trousers on I don’t know what is :) .

So come on – get the game that nearly broke me, at a price that certainly won’t break the bank! And get a whole load more excellent games too, so even if you end up hating Space Giraffe and me and think I was a pretentious smeghead for even daring to emit such a thing – you still win anyway :) .

So come on, support a bunch of indie devs and cheer me the fuck up by getting the Deep Space Bundle at Bundle In A Box!

DEEP SPACE BUNDLE IN A BOX – CLICK THIS LINK NOW!

DO EET!

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Skeletons in the Closet: my own early Vic 20 efforts

After having taken the piss out of other people’s stuff for the last couple of weeks I feel it’s only fair to drag a few skeletons out of my own closet for public humiliation. This selection is largely from the very early days where I did a bunch of games written mostly in VIC BASIC, made shortly after I first got my Vic and before I got my hands on the spot assembler cartridge which made writing anything more than the odd helper routine in machine code viable.

To kick off here’s one which predates Llamasoft itself.

This is “Rox II” (I am not sure if there was ever a Rox I – probably not, I suspect I just added the number to sound cool. Certainly it’s hard to imagine an even more primitive predecessor. I do remember me and my dad playing this quite a lot in the December of 1981. It’s not even graced with any UDGs and is just made out of stock Vic 20 “graphics characters”. You have a little base on a “lunar surface” and “rox” fall down; your mission is to launch shots in one of three possible directions to try and shoot them before they hit the ground (or your base). If the ground was entirely breached or your base got hit (more usually) then it was game over.

Pre-Llamasoft I did do a little collection of games which were sold briefly as a package for about a fiver by my old brief publisher DK’Tronics for whom I’d done some ZX81 work and with whom I parted on not the best of terms after a dispute over royalties for the DK’Tronics Graphics ROM on the ZX81. For that reason the games weren’t sold for that long and the package is quite rare (I don’t even have all the games from it myself).

There is a slightly tarted up version of the same game called ‘Rox III” which I present here as well:

This was an “extended mix” for the 8K Vic which added UDGs and slightly fancier presentation. Llamasoft never sold this version to my knowledge so I guess it was probably part of the same package sold through DK’Tronics, as an optional version for people with the 8K Memory Expansion in their Vic. As well as the “improved” graphics there was an extra little segment every 4th wave where you had to shoot bombs dropped from a mothership, which you don’t get to see in the video as I died due to mis-triggering my smart bomb.

Next up is possibly the longest lived game I’ve ever done:

“Deflex V” (again with the arbitrary numbering system). The first version of Deflex was made on the Commodore PET while I was still at sixth form college in 1979, and the latest version is out on iOS, so it’s a game with a long history. It’s about as sparse looking a game as it’s possible to make on the Vic, with the graphics consisting of nothing more than a blob, a number, and the “bats” made out of diagonal lines. Nonetheless it’s still actually kind of fun to play. We did do a much fancier version on the Speccy and a not particularly great looking version on the Atari 800.

Next is a game which surely everybody who ever had a home computer with BASIC in must have made:

“3D Labyrinth” (alas, no minotaur). Once again written entirely in BASIC with just a smattering of UDG work to tart it up a little, this game would have benefitted greatly from a little dab of machine code to speed up the drawing of the view. Nonetheless it wasn’t too awful to play as you could kind of buffer up keyboard commands and then let it catch up while you thought about what to do next.

If you want to see a really bad 3D Maze game done by me then you should look for “3D3D Maze” on the ZX81. The idea of it was quite cool (the maze was a cube, and you could go through holes in the floor and ceiling as well as left and right) but it was balls-achingly slow making it pretty much impossible to play by creatures with metabolisms that run on a normal human timescale.

This game was sold by Llamasoft for a while but like all the early BASIC games we did, when I started making full machine-code games the old BASIC ones looked a bit shabby in comparison and as things moved on they got quietly dropped from the cattle-logue.

Next let’s look at “Rat Man”.

This is quite a rare Llamasoft game, for the reason that it really wasn’t that good when it came down to it. It was heavily outclassed in short order by later releases and so it was only ever mentioned in the first three Llamasoft ads. You take the part of a chap with a large hammer and your task is to wander left and right with a lurching gait and smash the crap out of any rats. The rats kind of queue up on the floor waiting patiently to be smashed. If one is lucky a travelling hole will pass beneath him and he’ll get to exist safely down below as a Pointy Stick Rat, poking a pointy stick up every now and again in the hope of catching a particularly dozy player unawares. (The pointy stick dudes were more or less lovingly stolen from “Uniwar S”, which at the time was the table top game in residence at the Hinds Head in Aldermaston, to which me and the Baughurst Piano Wizard would frequently retire for Guinness and gaming. They had a tabletop game in there that was changed every few months and was usually something a bit peculiar – I remember playing UniwarS, Checkman and Zaccaria Scorpion there).

Incidentally I just watched a Youtube video of Kim Jong-un looking at things this morning (he sure does have to look at a lot of things; it’s hard work being a god-leader I guess) and at one point he was looking at an arcade, and in that arcade they had those old tabletop games. I never thought I’d be envious of something from North Korea, but I do miss those old tabletop games in pubs, they were ace.

But anyway, Ratman tended to be a bit boring to play and was just a bit clunky compared to newer titles and so he was retired a few months after he was born.

Ironically enough one of my brothers has a pest control business and therefore actually *is* a rat man. He now has other people to do all the actual work for him and spends most of his time going on holiday. I sometimes wonder if I’d've been better off doing something like that instead of games, being as how my illustrious career has left me skint and abjectly scrabbling on the iOS treadmill desperately just to try to have enough to continue existing. I haven’t had any disposable income for over five years.

But anyway.

Next up in our villains’ lineup of early BASIC Vic 20 games is “Headbanger’s Heaven”.

This is a variant of a game that was popular back in prehistory, usually called “Moneybags”. A guy has to walk back and forth at the bottom of the screen to collect moneybags. He passes underneath three bunkers while projectiles fall down, eroding the bunkers and killing him if he gets hit. You survive as long as possible and grab as much swag as you can.

To spice up this basic formula I made it so that your guy was a “heavy metal nut” who actually enjoyed a bit of pain. He could (and should) take hammer blows to the head in order to increase a bonus multiplier that was applied to moneybags retrieved and hammer blows taken. Bigger bonuses would therefore accrue to the player who maxed out the pain meter – but too much pain would kill the player. At any time you could headbutt an aspirin and remove all the pain, resetting your bonus multiplier. So there was a risk/reward dynamic in there which a skilled player could exploit.

The game was actually kind of fun, but like all the BASIC games tended to suffer from sluggish controls and just wasn’t up to scratch when the likes of Gridrunner and Matrix started to appear, so was only ever on sale early in Llamasoft’s existence.

Finally here’s a game which I had genuinely forgot ever existed.

This is “Space Zap” which was made as part of that bundle of DK’Tronics games I mentioned at the start of this entry. I really had forgotten all about it until a few years ago when I was trawling through Gamebase on the Vic. At first I thought the character set looked familiar, but thought not much more of it since stealing of character sets was rife anyway. Then on the third page of instructions I saw a little llama and it triggered off distant memories of this game.

There was an arcade game called Space Zap that I’d read about in a book but never played or even seen. That game inspired this one I made for that DK’Tronics game pack. You have a turret in the middle of the screen containing a llama, ships fly in one at a time and eventually attack, you have to aim your turret and time a laser blast to zap the enemies. Laser heads get ablated away by impacts, exposing the llama, and if the llama is hit it’s Game Over.

Quite how this game came up nearly 30 years after I’d last seen it, labelled as being published by a US company called “Vic Soft” I don’t know, but as another of their games was called “Deflector” and appears to be Deflex I suspect shenanigans. But anyway it was kind of cool to see a game of mine I’d actually forgotten about it’d been so long since I’d seen it, for all it’s a bit primitive and rubbish.

And that’s enough primitive and rubbish for this week. Plenty more to serve up! Maybe one of these weeks I should pick on something other than the poor old Vic (which i actually love with all my heart, piss-taking notwithstanding).

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Why I hate marketing. Or at least why it makes me feel uncomfortable.

I was quite surprised the other day at how angry I got when I was doing my blog about the old Vic games and pointed out the massive disconnect between Imagine’s claims for shitty Vic-20 effort “Frantic” in the advertising blurb and the actual, abysmal reality. Proper upset me it did.

The thing is I do have a huge problem with marketing. Own-trumpet-blowing has squicked me out for as long as I can remember, and it isn’t particularly helpful in this day and age where success seems often to depend on how hard you can tootle your own horn and how big an army of followers you can garner to vote you onto Greenlight or whatever. I feel icky even just trying to write out the silly self descriptive blurbs you have to write for your App Store releases and I kind of have to psych myself up to doing even those. Watching any telly with adverts makes me cringe and every “could help” and “up to” and “inspired by” and “helps fight” and other such weasel conditionals which pervade every single ad are like a poke in the eye to me.

I’ve been going back through some of the old computer mags looking at some of the ads that accompanied some of the awful games I’ve been taking the piss out of and I can’t help but wonder if part of my aversion is due at least in part to my immersion in the early games market. Now as far as I could help it Llamasoft never indulged in much shitty advertising practice; in fact the longer we went on in the market the more our ads didn’t try to claim anything much at all about the games, just announced their availability and put up a nice eye-pleasing bit of Steinar artwork every month.

I always felt it was important that even if not everybody liked what we were doing we were always at the very least trying our best to produce what we felt were genuinely good games. To this day that’s still how I feel. We’ve never knowingly released something that we knew was a turd and tried to shine it up with marketing bollocks. Even now when I announce a new game I like to do so by also presenting some information as to how it was created and package the announcement up with something to read that people might actually find interesting and amusing rather than just baldly stating claims about how ace the games are.

Some of those companies back in the day though were utterly shameless, and obviously saw the whole emerging games market as less of an opportunity for creativity and fun and more as an opportunity simply to cash in without any thought for quality. I’m sure at least in part exposure to that is what has to this day left me uncomfortable with the whole business of marketing. To my mind this wasn’t “business”, it was outright lying in order to separate kids from their pocket money.

Anyway I think it’d be fun and maybe even a bit therapeutic for me to introduce a new category where I take the piss out of some of the more egregious examples of that old attitude. I’ll probably try and fold this into the pisstake reviews I do more in the future, but to start the ball rolling I’ll pick a few examples from stuff I’ve already reviewed and pair up some videos with the actual adverts for the games in question. In fact I don’t think I need to actually manually take the piss myself. The ads and the videos will speak for themselves. So without further ado I present:

Now That's What I Call Marketing Bollocks

I’ll begin with a couple from old favourites Interceptor Micro’s. If anyone is ever curious as to why we split from the guys who ran Interceptor, here’s your answer right here.

#1: “Galaxzions”.

What they said:

Abject bollocks.

“This is the MOST AMAZING alien game EVER SEEN on the Vic 20. Galaxzions swarming in attack formation to destroy your planet. The NEAREST PROGRAM to the REAL ARCADE GAME for the unexpanded Vic 20.”

What you got:

#2: “Crazy Kong”.

What they said:

Utter smeg.

“Kong has stolen Mario’s girlfriend and taken her to the top of his steel fortress. You must guide Mario first across the ‘Easy Elevator’ and over the custard pies onto the fortress. Up the ladders to your loved one, however, be careful not to be killed in the process by the barrels which Kong hurls down the structure. Includes some of the BEST GRAPHICS EVER SEEN on the Vic 20″.

What you got:

More to come..

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You’re Having A Giraffe: More Vic-20 Smeg

Sunday again so it’s time to have a bit more of a rummage through the back cattle-log of the good old Vic.

The first game took me rather by surprise as I was trawling through Gamebase, since at first I thought a wrong screenshot had come up for one of the games. Took me a couple of looks to be sure of what I was seeing. Understandable I am sure you’ll agree:

Not Gridrunner

what the…?

Gridrunner

…erm…

Bit of confusion there, definitely caused me to do a double take.

The game itself is a weird old thing, it must be said. There’s a blue guy a bit like the Snitch out of Matrix who runs across the top and doesn’t do anything discernable at all apart from that. There are boxes which turn into more boxes if you shoot them, and everything changes state once in a while a bit like the Pods in Gridrunner. Some things eventually turn into green things which we like. Some things turn into other things that bounce around diagonally when shot. Those are the things that usually kill you.

Quite why the guy decided it’d be a great idea to make it look almost identical to Gridrunner I don’t know. It would have been easy enough to use a different tile shape to make the grid look slightly different, or even use a different grid colour.

Next up and continuing the theme of stealing bits out of my games we have “Minitron” by Anirog.

This is a sort of minimal version of Robotron for the unexpanded Vic-20 (if you can call anything with pixels that size “minimal”. It’s actually ok in a very raw kind of a way (but would have been improved immeasurably with just a couple of tweaks to the firing mechanism) if you don’t mind graphics so chunky they could have your eye out. The character font is lovingly stolen from Attack of the Mutant Camels on the C64. As you’ll see in the video Game Over isn’t properly debounced and in the heat of the action it’s possible for it to happen invisibly and unless you’re paying attention you could miss it. Ultimately lack of variety and lack of space exhaust the fun in this one after more than a few minutes, but it’s not as diabolically, unrelentingly awful as some of the stuff people put out for the unexpanded Vic.

While we’re on the theme of stolen character sets let’s have a quick goosey at “Fire Galaxy” by Kingsoft:

In the commentary I actually malign this game for excessive chuffing, but I discovered afterwards I’d left an instance of the previous game running in the background and it was that that was chuffing while I was playing this. This definitely was making noises a lot like a guinea pig we used to have when i was a nipper though.

The game itself is a rather chunky but not unremittingly awful version of “Scramble”, featuring my character set from out of “Andes Attack/Defenda”. It’s not terrible but not particularly engaging either, and one go is plenty for anyone really. Kingsoft are notable in Llamasoft history as the creators of the Turboload system on the C64, which I licensed off them for use in our games starting with Revenge of the Mutant Camels. They also did a version of Stargate for the expanded Vic which is fairly well ugly but actually rather good to play. I’ll do that one of these days.

To follow that we have “Frantic” by Imagine. If you want to see one of the reasons Imagine went bust you need look no further than this. I mean take a look at the ad for the game that appeared in C&VG:

frantic

That’s pretty snazzy artwork for the time right there, and just look at the blurb off to the side. It actually promises a “visually breathtaking view” as you “plummet towards the centre of Spectrum” (ah, that’s why you can’t fucking go up in the game then), waffles on about mythical aliens and goes on about how you will see “the sort of full-colour, hi-rez graphics and sound you have come to expect from Imagine”.

Jesus fuck.

What you actually get is THIS.

Your “breathtaking view” is a scrolling field of red minus signs with occasional white glitches running through them. The fugly, chunky enemies flicker egregiously and are hard to see due to their habit of putting enormous vomit-coloured squares on the screen. The controls are awful, the sound a massed Hoovers chorus, and it’s genuinely difficult to determine if you’ve actually scored any points. Death comes unexpectedly, inexplicably, and above all mercifully.

See that’s why I bloody hate marketing types. The only sensible marketing decision that should have been made regarding this game was “jesus fuck, hell no, get it away from me”, but somebody, knowing full well how dreadful it was, instead deliberately put together all that burbling tosh deliberately to con kids out of their pocket money to line their own pockets. Bruce fucking Everiss went on fucking holidays on the back of that behaviour. It makes me utterly sick to my stomach. No wonder Imagine crashed and burned, fuck’s sake.

Anyway. Deep breath and let’s moo-ve on.

Next we have “Ludwig’s Lemon Lasers”.

This is a game which is the videogame equivalent of having a really boring job on a production line, the sort of thing that people used to have to do for 8 hours a day on minimum wage back in the bad old days, but which is now done using digital vision systems and cleverly timed blasts of compressed air just like you see on “How It’s Made”. You have to keep some lemons away from some other lemons for a reason that is never so much as even hinted at, never mind actually explained. The game’s sole gimmick is that it constantly plays a bit of “Fur Elise” over and over and over again, justifying both the inclusion of “Ludwig” in the title and the psychotic homicidal rage you’d be worked up to by the time you’d heard it constantly while playing this game for 8 hours a day on minimum wage.

A game that makes you thankful for the advent of machine vision systems and industrial robotics.

Next is a brief look at Solar Software’s “Cavern Raider”.

This is a piss-poor attempt at cloning the much more polished “Caverns of Mars” from the 8-bit Atari. It has all the grace of those racing games that everyone used to do on the ZX81 because they were dead easy to do in BASIC by just scrolling the screen using PRINT statements. It’s only a brief look because I was feeling increasing levels of drowsiness during the first two sectors and then simple irritation at the third which led me to the conclusion that I simply could not be arsed.

To follow that and cleanse the palette here’s an even worse version of the same game by masters of shit on the Vic 20 “Nufekop”.

It’s simply unbelievably bad. For some reason you can’t fire at all and the only way to get the fuel you need to progress is to kind of try to smear it off the platforms as you clunk by. If you die by colliding with a wall it says YOU DIED 75 MILES DOWN or somesuch, but if you miraculously manage to evade the walls long enough (not always a simple task mainly because when you move your ship it often completely disappears, making it hard to see where you are) it says YOU DIED 65 METRES DOWN. I have no idea why you should be measured in imperial if you die by collision and in metric if you run out of fuel, or why there’s such a huge discrepancy in the distances reported. However far down though death comes as a merciful release from a horrible, dreadful game.

It’s a tossup really as to who was worse on the Vic, Nufekop or Interceptor Micro’s. Certainly both were capable of inflicting some eyewateringly bad games on people and somehow actually having the barefaced cheek to make money out of it. The guy from Nufekop has apparently written a book about it. I almost want to read it just to see how he justifies inflicting such wilfully vile crap on people back then.

Here’s another gem from Nufekop in which they actually demonstrate a marginally greater degree of competence than Interceptor in the ripping off Donkey Kong department:

Not by much, I am sure you’ll agree, but at least it is possible to go more than a few steps without turning into a green thing or having your head come off. They get round the tricky problem of implementing ladders by simply not having any at all and settle for a kind of staircase thing that wraps awkwardly at the screen edges. Inexplicably there appear to be indicators for three lives at the top of the screen but you never actually get them; the game ends at your first demise regardless. And then expects you to wait while it plays its crappy jingle before deigning to allow you to restart, although God only knows why you would want to unless you’re some kind of masochistic videogame pervert.

Finally let’s have a little look at “Cyclons” by Rabbit Software.

For all it’s not got the most spectacular graphics in the world I actually like this game. Motion is smooth and fluid, very unusually for a Vic-20 game, and it’s a challenging little inertia-filled shooter that’s actually quite fun to play. I always quite liked Rabbit for their anthropomorphic bunny logo and some of their games were utter tosh it’s true, but some of them were actually not terribly awful.

And so on that not terribly awful note it’s time to wrap up this week’s look into the world of ancient software of questionable quality. More in due course!

Oh and lest you go away feeling bad about seeing poor old Caverns of Mars so hideously butchered not once but twice I’ll just remind you of this.

There, all better :) .

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