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”.
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 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 .
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.
“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?”
“…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!”
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…
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.
“…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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“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…”
“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?”
“…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…“
“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.”
“…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?”
“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…”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
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 .
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.
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:
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!
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.
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).
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:
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.
What they said:
“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:
“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″.
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:
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:
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”.
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.
I wanted to do a bit of a balancing entry to the one I did yesterday where I took the piss out of several bad Vic-20 games, lest I give the impression that I am a complete curmudgeon and that the Vic was incapable of hosting great games. For all its limitations the Vic was actually a great little machine, reasonably fast with some decent graphical capabilities if you didn’t mind pixels the size of house bricks, sturdy and reliable with a good keyboard (my original Vic-20 still works just fine to this day).
There weren’t any sprites or aught, so it was either use character mode or if you were super clever, write software sprite routines instead. Memory was at a premium too, but cartridge games didn’t use up any RAM for code and so were often able to produce decent games even within the constraints of the system’s 5.5K of unexpanded RAM.
Let’s kick off with one of my personal favourites, “Spiders of Mars” by Peter Fokos.
This is a fairly simple left/right Defender style scroller, characterised by its nice fluid movement (a rarity on the Vic) and escalatingly hectic gameplay. Objects in the game move fairly slowly, but as you work your way up through the levels the screen becomes filled with a metric arseload of baddies and insidious floating dust-mines. There was no autofire so one had to keep up a rapid firing cadence with the old thumb, something that was quite painful on the joysticks of the day.
My original Spiders of Mars cartridge went to one of my brothers along with one of my old Vics and I remember him saying even as late as the end of the 90s that he’d occasionally still drag out that old thing and play a game of SoM. The game stands up well to being revisited in emulation and remains a simple, fun and challenging blaster.
Interestingly enough the author Peter Fokos still works in games, but now he works for God and has done a Jesusly interpretation of Dance Dance Revolution called Dance Praise. But I’m sure he wouldn’t've got kicked out of Heaven for this excellent Vic shooter.
Next up: Omega Race.
This is a conversion which surely shouldn’t have worked out at all. Raster conversions of vector games tended to look ugly at the best of times, and the Vic’s gigantic pixels should have made this look like smeg. Instead it came out rather well – the aspect ratio of the pixels makes everything look a little odd, and yes everything’s blocky, but the motion is fluid and the ship turns and moves smoothly in a way that would have made S. Munnery weep if he’d had any shame. The rotation seems a bit quick and the thrust control a bit touchy but upon finding the actual arcade game some years later and playing it I can tell you that’s pretty much how it was on the coinop too. Presentation is great too, with a nice attract mode just like in the coinop, the option to use paddles or joysticks, and even to change the colour of the graphics. If you can get over the chunkiness and sound effects that only mildly make you think of Hoovers you’re in for a jolly nice and challenging arcade conversion.
Next: Predator by Tom Griner
This is a peculiar one, by Tom Griner who was for a while my stablemate at Human Engineered Software. Tom was quite prolific on the Vic and whereas his early games were often a bit crude (as were those of all of us I think) you could see that he was developing a remarkable degree of technical skill as he went along. By the time of Predator I think he was just about the best coder there was on the Vic. Sometimes the actual gameplay wasn’t that great but technically he could make the Vic sing. He was evidently a big fan of Eugene Jarvis and Robotron as will be evident when you look at this game – check out the proportional font work, the style of the hiscore tables and the enemy explosions – dude loved him some Jarvis that’s for sure. Beautiful presentation, technically lovely.
I was actually briefly in touch with TEG some years later when I was living in the US – we emailed briefly while he was working at Silicon Graphics, but then he kind of dropped out of touch after making some comment about how he didn’t approve of my “lifestyle choices”. Lordy knows what that was about.
But yes, a fantastic Vic-20 coder, no doubt about that.
Next up: something from a company not known for their Vic-20 presence…
Jetpac by Ultimate (or ACG as they were still known at that time).
Call me a heathen but I still think Jetpac was the best thing Ultimate ever did – you can keep the maze exploration things that came later and especially all that dreadful isometric stuff that was a massive triumph of tech over gameplay. Jetpac was frantic, fluid shooting action, borrowing a bit from Defender in style, tremendous fun to play on both the Speccy and in this Vic incarnation. It’s a bit flickery and chunky but who cares when it’s this good to play.
No need to say much more than that about it really, so let’s moo-ve on to:
Jelly Monsters, Commodore’s *ahem* unofficial clone of Pac-Man for the Vic. It may look a bit odd as due to screen space limitations they’ve left off the outer edge of the maze border entirely, but look past that and you’ll see how good this clone really is. Remember the Vic had no sprites, so they’ve implemented impressively large and smooth software ones, allowing the gameplay to be fluid and smooth-flowing. I’d go so far as to say this is one of the best conversions of Pac-Man on any of the 8-bit systems, including the “official” Atarisoft conversion which was OK but not nearly as good. It certainly puts to abject shame all the endless character-mode clones that the smaller software houses did (I myself bought the Bug Byte one which had the Pac-Man with the continuously flapping lips and I remember trying to convince myself that I didn’t really mind that it moved in huge character sized steps and was really difficult to get to go around corners properly; a delusion which did not survive once I laid eyes on Jelly Monsters).
Predictably enough Atari didn’t like this at all, and Commodore were forced to rework it into something involving satellites floating round a maze, which was still very nice (being based on the same code) but lacked the charm that the original had of being just an awesome home version of Pac-Man on a system that not many would’ve thought could sustain it.
To further illustrate the gulf between small tinpot software houses doing rubbish character-mode versions of arcade games and a decent developer with the advantage of working off a cartridge, remember that dog awful abomination Crazy Kong from Interceptor that I mentioned last entry, and then check out:
Donkey Kong on the Vic-20, the official (and excellent) Atarisoft conversion. Yes, it’s chunky as hell, because it’s in Vic-20 multicolour mode with pixels the size of Lego Duplo, but it’s again one of the best home versions of DK on any 8-bit system nonetheless, containing all the levels except the pie factory as most home versions back then did, but including intermissions such as the How High Can You Try screen and Kong falling off the girders on the rivets stage. Gameplay is fluid and well implemented making it fun to play and a credit to the Vic. Really jolly good. And you don’t keep turning into a green thing.
Finally let’s have a look at an excellent conversion of a simple game:
Commodore’s Vic Avenger, which was an unofficial but remarkably close clone of Taito’s Space Invaders. The screen looks a little bit cramped, as due to the Vic’s lower resolution than the coinop there’s not as much space for the Invaders to march left and right, but apart from that this version is probably a closer copy than most of the 8-bit versions. It was faithful enough that those of us who knew certain techniques that worked in the arcade version (like counting 22-14-14 to maximise the points you got for shooting the saucers, and the Execution Method where you culd exploit a bug which meant Invaders right on the lowest row close to the ground couldn’t shoot you) could apply exactly the same techniques on Vic Avenger and they’d work.
So yeah, the Vic may have had not much memory and got laughed at for having fat little pixels but in the right hands it was capable of some great games and fantastic arcade conversions, some of which could even be considered to be best in class when compared to other much more expensive 8-bit machines of the day.
There was still a load of wank out there too, mind, and I’ll be back to take the piss out of that some more in the not too distant future. But I’ll also be mentioning some more of the great stuff too. Got to be fair to my old mate Vic .
While twittering on the tweetatron this morning the subject of “Asteroids” by S. Munnery came up. This legendarily terrible version of Asteroids was, as I have documented before in the History of Llamasoft, at least partially responsible for the very existence of Llamasoft, mainly due to the sheer cheek of Bug-Byte charging seven whole quid for it and making me think “bloody hell if they want seven quid for that I could bloody do better and people would pay for it”. I’ve been threatening for ages to do some occasional blog posts about bad games from back in the day, because boy was there a metric smegload of them, some of them my own. But let’s begin this look back with the seminal (with the emphasis on semen) “Asteroids” by S. Munnery.
Now Asteroids was a game that was at least in part defined by the smoothness, precision and fluidity of its gameplay. These are not qualities which translate well to objects that are moving in character-sized steps on the Vic-20′s extremely low-resolution screen.
Munnery’s version actually eschews the idea of having separate projectiles fired by the ship in favour of the simple technique of drawing a string of full stops in a line out of the craft’s nose whilst making a sound like a Hoover. In fact the sound effects are evidence of the fact that the programmer wasn’t aware that there were any volume levels at all on the Vic-20 sound chip apart from “OFF” and “HOOVER”.
It’s also pretty hard to see the string of full stops at times because it looks like he doesn’t poke the colour memory behind the full stops to white.
I suppose it wouldn’t've been that bad of a game if you and your mates had knocked it up yourselves while learning your way round the Vic, but at seven quid Bug Byte truly were taking the piss, and exemplifying the lamentable tendency of early software houses to slap the name of a famous arcade game on any old pile of toss they could lay their hands on and charge the masses of eager but naive punters significant coin for it.
Continuing that theme we now present another Munnery classic “Cosmiads”.
- a version of Galaxians in which you are beset by what look like tiny flying cat heads while a chorus of Hoovers drone on in the background (still not discovered the volume settings on the sound chip yet apparently). Now it must be said that although I enjoy taking the piss out of Munnery’s early games it’s evident that he is at least making some kind of effort to put some actual gameplay in there. For all that everything jerks around a bit in character mode the cat heads do recognisably leave the formation and fly down firing at you, and fair play he’s had a crack at trying to make your gun move smoothly even if nothing else does.
But this version of Galaxians is actually awesome compared to our next offering:
“Galaxzions” by Interceptor Micro’s, testament to the bizarre belief shared by a lot of software houses back then that one could avoid copyright issues and the righteous wrath of Atari by the simple expedient of spelling the name of an arcade game with a gratuitous “z” in it or somesuch (we shall not speak of Llamasoft’s own early Vic 20 game “Defenda” in this regard, for that would not be appropriate).
This game looks and plays much like a broken Game and Watch, with enemies not so much moving as just kind of randomly spazzing about on the screen, appearing in semi-random positions whilst the Hoovers blare away. Enemy shots don’t appear to actually move at all; white blobs just appear in set positions every now and again and woe betide you if your strangely knob-and-bollocks-shaped craft should happen to be near them at the time. Munnery’s game seems well-crafted by comparison; this game could probably have been bettered by my ex-cat sneezing at the keyboard while the assembler cartridge was plugged in.
Our next exhibit exemplifies a flaw shared by quite a few early Interceptor Micro’s titles: a complete lack of any gameplay at all.
Created to cash in on the famous arcade game “Defender” (and skilfully sidestepping copyright issues by putting “Jupiter” in front) we have “Jupiter Defender”. Now Defender brought many original features to arcade gaming, not least a world larger than the screen through which the player had to fly in order to perform his defence and rescue mission. With Reverse and Thrust buttons the player could chart his course at will through this game world, using his “Scanner” radar to identify trouble spots and fly to the rescue. Defender was most of all known for its fierce and unrelenting challenge, making it a favourite of those arcade pilots who considered themselves the best of the best.
Jupiter Defender has nothing in common with Defender apart from the name “Defender” in the title, and the vague shapes of some of the ships. You can’t reverse. You can kind of change your speed, but there’s no reason ever to do so. In fact, nothing ever moves in anything but a single horizontal direction, and so the best strategy in the game is simply to stay where you started and hold down the FIRE button. That’s it. You can see me using my awesome skillz to rack up 20,000 points without losing a life in that video.
Our final title for today then is another Interceptor Micro’s gem, “Crazy Kong”.
Superficially it does look a bit like a mashup of some of the levels of Donkey Kong. There’s platforms and ladders and pies, oh my. Unfortunately it is just beyond horrible to play. I’m generally pretty good at playing hokey old computer games in emulation, since collecting old emulator games is kind of a hobby of mine (and I was there to play them back in the day when they first came out too). But I genuinely could not get that little man to do anything apart from turn into a green thing on the bottom of the screen, although I did make his head come off a couple of times. I did once get him onto one of the ladders, where a barrel went through his head, but then I fell off and turned into a green thing again.
Well, that’s it for this instalment of “terrible games”, I’m sure there will be more. And although I did take the piss out of Munnery he was at least trying to make playable versions of the games he cloned; looking at the Interceptor Micro’s ones I’m not sure they were even trying to do that at all, more like they were just putting out things that looked vaguely like famous games and charging six quid for them regardless of the fact that they weren’t any fun to play at all, not even remotely; and that’s far worse than anything poor old S. Munnery ever did.
Interceptor weren’t the only ones doing that; there are plenty more egregious examples which I’ll be back to take the piss out of in other entries, no doubt. But that’s all my poor eyes, ears and thumbs can take for now.
1: Gridrunner nominated for the Golden Joysticks awards.
In the mobile/tablet category. Which is nice. However since to win it you have to get the most votes from fans, and since in fact I’ve sold a quantity of games such that I could probably comfortably remember the names of every customer, I figure that’s supremely unlikely. But it’s nice to be nominated nonetheless. I’d be delighted to be proven wrong mind, so if you feel inclined to vote then please go ahead, that’d be lovely. Buy a copy of the game too, that’d be terrific too. Get your mates to buy a copy too. Ten copies in fact. Get them to get all their relatives to buy copies and vote for Gridrunner in the Golden Joystick Awards until our entire glorious nation sweeps us to overwhelming victory, sweeping aside the likes of foreign Angry Birds and creating a swell of national pride greater even than that engendered by coming third in the Olympics, causing tears of joy (of PURE TEA) to stream down the Queen’s face and Clive Sinclair to lie down with Chris Curry in peace and harmony!
Yes. That’s what I’m hoping will happen. It’s actually more likely than selling a significant quantity of iOS games or Apple actually putting one of my games in their so-called retro section.
2: Gridrunner now available for Mac OS X!
Despite being delayed for being rejected for important technical reasons (the title of the helpfile used the letters “OSX” in a forbidden way and had to be expunged) the Mac port of Gridrunner is now available on the Mac App Store. You can find it at the following lovely link of joy.
Plays well with keys or a USB Xbox 360 joypad on any Mac but is absolutely most sublime if you have a trackpad, either a desktop Magic Trackpad or a recent-ish Mac laptop. If you’re using the trackpad remember to put the game fullscreen.
We’ve charged a full £2 for this game despite it not being significantly different from the iOS one really, simply because we thought we could get away with it. And now we’ve been through the OSX submission process and know what to avoid (never mention the system or OS you’re running on) we can crack on with pushing out the rest of the ports. Next up will be Super Ox Wars, and the probably GoatUp after that. (All the ports are already actually working, just needing a final going over to ensure compliance and proper cursor behaviour).
3: Gridrunner FREEMIUM (I hate that word) coming to iOS!
I think part of the problem with the iOS stuff is as I’ve mentioned before, since it’s never actually likely to appear on the front page of the app store pretty much the only people who buy the games are people who are actively looking for them; for people just browsing to find a new game it’s about as hard for them to find Llamasoft games as it was for Arthur Dent to find the famous road bypass plans that were on display in a locked, unlit cellar with a sign on the door saying “beware of the leopard”. Accordingly I’ve decided to try making a free version of Gridrunner in the hope that some more people may pick it up because FREE and then maybe possibly buy the IAP (there’s only ONE IAP) to unlock the full game.
The free version actually contains an extra mode, a “Survival” mode where you have one life and play over a looping sequence of 6 levels that get harder with each loop around. That mode is free and you buy the IAP to unlock the rest of the game (containing the usual Pure and Casual modes from the paid version of the game). I’ve also rejigged the game so that it uses only Game Center, since Openfeint is now turning into something else anyway and it’s pointless including a lot of extra overhead in the game when all I need is the leaderboards and cheevos already provided by GC.
It also has an extra feature whereby you can touch a Llamasoft sheep icon and it takes you to the App Store where you can see “bloody hell this chap’s done a lot more games and look they all have 4 to 5 star ratings” so maybe it’ll push up sales of the games already out there.
This new version is just about done, I sorted out all the IAP gubbins this last week and whould be ready to bung it off to Apple next week some time. Perhaps chucking a free version will deliver us some of the precious MARKET PENETRATION that we desperately need (who doesn’t need a nice bit of PENETRATION once in a while let’s face it). Or maybe it won’t make a damned bit of difference, who knows.
But I thought it’d be worth a try. Maybe soon the Sun will be posting pictures of Prince Harry naked AND PLAYING GRIDRUNNER and a grateful nation of cheery white van drivers will be downloading the FREEMIUM version in droves and upgrading to the full version and voting for us in the Golden Joysticks Awards until David William Donald Cameron and ED BALLS discuss nothing in Parliament together except who’s got the highest score in Gridrunner and what a frightful bugger those little ships that try and go right up your arse are.
IT’S MORE LIKELY TO HAPPEN THAN GETTING IN THE TOP 10.
So: Gridrunner, Gridrunner, Gridrunner, Gridrunner, Gridrunner!