In the first two parts of CF’s Games That Weren’t, we uncovered the stories of six magnificent looking C64 games that were never to see the light of day. If […]
In the first two parts of CF’s Games That Weren’t, we uncovered the stories of six magnificent looking C64 games that were never to see the light of day. If you haven’t read why we never saw Parasol Stars (drunk wife) or Chuck Rock (mad Italian) you can catch up here. Here in part three we’ve got the stories of Brides of Dracula and Arsenal. Stick around to the end for something a bit special if you’re a fan of Apex (Creatures, Mayhem) games, too. Words by Neil Grayson and Frank Gasking.
7.BRIDES OF DRACULA
- Gonzo Games, 1992
- Death by: unpaid invoice
What was it all about? You might not know about the short-lived Gonzo Games, but you probably know the work of its founders Paul Smith and Steve Howard. As Viz Design, they coded budget Halloween classic Werewolves of London for Mastertronic, then Brides of Frankenstein. Brides of Dracula was Frankenstein’s unofficial sequel.
C64 duties were in the hands of Alan Botright (coding, and he of Judge Dredd for Virgin Mastertronic), Jason Green (graphics) and George Wilkons (sound). The best way to describe this fun looking horror collect ’em up is a gruesome Spy Versus Spy. You can play as either Dracula or the vampire hunter Van Helsing in one player mode, or if you’ve got a buddy ’round you can take a character each and play against each other. The screen’s split in two for simultaneous play. If you’re the blood sucking vamp, you dash around looking to sink your fangs into thirteen brides. If you’re the hunter, you need to collect 13 items that Dracula despises (a mirror, garlic, that sort of thing). Whoever achieves their task first wins.
What did CF say? It looks like Commodore Format got hold of something playable in late 1991 (the game was originally scheduled for Christmas). “The area between the village and castle is enormous – a long, smooth-scrolling corridor with houses, rooms and secret passages scattered across its length. The brides, the anti-vampire weaponry and lots of other bits and pieces are hidden in these rooms. But beware, nothing is as it seems as each room is a series of tricks, traps and puzzles that need to be mastered.”
What is especially interesting in CF‘s preview is the suggestion that even though each player’s got their own half of the screen, the two players can meet and hinder one another’s progress. The instructions for the Amiga version of the game back up this interesting element, and also list a bunch of other creepy encounters you may have with undead butlers, a vicar, secret passages and dungeons. It sounds ace.
What happened? This is one of those agonising oh-so-close ones. Alan Botwright says that the game was 98% finished but the team were not being paid and so production was halted. Artist Jason Green goes further, telling Games That Weren’t that “the company owner skipped out of the country with our money…the C64 version wasn’t completed at this point. But it played OK, pretty much like the other [completed, Amiga and ST] versions.”
Adrian Carpenter was a schoolboy fortunate enough to do work experience at The Software Business in St. Ives. They were the distributor for Gonzo Games. “The dev guys literally lived in the back office of the building and I watched in awe as they developed the game, I remember Alan as I spent quite a bit of time watching and talking (distracting? annoying?!) him, I was in awe of the cross development system he was using…it was like black magic. Every morning I’d walk into that office, to the left was C64, straight ahead was the Amiga, right corner was the graphics and just to the right of the door was the ST version.”
ZZAP! 64 put the game on its April 1992 cover, cheekily claiming an exclusive (Commodore Format had printed screens and info on the game three months earlier). The Ludlow mag gave readers a chance to win the game and a leather jacket with the box art painted on the back. It feels like everything really was ready to go before the team stopped working on it at the last moment, and the screenshots in both C64 mags suggest very near completed versions of the game were knocking about in the early ’90s.
Chances of finding it: Anything that went to ZZAP! or CF has almost certainly been destroyed, with both businesses regularly having what Format editor Simon Forrester described as (wince) “regular burning sessions of what was considered junk by the publishers”. That leaves the original team themselves, and Alan Botwright thinks he might have something, somewhere, in PC format (as Adrian said up there, the game was developed on the machine before being piped down to the Bread Bin). As of 2019, though, he hasn’t delved deep enough into his archive. This one’s out there, though. We can feel it.
8. ARSENAL FC
- Thalamus, 1992
- Death by: ZZAP! 64 (creative, but I’ll accept this one – Ed)
What was it all about? Arsenal weren’t always specialists in finishing fourth. Well, at least not in the 1990/1 season. After battling a close campaign with Liverpool, The Arse were champions of England that May. Thalamus were shopping for a football license and managed to make a deal with the Gunners. They recruited Summer/Winter Camp coder John Ferrari for the C64 version of this one, with John Rowlands (Creatures, Mayhem) roped in to assist.
The game promised to be a blend of arcade action and a modest management section. “We did the deal with Arsenal because they were and still are champions”, Thalamus’ MD Dave Birch told a bunch of the games press back in early ’92 before amusingly adding that “the fact they’ve gone out of every major competition and are unlikely to retain the championship is irrelevant. This is probably just a hiccup.” (I’m sorry, I have to leave the room for one moment – Ed)
What did CF say? Not a lot. It first appears on the mag’s Early Warning! scanner in May 1992 as being six months from release. The third and final issue of Your Commodore successor Commodore Power interviewed Dave Birch, the Rowlands brothers and John Ferrari at Arsenal themed pub The Gunners that Spring. Pictured with a pint in his hand, Dave Birch says football games “sell really well even if they’re poor products…not that we’re going to make this anything less than amazing…John Ferrari says the best football game for C64 is Microprose Soccer and he thinks he can make something better.” Here’s the full article, and a rare sighting in the wild for Commodore Power:
What happened? Thalamus were the in-house software publishing label of ZZAP! publishers Newsfield. The Ludlow-based producer of legendary titles for the C64 and Speccy liquidated in late 1991 and though Thalamus survived the collapse of its “parent” it never really got back to full strength. Thalamus’ problem was the same one that Newsfield had faced: it released cracking products for the 8-bits, but never really replicated the blockbuster success on newer machines. Its fall alongside the computers it served was inevitable. One final C64 game – Nobby the Aardvark – was eventually released in 1993 after serious delays, but everything else including Arsenal was cancelled.
An Amiga version of Arsenal appears to have been pretty much completed. It has a basic management section, digitised pictures of the team and an overhead view, left to right scrolling pitch. The same game described in the pub, basically. It was shelved too, though, when Thalamus called it a day.
Chances of finding it: John Ferrari tragically died of heart failure back in 1996, and his family retain his archive of Commodore 64 work. If any of Arsenal exists, it’s probably there. It’s one we’ll have to sit tight on until somebody’s allowed to have a look. As it stands, it’s not clear how much of Arsenal ever existed for the 8-bit.
- CF contributor Warren Pilkington had verbally agreed to do the music for Arsenal. More on that here, and listen to the music here.
- Thalamus is survived in the present day by Andy Roberts, whose Thalamus Digital owns the rights to stuff like Creatures, Nobby and Hunter’s Moon. They’re also doing stuff like this.
APEX GAMES THAT WEREN’T: WHAT WE COULD HAVE PLAYED INSTEAD OF MAYHEM
To end this installment of CF‘s Games That Weren’t, something super interesting (we’ll be the judge of that – Ed). After Creatures 2 and before Mayhem In Monsterland, ’90s C64 faves the Rowlands brothers (AKA Apex) had a ton of ideas for other games. One of them – Genesis – went as far back as 1987. It was abandoned “due to the technical limitations of the C64”, even though it was in a playable demo stage. “It’s an awesome game…in our heads” the Rowlands said back in 1992, mulling over the possibility of a virtual reality release. The Genesis concept would later morph into Power Mass, which was pitched to numerous publishers for PC and console as a gritty future sports game.
Squish was a game that’d been designed two years before Creatures 2. It was a four-way scrolling isometric “go around squashing things with a mallet” sort of thing. The idea was to colour tiles by squashing baddies, coating the surface in blood. While the boys really liked the slapstick violence element that eventually turned up in gore filled buckets in Creatures 2, they found Squish a bit difficult to flesh out into a full-price game.
At the same time, the lads were working on Katapult Kidz. This one was a more traditional horizontally scrolling arcade adventure starring a pair of pranksome schoolboys armed Dennis the Menace style with catapults. This one wasn’t thought to be sufficiently different to other platformers on the market, and made way for Creatures 2.
One of the more tantalising scrapped Apex titles is definitely Destruction Bros. At the time in CF, John and Steve said it was to feature “super-bitmaps, a 128 sprite multiplexer, and a pseduo eight bit voice engine…OK, we’re dreaming. Seriously, though, it would have featured simultaneous two-player super-weapon-wielding action. It would be the bee’s knees – all six of them.” What we do know is that Destruction Bros. is the game Apex planned to release on cartridge, though independently and not through Thalamus as was originally thought.
The boys (along with CF‘s Andy Roberts) went to visit Vivid Image’s John Twiddy and Mevlut Dinc with the idea (Vivid Image made the development system for cart games). “We were extremely enthused about the new cartridge technology and spent the entire train journey from Chelmsford to Harrow planning out the game, ” Andy told us. After a lengthy chat with John and Mev in the local pub, however, it became apparent that the manufacturing costs were prohibitively high and the sales figures to date were disappointingly low. “Despite John and Mev being enthusiastic about the technology, they ultimately advised us to stick to cassette and disk,” Andy adds. “Needless to say, it was a long, silent train journey home.”
With Destruction Bros. rubbed off the board, H20 was something slightly less violent. They took the main characters from the abandoned cart game, but gave them water pistols. The idea in H20 was to extinguish hundreds of fires, but “once the freshness of the idea had worn off, it just wasn’t as practical as we first thought”.
Finally, there’s a name you will recognise. In Theo Saurus, the main character was the baby version of the dragon we’d eventually meet in Mayhem In Monsterland. Theo’s parents were brutally slain by merciless villagers in medieval times, and the idea was that the flame-breathed infant would go to dish out justice. He’d crush through villages, smash up castles, and torch knights. “Theo was a really strong contender, ” says Andy, “and we really liked the idea of something with Rampage-style gameplay. The biggest issue was simply finding enough sprites for the hoards of villagers.” And thus, Theo would gracefully exit stage-left to make way for… Mayhem. CF