Film: 1984, Colombia Game: 1984, Activision Review here, cover art and adverts here Everyone’s got their favourite part of Activision’s 1984 Ghostbusters convo: it’s usually the sampled speech whenever you […]
Everyone’s got their favourite part of Activision’s 1984 Ghostbusters convo: it’s usually the sampled speech whenever you catch something spooky. Some people love the pixelated bouncing ball on the title screen that lets you sing karaoke to the movie’s theme; others enjoy building and equipping the decrepit emergency vehicle, zipping back and forth on a forklift truck before spluttering off to save New York.
All the stuff you’d want to do is here in a single load. You can lay traps and fire proton guns, drive the Ecto 1 and scamper between the giant feet of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. But instead of doing this by jumping on platforms and reaching the exit, designer David Crane did something deeper. One of the earliest movie games on C64 is actually a business simulation at its core, with an emphasis on strategy before you start blasting.
You don’t control Bill Murray or any of the other cast directly. Instead, you set up your own Ghostbusters franchise at the start of the game and you’re you. You use an initial bank loan to buy a car and stock it up. You then dispatch teams to wherever the spooks are causing trouble, which is where the arcade elements of driving and trapping kick in.
It all feels so thoughtful that you might be surprised to learn that Ghostbusters wasn’t written with the hit comedy in mind at all. It’s actually an older, totally unrelated game in a fancy new dress. Not that David Crane was trying to pull a fast one:
“You have to bring out a game tie-in while the film is still hot,” explained Crane to Edge in 2007. “And we had a very late entry into the Ghostbusters franchise. The film would be out soon and if it wasn’t a huge hit, it could be in and out of the theatres in mere weeks. So when we considered this project, we knew that we needed a great concept that could be completed in record time.”
Crane, who you’ll also know from the Pitfall and the Sims-before-its-time Little Computer People games, had an idea.
“We had this work in progress thing called Car Wars”, he recalled on American television in 1985. “You could kit out a car and use weapons in an urban setting. But it needed a theme. I saw Ghostbusters as that opportunity.”
Taking the basis of Car Wars, Ghostbusters took Crane and the team six weeks to finish instead of the usual six months, with David just managing to see a sneak preview of one of the biggest films of the ’80s before it came out: “I may have tweaked it a bit. But most of the work came before the release of the film.”
C64 Ghosbusters was met with immediate, slack-jawed acclaim:
“The presentation and initial impact of this program are unbelievable”, said one Chris Anderson in the January 1985 issue of Personal Computer Games. “The music and speech could hardly be bettered. And small touches, like the way you use a fork-lift to equip your car, are so slick it is unreal. The game itself might not work, were it not for the fact that it succeeds so well in recreating the feel of the film.” Your Commodore agreed: “The game is a lot of fun, and impressively programmed (the theme tune plays throughout, the graphics are good and there is another piece of synthesised speech). Remember that the realistic-sounding speech is done using only the the basic 64 sound chip filters: no additional hardware is required. A round of applause for the programmers please. Recommended, even though you don’t get a free Sigourney Weaver with every cassette” (Sigh. send your angry letters to 1985, not us – Ed).
The truth is, this game’s popularity is nothing to do with the fancy coding tricks or even the speech (even if that did blow your luminous socks off back in ’84). It comes back to what our vox poppers were saying in part one of this series. With a C64, a well made game and some imagination, kids really could become heroes. CF