• Three full games
  • One demo
  • One utility

Unusually, CF was scooped to the first glimpse of C64 LEMMINGS by Commodore Force – but there was nothing usual about the suicidal rodents’ long walk to the C64.

You’re chest deep in a niche Commodore website, so we can break the rules and assume some knowledge from you here, right? You know what Lemmings is. What you mightn’t know is that the game started life as early as 1989 shortly after DMA Design moved to its first two-roomed offices. During development of side-scrolling shooter Walker for the Amiga, graphic artist Scott Johnson created a group of little men in a 16×16 pixel box for the main character to shoot at.

Mike Dailly, who’d go on to be one of the programmers of Lemmings, explains in his definitive Complete History of the game that he took an interest in the wee men. He figured that they could be fit into something smaller – perhaps 8×8 – and over the course of a lunchtime started trying things out in Deluxe Paint. The resulting image featured a gun, a 10-ton weight and the men getting destroyed by both:

The “men” who’d later become Lemmings. Credit: The Lemmings Story by Mike Dailly

When Russell Kay – who’d later author PC Lemmings – saw it, he thought there was potential for a game in the screen. If you want to know more, Mike takes up the story here.

After its release on Valentine’s Day 1991, the insanely well-received Amiga original was quickly ported to the ST, Speccy, PC and SNES. Almost every format imaginable eventually followed. The management at publishers Psygnosis would privately joke that they’d convert the smash hit to a calculator if they could, and versions for the CD-i+ and 3DO lent some truth to the statement: Lemmings became one of the most beloved games of the early ’90s, but the Commodore 64 was left hanging.

There’s no credibility to any tin-hat stories you might have read about it being “impossible” for multiple teams to get the furry critters wandering around on our favourite computer. There were, though, at least two “official” versions abandoned in the very early stages. They were casualties to the waning fortunes of the machine rather than any technical issues.

Mike Dailly himself had a very simple C64 demo on the go, which Games That Weren’t reports was not unlike one made for the PC. It was a test to see if the game could work, but abandoned when DMA needed Mike to work on projects for other, newer machines.

Over at Psygnosis around the same time, Jed Adams (best known ’round these parts for Fuzzball) had seen Mike’s demo and thought he’d have a crack too:

“It used characters for everything, unlike the [released] E&E version that used sprites for the backgrounds. I had 128 men running around and following terrain (they weren’t Lemmings because I couldn’t draw!). It was cancelled when I was moved on to working on an Amiga Title.”

At the 1991 Autumn ECTS Show, E&E’s Remi Ebus began talking to Psygnosis about managing a team to produce what would become the released version of the game. “From there it took exactly one year for both parties [E&E Software and Psygnosis] to sign the contract needed for conversion. It then took us another year to complete the game”. This takes us to the closing months of 1993, where a fascinating Commodore Force game diary recalls a topsy-turvy development period over in the Netherlands. There’s joy, as coder Thomas Mittelmeyer gets the call to say Psygnosis love his demo (“I’m one of the happiest men on the globe!”). There’s intrigue when legendary musician Jeroen Tel mentions working on the “Let’s Go!” and “Oh No!” samples that never made it to the finished game. And there’s also drama: Remi discovers that graphic artist Nikaj Ejik has been working on another developer’s game (an unreleased C64 conversion of Troddlers) when – according to Remi – he should’ve been putting in the hours on Lemmings. To add insult to injury, the rival team had beaten E&E to the Troddlers conversion contract. Here’s Remi:

“I don’t think anyone could imagine just how angry we were. Our first intention was to completely abandon Nikaj, not using any of his graphics and not paying him a dime”.

But time was getting on. The existing visuals were retained and two freelance artists were brought in to finish the job. Leon Van Rooy took on the level graphics, and the intro was given to Alain Jensen. The game was finished by the closing months of 1993 and reviewed in the pre-Christmas editions of CF and Commodore Force. It was part of a famous clutch of excellent last commercial titles alongside Mayhem and Alien 3. Most tapes are stamped “copyright 1994”, giving it the honourable label of last C64 game you could buy in a shop back in the day.

So how is it? Well, Lemmings on the C64 works pretty well. It’s all packed in there, from the faithful intro to the digitised cheers of the end sequence, with an intelligent and unintrusive multiload. The small playing area – it uses the middle third of the screen – is initially jarring, there’s no escaping it. Some levels are slightly smaller than the original game, too, and there are only 30 critters to play with (Jed, remember, says he got 128 on the go). But hey – that’s the way E&E have made their version possible. Once you’re engrossed it’s definitely Lemmings and it’s a lot of fun. The only real downer is that our heroes remain mute: there’s no “let’s go!” or “oh no!” speech.

The big question is always how it fares without a mouse. Well, it does work if you’ve got one. But this neat keyboard overlay inside the box means it works for joystick users too:

The overlay that went across the top of your keyboard to select diggers and climbers and all that. The deeply satisfying “explode” key is on the far right. Note the year on the cassette. Lemmings was the last C64 game you could buy in a shop.

CF scored Lemmings at 84%, reporting in its issue 39 cover story that it “plays well” but “suffers the odd graphical glitch”. In its review of the year a month later, Simon Forrester revealed that their first impression of the conversion was “it’s crap!” before giving in to its Lemming-y charms.

Commodore Force gave C64 Lemmings 97%. Noting its late arrival, James Price asked: “do we still need Lemmings? Yes. [It’s] faithful to the 16-bit [with a] no problem multiload. There are neat sprites, jolly ditties and a hundred levels to keep you awake ’til it’s late.”

PACK FACT: The demo on Power Pack 35 is A Beast II Of A Level, which is the 22nd stage of the Mayhem section of Lemmings. The graphics are a nod to Psygnosis’ other biggie Shadow Of The Beast.


JHOTAMIA 6 (that really is how you say it – Ed) is another text adventure from The Guild off the back of three installments of Corya. This one’s set in space, opening as you regain conciousness to find yourself surrounded by a very crashed spaceship and hundreds of bodies. The enthusiastic reader response to this game, and three month’s worth of Corya, spurred on CF to look for a regular text adventure columnist. Sadly, as the mag passed from Trenton Webb to Hutch to Dave Golder in under a year, the idea fell between the cracks.

We’re still far from planet Earth in SPACE ACADEMY, a Daley Thompson’s Decathalon sort of thing with a backstory that goes on for daaaaays. TL;DR: waggle, waggle waggle:

The third full game on Power Pack 35 is Breakout/Arkanoid clone HALLAX. Using your paddle along the bottom of the screen, you bounce a ball against the assembled blocks until every one is gone. Most blocks take a single hit to clear, others more; power-ups give you fire power or a longer/magnetic paddle and, sometimes, the ability to clear a level.

Here’s where it gets a bit LOL: the power-ups appear at specific timed intervals no matter what you do. One of the power-ups lets you clear levels. So, um, if you don’t release the ball it’s possible to clear the game by sitting tight. D’oh! Hallax redeems itself with a bitchin’ edit mode which lets you develop your own levels (minus those pesky power-ups if you please).

You’ll find REEL WRITER at the start of August 1993’s cassette offering, which you can use to create fancy scrolling messages for your own demos and games. Select your character set, choose some music, type whatever you want and bosh. Old timers might remember we used to call this sort of thing a Noter:


Lemmings! CF