Commodore_Format_PowerPack_26_1992-11

This month’s CF had Streetfighter II on the cover and the very first sighting of a certain yellow dinosaur inside. We’re at the point where commercial games are fading fast but homebrew coders are stepping up like it’s 1982 all over again. The tape is pretty much as it ever was, headlined by another classic from CF‘s deal with Gremlin.

COSMIC CAUSEWAY

Now here’s a thing. When Trailblazer sequel Cosmic Causeway loaded in to Commodore Format editor Steve Jarratt’s C64, back when he was a young staffie on ZZAP!, he couldn’t believe his eyes. The 1987 3D racing game puts you in charge of a bouncing ball uncannily similar to the one from the Amiga Boing Ball demo. You steer, jump and brake against the clock. Mistakes are paid for with time, and certain coloured squares help or hinder you. At the end of each section a fire breathing dragon swoops in which you have to defeat with your temporary firing ability.

Back to that young Steve Jarratt sitting mouth open at the sight of all this in Ludlow, then:
“My immediate feelings were of disbelief. The 64 can’t do that….can it? The playing ‘area’ (how do you describe infinity?) is incredible…smooth, very fast, totally convincing. It’s also incredibly playable. Cosmic Causeway is the computer experience of the year.” ZZAP! scored the game at 93%, and the Gremlin release got a thumbs up across the press: 8/10 from CVG, 9/10 from Commodore User, 900/1000 from Ace’s barmy rating’s system.

Coder Shaun Southern was bemused. Nobody loved Commodore machines more than he did (he’d had them since his parents saved up and went on a train to London to get him a Vic 20), but why were people so surprised the amazing C64 could do this?

“All the Commodore machines had great graphics capabilities”, he told Retro Gamer back in issue 76. “The 3D was something you could do with the C64 hardware. The effect looked better than it was. A lot of people were amazed by what was really only colour cycling.”

Shaun doesn’t even accept that Trailblazer was That Big A Deal either. “It was based on Metro-Cross. That was side-on. All I did was turn it around for Trailblazer.” And Cosmic Causeway itself?

“Two words. Space Harrier.”

You’ve got to separate Shaun’s humbleness and tendency to look at what’s under the hood with the reality of how impressive this game was in 1987. ZZAP! were hard to impress, let alone utterly blow away. It’s easy (and right) now to point at the game’s occasionally maddening difficulty, the migraine-y effects and the ultimate lack of variety. But transport this back to 1987 and people were happy to buzz about and enjoy the incredible effect of speed.

PACK FACT: Cosmic Causeway is preloaded on TheC64 and Mini. It’s so fast, some American users who’d never seen the game before have posted believing they have the wrong version of the code. Nope. It really is that mental.

 

STUNTMAN SEYMOUR

Around 1991 to 1993, C64 fans and budget game publishers had a sort of unspoken agreement. With the full price games and fancy licenses drying up, the likes of Codemasters kept on releasing short, cheerful and technically excellent cartoon platform games for as long as people kept buying them for a few quid. With ten years to get to grips with the machine, the funny thing is that loads of the games were way more accomplished than the stuff coders were producing for three times the price in the mid ’80s.

A small group of C64 programmers in the UK loved making this sort of stuff. There was friendly competition and cooperation: they shared ideas and code and techie tricks, often sharing houses and socialising together, which is why CJ’s Elephant Antics looks like DJ Puff which both look a bit like Stuntman Seymour. Level one is demoed on this tape ahead of its Christmas release.

Stuntman programmer Duncan Kershaw was a particular CJ fan, and set about making a similar engine to build on what had become the style of C64 game. He worked with graphic artist Jonathan Temples (AKA Smyth), who also did the visuals for CJ. “I became good friends with Dave Clarke (he’s CJ’s C64 coder – Ed). We even shared a house in Warwick whilst working at Codemasters. He thought the spin off was funny. We used to joke about my games and his. DJ Puff was clearly “inspired” by his, although to be fair, his were in turn “inspired” by New Zealand Story (which I think he worked on whilst at Choice Software). I released Stuntman Seymour after DJ Puff, which was of course all based on the same code.”

Seymour was the character Codies came up with when they decided Dizzy shouldn’t leave his fantasy worlds. This third adventure casts him as a movie stuntman. Each level is a “take” of a fim. There’s a Wild West set, a pirate ship set…you get the idea. You’ve got a pistol and bombs to clear every “enemy”/actor, which take two shots each or one bomb. As with CJ and Puff there’s only one route through each level but you’ll encounter dead ends and ditches forcing you to turn back (the game scrolls every direction). At the end of the stage there’s a boss, and…well, you know what this is like already don’t you? Not very hard, a lot of fun and a lot like CJ. And it could be worse…a Dick Tracy clone, f’rinstance (high praise – Ed).

PACK FACT: Codemasters were still so intent on releasing C64 games in 1992, the review of Seymour includes a box asking programmers to get in touch if they want to work for them.

 

DOC CROC’S OUTRAGEOUS ADVENTURES (PREVIOUSLY RELEASED AS ROUND THE BEND)

One of the recurring themes on the Commodore Format Archive is how the UK changed so quickly, culturally, during the time the mag was on the shelves. Media for kids wasn’t any different and ITV’s Round The Bend is the perfect example of a show that no longer sought to patronise children out of existence.

Created by the team who’d made the Oink! comic and with puppets made by Spitting Image, the show was a satire of Saturday morning magazine shows. The host – the obnoxious, overbearing and rude crocodile Doc Croc – presented the “world’s first electronic comic” from a sewer. John Potato’s NewsRound took the mick out of the earnest show which was actually being broadcast at the same time as Round The Bend on the other channel. There was a Jackanory parody called Nursery Crimes. Thunderpants was Thundercats, Botman was Batman with a huge arse and, well, you get the idea.

The show featured new mechanics like the camera searching to “find” the host at the start of every show (something that later became a television staple) and crammed every episode with easter eggs that delight fans on repeat views; all of it seemed ripe for some sort of computer game.

Unfortch, the coders took the easy route and ignored most of the source material. It’s a (you guessed it) platform game. The story has Doc accidentally blowing up the “video printing press”. Artist Lou Brush has to travel around the sewers collecting bits of the machine while other characters from the series have to put together their pages by first finding them (also leaping around the sewers) and then playing a sub game to locate each page’s punchline.

You can play any of the characters you like in any order. Nasties lurking in the sewers send you back to the editor’s office if touched and cost you valuable time; the only way to regain precious seconds is to complete a page.

So you hop, jump, learn enemy patterns and mentally or physically make a map. The graphics are nice, the show’s humour is everywhere but it’s spoilt by some brutally unfair enemy placement: you can be killed by things you can’t see before jumping onto a screen. With some anticipation and mapping, it can become somewhat playable. But then it becomes apparent that the game is very short, and when you’ve seen it once you don’t need to go back. At a tenner, this game was a bit of an ask. For four quid, it made much more sense. Unusually, this demo is actually to promote the budget re-release.

WHY DID THE NAME OF THE GAME CHANGE?

Round The Bend was a Christmas 1991 C64 release from Impulze. CF reviewed it here. When Zeppelin came to re-release it in Autumn 1992 on budget, it was rebranded for dull licensing reasons as Doc Croc’s Outrageous Adventures. ZZAP! mentions the name change here, and Amiga Power here. To add to the confusion, the game was always known as Doc Croc in some overseas markets like the Polish disk version here. Oh, and the “Round The Bend sequel preview” that’s doing the rounds online? You got it: it’s actually this demo.

PACK FACT: Our spidey senses were tingling when we played this one. Is it the same engine as Tai Chi Tortoise? It’s definitely similar. Same team, too. 

 

BOMBER

Written especially for CF, this simple collect ’em up will remind you of those handheld LCD games everyone took on long car journeys back in the ’80s. A bad guy throws bombs from the top of the screen and your job is to catch them in a, er, bucket that moves left or right along the bottom. It’s simple pattern learning, fun for a while and technically very nice.

PACK FACT: Shaun Pearson did the graphics for this, and he’s still active in C64 world. The 2013 platformer Woolly Jumper is one of his credits.

 

TWIN TIGER

It’s true that if you make a game in Shoot ‘Em Up Construction Kit, people will always know. But some creations are way better than others and the very best became a sort of curious art form in the ’90s. Nobody did it better than the Swede Alf Yngve. “What I loved about the original SEUCK was that it made the work so simple and eliminated the boring, slow coding process”, he told Retro Garden. “I could just pour the ideas out of my head and onto the screen. And at virtually no cost, no fancy equipment was needed.”

Twin Tiger looks a lot like SWIV, with some lovely graphics. The explosion animation and the mood changing backdrops are particularly effective. The game’s also been beefed up by Jon Wells (he of Sceptre of Baghdad and others) with a cheeky Airwolf theme, high score table and other touches that make this one strut like a Sir. Good stuff.

PACK FACT: Alf’s produced over 100 SEUCK games, and they’ve become better and better in the subsequent decades because homebrew coders have improved the utility. Find out more about that here.

 

SUMMING UP

Just the one full commercial game this time around, but what a doozy. Cosmic Causeway would easily keep you going for the month or until you have a seizure. Our eyes! CF