A look at Commodore Format Power Pack 6 from March 1991. Martin Walker Chameleon interview!
- Two full games
- Three demos
- Read the mag tape pages
In March 1991, Commodore Format gave C64 owners the chance to go bowling, battle elemental forces, get a girlfriend (sorry, kids, but that’s the Chip’s Challenge story – Woke Ed) and walk your ninja dog. All for the price of a magazine! Power Pack 6 was one of the best yet.
This is one of CF‘s great early coups; originally released in 1986 against a backdrop of shooters and games set in space, it was seen as a massive breath of fresh air and a leap forward in the imagining of what 8-bit games could be. It’s by the legendary Martin Walker, and we caught up with the man himself to find out more.
CF: What do you remember about the early stages of Chameleon, Martin? Is it true the game is based on the old rock/paper/scissors game, extended to the elements?
MARTIN: Yes, that’s exactly right! I liked the idea of the player having to change weapons to suit whatever enemies were attacking you at the time, so I created a world with Realms of Fire, Earth, Air and Water to explore, each containing different baddies. By aligning yourself to these different elements you could destroy any enemies with a little thought and lots of blasting. There was plenty going on in the game, such as its triple-layer parallax scrolling, its changing time of day graphics, and the increasing intelligence of the various enemies as you progressed through the realms, who each have different tactics and reactions depending where they are in relation to the player. With ground-based and flying enemies there was quite a lot to take in at first, especially since you could change ground-based enemies into energy pickups if you shot them with suitably aligned energy.
CF: It feels like it’s a game for adults, or smarter gamers. A world away from the shooters and everything else in 1986. Was that intentional?
MARTIN: It was indeed intentional. I did find quite a few of the shoot ’em ups of the time rather mindless, and wanted to try adding some different thought processes. With hindsight, the ‘how to play’ instructions could have been a lot clearer (in the Zzap! 64 review, Gary Penn said ‘Electric Dreams have a superb game here which is heavily let down by poor documentation’), but I was encouraged that those who took the time to understand Chameleon found it rewarding to play. I also suspect a few demo sequences would have helped players see just how much there was in the game that wasn’t at first apparent.
CF: You did pretty much everything yourself, right? Is that how things worked out or how you preferred to work?
MARTIN: I did absolutely everything myself – design, coding, graphics, music, SFX… I’ve always been a bit of a loner, preferring to create stuff by myself and totally immerse myself in new worlds, and the only times I’ve ended up getting others in to help has tended to be when I was up against impossible deadlines and simply couldn’t do everything myself.
CF: And you own the rights to the game, of course. After Hunter’s Moon, any thoughts on a remaster?
MARTIN: Hmm… Now that thought hadn’t occurred to me. I do remember driving down to Exeter many years ago (before the release of both Hunter’s Moon and Armalyte) and Robin Levy and I playing Chameleon on two C64 machines for hours. He hadn’t really cottoned onto its thoughtful gameplay before then, or noticed the increasing intelligence of its adversaries as you progressed through the levels. He seemed (as did various reviewers) to really enjoy playing it, so perhaps I should investigate a slicker update, making its various features more obvious. Who knows?
PACK FACT: If you do want to try Chameleon, the instructions in CF here are way better than the originals.
Here’s another one from 1986 – US Gold’s excellent ten-pin bowling sim’, Tenth Frame. If you’ve played Leaderboard golf, you’ll be immediately at home. It’s the same sort of view, in this case behind the bowler with the skittles at the top of the screen in a sort of 3D arrangement. You can control the ball’s speed, and a hook meter lets you apply the all-important spin everybody pretends to know about when they play for real down the local leisure centre. Best of all, though, is that you can have up to 8 people playing at the same time – if you could fit that many people into your childhood bedroom!
ZZAP! gave it 85% on its original release, noting the beautiful animation of the player and the slick range of options. The only problem is that it isn’t quite as fun as the real thing – but you probably couldn’t fit a bowling alley in your house 30 years ago, right? So this was good enough. Decent game.
PACK FACT: This is one of editor Steve Jarratt’s favourite games.
Feasibility, as Commodore Format‘s 89% review of Shadow Dancer says, has been thrown out of the window in this game. You’re a white-clad Ninja whose task is to clear each sideways scrolling level of bombs and defeat the generic “terrorists”; what’s new here is that you have a, er, dog. And if you press the space bar or long-hold fire, the dog goes off and attacks your enemies. Neat, eh? Fido is particularly useful if you’re trying to clear more than one assailant at once. The action’s slow, but well-paced. The graphics are that blocky C64 cliche so beloved of its critics, but they’re clear and the dog’s attack animations are pretty funny (on purpose, supposedly, so’s as not to make things too violent). It isn’t original, but it’s really playable. And you get all of level one here. Cool. PACK FACT: This is actually a Sega arcade convo, and the final game in the Shinobi series.
March ’91s second demo tied in to the Star Control review on page 58 of the mag. It’s a space colonisation and conquest strategy game, with little bits of arcade action thrown in for some very successful pacing. Ultimately, though, there is always going to be a big problem for any space colonisation game on the 8-bits: Elite did it, and did it astoundingly, very early on in the generation’s life cycle. That’s not to say this is an Elite clone; rather, that if you want to explore space on a C64, that’s where most people are going to go.
Anyway. In Star Control, you take charge of one side of would-be empire builders, and the computer (or a friend) the other. You have to explore planets, mine them for minerals (and thus income), build better ships and try to take over the universe. You know the sort of thing. Occasionally, you’ll bump in to each other. That’s where the game switches to a large arcade style screen and you fire weapons you’ve built at one another. The action zooms in two-fold, and is a real event. If you’ve constructed the best weapons, you’ll probably win, and that’s satisfying. It’s by far the most exciting part of the game because it’s really obvious what you’ve got to do. Unfortunately, junior players will be put off by the aimless roaming of everything else here, and it’s absolutely not a mainstream offering. The controls are tricky, and weirdly – in two player – only one person can use a joystick, which makes the arcade sections unfair. But it’s an interesting title with some real depth if you take the time to figure it out; unfortunately, even that’s a slog because of the weak instructions. But give it a crack: if the 13-year-old you didn’t like it, the 40-year-old might just have the patience.
PACK FACT: The code here’s by Simon Pick, who was also responsible for Revolution back on Power Pack 1.
Now then. Here’s a lovely, lovely little game which started out as a launch title for Atari’s handheld console, the Lynx, in 1989. Chip’s a high school student in the US, and he’s desperate for a girlfriend. Melinda the Mental Marvel is interested, but she’s got a reputation to protect. She’ll only go out with Chip if he can prove he’s smart enough, which is where the game begins. Chip’s got to navigate 140 levels of maze and puzzles, collecting the silicon chips as he goes. There are doors to unlock with keys you find, ice to navigate with special boots you’ll pick up, and costumes that allow him to walk through the, er, fire that Melinda has started (well, it did say she was mental – Ed). The designs are devious, and the “skip level” and password options are a tribute to its original US designer, Chuck Somerville. It never gets too frustrating as a result. In this demo for Commodore Format, you get to try a handful of levels and you’ll find yourself desperate for more. Anyone can pick up Chip’s Challenge in an instant – and you should.
PACK FACT(S!): A sequel arrived, too late for the C64, in 1999. In 2012, Chuck’s Challenge (a nod to the programmer) emerged on iOS. In 2014, Chuck’s Challenge 3D came out on Steam. Oh, and Cartoon Network licensed the idea and turned it into the Ben’s 10 franchise. Phew!
Chameleon is an absolute classic, but it’s probably only been appreciated as such with age. You’ve got to revisit it with Commodore Format‘s better instructions (the link’s in the article). How many people only remember the ridiculous dog from Shadow Dancer though, eh? You guys. CF