A look at the computer game Viz for the Commodore 64, which was developed by Probe Software.
In the third part of our series on unusual C64 licenses, we have a look at Virgin’s convo of British comic Viz – a neat idea spoiled by one fist-gnawing feature.
Viz is a British comic for adults which parodies post-war kid’s titles like The Beano and Dandy. Three Geordie teenagers – Chris Donald, his brother Simon and their friend Jim Brownlow – printed 150 copies of issue 1 in 1979. They called it a “bumper issue” (12 pages) and flogged their creation in a Newcastle pub for 20p (30p for students). In a few hours, they’d sold every copy.
The internet is full of articles which frame Viz as brilliant satire of eighties Britain. In truth, the comic became successful for two reasons. One, precious few titles 40 years ago were aimed so directly at young men. Viz had a market to itself. And two, it was the first mag to bring that bike-shed humour to print: Viz was full of insensitive jokes you sniggered at with your mates but wouldn’t have dared tell in public. “In the early days, it was probably the shock value that sold it as much as anything, but you can’t shock people forever,” says Graham Dury, who draws Viz favourites like the Fat Slags and Cockney Wanker. “You’ve got to make them laugh.”
Ah, yes. The controversial, overweight, binge drinking Fat Slags. It’s the one strip everybody knows, brutally parodying a perpetual hen weekend. Sexist or an accurate lampoon? Either way, it’s not the best part of Viz by far. There’s Roger Mellie (The Man On The Telly) who satirises David Frost, and Billy the Fish, a take on ’50s football comic creation Roy of the Rovers. The letters section is “the page you write…and it’s always shite!”, and the magazine’s most popular section in modern times – now available in meme format! – is Top Tips, featuring advice for life like this:
Within ten years of selling out in a North East boozer, Viz was shifting a million prints of every issue. By the early ’90s, it was the third best-selling mag in the UK (beaten only by TV Times and Reader’s Digest). This was Viz‘s high, and the merchandise rained down to take advantage. There were spin-off Top Tips books, a Channel 4 animated series and a 1991 game for the C64.
The Commodore version of Viz The Computer Game was developed by Probe, of Golden Axe, Alien 3, Robocop 3 and more. Back in the ’90s if you wanted a C64 version of an existing arcade or 16-bit game, Probe could do a job. This one’s a port of a game originally designed for the disk-based Amiga, which is also the nub of its biggest flaw – more of which in a sec.
Viz stars Johnny Fartpants, Buster Gonad and Biffa Bacon in a race through the streets of the comic’s fictitious town of Fulchester. You can play whoever you like in this three-horse race across five stages: it starts in the country, moves into town, then onto a building site, the beach and culminates at a dodgy disco.
Before the race starts your chosen character takes part in their own unique bonus stage. If you’re successful, you earn tokens which can be used to activate a special super power in the race. Biffa goes into a drunken frenzy, battering everything in his path; Johnny Fartpants uses guff power to propel himself to victory and Buster bounces along using plum power. CF did a great boxout. Just look at these graphics:
Once you’ve got your tokens, it’s on to the race proper. Roger Mellie introduces it in foul-mouthed fashion, and the town mayor fires the starting gun. You then push right in a sprint for the finish line, which is many screens away. En route you’re treated to almost the entire cast of Viz as friend or foe: Bertie Blunt’s parrot might poop on you, for example. If you step on the grass, you get a beating from The Parkie. And watch out on the town level or you might trip over Mrs. Brady’s shopping or a mobility scooter.
Viz was demoed on Commodore Format issue 5’s Power Pack, and in that tiny abstract it’s actually quite fun. The graphics really are superb: the bonus stages are especially brilliant, but the racing stages are full of colour and with sprites that look just like the comic book characters. The sound, too, is wonderful (listen to that riff!) thanks to Jeroen Tel. But then the demo ends, and you have to re-load to play again. That’s a big fat warning for finished full game, which has one of the worst multi loads the Commodore 64 has ever seen. Viz comes on two cassettes, one with the race stages and one with the bonus rounds. Scoring it at 58%, here’s Steve Jarratt in CF‘s original review summing up the horror perfectly:
“You load in the character select screen and choose who you want to be. Then you load the first bonus game from a second tape. Play the bonus round, then load in the first race. If you don’t qualify for the second race (which you probably won’t), you get to run it again – once you’ve done the other bonus round. So you load in the flip side of tape 2, play the second bonus round and then rewind the main tape to load in the first race again. And so on. No way can I recommend tape users to buy Viz – the multi load renders it unplayable.”
In Probe’s defence, if publishers Virgin wanted a straight conversion, that’s what they’ve delivered here. A game that needs to access data non sequentially is always gonna be a nightmare on tape and this sort of thing was never what Commodore envisaged the C64 to be doing, but this is a ghastly implementation nonetheless. Loading it up on disk is better: you begin to appreciate the spot-on brand humour from Roger Mellie, who commentates via speech bubble and a little TV in the bottom centre of the screen. And the programmers even crow barred in the Top Tips during loads:
Once you’ve raced a few times, though, you’ve seen everything Viz has to offer. And as the game goes on, the visuals became bizarrely more and more like the Amstrad CPC version (level one’s the best looker by far). That didn’t stop Viz becoming a hit, though, no doubt in part due to the “not for sale to children” sticker on the box and the free book you got with every copy. Only the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles kept it from the top of the charts in Spring 1991, but it’s difficult to imagine many kids found the loading times were a good trade off for what’s on offer here. Tellingly, Viz arrived in the same month Commodore announced it was ceasing to bundle C64s with a datasette and pushed people towards disk and the ill-fated cartridges. The C64 had to change to keep up with more sophisticated ideas for software – and ironically, a game full of fart gags is a great example. CF