THE PERSONAL COMPUTER WORLD SHOW (at Olympia this year) is always taken as the starter’s gun for Christmas. Tens of thousands of people pass through the stands in the four days to see the thousand plus exhibitors. Our attentions were turned to the top floor — the games software department — where the CRASH team roved about watching talking, listening and thinking (at least for the first hour anyway)!
DAVID LESTER supplies the personal opinion on the show and ROGER KEAN supplies the news bits and captions...
David Lester takes a quick spin around the pre-PCW show launches...
Well, the expected new software is now appearing in the run up to Christmas, with most of the well-known software houses releasing new games for the Spectrum.
Creative Sparks are releasing three new titles, two starring the cartoon character, Danger Mouse. The first of these is Danger Mouse in Double Trouble, which is an arcade game with several screens. It features some superb graphics, especially where Danger Mouse himself is concerned. Danger Mouse in the Black Forest Chateau (sic) is a junior adventure — meant as a sort of introduction to adventures for young children. While the adventure itself is quite easy, it is long, and uses some good graphic descriptions of each location.
The third new release from Creative Sparks is totally different. It is called Delta Wing, and is similar to Fighter Pilot — it’s a cross between a flight simulator and an arcade game. The object is to destroy the enemy bases before they destroy yours. The graphics are very very realistic — you see a view of inside the aircraft cockpit, and you can even see the pilot’s legs and arm moving the instruments when you move your joystick around! My only doubts about the game are that it is slightly too similar to Fighter Pilot to sell well — but presumably Creative Sparks think otherwise.
Powersoft have just released four new programs (no you probably haven’t heard of them; not only have they just launched the games, but they have also just launched their company! Good luck to them — they’ll need it to survive the way things are at the moment). Trying to avoid the decision of whether to join the budget software bandwagon or to risk the full-price software market they have opted for a mixture. The two main, full-price programs are Billy Bluebottle and Catwalk. Billy Bluebottle is another Manic Miner clone, although with fewer screens than most of its many rivals. Catwalk is an original arcade game, again with several screens, but has poor graphics and generally doesn’t look set to astound anyone.
The budget software is slightly different, though. Instead of following Mastertronics and Atlantis precisely, Powersoft have chosen to release two games on one cassette, for £3.50. The games are respectable versions of ‘Q-Bert’ and ‘Pengo’; a year ago they would have sold well at £5.95, but now they represent good value for money, assuming you want the two games.
Powersoft incorporate an interesting feature into their programs — the on-screen instructions and prompts are almost all in several different languages. This will make it easy for Powersoft to market its software abroad, and could even have some educational value for foreign language students in England.
Melbourne House have had an enviable reputation ever since The Hobbit was released, despite a number of rather poor programs (HURG, Terrordactil, and Mugsy). The long awaited Sherlock Holmes has at last arrived, and looks like reinforcing their good reputation. People expecting a repeat of the Hobbit but in different surroundings, might be disappointed — the graphics are very small, and hardly worth having (in fact there is an option to play without them). But having said that, the game is a step forward for adventures. Melbourne House’s Philip Mitchell, who wrote the game, claims it is the hardest adventure on the market, and my initial attempts to solve it certainly back that up.
Within minutes of the first journalists arriving at its launch, the first bug was discovered — to go by train from London to Leatherhead in the game, you need to go from Kings Cross. As all Leatherhead readers no doubt know, in real life you need to take a train from Victoria or Charing Cross to get to Leatherhead. Oh well, that’s what happens when a game about England is written by an Australian in Australia! Due to the complexity of the adventure, Melbourne say that it’s quite likely that other small bugs might exist — no doubt CRASH readers will find them fairly soon!!
Melbourne released Hampstead at the same time as Sherlock. Hampstead is also an adventure, developed on the Quill (although translated into plain machine code later). But it is different to most adventures, in that its purpose is to amuse people rather than provide a hard adventure. Indeed, the adventure is extremely simple, which the authors say is so that anyone can complete it, and so reap more enjoyment from it. The idea is to attain Hampstead — not just to go there, but to reach the social status required to be invited into other people’s homes there! You start off on the dole, watching 3-2-1 (the worst imaginable state of affairs!) and have to use various dishonest means to attain Hampstead.
I like the idea of comic games but there have been other, better comedies before (Denis through the Drinking Glass, and Pimania being just two examples — see later in this article for another), and most of the jokes in this are pretty unfunny. Hampstead can become yours for a modest £9.95.
Quicksilva have just unveiled their Autumn catalogue, with five new titles for the Spectrum. The most popular is likely to be Zombie Zombie — this is the long-awaited follow-up to Sandy White’s 3D Ant Attack. First impressions suggest that its graphics are every bit as good as the first, but the game has far better sound, and a different game-plot.
On a different note is Blood and Guts, which has you the player moving round inside a human body, searching for the parts to your escape ship while fighting off disease, tapeworm, and other such niceties!! The map of the rooms is an accurate representation of the human body, or so QS claim.
They are also releasing the official Battlezone game — but since there are already several good versions available, I can’t see it doing too well. Another surprise is Eric Bristow’s Pro Darts. Artic, Automata and now QS have all released darts programs, all of which seem to me to be a complete waste of time and money — if there is one thing that computers can’t simulate well, it’s darts. Still, it might be better than I fear.
And last, but by no means least from QS, comes Strontium Dog (from an IPC comic) and the Killing. This fast action game involves you roaming the universe destroying evil. Hmm. I’ve heard that somewhere before, I think...
I am sorry to have to start this report on the Personal Computer World Show by expressing my sorrow that it had so little to offer to Spectrum owners (unless they also happen to be Amstrad or Commodore owners...). Yes, this year the show seemed to have very little of interest to the old Spectrum owner. But although the quantity left something to be desired, I would be hard-pressed to criticise the quality of all that there was.
One of the most important stands for games players must have been the Elite stand. Elite have just released their much-advertised Jet Set Willy beater, Kokotoni Wilf. This, of course, was on display, and does look extremely impressive — although you will have to decide for yourselves whether or not it beats Jet Set Willy!
Also a must for most people was the Domark stand. Domark is the company about to release Eureka! for which there is a £25,000 prize. Simple displays of the mammoth game(s) were there, but did not give away very much as to the nature, or quality, of the final product — suffice it to say that they did nothing to suppress any interest in it!!
Crystal Computing, or Design Design as they are now rather ostentatiously known, had their new game Dark Star on show (see CRASH September for preview). While any one screen shot of this game is, as is so often the case, not all that impressive, the speed of the smoothly moving line graphics MUST be seen to be believed — I have certainly never seen anything like it elsewhere. And what is more, the game itself looks worth having too, which is not always the case.
Another name change, The Edge (formerly Softek) were showing off their so-called mega-games. Well, if this is the standard of Mega-game, then Imagine would have been lucky to sell one copy. These games (Psytraxx and Star Bike) do have rather a lot of screens — but I would much prefer to have one tenth the number of screens (100 will do — I am not a fussy person, really!) but with each having some decent graphics. The Edge have thoughtfully provided a fast loader for the game, to save you time loading it, presumably. Well, it takes me over half an hour to load each game, due to the numerous loading errors I get from the fast loader bit; it would be much quicker to use the normal loading system, which does at least, work most of the time.
One product which is far less hyped, but far more worthy of it, though, is the follow-up to Automania from Mikro-Gen, Pyjamarama. This is a true arcade adventure, (yes, at least one does exist) and has some of the best graphics that I have ever seen — including those in Sabre Wulf. The adventure is difficult, too, so I predict that this will be the greatest success of any of the new releases for the Spectrum at the PCW show. Mikro-Gen also had their Air Traffic Control program available. This, although no doubt very good and realistic, does not appeal to me very much — it is just that little bit too technical and, to my way of thinking, tedious.
One of the attractions of press day was on the fifth floor, where CDS had two rooms. To promote their new program, they had got Steve Davis to demonstrate it; no guesses as to what the program is. Although the game is probably very good, I do not find the idea of playing snooker on a computer very appealing after playing on an actual snooker table — but then, not very many people have snooker tables near to hand. I think that the idea is to have the snooker program as a sequel to CDS’s highly successful POOL program; I am afraid to say that I think the program is to succeed as such, though, although Snooker is a very definite step forward. Or at least, it looks as if it is when Steve Davis is playing it!
Melbourne House were proudly exhibiting what looks set to be the next Hobbit — Sherlock Holmes. The game certainly ought to equal the Hobbit, since it is written by the same author. The adventure does look good by any account, although the graphics leave a lot to be desired, and there are several known bugs already. They also had Hampstead, a new (or so Melbourne House seem to think) type of game which aims to make you laugh. Although not quite the same this is similar to any other text adventure written using the Quill; the difference is that Melbourne had it translated into different machine code, for their own reasons. This looks quite enjoyable, but is overpriced at £9.95.
Other than that, the Show provided nothing but disappointment. Among the guilty companies there with nothing of interest to show were Sinclair (unless you count the QL as interesting); Ocean, who seem to have left the Spectrum behind in their rush to produce new Commodore 64 games; MC Lothlorien; K-Tel; Kempston; CRL Group PLC (!!); A&F, who don’t seem to be doing much for anything at the moment; Anirog and ASP Software. I can’t see why most of these companies exhibited at the show, since their lack of good new titles or hardware can only harm their reputation (certainly in my view).
There were several notable absentees from the Show, this year, too. Probably most notable is Imagine, who were not there (as a company, anyway) for very obvious reasons; other culprits were Software Projects; Mastertronics (except that they probably do not have sufficient margins to pay for a show like this) and some of the smaller names with new products, like Powersoft; Digital Integration; Durell; R and R; Atlantis and PSS. Let’s hope that, as the opposite of those who actually were at the show, their absence implies a very good product!! And let’s hope, too, that next year’s PCW show will not see another decline in Spectrum new products, but an increase.
CHANNEL 8 who market Brian Howarth’s Mysterious Adventures ran a lucky draw at the PCW Show where five lucky people could win a set of all the games. Channel 8 are pleased to announce that the five winners are: G. Buck, Sittingbourne, Kent; J. P. Stoppard, Chesterfield, Derbyshire; J. Leah, Wimbledon, London, D. Chiles, Redcar, Cleveland, and A. Hunt, Walsall, West Midlands.
DOMARK isn’t a name that instantly springs to mind in connection with computer games, but their first game, Eureka! probably does. Maybe it’s the exciting lure of the £25,000 prize, already deposited with a bank, that nudges the memory. Eureka! was launched at the PCW Show. It contains five adventures and five arcade games, a dangerous and mysterious trail through five different eras in history from the dinosaurs, to Rome, to King Arthur, Colditz and finally 1984. The object is to uncover all the clues that will lead to discovering the secret telephone number which will lead to that £25,000 prize.
Eureka! is the brainchild of ad-men Mark Strachan and Domonic Wheatley (grandson of author Dennis Wheatley). Mark and Domonic (Do-Mark) got Ian Livingstone (famous for the Fighting Fantasy Books and partner to Steve Jackson in Games Workshop) to write the story line, and from there the concept went behind the iron curtain where a team of Hungarian programmers were employed in great secrecy to write the games.
The idea behind Eureka! is that the game should be easy to play but very difficult to solve. Domark are at great pains to point out that despite the prize, Eureka! is also an excellent game to play, not just some cheap excuse. To prove the point, they say it took some 10,000 man hours of programming. The team of 20 included four graphic artists, 2 musicians, a professor of logic and an Oscar winning cartoonist! Eureka! costs £14.95 and, say Domark, it is expected to take at least 15 months to crack the riddle. If it hasn’t been cracked by the 31st of December 1985 then the £25,000 will be split equally between all those who have purchased the game.
Steve Davis, the World’s Number One player was quite a draw at PCW, and was to be seen in an upper room carefully lining up tricky shots on the Spectrum and Amstrad versions of the new CDS Microsystems game, Steve Davis Snooker. It was nice to see how long it took him to line up his shots, nudging the cursor this way and that for an age until satisfied. The lined-up shot, incidentally, bounced off a cushion and went away as a foul — well even the greatest can slip up now and again with all that press attention.
Spectrum owners have long wanted a version of ZAXXON and had mixed feelings about STARZONE’s version ZAXXAN. Now US GOLD has slapped a writ on Starzone having decided that ZAXXAN was a copy of ZAXXON, the game they have already released for the C64 and plan to release soon for the Spectrum. ZAXXON is licensed from Sega in the USA. Copies of Starzone’s ZAXXAN have had to be withdrawn from retailers and an out of court settlement has been made whereby Starzone have paid US Gold based on the units already sold.
You get home one evening to discover a message on your answering machine. Something you’d thought hidden for good has reared its ugly head once again. Valkyrie 17 is active again! So starts a hilarious new adventure game from a new outfit with the unlikely name of The Ram Jam Corporation. Reputed (or rumoured) to be an offshore shell corporation (with numbered Swiss accounts) and interest in South American arms dealing, British defence contracts and sponsoring the London Symphony Orchestra, Ram Jam has just got into the games market with Valkyrie 17, a paranoid look at the world of international espionage. The people responsible for the game are neurotically concerned to keep their names secret for fear of reprisals, but Trevor Toms and George Stone have been elected as whipping boys and came to visit the CRASH offices in the firm (and sensible) belief that no one here would be able to make head or tail of the name and so throw it in the bin before reviewing it. However a copy has gone off to Derek Brewster and we’ll just see what he thinks. It had us in fits (it’s the cyanide pills that do it).
The Ram Jam Corporation are being distributed by Palace Software (see photo caption) and Peter Stone (no relation to George) of Palace is probably the only living person to have met the highly secretive head of Ram Jam, the mysterious Sir Oswestry Malvinas. All we can safely say at this point in time, is that Valkyrie 17 is an adventure with striking graphics, a poisonous sense of humour and enough red kippers to trip up Billingsgate fish market — oh and you get a nice badge to wear on your SS uniform (obligatory for serious players).
It was smiles all round last week when executives of the Ram Jam Corporation met with representatives of Palace Software to clinch the deal whereby Palace will distribute all Ram Jam titles. After the signing, Pete Stone, Managing Director of Palace Software said “These blokes have been hanging around here for the last two weeks or so. I am glad to discover that they were on our side.”
Sir Oswestry Malvinas (not in picture) said “Now that we have fulfilled our defence contracts, we are really looking forward to getting into games”.
ANYONE wondering whether Kevin Toms was going to live for the rest of his life on FOOTBALL MANAGER might well be interested to hear about SILICON JOY. As the announcement that Kevin was handing over day to day responsibilities for ADDICTIVE GAMES to the company’s finance director, John Croft, so that he could concentrate more on the creative side, came also the announcement that a new company had appeared. At the Addictive Games stand at the PCW Show, Kevin was looking very happy with his new project. Silicon Joy has three games virtually ready for release; GRAND PRIX MANAGER, a boxing game and TRIO — a three-in-one game including horse racing, a maze game and an arcade game. There is also a program called RUN YOUR OWN LEAGUE by request of Football Manager players, although the new program can be used to run a league table in any sport. We should be seeing all these programs very shortly.
One software house who was not at the PCW Show at Olympia was Romik. It seems they had designed and had built a distinctive stand to sit on one of the largest areas booked in at the show ready for a big product launch, but that show officials had informed them very late that there were structural limitations, which obviously the Romik stand exceeded. A spokesman for Romik said, ‘It’s really not satisfactory,’ and suggested poor organisation on the part of PCW. Romik’s new Spectrum game Beatcha is reviewed next month. Otherwise you’ll have to buy some Weetabix to get their game Weetabix versus the Titchies which costs £3.75 from Weetabix or £2.75 to members of the Weetabix Club.
Activision has acquired the rights from Columbia Pictures to develop Ghostbusters, the comedy/horror movie, into software. The games are scheduled to arrive later this month, shortly before the release of the movie. Activision’s UK Managing Director, Geoff Heath says, ‘The film has had outstanding success in the States and we anticipate the software version of Ghostbusters to be No. 1 for the Christmas season.’
The long awaited Wrath of Magra, from Carnell is finally released through Mastervision, a division of Mastertronic. Derek Brewster’s review can be found on the pages of Adventure Trail. Mastervision has also released another adventure called Se-Kaa of Assiah in which the player assumes the role of Se-Kaa in an attempt to liberate the world from the influence of a mutant race known as the Dark Hordes and reinstate the Wise Ones. Magra is £12.50 and Se-Kaa is £7.50.
R and R have a new game coming out soon written by DAVID LESTER (one of the CRASH reporting team). It is a sort of strategical simulation based on real life. JUST IMAGINE requires the player to run a giant software company (Imagine that...) — well, how giant you become is up to the player. But David, who is well placed to know the ins and outs of the software business, says the game provides a very real model where decisions must be taken about selecting the right product, marketing and promotion campaigns, getting PR into magazines and good reviews for the games (I’m told CRASH gets a look in), as well as the day to day problems. R and R say that JUST IMAGINE... is rather different from Incentive’s Millionaire, which was on a similar theme. The object is to make a million but that’s not all — the object is also to keep in the charts, keep the million and stay in business. The model has been aimed to be very realistic and takes account of piracy as well. Because the market trends change so rapidly R and R will be releasing update programs to change the basic model thus keeping the game fresh and topical. David would like to include predictive elements in these updates such as the effects of budget software on the market. Most importantly, however, the game is intended to be very funny and it includes static and moving graphics, not usually the strong point of such games. More news as soon as we get it.
GREAT NEWS for Wheelie fans! Microsphere, the software house that brought you the Train Game and the long running hit game Wheelie, announced the release of their next epic. Called Skool Daze, it is a hilarious (and very difficult) school romp. The hero is Eric (although the game allows you to use any name both for yourself and all the cast of thousands), and he knows that inside the staffroom safe are kept the Reports. And being Eric, he knows he must at all costs remove his report before it is read and signed by the Headmaster! It is here, that the content of the game really gets going.
To find out the combination of the safe, he must hit all the school shields hanging around the walls. Only they are not all easy to get at by jumping up. In some cases he might have to use his catapult to clobber a master and then use the dazed victim’s head to bounce a second shot off it to hit the shield. There are other equally horrendous ways of achieving this simple task! Once all the shields have been hit, Eric must get the code from the masters, each of which has been entrusted with one letter (except the History Master who, because of his great age, has had his letter implanted in his brain by hypnotism (there’s a very plausible method of causing recall however!) the masters will only reveal the secret once they have been knocked over. Having got all the code letters the only place to try them out is on the blackboard. If Eric succeeds in opening the safe he knows he will be safe for another school year. But before the task is complete he must cover up his tracks by hitting all the shields again to stop them flashing.
Skool Daze is played out in a highly complex area over which the camera scrolls, revealing school rooms, staircases, corridors and milling pupils and masters. There is the school bully who has a nasty habit of bopping Eric in the eye, there are the masters with their endless questions and complaints, handling out lines as punishment. If you get too many lines the headmaster will chase after you. Unfortunately the pre-production copy we have arrived just too late for a full review in this issue, but two of the reviewing team have had half an hour each with the game and have pronounced themselves as very excited by it. The graphics are especially strong, with masses of detail and animation, the game appears very challenging and certainly has tons of content. Watch out next month for the full review and colour pictures. For now you’ll have to make do with black and white ones, but they do capture some of the flavour of this highly original game, which looks set to become another monster hit for Microsphere. Look out for the school graffiti artist who writes ‘SKYRANGER IS GREAT’ on the blackboards — Sky Ranger is the next Microsphere program. More news soon.
Last month in ‘keyboards’ we mentioned Realtime’s new 3D game which was titled Starburst in the news item. Within two days of showing us some unconnected sequences from the game, Realtime’s Andrew Onions rang to say that they had decided to change the name to Starstrike. This only upset CRASH Editor Roger Kean who, when asked, had suggested the name Starburst — c’est la vie!
As you can see from the screen shots here, the latest stage of development makes Starstrike into a classic three-screen battle game. On the almost ready version these photographs were taken from, the only detail missing was the between-screen tacticals and the finale, although some modification of the alien ship firing power has still to be made (they outgun the player rather heavily at the moment)! We hope we’ll be able to get a full review of Starstrike in next month’s issue.
DK’Tronics have been a bit quiet on the software front recently, but they have announced the signing of a deal with Thames Television to develop games based on their highly successful TV programmes Minder, The Sweeney and Benny Hill.
DK’Tronics in a tersely worded press release (which includes a word firmly banned from the pages of CRASH), have announced exclusive contracts with King Features Syndicate of America to release Popeye for several machines including the Spectrum. David Heelas, the softly spoken DK’Tronics managing director said, ‘There is far too much bull**** in an industry especially about software. Every trade magazine I pick up is full of features on software companies attempting to hype their particular game. We at DK prefer to take a more professional approach with far less razzmatazz normally associated with the Software industry.’
JOHN SHERRY of Keele, Staffordshire, is the winner of the 1984 Cambridge awards co-sponsored by C.C.S. and Sinclair User, and he receives the £2000 prize and award trophy. The winning program, The Prince, is described as a highly original, tactical and interactive adventure game for four players. Published by C.C.S. it will cost £7.95.
The four runners-up are 1942 Mission, an adventure by Thomas Frost; Insurgency, a war game by Nicholas Holgate; Blue Riband, a seafaring navigational simulation by David Bark, and finally War Zone, a war game by Steven Thomas. All four will be published by C.C.S at £5.95.