Blatant Video Game Rip-Offs

Pablo Picasso once (apparently) said that:

“Good artists copy, great artists steal.”

To pay homage, be influenced by, respectfully reference… or just blatant stealing and plagiarism. Call it what you will. I’m here to look at some very obvious instances of games that outright ripped-off other games. Now, I’m not talking about games that are very similar and in the same genre per se. I mean I read an article recently that claimed Streets of Rage was a Final Fight rip-off. Errrr, no. They are just both scrolling beat ’em ups. If you are going to go that route, then Double Dragon came before Final Fight and Renegade (Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun) was before Double Dragon. Even then, Renegade wasn’t the first game of its kind either. But I digress.

RENEGADE ARCADE

I’m not going to nitpick a game because it has similar game mechanics or is part of the same genre. This article is going to look at games that are very clearly blatant rip-offs of other more ‘original’ titles. ‘Clones’ if you will, that certainly can’t be called original ideas, characters or even slight coincidences over the staggering similarities. These titles are just outright copying, legal or otherwise. In no particular order, just as they come to mind really, here’s my look at blatant video game rip-offs.

Simpsons: Road Rage

Probably the most famous rip-off on my list. Just looking at this game for 2 seconds will tell you that this is a blatant rip-off of Sega’s Crazy Taxi. It’s not even trying to be coy about it either, this is just Crazy Taxi wearing a Simpsons hat. The Simpsons has had a bit of a run ‘borrowing’ gameplay mechanics and ideas from other games to make their titles. But this instance was more than just ‘borrowing’ gameplay mechanics, this was just outright stealing.

SIMPSONS ROAD RAGE

It even got to a point where Sega sued Fox Entertainment, who owned The Simpsons IP, the game’s publisher, Electronic Arts, along with the developer of Simpsons: Road Rage, Radical Games. See, Sega had patented the concept of Crazy Taxi (Sega’s 138 patent) and long story short, Simpsons: Road Rage was infringing on that patent. Sega requested that all copies of the game be removed from shelves and they be compensated for the loss of sales. 

The case, Sega of America, Inc. v. Fox Interactive, et al, was eventually settled out of court. Here’s a more in-depth look at the case and Sega’s 138 patent right here. I have to say, that article does end on a very interesting question though.

Angry Birds

This smash-hit mobile game that became a worldwide phenomenon and a very bankable IP was actually stolen borrowed. Seriously, Angry Birds (at one time) was gargantuan. I believe it is still the most downloaded mobile game IP and is a multi-billion dollar maker across all of its games. That is just the games too, not the movies and the endless merchandise. The whole IP is massive in terms of popularity and revenue. Just to think that the creators of Angry Birds, Rovio Entertainment, were actually on the verge of bankruptcy before they released the first game back in 2009.

Anyway, that very first game where you shoot little angry birds at a structure to knock it down, while taking out its inhabitants, was not exactly very original. See, Armor Games released a title before Angry Birds called Crush the Castle and well, Crush the Castle’s gameplay and mechanics were stolen borrowed for Angry Birds. Aesthetically, they look different as Crush the Castle went for a more ‘realistic’ and medieval graphical style. Whereas Angry Birds is much more cartoony and comical. 

ANGRY BIRDS

However, in terms of gameplay and the mechanics used, they are identical. Everybody knows the objective in Angry Birds is to use a slingshot to fire a cute bird at a structure filled with bad guys (pigs) to knock it down. Well, in Crush the Castle, you use a trebuchet to fling rocks at a structure filled with bad guys to knock it down. Everything in terms of gameplay in Angry Birds was very clearly stolen borrowed from Crush the Castle… even the physics used in the game is exactly the same. With Angry Birds’ cuter and more universal appeal, it became the one that is most remembered and turned into a multi-billion dollar franchise. While Crush the Castle is mostly forgotten about. There have been a few other games in the Crush the Castle series over the years (2018’s Crush the Castle: Siege Master being the most recent) but it certainly never got as massively popular as the game that stole borrowed from the original title.

The Great Giana Sisters

As far as I can remember, this was the first gaming rip-off that I became aware of at the time. Sure, I had played games before it that were ‘inspired’ by others. But they didn’t really hit me as rip-offs (even if they were) when I was younger. This game, however, this one caused such a massive shitstorm that you couldn’t really miss it. A little background info first though. Growing up in the eighties (after having an Atari 2600) we had a Commodore 64. At the time, the big gaming consoles were beginning to emerge. The likes of Sega’s Master System and the Nintendo Entertainment System were gaining popularity. Here in the UK, the NES never really caught on as much as the Master System did. However, that little Italian plumber with a moustache that was Mario was still pretty damn famous, even if the NES wasn’t. Everybody and his dog wanted to play Super Mario Bros. and you could only play it if you had a NES. 

SUPER MARIO BROS

So yeah, there was a bit of an issue in the UK and Europe as a whole really where you really couldn’t play one of the biggest games at the time as the NES just wasn’t very popular. So what can you do? You just outright rip Super Mario Bros. off of course. The Great Giana Sisters was developed by Time Warp Productions and published by Rainbow Arts and well… it is Super Mario Bros. just with a different graphic set. Instead of brothers, the heroes are sisters, even the box are proudly proclaimed that: ‘the brothers are history’.

GREAT GIANA SISTERS BOX

I mean, they didn’t even try to hide the blatant ripping-off at all, in fact, the devs were proud of it. The first level of The Great Giana Sisters is almost an exact replica of the first level in Super Mario Bros. Plus many of the staples in Mario’s game made it into the rip-off. Interesting enough, Nintendo didn’t sue. There has been a bit of an urban myth for years that Nintendo went after the developers and publisher for copyright infringement but they actually didn’t. I know, Nintendo NOT suing someone, what a shock. However, Nintendo did step in and request that The Great Giana Sisters be removed from sale due to the very obvious copyright infringement. Of course, the publisher very quickly responded and the game’s production was ceased while it soon disappeared from shop shelves. Today, a good, undamaged box version of The Great Giana Sisters has become a bit of a collector’s item and can sell for some decent coin if genuine as they are so incredibly rare.

GREAT GIANA SISTERS SCREEN

Even more so, the developer, Time Warp Productions, had some serious nards as they even began to develop a sequel to their rip-off called Giana 2: Arthur and Martha in Future World. Even after Nintendo had already put the pressure on them to stop making the first game. In the end, it was deemed ‘too risky’ (no shit!) to try and piss Nintendo off for a second time. The game was given an overhaul, the characters were changed from the sisters to robots and the title was changed to Hard’n’Heavy. Oh yeah, they still released it… just not with the copyright infringing Giana Sisters.

A little twist in the tale though is that, later down the line, the rip-off became a somewhat popular franchise thanks to the Nintendo DS with Giana Sisters DS. There have been several other Giana Sisters titles released over the years too. Just to finish, The Great Giana Sisters was actually a pretty damn great game too. It gained high critical praise when it was released (before disappearing from shop shelves) and is one of the best platform games of the time. Still very playable today too, partially the Amiga version, it’s awesome.

Frank Bruno’s Boxing

I remember playing the crap out of this on my Commodore 64 back in the eighties. For me then, it was just a fun boxing game with the likeness of a true British sporting icon. Seeing as I played this so much and before I even knew the game it stole from existed, I thought Frank Bruno’s Boxing was the original and the original was the rip-off. I remember going round a friend’s house who had a NES (oh yeah, this is another Nintendo rip-off) and playing the ‘real’ game at his house, I said then that it was a rip-off of Frank Bruno’s Boxing, when in reality, it was the other way around. I know I’ve not mentioned what the original game was yet and that is because I wanted to just post a screen from Frank Bruno’s Boxing so you can see for yourself just how much theft was going on with this game. So, here we go…

FRANK BRUNO CANADIAN

Yup, it’s not even a slight copy of Super Punch-Out!! (Arcade), it is Super Punch-Out!! just with Frank Bruno in it… and very chunky C64 graphics. Other rip-offs can be quite subtle with just how they steal from other games. Some, at the very least, change the graphics… even The Great Giana Sisters had the self-respect to do that. But here, aside from the main character being Frank Bruno instead of Little Mac from the Nintendo game(s), the characters are just directly ripped from the Nintendo original. Okay, so the developers, Elite Systems, had the common sense to change their names, but they are still the exact same characters for the most part. Oh, and Frank Bruno’s Boxing’s characters were borderline racial stereotypes too. Such as the kung-fu boxer, Dragon Chan, being renamed Fling Long Chop or an African boxer called Tribal Trouble with a bone through his nose and let’s not forget the very questionable Antipodean Andy character.

FRANK BRUNO ANDY

Aside from the lazy racism in the game, Frank Bruno’s Boxing plays exactly like the arcade version of Super Punch-Out!! right down to the attacks and patterns of the boxers and the same animations. There’s the KO meter too This was why when I played the NES version years later that I thought it ripped-off this game when it was the other way around. Oh and before I forget, Frank Bruno’s Boxing even stole the Rocky theme, Gonna Fly Now by Bill Conti and no, Elite didn’t get the rights to use that either.

Super Noah’s Ark 3D

This one is, admittedly, a bit of an oddity as it is officially an unofficial rip-off… so to speak. But before I get to that, let me just cover what this game is all about. You play as Noah and use a slingshot to shoot food at animals so you can take them onto your ark. Oh yeah, we’re in religious territory here and it is glorious as it originally started out as a game based on the horror flick Hellraiser. So just how do you go from hell to heaven? Well via a Nazi based FPS game of course. This is just getting weirder and weirder isn’t it? Look, I could go into all the details now, but I already covered all of that right here

SUPER NOAHS ARK 3D

So I can just get to the meat of this one, cutting a long story short, this is a rip-off of id Software’s classic, Wolfenstein 3D… if rip-off is the right word to use. There has been a long-standing story attached to this game that id Software were very unhappy with the censorship applied to the SNES version of Wolfenstein 3D. So much so that id ‘leaked’ the source code for Wolfenstein to the developers of Super Noah’s Ark 3D (that being Wisdom Tree) so they could make this game. See, Super Noah’s Ark 3D is the only SNES game not officially licensed by Nintendo and id allowed Wisdom Tree to make this game just to piss Nintendo off. However, that’s not true at all. First, Wisdom Tree paid to use the source code and second, id Software never had any issues with Nintendo over the SNES version of Wolfenstein 3D. John Romero himself has even talked about this openly when asked if id Software had a problem with Nintendo:

“No, we just thought it would be funny to use the Wolf3D SNES engine in a religious game.”

Yeah, Super Noah’s Ark 3D is basically a more kid-friendly and religious take on Wolfenstein 3D. While it was never officially licensed by Nintendo, it was still an official game with 100% backing from id Software too. So Super Noah’s Ark 3D is officially an unofficial rip-off… officially. 

Golden Axe Warrior

Golden Axe was Sega’s answer to the side-scrolling beat ’em up trend that was gaining a lot of traction in the eighties. Golden Axe Warrior was Sega’s answer to Nintendo’s massively popular Zelda franchise. Seriously, watch 5 minutes of this long play and tell me it’s not ripping-off Zelda.

Golden Axe Warrior was released in 1991 for the Master System… following Nintendo’s success with The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. It is not just Golden Axe Warrior’s top-down viewpoint, nor its action-adventure style gameplay. It’s more a case of that when you watch gameplay footage of Golden Axe Warrior… it is a very blatant Zelda rip-off. Map/dungeon design, game structure, characters, in-game music and even direct assets look pretty much stolen from Nintendo’s Zelda franchise. Graphically the Master System looked ‘better’ thanks to a richer colour palette over the NES, but don’t let that fool you into thinking this looks any less Zelda-like. Just try to imagine Golden Axe Warrior on the NES and you would have another Zelda title. 

Mr. Wimpy

Being British and a fan of British gaming history, I really feel that I should end this with a very British rip-off. The arcade classic BurgerTime had a simple and very enjoyable gameplay style. An early platform game where you play as a chef who has to walk over the various ingredients of a burger to make them. Highly unsanitary yes, but still really good fun to play. Ocean Software decided to just outright steal BurgerTime and make their own version as to not have to pay for the licence. The result of which was Mr. Wimpy.

Mr WIMPY

Mr. Wimpy wasn’t just a stolen game, it was also a licensed game… just not licensed from Data East, the developers behind BurgerTime. Nope, Mr. Wimpy was a tie in with a then very popular burger chain restaurant here in the UK in the eighties, Wimpy. Originating in the US, Wimpy came to the UK in the 1950s, but the restaurant chain became massively popular throughout the late seventies and eighties… before becoming less and less popular in the nineties.

Mr WIMPY LOADING

Anyway, Mr. Wimpy was a full-on tie-in with the burger chain and featured the then restaurant’s mascot and branding. Gameplay-wise, Mr. Wimpy is a direct clone of BurgerTime, you could put the two games next to each other and think that Mr. Wimpy was an official home port… it wasn’t. The only main difference was (outside of the visuals) that Mr. Wimpy had a little bonus stage where you had to collect food ingredients that BurgerTime didn’t. But in regards to gameplay and concept, Mr. Wimpy is an outright clone.


Well, that’s my pick of blatant video game rip-offs. I purposely avoided some of the more obvious ones. The endless Pac-Man clones, Doom rip-offs, GTA-a-likes, etc. I wanted to go for games that were either lesser known or ones with interesting backstories/resolves. Honestly, I could’ve crammed this article with so many more video game clones that you all already know about. But as I say, I wanted to go a lesser-known, more interesting route.  

By the way, I ripped off the ending to this article from another site (I didn’t really, it’s just a crap joke).

Why The GTA Remasters Are ‘Underwhelming’

GTA III, Vice City and San Andreas really are all-time classics. They were, at the time, the pinnacle of the open-world genre of gaming. Developer, Rockstar North, could do no wrong and they released three of the greatest games ever made and they showed the gaming world just how vast a video game could be.

This trilogy cemented Rockstar as… well as rock stars of the gaming world. Two decades after the release of GTA III, the game that really kickstarted the whole 3D legacy of the Grand Theft Auto franchise (quick aside: those original GTA games were 3D, they just used a top-down viewpoint) and those three games are still very firm favourites among GTA fans, myself included. For a few months, a GTA trilogy remaster was the worst kept secret in gaming. Everybody and their granny knew it was coming, but Rockstar didn’t officially announce it until a few weeks before it was released. And when they did officially announce it, we GTA fans rejoiced. Huzzah!

GTA TRILOGY MAIN 2

We would soon be able to play three of the greatest games ever made but with some modern refinements. There had been several fan-made remasters all over the interwebs for a while. Rockstar’s parent company, Take-Two, forced that they be taken down. Understandable when they were planning on releasing their own official remasters and all. Still, some of those fan-made ones were ‘effing amazing. Just to think that, if a few fans could put together such awesome games, what could Rockstar themselves do? This fan-made GTA: Vice City intro from 2016 was amazing.

Then the official trailer was released and it looked pretty damn good too. It still had the distinct look that those originals had, it still looked a bit ‘chunky’ graphically speaking, yet everything was shiny and new. HD textures, better colouring, far more detailed backgrounds and more. That trailer did its job and sold the remasters to the fans.

And then the trilogy was released and feedback hasn’t been stellar. A quick interweb search for the Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy will bring up quite a few articles and videos looking at the many problems the game has. Some players are even demanding refunds. You can see why too with reports of game crashes, bugs, freezing issues and much more. The short version is that this triumphant return of three all-time classic games is a complete mess.

Fortunately, I didn’t buy the trilogy myself, I have been burnt too many times in the past to fall for something like this again. But I have been playing San Andreas on my Xbox via Game Pass and in all honesty, it’s been a very underwhelming experience. It really is an ugly looking game and I don’t mean compared to today’s standards, I mean compared to the original release back in 2004. I mean…

GTA TRILOGY SAN ANDREAS GRAPHICS 1GTA TRILOGY SAN ANDREAS GRAPHICS 2

What is going on there? Look, the original San Andreas would hardly pass as being a ‘looker’ these days… but it still looked better than this ‘remaster’. As ‘janky’ as the original game was, it still looked better than this mess. As an example…

GTA TRILOGY SAN ANDREAS GRAPHICS 4

Yeah the original top picture is rough but hey, at least it doesn’t look so… ‘Fortnite‘. Seriously, the graphical ‘upgrade’ is a complete mess. Now, I was not expecting GTA V quality graphics, not even close, I wasn’t even expecting GTA IV quality, to be honest. But this? This is truly awful. Some of those previously mentioned fan-made remasters were far, far better than this official one. Instead of Take-Two shutting these fan-remakes down with threats of legal action, they should’ve been talking to and employing the people behind them.

Now, the core gameplay is still as it ever was. This ‘remaster’ has thrown in a few welcome changes, the addition of a weapon wheel for one. No more having to tap, tap, tap the buttons to scroll through all available weapons. The mini-map now uses a GPS system to help you find your way around. There’s an auto-save feature and more. However, I personally feel that the controls have not been as well implemented as they could’ve and the whole thing feels very ‘awkward’. I’m not going to bring up all the problems this game has. As I said, there are plenty of articles already doing that anyway. There is something I do want to bring up though, something I spotted in the options.

13-11-2021_20-39-59-yi0d4jky

If you can see that, the bit I have underlined in red is an option where you have to choose between performance or graphical fidelity. Seriously, we have to choose between performance or graphical fidelity for a game that is two decades old? You know what, if this had used the more advanced GTA V engine and yeah, I would understand why. I mean, a lot of new games have this option, I don’t like the fact that, even when using a top of the range, cutting edge games console that is the Xbox Series X, that I do have to do this though. Another game released the same week as Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy was Forza Horizon 5 and yes, you have to choose between performance or graphics on that too. But here’s the difference between Forza Horizon 5 and the Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy.

FORZA 5

Forza 5 is immensely detailed. The environment is astonishing. The car models are stunning. Weather and water effects are breathtaking. Lighting and shadows are unreal. In short, in terms of looks alone, Forza Horizon 5 is gloriously beautiful. It too is an open-world game and one that I understand why we have to choose between performance or graphics. I don’t like it, but I do get it. Then, Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy looks like this.

GTA TRILOGY SAN ANDREAS GRAPHICS 3

Am I missing something here? How… why do we need to choose between performance or graphics for that? These games are 20-years-old and had a very bad ‘remaster’, they are not built from the ground up new games. Back when these GTA titles were first released, they were gargantuan, highly detailed and hugely impressive. Now, they’re really quite small and ‘lacking’ when compared to similar titles. Seriously, this fact alone is proof of just how badly these ‘remasters’ have been handled. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (after an update) runs at 4K and 60 FPS… but this 20 year old game can’t?

Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy is a lazy cash-grab. A ‘remaster’ that has been farted out by a studio who lost their way several years ago. Of course, I do need to bring up that this trilogy was ‘adapted’ by Grove Street Games and not Rockstar themselves, perhaps they were too busy milking GTA V as much as they can? Grove Street Games being a team who have done some pretty bad Android and iOS ports of other games and to be fair, that is what Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy feels like, a bad Android and iOS port… one that is being sold on all consoles and PC as a full-priced title. As I said, the core gameplay is there and just as it ever was, but this ‘remaster’ is just not worth paying for.

MONA LISA

What Rockstar Games and Grove Street Games have done is draw a moustache on the Mona Lisa. It is still recognisable as what it is and the classic is still there… but it’s now fucked up and ruined by someone that shouldn’t have been let anywhere near it.

Support Digitiser Level 2

When I began my first steps into adult life, I found Digitiser on Teletext. Each morning, before I would head out to work, as a youthful 17-year-old, I would turn on my TV and read some Digitiser first. Catch up on the latest gaming news, reviews and laugh at the irrelevant and nonsensical humour.

Digitiser had a massive effect on me and was partly why I started this very blog. Anyway, a few years back now, way back in 2018, the founders of that great Teletext gaming magazine (Sires, Mr Biffo and Mr Hairs) decided to bring it to life with Digitiser The Show, shown for free on the YouTubes. Seven episodes of gaming hilarity that you can watch right now for nothing! It was just as madcap and irrelevant as its Teletext origins, this real life version was crammed with gaming features, interviews, games and yes, classic Digitiser nonsense and humour.

DIGI SHOW

Digitiser The Show was/is bloody fantastic and well worth watching. Anyway, it is coming back for a second round of gaming gobbledygook goodness. Bigger and better than before. Paul ‘Mr Biffo’ Rose has launched a Kickstarter to help raise funds for the new show. The Kickstarter has been a huge success too, smashing its £25,000 goal and currently sitting on just over £60,000! Bloody brilliant. Still, Mr Biffo could make the show ‘effing amazing with more cash.

Offering some great stretch goals such as Mr Biffo marrying an Amiga computer, A musical for the great Sir Clive Sinclair. Street Fighter II moves… in real life. Even a visit from a monkey or an even bigger, second monkey!

Basically, Digitiser The Show Level 2 is going to be awesome, especially if you like monkeys (of varying sizes) and gaming. Check out the Kickstarter and perhaps you may even be tempted to back the project so the stretch goals can be beaten and we can see just what Mr Biffo can come up with next… after he marries an Amiga.

How And Why I Became An Indie Gamer

I’ve been playing games, or video games as we used to call them… or game programs if you really want to go way, way back. Anyway, I’ve been playing games for as long as I can remember. From when we as a family had an Atari 2600 in the late seventies, right up to today with modern gaming. It was a hobby that turned into a passion that turned into a semi-career with me not only writing this blog but also gaming books. 

Over the years I have seen the best and worst of gaming. I have been right there and witnessed the evolution of gaming from those early days of Space Invaders to the likes of Red Dead Redemption II today. When I look back on just how far gaming has come over the last forty-odd years, I can’t help but be massively impressed. Single screen games turned into multi-flick-screen ones. Those gave way to full-on side and multi-scrolling games and eventually, 3D maps. Gameplay has evolved from shooting slowing descending aliens or running around mazes eating little dots to massive, gargantuan open-worlds that give us gamers huge amounts of freedom and Hollywood-like production values. In a great many ways, modern gaming has actually gotten too big.

ORIGINS MAP

I’m not a youngster anymore, I don’t have endless free time to play games like I used to. I can no longer sit in front of my TV, controller in hand, putting in fifty-plus hours into a game these days. I now have bigger and more important responsibilities that take precedence over gaming. My two kids for starters, this blog, my book writing and more. These massive games of today don’t hold my interest like they used to. As an example, as a fan of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, I bought both AC Origins and Odyssey as I got them in a great deal. I played Origins for around twenty hours or so, looked at the in-game map and realised just how big the map is and that I was not even halfway through the main story. Twenty hours and not even halfway through the game… twenty hours! 

I think it’s great if you have the time to invest in a game like that, but I don’t. These games are still getting bigger and bigger too. I didn’t even bother with AC Odyssey, even though I paid for it. As for the new game, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla… I can’t even think about it.

Just looking at the new Saints Row coming early next year. One of the first things the devs are boasting about is that the map is bigger than any of the previous SR games. Not the gameplay or storytelling, the size of the game’s map. Where does this end? Games are just getting bigger and bigger and bigger year after year. Not necessarily better, just  bigger. Why are AAA game developers so obsessed with making ‘the biggest game ever’ instead of the ‘best game ever’?

SAINTS ROW

See this, all this ‘bigger is better’ (it’s not) mentality is exactly why I have been getting more and more into indie games over the last few years. I have always loved the indie game scene, but the last few years have just proven to me that smaller, low budget games are far superior to bigger AAA titles. But before I get into modern-day indies, I need to look at just how I got into smaller games ‘back in the day’.

Truth be told, we didn’t have much choice but to play smaller games back then, all games were small relatively speaking. Being from England, I was there at the heart of the British gaming revolution of the early-mid eighties. While the infamous video game crash of 1983 was doing its thing in North America, here in the UK, we just didn’t care. We didn’t care because we already had our own gaming industry slowly bubbling away. Most of those games came from the bedroom programmers of the day. The indie devs before the term ‘indie gaming’ existed. These bedroom programmers were often one-man (or woman) teams, if one person could be considered a ‘team’ that is.

The likes of Matt Smith, Jonathan ‘Joffa’ Smith (no relation) and Jeff Minter. Real pioneers of the early UK gaming boom creating games, quite literally, alone in their bedrooms. This, this was the era of gaming where I grew up. Not the massive, worldwide gaming corporations and studios of today, but with the indie game developers of the early eighties. I have always been into indie/smaller games, they were my lifeblood as a gamer back then.

MANIC MINER

Obviously, as the industry grew, so did the teams. The bedroom programmer was a very rare breed by the time the late eighties kicked in as the gaming studio began to rise. One developer/coder became two or six or several dozen. Games got bigger, more expansive and hugely popular. To meet demands, developer teams had to grow and grow. Sega and Nintendo began to rule the roost and the modern gaming industry was born. The bedroom programmer was long dead as no one wanted smaller games, they wanted huge worlds to explore and play around in. Bigger and more open games like The Legend of Zelda paved the way for a bigger and more immersive gameplay experience. That’s not to say we Brits still couldn’t amaze, it was a couple of Brits (David Braben and Ian Bell) who created the mighty Elite and pretty much birthed the entire open-world genre.

Still, those simpler, smaller indie games were long gone as eighties ingenuity gave way to nineties excess and decadence. The simple 2D gaming eventually made way for 3D worlds. Games just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Even though I very much enjoyed playing the likes of Grand Theft Auto III and so on… I still missed those early days of the bedroom programmer and smaller more creative titles. Still, those days were long gone by then and the industry was all about the ‘bigger is better’ mantra.

GTA III

It was when I got myself an Xbox 360 and Microsoft began the whole Xbox Live Arcade thing when the indie game began to rise once more. Okay yes, XBLA launched before the 360 on the original Xbox, but it was the service’s relaunch on the 360 when it really took off big time. Before the 360 days, XBLA was really a service where gamers could play old arcade games. On the 360 though, Microsoft began to push for smaller/indie developers to make games for the service. It was the summer of 2008 when XBLA Summer of Arcade launched and a little platform game called Braid caught my eye. Just watching the trailer for Braid, I was taken back to those early days of the bedroom programmer.

It was such a massive change from the endless open-world games that were everywhere back then. Braid was small, simple but very unique too. On the surface, it was a simple puzzle-platformer but it threw in time manipulation and gameplay mechanics that nobody else was doing at the time. While the big studios were trying to one-up each other, trying to make ‘bigger’ games with even bigger teams, here was a small team (one man actually) making a highly original game that harked back to the good old days of gaming. I bought Braid, played it, loved it and I was suddenly into indie gaming once more, just like back in the early eighties. 

It was buying and playing Braid, thanks to Microsoft’s XBLA service, that really got me back into smaller games once more. I still enjoyed the bigger AAA games sure. But every now and then, I would dip into XBLA and download a cheeky little game. My game’s library began to fill up with smaller/indie games. ‘Splosion Man, Shadow Complex, Limbo, Trials HD, Fez and more. Smaller games with some very interesting and unique gameplay features began to take over my gaming. My love for Indie gaming was reborn. Microsoft discontinued their XBLA service, but the indie game scene had already exploded by then and instead of having indie games be in their own, separate service, they just became games.

FEZ

If you look at my reviews from this year, pretty much all of them have been indie games… I think all of them have, in fact. I do get AAA titles up for review now and then, but more often than not, I’m just not interested in them. I really don’t think I could ever review the latest Call of Duty title or the next GTA (not that there will ever be one) because they are all too ‘samey’ now. Yet, with indie games, you often find something rather unique about them, even if they are using some old school gameplay, they give it a new twist. The likes of the absolutely awesome HyperParasite (my favourite game of 2020 buy it!) is a very simple top-down, twin-stick shooter. At first, it all looks very ‘meh’, but it is the use of the brilliant rogue-lite gameplay mechanic that comes from 1980’s Rogue that really makes the game pop and stand out. 

HYPERPARASITE

I’m currently reviewing an indie game called Lake (coming soon) where you deliver post… and that’s about it. It’s devilishly simple and very twee… but it also feels very different and refreshing compared to other big AAA games on the market right now. I firmly believe that indie gaming is the future of gaming. Indie games have the freedom to push new and exciting ideas, they don’t have the pressure of publishers forcing ideas onto the developers. Indie games can be far more creative than the next Assassin’s Creed will ever be.

It is almost as if there is a big video gaming reset on the horizon, a video game crash on 1983 part II if you will. The ever-increasing cost of AAA games can not be sustained in the industry without pushing that cost onto the consumer. When a game is costing over $200 million to make and increasing… how much further can developers go, how much would you be willing to pay for a game that’s nothing more than a slight update from the previous title?

The big-name studios are becoming stagnant and oversaturating the market with the same old content over and over. Never really improving the game itself outside of the visuals, never experimenting with new and exciting gameplay features because they can’t risk messing it up when the budget is so high. So we get ‘safe’ games with the same old mechanics and gameplay. The bubble has to burst sometime, just as it did back in 1983. But the indie game scene is where the fresh and unique ideas are coming from.

Indie games are cheaper to make and cheaper to buy in comparison to AAA titles. Yes, there is an awful lot of crap out there in terms of indie games… but let’s not be coy here… there’s an awful lot of crap AAA titles too. Indie games can be played through in a few hours and be massively entertaining (some even offer months of inventive gameplay), instead of boring the player with fifty+ hour campaigns and endless grinding. You can buy and play several good quality indie games for the price of one AAA title these days. Even more so, indie devs are FAR more grateful for your support over AAA studios that only care about money.

Let me put it this way, I’d rather spend £10-£20 on a 7 hour indie game that I’ve really enjoyed, than £60 on a AAA game that bored me long before I saw the end credits. 

INDIE GAMES

Indie games are a serious business right now and for me, a far superior alternative to the bigger AAA games released today. I’ll continue to champion the indie game scene and review indie games on my blog because they actually deserve the support and give me so much entertainment. Keep them indie games coming guys and gals, cos I’m lapping them up.

OutRun, The Teenager And The Commodore 64 Port

Sega’s classic OutRun is easily one of my all-time favourite games and it turns 35-years-old this very day. Its sense of speed and thrills as you tear around Europe in a blood-red Ferrari Testarossa, sunglasses-wearing dude with his blonde girlfriend by his side. That awesome soundtrack that you can still hear in your head thirty-five years later… even without playing the game itself. OutRun was the eighties encapsulated in an arcade game. As I said, it is one of my all-time favourite games. I couldn’t tell you how much pocket money I spent on the arcade cabinet while on family holidays, where I would always make a beeline for the nearest arcade.

OUTRUN ARCADE

When it was revealed that OutRun would be coming to the home computers of the day, I was beyond excited. It was going to be released for the Commodore 64, we had a C64… I had to have OutRun on it. I would’ve been about 10-years-old at the time when OutRun came to the microcomputers of the day. I never really understood how gaming and ports worked back then, I was expecting OutRun from the arcade on our Commodore 64. Of course, the C64 was way too underpowered to handle an arcade-perfect conversion (which I never grasped as a kid) and when I did finally play Sega’s mighty racer on our computer… I was mildly disappointed. It didn’t really look like the arcade version, it wasn’t as fast (depending on the version) and it most definitely didn’t play as well either. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the home ports of OutRun were bad… okay, some were yes. Just more of a case that 10-year-old me didn’t understand why my C64 version didn’t look like the arcade game that I loved so much. If you look at reviews for the home ports back then, you’ll find a lot of average to slightly above average scores. I’ve been playing the C64 version of OutRun recently now as an adult, it’s really not that bad at all. Pretty damn good in fact. Of course, it is limited given the hardware but it is a fairly competent racer all told.

It was while I was researching my book MicroBrtis and the Ocean/U.S. Gold chapters in particular when I began to uncover the story behind just how that Commodore 64 port of OutRun came about. Pretty much the work of one man… well one boy actually. The-then 17-year-old Martin Webb. A story that I feel could do with being covered as it is a wonderful insight into those early days of British gaming. Oh yeah, Martin Webb was a Brit.

Anyway, Martin had already programmed a few titles before he got the OutRun gig. These games were made for the Texas Instruments TI-99 home computer and they were sold mail-order via Martin’s home in Shropshire. It was his father, Dennis Webb who managed the home-based business as well as managing Martin too. While Martin would take care of the programming of the games, it was Dennis who’d handle the graphics. The father and son team really worked out well, they called their company, Intrigue Software and sold quite a few units. However, game sales on the TI-99 began to dry up when home computers such as the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 hit the market.

C64 BOX

Martin Webb favoured the C64 and taught himself how to code on it. As the market grew, it soon became clear that father and son could no longer fund the publication of their own games, they needed a big player in the industry to sell their games. It was an idea that Dennis Webb was not too keen on, he had always handled the business up to this point and he really didn’t relish the idea of a big-name company taking over. The relationship between father and son soon became taut and arguments between the two would often break out. Dennis, more than often, would push his teenage son much further than he ever really should have. It all really came to a head when Martin ran away from home. His father went driving around to find him and eventually brought Martin back.

Still, Dennis finally began to see Martin’s point. They were running out of money fast and perhaps getting a more experienced company to sell their games would be a good idea. Martin created a game called Snap Dragon (AKA Karate Chop) for the C64. It was a beat ’em up thing… and it wasn’t very good, very average. Still, it did show that Martin could program on the C64. Ocean Software were a pretty big publisher in the C64 days and Martin set his sights on selling his game to them. A meeting was set up and Martin showed off his new game. Ocean turned it down because they were working on the C64 port of the arcade hit, Yie Ar Kung-Fu (released under the Imagine label that Ocean owned at that point… read my book!). Ocean didn’t feel like putting money behind another beat ’em up, so they turned Martin away. However, the publisher, Bubble Bus Software, bought the game from Martin for £5,000. Not a bad payday in 1987.

SNAP DRAGON

Martin developed another game for Bubble Bus Software, Max Torque. This was a blatant rip-off of Sega’s classic bike game, Hang-On. After that, he started work on a clone of Sega’s OutRun. using assets from his Max Torque game and basically swapping out the bikes for cars. To try and avoid any legal issues, Martin used a Porsche for the star of his car game over the famed Ferrari used in OutRun. When his OutRun clone was finished, he needed to find a publisher. Bubble Bus Software wasn’t exactly one of the big names and while they were paying, they weren’t paying all that much. The money began to dry up again and Dennis once more became abusive towards his son. Arguments often evolved into physical fights as Dennis continually pushed his teenage son to code more games. Their relationship was hanging by a thread.

The Webbs sought out a bigger, better and more established publisher for future games. They went to U.S. Gold. Martin showed off his OutRun clone to U.S. Gold boss, Geoff Brown and a handful of programmers. Martin had added a dashboard and steering wheel HUD to his rip-off as he wanted it to look the like OutRun arcade cabinet. As his hand-drawn Porsche sprite raced over the roads on the game, Geoff Brown and the programmers were very impressed that a 17-year-old kid had programmed a rather speedy looking racing game all on his own. Still, as impressed as U.S. Gold were, they couldn’t buy Martin’s racing game from him to publish.

Geoff took Martin into a separate room to talk to him alone, away from his overbearing father. In that room was a sit-down OutRun arcade cabinet and that was when Geoff Brown hit Martin with the big news. U.S. Gold had very recently signed a deal with Sega to produce the homeports of the arcade version of OutRun and here was this teenager with a prototype of a game that had pretty much exactly what U.S. Gold needed. Effectively, the OutRun port that U.S. Gold had signed up to do partly existed. An hour later and Dennis Webb was signing a contract for Martin to convert OutRun to the Commodore 64. The Webbs were given a £20,000 advance and Martin returned back home and set about turning his OutRun rip-off into an actual, fully licensed OutRun conversion.

OUTRUN ARCADE CAB

The first things Martin programmed were the high-score table and the radio where you select the music. These had to be in the game as U.S. Gold requested them. Also, once he had those in place, Martin knew how much memory he had left to squeeze the massive OutRun arcade game onto a C64 tape. Martin’s clone didn’t have and hills in it, but OutRun did. That was a bit of an issue and programming in hills would take up much-needed memory. Martin got around this by simply moving the horizon in the background up and down. The next big issue was the roadside graphics. The arcade version of OutRun was famed for its very impressive sprite/texture scaling capabilities. This made the game buttery smooth, fast and highly detailed. There was no way that the C64 could replicate what the arcade could do with ease.

Martin had to decide to go for either detailed graphics that looked like the arcade version (or at least as close as he could get them on a C64) or speed. Speed was what made OutRun such a popular game in the first place. Yeah, it looked nice and all, but if the arcade game had been a sluggish racer, it wouldn’t have been as impressive as it was. Martin knew he had to compromise on the graphics to make the game as fast as possible. A lot of the smaller details were dropped and the roadside objects were big, chunky graphics that, truth be told, were not all that pleasing to the eye. Still, Martin’s OutRun conversion may not have been a graphical powerhouse, but it was fast for a racing game on the C64.

OUTRUN 64 SCREEN 1

Martin didn’t have OutRun’s source code, no design documents to work from either. He was given access to one of the arcade cabinets (U.S. Gold sent him one which he had in his garage at home) and played it for hours on end. He’d record footage of the game on a camcorder and made copious amounts of notes. He strived to make the roads/tracks in his game look and feel just like the arcade version. Put the turns in the right place, hills where they were, etc. But due to the limitations of the hardware, Martin did have to use a few ‘cheats’ as some stages are the same as others, just with different colours, etc. But there was one feature from the arcade that was missing, the forking road/choice of route. Martin did try to implement it into the game, but it was just too problematic. The Commodore 64 just could not handle a multi-loading/branching system that could be played on the fly as in the arcade. He could’ve made the game stop and then have to load each selectable route. But as most games were on cassette tapes at the time (there were disk versions), that would’ve broken up the flow and speed of the game. Plus, being on a tape would mean having to fast forward and rewind the tape to the correct loading spot each time… and that would just be a pain in the arse.

So, as there was no branching system, you just loaded which of the routes you wanted to play (load route A or route B as an example) and then it played out like a single race. Wanted to try a different route? You’ve had to restart and load up one of the other pre-set routes. Still, all stages from the arcade version were included in the C64 port (with some limitations), which was pretty damn impressive for the time. However, having to program every possible stage really was difficult for Martin, who had turned 18-years-old by the time the game had been finished, and was still very much a youngster under immense pressure, mainly from his father.

Speaking of which, Dennis Webb handled the graphics for OutRun and added little Easter eggs onto the licence plates of the cars by including the initials of himself, Martin and friends. The Porsche from Martin’s OutRun clone/prototype even makes an appearance too.

OUTRUN 64 SCREEN 3

The awesome arcade music was pretty well re-created for the C64 byJason Brooke. Though the game only had two of the three tunes from the arcade. However, the game came with an audiotape of the original arcade music, so you could just pop that bad boy into your hi-fi (look them up kids) and enjoy arcade-perfect music. The Commodore 64 version of OutRun got fair to middling reviews when released. A lot of mid to high-60% scores. Still, the above-average reviews didn’t really matter as, despite the game being released on the 10th of December 1987, it actually became the biggest selling game of the year. That’s pretty impressive for a game that was only on the shelves for a few weeks of that year. Around 250,000 copies were shifted across all formats over Christmas (one was mine). Martin and his dad made plenty of money too. Their first royalty payment was for £17,000 and it had been said that they made about £80,000 total, that’s in 1980 money too. It was the most amount of money the father and son had made from a game.

U.S. Gold were so happy with Martin’s conversion that he was flown out to Chicago to work on the NTSC version of the port, to be published by Mindscape. The US version is arguably better, the graphics are more refined, it runs faster and it has an actual route selector, so no more having to reload a new game if you wanted to play a different route. Quite amazingly, the US version only took around two weeks to program too. The Euro version took closer to six months. While in the US, Martin was headhunted by Nintendo, but his father was too protective of his ‘asset’ and soon put a stop to Martin working for anyone else. When he got back to the UK, U.S. Gold gave Martin another arcade conversion to do, Atari’s RoadBlasters. As this was another arcade racer, Martin just reused and tweaked assets from his OutRun conversion and did the job with relative ease.

ROADBALSTERS 64

Though they were doing well and being offered more jobs, the relationship between father and son was breaking down. While in public, Dennis would always praise and show respect to his son. But behind closed doors, it was a very different story. More arguments, more fights as Dennis pushed his son further and harder to keep programming games. Martin was old enough to move out by then, so he did. He packed his bags, left the family home and the games industry allogether.

Martin now lives in Brazil and has his own cloud software company. He still likes to talk about the ‘good old days’ as he did right here in 2020. He also comments on some of the YouTube videos covering the home ports of OutRun too (he replied to me and gave info for this very article). Still, as upsetting as his past may have been for him in regards to his relationship with his father (that he doesn’t like to talk about these days), Martin did bring one of the biggest arcade games home for so many gamers back in 1987, me being one of them. I still remember that cold Friday Christmas morning, opening my presents. Mom had got me (and my bothers) a copy of OutRun on the Commodore 64, bliss. A game that brought me so many hours of enjoyment and for that, I deeply thank Martin Webb.

OUTRUN 64 SCREEN 2