Tag Archives: retro gaming

Best Of British Game Developers Publishers – An Introduction

Okay so before I get into this one, I need to explain my big plan here. I want to write an insightful book covering some of the best of British game developers and publishers of the 8, 16 and 32 bit bit era of gaming and some of their games. How they started, the games they released and where they are today. This article right here is a small prototype of what I want to book to be, the final book will be a much bigger idea. This is just a quick-ish look at one of many British game developers and publishers I aim to cover. I already have three of these written up, this is only one of them (an abridged version at that too) and there is a lot more to cover.

This article will be a look at Imagine Software just to whet the appetite. I also have write-ups of Psygnosis and Ocean already done too. But those are just the tip of the iceberg as I’m planning on covering Elite, U.S. Gold (despite the name they were British), Gremlin Graphics, The Bitmap Brothers, Ultimate Play The Game (who later became Rare), DMA Design (who became Rockstar) and also cover the great Peter Molynuex’s companies including Bullfrog and Lionhead. Quite possibly more will be added to the list as I continue to write more and more…Codemasters?

I have been researching this for the last 12 months or so, watching documentaries, reading articles, digging up old gaming magazines and of course mining my own memories of growing up playing the games of these companies myself. I have a tonne of information all ready to go, thousands upon thousands of notes and facts that just need re-typing and formatting into readable content. Seeing as retro gaming is pretty big right now, I think a book like this could do very well. Plus I feel it will be an insightful education for non-British gamers who didn’t realise just how strong the British game industry was in the 80s and 90s. You see, while North America was feeling the fallout from the infamous ‘video game crash of 1983’, back in Blighty – we were just not affected at all. Nintendo didn’t save us or the game’s industry the same way its been perceived as doing in America simply because the U.K already had an established gaming industry that was growing stronger and stronger each year. More on my overall plan at the end of this article.

Allow me to introduce you to one of the most popular British game companies of the early 80s –  Imagine Software.

Imagine Logo

Back the the early 80s the ‘bedroom coders’ were on the rise. These were often very small teams of two or three people – sometimes only one, who would sit there in their bedrooms inputting hundreds and hundreds of lines of code into their ZX Spectrums or Commodore Vic-20s creating their own games. The Indie game industry we have today owes a lot to the originators of this modern trend.

It was in 1982 when Imagine Software was founded in Liverpool, England. But we need to go back a couple more years to another software company also based in Liverpool, Bug-Byte Software Ltd in 1980 who became famous for publishing the massively popular game Manic Miner developed by Matthew Smith. Manic Miner is one of British gaming’s all time classics and often cited as one of the games that made the platforming genre what it is today.

Manic Miner

It was sometime in 1982 when several Bug-Byte employees left the company and decided to go it alone including; Mark Butler, David Lawson and Eugene Evans. Staying in Liverpool, they set up Imagine Software which has been suggested was named after the most famous song from Liverpool’s most famous son – John Lennon. Imagine quickly made a name for themselves by employing some of the very best coders of the early 80s. Butler and Lawson were very close friends and had previously worked together at one of the countries first ever (if not THE first) microcomputer shops, Microdigital. Which was in the heart of Liverpool city centre.

MicroDigital

When they formed Imagine Software, Butler and Lawson invited their old boss and owner of Microdigital – Bruce Everiss to join them and after selling Microdigital, he agreed. Everiss took on the role of Public Relations and everyday operations within Imagine. Mark Butler became the company director while David Lawson and Eugene Evans were lead programmers. But there was one more member of the team that was hired at the request of Lawson – Ian Hetherington who came on-board as the company’s financial adviser.

Unusual for a game company at the time Imagine loved being in-front of the cameras, they would hold interviews and try to get their name in print as much as they could. There is one major example of this with the utterly engrossing BBC documentary Commercial Breaks originally broadcast in 1984 which followed both Imagine and Ocean that was also a huge help in compiling research for this whole project. One thing the guys at Imagine loved to do was show off their success. You would often find articles written about the company founders where they would gloat about once being lonely bedroom coders to showing off their millions of pounds they were making at the time. Imagine were PR experts lead by Everiss and never turned down the chance to get their names in the press. Yes, Imagine became huge in the early 80s but I feel I’m jumping ahead slightly here and need to go back to how they became successful to begin with as no matter how great your PR is, a game company is nothing if you don’t have the games to sell.

David Lawson had an idea for a title back when he was still working for Bug-Byte Software before Imagine existed. However, he felt that Bug-Byte were too small to sell his game so he sat on it for a while and when he co-formed Imagine, he realised he was now in the right position to get his game sold. That game was Arcadia.

Arcadia

Released in 1982 for the ZX Spectrum, Arcadia was the first game from Imagine Software. It was a pretty good arcade style shoot em’ up that received very favourable reviews in the gaming magazines back in the day. Arcadia was one of the very early games that helped to forge a path for microcomputer gaming as a whole and laid the foundations of what was to come over the next few years. For its time of release, it sold very well indeed and could be credited with setting up Imagine financially and giving them the leg up they needed which allowed them to become one of the most popular developer/publishers of the day.

The money Arcadia brought in allowed Imagine to grow as they hired more programmers who would go on to produce some of the best games of the early 80s and push the ZX Spectrum to its limits. 1982 was their introduction year, but it was 1983 where Imagine would go from strength to strength as they released game after game after game. Titles such as AlchemistAh DiddumsZzoom and Stonkers – just to name a few, all from 1983. It was as if the stars had aligned as everything just fell into place. Bedroom coders were booming meaning Imagine could pick and choose from the best young talent. The ZX Spectrum, which was Imagine’s main computer of choice for their games was fast becoming the gaming computer of choice and was selling well in England and Imagine were right at the forefront with front row seats to what many consider the birth of the microcomputer gaming industry.

Bedroom coders where becoming a hot property, you could pick up a well known newspaper in 1983 and find interviews featuring these (often) teenagers who had knocked up a game at home and managed to sell it to a publisher making plenty of money in royalties along the way. 1983 was most definitely the best year Imagine could wish for…but 1984 would be the year where Imagine would fall.

Once the money started coming in throughout 1983, Imagine would spend it just as quickly as they earned it. They upgraded to state of the art offices and computers, hired more and more staff to a point where they had around 100 employees – which for a game company in the early 80s was stupidly big. Still, improving your work-space and employees is pretty standard stuff but Imagine tried to grow too big, too quickly. Money was not just being spent on improving the office as huge chucks of their profits were going towards lavish parties and sports cars. The founders drove around in Ferraris, Porches and BMWs, even the mid and lower-level employees drove expensive cars including the cleaners. Imagine’s company director Mark Butler owned a custom built Harris motorbike and at some point in 1983, they even planned to get a helipad built on top of their office – just because they could afford to. Oh and let’s not forget the bike racing team…yes Imagine had their own racing team. Most probably set up just so Butler could enjoy riding his bike(s) at high speed.

Imagine racing

Imagine loved flaunting all they had, telling their success story to the press as they were becoming the face of the home computer gaming boom. David Lawson gave their programmes complete freedom to create whatever they wanted with no disruption. Which sounds like an amazing job – but with little direction or discipline, it meant many of the employed coders would just sit around doing nothing and getting paid very well for it too. Though all of this with all the money they made in 1983 and all they were spending, Imagine never bothered to hire a professional accountant. By the end of 1983, the cracks had already began to appear at Imagine as the four heads of the company split down the middle with David Lawson and Ian Hetherington one one side while Mark Butler and Bruce Everiss were on the other side. They couldn’t agree on the direction the company should be heading in and while the disagreements continued – so did the spending of money. The slowly forming cracks became more widened and more fractured. Their games stared to suffer too and what were once well developed and polished titles at the start of 1983 became lazy and messy games be the time Christmas rolled around.

But there was one major factor that would be the end of Imagine…well technically two factors. Psyclapse and Bandersnatch – two games that Imagine had planned that would be truly groundbreaking.  Two games that Imagine heavily advertised and two games that they were calling ‘megagames’.

Psyclapse and Bandersnatch.jpg

If things at Imagine were starting to look bad before, then they were only going to get much, much worse with these titles. These two megagames that were only two of an intended six – were envisioned to push the ZX Spectrum way beyond its limits. Imagine did all they could to hype up these games to boiling point. Publishers Marshal Cavendish supposedly made a deal for the games that was worth around £11 million…in 1983s money. Which was, back then an obscene amount of cash, especially for just two pieces of software. When the deal was signed, Imagine celebrated by spending even more money. More parties, more sports cars, more racing bikes and the like.

In order for these games to work on the ZX Spectrum, they would have to be sold with some kind of expansion cartridge which drove the cost price of the games up through the roof. These megagames were estimated to have been sold for around £40, which by today’s standards is about normal. But back in late 1983/early 84, Imagine’s games typically sold for around £5-£7, just to put things into perspective.

David Lawson threw himself into developing these games and did something he previously refused to do – oversee and manage the programmers. The ads for the games were already running in the numerous gaming magazines at the time, deals had been made for not only the publishing rights but also the cover art, which was commissioned to be done by the legendary Roger Dean who created the artwork for many rock albums, book covers and even other video games. It was Bandersnatch in particular that took up most of Lawson’s time. There were problems…big problems as the game was no where near complete despite all the hype and advertising Imagine had carried out. The programmers just could not get it to work at all and while all of this was going on, Imagine’s company director, Mark Butler was more interested and invested most of his time in the bike racing team than the development of the software. Butler’s apparent lack of interest in the company meant that Bruce Everiss stepped up as unofficial boss – even if he never wanted to be. Everiss fought hard to keep Imagine from going under.

It was Christmas of 1983 and Imagine wanted to take as much advantage of the silly season as they could. Using an aggressive tactic to try and gain a monopoly of Christmas sales, they hired out the entirety of one of the biggest duplicating factories to produce their games. This meant that their competitors would find it more difficult to get games into shops while Imagine would have an abundance of software all ready to go on sale for Christmas. But the plan backfired for one major reason and one very similar to what bought about the game crash of North America, they over produced. Yes Imagine had plenty of games on the shelves for Christmas, hundreds of thousands of them in fact, but after Christmas the sales dropped as they normally do after the festive season and yet there were still thousands and thousands of Imagine software sitting on the shelves that no one was buying. While we here in Blighty didn’t have anything anywhere near as severe as the 1983 video game crash, sales did slow down. With the tonnes of games still on the shelves in early 1984 and sales figures dropping everywhere, Imagine had no other option but to sell of their games dirt cheap to try and reclaim some of that cash that went into producing them in the first place. Once more, Imagine were spending more money than they were making.

This all tied into the previously mentioned megagames, if they struggled to sell their current games at discounted prices after Christmas then how were they going to sell the these megagames at £40? Seeing development for these games had ground to a halt, publisher Marshal Cavendish began to get very cold feet over the £11 million deal and eventually pulled out. They also demanded any revenue back…money that Imagine had already been spending. To save hemorrhaging money, Imagine could have cut back on staff, downsized if you will – but no as the company began to crumble in early 1984 they held onto their 100 strong employees refusing to let anyone go. There was a plan put in place where Imagine would sell their non-working megagame Bandersnatch to Sinclair Research who in turn could then sell the game for the Sinclair QL computer. For those not in the know, the Sinclair QL computer is one of the biggest microcomputer failures. So obviously that didn’t pan out either.

It was around Christmas of 83 time when director Paul Anderson was making his previously mentioned BBC documentary Commercial Breaks. Filming both Imagine and Ocean with the idea that he would capture an amazing part of history where young entrepreneurs were riding the wave of the video game revolution selling thousands of games over the Christmas period of 1983. Yet what he actually captured on film was the fall of Imagine. It was now the summer of 1984 and after several months of mismanagement, deals falling through and excessive spending of money the roof finally caved in on Imagine and it was all caught on camera thanks to Anderson’s documentary. There is one part in particular from Commercial Breaks where the bailiffs turn up at Imagine’s office to reclaim anything of value. The bailiffs were reclaiming so much equipment from the Imagine office they there even tired to take the cameras from the crew filming Paul Anderson’s documentary thinking it all belonged to Imagine.

News Clipping

On the 9th of July 1984, Imagine were no more, forced to close and declare bankruptcy.  They only lasted around 18 months or so – but what a year and a half it was. Imagine were very young and very stupid. They made their fortune, changed the British gaming industry forever and paved the way for many other companies after them. They were trailblazers in many ways but they also managed to destroy everything they worked to build. Many of the head honchos and staff of Imagine went onto other careers within the games industry, some massively successfully so too…

Now I know what some of you older gamers may be thinking right now – that you remember playing Imagine games long after 1984 and yes, you’d be right. So if they closed in 84 then how were you playing their games right up to 1989? Well this is where Ocean Software stepped in as they brought the Imagine name and released some of their games through the the name even if the company itself was dead…but that is a story for the next chapter of this book.

Oh and about those megagames too? Well information on Psyclapse is nonexistent. As far as I can tell, the game never even begun development at all. Imagine just had a name, a few ideas and a several ads running in gaming magazines to hype it up. But Bandersnatch is a very different story. That one was most definitely being worked on and you can even see as much in the Commercial Breaks documentary where footage is shown of the game being developed. Oh yeah, and it was even eventually released too. Given a name change but it was the first game developed and published by Psygnosis – the company set up by Ian Hetherington after the collapse of Imagine and a game developer/publisher that became one of the best, most loved of the 80s and 90s and again, this is something I’ll cover in another chapter…


My Dream…

So there you have it, just an example of what I want this book to be about. The final write ups will be more in-depth and take a closer look at some of the games. This is just meant as a taster. I also found it really interesting how many of the companies I’m going to cover intertwine with each other over the years, there’s a really fascinating tapestry of British game development/publishing that emerges once everything comes together. Then there are the starts of some of the biggest names working in games today that got their breaks with companies like DICE (not British themselves, but started via a British publisher), Rare and even the mighty Rockstar Games all cutting their teeth in the 80s and 90s British game revolution. Really interesting stories I aim to cover.

As I said before, I have around ten developers and publishers to cover (possibly more added later) so this will be quite a big book when finished and I really want to make it a hardcover, glossy thing of beauty all professionally finished. And here is where I need help. Putting something like this together takes money. I’ve done all the research for the companies I will cover, already have three of the chapters written up in the first draft (this is one of them) and the book with be finished within the next 6 moths or less. But I know nothing about actually designing a book like this – I can write them no problem but putting the whole thing together in one package with a real professional look and feel is something I know nothing about. Plus it being in hardback, then there is the printing and distribution, etc all of this costs coin that I just do not have. So I’ve set up a Go Fund Me where I hope people will chip in to help me make this book a reality.

My Go Fund Me link. Please share.

Even if you don’t feel like donating (I won’t hold it against you), if you could just share this article and/or the Go Fund Me to help me drum up some interest, I’ll be eternally grateful. If I raise the money, I will make the book as professionally as I can – I’ll hire a design artist to help me with the look of the book. I’ll go to the best printers I can find to deliver the best possible finished product in glorious hardback and glossy pages and so on. I’ll even put any and all people who donate into the book as personal thanks.

Even if I don’t manage to raise the cash, I’m still going to write the book but it just won’t be as grandiose as I want it to be and most probably just be an all text (no picture) simple paperback instead. So the more money I can rise the bigger and better the book will be.

I think with the popularity of retro gaming right now that this could be a great book. A really interesting look at the British side of game development and publishing, a window into an important piece of gaming history that many people overlook or just do not know about.

Update: I’m currently letting people read the first three chapters. More info right here.

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“I’m Batman”, Part II

I’m still Batman.

Welcome back to part II of my retrospective look at the Batman games I grew up playing and even still play today.
We left off with one of the all time classic and best NES games, Batman: The Videogame, which was inspired by the Tim Burton film. But the NES game was not the last game based on the movie.

Batman arcade

Batman: This one was an arcade only game released in 1990. Developed by Numega and published by Atari Games.
This was a simple scrolling beat em’ up and featured scenes based on the 1989 movie as well as stages where you use the Batmobile and Batwing. The game also used voices and images taken directly from the movie as well as featuring Danny Elfman’s amazing Batman score.
With you playing as Batman patrolling the streets of Gotham trying to stop The Joker.

The game was shallow and repetitive…but it was also good mindless fun. It’s an arcade game and designed to eat up your loose change.

Batman arcade 2

For a scrolling beat em’ up, this was not a bad one at all. Not a great game, but it was good enough to warrant a play or several. Followed the film fairly closely too and was interspersed with scenes taken directly from the film.

As we leave Tim Burton’s Batman inspired games behind, Sunsoft just could not wait for the next film for their next Batman game.

Batman 2 Nes

Batman: Return of the Joker: The sequel to the NES Batman game that was based on the 1989 film. But this sequel NES game released in 1991 was made before the official Batman Returns movie sequel. (confused yet?)
Again Developed and published by Sunsoft.
There were various versions of this game released on other formats that all slightly differed from version to version, but it’s only the NES one I played.

Joker escapes Arkham Asylum and you playing as Batman having to survive through several side scrolling levels set in and around Gotham City. Batman is only equipped with a “Batgun” that fires various, selectable projectiles.

Batman 2 nes 2

I didn’t find this one as enjoyable as the previous NES Batman game, it just did not have the same feel. This one felt more like a scrolling shoot em’ up. It’s was not a bad game at all…just not as good as the previous one. Still as it was from Sunsoft, you can again expect some great music. Worth a look.

Next up we get an official game based on Tim Burton’s sequel film; Batman Returns.

Batman R

Batman Returns: Again, there were various version of this title. But I’m going for the SNES version for this retrospective as it was really damn good. Released in 1993, developed and published by Konami for the SNES.

Batman Returns was a scrolling beat em’ up with some really great little touches to add a lot of depth to this fairly shallow genre. Massively redundant and mindless…but it was also an awesome and satisfying experience.
Based on the film of the same name from Tim Burton, the game followed the film really well with you playing as Batman having to save Gotham City from Catwoman and the Penguin. The game also featured a stage where you get to use the Batmobile.

Very well received at the time and still fondly remembered as a great title.

Batman R 2

Simple in its style, but full of great little features and details. Like being able to grab 2 henchmen at once and smash their heads together (see above image), or being able to throw enemies into the background smashing windows and denting lampposts, etc. The game followed the film really well and was intercut with amazing cutscenes with written dialogue taken right from the film as well as using Danny Elfman’s infamous Batman score to great effect.
Another thing that I always remember is how you could save Selina Kyle in the game just like in the film…”you missed.”
Well worth playing through if you can.

I’m going to stick with the SNES for my next pick of Batman games, this time based on the animated TV series.

Batman animated

The Adventures of Batman & Robin: Was an action/platformer released in 1994 for the SNES. Developed and published by Konami and based on the critically acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series.

You to play as Batman with Robin only appearing in cutscenes. Each level was based on one of the main villains with a rogues gallery like; The Joker, Poison Ivy, The Penguin, Catwoman, Two-Face, The Scarecrow, The Riddler, Clayface and even Man-Bat. Each level had it’s own flavour and style based on each of the villains which in turn was based on an episode of the TV show itself.

Batman animated 2

A really great game. Dark, moody and well animated…just like the TV show it was based on. As each level had it’s own villain based aesthetic and style. The game brought a great mix of gameplay styles that offered plenty of variation from simple beat em’ up to head scratching puzzles.

Next I’m going to tackle one of the worst Batman games ever made.

Batman forever

Batman Forever: Was Released in 1995 for the SNES, Sega Mega Drive, Sega Game Gear, Game Boy and PC. Developed by Probe Entertainment and published by Acclaim. Lets be honest, it does not matter which version I talk about as they were all really, really, really bad.

Based on the third film in the Batman series of the same name. This game has you playing as either Batman or Robin, or even Co-Op 2 player…if you can find anyone that would want to play this game.
This was a side scrolling beat em’ up with some of the worst controls ever made in a game. Sluggish combat inspired by Mortal Kombat, awkward gadget selection and usage. Even bad level design with little to no idea of where to go or what to do.

Batman forever 2

I really have nothing to say here. It’s a terrible game and should be avoided at all costs, not even worth playing just for curiosity sake.
Lets move on…

Still, there was more from Batman Forever yet.

Batman forever arcade

Batman Forever: The Arcade Game: Also based on the movie of the same name, but not the same game as the previous version. Developed by Iguana Entertainment, Published by Acclaim and released in 1996. This was an arcade game but later ported to the Sega Saturn, Windows and PlayStation.

This was another one of those redundant scrolling beat em’ ups, but unlike the last Batman Forever game. This one was actually pretty decent. It was another mindless button mashing game and allowed you to play Co-Op as Batman and Robin trying to stop The Riddler and Two-Face.

Batman forever arcade 2

Decent action romp with a pretty good combo system allowing you to do a 150+ hit combo on one enemy if you knew how. Plenty of powerups, weapons and gadgets to use along the way.
It is an inane button masher, but it still has some playability value in there and it’s far, far, far better than that previous Batman Forever game.
Worth a quick look.

So ends part II, but I will return in part III with the next Batman game based on the next Batman film. Same Batwebsite…yeah, I already did that one eh?

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Service Games is 75 years old! Part III

Welcome back to my retrospective look at Sega. As we approach the end of the 90’s, Sega release their final gaming console.

dreamcast

The Dreamcast was released in 1998 in Japan and came to America and Europe in 1999.
This console was the first released in the 6th generation of gaming consoles, beating the PlayStation 2, Xbox and Gamecube for a release date.
Despite this console being a fan favorite and despite the impressive opening sales and even some groundbreaking/impressive games like; Shenmue, Power Stone 2, Metropolis Street Racer, Rez and even some arcade perfect ports. Dreamcast sales just did not meet Sega’s expectations and continuing financial losses, The Dreamcast was discontinued in 2001, just 3 years after originally being launched.

Even after the demise of the Dreamcast, it’s still considered an important machine as it was the first to include a built in modem for internet support and online play.

In 2001 Sega of America officially announced they were becoming a third-party software publisher and would no longer produce hardware/gaming consoles.
By 2002, Sega had five consecutive fiscal years of net losses and were in serious debt.

Sega losses

Sega were in some serious financial trouble.
CSK founder; Isao Okawa gave Sega a $692 million private donation and even talked to Microsoft in early 2000 about a possible sale of Sega or even a merger. But the talks failed and Isao Okawa passed away shortly after in 2001.
In 2003, Sammy, one of Japan’s biggest pachinko and pachislot companies, bought 22% of the shares of Sega that CSK owned, and Sammy’s chairman; Hajime Satomi became CEO of Sega.
Later in 2004, Sammy bought a controlling share the Sega Corporation at a cost of $1.1 billion, creating the new company; Sega Sammy Holdings, an entertainment conglomerate. From then on, Sega and Sammy became subsidiaries of the aforementioned holding company, with both companies operating independently.

From 2003 onwards, Sega starting making a profit once again and even started to buy and form other companies/studios to join and help grow Sega worldwide once more.
2005 saw the forming of; Sega Racing Studio. In 2006, Sega Europe purchased Sports Interactive. While Sega of America purchased Secret Level in the same year and rebranded it to Sega Studio San Francisco. 2013 saw Sega buy Relic Entertainment.
From then on Sega have managed to maintain a good steady financial flow from it’s various studios as well as by developing and publishing games on various other machines…even allowing Sonic and Mario to team up in the Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games series. Sonic & Mario together in the same game was just not heard of in the 90’s.

sonic mario

Sega even still continued to develop arcade games despite the arcade market being all but dead seeing as consoles had by this time become even more powerful than arcade machines.

Republic

Sega Republic, an indoor theme park in Dubai opened in 2009. Where you can enjoy over 150 amusement games/rides/attractions based on Sega IPs.
Then in 2013, in joint co-operation with BBC Earth, Sega opened the first interactive nature simulation museum in Orbi Yokohama, Japan.

From 2012 – present, Sega have mainly been concentrating on the digital market. By bringing many classic Sega games as well as reboots and remakes to Xbox Live, PSN, Android and iOS. With games like After Burner Climax, OutRun 2, Crazy Taxi and many others…but still no Shenmue 1 or 2 remake or even Shenmue 3?

Sega have certainly had a rollercoaster of a 75 years going from simple coin-operated machines, to help create and popularise arcades. To poor initial home market attempts to helping restore faith in the gaming industry after the 1983 game crash. Even shaping how we would game in the future with the Dreamcast.
I don’t think there is much Sega has not done in the industry.

75 years of Sega. Love them or hate them, you can not deny they have been an important part of the gaming world.

sega pads

Thanks for reading.

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Service Games is 75 years old! Part II

We left off with Sega struggling after the game crash of 1983 with declining profits, despite a decent arcade presence, and an underwhelming first attempt at a home console with the SG-1000.
In 1985, Sega released its second home console in Japan, the Sega Mark III.

MK III

Does not look very familiar does it?
Well for the North American & European launch, the console was redesigned and retitled.

master system

The Sega Master System hit the American market in 1986 and Europe in 1987. Released to compete with Nintendo’s Famicom/NES. The Sega Master System launched with Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Alex Kidd was Sega’s first attempt at a gaming mascot to try and match Nintendo with Mario. Despite Alex Kidd appearing in several games and spin-offs, he never really took off as a mascot.
The Sega Master System itself was technically superior to Nintendo’s NES, it could not match sales of the NES in Japan or North America. However, it did fair better in Europe.

With a moderate success in the home market with The Sega Master System, SEGA carried on to strengthen their arcade library in the mid 80’s with games like OutRun (1986), After Burner (1987) and Power Drift (1989).

1989 would also see Sega release it’s successor to The Sega Master System.

megadrive

The Mega Drive (Genesis in North America) did not fare well in Japan against its main competitor, Nintendo’s Super Famicom. But, it did achieve greater success in North America and in Europe. Helping this success were several ports of some of Sega’s best arcade games as well as the introduction of a certain blue hedgehog.

sonic title

In 1991, Sega first introduced the world to Sonic The Hedgehog. A superfast platformer styled game that took the world by storm and finally SEGA had a bankable gaming mascot.
Sonic went on to star in several sequels and spinoffs on the Mega Drive and is even still a relevant gaming mascot today.
Sonic helped to sell even more consoles and give Sega it’s first real home market success with the Mega Drive/Genesis. The Mega Drive/Genesis also had several addons released for the console like the Mega CD and 32X to help extend the life of the machine.

Sega decided to follow up on the success of the Mega Drive/Genesis and try to muscle in on Nintendo’s handheld console market share held by the Gameboy. Sega released the portable Sega Game Gear in 1990.

Gamegear

The Sega Game Gear was essentially as Master System in handheld form using much if the same hardware.
Due to problems with a very short battery life, titles mainly being lazy ports, and poor first party support, the Game Gear was unable to come close to the success of Nintendo’s Game Boy despite the Game Gear being technically superior. The Game Gear was succeeded by the Sega Nomad (a portable Mega Drive/Genesis) in 1995.

But while they started to gain ground in terms of home market sales, Sega still maintained a strong arcade library through the 90’s especially with it’s “Virtua” series with titles; Virtua Racing (1992), Virtua Fighter (1993) and Virtua Cop (1994).

The mid 90’s saw the release of Sega’s next home console.

saturn

The Sega Saturn first hit the home market in 1994 in Japan and then in America and Europe in 1995.
The console was a moderate hit initially, but sales started to drop off fast due to the release of Nintendo’s N64 in 1996 and the rising popularity of Sony’s first home console, The PlayStation.
Sega also never released a Sonic game for the machine, which many feel is part of the reason the sales for the Saturn soon dropped off. There was one in development called; Sonic X-treme, but it was ultimately cancelled.
The Saturn did benefit from some great arcade ports like; Sega Rally Championship, The House of the Dead as well as ports of Sega’s Virtua arcade series of games and their sequels, but the console was only a moderate hit worldwide.

Not content with just arcade and home console gaming, Sega even opened their own amusement style theme parks in 1994 called; Joypolis.

Joypolis

Joypolis opened in Yokohama, Japan. Several Joypolis were opened in various cities in Japan with the parks featuring arcade games and rides based on existing SEGA IPs. A total of 8 Joypolis theme parks were opened. However, as of writing only 3 of the parks are still open today.
Other similar Sega based arcades and parks opened around the world. SegaWorld opened in the United Kingdom, China, Australia and Japan, but only a handful still remain in Japan. Plus; GameWorks was a joint venture between Sega, Universal Studios, and DreamWorks.

I’ll end here, but part III will cover Sega’s (probably) most popular and loved home console…and their last, as SEGA end their hardware reign and become a software only devloper.

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Service Games is 75 years old! Part I

Service logo

75 years is a big milestone in the gaming world and one worth celebrating.
So join me as I take a brief-ish look back on Service Games from their initial roots to where they are today.

But wait, let’s back up a little here….who the hell are Service Games and why do you not recognise the name?
Well what about if I wrote it like this: SErvice GAmes…

Founded in Honolulu, Hawaii, 1940. Service Games began by distributing coin-operated slot machines and jukeboxes. In 1951, the company moved to Tokyo, Japan and began to distribute basic coin-operated machines to American military bases in and around Japan.

David Rosen, an American officer in the US Air Force, launched a photo booth business in Tokyo sometime in 1954 and the Rosen Enterprises company was born. In 1957, Rosen Enterprises began importing coin-operated games into Japan.
By 1965, Rosen Enterprises developed a chain of arcades, with Service Games its only serious competitor at the time, but instead of battling it out as rivals. David Rosen instead suggested a merger between Rosen Enterprises and Service Games and became chief executive of the new company: Sega Enterprises which derived its name from Service Games and Rosen Enterprises.
In 1965 the now world famous Sega was created from those humble beginnings originated by Service Games 20 years previously.

Original logo

1966 saw the release of Sega Enterprises first ever in house developed coin-operated game; Periscope.

periscope

Periscope was a simple game as this was very early in the life of arcades and games. The player looked through a simulated submarine periscope to launch torpedoes at enemy ships. The ships were made from cardboard and would be moved mechanically via a drive chain, and the torpedoes were represented by simple coloured lights.
This simple arcade game was a huge success in Japan and was then exported to America and Europe the following year, where it again met with success.
Periscope is often considered a turning point for coin-operated games and even arcades as a whole.

David Rosen sold Sega Enterprises to American conglomerate Gulf and Western Industries in 1969, but Rosen stayed on as CEO of the Sega division. Sega continued to grow and prosper under Rosen and flourished very well from the arcade gaming craze in the late 1970s, with income reaching over $100 million by 1979.
Along with the changes came a new and familiar logo.

SEGA logo

In 1982 Sega introduced gamers to the world’s first commercial stereoscopic 3D game; SubRoc-3D.

SubRoc 3D

SubRoc-3D used a display that delivers individual images to each eye via a special eyepiece, a viewer with spinning discs to alternate left and right images to the player’s eyes from a single monitor. This gave the illusion that the in game images were coming towards to player.

Due to the game crash of 1983, Sega saw its profits drop from $214 million in 1982 to $136 million by the end of 1983. Also in 1983, Sega released its first ever home gaming console the SG-1000.

SG-1000

The SG-1000 was released as a competitor to the hugely successful Atari 2600. But the SG-1000 hardly made an impact and was poorly received overall.

While Sega’s first attempt at cracking the home market met with less than positive admiration, Sega still maintained a good arcade game presence in the late 70’s and early 80’s with titles like Frogger (1981) which Sega published in the U.S. Zaxxon (1982) which holds the distinction of being the first ever arcade game advertised on TV. Astron Belt (1983) which is said to be the world’s first laser disc based game, as well as all time classics like Hang-On & Space Harrier (1985).

The failure of the SG-1000 coupled with the declining profits of Sega and the video game crash of 1983 lead to Gulf and Western Industries eventually selling the U.S. assets of Sega Enterprises to pinball manufacturer Bally Manufacturing.
However, the Japanese assets of Sega Enterprises were brought by a group of investors led by David Rosen, Robert Deith, and Hayao Nakayama. Nakayama was a Japanese businessman who owned an arcade game distribution company called; Esco Boueki.
Hayao Nakayama became the new CEO of Sega Japan, Robert Deith Chairman of the Board, and David Rosen became head of its subsidiary in the United States. In 1984, a multibillion dollar Japanese conglomerate CSK bought Sega and headquartered it in Japan. David Rosen’s friend, Isao Okawa, the chairman of CSK, became chairman of Sega.

Here ends the first part of my retrospective of Sega, join me in part II where we’ll see the company rise from the ashes of the game crash of 1983 to become one of the biggest and most recognised names in gaming.

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Pac-Man Part VII

Well here we are…finally, at the end of my retrospective look back at Pac-Man’s entire 35 year gaming life.
If you have managed to make it through my Pac-Man game overview as well as my Happy Birthday bio and even managed to get through the whole multipart retrospecive…well done and thank you for reading.

pac

Here in this final part, I just want to give mention to some of the other games I didn’t cover in the main retrospective.
First the various Pac-Man compilations:

Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga: Class of 1981
Release date: 2001
System: Arcade

Pac-Man Collection
Release date: 2001
System: Game Boy Advance

Pac-Man: 25th Anniversary Arcade Machine
Release date: 2005
System: Arcade

Pac-Man Power Pack
Release date: 2008
System: PlayStation 2

Namco All-Stars: Pac-Man and Dig Dug
Release date: 2009
System: Windows PC

Pac-Man’s Arcade Party
Release date: 2010
System: Arcade

Pac-Man & Galaga Dimensions
Release date: 2011
System: Nintendo 3DS

Dual Pack: Pac-Man World 3/Namco Museum DS
Release date: 2012
System: Nintendo DS

Pac-Man Museum
Release date: 2014
System: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Windows PC

Next up are compilations that feature Pac-Man in games, but not in the title:

Namco Museum 64
Release date: 1999
System: Nintendo 64

Namco Museum: 50th Anniversary
Release date: 2005
System: GameCube, Game Boy Advance, Windows PC, PlayStation 2 and Xbox

Namco Museum Remix
Release date: 2007
System: Wii

Namco Museum DS
Release date: 2007
System: Nintendo DS

Namco Museum Virtual Arcade
Release date: 2009
System: Xbox 360

Moving onto iOS/Android games:

Pac-Man Remix
Release date: 2009
System: iPhone and iPod Touch

PAC-Match Party
Release date: 2010
System: iPod Touch and iPad

Pac-Chain
Release date: 2010
System: iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad

Pac-Attack
Release date: 2010
System: iPhone and iPod Touch

Pac’N-Jump
Release date: 2011
System: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Android

Pac-Chomp!
Release date: 2011
System: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad , Android and Kindle Fire

Pac-Man Games
Release date: 2012
System: iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad

Pac-Man Kart Rally
Release date: 2012
System: Android and Kindle Fire

Pac-Man + Tournaments
Release date: 2013
System: Android

Pac-Man Dash!
Release date: 2013
System: iPhone, iPod Touch and Android

Pac-Man Monsters
Release date: 2014
System: iPhone, iPod Touch and Android

Pac-Man Friends
Release date: 2014
System: iPhone, iPod Touch and Android

Finish off with games Pac-Man has cameoed in:

Kick
Release date: 1981
System: Arcade

Mario Kart Arcade GP
Release date: 2005
System: Arcade

Mario Kart Arcade GP 2
Release date: 2007
System: Arcade

Space Invaders vs. Pac-Man
Release date: 2005
System: Mobile phone

QuickSpot
Release date: 2006
System: Nintendo DS

Body and Brain Connection
Release date: 2011
System: Xbox 360

Pac-Man S
Release date: 2011
System: Social facebook game

Everybody’s Golf 6
Release date: 2011
System: PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 3

Street Fighter X Tekken
Release date: 2012
System: PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita

Pac-Man Smash
Release date: 2012
System: Arcade

Mario Kart Arcade GP DX
Release date: 2013
System: Arcade

Namco High
Release date: 2013
System: Web Browser

Mario Kart 8
Release date: 2014
System: Wii U

Super Smash Bros.
Release date(s): 2014
System: Nintendo 3DS and Wii U

Galaga: TEKKEN 20th Anniversary Edition
Release date: 2015
System: iPhone, iPod Touch and Android

That just about covers every official appearance from Pac-Man aside from a few pinball machines that also featured Pac-Man.

Well, it’s been a long journey (and a long read/write). From 1980-2015, Pac-Man was the original gaming mascot that is still relevant, known and referenced even today. This ends Pac-Man’s 35th Birthday celebration on LBoG&M…and this also just so happens to be my 50th post.
It’s been a great 35 years with great games as well as not so great games. Pac-Man has appeared in various gaming genres from the simple maze running of the original, to platforming, to adventure games…and even a trivia based game.

Thanks for the memories Pac-Man.

Birthday pac

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Pac-Man Part VI

Welcome back (again) to the final Pac-Man games released for the home market, and we kick of with yet another sequel to Pac-Man’s first 3D adventure.

Pac world 3

Pac-Man World 3: Was a multiformat game released on PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, Nintendo DS, PSP and Windows. Developed & published by Namco and in stores in 2005. The game was released to celebrate Pac-Man’s 25th birthday.

The sequel to the sequel of Pac-Man World and the only one of the trilogy not released in Japan. The game also featured the first speaking Pac-Man within the gaming series.

In a search for power, an evil genius called Erwin has found a way to suck raw energy out of the world of the Spectral Realm, the world of the ghosts. Erwin has created a syphon that can penetrate into the Spectral Realm. This is causing the Spectral Realm to collapse into Pac-Land and bringing about an environmental catastrophe.
Meanwhile, Pac-Man is celebrating his 25th birthday with his family when he is teleported by Orson, a former nemesis of Pac-Man from the first Pac-Man World game. Orson communicates to Pac-Man and tells him about the Spectral Realm. Pac-Man is attacked by fiery Spectral monsters of the orange, green, and purple varieties which have been driven mad by Erwin’s hypnosis with the ghosts; Inky and Blinky been kidnapped as part of Erwin’s evil scheme. However, Pinky and Clyde managed to escape.
Now Pac-Man must join forces with the ghosts, Orson, Pinky, and Clyde to stop Erwin before he destroys both the Spectral Realm and Pac-Land.

Cutscenes pop up throughout the game, and instead of having just subtitles, the characters speak as well. The subtitles are configurable in the game’s settings.

Pac-Man retains his moves from the previous two Pac-Man World games, like the butt-bounce and the rev-roll, but now he gets the ability to punch. As normal attacks don’t work on Spectral monsters, Pac-Man can eat a power pill and do what has been a Pac-Man staple since the first game.

There is also a museum accessible by the main menu, where you can look at Pac-Man game history and even play the original Pac-Man game itself.

Better than Pac-Man World 2 but still not as enjoyable as the first Pac-Man World. The game met with fairly positive reviews. Critics praised the inclusion of elements from the previous two games,but noted the repetition and lower difficulty. Plus a speaking Pac-Man sparked controversy among fans.

Next up, Pac-Man decides to get in on all that Popular Mario Kart action.

Pac rally

Pac-Man World Rally: Developed by Smart Bomb Interactive and published by Namco. Released in 2006 for the PlayStation 2, PSP, GameCube and Windows. A karting game based in the Pac-Man universe and obviously “inspired” by Mario Kart.

Pac-Man World Rally uses standard kart racing genre game gameplay. A 4-player multiplayer mode was also included.
Pac-boxes are available on the track and allow the player the gift of one item/weapon. the infamous pellets are also available on the racetrack., with each pellet collected helps the a meter go up and once the meter is full, the player can press a button and turn into Pac-Man while all the other players turn into blue ghosts. If the Pac-Man eats any of the blue ghosts, the blue ghosts will stop for a while and get a major disadvantage on the track.
There is also a fruit activation button on the racetrack. When the player runs over the button, fruit is scattered around the racetrack. When you run over the fruit, it allows the shortcut that corresponds with the fruit to become open for you.

Various characters were available with not only Pac-Man characters, but also a handful of characters from other Namco games including; Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Jr. Pac-Man, Blinky, Pinky, Inky, Clyde, Toc-Man (Pac-Man World),Spooky (Pac-Man World 2), Erwin (Pac-Man World 3), Pac-Devil (new character), The Prince (Katamari Damacy),Pooka (Dig Dug), Fygar (Dig Dug), Mappy (Mappy) and Mr. Driller (Mr. Driller).

The game was split into various cups (just like Mario Kart) with; Cherry Cup, Grape Cup, Watermelon Cup, Classic Cup and finally: Rally Cup.
Each cup had various races based on the Pac-Man universe.

Reviewers gave the game average reviews at best, noting the blatant ripping off of Mario Kart. But even in itself, Pac-Man World Rally was just a very average karting game.

Next up would be a welcome return to “classic Pac” with a retro makeover and even the return of Pac-Man’s father.

Pac champ

Pac-Man Championship Edition: Released on Android, Xbox Live Arcade, iOS, PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo 3DS. Developed and published by Namco in 2007.

The game was designed by Tōru Iwatani, the creator of the original 1980 arcade game and it was Iwatani’s final game before his retirement.

Going back to roots with the pellet eating, ghost dodging, maze running gameplay made famous by the original Pac-Man. Pac-Man Championship Edition was classic Pac-Man done brilliantly and updated for a new audience and generation.

While the game’s roots were in classic Pac-Man, Pac-Man Championship Edition brought plenty of new concepts to the table;
Each maze is divided into two halves. Eating all the pellets in one half causes a bonus item to appear on the other side, and eating that item causes a new maze to appear on the other half.
Players can also collect additional power pills to increase their powered up time and continue earning maximum points for eating ghosts. The longer the player stays alive, the faster the game gets and the more points can be earned.
As opposed to stages, the game is played within a certain time limit, with players attempting to get the highest score possible.

The game features six modes: Championship, which is the basic five-minute mode, two Challenge modes which features real time effects on the stage and three Extra modes featuring different mazes.

Pac-Man Championship Edition was met with positive reviews and reception. With many reviewers praising the return to the simplicity of Pac-Man but also for bringing with it several great new features.

Namco found Pac-Man Championship Edition to be a great success…so they tried it again….

Pac champ DX

Pac-Man Championship Edition DX: Was released 3 years later in 2010. Developed by Mine Loader Software and Published by Namco. Released for Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, Windows Phone, Windows Store and Steam. This was just an update over Pac-Man Championship Edition previously…but what a great update.

Pac-Man Championship Edition DX builds and adds upon the gameplay of Pac-Man Championship Edition. Where players control Pac-Man as he travels through a maze collecting pellets and avoiding ghosts. Collecting all the pellets on one side of the maze makes a fruit appear on the other side, which adds a new layout of pellets on that side. The basic gameplay remained untouched, but Pac-Man Championship Edition DX did bring more new features;
Introduced is a new type of ghost that sleeps in a stationary spot on the maze until Pac-Man moves past it, when it will wake and begin to follow Pac-Man. By passing several sleeping ghosts, they form a large rainbow trail that can offer massive bonus points once Pac-Man is able to get a power pill and eat them.
Some ghosts may also have additional power pills inside them that can prolong the powered-up state if eaten in time.
A slow-motion effect automatically kicks in whenever a ghost gets too close to Pac-Man, which offers players the chance to make a last-minute attempt to avoid being caught.
Players can also use a limited supply of bombs that return all the ghosts to the center of the maze, although it lowers the dot multiplier, game speed and your overall score.

The game has various visual styles, including some in the style of Pac-Mania, which can be mixed and matched by the player. You also had access a constantly updated News feature, which includes articles such as developer interviews, as well as view video replays of the highest-ranking Score Attack players.

I have yet to find a bad or even average review of Pac-Man Championship Edition DX as every single one is nothing but high praise. While just an update of the previous Pac-Man Championship Edition, this title improved everything making it the best modern Pac-Man game yet.

Next up, Nintendo get Pac-Man back on their machines with a return to the multiplayer, party game experience.

pac party

Pac-Man Party: Was released in 2010 being published and developed by Namco and available on the Wii and Nintendo 3DS.

The game included over 50 minigames, which when played would allow players to unlock bonus content such as “Classic Games” mode where players can play three classic Namco arcade games; Pac-Man, Galaga and Dig Dug.

Aside from the pick up and play minigames, Pac-Man Party also came with a story mode known as “Mr. Cookie’s Recipe” which is standard part game genre fare.
In this game mode, all players start at Mr. Cookie’s factory with 1000 cookies to start. The main object is to collect a set number of cookies, and get to the cookie factory to win.
When a player goes to an empty space or an empty castle, the player can build a castle to claim it. When players go to their own castle they receive bonus cookies. A player landing on an opponent’s castle will battle in one of the 50 odd minigames. If the attacking player wins, that player takes the opponent’s castle. If the defending player wins, the attack player loses a number of cookies.
If a player lands on a Millionaire Manor, something good may happen. If a player lands on a Tarot Tent, something bad could happen. If a player lands on Dr. Labo’s Lab, the player would be transported to a different space. Should the player pass an exclamation point space enough times, then the player will play a boss minigame.
The player can then return to the cookie factory to get a cookie bonus along with a castle bonus for each castle gained.
The winner is the player with the most cookies at the end of the game.

Pac-Man Party was met with average reviews with many people fining the minigames only mildly enjoyable.

We approach the penultimate Pac-Man game released for home machines and almost at the end of this HUGE retrospective.

Pac Ghost ad

Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures: Was based on the new Pac-Man animated TV show of the same name. Developed by Monkey Bar Games and published by Namco. The game was released on the Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Wii U, and Nintendo 3DS in 2013.

The game begins with Pac-Man and his friends walk into Sir C’s lab. Three golden orbs are on a table, while Sir C is explaining what they are to Pac-Man, four ghosts from the netherworld come and tell Pac-Man that Pacoplis is under attack by Betrayus, king of the netherworld.

Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures used many of the characters and art style of the TV show it was based on. The game was a simple enough platformer with all the standard Pac-Man items; pellets, power pills, ghosts, etc.

Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures was met with mediocre as it was just a very middle of the road game that didn’t really do anything wrong, nor did it do anything to make it stand out.

Still, some people must have enjoyed Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures as the sequel would be Pac-Man’s final (so far) released home game.

Pac Ghost ad 2

Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2: Again developed by Monkey Bar Games and published by Namco in 2014. Released for Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation 3, Wii U and Xbox 360.

Following the colorful characters and world of the Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures animated series, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2 will feature Pac-Man, Spiral and Cylindria in an all-new storyline as they defend PacWorld from the ghoulish army of Lord Betrayus.

Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2 really was pretty more of the same. It didn’t really offer anything new over the last game aside from a slightly different plot a few new characters and areas.
Aside from that, it was the exact same game as before and offered (again) a rather average platforming experience.

With that marks the end of Pac-Man’s gaming 35 year career.
From 1980-2015, Pac-Man is still one of the most recogniseable gaming characters ever.

Join me in my final part VII where I mop up with a few unmentioned Pac-Man game spin-offs and collections and offer my thoughts on Pac-Man himself as one of gaming’s icons.

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