Tag Archives: ZX Spectrum

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.

Advertisements

007: Licensed to Game – James Bond In Gaming

I think it can be said without too much argument that James Bond is a giant cinematic icon. Since his first big screen appearance in Dr. No from 1962 right up to today with Daniel Craig announcing he’s agreed to do one more Bond film which would be the actor’s fifth outing as James Bond and the twenty fifth film in the mega successful franchise. Yup, the Bond name is a big draw for film nuts like myself.

But what about the character’s gaming career – how has James Bond fared up in the world of video games? Well that is exactly why I’ve written this article, to take a look back at James Bond in gaming. I’ll be quickly covering every known James Bond game released over the last four decades as well as taking a look at some unreleased games and a few other Bond related games too. [Insert your own James Bond pun here] and lets get cracking…

The 1980s

The very first James Bond game was released in 1982. Developed by Richard Shepherd for the ZX Spectrum called Shaken but Not Stirred. The game was one of those early text-based adventure games, so graphically – it was lacking…

Shaken But Not Stirred

You play as James Bond and asked by M to track down the nefarious Dr. Death who is threatening to destroy London with a nuclear weapon. The gameplay was pretty basic stuff  as you travel the world gathering clues and solving puzzles to help you locate Dr. Death’s secret lair.

For an early Bond game it played pretty well and it was highly praised at the time by reviewers.

In 1983, the game James Bond 007 was released by Parker Brothers for the Atari 2600, 5200 as well as the Commodore 64 and ColecoVision.  This James Bond game is set over four different levels all based on various James Bond moives. Diamonds are Forever – you have to rescue Tiffany Case from an oil rig. The Spy Who Loved Me – you destroy an underwater laboratory. Moonraker – where Bond needs to destroy satellites. For Your Eyes Only – you need to retrieve some radio equipment from a sunken boat.

James Bond 007

The fourteenth James Bond movie, A View to a Kill was released in 1985 – and so were two games based on the movie. The first game was James Bond 007: A View to a Kill, this one was another of those text-based adventure games by Angelsoft Inc released for  DOS, Macintosh and Apple II computers. You really don’t want a screenshot of another text-based game do you?

So moving on, the second game was titled A View to a Kill: The Computer Game. This one was more action orientated and came out for the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum.

A View to a Kill C64

This one was from Domark and split into three different action sections based on the movie. The first section has you driving around Paris in a taxi trying to catch May Day who has parachuted from the Eiffel Tower. The next one features Bond trying to escape San Francisco City Hall which is set on fire. The final level is set in a mine where Bond must find the code to disarm Zorin’s bomb.

Then in 1986, Angelsoft Inc released a follow up to their previous text-based game based on the Bond movie Goldfinger.

James Bond 007 Goldfinger

Developed by Melbourne House in 1987 and released for the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum (plus others) – The Living Daylights was the next James Bond game. An all action, side scrolling shooter inspired by the film of the same name. Simple and basic stuff, but pretty good fun for the time.

The Living Daylights

The vehicle became the star of the next Bond game with Live and Let Die in 1988. This one was a combo of racing and shooting inspired by the speedboat sequence from the movie. Developed by Elite Systems International for the Amiga, Atari ST, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum.

Live and let Die

Though not originally developed as a James Bond game – this one started out as an original IP called Aquablast, but the development team realised how the game felt and looked like the speedboat chase from the movie and so re-branded the game with the 007 licence. This one was a fast-paced racing game where you had to dodge numerous obstacles as well as shoot at other boats that got in your way.

The final game of the 80s was based on the sixteenth Bond flick – Licence to Kill. Released in 1989 and developed by Quixel for the Amiga, DOS, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, and ZX Spectrum platforms. This one was a top-down shooter with you controlling various vehicles as well as Bond on foot.

License to Kill

Set over six levels all based on scenes from the film. I always remember this one being quite tough with a fiddly control scheme – but still an enjoyable game once you got used to its difficulty.

Well that’s about it for the 80s, the 90s brought many more Bond games – including what many consider not only the best James Bond game ever, but one of the finest games of the decade.

The 1990s

It was a new decade and in terms of the films, the James Bond franchise had halted production. Long story short, there were all sorts of behind the scenes shenanigans preventing any new Bond films being made. In fact we wouldn’t see a new Bond film for six years from 1989 with License to Kill until 1995’s GoldenEye. But while the film series was in serious doubt (it almost never came back at all) the James Bond games were still being made. We even got two Bond games in 1990.

The first Bond game of the new decade was based on the 1977 picture The Spy Who Loved Me. Developed by The Kremlin (game development team, not the Russian fortified complex at the heart of Moscow).

The Spy Who Loved Me

The majority of the game was a Spy Hunter style top-down racer/shooter with you in control of the infamous modified Lotus Espirt from the film. You pick up tokens to spend on upgrading the Lotus by driving onto the back of a moving truck. While fending off bad guys and pulling off stunts. There were other levels inspired by scenes from the movie – but I found them a bit dull and just kept replaying the awesome Louts level over and over.

Also from 1990 was a point n’ click adventure developed by Delphine Software called Operation Stealth. Now I know what you are thinking if you played this game outside of the U.S – this had nothing to do with James Bond, and you’d be right. However in the U.S the game was released using the James Bond license as James Bond 007: The Stealth Affair.

Operation Stealth

You play as John Glames (James Bond in the U.S.) a CIA secret agent (though Bond works for MI6) who is tasked to finding a stolen, high-tech stealth plane. Typical point n’ click adventure fare that was massively popular in the late 80s/ealry 90s.

In 1991, an animated TV show inspired by the spin-off novel The Adventures of James Bond Junior 003½ was made that featured James Bond’s nephew – titled James Bond Jr. The series became quite successful spawning a toy line, novels, even a series of Marvel comics and of course a game – well two in fact. Okay so they really are the same game, first was the NES version in 1991 and then an updated SNES version in 1992.

James Bond Jr

These were simple action/platformers and to be honest, not very good either. With you playing as Bond Jr. having to find some missing scientists.

James Bond 007: The Duel was the next game released in 1993 for the SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis, Master System and Game Gear platforms. The game featured Timothy Dalton as Bond for the marketing and in-game introduction. So technically, this was the last time T-Dalts was (officially) Bond.

James Bond The Duel.jpg

If you ever played the arcade classic Rolling Thunder –  then this game was similar… only not as good. You run trough levels shooting bad guys and rescuing girls while crossing paths with familiar Bond baddies like Jaws and Oddjob. With your main goal being to place a bomb to destroy the enemy’s secret base.

It was in 1997 when THE James Bond game was finally released. Based on the movie of the same name and developed by Rare for the Nintendo 64 – GoldenEye 007. Often cited as the best Bond game ever as well as being one of the defining FPS games of the 90s. This really was one of the all time great games that not only did the film justice, but it also managed to become the 3rd best selling N64 game ever only beaten by Mario 64 and Mario Kart 64… yes GoldenEye 007 even outsold The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

GoldenEye

Chock full of content from unlock-able cheats that added so much fun to the game to hidden levels based on other Bond films and even the trailblazing 4-player split-screen mode that offered endless fun. I really should do a more in-depth look at this game at some point – but now is not the place as we have many more Bond games to cover. But in short, GoldenEye 007 was awesome!

Next up was James Bond 007 released for the Game Boy in 1988 and developed by Saffire Corporation. This was a top-down action game that incorporated enemies and locales from numerous Bond films. Bond has to explore the world to track down a secret weapon cache. Set over eleven levels and also includes gambling minigames like Blackjack.

James Bond 007 Game Boy

And here we are, at the end of another decade. 1999 saw the release of Tomorrow Never Dies for the PlayStation based on the movie of the same name. This one was a third person shooter as Bond teams up with Wai Lin to take down maniacal media mogul – Elliot Carver.

Tomorrow Never Dies

A somewhat awkward game that lacked the depth and fun set by GoldenEye 007 previously. The game became more infamous for its terrible controls and short length.

And so the 90s ended with a quiet whimper from a silenced Walther PPK instead of a shark-inflating pellet style bang when it came to James Bond games. GoldenEye 007 had set the bar so high that we would never see another Bond game even get close to its quality and high praise.

That’s two decades of Bond games down, lets move onto the 2000s.

The 2000s

Okay, time to get a little confused. We have two games that are both based on the same movie – 007: The World Is Not Enough. Both are FPS titles and both released around the same time in 2000 – but they were developed by different companies and are in fact two very different games. One for the PlayStation and the other for the Nintendo 64.

007 The World Is Not Enough N64

While both games follow the plot of the movie, the N64 version featured more levels and to be honest – was the best of the two by far. Smoother controls and better gameplay. The N64 version also featured a great multiplayer mode that was missing from the PlayStation.

Also in 2000 saw the release of 007 Racing. Developed by Eutechnyx for the PlayStation. This game was a vehicle based racing game (in case the title didn’t give it away) where you drive the numerous cars made famous by the moives such as the Aston Martin DB5 (Goldfinger), Lotus Esprit (The Spy Who Loved Me) and the BMW Z8 (The World is not Enough) plus others. There is an original story that sees the return of some of Bond’s most famous adversaries. Despite some really great mission ideas, the game is rather flat and dull with terrible controls.

007 Racing

Just when you thought it was safe, yet another 007: The World Is Not Enough game was released in 2001 – yes, that’s three games in total all based off the same movie. This one was for the Gameboy Color and again is yet different from the other two games. A top-down action game set over eight missions based on the film.

The World Is Not Enough GBC

Also in 2001 was a James Bond game not based on any movie but in fact its own unique story.  James Bond 007: Agent Under Fire sees Bond rescuing CIA agent Zoe Nightshade and investigates a botanical research firm which is a possible front for a weapons-smuggling ring. The story eventually leads to Bond discovering a plot involving world leaders and cloning.

Agent Under Fire

This one was okay, a blending of FPS and vehicle based missions. A little short to be honest but a half-decent Bond game non the less.

A direct sequel to the previous James Bond 007: Agent Under Fire was released the following year in 2002 titled; James Bond 007: Nightfire. Bond teams up with agent Zoe Nightshade once more. James Bond goes up against industrialist Raphael Drake and sees Bond travel the globe and even venture into space as he tries to stop the villainous Drake. Much like the previous game, this one is also a melding of FPS and vehicle action. An improvement over the last game, but still just okay and mediocre.

NightFire

James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing is the next game in the Jame Bond timeline. Moving away from the FPS games  and instead opts for a third person view. It also features the likeness and voice talents of (then) Bond actors; Pierce Brosnan, Judi Dench, John Cleese playing James Bond, M and Q respectively.

Everythin or Nothing

One of the better Bond games of that era and really does feel very Bond-like. Released for the PlayStation 2, Xbox and Gamecube consoles – there was another version released for the Gameboy Advance…

Everythin or Nothing GBA

This one was an isometric action/shooter that suffered from terrible controls and gameplay mechanics. The bigger console versions were good, but this GBA one was terrible.

The Bond games were coming thick and fast in the early-mid 2000s and next up was a ‘sequel’ to the best Bond game ever.  2004’s GoldenEye: Rogue Agent tried to cash-in on the success of GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64 by tricking people into thinking the two games were related. In truth, they shared nothing outside of using the name GoldenEye. You see, this was not really a sequel despite what developer/publisher EA Games wanted you to think.

Rogue Agent.png

Going back to the tried and tested FPS genre – this game’s deceptions don’t end with the title as you don’t even play as James Bond. Instead you are an agent known only as GoldenEye after losing his real eye and having it replaced with a gold one. Though 007 himself does make an appearance along with other familiar Bond faces like; Goldfinger, Dr. No, Blofeld, Scaramanga, Odd Job, Pussy Galore and others. Some of the levels are also based on scenes from previous Bond films. As for the gameplay itself? Its just another one of those distinctly ‘okay’ games.

2005 saw the release of a blast from the past. James Bond 007: From Russia with Love based on the Sean Connery starring 1963 James Bond picture – they even utilised the likeness of Connery himself for the game along with other actors from the film like; Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Robert Shaw and Desmond Llewelyn. This one was pretty good actually going for a third person view (probably to make the most of the Sean Connery licence). Not only did Connery lend his likeness, he also recorded all new dialogue for the game too – so this marks the final time he played James Bond. The game hits all the main scenes from the movie, yes even the jet-pack scene.

From Russia With Love

From 1963 to 2008. The final game of the 2000s was based on the then newest film 007: Quantum of Solace was released the same year as the movie. Using Daniel Craig’s James Bond along with the rest of the main cast from the film. Like with some of the previous Bond games in this list, there were different versions developed for different consoles. The Xbox 360, Wii and PlayStation 3 versions were FPS games – but the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo DS versions were third person games.

Quantum of Solice

No matter which version you played, this was another ‘middle of the road’ very average games. Hitting all the major scenes from the movie and doing them justice – but the gameplay itself was just very stale and boring… just like the film itself.

So that’s another ten years covered. Next up is the fourth and final decade and the James Bond games started to slow down… a lot. I mean, there’s only three to cover! And we get off to an almost blasphemous start…

The 2010s

GoldenEye 007 was released in 2010. Yes you read that right the best James Bond game ever was remade! Originally for Nintendo’s Wii and DS platforms – the game was re-released in 2011 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 and re-titled GoldenEye 007: Reloaded. They had the sheer brass-balls to remake the all time classic GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo 64, but was it any good? Well gone are original developers Rare and replaced with Eurocom. Then Daniel Craig was used as Bond – replacing Pierce Brosnan… just like real life. The game also re-works the film’s story and updates it so it now takes place after the events of Quantum of Solace. This was more then just a simple remaster that we see everywhere in games today, this was completely rebuilt from the ground up.

GoldenEye reloaded

Not as classic as the N64 original, but this version was still pretty damn good. The main game follows the film pretty damn well (like the original) and still manages to keep things fresh at the same time to by adding new content. Plus the awesome multiplayer mode form the original returns complete with hidden secrets to find. A good remake and a good Bond game.

James Bond 007: Blood Stone was also released in 2010 even on the exact same day as the previous GoldenEye 007. So if you wanted James Bond games in 2010 on the same day, you had your choice. James Bond 007: Blood Stone once more featured Daniel Craig as Bond but was not based on any movie or book – an all new story set sometime after Quantum of Solace, the story was written by James Bond screenwriter Bruce Feirstein. The game ends on a cliffhanger which some fans have connected to Ernst Stavro Blofeld from the movie Spectre. A third person cover/shooter game with a few vehicle sections. This is an above average game better than some of the latter Bond game efforts – but still lacking in substance and gameplay.

Bloodstone

And we get to the last James Bond game released so far, 2012s 007 Legends. Released to celebrate the 50th year celebration of the Jame Bond film franchise. The game starts using the opening of the film Skyfall when Eve Moneypenny accidentally shoots Bond and he falls into a river. This kick-starts a series of flashbacks were Bond recalls some of his most dangerous missions. Basically, this is a ‘Bond’s greatest hits’ game as all the missions are based on scenes from previous films.

007 Legends

Much like the previous GoldenEye 007 remake – this game modernises and re-tells classic James Bond stories – updating them for toady’s audience. It takes one mission based on one film from each of the James Bond actors on the big screen: Goldfinger (Sean Connery), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (George Lazenby), Moonraker (Roger Moore), Licence to Kill (Timothy Dalton), Die Another Day (Pierce Brosnan) and Skyfall (Daniel Craig) with each Bond now played by Craig.

This one was pretty bad. What was meant to be a grand celebration to James Bond turning 50 ended up coming across as a cheap cash-in, lazily and haphazardly thrown together. A great idea but poorly executed – a very bellow average game.

So there you have it, the entire James Bond game catalogue (aside from a few iOS/Android games and fan-made remakes) and it ended badly. Overall, James Bond has been a mixed bag when it comes to his gaming life. For every all time great game like GoldenEye 007 – there’s been more then a few average games and more then a couple of just outright terrible games.

There have been no Bond games since 2012s 007 Legends and that was a bad one. There have been no new Bond games announced either, is this the end of James Bond in gaming? I hope not as the franchise has a lot of legs.

8bit Bond

But there’s still more Bond games that I just quickly want to cover as there were a handful of unreleased/cancelled titles.

Cancelled Games

Not long after 1983s James Bond 007 was released – a game based on the movie Octopussy was announced. There have been rumours that the game was completed – some have even said they played it at the Electronic Fun Expo in 1983. Rumour also says that the Octopussy game originally started out as a level in the James Bond 007 game from 1983 before the decision to turn it into its own separate game came about. There was even an Atari brochure from 1983 that showed a screen shot of the train sequence as part of the James Bond 007 game. Parker Brothers also released a poster to advertise the game in 1983.

Octopussy poster

But the game was never released. Why it never saw the light of day is unknown.

GoldenEye 007 Racing was set to be released for Nintendo’s Virtual Boy. Very little is known about this one other than it was set to be released to coincide with the release of GoldenEye for the SNES… yes originally the GoldenEye game was being developed for the SNES before it was shifted over to the N64. I did manage to find a blurb from a publicity brochure for the Virtual Boy which read:

“If you thought rush-hour traffic was a nightmare, wait ’til you get behind the wheel of 007’s car. Avoid obstacles and blow the other cars away. Buckle up for safety because, in this game, you never know what’s gonna happen.”

Along with two screen shots, one is a bury mess which looks like it may be the title screen and the other…

GoldenEye VB

A slightly less bury image of what looks like a racing game on the Virtual Boy, quite possibly GoldenEye 007 Racing? The game was cancelled due to the infamous and huge failure that was the Virtual Boy console.

At the end of the original VHS release of the flick Tomorrow Never Dies –  there was a trailer introduced by legendary Q actor Desmond Llewelyn. This trailer was for a game titled: Tomorrow Never Dies: The Mission Continues and was said to “start where the film ends”. You can see the trailer right here. The footage shows a mix of first and third person shooting as well as scuba diving, driving and skiing sections and to be released for the PC and PlayStation in 1998. Now, of course we did get a game based on Tomorrow Never Dies but this one followed the plot of the movie – the unreleased game was meant to be a direct sequel that follows on where the film ends.

It was also being published by MGM Interactive and not Electronic Arts who released the 1999 Tomorrow Never Dies game. So this was definitely a completely separate game. Why it was never released is unknown, but most probably has to do with EA obtaining the rights to the James Bond licence in November of 1998 and them wanting to make their own game based on the movie.

There was going to be an updated version of the PlayStation game of The World Is Not Enough released for the PlayStation 2 – set to be out for 2001. It was going to feature improved graphics, gameplay mechanics and new levels. But EA who held the James Bond license felt that too much time had passed and no one would be interested in a Bond game in 2001 based on a film from 1999 (side note: the best Bond game ever – GoldenEye 007 was released 2 years after the movie). The improvements to this updated version could have put it more inline with the far superior N64 game, but EA dropped the idea in favour of releasing Agent Under Fire instead.

The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were set to have a game based on Casino Royale. Daniel Craig was on-board to lend his likeness and voice to the game. EA had access to the filming  locations and script as the film was being shot, so they could make the game as authentic as possible. It was scrapped after only around 15% complete. A few early screens of 3D models for the game were later found.

Casino Royale game.jpg

Thanks to MI6-HQ.com and you can read more about why the game was never finished right here.

It was 2012, January of 2012 when it was announced there would be a game based on Skyfall. A full game was never released, but a mission based on Skyfall was made available for 007 Legends via DLC. I’m not sure of this is a case of crossed wires and the announcement was just for the 007 Legends DLC or if it was for a full game.

Bond 6 was the working title for a new game from EA. To be released in 2005 and starring Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. The game was dropped when Brosnan announced that he would be stepping down as Bond – so the From Russia With Love game was quickly put into development instead. But interestingly enough – CGI work for the game was used for the advertising of GoldenEye: Rogue Agent.

In 2010 some early screen shots of a new Bond game began to appear online. There was never any official statement as to what game it was – but it was widely believed to be a possible Blood Stone sequel developed by Raven Software. The images have since been removed (at least I can’t find them) and we never did get that Blood Stone sequel.

There was also a rumour of a sequel to 007 Racing for the PlayStation 2, but I couldn’t find any info at all on this.

There you go, as much Bond gaming as anyone could wish for. I think I covered everything and I’ve taken up way too much of your time with this lengthy article – there’s really only one more thing for me to do…

Bond Gif

The Evil Dead – C64

title

Little Bit of History: Produced by Palace Software for the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum. Though the ZX Spectrum version was never given a full release and only available as a “B-side” to Cauldron. The C64 version was given a full retail release in 1984. This was the first ever licensed game based on the film of the same name.

Little Bit of Plot/Story: The game is set in the cabin from the film where you have to fend of demons attacking you until you can find the Necronomicon (Book Of The Dead) to destroy it and stop the evil demons once and for all. Demons would continue to spawn and break into the cabin, you would have to kill the demons with various weapons while barricading the windows where the demons were getting in. This sounds familiar…

Little Bit of Character: You play as Ash from the movie and he is the only real character in the game aside from the nameless demons.

Little Bit of Influence: As I said before, the basic premise of this game sounds familiar. Ever play the “Zombies” mode on Call Of Duty? Stuck in a building with ever spawning enemies (zombies) and having to barricade yourself in to slow down the horde while you dispatch them with a variety of weapons? The Evil Dead on the C64 was one of the first (of what is now known as ) survival horror games and could really be credited with helping to shape an entire sub-genre of gaming.

Little Bit of Memories: I recall having this on a compilation tape for my C64 and playing it quite a bit. It was never a scary game and the graphical limitations at the time meant you never saw any blood or gore. It was a pretty family friendly game based on one of the most infamous and gory films of its day.

Little Bit of Playability: It seems very rough by todays standards. But its still a enjoyable game, though it quickly becomes repetitive and redundant. The bore factor settles in fairly quickly with this one, but it is an interesting history lesson to see one of the very first survival horror games and main influences for Call Of Duty’s Zombie mode.

Cover

There’s more Evil Dead to come with my look at the original movie as well as try to clear up the “is Evil Dead II a remake?” misconception…join us…

btn_donate_LG

“I’m Batman”, Part I

Batman: Arkham Knight, after several delays is finally released in a few days. I think I can safely say without hyperbole that I think it’ll sell upwards of 3 copies.

AK

So to celebrate what developer Rocksteady is claiming to be the final Arkham game (yeah right). I’m going to look back on some of the Batman games I grew up playing and take a look at Batman in gaming over the years.
I’m not going to cover every Batman starring game, cos well there are 35 of them and this retrospective would end up longer than my Pac-Man one.
So I’m just sticking to the ones I’ve played over the years and remember.

I think Batman has been treated with a lot more respect in terms of video games than most other superheroes and has had quite a few good and even great games.
So let’s start with the first ever Batman game I played and the first one released.

Batman Ocean 2

Batman: Published by Ocean Software and developed by Jon Ritman & Bernie Drummond, released in 1986.
The game was released on the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Amstrad PCW and MSX.
The featured a 3D isometric viewpoint and had you playing as Batman trying to save Robin and collecting seven parts of the missing Batcraft.

Batman was very well received when it was released, Crash gave it a 93% rating, Your Sinclair scored it 9/10 and Sinclair User gave it five stars. The game went to number 2 in the UK sales charts.

Batman Ocean 3

The game was really good fun back then and one I played quite a bit of…but never completed it.
Batman has been remade by fans over the years. Watman was released for PC in 2000 and there was also a fantastic remake produced by Retrospec’s Batman that is well worth checking out.

Next up is comic book inspired Batman game.

Batman CC

Batman: The Caped Crusader: Developed by Special FX Software Ltd and Published by Ocean Software. This game was released on Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Apple II, MS-DOS and ZX Spectrum in 1988.
Using a comic book style where leaving one screen would open a new “panel” keeping the last panel in the background as to give a comicbook aesthetic.

The game offered 2 different scenarios to play through. One featuring The Joker and another one featuring The Penguin, which you could play through in any order.
With you playing as Batman who has to take down henchmen, solve puzzles and finally defeat The Joker/Penguin.
Another Batman game that was originally well received upon release. With many reviewers praising the colourful and detailed graphics, but also noting the game was very maze like and it was easy to get lost, resulting in a lot of backtracking.

Batman CC 2

To be honest, I never really liked this one too much. I just found it a bit dull with all the walking around and getting lost. The combat was also very limited and tiresome.

Now we move onto the first Batman game based on the Tim Burton movie.

Batman movie

Batman: A.K.A: Batman: The Movie. Hit the market in 1989 to coincide with the Tim Burton movie, it was released for the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, MS-DOS and ZX Spectrum. Developed and published by Ocean Software.
Controlling Batman through five stages based on scenes from the movie including; Axis Chemical Plant, Streets of Gotham and Gotham Cathedral. The game mixed up several gameplay styles using a side scrolling action/platforming for 2 of the levels, 2 vehicle based levels where you use the Batmobile and Batplane and a puzzle level where you have to find various components for Joker’s Smilex toxin.

This one was very well received with it reaching number 1 in the charts and even awarded Game Of The Year in Crash magazine.

Batman movie 2

This game was a cracker with a fair challenge and varied gameplay…but it was short and you could complete it in 20 odd minutes. Still I would often replay through the game over and over again. Plus I still remember the “jammmmmmmmmmm” cheatcode.

There was not only one game based on Tim Burton’s movie though and this one is for my old mate Lee.

Batman NES

Batman: The Video Game: Also based on Tim Burton’s movie, but this is not just a port of the previous game. This was a whole new game built from the ground up just for the NES. Originally released in 1989 in Japan and 1990 for America and Europe. Developed and published by Sunsoft for the NES.

While this was based on Tim Burton’s movie, it also added a few ideas not in the film including villains besides The Joker like; Deadshot, Heat Wave, Nightslayer, Killer Moth and Firebug.

With you playing as Batman and using his many gadgets like; batarang, and bat speargun. Batman could also wall jump which was a very handy feature and used to get around some tricky platforming sections.
As the game was from Sunsoft, you got great story lead cutscenes and amazing music as most Sunsoft games had.

The game’s reception was very good and is still referred to as one of the best NES games ever made.

Batman Nes 2

I remember playing this on my friend’s NES back in the early 90s. Being a huge fan of the movie, the game was a welcome addition. The game was tough, but never unfair and you’d find yourself making steady progress as long as you utilised Batman’s gadgets and skills.
An absolutely amazing game and still rightly regarded as one of the all time best games.

I’ll end here, but there is more Batman to come in Part II. Same Batwebsite, same Battime…sorry.

btn_donate_LG

The Great Escape – C64

loading screen

Little Bit of History: This game was loosely based on the film  of the same name. It was developed by Denton Designs and published by Ocean Software. Released in 1986 on Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and DOS.

Little Bit of Plot/Story: Simple enough plot which had you trying to escape the prison.

Little Bit of Character: Not too much to cover as you played as an unnamed POW and interacted with other unnamed POWs and prison guards.

Little Bit of Influence: Alas there are very few games that have used this concept as a template today. But with it’s open ended gameplay, multiple ways to complete, it was a forerunner for open world games. There have been other similar games like Escape From Colditz (1991) on the Amiga, a remake (of sorts) released in 2003 and more recently Prison Life RPG on IOS.

Little Bit of Memories: I loved this game as a kid and still find appeal in it today. I recall being able to play it over and over and doing things different every time. Having to keep to a strict daily routine while also planning your escape. If you left the game alone for a while, your prisoner would automatically keep to this routine.
Finding new ways to escape and items to use, trade, etc would mean you could play the game over and over differently each time.

Little Bit of Playability: It’s still playable, but I personally found it very slow moving by todays standards. But at it’s heart is a great and “unique” game that encourages multiple and different playthroughs, thinking and strategy.

download

btn_donate_LG

Skool Daze – ZX Spectrum

Title screen

Little Bit of History: Skool Daze was a game originally released on the ZX Spectrum in 1984 and also ported to the Commodore 64. Published by Microsphere, the game was the brainchild of David and Helen Reidy. Helen was a teacher while David remembered messing around in school. So the idea of making a game based in a school was born.

Little Bit of Plot/Story: The plot has you playing as Eric trying to get his report card from the staff room. You would have to use various tactics to obtain clues to get your report card back. But you would have to attend classes and avoid getting into trouble. If you were caught not in class or causing trouble you’d get lines, too many lines and it was game over.

Little Bit of Character: While we had Eric as the main character you controlled, there were others controlled by the computer such as some of the pupils;
Boy Wander the tear-away, Einstein the swot and Angelface the bully.
Plus there were the teachers; Mr Wacker the Headmaster, Mr Creak History teacher, Mr Whithit Geography teacher and Mr Rockitt Science teacher.
Plus there were several other unnamed and unplayable pupils.

Little Bit of Influence: Though the game spawned it’s own sequel with: Back To Skool. This game also paved the way for what we now call “open world/sandbox” games. While you had a goal to complete, you could go about it anyway you wanted and even ignore the plot all together and just make your own fun by using your slingshot, punching pupils (and teachers if you were sneaky) writing on the blackboards in class, plus many other things to discover and enjoy. So you could really do what you wanted within the game’s universe. It was one of the very early “open world/sandbox” games and paved the way for bigger games like Grand Theft Auto and even a massive influence on Rockstar’s own great game: Bully.

Little Bit of Memories: This was strange as we often played games back then to get away from school and school work…and yet here we are playing a game set in school. Best memories I have of this game was the fact you could rename any of the main characters, including Eric and the teachers. So if you had a bad day at school, come home and load up Skool Daze, rename the characters to people you didn’t like from school and take out your annoyances on them.

Little Bit of Playability: I personally loved this game back in the day, but time has not been kind to it and found it very clunky, especially with the controls and really found it unplayable now. There was an unofficial remake called Klass Of 99 (free download) which fares a little better you can download for your PC. Or you could try the amazing Rockstar “tribute” to Skool Daze: Bully.
But for me, the original just has not held up well despite being so great back then.

Box art

btn_donate_LG