Cruel Retroviews!
Crapness in 48k revisited, discussed, disgusted..

Written by CiH

We're taking a little time now to consider the cruelty involved in the early years of home computing. The nipple of memory tends to be selective in many areas, surpressing the badness, but tweaking the good bits. Applying this selective functioning to those early days of geekdom, such a rose-tinted recall of the past fondly recalls the Jet Set Willy's and 3D Starstrikes of your youth, but tends to shove games like 'Turbo Bottom Hunter' into a black place of forgetfulness. And yes, I made that last one up!

Well with the combined miracles of emulators of classic machines, and CD-Rom collections of old games, it is possible to redress that uneveness of recollection, as I dredge some diamonds of sarcasm from classic issues of the Maggie diskmag.

This was from my review of the 'Speccy Sensations' CD-ROM, which originally saw the light of day in 1996.

Eastenders (the game of the television series) was written by Macsen software, who reputedly got the money off the Welsh Development Agency. I looked closer out of horrified curiosity, and discovered a very early naff icon driven adventure with simple arcade sequences, based, yes, on the television series of the game. One thing that is very much part of the televison series was missing from the game though, where were all the people? It seemed that Albert Square had been struck by alien abductors and carted off the cast, leaving you to explore the strange unreality of that gritty, socially conscious soap opera world all alone?

Another 'stunner', which could have only been a product of the times we were living in back then, was the 'Thompson Twins Adventure.' This is a graphical adventure, controlled by a text command line, and with some very impressionistic images of that group. A screenshot is included for the disbelieving.

Looking back from a 2008 viewpoint, I'm really not sure what was going on with the Thompson Twins game. I discovered on my prodding around on the interweb, that it was released not on tape, but as a vinyl and flexidisk record (which is about an eighties a format as you can get without your brain imploding into a Rubiks cube), you could record it onto tape, or load it directly from your dad's expensive stereo into your ZX Spectrum, no doubt horrifying him with the horrible squawking tape loading noises coming out from the expensive speakers. You can work out how far I got with the game from the screenshot, but one blogger managed to get the Thompson Twins to drown en-masse, simply by getting them to keep going north. Bloody good show!

This problem of crappy and unworkable gameplay, linked to a licence of dubious provenance, re-emerges in a moment with my retro-view of Grange Hill, in 48k. Here we go now!

And another thing, about that screenshot, look at the background a bit more closely, do you recall Grange Hill being set in the fictional London borough of Mega City 1? Does anyone??

We've found something even weirder than the Thompson Twins Adventure on the Speccy Sensations CD-ROM! Yes, even more out to lunch than the Thompson Twins, and ultimately more headbanging in frustration than that limply side-splitting mid-eighties excursion into licenceware.

Yes at about the same time that the Thompson Twins game was hitting the casting couch, the producers of the popular school-soap Grange Hill, decided that a computer game, based on the daily trials of the troublesome soon-to-be-in-Eastenders teenage cast was in order, and the tills would be alive with the sound of money, as the pubescent TV audience would be desperate to get their hands on any sort of Grange Hill memorabilia.

The fact that 'Skool Daze' did the whole school thing so much better, and had a revolutionary interface, and AI system, and kept multiple sprites going, and had a decent original plot, need not enter into this review. The game is typical Spectrum hand-me-down graphics, not too badly drawn, certainly better than the Macsen 'Eastenders' game, with a large and conventional two dimensional view, facing the characters from the side.

The plot, such as it is, consists of one of the characters, Zobbo, or Snotface, or perhaps Gitface, having his personal stereo confiscated in class. It is after school, and he is talking to his mate, who due to a clerical error at the Stupid Nicknames Office, is also called Zobbo, or is it Blobbo? Zobbo#1 tells Zobbo#2 that he is going to get his stereo back. Zobbo#2/Blobbo points out rather too sensibly that the school is locked up. Zobbo#1, fuelled by equal measures of bravado and fear, says he will break in. Zobbo#2, says words to the effect of "Wow, I've gotta see this!"

At this point, the game commences. I dab at some keys in hope, my character lurches off to the left, only to fall into the clutches of Zobbo's mum waiting at home, who immediately demands a level four diagnostic check on the missing personal stereo. Cripes, I'm for it now! thinks Zobbo, he is right of course, and the game ends at this point.

A second attempt yields a menu system where you can control certain actions on behalf of your character. You are allowed to talk to people, pick up, examine objects, etc, but there are no options to pick your characters nose, or a menu bar that tells you to 'Have sneaky cigarette behind bikesheds during break', which immediately drops several thousand realism points from this already sinking game.

Trying to have a conversation results in several minutes of confusion from Zobbo#2, who is convinced you have had one magic mushroom too many with your school dinner. You are reduced to trying out random ASCII characters, as you can't seem to leave this bloody conversational menu mess, which still puts it miles above the normal dialogue you get from the TV programme.

A swift reset later and another key takes you to the right, the direction that you, and the game as a whole are supposed to be going. Illusions of progress are rudely shattered with your sudden encounter with the latest and deadliest enemy to plague this game, a loose paving stone!! Yes, your character is deemed to have "died" at the point that he came into contact with that errant paving stone. As we all know, generations of schoolchildren have been carted off to the mortuary with large holes in their trousers, and nasty grazes to the knee. On a personal note, I only avoided premature burial when I was nine, by the smallest of margins, several times in fact.

Dismal licence, poor premise, weak plot, and things that go 'flibble' in the night. It was all too much and I came out of the emulator, and back to Sanityville UK at some speed.


What is brown and crusty often smells quite a bit as well.

CiH, May '97

And from a 2007 viewpoint?

Unlike the Thompson Twins game, it looks like there was at least some attempt to make something more involving, but it was ultimately defeated by the randomness and stupidity in the game design. I mean, a loose paving stone based demise, what were they bloody well thinking?

CiH - Feb '08, with lots of bits from earlier stuff wot I wrote. Kind of worrying really, if anything, I think I was doing the whole writing thing better, over ten years ago, compared with the random verbal scribble that you are getting now?