The One for Amiga Games #36 – September 1991

It is time to get stuck into The One magazine and it’s very busy looking front cover, which does accurately represent a jam packed issue. I will happily count myself a fan of the coverdisk demo game Pegasus. A long mixed genre game of alternating platform and shmup levels. If you don’t recognise the other demo titled ‘Infiltrator’, that’s because it would later change it’s name to Ork.

Let’s kick off with the letters page. A distraught chap called André writes in about the recent closure of Cinemaware. The company responsible for Rocket Ranger, It Came from the Desert and Wings. ‘Will TV Sports Baseball ever appear?’ he asks. Well, after hitting cash flow problems Cinemaware boss and co-founder Robert Jacob created another development company Acme Interactive (later renamed Malibu Interactive due to a merger). Making more movie based games such as Batman Returns for Sega consoles, Cliffhanger, and 3 Ninjas Kick Back. In 1994 the company was sold to Marvel Comics.

Meanwhile Mirrorsoft bought up the Cinemaware name. However, other than publishing TV Sports Basketball they didn’t have much time to do anything with their acquirement. On November 5th 1991 Robert Maxwell was found dead in the Atlantic Ocean near the Canary Islands. Maxwell’s entire business empire, including Mirrorsoft, was soon declared bankrupt and went into administration. Mirrorsoft was essentially closed by the end of the year.

According to the letters page what was in the works from Mirrorsoft’s Cinemaware was a futuristic sports game called Rollerbabes. Taking cues from Speedball and the movie Rollerball it’s a very violent game where competing teams must navigate trap filled oval arenas and fight their way through the defending teams players. All on roller skates. Most daunting of all they must deal with the sleazy presenter who looks a lot like Jack Nicholson doing his best ‘I’d buy that for a dollar’ face. Sadly all this never saw a release.

Another publisher, Gremlin, is celebrating it’s seventh anniversary and announcing some upcoming games. The two that catch my interest most are the ones that didn’t get released on Amiga. This was the first mention of Daemonsgate I: Dorovan’s Key. An RPG with the usual story of fighting an invading demonic army. The main selling point is the sheer scale and dare I say immersion of the thing. Boasting a huge world with ‘some cities being 2,500 screens big’, an expansive land to explore, filled with hundreds of NPCs – many of which have been given distinct roles and personalities, lots of lore, and an intelligent conversation system that remembers keywords for later use.

Despite getting as far as an actual review in the April 1992 issue of CU Amiga (even getting 90%) it was never released by Gremlin. Instead being self published in 1993 and only for DOS. What happened to the Amiga version is a mystery. If you’re curious to see if it delivered on all those boasts, you can check it out via Steam and GOG since it was re-released for modern PCs in 2017.

The other Gremlin game to go missing in action was Flag. Created by two key members of the Lost Patrol devs. Designer Ian Harling explained that the games strength is it’s simplicity. There are two teams, each has a flag, and the aim of the game is to get one of your guys to touch their flag. It’s played in real time on a large full screen isometric area. The strategy comes in when deciding what mixture of different types of troops to enlist for each game and how you use them to attack and defend. Choices include battering ram men, saboteurs, and regular soldiers. You can use labourers to alter the terrain and block bridges. Or use magic to conjure a plague. The setting is a kind of medieval era. To spice things up a bit there are random events such as dragons appearing and breaking up the joint.

The emphasis for gameplay was quick fun action with some strategy and no need for a manual. It was due for release in October 1991 but time passed and by 1993 Gremlin was out of the picture and Millennium had picked it up for a release later that year. Sadly it wasn’t to be. According to Harling, ‘Flag was dropped by Gremlin simply because they didn’t understand it – and made no attempt to understand it once they realised that it wasn’t an out and out shooter. We didn’t go to Mindscape from there, but to Millennium, who immediately tried to get us to finish the game in 3 months and tried to take us to court for the rights to it when we said that was impossible.’ A real shame as it could have made a great companion to other real time strategies like Settlers and Mega lo Mania.

One area of the games industry that doesn’t get much mention is the agents. Coincidentally Robert Jacob, of Cinemaware, started out as an agent for programmers and even went back to doing it in the late 1990s. The article in The One focuses on Jacqui Lyons who is a founder of Marjacq Micro agency. Marjacq started as a literary agency in 1974 but when Jacqui saw the potential for representing games makers she pushed ahead with it, becoming one of the first to do so in 1983. Amongst the many notable clients were David Braben and Ian Bell (Elite), Ian Bird (Millennium 2.2), Archer Maclean (Whirlwind Snooker), and Argonaut Software (Starglider 2). It is not a part of the games industry that I, and possibly many of us, have considered before but makes perfect sense. Many creators would rather be spending there time on their core interests than the more tiresome side of business, and there are many horror stories of nefarious publishers trying to get one over on devs. So having someone experienced in your court must be good. After many years in the biz it seems Marjacq has returned to being only a literary agent.

Fantasy time. What would be the ultimate video game console? And what would it have been according to 1991? The One spoke to some game devs to find out. Let’s aim a little higher than CD-ROM and 12 channel sound. The big thing in the early 90s was virtual reality and it naturally gets a few mentions. Concepts of VR date back to at least the 1960s in both fiction and reality, popularised further by films like Tron (1982), and at the time of this article The Lawnmower Man was in production for an early 1992 release with a load of CGI effects. At the time Peter Molyneux said he was ‘really disappointed with VR’, which is perhaps understandable as VR was just gearing up to take it’s next leap. Even so, he and some other devs thought it should be a part of the future of gaming. In 1991 Sega announced it was producing a VR headset that would be used in arcade machines. It eventually arrived in 1994 but a home console version for Mega Drive was cancelled. Despite the flurry of interest VR is still struggling to make a dent in the home market.

Why not think bigger? Who wouldn’t want their own holodeck, as seen on Star Trek TNG way back in 1987. Matthew Stibbe (‘Nam 1965-1975) mentions the use of holographic projections to bring games to life. It may sound like a fantasy but Sega had recently released Time Traveller in arcades. Claimed to be the world’s first holographic video game. Designed by Rick Dyer of Dragon’s Lair fame. Similar to that, Time Traveller is an action adventure game using quick time events to advance. The marvel is how effective the holographic projection is, as can be seen in the video below taken of a cabinet in California.

Yet that is still some way short of a holodeck. Although, as far back as 1992 the dream of the holodeck was entering it’s early phases in the form of the Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE). Using a series of projectors in a cubic room and wearing a pair of 3D glasses this system can make you feel like you moving around real objects in front of you and even have the ability to interact with data gloves. The most likely place you will find a CAVE is at a university, being used by engineers to simulate new designs. Or maybe used by archeologists, biologists, and physicists. If anything this sounds like an even more exciting branch of technology for gaming to investigate.

Another interesting thing on the devs wish list of ultimate console gizmos was a speech interface. Something which current tech is pretty much capable of at this point. However, there are not many good examples of how to integrate this into fun gameplay which I guess is why we’ve not seen it happening already.

On the crazy end of the spectrum we can thank the Sensible Sofware devs for the suggestion of a brain operated console. You simply think your way through everything. It could add a new dimension to branching narrative and character driven games. They must have been very excited when David Cronenberg’s Existenz hit cinemas.

This magazine has a load of previews in it, along with some good technical details and general info. Thus it’s thrown up another unreleased game of interest – Light Quest from Ubisoft. It’s a side scrolling fantasy adventure game with bags of potential, especially for the year. The story involves an evil witch named Zora, demons, fantastical beasts, and a prophecy. There were three different player characters to use, which would affect the gameplay. A Warrior, elf and mage. Lots of weapons and spells to use. Creatures you can ride. Items to collect that need to be used at the right time. I think the game would have appealed to fans of Myth: History in the Making. It has large sprites and colourful artwork. Intended to be released on Amiga, Atari ST and DOS, Light Quest didn’t meet it’s deadline and for whatever reasons Ubisoft dropped it. I recommend watching the following video which has lots of concept art and background notes from the designers.

If you want to win big at the racetrack, all you need is a good system. As we all know, computers can perfectly predict the future. Simply enter your data and you’re good to go. Buy Compute-A-Race Plus now. I would love to see this program in action and hear about anyones actual experience with it. The makers were confident enough to place an ad and charge £12.99. Good luck says I.

Now onward to some games that made it to release. The Adventures of Robin Hood is an isometric adventure game, something I love. As the mythical Robin of Locksley you have been cast out and your castle taken from you by the Sheriff of Nottingham. You must perform good deeds to improve your public standing, defeat the Sheriff, and take back your home.

The main draw of this game, besides the attractive graphics, is the open world filled with NPCs going about their daily lives. In addition to the main quest you can go searching for optional items that may help you and just generally enjoy the freedom and humour that surrounds you. The biggest complaint is the time it takes to travel about the modest sized map using a point and click method. It’s fine when exploring but not so good when trying to beat the game. Regardless, this one really appeals to me.

Sticking with isometric games, next up is Utopia: The Creation of a Nation. A futuristic real time strategy that takes the style of Sim City (1989) and blends it into the growing 4X genre as started by classics like Reach for the Stars. There are 10 different planet scenarios to play where your main aim is to build a colony and reach a quality of life of at least 80%. This is measured by things like life support, housing, health, taxes and entertainment. There is also the threat of alien invaders, natural disasters and viral outbreaks. Naturally there are research options, weapons and vehicles. Requiring the sort of balancing act keen administrators and world builders enjoy. If things don’t go to plan the game may end abruptly with an uprising that leads to your assassination or other sabotage.

Utopia received the second highest rating this month from The One – 93% – and it was similarly appreciated by the other mags. At a time when the 4X strategy genre was still emerging this was an early example of what was possible, coming out before the famous Dune 2 and with Civilization just releasing on DOS. On the down side Utopia is no exception from the tendency of these older games to have dated interfaces that can be a bit cumbersome, but it is still a notable game on the 4X trail. Also with some great music from Barry Leitch. Designer and programmer Graeme Ing went on to create another popular space strategy, K240.

Here’s something I never saw before. A real bounty being put on pirates heads. £1,000 reward. That’s quite the attractive sum, and I wonder how hard it was to collect. Most gamers from this era had at least one copied game, if not many more. Regardless of how many games people bought, and any desire to support developers, pirated copies were easy to make and very tempting. Although going back to an earlier subject, Robert Jacob, boss of Cinemaware, said in an interview that ‘Piracy was a problem. Back then, we had a much smaller installed base, so any piracy is an issue. But piracy isn’t the reason Cinemaware went down. It went down for many other reasons. Piracy may have hurt our profitability a bit, but it didn’t bring us down.’

Not wanting to understate the seriousness of the subject, the effect most likely varied from company to company. Anyhow, take a look at the exciting full page advert from the campaign with our hero John.

To finish, something a little different. Sliders. No, it’s too early to be a tacky TV tie-in. This is a one on one sports event where two metallic balls face off against each other trying to knock a puck into the opponents goal. It’s in the same vein as Marble Madness or Spindizzy Worlds but, apparently, most satisfying as a multiplayer game. The action looks frantic and the ‘pitches’ have a load of obstacles and some tricky magnetic activity to contend with.

These sorts of unusual arcade sports games don’t get much attention these days, or even that many devs taking an interest. Also, being a retro game which lends itself to multiplayer means it gets much less attention. Yet it’s curios like this that add a lot of value to the variety in gaming. Plus it scored a respectable 86%.

The developers behind Sliders are Microids. A french company that has continued to grow over the years since it’s start in 1985. After numerous changes, mergers and acquisitions Microids is still a big publisher and making something of a resurgence lately. November 2020 will see the release of the XIII remake on multiple platforms including Amazon’s Luna streaming service.

That wraps up a really enjoyable issue of The One for Amiga Games. Mouthful of a title but it’s packed with a lot of multi-page previews and some good articles. Another being a world map showing companies and game related things all over the world. Thumbs up from me. And just as a final note the top rated new release was Magic Pockets with 94% and lowest rated was Rolling Ronny with 72%.

Till next time.

Some images courtesy of Abandonware France and World of Menchi

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