Category Archives: Home Computing Gaming Heroes

My Gaming Timeline Part 6 – Amstrad CPC 464 Games (1985 – 1989)

In this part of My Gaming Timeline, TWLB takes you back to the mid-80s. This time round we look at the Alan Sugar-rific (yes he did do things before The Apprentice kids) Amstrad CPC464. This was the third piece of the UK Home Computing Trinity, that also comprised of the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64. Here is the Monochrome monitor version (the one I owned), but there was also an option for a Colour monitor;

But first of all, we need to take a sidestep and visit the humble, almost defunct, audio cassette;

30 years ago games piracy existed. And on that bombshell, and for the benefit of younger readers, let me elaborate further.Times were simpler, and games for ‘home computers’ came on ‘audio cassettes’. Blank, recordable audio cassettes could be purchased from the likes of WH Smith, and were the essential tool if you were planning to do a spot of Radio 1 Top 40 taping on a Sunday night. They came in C30, C60 and C90 flavours. C90 were the best, as they were 45 minutes on each side. To put it in modern context, they were the 64gb usb stick, or maybe the 2TB external hard drive, of the early to mid 80’s. They came in covers that looked like this and this;

Blank cassettes were fantastic inventions, and entrepreneurial souls would – and could – tape their U2 collection on several C90’s and charge you a quid per tape to cover ‘costs’. But mainly, as I recall, blank audio cassettes were not a way to get rich quick. They were a bartering tool, and as good a model of the barter system I will probably ever see, despite the fact it always seem to be the next big thing on the internet. So, for example, I would do a mix of, say, Northern Soul and Jesus & Mary Chain tracks (1 side each!) and give that tape to my friend, who would oblige me with a tape of tracks from happy go lucky 80s black jeans wearing Dub Sex and New Model Army. And so on. You put a bit of creativity and thought into the product, maybe illustrating the cover, ALWAYS providing track details, and what you had was something a little bit personal, a piece of you in a way, your tastes, your interests – and you were giving it to a friend and they would most likely reciprocate.
But audio cassettes were so versatile during that period, that they were also the medium by which games could be shared as well. If only you could have put movies and porn on them then the internet (or the world wide web at least) would probably not have been invented.

I had an Amstrad CPC464. (Black & White monitor, as you ask, although it was actually more Green and White). Amstrad home computers were a distant 3rd place behind the all conquering Spectrum and C64, but distant 3rd still meant there was a decent platform choice of games, and by late 1985 most major games came out for all platforms. So there was a variety of games.  And with that variety came the opportunity of using your tape to tape device and recording the game on the audio cassette onto one of your blank c30/c60/c90’s;

some examples of dual cassette decks – a Gateway to Gaming Gorging and Greed

My memory of home computing in the 80’s is only of the Amstrad CPC464. My memory of having an Amstrad CPC464 is buying lots of games – like Mastertronic and Firebird games for 2 or 3 quid in the vain hope they would be good (and some were  – like Chiller and The Wild Bunch). My first football manager game (the legendary ‘Football Manager by Kevin Toms’) cost a tenner, but proved to be good value after it claimed its first 500 hours of my time.

 I bought Elite for a princely sum and would regularly spend my mum and dads money on games at around 10 quid a throw (Alligata’s ‘Defend or Die’, Gargoyle Games’ ‘Dun Darach’). 


I even.won a game – ‘Hacker’ – through a competition run by Boots. But I also used to swap a lot of games collections with friends on tapes. I used to borrow games and make a copy. I used to loan games out to mates who did the same. Without that loaning and passing on of games, I would never have got to play a Steam Train simulation (Southern Belle), and may well have by-passed the addictiveness of Chuckie Egg and Highway Encounter. 



I am glad I got to test-drive Technician Ted, because that would have been a purchase regretted. Beach Head never seemed to work on the cassettes my mates gave to me, and Daley Thompson’s Decathlon likewise. When I did eventually get to play them they were well worth the wait.

Likewise, my friends would have benefited from my collection that ranged from The Rocky Horror Picture Show to Dark Star, Into The Eagles Nest, Who Dares Wins II and Alien 8. If not for me passing out cassette compilations, they may well have passed up on the sweaty, claustrophobic Aliens, the superior Batman, the wonderful Starion, and the Kevin Toms sequel to Football Manager, ‘Software Star‘. They may never have experienced the ERE informatique games. And if not for me, it is highly likely many of them would have had the dubious pleasures of the game of the Kids TV hit ‘Supergran’.


Some games had their own encryption / anti-piracy measures, so whoever wanted to play the thing simply had to go and buy it or forget about it. One of those was the Adventure Game creator utility, Graphic Adventure Creator. I wrote more about that here.


The Amstrad CPC464 had more than enough great games. It also had a great sister magazine to Crash and Zzap!64, called Amtix!, and it had lots of great Oliver Frey Covers;

It sustained my sporadic gaming sprees from the mid to late 80’s, until the Sega Megadrive put me firmly back in love with Consoles.Thanks to that community of Amstrad users, we all got to experience many great games. And it also meant that when we had run out of our own games to play, we did not have to resort to typing pages of code to try and play a buggy Pac-Man rip off.

Links!!!

All about CPC464 Games
http://retroactionmagazine.com/retroactionextra/amstrad-action-all-time-top-10-games/
http://cpcwiki.eu/index.php/Top_games
http://www.cpcgamereviews.com/
http://www.game-shrine.com/site/games/index.php?platform=25
http://www.cpcwiki.eu/forum/games/retrogamer-top-25-amstrad-games/
http://www.cpcgamereviews.com/amtix/index.html

All about Piracy & The 80’s
http://www.gamesradar.com/a-brief-history-of-video-game-piracy/
http://unrealitymag.com/index.php/2009/08/09/there-was-piracy-in-the-80s/
http://www.dealspwn.com/daily-bite-software-piracy-80s-75506
http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/features/9110-1988-The-Golden-Age-of-Game-Piracy.2
http://blogs.ocweekly.com/heardmentality/2010/07/ten_hilarious_anti-piracy_meth.php


images courtesy of;
Daley Thompsons Decathlon image – http://cpcwiki.eu/index.php/Daley_Thompson’s_Decathlon
Highway Encounter image – http://www.retrogamingworld.co.uk/product-expand.php?section=61&product=6296
Defend or Die image – http://www.cpc-power.com/index.php?page=detail&onglet=jaquette&num=698 
Football Manager image – http://www.mobygames.com/game/cpc/football-manager/cover-art/gameCoverId,52025/ 
WH Smith cassette cover image –  http://underdesign.wordpress.com/2011/06/06/european-compact-cassette-covers-j-cards-from-the-1980s/
Amtix! issue 16 cover –  http://magazinesfromthepast.wikia.com/wiki/Computer_Scrabble_Deluxe

Home Computing Gaming Heroes – Design Design (1980s)

In the golden age of gaming (which I am going to call the mid 1980s and anything before that) when home computing was proliferating in the United Kingdom, many software houses* sprang up and released variations on popular game formats.

For example, Alligata Software released ‘Defend Or Die‘ (a decent clone of William’s classic Defender)and ‘Who Dares Wins’ (which was a great copy of Capcom’s ‘Commando‘) which was covered here on TWLB a couple of years ago – see here.

The point of all this preamble is to celebrate one of the great British software companies, who, in the mid-eighties, brought great joy to Amstrad CPC464 owners with two seminal games ‘Dark Star’ (essentially a 3D Space Combat game, but more importantly it was a vector game that played like the Atari Star Wars Arcade game) and ‘Tank Busters’ which was to all intents and purposes the Atari vector classic ‘Battlezone‘. TWLB celebrate Design Design, who gave sunshine to Amstrad CPC464 gamers in the form of Dark Star and Tank Busters.


Dark Star

The brilliance of the Atari Star Wars Arcade game cannot be disputed. From the awesome cockpit cabinet;

to the bright and sharp vector graphics;

and the great music (which was a really good attempt at capturing the orchestral majesty of John Williams’ theme). All this, and superb gameplay, culminating in an exciting and evocative run down the Death Star trenches to shoot bombs down exhaust ports. Nothing came close to matching this excitement until the Nintendo Gamecube had the brilliant Rogue Leader nearly 20 years later (and, by the way, this game alone should have propelled sales of the Gamecube to match the PS2 – why it didn’t remains a mystery to me);

What I am trying to convey is that ‘Star Wars Arcade’ was a true experience. Playing it in a small, cramped, cigarette stained arcade on Aldergate in Tamworth amongst the fruit machines made no difference. My surroundings meant nothing to me – I could just as well have been in an X-Wing – it was that good, the whole Star Wars Arcade experience that evocative.

Naturally then, any game attempting to distill that experience and intensity into a home computing format was doomed to fail, but at the same time, any software developers attempting to recreate such a great game was going to get people interested, because the core elements of the game would translate well to home gaming. Providing it was done correctly. Design Design managed it, thanks to great vector graphics, gameplay that paid homage to its (Atari) inspiration, and some quirky elements of their own (like flying through portals that were comprised of lots of vector squares) that made Dark Star a great Amstrad game (it was also released for the ZX Spectrum).

Dark Star comprised of 3 gaming stages – the first was a space battle, very much like the first stage of Star Wars arcade. A 3d vector graphic battle in space – this was as good as it got at the time, and that was very good. Next up was the 3D warp tunnel, which was very much like a road race scenario as you triwed to keep your ship within the tunnel. This was the unique gaming element and for me it is the most memorable. The third stage was probably the best though – an attack on an alien planet, shooting down hostile towers and avoiding fire and hostile ships.

Dark Star was fast and smooth graphically, and played with an intensity that was unheard of in any other space combat game for the Amstrad (and I am thinking of the likes of Codename Mat 3D here). Dark Star is a true Amstrad classic, a great space game that preceded the likes of Elite and Starion on the CPC464. These are a few of the sites with information on the game (note that there are links to both Amstrad and Spectrum sites). So, in no particular order;

http://www.ysrnry.co.uk/articles/ystop100.htm – a review of the spectrum version of dark star

http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~jg27paw4/yr11/yr11_51.htm – joystick jury on dark star at your spectrum

http://equ.in/ox/spectrum/eggs/design_design.php – spectrum dark star easter eggs

http://www.carlylesmith.karoo.net/spectrum/gamefaq/gamefaq5.html – more spectrum dark star easter eggs

http://www.cpczone.net/game/262/postcomment/ – cpc zone entry for dark star

http://www.cpczone.net/game/262 – a proper review, screenshots, game cover from cpczone

http://members.aol.com/kjnash/update/DRGUP012.HTM – review of the spectrum game dark star

http://www.romguy.com/roms/amstradcpc/Dark_Star.html – dark star amstrad rom

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Tank Busters

What Dark Star did for 3D vector graphic space combat, so Tank Busters did for 3D vector tank-in-a-wasteland skirmishes and warfare. The basic premise is the same as Atari’s Battlezone (you control a tank on a desolate landscape and shoot anything that moves before they shoot you), although it eschews the unique arcade version controls and ‘periscope view’;

If you have ever played Battlezone (and if not, you can play it here), then you know what to expect. As an Amstrad gamer in the eighties, this was another great addition to my games, although not as crucial as Dark Star.

The other great thing about Design Design is the fact that the design of the front end was so damn nice to look at, functional and pretty;

I mean, how simple and good looking is that? The options page meant you could tweak the difficulty from easy to hellish (and with Tank Busters, having what seemed like having a hundred tanks face you down was not good).

Like Dark Star, there are some good resources on Tank Busters, and again, in no particular order, here they are;

http://www.cpcgamereviews.com/t/index.html – review of amstrad version of tank busters

http://www.cpczone.net/game/1605 – cpc zone entry for tank busters

http://www.cpczone.net/game/1605/screens – cpc zone has screenshots of tank busters

http://www.cpcgamereviews.com/amtix/amtix.txt – cpcgamereviews has a list of all the games ever reviewed on Amtix (the sister publication to Crash and Zzap64) and gives the ratings.

Finally, here is the really good news – Design Design Software have released all their CPC games (Tank Busters, Dark Star, Forbidden Planet) as freeware. With the permission of the author (Simon Brattel, crem@cix.compulink.co.uk). For more information, see http://classicgaming.gamespy.com/View.php?view=ConsoleMuseum.Detail&id=42

Thank you Graham Stafford. Thank you Simon Brattel. Thank you for Design Design, Dark Star and Tank Busters.

More on Design Design;

http://www.crashonline.org.uk/08/rebirth.htm

* Software House being a very literal term in some cases, as a lot of ‘software houses’ were one man bands operating out of bedrooms throughout the UK and beyond…