Sunday, 26 July 2015

ZX Open World Part 2

March of the Clones...

Alien 8: Knight Lore in space

So, we're into 1985 and the era of the Knight Lore clones (as opposed to the Marble Madness clones). Ultimate's next game was the space-based Alien 8, which was really just Knight Lore with different graphics and a few gameplay tweaks, but at least they were ripping themselves off with the concept.

Everyone was getting in on the act and some of the quickest off the mark were the budget software houses (Knight Lore and Alien 8 were sold at £9.95, whereas the budget houses tended to be £1.99 or £2.50). There were two that stand out for me (even though both were obviously plagiaristic, they were sufficiently odd to remember: Firebird's Cylu and Chimera.

Chimera: more solid, more weird

Cylu: alarming play area shrinkage

To be fair, I don't recall much about the gameplay of either of these; both were just large maze games with collecting tasks, really. Neither set the world alight, but it was quite impressive and novel that the then state-of-the-art in Spectrum gaming could be ripped off and repackaged so cheaply and quickly.

Molecule Man: £1.99 bought quite
a lot back in the summer of  1986

And probably the best of the cheapo ripoffs was Mastertronic's £1.99 Molecule Man, which, if a bit late to the party (there were genuinely better ripoff isometric 3D games by this point) it was quite unbelievable value for money.

Not only was the game itself pretty good, the map was vast and it also included a level designer program along with the main game, so you could write your own versions, and that in itself was very much a novelty for this sort of game, never mind one selling at a quarter of the price of most games at the time.

Head Over Heels: packed a lot
 of format into 48K

Sweevo's World: The Monty
Python of the isometric 3D world

The fixed-view isometric 3D games probably reached their peak with games such as Head Over Heels and Sweevo's World, which added new elements to the template (for instance, in Head Over Heels, you had two controllable characters with unique abilities and often both were needed to get past a room; Sweevo's World deserves a mention for simply being the clone that was simply the most fun to play).

Quazatron: Paradroid, Spectrum-style
Oh, and not quite finally (as I've got a bit bogged down in the whole isometric thing) I must mention one of my all-time favourite Spectrum games, Quazatron, which was basically a port of the Commodore 64 game Paradroid (itself one of my favourite C64 games).

It was a great example of what each machine was good at; Paradroid couldn't have been reproduced on the Spectrum and been as good as the 64 version (no hardware sprites, for a start), so it was done in a style the Spectrum did well.

Using an open-view 3D perspective actually made the game feel quite different - less tension, but more scope for action. Both are classics even now, I think.

Fairlight: atmospheric, detailed, great graphics
and loads of stuff to play with
Another I should mention is Fairlight, which whilst obviously borrowing liberally from Ultimate's ideas and template, took a different approach to the look of the graphics, at least. Plus it allowed more interaction with non-player characters than had been seen before, but most of all you could move pretty much any object in the game, stack things up to ridiculous degrees of wobbliness, and so on. More freedom, in other words; this was as close as a graphical adventure had come to emulating the open world aspects of the text adventure in terms of scope.

It's a shame that the programmer got ripped off, he could've done more great things, I'm sure. It was a bit of a Wild West world back then though, there was a lot of that going on.

Part 3 follows, at some point...

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