Wednesday, 19 August 2015

ZX Open World, Part 4

Sorry for the delay...

Excuses: had a birthday, which was all pretty cool, pissed about doing other stuff, then thought "ah shit", need to finish this thing, or at least reach some sort of (probably unsatisfactory) conclusion.

But anyway, excuses out of the way, my favourite open world game on the Spectrum - not to say the best, I lost touch with commercial Spectrum games in 1988 or so - was by quite a distance, Mercenary:

Crash-landing on Targ is imminent...

I didn't care that it was a port from an MSX game, nor that the Commodore 64 version was better in many ways, nor even that when the Amiga version came along, it knocked them all into a cocked hat. Mercenary for the Spectrum was - I think - as close to my ideal open world could be at the time. Basically, you crash-land on a planet (Targ - or was the city called Targ? - I forget) which is currently experiencing some sort of civil war (between the Palyars - the goods ones - and the Mechanoids - the baddies - but this isn't immediately apparent). When you land, you're pretty much on your own to do as you please (it definitely helps that you crash-land there's a flying craft nearby - walking around this place takes a long, long time).

The City of Targ becomes visible as
you plummet helplessly...
Handily, a craft is immediately
available on landing

The logical thing to do is to buy the craft that's available when you crash-land. That way you can get yourself exploring from the air, which is far faster than walking around. But you can walk around if you want. You might come across a land-based craft that'll get you around a lot faster, but your line of sight is far more limited than it would be from the air.

Point is, anything went, pretty much.

As can be seen above, the city was broadly laid out in a grid format, although not all co-ordinates contained anything of interest (not on the ground, anyway, although there might be something hovering up above...)
It's Milton Keynes...
in bizarro world

This is a view flying over the city. It's difficult to describe how amazingly well all the flying craft were (once you'd got the hang of them). There was a real feeling of weight and momentum and speed; there was a genuine physics engine working in there.

Of course, this was a 48K Spectrum game (41.5K usable blah blah blah) so by necessity, it was sparse. Boy, was it sparse. Vector graphics to the max.

But that added to the atmosphere if you ask me. Mercenary had an atmosphere all of its own.

Here's a bridge (pictured left). It's a bit like the Humber Bridge, but it only spans a road. Or does it?

Here's a...actually I can't remember what the fuck that was (pictured right). I'm sure it added to the mystery, though.

And there was plenty of mystery, for sure. Mysterious satellite installations! Mysterious forests!
Mysterious circus big tops which were something else but nevertheless looked like circus big tops!

And you could of course blow all this shit up if you wanted (given a suitably-equipped craft). What more is there to like?
The hangar at 09-06. Some nice stuff in there.'s something. It's a hangar from the outside, but it has an elevator to a subterranean level.

There's a good few of these dotted around the city. Some of them contain useful stuff but some of them just do their best to kill you.

'Course, there's no way of winning without going into the subterranean complexes, as they contain all the stuff you might need to finish the game (plus all the cool stuff).

For a start, you'll find new flying craft with far better capabilities than the one you start with. And you will ultimately need one, as the starting craft is nowhere near capable of getting to the places you need to get to, as it simply can't make the altitude.

Let's take a trip...

This is descending into a hangar and not knowing what the fuck is going on, incidentally. Not that that's a bad thing; in fact, in this game, it was the only way to figure out - gradually - how best to play.

Turns out the triangular doors seen here need a triangular key to get through, but that's not obvious from the outset.

Course, there's all kinds of weird shit down there, it's not all enormous blue rooms with triangular doors.

No, quite the contrary, the area to explore underground was - in terms of mapping data - probably bigger than the above-surface stuff; there were quite a few of these underground complexes, each with different things in them, f'rinstance:
Yellow corridors!
Red rooms!
Blue corridors with lethal
spider webs in them!
Mysterious purple doors!


It all looks so basic and primitive now, but the simplicity of the graphics added to it all I mentioned before, the atmosphere generated within Mercenary was unique.  I genuinely loved this game. I felt that this was the future of gaming; the basis being that game landscapes could become increasingly vast whilst the detail could be generated depending on the player's point of view.

There's an interesting interview with David Aubrey-Jones (from Crash edition 44, possibly more on which anon) here and sometimes I wonder what people like him are doing these days.

I bet whatever it is, it's not as exciting as what he was doing in 1987.

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