Sunday, 2 October 2016

The Game What I Wrote

I can't remember if I've blathered on about this before - I don't think I have, but my memory isn't what it was - so let's do it again (if I did it before...I'm confusing myself now).

Back in 1987, when I was 15 (even thinking of that makes me feel old (which I am I suppose)) I wrote an adventure game for the ZX Spectrum called "Homicide Hotel".  It was done with a piece of software called the Professional Adventure Writer (PAW), so I can't claim to have written it from scratch with machine code (at the time my knowledge of Z80 - the machine language of the Spectrum - was pretty much limited to programming really bad side-scrolling shoot-'em-ups) but PAW had a language of its own that was quite complex.  So I was quite proud of my creation - as it all worked as I wanted it to, had a plot, characters and some in-jokes and everything - and I thought it was so good that I sent a copy to CRASH (the leading Spectrum-related magazine at the time; I didn't bother sending it to their main rival - Sinclair User - as they tended to concentrate on arcade games and ignored adventures, in the main part) in an attempt to get a mention and potentially sell it.

I didn't actually expect it to be reviewed, but it was, the review appearing in issue 44, dated September 1987, the cover of which (artwork by Oliver Frey - unrelated to my game, but it's such an artefact of the time that it's irresistible not to include it) is here:

At the time, the adventure game reviews were handled by a guy called Derek Brewster, who really knew his stuff; he'd coded some of the best early adventure games (Kentilla was probably the one that made the most impact) for the Spectrum and had been reviewing for Crash pretty much since its inception.  It's not like I saw him as a god or anything but I - and most others involved in that whole "scene" - definitely respected his opinion.  A good review from Brewster was kind of a stamp of authority, or authenticity, or something.

So you can't imagine my surprise and excitement when I got a complimentary copy of the magazine in the post (prior to its on-sale date, so this would have been early August 1987, around the time I turned 16, anyway), with a little paper slip saying "you are mentioned on page 69*" or something like that.  And lo and behold, there it was:

I seriously couldn't believe it!  84%!  I kept having to read it over and over again to assure myself that it had happened (incidentally, I've still got that copy of CRASH, 30 years on, and I imagine I'll keep it forever for nostalgia reasons).

The market for mail-order adventure games wasn't exactly big, but I got about 50-odd orders (and some surprisingly complimentary letters) from that review.  It doesn't sound much (and indeed it isn't much, in the grand scheme of things) but for a boy just turned 16 it was a big deal.  I probably made about £1.50 for each copy sold after the cost of the cassettes (I used C15s) and postage were taken into account.  This was Big Money to me then.

A year or so later, the market for Spectrum adventures had pretty much dried up - very few new ones were being produced - so when a guy called Tony Collins, who ran a software company called The Guild (which specialised in adventure games) got in touch and offered to take it on and include it in his stable of adventures, I naturally said "yes please!".  He paid me a "royalty" of 40p per copy sold and it went on to sell about another 50-odd copies before that whole thing faded away.

Looking back on it now, it was a bit of a rubbish game really (I think it's still playable on PCs through the World of Spectrum archive, so if you really want, you can find out for yourself just how rubbish it was).  It was far too difficult for a start - I've long forgotten how to complete it myself - but fucking hell, it was fun.  I particularly enjoyed writing the location descriptions and seeing how much extraneous stuff - silly in-jokes and such - I could pack into it.  Ah, nostalgia.

* Although being a young innocent at the time - and that it was undoubtedly a pure coincidence - the happenstance of the review being on page 69 didn't strike me as funny at the time, but it does now.  I am easily amused.

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