Monday, August 22, 2016

Amigo Scour issue 4 out now!

In the words of Stuart Ashen, “are we still doing these?"

Yup, dusty vintage Amiga mags won't plunder themselves you know, so here’s my latest scrapbook, cold and dog-eared off the press.

Imagine having a fully-fledged coin-op cabinet in your living room, loaded with hundreds of arcade quality games, and all set to free play. It's no big deal today of course because we're spoilt for choice - we have fruity Pi oozing out of our ears and throwbacks to the original hardware can even be found in Argos. Blimmin’ diddly-darn-doodly Argos of all the mainstream, curmudgeonly outlets in the universe! (sorry for the strong language).

No, what I'm alluding to is possessing an arcade jukebox style cabinet way back in the early ‘90s when Joe & Mac and Bonk were whacking Diplosaurus with wooden clubs, and only that one bratty, over privileged kid in your school class had access to the internet at home. He's probably a professional pipe-smoking, tweed jacket-wearing toff these days… and I bet he shoots pheasants for sport.

In September 1990 this is precisely what Active Consoles unveiled to we the drooling proletariat at the European Computer Entertainment Show.

Mean Machines issue 1 (October 1990)
Their intriguing plan was to offer for sale the meaty arcade hardware on a ‘bring your own display’ basis for under £300. The ‘Powarcade’ cabinet was to feature a credit button in place of the usual coin slot, and a double joystick, coupled with a three button configuration assigned to each. They'd even convinced arcade machine stalwarts, Silverline, to take care of the manufacturing process to guarantee the quality would be top notch.

A limited range of games were initially intended to be made available for around £50 a piece, and delivered on interchangeable PCBs to be inserted into the system's Jamma slot. This opening volley it was hoped would eventually be followed by complete compatibility with any and every arcade game.

I know, I know, it has all the hallmarks of pie-in-the-sky wish fulfilment, yet Active did actually bring the product to market, and it was advertised in many of the mainstream gaming magazines at the time. Still, I don't know anyone who owned one and further information is extremely thin on the ground today.

Despite being a Newcastle fan, Colin Proudfoot, Commodore’s financial wizard and joint MD, arranged for the company to be Chelsea Football Club’s official sponsor in a multi-million pound deal that stretched from 1987 to 1994. For the first six years the players were running sandwich boards for Commodore, before the logo was supplanted by the Amiga branding in 1993.

That's Chelsea midfielder and captain, Dennis Wise, in the forefront should you be wondering

The arrangement was a bit of a double-edged sword by all accounts because the better Chelsea performed, the more Commodore would have to pay for the publicity. The base rate per year was £1m, whereas if Chelsea reached the FA Cup final or won the Premiership League, another £1m would be slapped on top of the bill. A place in the semi-final would cost £500,000, and even getting to the quarter-final would set Commodore back a cool £250,000.

The One issue 47 (August 1992)
In April 1994, the same month Commodore declared bankruptcy, Chelsea reached the FA Cup final for the first time in twenty-four years. Talk about adding insult to injury! It would have meant little consolation that they didn’t win.

To ensure Commodore could meet Chelsea’s demands, Colin would take out insurance to guard against the club’s success, though when the inevitable happened, the insurance premiums were hiked by an extortionate degree.

Bizarrely, Colin demonstrated that it was 40% cheaper to pay a syndicate of people around the country to place bets in Ladbrokes to achieve the same end! Apparently there are (or were?) companies who offer this service as a legitimate business venture. This was in the days prior to automated computer analysis that would have detected evidence of strategic gambling, and put the kibosh on the scheme.

Similarly, between 1984 and 1989 Commodore's Deutsche division sponsored Germany’s biggest football club, Bayern Munich, and also the Ukrainian football team, Dynamo Kiev in 1987.

Amiga Computing issue 57 (Febuary 1993)
Surely not paedophile, Chris Denning? The guy who has made prisons dotted around the globe his second home? He wouldn’t be my first choice as a spokesman for the Amiga!

In a moment of Madness (appropriately!), Gremlin intended to develop a Mega Drive/Amiga platform game based around the wacky English ska band fronted by Graham ‘Suggs’ McPherson. Perhaps not such a crazy idea in hindsight given that they were massively popular back in the ‘70s and ‘80s - they clocked up 15 top ten singles, one no. 1 in the UK and two in Ireland, and are still going strong today following a return from retirement. Motörhead had their own Amiga game, so why not?

The One issue 57 (June 1993)
That's not another new entry for my 'They sold a million' article in the last paragraph by any chance?

Unfortunately it was to be a bit of a cheap hack job using a modified version of the Harlequin game engine as its foundation. The protagonist would have been ‘Mr Smash’, a character based on the band’s trumpet player, Chas Smash. The original graphics were to be substituted for more theme-relevant sprites and environments, while the backing music would have consisted of Madness tracks, obviously.

Despite being previewed in issue 17 of Mean Machines Sega and Mega Force (I expect each magazine began life at the same time so had parallel issue numbers), the game originally intended for release in 1994, was flushed down the carsey never to be seen again on either of the proposed platforms. It's not known what went wrong exactly, and Suggs wasn't available for comment as he was stuck in the queue at Primark trying to buy a new pair of Baggy Trousers as we went to print.

Amiga Shopper issue 5 (Sept 1991)
The CDTV was a spectacularly misguided own-goal so it stands to reason that Guy Wright’s welcome disk would be a botched misfire too.

Amiga people are too wily for their own good, that's partly what sunk the ‘Commodore Dynamic Total Vision’ multimedia device, to use its full backronym. They recognised from the outset that it was little more than an A500 with a CD drive, in a sleek, jet-black wrapper… released at a time when the A570 CD add-on was right around the next corner.

Existing Amiga owners were content to wait, while new users baulked at the £499 price tag, and couldn't fathom what they'd do with it in any case.

Ironically, to its detriment, the CDTV was ahead of its time. The CD format was in its infancy and software developers were still trying to establish how to engage with it, which is why for a long time you'd see discs being released that used a fraction of the available capacity. Even when the CD32 emerged - the CDTV’s spiritual successor - the vast majority of games were tiny A1200 ports with no additional audio or FMV whatsoever… precisely what the system was designed to exploit.

Accidentally stuffing the CDTV's intro disc with embarrassing filler material was a novel way to redress the balance!

Amiga Shopper issue 4 (August 1991)
Never has the aphorism, 'it takes all sorts', been more apt. Did this guy really buy a magazine and then write to the editor to complain on account of it being full of words? Words no less! I hate the blighters too; they just sit there all po-faced expecting you to run your flagging peepers over them, interpreting their meaning as you go along. It's all such a chore. Yawn.

All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication.

There, that's fixed that problem.

Amiga Shopper issue 2 (June 1991)
Along similar lines, another reader writes in to moan about the number of adverts in Amiga Shopper! He/she sort of gets it, yet at the same time doesn't.

Amiga Shopper was intrinsically a hardware/software catalogue, sparingly interspersed with interesting articles, reviews and commentary. It was cheap for a reason!

This would be like saying, "Christianity is great and all that, but can we have less of the God-chat please?".

"Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum."

"But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account of the system, and expound the actual teachings of the great explorer of the truth, the master-builder of human happiness. No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure itself, because it is pleasure, but because those who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally encounter consequences that are extremely painful. Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?"

"Far far away, behind the word mountains, far from the countries Vokalia and Consonantia, there live the blind texts. Separated they live in Bookmarksgrove right at the coast of the Semantics, a large language ocean. A small river named Duden flows by their place and supplies it with the necessary regelialia. It is a paradisematic country, in which roasted parts of sentences fly into your mouth. Even the all-powerful Pointing has no control about the blind texts it is an almost unorthographic life. One day however a small line of blind text by the name of Lorem Ipsum decided to leave for the far World of Grammar. The Big Oxmox advised her not to do so, because there were thousands of bad Commas, wild Question Marks and devious Semikoli, but the Little Blind Text didn’t listen."

Who are you calling a dummy?

If this ad was published today anywhere other than in Country Life you'd naturally assume it was meant to be an ironic, wry swipe at the smug, over privileged arrogance of toffy-nosed aristocrats.

The One issue 9 (June 1989)
Back then, however, dodgy, awkward advertising occasionally slipped through the focus group's ridicule-fodder detectors. I think I've stumbled across a prime example here. Have you ever seen anyone smoking a pipe who isn't 127 years old, or starring in a Lord of the Rings movie? (or that kid in your school class who got online way before everyone else!).

Of course the two models in the photo shoot would surely have had plastic surgery and been issued with new names by now so we can't ask them what on earth they (and the ad agency) were smoking at the time.

Despite the pompous hyperbole, MicroStatus (a division of MicroProse) released just one more title for the Amiga, Driller. All three fall into the 3D virtual world, action adventure category. I heard on the grapevine that Monty Burns liked the cut of their jib.

The One issue 7 (April 1989)
You'd assume Gilbert was another ‘Game That Wasn't’, wouldn't you? If so, you'd be dead wrong. Somehow it happened, it's real, it occupies space in our very own plane of existence, as did the kids’ TV show the character emanates from.

‘Get Fresh’ ran for five series between 1986 and 1988 and was shown on the CITV network.

It was hosted by none other than Violet Berlin's hubby, Gaz Top, and Adrian Mole initially. Gilbert the Alien, voiced by DJ Dave Clifton of Alan Partridge fame, replaced Adrian for the second and third series… which must have worked wonders for his self-esteem I'm sure!

Get Fresh is perhaps more notable, however - to the Amiga community at least - for unfurling The Bitmap Brother's Xenon as a blindfolded phone-in game.

Remember that bit in IK+ where Chuck Norris kicks the spit out of Jean-Claude Van Damme while Steven Seagal pulls off his best shell-shocked, thousand yard 'nam vet stare? I've seen things maaaan. Things you wouldn't believe.

The One issue 3 (December 1988)
When the Boogeyman goes to sleep every night, he checks under the bed for Chuck Norris.

Box art piracy on the high seas at its finest!

Amiga Computing 111 (April 1997)

Gateway 2000 might have taken issue with that...

...but then, “there's a guy works down the chip shop swears he's Elvis...”

BBC Radio 1 DJ, Jakki Brambles, was such a vocal advocate for the Amiga she was offered a regular news column writing on behalf of a mail order hardware/software retailer known as INDI Direct Mail. Curiously, on a number of occasions she managed to snag a Commodore scoop before the major Amiga magazines had wiped the sebum from their weary eyes, leading them to wonder, who the hell is Jakki Brambles?

Amiga Computing issue 66 (November 1993)

Whilst broadcasting to the nation she would spoil recent Amiga games by supplying cheats and tips, or revealing how they conclude, much to the chagrin of gamers who hadn't yet played them. Booo, hissss!

The One issue 47 (August 1992)

Amiga Computing issue 49 (June 1992)
The AmigaDrive was indeed a hoax, one which appears to have arisen from an April fool's joke printed in C&VG magazine, only there it was announced as a way to dump Amiga games onto custom cartridges to be played on the Mega Drive. A case of Chinese whispers I suspect.

If it had been true I'm sure plenty of people would have bought one despite the inflated cost. Invest now and make your savings on the duplicated games would be the mantra, as it was with the Amiga itself sadly.

Anyway, I wonder why April's fool jokes aren't spread more evenly throughout the year to better disguise them.

Hmmm, another one of life's great mysteries...

Light guns were mostly an 8-bit Nintendo craze that failed to set the Amiga world ablaze. By 1994, the manufacturers couldn't give them away. I've written a lengthy article on the subject elsewhere which explains why. They're now super-mega-rare and sell for silly money on eBay, despite not being compatible with modern TVs or monitors.

CU Amiga issue 55 (September 1994)

The One issue 57 (June 1993)
Sometimes things seem like a good idea at the time. On other occasions you know instantly they should never have been allowed to spring free from the drawing board. Meet the Barcode Battler.

Released in March 1991, it was marketed alongside genuine handheld gaming devices such as the Lynx and Game Gear, and looked similar enough to fool your gran on a spontaneous birthday gift shopping spree, yet crucially lacked sound, graphics, game-play, fun and a plausible reason to exist.

I suppose it was a bit like a Tamagotchi except you'd swipe barcodes through the built-in reader to create and level up your characters, who would then be pitted against your friends’ 'pets’... for some reason.

It bombed in the UK, yet was enthusiastically embraced by the Japanese, presumably because in the year of release the country had been hit by a nuclear blast and the fallout rendered the entire nation incapable of rational thought.

Amiga Computing issue 70 (February 1994)
I'd say it's a fair cop guv; that's totally despicable behaviour, though I'd have gone a step further and had her flogged to be honest. She brought it on herself... obviously.

White space, and white space, and white space,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, white space!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot blogger, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

David Pleasance reveals Steve's fate in a 2015 video interview with Dan Wood. I won't repeat what he said here while the man is still alive in case I get sued. Not that I doubt its veracity.

If I leave some random, dissociated words down here, don't assume they are relevant to the story.

Conflict of interests, companies act, contravention, failure to declare.

Amiga Computing issue 52 (September 1992)
Sounds like it would be a kiddy-corrupting Bad Influence to me.

No good can possibly come of it I tell you! Batten down the hatches before it's too late slimy furtlers!

The VHS video 'magazine’ that was the basis of my Amigos Podcast Christmas memories submission. If I said it was a must-see… I'd be lying, but go and watch it anyway. You'll have the time of your life, if you've lead a very sheltered one.

The One issue 42 (March 1992)

Lobo never graced our beloved Miggy with its own version, but did eventually emerge as an unofficial, leaked prototype for the Mega Drive in 2009, and SNES in 2014.

The One issue 52 (January 1993)

Before the project was cancelled, it was originally intended for release in winter 1996 where the 16-bit consoles were concerned, by which time they were beginning to look a bit long in the tooth to be economically viable. Today you can buy a dodgy copy on a repro cartridge for that authentic retro kick...

Goodbye grey sky, hello blue,
there's nothing can hold me when I hold you.
feels so right you can't be wrong,
rockin' and rollin' all week long.

As always, I've been me, you've been you, and this was the latest issue of Amigo Scour... no relation at all to that other mag that sounds a bit similar, natch. Until next time, thank you, come again!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Episode 56 - The Hound of Shadow

Download Mp3 (right-click and Save As)

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I kinda forgot to hit record on the playthrough this week. But seriously, you didn't miss much. Aaron says he's going to do a full playthrough on his own. Bug him about it on Google Plus!

A big thank you for O'Brien's Retro and Vintage for giving us the physical copy of this game!

Thanks to our supporters: Paul Harrington, Laurent Giroud, Loggins, Jonas Rullo, Kolbjørn Barmen, Tapes From the Crypt,  Adam Bradley Chris Foulds Will Williams Daniel Bengston, O’Brien’s Retro and Vintage, Chad Halstead, and Brent Doughty!

Support Amigos on Patreon!

World exclusive CD32 TV footage!

Apparently the first time the Commodore CD32 was showcased on TV anywhere in the world was on the kids' Saturday morning, magazine-style show, Gimme 5. It was a sort of second-rate Going Live with presenters you'd never heard of, and a bi-pedal talking sheep called Nobby... I kid you not!

Even so, it ran for three series and the host, Jenny Powell, notable for having a cute voice and being attractive went on to have a cute voice and be attractive elsewhere. She also married a millionaire, had two daughters and then got divorced.

I'd take the CD32 boast with a pinch of salt; they also claim that Diggers is "reputed to be the biggest game ever for any console", and we know that to be a mega-fib because this honour goes to Dangerous Streets!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

What became of New Star Electronics?

In a list of words with the potential to strike unmitigated dread into the heart of any Commodore fan, these three would rank pretty highly.

New Star Electronics were the Chinese investors who were to inject $25m into the Commodore acquisition deal spearheaded in 1995 by the then managing director and chief financial officer, David Pleasance and Colin Proudfoot. The sizeable wad represented 50% of the capital deemed critical to get the company back on its feet and once again in production sans any forthcoming credit provision from the component suppliers who by that stage wouldn’t have given Commodore the time of day otherwise.

The tried and tested partnership appeared to be dead certs to take home the bacon. Nonetheless, European director of logistics, Petro Tyschtschenko, can’t have fancied his chances of maintaining his position in the company under their reign; post-haste he made it his one man crusade to source an alternative saviour. This should come as no real surprise to anyone familiar with David's assessment of Mehdi Ali's “bag carrier”.

He states in his own book, ‘Meine Erinnerungen an Commodore und Amiga’ that his decision to approach Escom founder, Manfred Schmitt, to seek help was based on the strong alliance they forged during the Commodore 64’s heyday.

As the story goes, Manfred desperately needed 5000 units to keep his ailing business afloat in the run up to the typically manic Christmas period one year, but because Petro was out of the country at the time he was forced to disappoint him. Manfred kept pushing and Petro in the end conceded, pulling out the stops to make the delivery happen. In Petro’s own words, he “saved his life”. Perhaps an overly dramatic way to describe making a phone call to the guy who packed the systems and loaded them onto a truck, but there you have it.

Manfred, like the proverbial elephant, never forgot this favour, so when he had the opportunity to return it by not only buying Commodore, but also championing his pal, Petro, as president of the company, he didn’t hesitate in grabbing it with both hands. It was Petro or bust.

Merely 48 hours before the auction was due to commence, New Star pulled out of the deal having been convinced that if they joined forces with Escom they would automatically be granted the manufacturing rights without investing a cent. David and Colin felt honour bound to withdraw their offer, knowing they didn’t have the financial muscle to resuscitate Commodore without New Star’s majority stake, and Escom’s $14m bid was accepted, despite Dell offering $1m more. What swung it for Escom was that they had spent the previous six months undertaking the necessary due diligence procedures, whereas Dell came late to the party and hadn’t even got off the starting blocks. The judge refused to wait for them to play catch up and the trademark bandits snatched the spoils. By all accounts, Escom - the second largest computer manufacturer in Germany at the time with sales amassing $1.1b the previous year - had played a blinder, what with Commodore’s assets being valued at $20m.

Prior to sidling up to the table with their suitcases stuffed with bank notes, New Star (aka Tianjin Family-used Multimedia Co.) were in the shady business of churning out knock-off Nintendo and Mega Drive console clones. In fact they were at the forefront of 16-bit gaming at the time having corralled 80% of the Chinese market and sold a million units in 1994. They were perfectly comfortable with their commercial standing, and only became embroiled in the buy-out fray when the Chinese government insisted they clean up their act, under enormous pressure from the Japanese console giants who were keen to protect their intellectual property, one would imagine.

Through their greed and pliability they entered into an arrangement with Escom on the proviso that they would be awarded the contract to revive the production of the original Amiga line for distribution to western markets. What actually happened when push came to shove veered somewhat off-base. The manufacturing contract was instead bestowed upon the Tietsin Trust & Investment Co. who had established a factory near Beijing to get the ball rolling. Even so, this wasn’t the end of the story for New Star.

The former console forgers’ parent company, the New Jersey based Rightiming Electronics Corporation, were offered the option to purchase a license to produce officially endorsed Amiga clones to be sold in the Far East under the ‘New Star’ trade-name. So much for their ‘free lunch’. Regardless, New Star acceded and their first offering was to be christened the seemingly typo-tastic Amiga 5A00. According to their vice president/chairman, Jing Jian Li, the internet-enabled machine was to sport a 68000 processor and run on version 3.1 of the Amiga OS. The gutsy upstarts even intended to provide a ‘walled garden’ ISP solution to maintain complete control over the product, which technically would be in defiance of the Chinese government who already had that particular avenue sewn up!

It’s not clear if such a system ever materialised, though what we do know is that the license to use the Amiga brand name for similar projects was transferred to another New Jersey based company for $5m plus 8m shares of common stock in the postliminary organisation. Lotus Pacific by way of their subsidiary, Regent Electronics Corporation, did go on to release a tangible product, the Amiga-powered Wonder TV A6000 set top box. It was designed by a number of ex-Commodore engineers in conjunction with the German Amiga peripheral company, DCE. Designated an all-in-one, jack of all trades, the device was projected to sell for roughly the equivalent of the Amiga 1200 with a release date penciled in for the end of 1997. It would operate as a fax machine, play audio and karaoke discs, and MPEG movies, in addition to running existing 32-bit Amiga games and utilities.

In essence it was the CDTV, albeit released at a juncture when the market was more aptly attuned to its potential. At the heart of the sleek looky-likey is an AGA architecture and 020 or 030 processor. Media storage options are catered for by the integrated 4x CD drive, floppy drive and an IDE interface to permit the installation of hard drives, while the unit is controlled using a wireless joypad-TV remote hybrid device very similar to the one supplied with Commodore’s archetypal ‘A500 in a CD player’.

Escom tried to run before they could walk and subsequently declared bankruptcy in July 1996. The Commodore business changed hands once again in the year following their demise, this time being swallowed up by the PC clone manufacturers, Gateway 2000 and Tulip Computers. Tulip won the rights to the Commodore trade-name, while Gateway walked away with everything that remained.

In 1997 a legal squabble ensued between Gateway and Regent Electronics Corporation concerning their seemingly dubious license to produce Chinese Amiga impersonators. Gateway argued that Regent Electronics’ contract wasn’t valid because New Star’s original deal was clinched with Escom who had since gone bankrupt. Nevertheless, Amiga International were keen to resolve the dispute without becoming entangled in a lengthy court battle, and the two companies settled their differences amicably.

With such contractual obstacles eliminated, Regent Electronics Corporation in cooperation with China’s largest TV manufacturer, Sichuan Changhong Electronics Group Corporation of China, forecast production of 200,000 units by the end of 1998. In conjunction with the release of the A6000, Regent Electronics Corporation issued a variant of their set top box known as the A6060. The crucial difference was the provision for access to the in-house TeleWeb broadcast information system and cable TV channels. The prospect of an A5800 desktop model was also outlined, but is thought to have been blocked by Gateway.

Once Gateway acquired a taste for licensed Amiga clones, a number of other groups were given the go-ahead to develop them as well as distribute their own versions of the Amiga OS, in some cases aimed towards untapped markets such as Malaysia and South Africa.

Shortly afterwards, Gateway dropped the once envisioned to be futuristic, ‘2000’, from their moniker in an effort to appear current, yet sadly their forward planning didn't extend to actually developing any new technology. That said, I did appreciate the colloquial charm of their Holstein Friesian cow branding. Like Escom before them, the trademark squatters did nothing to nurture the Amiga’s remarkable legacy, and offloaded the business to Amino Development in 1999 for close to $5m, whilst retaining the rights to all Amiga patents.

As the weary, mooing chorus ebbed away, further interludes of trademark musical chairs ensued, and if I had enough Prozac to hand I'd relay the remainder of the tawdry pantomime.

Petro retired in 2001 and his re-badged red and white globe continued to grind on its rusty axis.

The Amiga got the cancer and died on a Tuesday. I bought her a new hat with little flowers on it. And that's all I have to say about that.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Episode 55 - Prince of Persia

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Awesome mail from O'Briens Retro and Vintage in Norway!

Thanks to our supporters: Paul Harrington, Laurent Giroud, Loggins, Jonas Rullo, Kolbjørn Barmen, Tapes From the Crypt,  Adam Bradley Chris Foulds Will Williams Daniel Bengston, O’Brien’s Retro and Vintage, Chad Halstead, and Brent Doughty!

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Friday, August 12, 2016

Water bombs at dawn

What's this, another Amiga yarn starring our old chums Ocean France and a slick - yet criminally unreleased - coin-op conversion? It can only mean one thing; it's ‘Games That Weren't’ time again folks.

Hipopo demonstrates the Swiss Ball. Everyone needs a hobby I suppose.
Despite being practically complete and originally penciled in for a Christmas ‘91 release, Taito’s obscure, cutesy arcade action platformer, Liquid Kids (known in Japan as Mizubaku Daibouken, which translates to ‘The Great Water Bomb Adventure’), never graced the Amiga with an official release.

“How obscure is it exactly?”, I hear you probe. Well the ‘Video Arcade Preservation Society’ notes there are a paltry "20 known instances of this machine owned by Liquid Kids collectors who are active members. Of these, 20 of them are only circuit boards which a collector could put into a generic case if desired.” Ryu wouldn't have lost much sleep over the prospect of being knocked off his pedestal then!

Not that mass appeal is the be all and end all. The exceptionally promising, possibly-maybe spiritual successor to The New Zealand Story (in a ‘I’m not buying it’ kind of way, even if it is from the same programmer, Kazutomo Ishida) was enthusiastically previewed in the May 1991 issue of Zero magazine, and looked set to give the creaky fossil, Bubble Bobble a run for its baubles.

Nonetheless, a year on when nothing had materialised from the Ocean dungeon, Amiga Power smelled a rat. With regret, in October 1992 they reported that it may never see the light of day as Ocean waited for “the right window” in which to release it.

We have since learnt from Marc Djan, former head of Ocean France, that what Gary Bracey neglected to mention was that Ocean UK failed to secure the publishing rights to the game at the 11th hour so the many months of blood, sweat and pixels poured into the project were effectively flushed down the toilet. As with Snow Bros., Ocean commenced work on the conversion before exchanging contracts with Taito assuming the relationship was strong enough to be able to take their permission for granted based on their historically successful collaborations alone.

Hindsight tells us they were wrong, though not why the partnership broke down. It’s unlikely they had a more lucrative offer on the table because the license wasn't awarded to one of Ocean's rivals, so Taito failed to make a penny from the royalties they could have earned from the home micro conversion of Liquid Kids.

The super-mega-rare l@@k l@@k collectible PC Engine version
Nevertheless, it was released for the PC Engine in 1992 (Taito took care of the port themselves in this case), Sega Saturn in 1998, and for the PC, Xbox and PS2 in 2006 via the arcade emulation compilation, Taito Legends 2. It’s hard to fathom why Taito hadn’t negotiated with Sega and Nintendo to bring the title to the Mega Drive and SNES. You’d think it would have dovetailed neatly with their target audience, and it was certainly the time to release a cutesy 2D arcade platformer - they had never been so popular, and it’s unlikely they will ever witness that degree of mass appeal again.

Fast Forward eleven years and the subject of this squandered opportunity was raised on the English Amiga Board by way of a post originally started by Bernd Gmeineder, founder of AMI Sector One, to discuss the free distribution of David Peres’ puzzle game, The Cartoons.

This naturally led to the discussion of another MIA, forsaken Amiga game, Teddy Bear, also by David Peres. This was being developing on behalf of Ocean France by the freelance coder, was considered complete, yet never hit the retailer’s shelves for reasons that don’t appear to have ever been spelled out. We can’t put this one down to failure to secure the publishing rights from a distant arcade game developer as it was an original title so in theory should have been much easier to launch.

Another tangential leap later and the conversation switched to Pierre Adane, the Ocean France developer responsible for the classy, unreleased arcade port, Snow Bros (as well as the highly accomplished Pang and Plotting coin-op ports). A serendipitous example of the six degrees of separation rule at work!

Pleeeeeease release me, let me goooooooo...
It was suggested that RCK, founder of the EAB, being a native French speaker should be the one to talk to him to establish the whereabouts of the largely finished source code for Liquid Kids and Snow Bros, and to negotiate the possibility of their extremely belated release.

Over the course of several months the debate unravelled with seemingly little progress. Even if the games were discovered, could they be released without fear of legal reprisals from the copyright holders? The ostensibly simple matter of locating a file on a cobweb-encrusted hard drive and uploading it to the web was swiftly evolved into a bureaucratic minefield.

The question it turned out was not merely an academic one. Liquid Kids graphician, Thierry Levastre (whose impressive CV also makes reference to his contribution to Plotting, Pang, Cabal and Flashback), revealed that he was still in possession of a master copy of the game, but understandably wasn't prepared to let it slip out into the wild without prior permission from Taito. His hands were tied so it appeared that the long and winding trail had ultimately run cold.

The pitiful saga had really captured the community's imagination, so without a hint of hyperbole, it's safe to say they were absolutely gutted by the prospect of losing this recovered, lost treasure all over again. Even ex-Amiga Power critic, Stuart Campbell, had been following the story and was keen to offer his support to see the mission through to fruition.

“...with regard to other unreleased stuff, just a thought. If an author wanted to release a game but was scared of getting in trouble with the likes of Taito, they could perfectly legally send a copy of the game to a magazine journalist, say one who specialised in emulation, for a story on "the great games that didn't get released" or something.

If it was to accidentally be leaked from there to a small group of users of a dead computer, well, the author wouldn't have done anything wrong in law, so he wouldn't be able to be sued. And the journalist, well, he'd probably be prepared to take the risk.

Just some aimless hypothetical pondering, there.”

Red Nose Day in Woody Lake. Please donate generously.
Just as any hope of the games ever being unveiled began to fade, on 26th August 2003, Italian EAB member, The Wolf, much to everyone's amazement stepped into the breach to announce he'd managed to track down an ADF version of Liquid Kids and would upload it to ‘The Zone’, EAB’s file storage hub. This he explained had been supplied by an “anonymous friend” who snagged it from a BBS way back when. Definitely not from anyone traceable to the original development team of course.

The release was given Thierry’s blessing, and he confirmed that the copy sourced was the one being worked on right up until the moment development ceased. He added that it only needed ‘retouching’ in preparation for the distribution of the finished article. It appeared that this tale of woe may have a happy ending after all!

Ex-Fairlight (et al) cracker, Galahad, relished the opportunity to dust off his skills in producing the WHDLoad version, and within two days shared a beta with the community. Apparently the unpolished gem required a lot of work to make it executable, and would demand much more attention before a final release could be offered. In the meantime, Codetapper beavered away on the original ADF file.

Galahad provided regular progress updates as he set about fixing the many and varied bugs. He dealt with problematic blitter wait routines, corrected spelling mistakes (though left intact the dodgy Japanese Engrish for historical accuracy's sake), compressed the game data, made it work with AGA Amigas, and squished the DMA bugs.

Sadly he may have bitten off more than he could chew because his sterling work wasn't seen through to the blitter end (pun entirely intended), and as a result several minor bugs have yet to be ironed out. The beta is estimated to be 98% of the way there, and irrespective of the deficit, players can reach the end and watch the unorthodox outro in all its glory.

Contrary to popular belief, getting stuck having immediately travelled to the left when the game starts isn't one of these bugs. It is in fact the way you enable the infinite lives/level skipping cheat mode. Positioned at the far edge of the screen, you can engage the F2-F7 keys to teleport out of the area in which you'd otherwise be stuck indefinitely.

A further twist to the already perplexing story emerged when the unfinished game was included on the cover CD that accompanied the January 2005 issue of the German magazine, Amiga Plus, along with an interview with The Wolf. It's believed they had permission to do so from one of the Ocean France developers, though of course having never nailed down the license, legally speaking it wasn't really for them to grant.

Perhaps the most notorious Amiga Game That Wasn't.
Fear not, this one had a happy ending too.
Any fans of the ‘Amiga Games that Weren't’ web site may be interested to know that this series of events marked the impetus for its inception.

Bernd was so enamoured with the noble crusade of rooting out similarly elusive titles, he suggested constructing the project to act as a repository for researching and documenting their often fragile status.

In his own words...

“My plan is a platform that puts together any info (magazine snippets, information from certain people...) regarding lost Amiga stuff (both games and apps) and tries to get in contact with developers to re-release those titles. This project would be organized by a group of people with equal rights who use a non-public forum for information interchange”.

"Congratulation! You've buying this game. It's a good choice!"

Buyed it, no. It is very splendid. I feel I chosed righteous. Thanking you for the clever making.

Liquid Kids’ leading man, erm, I mean hippo, is Hipopo, the least hippopotamusy hippo since Joni Mitchell. Our fearless, ultra-cutesy protagonist waddles around his Woody Lake habitat - pulling off a fantastic Kirby impersonation - in search of his missing cowfriend, Tamasun. Much to his dismay she has been hippo-knapped by the nefarious Fire Devil, along with a plethora of other quirky creatures who are probably supposed to be chimps, or dolphins or dinosaurs, or… you get the gist I'm sure.

The grim consequences of leaving your hippo in the bath too long. Let this be a lesson to you!
Actually, this is cobblers - Hipopo is technically a platypus and you’re in the business of rescuing a paddle of platypodes; we westerners got the wrong end of the stick due to a translation misinterpretation… assuming Hipopo was a truncation of hippopotamus. Stupid foreigners, eh. If you squint a lot and imagine Hipopo has been rolled up in a ball and his bill condensed, you can kind of, sort of see it. Ish.

Shirley shome mishtake? The pre-Galahad intro in all its glory.
The plot is a real gift for ADHD-addled gamers given that it's summed up in a few pithy sentences, each one helpfully accompanied by a static illustration to set the scene. Even Donald Trump could follow this, though I’d imagine he’d struggle to keep the level of violence in check.

"Peaceful Woody-Lake.”

“The Fire Devil took Woody-Lake by surprise.”

“Transmitted miraculous power.”

“The savior, ‘Hipopo’ attack the devil to rescue his tribe and save his lover ‘Tamasun’..."

Incidentally, this is 1990 so Masahiro Sakurai’s Kirby concept wouldn't emerge for another two years, and in any case was only ever intended to be a place-holder graphic.

If there's something strange in your neighbourhood...
During his development he went by the name ‘Popopo’ which apparently is the Japanese way of expressing gunshots or a succession of bangs ...and the connection to Liquid Kids is? I was hoping you could tell me. Perhaps they’re brothers from another mother? I probably shouldn’t have brought it up. It’s too late now.

Standing between you and your beloved better half are a menagerie of novel, often fire-themed adversaries who can only be dispatched by first incapacitating them with your water bombs and then giving them a swift boot to finish the job. Should they collide with other gribblies on route, they'll be taken out of the equation too, as you rack up a hefty multi-kill bonus. However, if you leave them lingering in their catatonic state too long, they'll reawaken and try to duff you up again. It should all be comfortably familiar territory to anyone who has played any of the games in Taito’s Bubble Bobble series.

You can't beat a good old-fashioned Japanese platypus wedding. It's what hankies were made for. Aww, bless 'em.
At the end of each themed stage you'll encounter some of the wackiest, most imaginatively off-beat, multi-layered guardian sprites to have stalked the silicon innards of any video game PCB to date. You'll no doubt be scrabbling to reassess your concept of ‘random’ when you first clap eyes on these blighters! It's as though some shed-dwelling loopy schemer has bolted together whatever organic and mechanical odds and ends they can lay their hands on, and brought the hybrid juxtaposition to life with voodoo black magic. They don't require traditional weapons, they'll disarm you with their maniacal, mesmerising absurdity alone!

What do you get if you cross the Easter bunny with a Zippo lighter and a Mechano set?
Whilst water bombs are the only string to your bow, they are at least reasonably versatile and upgradeable. Holding down the fire button gradually causes them to inflate to pack a meaner punch, or it can be battered to dispense more compact, rapid ‘ammo’ as the tempo escalates.

Instant telepod, just add water! Flies not included.
Aside from water-boarding your foes, these bombs can be employed to extinguish hazardous fires, manipulate water mills or activate other aqueous-borne paraphernalia, and also to water seeds that grow into plant-based platforms to be used to access higher ground or Narnian wardrobes. The latter is a particularly efficacious party trick given that you jump with all the manual dexterity and athleticism of Eddie Honda.

You won't find a multitude of bizarre power-ups here. The train symbol confers a speed boost and consequently improves the scope of your jumps, while the water pistols, pumps and buckets supercharge your water bombs in terms of rate of fire, range and radius. Finally, the roller skates serve to enhance your platform traction, preventing you from being swept away by flowing water.

The scarcity of power-ups serves to ramp up the difficulty level… not that it required any tweaking in that department; the one hit death policy, coupled with respawning enemies, hurry-hurry time limit botherer (a throwback to New Zealand Story et al), and the tendency for power-ups to reset when you lose a life, already have this angle cornered.

As with Taito’s other coin guzzlers, Liquid Kids is brimming with secret bonus rooms and alternate pathways. These can often be accessed by watering seeds which instantly germinate, the stalks climbing skywards towards a door to another world where extra lives and more demented wildlife awaits.

"One of us leads to the castle, one of us leads to certain death.
One of us always tells the truth; the other always lies."
Similarly, each successful guardian battle concludes with the presentation of a choice of one of two doors, each leading to a different branch of the next stage, some more challenging than others.

Taito games lean heavily towards extending game-play longevity and magnetism, and Liquid Kids is no exception to the rule. The ‘choose your own pathway’ trope is just one of many mechanisms employed in the titles that emerged from the esteemed Taito stable.
The Great Japanese Bake Off
As you'd expect from a Taito game, food-orientated point collecting features prominently too. The motherlode is a tasty cream-slathered cherry (or is it strawberry?) sponge cake, which borrows its pick-up sound effect from Snow Bros. and boosts your score by 1000 points. This ‘cook bonus’ (speeling is overrated, who needs it?) receives a special mention at the end of each level akin to the annual plaudits at an awards show.

Another opportunity to reap the pointalicious rewards revolves around the water mills scattered liberally throughout the game. In a shocking turn of events, these can be activated through water balloon bombardment (a case of every problem looking like a nail when all you have at your disposal is a hammer!). On impact, the wheels spin on their axis revealing each crevice between the spokes - jump inside these gaps and all manner of collectibles are yours for the gorging.

It's rainin' cake. Hallelujah. It's rainin' cake - amen.
Games developers who have been involved in producing a series of titles that hark back to one another by way of shared themes and game-play mechanics like nothing more than to drop Easter eggs into their work for loyal fans to stumble upon as a reward for their dedication. Liquid Kids is no different in this respect. Hipopo puts in a handful of subtle cameo appearances in other Taito games - Bubble Symphony, the Playstation version of Pop ‘n Pop and Bubble Memories - while an image of Tiki of New Zealand Story fame is chiselled into the wall of one of Liquid Kids’ bonus rooms.

The bottom right image works much like a magic eye painting; stare it at for long enough and Hipopo will emerge. ;)
A page from the Pop 'n Pop manual for the Playstation.
The caption reads: "Can I have my appearance fee now?" Probably.
Hipopo also features in the game's intro.
You want the sex? You can’t handle the sex! If you try to enter the word in the coin-op’s high score table it will be converted to ‘H’, thereby thwarting the corruption of squillions of impressionable young minds who may otherwise have turned to the dark side, indulging in all manner of lurid depravity.

The port isn't what you might call ‘arcade perfect’, though it is a superlative example of how arcade games should be re-interpreted for less capable, home systems.

To match the frame rate as closely as possible, the number of colours have been reduced to 32 (16 allocated to the sprites, and 16 to the backgrounds), and the play area scaled down using a thick black frame, which is most conspicuous when compared with the full screen title image.

The Amiga port is also a single player game, whereas the coin-op sports an alternating two player arrangement. Hardly a deal breaker when a true two player option wasn't on the cards to begin with.

Of course, the arcade cabinet’s two button configuration has been hobbled into one, plus the usual ‘up for jump’ system. This works remarkably well as the game doesn’t require the upwards motion for anything else.

The arcade game’s mellifluous thirteen tune soundtrack was quite rightly lavished with a standalone CD release, alongside the Space Gun audio. It was published by Pony Canyon/Scitron, and released on January 21st 1991.

Liquid Kids, Liquid Kids (so good they released it twice). The second issue was courtesy of Zuntata Records who released a limited run soundtrack album on 1st April 1999.

The Amiga port’s music is entirely different and unfortunately less heterogeneous than its arcade counterpart. Nonetheless, what is included is equally as captivating as the source material. That said, it's a shame the catchy, clown-channelling, circus melody with all its zany car horn beeps and whistles didn't survive the transition as it perfectly encapsulates the surreal atmosphere of this off-the-wall platforming escapade.

To its credit, the Amiga version instead features a ‘platypus in peril’ caper composition which kicks in whenever you encounter a major threat upon your fragile, furry life. As you tackle one of the oversized boss brutes, the upbeat cadence intensifies until you (hopefully) reach the crescendo of its demise, whereby the track terminates abruptly as you simultaneously breathe a sigh of relief, and a far more serene ditty fades in to replace it.

Duuuude, where's my tree? Call the toll-free number 1-800...
Some of the backgrounds have been modified for the Amiga port, and the arcade’s sumptuous night-day transition effect is regrettably absent. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, another facet of the arcade original to be left on the cutting room floor is the entirety of level five, the tree-climbing stage. A common casualty that can be explained by the memory and disk space constraints inherently imposed by the more limited home computer hardware.

Otherwise it looks, sounds and plays like a dream. One of those groovy, cool ones where nice, impossible things somehow become possible and you'd rather not have to wake up in the morning to go to some mundane desk job in the city.

Not a bad effort at all considering Taito failed to supply any of the original data from their arcade PCB, making the task far more grueling than it really needed to be. The Amiga port was created from scratch using nothing more sophisticated than an Atari ST and the developers’ eyes and ears for reference!

A goggle-eyed pelican - your preferred means of transport between levels.
Making the fantasy a reality coding-wise were Michel Janicki and Pierre-Eric Loriaux (who we also have to thank for the superb music and sound effects), while Thierry Levastre weaved his artistic magic to create the luscious visuals.

Architecturally speaking it’s composed of no fewer than 52,211 lines of code, 1.4mb of graphics and 218kb of music and sound - the result of 1320 hours of toil spread over a six month period fuelled by pizza and Coke.

Evidently this was no sloppy Tiertex-esque, cash-in, rush job. It takes genuine heart, soul and raw talent to produce a game of this repute.

You'd hope the French division’s dream team were sufficiently compensated for their prodigious labour of love, even though Ocean certainly weren't. Not that money is a worthy substitute for critical endorsement and recognition for a job well done. Any developer devoted to their craft will attest to that. Knowing your progeny is out there being played and cherished is the icing on the cook (sic). Better late than never!

The Wolf “took back the water paradise, ‘Woody Lake’ from the devil’s hands!!”

“The legend attracts a brave, creating a new legend.”

“This peace is forever.”