Teenage dreams

I’m running a little late this week due to various factors so here, have some randomness. I’ve always wanted to make computer games and have been trying to since the early 1980s despite not really being able to program well enough in order to do so. My friends and I also tended to talk about games as well, flinging all manner of random, sometimes surreal scenarios against the wall to see which would stick. So for your delight and delectation here are a couple that didn’t pan out for one reason or another, they should be in roughly chronological order and I’ve listed platforms even though there’s a fairly good chance I’m not remembering correctly.

Pavement Pigeon (Atari 8-bit, 1985)
The blame for this one lies very squarely at the feet of my pretty much lifelong friend David Young, who mashed together the “classic” action television series Street Hawk and Clive Sinclair’s recently-released electric vehicle. So whilst Street Hawk was a jet-powered, all-American motorcycle with cool, futuristic weapons, Pavement Pigeon was the British equivalent, a Sinclair C5. We were teenagers, so that kind of juxtaposition was high comedy to us at the time… and still makes me giggle now since I’ve spectacularly failed to grow up since then.

As for what the game would’ve entailed I’m not sure after all these years; I think we were aware of Peace Women and C5 Clive on the C64 at the time – both feature the player character riding a C5 and the latter is very different to the Spectrum game it shares a name with – so that or possibly Moon Patrol clones like Trooper Truck would have served as potential inspirations. David and I both had an Atari 800XL at the time, but neither of us were proficient enough at programming to actually write the game – learning assembly language on a tape-based Atari 8-bit was… difficult – so I might well be misremembering the format here.

Who knows, we might have eventually come up with something similar to Street Hawk Subscriber’s Edition

Piggles (C64, 1986)
I’m far more more vague on the origins for this one; it’s basically a parody of Biggles which was inspired by the hype around the less-than-stellar 1986 film of the same name – well okay, I like it personally but that’s possibly my masochistic streak talking – where the player controls a pig with a propeller attached to its snout… no wings, just a prop and nobody talking about the idea seemed to be concerned by that omission for some reason. My memory is being almost painfully vague about this one to the point where I really don’t know whose idea it actually was, but it was a classmate at school.

I think it was going to takes cues from the official, rather lacklustre Mirrorsoft game Biggles, specifically the plane flying stage but using pre-shifted graphics for the background scrolling. This didn’t get anywhere as a project because nobody involved could draw the flying pig and it’s not every day you find yourself writing something like that!

The Last VW (C64, 1987)
And to finish, one I can’t blame anybody else for; The Last VW was intended to be something of a “parody” of The Last V8 about a post-apocalyptic racer which just happened to be a Volkswagen Beetle for… well, reasons. The plan was to develop it using the rather clunky Creations in part because building a knock off of David Darling’s Mastertronic game with the Codemasters-published creation tool he co-authored was, once more, endlessly amusing to the teenage and slightly more immature version of me.

The result would’ve been more like another budget game called Morphicle – The Transforming Car from the Power House – a terrible game in its own right due to the difficulty curve which was actually steeper than The Last V8 – with fixed speed horizontal scrolling. Due to limitations of the aforementioned utility, it was planned to have just one wrap-around screen to drive through and items to collect in order to finish the stage. I vaguely recall getting a half decent car sprite and some background graphics drawn but lost interest after that.

So there you go, three things the fevered imagination of teenagers came up with over thirty years ago; there were many more – it was probably my most “creative” period on that front even if the majority of the ideas were utterly unworkable – but my memory really doesn’t want to give out further details. Some would say that’s down to shame, but I’m reasonably sure I don’t have any at least in that context? Still, if the little grey cells relent there’s always the chance of another post… you lucky people.

Workprint – May 2018

Yes, I’m a little late with the workprint this month but in my defence there have been things going on; I spent a significant chunk of the weekend in an unexpectedly large van with my stepson Matthew and stepson-in-law Josh, heading to Kent for an overnight stay in order to relocate boxes of old computers and software which have been sat in my dad’s garage for… oh, about sixteen years. Here’s what it looked like after we put everything into the van…

…and no, the large Rupert having a lie down on top of everything wasn’t originally mine but has been adopted anyway. I’ve found myself left with a lot to process – both in the literal sense and emotionally, the latter probably being the harder to deal with – but it’s done and everything is in one place now, although I haven’t had a chance to do any serious ferreting around just yet. I did get a family photo before we left for home by the way, so it wasn’t just pictures of storage boxes!

In programming news there hasn’t been much time of late (or more accurately, the problems I’m having with my shoulder means that sitting in front of a computer for extended periods is at best uncomfortable) but the previously mentioned C64CD project is pretty much done with just little extra polish and some “how it works” style articles required before release – there’s an all-formats retro game development competition I like the look of which might serve as a place to put it out, although I’ll need to check their rules properly beforehand since it’s using some wired graphics – and I’ve been doodling a little here and there when spare moments present themselves.

I died in a book once

Before we start, a little back story for those who aren’t fans; the BBC took Doctor Who off the air in 1989, having all but strangled it with ridiculously small budgets and, according to some, deliberately poor scheduling. A few of these wilderness years passed before Virgin Books licensed the Doctor Who universe and started producing a range of books called the Doctor Who New Adventures which continued where Sylvester McCoy’s third season left off at Survival. They also took a few cues from the Cartmel Masterplan – the nickname for the road map laid out for the show had it continued with Andrew Cartmel as script editor – which included drafting in new companions.

One of these new characters was archaeologist Bernice Summerfield who was created by writer Paul Cornell and, when the BBC didn’t renew the license in 1997, Virgin dropped the “Doctor Who” from the name and continued the series with Benny front and centre. The fourth Benny NA as they were sometimes known was Ship Of Fools, a murder mystery set aboard a space-bound cruise liner called the Titanium Queen with Bernice contracted to retrieve a stolen artefact. And during said book is this scene…

‘I vonder if you can help me,’ said the woman. My name is Heidi von Lindt. I have thus far spent this delightful cruise visiting with certain gentlemen of my acquaintance, offering them companionship and, I must confess, a certain degree of succour. I have been, if you will, a kind of random companion…’

Benny wondered vaguely if this scenario was going to lead anywhere. ‘I’m really not in much of a state to help any -‘ she began.

Heidi von Lindt held a finger to her glossed lips in a small shushing gesture. ‘Vun of my gentleman friends,’ she said, ‘seems to haff had a small mishap. I left him under firm restraint, momentarily, while I went to find a pair off nipple-clamps, a bullwhip, a set of electrodes and a pint of clarified ghee, and I haff come back to find him horribly murdered. ‘ She presser her hand to her forehead in a display of abject sorrow. ‘Ach! Poor Jason is no more! Vot am I to do? I can’t help it!’

And yes, the Jason who “had not died, as was first thought, from the constriction of the ropes tying him to Frau von Lindt’s chaise longue, but by an injection of strychnine to his upper left ventricle” was indeed yours truly, with the part of Heidi von Lindt being played by my then girlfriend who went by the pseudonym Random Companion to the point where even I called her that. The book’s author Dave Stone – that’s him in the picture below circa 1997 if memory serves, standing next to a grinning idiot – had put a call out via the USENet newsgroup Rec.Arts.DrWho (which was visited by quite a few of the New Adventures writers) for people to lay down their lives in the service of literature, so there’s several R.A.DW names, pseudonyms, in-jokes and references throughout.

The book was the first in a trilogy which have recently been retooled to add a new lead character of Dave’s own creation, Pandora Delbane, and made available for Kindle owners at very reasonable rates, although my cameo and most of the R.A.DW references are gone in this new version – that makes sense since jokes like the Bekkar boys and their industrial flame won’t thrower mean anything to people who “weren’t there” and may have completely slipped the minds of many who were after two decades. I’ve got all three on my Kindle but ended up buying a second hand copy of Ship Of Fools as well to transcribe the scene above – I still have a WAV file of Random reading Heidi von Lindt’s part – and to scan the cover, because even if I could find my original copy it’s “well read” almost to the point of destruction.

Those were the Doctor Who “wilderness years” when the show wasn’t on the air, but it’s also a time I mostly remember fondly for the sense of community around the show, even if being “persuaded” to attend parties, conventions – three in the space of a month at one point – and other events wasn’t and indeed still isn’t for want of a better phrase, really my “style”. I don’t entirely know how I ended up in some of those situations, but there’s a couple of anecdotes from that time I’ve been telling for years that could stand to be written down…?