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.

Playing Street Hawk (Spectrum)

Back in the 1980’s when I was pretending to grow up, television was almost saturated with imported American action series and kids my age lapped the lot up; playground arguments would revolve around which would come out better in a fight between the Knight Industries 2000 and Airwolf, if the A Team could build Blue Thunder from an old tractor and some tubular steel or which kid would get to be Colt Seavers and who would have to take the role of Howie Munson.

And being fairly avid gamers, we all wanted to re-enact our favourite telly shows in game form… and that was something of a shame really since the majority of those games were rather rough! But surprisingly, one exception was based incredibly loosely on the one season wonder Street Hawk (where a cop injured in the line of duty becomes the rider of a super-secret, heavily armed… erm, motorbike) and the “Subscriber’s Edition” under consideration here was rather cobbled together to get something released on a promise – and surprisingly, that quick and dirty development cycle appears to be the reason it came out as playable as it did!

Y’see, Street Hawk SE (my contraction rather than Ocean’s, but it’s already growing on me) is pretty much based on Defender and was presumably built rather hastily around an existing game; yes, the Street Hawk itself has been grafted in and some almost lunar gravity added presumably because even that particular superbike didn’t fly for extended periods, but it’s been equipped with a classic Defender laser and the primary objective is to hammer around the bi-directional scrolling landscape whilst twonking the enemies and rescuing the people who get blown clear of the explosions during the “rescue” stages of the game.

It really is simple but enjoyable stuff (as was the programme itself to be honest) in a way that the “full” Street Hawk, a vertically scrolling shooter released a year later where the player is actively discouraged from shooting most things, simply wasn’t. It won’t win a single prize for originality (although the minigame where the bike’s battery is charged before each stage might get a special mention during the awards ceremony) and there’s very little variety in the long term, but it’s a far more accurate representation of the programme. All its lacking is a cover of the awesome Tangerine Dream tune used on the show.