Sam Mallard – The Case of the Missing Swan from @MMicrogames

Sam Mallard – The Case of the Missing Swan is a ZX Spectrum title from “real-media” indie publisher Monument Micro Games. The game, originally written by World of Spectrum contributor Ersh in 2016, was destined for the Commodore 64 many moons ago, but then rescued, resuscitated and re-written from scratch for our faithful rubber keyed Spec-chum.

“The clock had turned midnight and I was just about to leave my office when there was a knock on my door. It was a Mr Swan, owner of the Swanline shipping company.”


Mallard is a graphic adventure game, heavily inspired by film noir, and has a classic and well trodden storyline – jobbing Private Detective is hired by man to find missing wife. The game starts in Mallard’s office (where else?) after our main protagonist has accepted the case, and follows him off on the hunt of the missing and mysterious Mrs Swan.

Dispensing with the traditional typed input of this type of game, Mallard presents its information on a well laid-out screen where verb-noun choices are made via a SCUMM-esque “Action” menu by using either the keyboard or Kempston joystick. Locations are described in an uncomplicated fashion, with the majority of locations having a functional, and nicey-drawn image in the top right-hand corner. The whole screen is rendered solely in black and white fuelling further the noir atmosphere.


The game engine however, doesn’t come without it’s quirks:

  1. The strange “inventory” system, where you can’t EXAMINE things from the “action” menu but you have to navigate to the inventory, select the item, then select examine.
  2. Using just an up and down combination to enter a sequence of numbers (required for a telephone and the obligatory safe) several times is tiresome.
  3. Many items are not identifiable from the location text, so you are constantly selecting verbs in each area to find them.

“The End”

It’s very short, and will probably be completed in less than an hour – but don’t let that put you off. The writing is competent, makes a good stab at the genre and the author has shoehorned in a few basic teasers, a homage red herring, and a couple of thought-provoking puzzles. Fear not though, those of a The Secret of Monkey Island disposition should get the first, and the second puzzle concerning a safe is slightly harder, but very rewarding to (pun fully intended) crack.


In places the storyline does make huge hand-held leaps, and the end comes up a bit suddenly – feeling slightly rushed. Perhaps the author ran out of steam or reached the poor Speccy’s RAMTOP limit? Nevertheless, it’s a lovely example of the popular homebrew and indie scene that the Spectrum continues to enjoy and a testament to the passionate people behind the cottage-industry publishing labels such as Monument.

“The Swag”


Grabbing the game was quite an aside for me. I rarely buy new releases for old machines (my only other purchase being C64anabalt by RGCD) but I was very pleasantly surprised when the game arrived. Credit must go to Monument who have done a stellar job with the game’s packaging and contents.

The inlay is superbly designed and professionally printed and contains a hoard of goodies:

1 x art card
1 x instructions
1 x badge
1 x CD-ROM
1 x game cassette

The CD-ROM is a nice addition and contains a WAV sound file that can be streamed directly into a Spectrum emulator such as Spectaculator, or played back into a real Spectrum by using a standard audio jack cable and LOAD””ed – if you don’t have a cassette recorder. Also on the CD is a handy TAP format file that is ready to run.

Even with the short playing time, the paltry £8.50 for Mallard is fantastic value for money considering what you receive and how well the whole thing is put together. From their website blog, it seems that the game has been a success for Monument, so that’s great to hear.

What are you waiting for? Smoke your last lucky (thanks Fergus), grab your fedora and mosey on over to the publisher website and grab your own copy, or hit them up on Twitter.

Ten of the best British games of all-time.

In no particular order:

Elite (1984)

Created by Cambridge students Ian Bell and David Braben, Elite is Britain’s Mona Lisa videogame, a masterpiece of game design and flawless programming.

Elite revolutionised gaming with its 3D graphics, expansive and open-ended game world and balanced blend of space trading, combat and intergalactic morals. Players could trade commodities (some illegal) across space with different socio-economic systems, fight pirates or become fugitives themselves – all to earn enough credits to upgrade their ship and equipment in a quest for kills and the ultimate “Elite” status.

Selling almost 150,000 units on its original platform (coincidentally the number of BBC Micros in the world at that time), Elite is epic, filled with dazzling surprises and hidden adventures. No game before or since has been quite so immersive.

Jinxter (1987)

Britain has produced a stunning catalogue of sublime text adventure games, and even taken on the Americans at their own game with point-and-click titles such as Broken Sword from Revolution Software and Simon The Sorcerer from AdventureSoft.

Choosing one Level 9, Delta 4 or Magnetic Scrolls game is impossible, but Jinxter’s rich writing, revolutionary parser and state of the art graphics make it one of the outstanding candidates.

The most notable feature of Jinxter is that the player cannot die. It works extremely well, and allows you to explore and experiment without fear of death.

Jinxter has a wacky story, a nice balance of puzzles and a  fantastic cast of supporting characters, including a megalomaniac gardener, a postmistress who thinks she’s Calamity Jane and a rather dim-witted postman.

Manic Miner (1983)

No top ten would be complete without one of Matthew Smith’s groundbreaking platformers. We’ve overlooked Jet Set Willy for the original Miner Willy adventure, a far tighter platformer, with clever level design, psychedelic colours and a dollop of surreal British humour.

Animated telephones, roving lavatories, gently collapsing platforms and an oxygen meter gave the game its distinctive flavour, setting it apart from other titles around the same time. It was also the first ZX Spectrum game to feature extensive in-game music, plucked stylishly from the copyright-free back catalogues of maestros Grieg and Strauss.

Smith remains an enigma, and his loss to British gaming after the demise of Software Projects leaves a trail of “what ifs”. The mystique surrounding him has given the game legendary status – and rightly so.

Lemmings (1991)

DMA coders Scott Johnston and Mike Dailly had an argument about how small a sprite could be and yet still retain character. Dailly was experimenting with a bunch of tiny 8×8 pixel characters walking up a steep slope and being blasted by a big gun. As the animation played, programmer Russell Kay saw it and pronounced “There’s a game in that”.

Lemmings is a rare game with the Tetris touch – the ability to appeal to hardcore and casual gamers alike. A masterpiece of sandbox design, it allows a multitude of creative ways of completing the vast number of levels – over which the player must guide a set number of Lemmings from the entrance to the exit, avoiding hazards such as lava pools and large falls.

Released to critical acclaim and successful sales, Lemmings remains a true gem in the British gaming canon.

Football Manager (1982)

The ancestry of every single football management game can be traced back to Kevin Toms’ 1982 genesis of the genre. Written purely in BASIC, with flickering match graphics featuring stick men and a square ball, Football Manager went on to spawn an entire industry.

Your task is, of course, to ascend the league and capture the FA Cup. FM featured three positions (defence, midfield, attack), two ratings for each player (skill, energy), a simplistic transfer market and seven skill levels. That was it, but it didn’t matter. The game had an emotional pull that converted many kids – not to mention their dads – to the home football management craze.

Countless players up and down the country spent hours shouting “SHOOOT!” at those aforementioned stick men, and trying to buy Kevin Keegan for the astronomical fee of £25,000.

GoldenEye 007

Released almost a year and a half after the film, GoldenEye’s missions followed the plot of the film closely, adding a certain amount of artistic licence to ensure that its first-person action was a little more lively than its celluloid counterpart.

The games scenarios are diverse: bungee-jumping from that Russian dam, defusing bombs, infiltrating enemy installations and stealing secret weapons.

In single-player mode GoldenEye is highly playable, but the game’s split-screen support for up to four players stood it apart. There are five scenarios inspired by films, such as ‘You Only Live Twice’, where players have only two lives; ‘The Man With the Golden Gun’, in which one hit from the eponymous weapon proves instantly fatal’ and ‘The Living Daylights’, essentially a flag tag game.

It’s a game that leaves you definitely shaken and stirred.

Medieval II (2006)

The superb Total War series mixes real-time strategy with turn-based campaigning to spectacular effect. Medieval II sees you take control of one of the major medieval forces and ascend to power between the dates 1080 and 1530.

With a stunning 3D graphics engine, the battles look incredible, offering richly detailed landscapes with distinctive and varied looking soldiers and units.

The fantastic thing about Medieval II is that you have three games in one. Play just the battlefields for real-time strategy, just the campaign mode for solid empire turn-based strategy or mix them both for a game that could last you weeks.

Epic doesn’t describe the scale of the Total War games. There’s a wealth of strategic nuances and combat to enjoy, making it perhaps the most involving war game about the Middle Ages ever made.

Tomb Raider (1996)

Tomb Raider’s success owes less to the pneumatically breasted, pistol-packing protagonist and more to the fact that it’s simply a fine platformer.

Britain’s Toby Guard created Lara Croft and Tomb Raider. He did not call for a female version of Indiana Jones, but he wanted her character to have strength, mystery and danger – in comparison to other female game characters that were basically sex objects.

As Lara, players walk, run, jump, dive, swim, roll, hurtle, shoot, and dodge their way through temples of doom, unveiling a mystery that seems to lead to a sunken continent.

Playing Tomb Raider is a pure joy. Great visuals, a compelling storyline and superb cinematics – and the appearance of the Tyrannosaurus Rex remains one of gaming’s defining moments.

Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009)

Batman has been converted to pixels many times, with almost every single game starring the caped crusader being utterly awful (apart from Jon Ritman’s classic isometric puzzler in 1986).

Rocksteady’s sublime experience holds true to the DC Comics creation; the different facets of Batman’s character informed the gameplay mechanics, which moved seamlessly from puzzle-solving, to agile platforming and brutal thuggery. You play ‘The Bat’, and you’re up against the Joker – the series’ signature villain – and henchmen from the comics, films and animated series.

With voice acting from a stellar cast (Star Wars’ Mark Hamill is the Joker, Kevin Conroy is Batman, and Arleen Sorkin is Harley Quinn), a fantastic story and all the Gotham City trimmings you could ask for, this is easily the best Batman video game of all time.

Worms (1995)

Worms is a turn-based combat game in which teams of four try to kill one another with an assortment of wacky weaponry.

Every game is different, thanks to the game battlefield being randomly generated and fully destructible.

It’s not as simple as lobbing bombs at the enemy. It’s about how you use hiding places, create safe tunnels, and use the bungie rope, the teleporter and the girders. The mayhem is accompanied by ridiculously cute and funny sound samples. Worms regularly shout “oi nutter!”, “revenge” and “I’ll get you”, and when dynamite is dropped they giggle maniacally.

Worms is in the same mould as Lemmings, but with the added benefit of being able to invite friends round for multiplayer laughs. Its relatively simple, with engaging and involving play. Be sure to give it a go.


First published as part of the Games Britannia festival in 2012.



Jumpers for goalposts …

It’s 30 years since the original Football Manager and the grinning, bearded Kevin Toms graced thousands of computer screens across the country. Here’s a brief British history of the beautiful game in videogame form, from the stickmen and square balls of the early ‘80s, to Sports Interactive’s all-conquering Football Manager of today.

Back in the early 1980s football games weren’t up to much. Pele’s Championship Soccer was a memorable game, but really only played like a simulated game of table football, with all of your players moving as one synchronised group.

Judged by these standards, the original Football Manager on Sinclair’s 48K Spectrum was a simulation par excellence. The brainchild of Kevin Toms, it took the basic idea of a football management boardgame he had invented and married it with his skills as a programmer working on mainframe systems. Early prototypes of the game had gripped his friends so much that he struggled to keep them off his keyboard. Grown men pulled on their sheepskin jackets, willing on their team of rudimentary stickmen through Toms’ inspired “highlights” feature. Football Manager sold a reputed 400,000 copies, but didn’t spawn a sequel until six years later. The World Cup edition in 1990 was Toms’ last involvement in the series.

In 1986, a challenge to the title came from D&H Games’ Football Director, which like Football Manager was only available through mail order at first. It was a no-frills sim that cut out unnecessary graphics and attempts at arcade action. Offering more stats than OPTA, it introduced morale, share dealing and the opportunity for Grimsby Town to have a European cup run.

The Double by Scanatron, released in 1987, was one of the first games to include a database of real players. Another first was that players had no ability ratings – unlike in other sims, you had to judge your players’ abilities over time, though you could employ scouts who gave you handy reports to assess individual talents.

A sorely underrated title was Tracksuit Manager. It pioneered textual match commentary and saw you take charge of an international team aiming to qualify for and then play in the European Championships and World Cup.

Britain delivered the first defining action football game: Match Day by Jon Ritman. It featured a pseudo-3D perspective pitch, fictional teams, the option to play a game in real-time – and a rendition of the Match of the Day theme, in the days when games could get away with not acquiring a licence. The sequel arrived in 1987, introducing a new powermeter for kicking the ball, backheels and the ‘revolutionary’ diamond deflection system – allowing the ball to ricochet realistically.

Perhaps the finest football game of the 8-bit era was Microprose Soccer, the maiden game from a company called Sensible Software. Released in 1988, it was viewed from overhead, and introduced aftertouch, weather, action replays and the infamous banana shot. Jon Hare and his team then took the amazing match play of its Microprose title and released Sensible Soccer for the Amiga in 1992, wrapping it up in perhaps the most accomplished football title of them all in Sensible World of Soccer in 1994.

With Kick Off in 1989, Dino Dini gave us more overhead, fast, flowing football, and one of the first games where the ball didn’t stick to the players’ feet. Kick Off 2 delivered much improved AI and graphics. Dino went on to release his own title Goal! in 1993, but after that he upped sticks and went to work in the USA.

During the 16-bit era, management games stagnated, barely evolving from their 8-bit predecessors. This upset Oliver and Paul Collyer, two brothers who were so disappointed with lacklustre management games and their lack of depth, they set to work on a game of their own. Championship Manager, developed by Collyer’s own Sports Interactive label, featured immaculate attention to detail and broke new ground – but was painfully slow to play. Only with Championship Manager ‘93 did Domark deliver the title to play the competition off the park. Adding a real life player database and other features, it established the franchise, and set the pattern for season-on-season updates and improvements that continues to this day.

In 2004 the Collyers left their publisher, taking their code with them but leaving the name Championship Manager behind. When looking for a name for their new game, there was only one that would fit the bill. Sports Interactive purchased the rights to the famous Football Manager name and released Football Manager 2005. Every year since, it’s been a top-of-the-table scrap between Championship Manager and Football Manager, each game armed with the latest features and available on consoles, handhelds, mobiles and tablets.

Today, Football Manager 2012 is an exhaustive reproduction of the business of being a modern-day football manager, taking in everything from training and tactics to dealing with the media. Its lavish 3D match engine is a world away from the original’s primitive pixels, and its sheer depth has made it as much of an obsession for football fans as the real-life sport. So much so that, according to its publishers, Football Manager has been cited in 35 UK divorce cases!

Originally published as part of the Games Britannia festival in 2012.

Acorn Electron and ZX Spectrum games that consumed my childhood

We all have our favourite games. Owning an Acorn Electron and then ZX Spectrum (+2) between the ages of 10-18 I must have played 100s of titles. These are a few that stayed with me and that I devoted most of my time to.

Acorn Electron Years

Elite (Acornsoft)


I’m not sure that any more can be written about Elite? For me it is Britain’s Mona Lisa of videogames, our first true masterpiece of code (just 22K!!!) and open-world design. Most people recall where they were when JFK was killed, Man landed on the Moon or when Take That announced they were to split, but for me I remember where I was when I first saw the rotating Cobra MKV of Elite: Schoolfriend Simon Brock’s 10th birthday, 1984. It changed my life completely. Simon’s Dad, to address a lull in the proceedings excitedly disappeared and then reappeared, plugging in a little shoebox sized beige box into the TV. A few minutes later, the above screen burst forth from its cathode-ray-tube and that was it, I had to have it. Unfortunately, without knowing any better, I also yearned for the very machine I witnessed, leading me to be given an Acorn Electron and Elite for Christmas. Still …

Football Manager (Addictive Games)


Kevin Keegan, Skill 5. Who didn’t sink a million hours into Football Manager by Kevin Toms on whichever computer that you owned? Kevin’s masterpiece was available on just about every conceivable piece of kit – even the Dragon 32. Unfortunately, us poor Electron owners were denied the nail-biting treat of match highlights, instead having to take solace in a vidi-printer style text results service. Still it didn’t deter me and I finally got to meet the great man in 2012 and ask him why he was unable to create the graphics on the Electron. All down to “memory” he told me. I understood.

Citadel (Superior Software)


Though the Electron did have a port of Matthew Smith’s classic Jet Set Willy, Superior Software’s Citadel remains the best puzzle platformers to grace the system. It’s huge (over 100 screen) flick-screen design featured some beautifully drawn enemies, devious puzzles and also had an ingenious Exile-esque multicoloured pixelated border that housed additional game machine code.  I was fascinated by the  bold visuals, option to choose character gender, storyline, puzzles and spent many hours creating artwork inspired by the inlay and mapping out the game as far as I could progress.

Twin Kingdom Valley (Bug Byte)


GIVE DAGGER TO WITCH. Trevor Hall’s Twin Kingdom Valley was probably the first “graphic” adventure on the Electron, and stood out for that reason over the text-only (but otherwise excellent) offerings from Peter Kilworth. The Valley, home to two feuding Kings (thus giving the game its name) housed all manner of fairytale creatures including Dragons, Dwarves and Giants. There was a lot of wandering around, filling of lamps and opening bronze doors with bronze keys, but it was hugely compelling and atmospheric.

Hopper (Acornsoft)


Another saving grace for Electron owners was the utterly glorious range of arcade clones that appeared on its own Acornsoft label. Acardians, Meteors, Planetoid and Snapper are worthy of a mention, but its Hopper, the Frogger clone that appealed the most to me. Rebbit.

Daredevil Dennis (Visions)


16 year-old Simon Pick created a Daredevil, named Dennis who had to demonstrate his stunt abilities to Hollywood by driving an assortment of vehicles dodging a variety of static and moving hazards. DDD’s genius was in its simplicity; just three keys – accelerate, jump  and stop (which you could only use once) made it super-accessible and fun to play. As you progressed the treacherous nature of the on-screen objects increased presenting a tense challenge of working out exactly when that stop button needed to be triggered. A lot of fun and due a mobile remake – just don’t mention the Commodore 64 version …

Games I should have owned on the Electron, but didn’t ….

Exile, Codename Droid/Stryker’s Run, Dunjunz, Thrust, Frak! and Ransack.

ZX Spectrum Years

Football Manager (Addictive Games)


The version I’d always wanted. Graphics and everything.

The Double (Johnson Scanatron)


I played football games a lot (you may have noticed) and could have included Football Director, The Boss or any other of the pocket money titles from D&H Games budget label Cult – but The Double was was different. It was the first game not to use visible skill levels for players. You had to use the ingenuous scouting system to obtain opinions on potential targets, and you were limited to how many reports you could receive thus running the risk of a top class player slipping through the net. By some form of wizardry it also was the first game (I think) to include a roster of real players with real abilities – albeit limited to the top three tiers of English football and not the full four. The Commodore 64 version retained three divisions using its additional memory to include a horrific match highlights feature. The C64 version was also just as excruciatingly slow as its Z80 sibling. God, EXCRUCIATINGLY SLOW … how did I ever have the patience to play it? But, I forgave its foibles in exchange for its innovative ideas. I could have sworn Tracksuit Manager was by the same developer too.

Turbo Esprit (Durell)


Turbo Esprit was ground breaking in some many ways. The story revolved around a drugs baron driving a “supply car” loaded full of narcotics into a city, where it would wait for a rendezvous with four smugglers cars. After the “exchange” each of the cars would make a run for the city limits where they would escape and the game would be over. Your role as a James Bond / Miami Vice / Magnum narcotics cop was to hang around until the exchange of drugs and then chase down each of the criminals before they escaped. Where Esprit excelled was in its open world design. It delivered a living, breathing city – working traffic lights that other cars obeyed, petrol stations (you had to refuel), road-works and pedestrians seemingly going about their business.  I spent most of my hours role playing my own stories, using the game’s practise mode to map and drive around Minster, responding to fictitious crimes and cruising the streets. A great game with a fantastic loading screen and superbly detailed graphics. Again, let’s not mention the C64 or Amstrad version.

Grand Prix Simulator 2 (Codemasters)


I owned several of the “simulator” titles from the Codies (powered by the Oliver Twins) but Grand Prix 2 was the most polished of the bunch. What really stood out was the multi-player experience it offered: An opportunity for up to three friends to sweat it out over our rubber keyboarded chum, battling for position, getting to the finish line in the allotted time, and bagging bragging rights over the fastest lap around a line of fabulous tracks. Crucially for the multi-player experience it didn’t suffer from keyboard clash.

Footballer of the Year (Gremlin Graphics)


I owned the text-only travesty (press L to shoot Left, R to shoot Right – You Missed!) Acorn Electron version of Gremlin’s board game conversion, and bought it again for the Spectrum – which had graphics! It was ahead of its time, placing you directly in the boots of a player having to convert the chances you had on goal. It probably wasn’t the best version on the Speccy, with its workman-like graphics, and it was exceptionally difficult to win the FOTY trophy due to some very poor game logic: For example, even if you scored 50+ goals a season you wouldn’t win, or you would never be transferred to top teams, or your manager would accept any old offer to offload you. Cult’s Striker, and later titles such as Dino Dini’s Player Manager and New Star Soccer (FOTY’s 21st century pretender to the title) bettered the original but Gremlin’s classic retains a first team place in my squad.

Sherlock (Melbourne House)


Like Twin Kingdom Valley and its graphics, Sherlock offered something completely different to all other text adventures that went before it (I never owned The Hobbit): The parser seemed so sophisticated. The implementation of “INGLISH”, though still limited was a world away from the frustration of constantly searching for the right verb/noun to use in other games – OUT BOAT, LEAVE, GET OUT OF BOAT, LEAVE BOAT, UP, CLIMB OUT OF BOAT, OUT, JUMP FROM BOAT. Vocabulary was never a strong point of mine. It came packaged in one of those oversized trademark Melbourne House boxes, with a couple of feelies – an excellent manual setting the scene, a tips sheet and a fragment of paper that hinted at trains and timetables from various London stations to destinations across the capital. Add intelligent (ish) autonomous characters (with Animtalk), the transit of night and day (key to progressing in some parts of the game) and a story of murder and mystery that would unravel from the moment you asked Watson to read the early morning newspaper, Sherlock is probably one of the best, albeit it buggy, adventures on the Speccy.

The Big Sleaze


Fergus McNeil is a genius. If playing Sherlock Holmes was cool, then playing Sam Spillade, a Private Investigator (or Private Dick for short ….. *snigger*) in the highly romanticised 1930s was only measurable in Kelvin. Spillade has his world turned upside down by the entry into his life of the “obligatory female” who had come to New York to meet her father, who never showed up. Spillade takes the case and goes in search of Dad. The Big Sleaze looked like many other Quill/Illustrator adventures, but its attraction was down to McNeil’s storytelling, his refreshing writing style and the smorgasbord of comic wittery above and beyond what you’d expect – usually received from EXAMINEing everything, or typing in random rudeness (“Is that your idea of a good time? Typing in naughty bits?”).  I think Sleaze may have been Fergus’ first collaboration with his future wife Anna, with whom he went onto co-found Abstract Concepts and penned the label’s only game – Mindfighter. Well worth checking out, along with other gems such as The Boggit, Bored of the Rings and The Colour of Magic.

Formula One (CRL)


Not to be mistaken for every other game called Formula One, this was of the management variety, written by the formal-sounding GB Munday and BP Wheelhouse, released by CRL.You took control of a fledging Formula One team, with a fixed budget from which to pay driver’s salaries, buy and maintain engines, chassis and recruit and train pitstop teams. The “management” beyond this was quite limited; for race day you picked the tyre to match the weather and then watched from a position across from the start/finish line the various cars fly past competing for the lead. It actually was quite involved, as you had a pause between laps that had you on edge waiting to see if you’d overtaken, been overtaken or crashed out with some other issue. Cars would come into the pits for new tyres and you had to take control of the pit crew (one man) and change each wheel. Sounds crap, but it was a little more exciting than that and the best F1 management game on the Speccy (I can only recall a couple of others by Silicon Joy and D&H Games). The same duo also released a Motorcycle variant called Enduro.

Run For Gold (Hill MacGibbon)


I loved Track and Field in the arcades, along with Hyper Sports, but I was never dexterous enough to progress far enough through the game. The same applied when the action moved to home computers as I experienced more failures thanks to Daley Thompson. It’s probably why I enjoyed Run for Gold so much. It was more strategy then strenuous finger action as you balanced the pace and direction of a middle distance runner whilst keeping your eye on their energy levels. The graphics were wonderfully lifelike and fluid on the Speccy, with lovely big animated sprites filling most of the screen. If you fancy re-enacting those famous Coe vs Ovett races, as I did, then hunt this out.

Games I should have owned on the Spectrum, but didn’t …

Rex, Ranarama, Where Time Stood Still and Myth.




Games Britannia Live! Line-up Announced: Unity, GameMaker:Studio, Moshi Monsters and more!


Games Britannia Live! today announces its line-up for the 2014 event, held across several iconic city-centre venues on Saturday 28 and Sunday 29 June 2014 – its aim; to bring videogame invention, creativity, play and celebration to a new audience.

Mark Hardisty, Live! Director said “I am delighted to be bringing Games Britannia back into the public arena in June. Games Britannia: Replayed in 2012 was very much loved, and the amazing activities across the weekend will give everyone a chance to see how creating, playing and exploring games can be such a positive part of life, for children of all ages – and of course, a lot of fun!”

The festival will launch on Saturday morning with a very extra special preview screening of the eagerly awaited From Bedrooms to Billions documentary-movie from Gracious Films alongside a host of hands-on drop-in activities, hacks and interactive workshops across city-centre venues.

Tom Kenyon, Programme Director of Education at Nesta, and a key sponsor said “Games Britannia Live! is an inspirational event that offers young people the chance not just to play games, but to make their own alongside some of Britain’s best games talent. It’s a unique way to learn about the UK games industry and pick up new skills.”

Headlining the hands-on schedule in the Millennium Galleries will be Sheffield’s own SUMO Digital with a very special workshops for younger children. Based upon their hit Monshi Monster game – Katsuma Unleashed, kids will be able to design and create their own levels using SUMO’s unique game engine. Fancy creating games using the latest cross-platform development tools? GameMaker: Studio and YoYo Games are providing workshops for slightly older children throughout the weekend, accompanied by industry veteran and indie developer Byron Atkinson-Jones delivering the first Games Britannia Unity sessions for adults young and old!

Passing through or a small amount of time to spare, then the Winter Gardens will be hosting several drop-in activities including electronic hardware wizardry from Sheffield’s Pimoroni, taking pen and paper to draw your own videogame with Pixel Press, 3D scanning and VR antics with Sheffield’s Ten24, cutting and sticking fun with Tearaway Papercraft and making music for games with the super-inspirational Carrie Anne-Philbin and Sonic Pi. Thanks to Sheffieldr and Red Tape Central, Tudor Square will be alive with games and music as their entertainment vans will be parked just outside the Gardens for your audible pleasure.

Elsewhere in the Millennium Galleries Arundel Room, leading recruitment firm Aardvark Swift will be on hand to offer top advice about forging a career in the games industry, Patriot Games will be hosting a very special BoardGamesBritannia with a range of quirky, different and fun table top games, and Replay Events will be bringing their retro-console goodness along with a very special “Made In Sheffield” feature, and hosting a heat of their inaugural Classic Gaming Championship. For videogame art enthusiasts we have Third Person View – a micro-art exhibition with the theme of landscape which investigates the convergence of videogames and contemporary art. Finally, Paul Harter will be turning Minecraft into reality with his unique 3D printing creation, PrintCraft and completing the Galleries line-up is Paul Soulsby with his revolutionary new chiptune synthesizer the Atmegatron.

Saturday evening will see an electronic music takeover of the Winter Gardens with a micro-chiptune and 8-bit music “Gig in the Garden”- headlined by Sheffield’s own The Curious Machine with support from Equinox and Arctic Sunrise.

Though all activities are free, all workshops, the special screening of From Bedrooms and the Gig in the Garden require tickets – of which there will be a limited number and booking in advance is mandatory and strongly advised.

To find out more about the Games Britannia festival visit

If you have any queries, please contact the organiser:

Mark Hardisty –

About Games Britannia Live!

Games Britannia Live! is a public extension to the multi-award winning videogame education festival running over the weekend of 28 – 29 June 2014 in Sheffield, Great Britain.

Games Britannia Live! is proud to be part of Sheffield’s Children’s Festival and is backed by a partnership of Sheffield City Council, Nesta, Replay Events and Sheffieldr with kind sponsorship and support from Pimoroni, YoYo Games, Showroom Workstation Sheffield, Ukie, Aardvark Swift, Raspberry Pi, SUMO Digital, Game Republic, Autodesk, Unity and an extra special thanks to Sheffield Hallam University.

Paul Billington, Director of Culture and the Environment from Sheffield City Council said: “We are delighted to support Games Britannia here in Sheffield and to see this two-day event form part of the line-up of this year’s Sheffield Children’s Festival – the city’s showcase for the tremendous creativity amongst children and young people in Sheffield.  There’s over a month of events and activities to enjoy, everything from theatre tasters, story-telling, picnics, dancing and sculpture!  It is also a great opportunity for families, parents and carers to have a great time too.  It’s all about getting involved in arts – whether that’s playing games, making things, seeing your work exhibited or performing on stage in shows, musicals and plays – and enjoying yourself at the same time.”

About Games Britannia

Games Britannia is a multi-award winning festival bringing creativity and technology together, providing the public, schools and colleges with workshops and activities led by games industry experts and academics.

Started in 2011 by Brinsworth Comprehensive School, the Academia, Industry and Schools festival is run by the computing department at Sheffield Hallam University as part of a range of initiatives which attempt to engage schools and teachers in computer science.

About Sheffield

Located at the centre of Britain, Sheffield is England’s fourth largest city, and easily accessible from M1, A1, M18 or M62. It is England’s greenest city and home to one of the wealthiest areas in England and Wales outside of London and the South Eat.

About the Venues

At the heart of Sheffield’s cultural quarter sits Tudor Square, the Winter Gardens and Millennium Galleries. The Winter Garden is the largest temperate glasshouse in Europe and houses a superb display of more than 2,500 exotic plants from around the globe. The Garden sits on the “gold route” from Sheffield Railway Station and Sheffield Hallam University to the City Centre and venue links the Millennium Galleries, 4* Mercure Hotel, Millennium Square and Peace Gardens.

More Artwork – Escape From Pulsar 7 and Reckless Rufus.

I love old box artwork. It’s a thing of beauty that we have sadly lost to bland photo-realistic work of the present, and to be forgotten in the digital-download only future.

Here’s my recreation of Escape From Pulsar 7:

Escape From Pulsar 7 (Final Comparison)

Pretty neat. I could spend more time on the corridor to match some of the detailing, but the man-at-arms is the most important element of the image. I really like the Channel 8 art, and I hope to do more soon – after I’ve bought the games of course – it’s only fair.

Here’s Reckless Rufus, which was requested by Mike Berry (@michaelberry) after seeing the Escape artwork on Twitter:

Reckless Rufus (Comparison)

It contained a lot of detail and I was interested to why Mike wanted the artwork to be redrawn – I didn’t recognise the game and from the “YS Megagame” label it seemed to come late in the 8-bit era. Well, the reason, and it’s a good one at that, is that Mike is the author of Rufus – so it was a pleasure to put plenty of time into the work and satisfying that Mike was delighted with the results.

I’m now looking  forward to seeing a framed print!

Countdown To Doom Artwork

I adore old box art – whether that be on board games, books or video games. I’ve a particular soft spot for 80s Acornsoft game – having owned an Electron for many years, the distinct checkered packaging of the Cambridge produced games took pride of place in my collection. Apart from some speciality titles, Revs and Elite for example, all of Acornsoft’s BBC titles also had their own style of packaging. It’s fairly mundane, but whereas the Electron titles carried screenshots, the Beeb relied on the classic adage of overselling what was in the box by including incredible artwork.

Castle Of RiddlesThe example to the left is from my own copy of the Castle of Riddles adventure game.

As I’ve been doing a little bit of graphics work for Replay Events over the past few months, recreating elements from the Acorn branding for use in the promotion of their fantastic “Classroom of the 80s” workshops, I thought it would be fun to also turn my hand to reproducing some of these lineart gems. I’ve done it before, with my Wanted: Monty Mole box art last year, so why not?

My graphics tools of choice are all Adobe products: Flash, Photoshop and Illustrator. I’m stuck with some of the older CS versions since Adobe have moved to a subscription model (something that can be discussed elsewhere) but the tools, even in version obsolescence are more than adequate for most jobs. I usually choose Flash to do remedial vector and other work in, just because its so easy. The tools are simCountdown To Doom Graphicsple and the interface is intuitive. I’ve been working with Flash since the Macromedia days so I may be a little biased – but I find Illustrator, as with Photoshop, just too complicated for quick and dirty tasks. Anyway,  I found a reasonably sized scan of the box art and then added it to the base layer in a new Flash asset. Steadily I traced the outline of the elements, layer upon layer until I had the background, clouds, shubbery, spaceship and finally worked on the top, and most complicated layer – the astronaut.

Countdown To Doom - WIP 2As you can see from the various examples, its a time consuming process, but eventually you do get some lovely “pen” outlines of the image. Remember that this is in Flash, and all the drawing tools generate vectors so they can be exported and converted into AI or EPS for rescaling without loss of quality.

The other nice thing about working this way, is that once you have everything on different layers and with nice black pen outlines it becomes a painting by numbers task. I generally colour big areas with the flat background colour and then create new layers to add shadow and highlight. The bold pen outlines and the way that layers work means that you can be quite haphazard (to a point) in colouring areas as any frayed edges end up behind the black border lines.

Countdown To Doom Graphics - FINAL Comparison

I’m really happy with the result, you can see the larger comparison above – mocked up with the original box scan. It’s clean, crisp and colourful – just like the original box art must have been. Now to find a use for it ….

DATA 34,69,23,255,0,255,128,55,34,87 …..

Ah, the type-in. For a legion of thirtysomethings they were a staple part of their computer-owning teenage diet in the 1980s. Who hasn’t spent hours hunched over a keyboard, entering page after page of BASIC and machine code DATA statements, using a ruler to keep track of your progress as you worked through the listing?

Type-ins coveted many specialist computer and gaming publications as well as spawning dedicated listing books. Programs covered every genre popular in the day; arcade clones, text adventures, sports sims, maze games and platformers. They were often crude, slow and full of bugs, but being able to type them in yourself and see the end result on screen was part of the magic.

Your Sinclair Type-in

Their popularity was bolstered by their cheapness and accessibility. For a fraction of the price of a commercial game, a book promised 10, 50 or even 100 “amazing”, “instant” and “write your own” programs for your microcomputer. Unfortunately the games were some hideous travesty where the blurb and the hand drawn illustration promised more than they delivered.

In magazines, easily filling space must have appealed to many editors, but type-ins also fulfilled a need. Many hints and tips sections were festooned with self-entered POKES that replaced or modified a commercial game’s loader and embellished the player with infinite lives or ammo. Many magazines ran supplements – “The Big Book of Games” from Computer & Video Games for example, that if you were lucky included a few absolute corkers from coding geniuses like the Oliver Twins, Jeff Minter and John Twiddy.type-in-error

It was even suspected that canny Editors deliberately sabotaged listings with bugs. After all, it was a great way to get little Johnny to part with another £1 the following month when he noticed the “fix” was included to make that malfunctioning code work!

Perhaps the greatest reason for their success, and one that we miss today, was the standardisation of the BASIC language across every home computer. With enough tweaking you could get Spectrum listing working on a Commodore or Amstrad, with some books including the alterations to the standard listings you had to make for other computers.

Most of these memorable books were provided by Peter Usborne’s publishing empire. He recognised the gap in the market and Usborne Computer Books were the first technical books written for the home. Lisa Watts, Digital Director at Usborne recalls Usborne's Beautiful Books“we were immensely excited when we got our first ZX81 in the office and realised the power it gave children to write their own programs and make something happen on a TV screen.” Between 1982 and 1984 over 35 computing books were published, each adhering to the Usborne brand of colourful info-packed tomes, with liberal sprinklings of glorious illustrations and meticulous attention to detail. Watts continues “we spent hours typing up, proof reading and testing the programs. One typo would prove fatal! The results were of course extremely simple, but the book graphics conjured up scene and atmosphere.” Many of us can recall with fondness, tootling back and forth to school or town library feeding off Usborne books.  It’s quite amazing that 2013 marks their 40th Anniversary year in publishing, but also quite amazing that today we are without an Usborne title about computers.

All good things must come to an end, and as consoles exploded, cover-mounted cassettes became cost-effective and more powerful computers appeared, the type-in faded into obscurity. But as Associate Professor of Digital Media at MIT and co-author of  the book “10-PRINT”, Nick Montfort comments – type-ins are not nostalgia or trivial of a lost era;  “This type of program was written and run by millions in the 1980s on their way to a deeper understanding of computers” he says.

10 PRINT “Ahem to that.”
20 GOTO 10