Five indirectly educational games on the ZX Spectrum #GamesAreAGimmick

So, Minecraft has been labelled a “gimmick”. That could be true. It’s retail incarnation isn’t sold as an “educational” game and probably doesn’t deliver the strict learnings “outcomes” that seem to preoccupy many of the teaching profession today. At its very heart though, Minecraft, delivers a level of creativity, engagement, and freedom of expression in children that has rarely been seen since the days of the BBC Micro and home computers. That should be welcomed and encouraged.

Like so many people I truly believe that games deliver good (including educational content) on so many levels. You can find something even in the most obscure title … write me a paragraph on why the Angry Birds are so angry?

In the meantime, let’s fight back and prove games aren’t a gimmick. Here are the most non-educational educational ZX Spectrum games I can think of:

(see also: The Big Sleaze, Bored of the Rings, The Hobbit, Bulbo and the Lizard King)


I covered my love of Sherlock in this other post. You can bundle every single text adventure into this entry, but for me, Sherlock probably offered the zenith of the genre on 8-bit computers: As Steven Poole commented, we shouldn’t be worried about what children are reading, just encourage and support them in what they choose to read. I wasn’t put off playing the game because I had to read (a lot), I embraced it, and the challenging puzzles not only coerced my mind into solving them, it also pushed the expansion of my vocabulary in order to match the game’s text and dictionary.

As a by-product, Sherlock spurned a wider interest in the sleuth and the ingenious addition of “feelies” (physical items that aided your adventure) in the box spanned that digital/physical world – one that Infocom would soon become synonymous with.

Skills: Reading. Writing. Vocabulary. Imagination. Puzzle-solving.

(see: Software Star, Millionaire, Mugsy, 1984, The Biz, Dallas, Oligopoly)


There were plenty of games that promoted the understanding of how businesses operated. Minder had a very simple dynamic; you bought something for a price, and then you tried to sell it on at a higher price – but it underpinned that basic business principle of making a profit.

On a tangent, I once approached the BBC with an idea for an Only Fools & Horses game that I’d “borrowed” from Minder. Imagine swapping The Winchester Club for The Nag’s Head or Sid’s Cafe and you have the idea.

Skills: Mathematics. Economics. Decision and consequence. Short and long term planning.

(see also: Lords of Midnight, Sentinel, Football Manager, Theatre Europe, Austerlitz, Falklands War)


The Spectrum had some beautifully balanced turn-based strategy games. Julian Gollop refined his original Rebelstar Raiders adding a larger playing area and single player option. The single-player option pitted you against a cunning computer opponent and elevated the challenge of the game to another level. Chess Grand Masters are revered for their cerebral thinking and I guarantee that anyone mastering Rebelstar or one of its compatriots have the same qualities and glean the same benefit from play.

Rebelstar was based in a science-fictional world, but many turn-based games delivered a big dollop of historical content, often set during key conflicts and moments in time. From these I’m sure the player couldn’t help subliminally standing in the shoes of General Chelmsford, Napoleon, or Churchill.

Skills: History. Geography. Politics. Reading. Planning and foresight. Problem solving. Concentration. Attention to detail.



I can’t make a list of games on any subject without including Elite.It came boxed with a beautifully written novella (that has spawned many pieces of fan-fiction) by Robert Holdstock that set the scene and allowed a fervent teenage imagination to fill the voids left by the game’s sparse graphics.

Along with combat, trading underpinned the DNA of the Elite universe. You had to understand and learn the nature of trading between different systems, buying what was cheap on one world and selling it on another where the price was high.

It dangled, for possibly the first time ever in a game, a huge carrot of morality: Sure, you could get rich quick and afford those beam lasers, but to do it you had to break the law and trade in a selection of rather unsavoury items. Narcotics (I’d never heard of the word before), firearms and slaves could all be added to your ship’s cargo hold, but they were considered illegal. Trade in these and your legal status would be affected. Eventually you’d be targeted by the galactic equivalent of the boys-in-blue who wanted to hand out a particularly deadly form of justice – The GalCop Police Force.

Skills: Mathematics. Economics. Decision and consequence. Politics. Imagination. Dexterity. Morality.

Ant Attack
(see also: Saboteur II, Athena, Vixen, Gauntlet, Everyone’s A Wally, Where Time Stood Still)


Sandy White’s isometric masterpiece delivers a 21st century lesson from the moment it loads: You have the choice to play as a girl or a boy.

It seems such a big deal now, but I can honestly say I never gave it a second thought back in 1983. Many other games of the time featured the opportunity to play as a female character and it just seemed completely normal.

Skills: Ethics. Citizenship. Gender equality.



Steven Poole: On videogames and reading

Mark James Hardisty

Republished from the Games Britannia 2012 newspaper:

As George W. Bush nearly asked: “Is our children reading?” The answer appears to be no, according to the 2006 report of the International Literacy Study. As the Guardian summarises its findings:

“England has plummeted from third to 19th in an international league table of children’s literacy levels as pupils replace books with computer games.”

Imagine the headline 100 years ago: “Children Spending Too Much Time Playing Outdoors with Hoops and Sticks, Says Minister; Should be Forcibly Enclosed to Read Improving Literature.” There’s always some apparently pointless youth activity to scapegoat.

As has always been the case, though, the adult paranoia expressed here about the supposedly harmful influence of videogames depends on a sublime ignorance of the form. In fact, you’re not going to get far in most modern videogames if you can’t read. And some of them make you read an awful…

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British industry luminaries – what is your favourite British videogame?

Iain Simons, Director of GameCity in Nottingham.

I was weaned on the work of Jeff Minter from Gridrunner on the VIC-20 onwards, and fell in love with Ancipital on the Commodore 64. Batalyx brought together everything you needed to know about his work, wrapped in a brilliant time-based structure. In lesser hooves, it could have been a fragmented collection of mini-games – instead, it feels like a completely cohesive and uncompromised whole. No wonder it was a Zzap Sizzler!

Kate Russell, Presenter BBC Click!

Elite on the BBC Micro was the game that sparked my interest in technology back when I was 11 years old. I remember being in awe of the infinite world that existed inside this little black box on the table. This game was just white lines drawn on a black screen, but it still blew my mind, as we’d never seen anything like it before. When I imagine how different the games of the next few decades will be from what we know today, the possibilities are incredibly exciting

Ian Livingstone  OBE. Chairman, Sumo Digital Ltd, Co-creator of the Fighting Fantasy series and co-author of the Livingstone-Hope NextGen report.

I should not try to influence your choice on the best of British games!

Andy Payne  OBE. Just Flight, AppyNation, Ukie, BAFTA and Creative Industries Council

Best British game of all-time? Hmmm, Elite, Guild of Thieves, The Pawn, Starglider?

Tom Bramwell, Operations Director of Eurogamer Network.

There are lots of games made by British studios that mean something special to me. Rare’s Viva Pinata holds a particular fondness – a beautiful synthesis of resource management and cute animals – but GTA III is easily my favourite. It was one of the first 3D worlds that gave the player a real sense of freedom – a place where you weren’t penned in by invisible walls, load screens, strict rules and linear objectives – and it was built by grown-up storytellers with an eye for good satire, who proceeded to run riot with the absurdity of the American Dream. It’s hard to think of a more important release in the last 20 years worldwide, let alone in Britain.

Tristan Donovan, author of the acclaimed Replay: The History of Video Games and games journalist.

Most games don’t age well, but 18 years on from its release, UFO: Enemy Unknown is still a must play. It’s the pinnacle of Brit game legend Julian Gollop’s career-long focus on turn-based tactical strategy, and makes masterminding Earth’s response to an alien invasion an utterly compelling experience that drips with tension and atmosphere.

Charles Cecil  MBE, creator of Broken Sword and founder of Revolution Software.

Apart from Broken Sword of course, my favourite game choice goes to Grand Theft Auto and Grand Theft Auto III in particular. The DMA team, led by Dave Jones, came up with the edgy 2D, plan-view steal-a-car classic. Then the move to 3D took another great leap of vision – for me, GTA III is one of the most revolutionary and interesting games ever written. It encapsulates the spirit of William Hogarth and all those great British engineers – the fusing of creativity, technical expertise, and, when needed, entrepreneurship. Genius.

Bruce Grove, CEO Polystream

At the ripe old age of eleven I blew all my savings on a ZX81. That was my start in technology but it was also where I encountered 3D Monster Maze. All of a sudden I was immersed in this maze where a wrong turn could see me running for my life being chased by a T-Rex. At the time I remember it being truly breathtaking and even a little scary. Elite was another on the BBC that I played for endless hours: strategy, economics, battle readiness, and vector graphics, awesome, awesome vector graphics. But, if you asked me for my favourite ever, probably Lemmings: good grief, absolute genius, wait, I blow this one up to save the other ones, ok, let’s do it.


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




Stuck in the M.U.D.

Hardly anyone played it at the time. But few, if any, British games can boast the impact of MUD. Never heard of it? That’s not surprising, because even in its pre-internet heyday this online game was the definition of cult.

Created in 1980, MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) was an online multiplayer role-playing game that was written when only the government, military and universities could use the internet. MUD was free to play, but not many people had computers with modems back then and playing online incurred sky-high phone bills that made playing frighteningly expensive. Yet this wallet-gobbling game laid the foundations for every online RPG out today. Without it there would be no World of Warcraft, no RuneScape and no EVE Online. Without it we wouldn’t even know what a noob is. So how did this little-known British game become so influential?

The story of MUD starts in 1978 when Roy Trubshaw, a computer student at Essex University, built a virtual world that people could explore together on the university’s room-filling mainframe computer. “I liked the idea of multiplayer games,” he said. “Wandering around the locations…doing stuff to or with other folks in the same game as you was an unutterably cool idea.”

Since graphics and online play together were too demanding for the era’s computers, Trubshaw’s world was described in text and players interacted with it via text commands much like the text adventure games that were big at the time. But Trubshaw’s interactive realm wasn’t much of a game, so his pal Richard Bartle, who was also studying computing at Essex, sprinkled some role-playing pixie dust over it. The result was a multiplayer online treasure hunt set in a fantasy land filled with puzzles, spells, combat and Dungeons & Dragons stats.

As luck would have it, Essex University’s computers had just been hooked up to the pre-internet ARPANET system so Bartle and Trubshaw put their game online. While there had been a small number of online games before it, MUD was revolutionary stuff for 1980. While most people were playing primitive Chess on their ZX80s, or trying to get high scores in the arcades, the select group who played MUD got a glimpse of 21st century gaming 20 years early.

As is often the case with tight-knit groups, MUD players began inventing their own words. Words such as newbie, which described newcomers to MUD, and morphed into the internet slang ‘noob’ that’s so widespread it’s now in the Oxford English Dictionary.

And since Trubshaw and Bartle gave away the code behind MUD, fans began producing their own twists on the idea until eventually MUD became the term not for a single game but a catch all term for a style of game.

By the middle of the 90s there were hundreds of MUDs around. Some, like LambdaMOO, abandoned the game elements and inspired the online virtual world Second Life. Others emphasised the game aspects. These game-focused MUDs, particularly the DikuMUDs, set the gameplay template for massively multiplayer online role-playing games of today including World of Warcraft and RuneScape. In fact these games are so closely related to the text-based worlds of MUD that when they first appeared they were called graphical MUDs.

But while millions of people across the world play games like World of Warcraft, few know that their favourite game just wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t for the often overlooked creation of two British computer students back at a time when few had heard of the internet and the ability to display 16 colours at once was the sign of a state-of-the-art home computer.



Tristan Donovan (@tristandonovan) is the author of the acclaimed Replay: The History of Video Games and writes about games for The Times, Stuff, Eurogamer and Gamasutra.

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


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.



James Bond Q&A: Karl Hilton (@KarlHilton1) and Tony Wills

Karl Hilton
Studio Head (Nottingham), Sumo Digital Limited

Lead Artist on GoldenEye, Karl shares his memories of a British console classic.

Where did your career in videogames start? I originally did a BA in Architecture and then went to the NCCA at Bournemouth to do an MA in Computer Visualisation and Animation.

What is your first gaming memory? I always loved playing arcade videogames and as soon as the first 8-bit home computers like the ZX Spectrum came out, I got my hands on one and started buying and writing games to see what they could do. I wanted to make Space Invaders and Galaxians.

Did you study any programming at school? Not really. We did a tiny bit of BASIC programming on the BBC Micros in school in Maths lessons, but I did all my learning at home.

How did you get into the industry? I sent off a lot of applications, mainly from the back of magazines, and went to a lot of interviews! I think I had 5 or 6 rejections before Rare offered me a position.

What was working at Rare like in the early Stamper days? It was great fun. We had our own ‘barn’ at the back of the farmhouse and we were left alone to get on and make something good. We worked some long hours but we had a lot of fun and didn’t mind at all. The quality of the final games was the driving force for everything that was made at Rare.

Where did the original pitch for GoldenEye come from? It was Martin Hollis who took the project, on condition that it would be made on the Nintendo 64 console, which was still in prototype at that stage, and that we could make an FPS. The initial idea was to have it more ‘on rails’ as we had played VirtuaCop a lot, but we quickly realised we could do a lot more on the console due to its potential power.

Can you tell us a little about the development processes at Rare, how you managed such freedom and creativity working with a licensed product? As a team we were generally well protected by Rare and Nintendo from the realities of publishing and marketing and were able to just focus on making the game. Nintendo trusted Rare to make something good and Rare trusted the team. The licence had little in the way of restrictions on it so we had enormous freedom to be creative. We did not have any regular milestones to hit, other than the alpha date (which we comfortably missed) but, we were given time and space to make the game as good as we could.

Have you played any of the new reloaded and reimaged versions of the game? Only very briefly to see what they were like. I enjoyed them.

Are you pleased that your original game has inspired new releases and a new audience? ‘Re-booting’ a popular old game can offer an opportunity to enjoy the experience again and it’s very flattering that GoldenEye was strong enough to have this done. I don’t think you can expect the current generation of gamers to be that impressed by the original but it does offer some historical context.

Tony Wills
Facial Animator, Foundry 42 Limited

Having cut his teeth on the groundbreaking Actua Soccer at Sheffield’s Gremlin Graphics, Tony leds motion capture for Eurocom’s secret agent exploits.

What was your first computing and gaming memory? I can remember my dad bringing an Atari VCS home from work one day in a plastic bag. It played several very similar bat and ball games in black and white, awesome!

Did you study any programming at school? I did a computing A-level but was mostly a self taught programmer. At around about the same age, I was playing a lot of games on my Amiga and was just hooked.

Where did your career in videogames start? With Gremlin in Sheffield, working on motion capture. I was looking for a summer job and found an advert for a “computer games assistant” in the job centre. I did a CV with the company logo on it, got an interview and was lucky enough to get the job.

You worked at companies in Sheffield and Rotherham, what were they like? Things were quite corporate under Infogrames but the early days at Gremlin were very exciting.

When did you first get involved with the GoldenEye games? Eurocom put a lot of effort into developing Quantum of Solace (PS2) which was released in 2008. The game got a pretty good reception so the company began talking to Activision about a new Bond game, which turned out to be GoldenEye.

Did you play the original N64 game as inspiration? Not at the time but I had completed the N64 version whilst working at Gremlin.

Did you collaborate with the original team? Not really – it became clear fairly early on that this was going to be a completely new game rather than a straight remake. So it was all done through Eurocom, Activision and EON (the licence holder).

Did you work on any of the earlier Bond releases? Yes, we did a lot of mocap for Quantum of Solace so there are some very nice action scenes in the game.

Why did you choose the Wii as the first console for the reimagined GoldenEye? Activision knew the original GoldenEye had sold very well on the Nintendo 64 so they hoped to emulate that success on the Nintendo Wii.

Can you give us an idea of how much motion-capture footage goes into a game such as GoldenEye: Reloaded? Yes we did around 70 days of capturing for the game and spent the best part of a year processing and animating the resulting scenes.

Did you get to work with Daniel Craig himself? Unfortunately Daniel is always very busy with his filming schedule so I never got the opportunity to work with him directly. We did have someone from Eurocom fly out to LA to attend the audio recording session with him though.


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


Shaken, not stirred.

It’s 50 years since the first film, Dr No; Daniel Craig returns to the big screen in Skyfall; and there’s another game in the Bond franchise from Activision. 007 has witnessed a few tricky missions in his videogame portfolio, so let’s look back at some of the successes – as well as the failures that should have been sent to storage at the MI5 base in Siberia.

The first Bond game was the imaginatively titled James Bond 007 by the famous Parker Brothers, which appeared on the Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Commodore 64 and
ColecoVision. The sideways-scrolling gameplay consisted of steering Bond’s amphibious vehicle through four levels, shooting at enemies while dodging their attacks and avoiding obstacles. It was released around the time of the movie The Spy Who Loved Me, but bizarrely contained levels named after an older film, Diamonds Are Forever.

A View To A Kill, released by Domark in 1985, was much better. It featured a range of levels, each with its own distinctive style of gameplay – something Ocean Software would later replicate in its own film-licenced blockbusters. Exploiting the licence, Domark went on to release The Living Daylights, Live and Let Die, Licence to Kill and The Spy Who Loved Me. Of these titles, perhaps the most memorable was Live and Let Die, a blatant reworking of an existing speedboat game that Domark had acquired from developers Elite. Roger Moore would have raised a famous eyebrow at less-than-faithful scenes such as a pyramid chase through Egypt and a battle in the Arctic.

As consoles took over from home computers, Bond moved with the times, and the 90s were dominated by SEGA and Nintendo. The Timothy Dalton-inspired The Duel in 1991 was a Rolling Thunder-style, side-scrolling platform shooter in which Bond battled a swath of recognisable villains, rescuing obligatory tied-up girls and killing hordes of bad guys. Though the control system was flawed, The Duel was graphically adept, with cracking pieces of sampled sound and a few nice gameplay touches such as an unphased Bond falling and swimming in the ocean, and a variety of great vehicles.

It all was a little quiet after that for the first half of the 90s, coinciding with a delay in a new movie appearing. Perhaps developers had run out of ideas after the appalling James Bond Jr by THQ.

All was not lost though. The arrival of Pierce Brosnan as 007 (starring alongside Sheffield’s very own Sean Bean) heralded a new age for both the film and videogame franchise. Released nine months too late to feature in the Nintendo 64’s launch lineup, and two years after the movie on which it was based, GoldenEye 007 was a first-person shooter on console – at a time when Quake was king, and mouse and keyboard were considered the only real way to run and gun. But it worked – brilliantly. Fuelled by the appeal of the licence, the game sold a reputed 8 million copies in all. The small development team at Britain’s Rare, led by Martin Hollis and Karl Hilton, showered love and affection (and a huge dose of innovation and creativity) on the game – and it showed. GoldenEye boasted varied action that included elements of stealth, and extensive multiplayer modes (with full split-screen four-person deathmatch). It become one of the most beloved titles in videogame history and one of the most influential shooters ever made.

Electronic Arts grabbed the Golden Gun next and released Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, 007 Racing, Agent Under Fire, Nightfire, Rogue Agent and finally From Russia With Love.

Quantum Of Solace in 1998 was Activision’s first effort, and sent Bond back into the first-person fray, with Daniel Craig’s likeness. Gameplay was switched back to third-person in Blood Stone, featuring Joss Stone as Bond’s sidekick. Sadly, Blood Stone was the final game developed by Bizarre Creations before it closed its doors in 2011.

For Bond’s most recent missions, there was only one Secret Agent development house that Activision could trust: Eurocom. Having developed 007 games in the past, the Derby-based studio caused a stir at the 2010 E3 conference with their reimagining of the 1997 Rare masterpiece for the Wii console. A year later, GoldenEye: Reloaded upgraded the game for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, with enhanced graphics, a 16-player online mode, and PlayStation Move compatibility.

Now Activision has announced 007 Legends, a Eurocom-developed celebration of the Bond franchise’s 50th anniversary for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

Due in the autumn, Legends boasts an all-new storyline with missions based on six Bond films. Only one has been specified so far: Skyfall, the new 007 outing that’s hitting cinemas this October.


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

The Mighty Micro

Mark James Hardisty

“At what stage will fully automatic, accident-proof road vehicles come on the market? When will children’s dolls or mechanical toys respond to their spoken commands? When will the average wristwatch include a personal identifier chip and memory capable of storing all personal correspondence? How long will it be before the average doctor carries a pocket-size diagnostic aid containing all relevant medical records? When will two-way wrist communicators, with or without video display, be as common as the telephone? At what period will the average child own a portable teaching computer of great power, more knowledgeable, and in certain areas, more intelligent than any human teacher?”

The Mighty Micro, Christopher Evans. Published in 1979 by Victor Gollancz Ltd. ISBN 0575027088

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Jaz Rignall’s (@JazRignall) A Rare Necessity

When you think back to the British gaming scene of the mid-80s, the systems that immediately spring to mind are the ZX Spectrum and C64 – which isn’t surprising, because they were the clear market leaders. In the shadow of these two 8-bit titans were a few other micros: the Amstrad range of computers, and the Amiga and Atari ST – the new 16-bit kids on the block that would become increasingly important as the end of the decade approached. But really, it was the C64 and Spectrum that ruled the roost. They very heavily influenced the way games were developed, marketed and published in the UK – and ultimately created the foundation of what was a bright, healthy and uniquely British gaming market ecosystem.

However, elsewhere around the world, things were different. In Japan, Nintendo ruled the day with its Nintendo Entertainment System. Despite other consoles being available, the NES’s high quality, arcade-style games had captured gamers’ attentions, and it was rapidly becoming by far the most dominant system in Japan. The NES was also making inroads into the US market. The infamous video game crash of 1983 had created a huge vacuum where few US hardware manufacturers dared tread. And while Atari and Commodore dithered – along with many other software manufacturers who’d convinced themselves that perhaps gaming was a fad like the Hula-Hoop and Pogs – Nintendo waltzed in to fill the void with a system that American gamers hungrily snapped up. Very quickly, the US games market bounced back with a vengeance, and the NES was literally the only game in town.

Back in the UK, most people were still thinking locally – which was understandable in this pre-internet period. With the UK games market still booming, why get involved in the complex and very different US and Japanese games markets? One of the very few companies that did, however, was Rare Ltd. While its Ultimate Play the Game products for C64 and Spectrum were still wowing UK gamers, the Rare visionaries put a lot of time and effort into persuading Nintendo to let them start producing games for its systems. Slalom was their first – which was actually produced for the Nintendo Vs Arcade System. By 1990, Rare had produced over 40 games for the NES and Game Boy, becoming Europe’s leading console game developer.

But even at this point, most gamers had no idea that Rare, the company known as the makers of Speccy games like Knight Lore and Jetpac, was such a big deal. Indeed, most gamers of the period thought that the company had gone bust or folded, since it wasn’t making any games for the Spectrum or C64 anymore. But that soon changed when Nintendo finally launched the NES in the UK and gamers began to figure out that some of their favourite games on that system were created by a company with a strangely familiar name. And at last one of the UK gaming market’s best-kept secrets became common knowledge: Rare was still around – and they were even more successful than they’d ever been during their Ultimate Play the Game days.

In 1990, bored with ageing 8-bit home micros, and faced with unaffordable 16-bit computers, the vast majority of UK gamers embraced the new incoming Japanese consoles, just as Japanese and American gamers had a few years earlier. This brought about huge changes in the way games were made and distributed in the UK: software companies scrambled for development deals via US and Japanese software companies, and many went out of business, unable to adapt to the changed market conditions. But Rare was uniquely positioned to continue its success – eventually becoming a second-party Nintendo developer and creating a string of hugely popular Nintendo games throughout the 90s and early 2000s. In 2002, they became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Microsoft, leaving a legacy of being Britain’s most successful – and, in its NES days, least celebrated – console game manufacturers of all time.



A self-confessed “Neanderthal from the dawn of gaming magazine history”, Julian “Jaz” Rignall grew up during a time when the best video games had 10p slots, and free-to-play games were the ones you pirated from your friends. Find him on Twitter @jazrignall.

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.