The JEFF MINTER interview
JEFF "Animal" MINTER is by any standards a
Name of Power in the games designing field.
Hit after hit has poured from his keyboard -
latterly with a decidedly zoological theme.
Camels, dromedaries, sheep, llamas -
there's no end to Minter's creative obsession.
And seemingly no end to the hits, either.
TONY TAKOUSHI talks to the Oldest Hippie of All...
Can you tell us a little bit about your new game?
It's called Mama Llama.
What does it involve? And will you be following Tony Crowther's example of a smooth-scrolling game?
Well, not so slavishly. It's going to be a strange game ...
Why ARE your games so strange?
Probably because I'm so weird! I've had some superb music especially written for the game by James Lisney (the Baughurst piano wizard).
That sounds like hype ...
Well, it sounds like hype, yes - but I won't be selling it on the strength of the music. I'm not going to be mentioning it in the adverts and I'm not going to say, Hey, this has got eight billion screens!, I'm not going to do that.
Why did you mention eight billion screens!
Because of the current 'mega-game' trend, I can translate these terms. For 'mega-game' read 'game with lots of screens' and for 'cartoon style animation' read 'sprites with little lines around them'.
They are fashionable things; everybody is bringing out games with loads of playing area but never mind if they don't play well.
Does that matter at the end of the day? Technically they are doing what they set out to do. What does it matter if cartoon-style graphics are two sprites?
A game as a whole is not sold on the basis of graphics but some companies do take this line. A game is a synergistic combination of many parts - graphics are just one part of it - they can be used as part of a style.
You yourself have a style of using sheep and llamas...
That's exactly it. What I dislike at the moment in the industry are ads that say, This game is better than Jet Set Willy, or This game is the best. You can't say 'the best' anymore. We've all reached a certain technical level.
What do you mean THE BEST? Because it's subjective, everybody has their own tastes.
All the programmers have reached a standard where they can produce games that look nice and are 'polished', but the thing is you can't say your game is any better than someone else's because people who like my games might not like someone else's games and vice versa.
games for people who like my style; if people don't like my style I'm not that bothered.
Aren't you producing games to make a living?
I'm producing games because that's what I like doing, because I'm a video games artiste. I get lots of letters from people saying they really like Ancipital, or they didn't like Ancipital as much as Revenge. I like to hear what people like and dislike about my games.
"You can't say 'The Best' anymore
... we've all reached a certain
On Compunet I get a big kick from putting up a game called Synchro and have people take it for free. I really enjoyed writing it, there was no pressure to produce a particularly marketable game.
Aren't you creating your own pressure by saying 'marketable', Why not do your own thing, why worry about it?
Well that's what I do now, but at the moment there's so much heavy commercialism in the whole scene that it does tend to leak over no matter how much I try and negate it. Perhaps I should take a course in Zen and meditation!
What's the response been like to Ancipital?
The people who have bought it like it a lot, there haven't been any letters saying it's disliked. In fact there's been loads and loads of letters saying Ancipital is driving people crazy. They love it.
Again, like most of my games it tends to suffer at the hands of casual reviewers.
What do you mean by casual reviewers?
Guys who are given thirty tapes to review in an afternoon, so they try and play each game in five minutes - and for one of my games that's a pretty damn stupid way to try and play.
By your own admission a lot of your games are shoot-'em-ups so why shouldn't they be able to review it in five minutes?
Well, look at Ancipital. It's a shoot-'em-up but with that bit more. Stuff like Matrix and Gridrunner admittedly could be reviewed in five minutes, but take Revenge. If you played it for five minutes you'd only see the first two or three screens, out of a total of 42. Some reviewers of Ancipital don't even bother to read the instructions, they don't know what they're doing. The first time Help screens have been introduced into an arcade game and they don't mention them! I saw a review where it said here were 81 screens in Ancipital... where it says at least four times in the instructions there are 100 screens.
Let's move on a little, what is it about sheep and llamas you like so much?
I like them because they're so hairy.
You like hairy things...
Plenty to grab hold of ...
What do you see in the future?
I hope there's a big crash in the market ... I really hope the big heavy commercial outfits crash.
But they're the ones taking over now?
They are taking over and it's all so cynical.
In what way is it corrupt?
There is corruption - you get chart hyping.
Isn't it a relatively new thing for software?
It is, it's all going the wrong way.
So it's a young industry that's going full circle like the video and record industries?
It's not even like the record industry. People aren't being encouraged to develop their own styles.
"Distributors don't buy a game if it's original - they buy games with lots of hype. That's bad news."
The distributors buy a certain type of game - a game with pretty graphics and backed by full page colour ads. They don't look to see if a game is different or original. They buy games with a lot of hype behind them, and programmers with really good games may not be able to get their games sold. That is bad news when a distributor can lock you out like that. I have had the same trouble with Ancipital. The distributors have gone for something else - they haven't even looked at Ancipital.
How can you be sure they haven't seen it?
Because they would have bought it!
That's a very complacent attitude.
OK it's a complacent attitude, but it's not a
"Some reviewers don't even bother to read instructions... They don't know what they're doing"
bad game, it's original and the response I've had from people who bought it is that they've loved it.
So what the hell more do they want?
Have you not spoken to the distributors over the problem. Why aren't they buying it?
It's like talking to a brick wall. They go on about marketing - what it comes down to basically is that they buy stuff with hype behind it.
So they're saying to you take 'X' number of colour page ads and we'll buy the game off you?
They're not saying that, but just look at the games they're buying! US Gold and Ocean! Ocean have something like 16 pages of colour ads in the computer press. Look at any Ocean game and compare it to some of mine and you can't say it's better. I've got one of the largest followings of people who like my style of game in the country, I've worked hard to develop a following and I like to think I satisfy them. It annoys me when these guys can't get hold of my games because it gives the pirates a chance to step in.
|Do you have any plans to write for other machines such as Amstrad or MSX?
We will probably be doing some conversions for MSX and Amstrad.
So you're talking conversions rather than writing new games?
I personally wouldn't write on the Amstrad.
Why - no sprites?
I don't think I could give it my best, I'd be writing in Z80 on a machine that was totally bit-mapped.
Again - no sprites.
It's not so much that I can't use machines without any sprites, because I use the VIC quite well. I'm now used to the style of development using sprites, and I think I write better games with a sprite-based machine.
You passionately believe in games - it's not just a job for you?
Oh no, it's not really a job at all, it's something I would be doing anyway if I had a 'normal' job. I've spoken to many people throughout the industry and i've mentioned Jeff Minter and they've said Jeff isn't well liked. I personally have said to them it's because you have such strong beliefs on games and gaming styles. Do you think that's the reason why people tend to switch off when one says Jeff Minter and Llamasoft?
Well, maybe. I'm just apart from the rest of the industry, I'm not doing what they're doing.
Look, the main reason these guys have formed a software house is to make a lot of money. Every other software house is run by people who aren't really games hackers at heart and they don't get a kick out of designing video games.
"I've always been into Pink Floyd and that sort of thing. It's the way i'm most relaxed"
|They're just in it for the money?
To different levels. - Someone like Taskset is different because those guys like games and enjoy designing. What I see is that no other software house barring Taskset is developing a style of their own. I tend to be a little more experimental - I do games because I like to do that game. People who like my games tend to be very passionately into them or don't like them at all - there's very little middle ground. I don't release a lot of titles because it's very cynical just to flood the market.
"I like Taskset - their stuff is witty and pretty original. Activision's is nicely done with good ideas - the games are simple and enjoyable to play"
You don't plan to release a game every two or three weeks?
No! Say somebody likes my games and suddenly I start producing three games a month - how's the poor kid going to be able to buy all these games?
So you're talking quality. A game can be produced to a far higher standard over two or three months...
I'm not a particularly fast coder - I like to tinker around with the stuff.
What do you say to people like Tony Crowther who knock out a game in two weeks?
Well I think he's a talented programmer, but I can't say I'm entralled with his stuff. It's good, it's very competently coded, but there's nothing very original there. Loco was an arcade game, then there was Son of Blagger, a scrolling Manic Miner, then Potty Pigeon, Monty Mole and Suicide Express - all of which are variations on the smooth scroll theme.
Who else do you like in the industry?
Of the English lot... very few. I like Taskset because their stuff is witty and pretty original. I play some of the Activision stuff - it's very nicely done with good ideas - the games are simple but enjoyable. HERO and Toy Bizarre especially. Pitfall 2 is a great game on the VCS. I've always respected Activision from early days when I owned a VCS; they bought out Activision Tennis which is about two-thirds as good as Psion's version, but it was written in 2K!
Why did you call your company Llamasoft?
I'd always been notorious at school for being into camels - and llamas were a natural progression, being camel-related. I read about them in a book when I was at sixth form. I knew they existed but I saw pictures of them and though, 'Wow, these beasts are really nice'.
Why the old-hippy style? Why the beard and long hair?
It's just the way I am really. I've always been into Pink Floyd and that sort of thing. It's the way i'm most relaxed. I'm not doing it for publicity as some cynical people would say.
But you do get a lot of publicity - you have a high profile in the industry!
It's nice, but I don't go out there looking for it!.
"There are times when I feel like quitting, but i'll always be writing games"
What about Interceptor Micros? In a lot of their recent games they've been openly courting you by using characters like Jeff the Jippy Jester and Llamaburgers in their games.
That's their bad trip, not mine. For some reason they dislike me. I haven't upset them knowingly. I actually thought Interceptor were looking up when they released Siren City. It wasn't brilliantly programmed but it was an original concept. I thought they had got their act together - when they suddenly started doing Manic Miner stuff and more arcade clones - they're no worse than anyone else over cloning.
Are you getting to the stage where you want to drop everything and go away and forget it?
Yes. There are times when I feel like quitting. But I would always be writing games anyway. I'm going to carry on writing games but i'm not going to mind if they don't get into this week's mega-funky top thirty! In the early days charts were OK because they were put together by guys who ran computer shops, like the one in the VIC centre where the guys would show you all the games. It was representative then, a good game would do well - a bad game would bomb. Nowadays all the charts reflect is, who's got the most efficient marketing organisation or who the distributors have designed to buy from this month. It just doesn't mean anything.
What games would you personally take to a desert island?
Rescue on Fractalus!, Star Raiders, obviously, probably Elite when I want a more intellectual version of Star Raiders. Elite is a thinking man's Star Raiders.
Should we ban the bomb?
Yes, we certainly should!
Are you in favour of the Greenham Women?
Yes. They're doing an important job down there, while other people there are playing at soldiers.
There is a distinct lack of men thought. Do you think men should go down and give them support?
If they want to make a feminist point at the same time that doesn't really bother me because they're making a very important point about cruise missiles in the first place. The feminist issue is their trip - I'm not exactly a sexist bloke.
Now you mention it, which do you prefer - male or female Llamas?
Female ones of course! What do you take me for?
by Jeff Minter
For the first time anywhere in BIG K, the rock-'em sock-'em official history of Llamasoft from the Hairy One himself!
FIRST CONTACT with a micro; 1978 as far as I can remember, at 6th Form. It was an 8K PET with, the calculator keyboard. Taught myself BASIC, wrote games, found out games needed speed, taught myself machine language.
Left 6th Form, went to university in Norwich armed only with a ZX80 I'd saved for six months to buy and an old TV I'd got for a fiver. While I was there I (a) bought an Atari VCS, (b) did a little illicit hacking on the resident VAX mainframe, (c) got caught and hammered for the aforementioned hacking, (d) spent quite a little time on the biology lab's Apple systems, which were my first experience of the Disc Drive (may it's Name be eternally praised). Eventually (e) got kicked out 'cos I was supposed to be doing maths and physics. My pleas to be allowed to transfer to computing fell upon deaf ears (at least I think he was deaf)...
Got back, obtained a ZX81 (wow!), started going to Oxford Poly. Wrote some ZX81 games which were sold by DKTronics. Designed their graphics ROM (note two little llamas and initials 'JM' therein testify to the design) and wrote machine code versions of Centipede and Space Invaders using said ROM. Got very nasty virus infection, quite ill for three months, had to leave Poly. Got hold of VIC-20!! Wrote tape of ten little games for DKTronics. (There's a collector's item for anyone who still has one!) Had disagreement with DKTronics over ZX81 graphics ROM. Decided to go solo!
dK 'tronics - ZX81 Graphics ROM
(note the llama characters in the 3rd column from the right!)
M/C Monitor for VIC! Bought 16K Expansion and Motherhead for VIC!!
Teamed up with R.P. Jones who was to help me with the venture. Wrote
Defenda painfully slowly. Went to VIC show in '82 and people actually
bought Defenda (wow!). Met guy from American software house HES and did
deal to ROM Defenda (we called it Aggressor). Wrote game called Ratman.
None too thrilled with it but launched it anyway. Wrote Traxx. Much
better! Well pleased with it. Had argument with Jones. Decided it would be best if we each followed our own destinies. Did PCW
Show in September '82, last ever show with RPJ. Show finished, we went
home RPJ reclaimed the stuff he'd lent me, we were alone. Solo. No
Sat down for a week, wrote a little thing called Gridrunner... BLAM!! Phone call from the States at two in the morning, they're going crazy, been playing it six hours solid, can I code it for the C64? Write Grid for the C64. Can I code it for the Atari? In two weeks? On ROM? Go out, buy Atari, buy De Re Atari book, buy disc drive, borrow mate's assembler editor. Write Grid again. Then write Attack of the Mutant Camels for the C64, then Laser Zone for the VIC - and therein lie the best sonics i've ever made - then go on holiday for a week 'cos i'm nearly burned out. Come back, go to the States to show in San Francisco, listen to Rock Radio station KMEL 106FM, the Beast of the Bay. (So that's where 106 comes from, okay?) Return. Write Matrix for the ViC and C64. Write Laser Zone for the C64. Go to show in Chicago, see an arcade game called Chameleon which HES had the rights to but never programmed. It was ace.
Chameleon © Copyright 1983 Jaleco
Come back. Enlist the services of the Baughurst Piano Wizard to write Hover Bovver. Also write Metagalactic Llamas for the VIC. Launch HB and Metagalactic at PCW. Go home, write Revenge, launch at YC Xmas Show. Go ski-ing. Come back, write Hell Gate for VIC and C64. Write Sheep In Space and listen to Jethro Tull's Broadsword and the Beast a lot. Go to San Francisco again. Argue with HES because they won't take Revenge. They assure me that their marketing people know exactly what's right for the USA. I attempt to prove them wrong and draw large and enthusiastic crowds when I demo Revenge at the show. HES ignore the evidence! I listen to KMEL 106FM some more, then fly home. People finally stop telling me to get my hair cut.
|Demo Sheep at Radio
1 show in Birmingham, let the players turn up a couple of bugs, fix
these and launch Sheep. Read De Re Atari again and decide that you
could do some fancy things with it if you wanted to. Learn the Atari.
Write AMC for the Atari. Mate of mine transfers Meta to the C64. he
comes down for a while, he codes Hover Bovver onto the Atari and I sit
and write Ancipital.
HES go bankrupt. I demo Ancipital at D&D Show in London, people like it. Finish off Ancipital and launch at PCW Show. Notice that people are getting heavily into my newsletter!
De Re Atari by L. Cross
Go to Peru and have amazing experiences with llamas. Come back with idea for Mama Llama. Drink last of my Inca Kola.
Inca Kola by José R. Lindley
Start coding. Tony Takoushi comes down and does idiot interview for BIG K. Stay at home coding and miss party. Finish backgrounds. Write this. Finish, go to bed. Try to stop thinking of goats. Go to sleep, zzzzzzzzzzz...
ONE HUMP OR TWO?
AN OVERVIEW OF LLAMASOFT'S SHEEPOID SOFTWARE
BY BILL BENNETT
JEFF MINTER'S psychedelic programs are to the eighties what Marc Bolan's songs were to the early seventies; weird, wonderful, and above all else, fun. For Metal Guru read Mutant Camel, for Telegram Sam read Sheep In Space. Minter could be a junior electronic pixie; however he describes himself alternatively as "Animal" Minter or "Yak the Hairy", games which could live on as long as Ziggy Stardust.
References to the early seventies are no accident. In many ways Jeff lives in a hippy timewarp. With afghan coats, long hair and desert boots, "Yak the Hairy" looks as if he has just stepped off the Marrakesh Express. He could be a guest at Neil's (Young Ones) party. But make no mistake, his work marks him out as a true child of the micro-revolution.
Arcade acolytes eagerly await the next software sensation from Minter's Llamasoft label, in the same way that schoolgirls queue for Duran Duran videos and Poles queue for meat. Each of the carefully crafter kilobyte confections is played, zapped and inwardly digested by fanatics who want nothing more than "a good heavy blast, the way Jeff writes 'em". His cult following can be attributed to a number of special characteristics.
But the most important factor is that Jeff cares about his games. He
plays them himself, and he plays other people's games too. Because he
knows how to get the adrenalin flowing. The fact that he is totally
out-to-lunch helps, as does the Star Wars cockpit machine he keeps in
his room for relaxing between bouts of frantic coding.
To make the games seem plausible, Jeff has dream't up a megascenario. In Short, there is a war on. Earth against the Zzyaxian Empire. I suspect that Jeff has read one science fiction book too many as the nature of this war just doesn't bear thinking about. The main weapon is the Zzyaxian armoury is psychological disorientation, hence the somewhat bizarre nature of the objects that need to be blasted in Llamasoft games.
The same motifs keep popping up and zapping you time and time again. Camels, llamas, sheep, half-man half-goat beast and savage guinea pigs inhabit the Llamasoft cosmos. Themes like pyramids with winking eyes - shades of the Freemasons keep appearing. Other Minteresque motifs include CND symbols, references to rock bands like Genesis and Pink Floyd and cross-references to other people's software.
Jeff Minter is also to blame for the hyperinflation of game scores. You
will soon get to think nothing of six figure scores in Llamasoft games.
To quote from Frankie Goes To Hollywood "When two tribes go to war, one
and a half million is all you can score"; In the Nature of the Beast,
Llamasoft's own freaky fanzine, is a table of high scores for the
games. Most of them look like telephone numbers. The fanzine is written
by Jeff and produced on an Apple Macintosh using Macwrite and Macpaint.
issue one, sub-titled the "first hairy issue", is fronted by a
Macpainted picture of a sheep.
Llamasoft games are mainly for the Commodore 64 and Vic 20. A number of the games are being translated to the Atari machine, generally with better sound and graphics. Sooner or later Llamasoft's first MSX game will be available, probably a version of Gridrunner. Certain Llamasoft games are available in Spectrum versions, converted by Salamander Software and distributed by Quicksilva. All the games work best with joysticks, and can be tough on them. If you get hooked on Llamasoft games be prepared to fork out for a heavy duty joystick. You also need a lot of energy.
Traxx is a grid game, grids being the earliest Llamasoft craze. The idea is that you must capture squares while avoiding bugs that float about. It is similar to Qix, though somewhat cruder.
BATTLE AT THE EDGE OF TIME
What a mouthful! Metagalactic Llamas is certainly not a game to play at the dinner table. Llamas spit, metagalactic llamas spit something pink, totally disgusting, and lethal. Pitched against the salivating llamas are some hellish looking "Zzyaxian cyborg arachnid mutants". Shooting the spiders will earn you points, but hitting the threads they hang on can be risky. When a shot thread snaps, the spider falls to earth, metamorphoses and chases the llama. You can still get to blast at the spiders as they scuttle over good old terra firma, by bouncing your llama's spit off a horizontal force field controlled by the up and down action of your joystick. In one way part of the game is all about clever deflection of... ugh, spit.
Unlike later Llamasoft products, Metagalactic Llamas does not offer a great range of beasties to zap. But then the original game was written for the memory-poor Vic 20. An improved version of the game runs on the Commodore 64. Spectrum owners will find a version for their machine is available from Salamander Software. Simple though it may be, Metagalactic Llamas is an enthralling zap, and in retrospect was a clear indication of weirder things yet to come from the mind of Minter.
International best-seller, Gridrunner is loosely based on the old Atari game, Centipedes. Minter's influences are as easy to spot as Marc Bolan's. Instead of taking place at the bottom of a garden, Llamasoft's update of the old classic sets the action in deepest space, so Bill, Ben and Little Weed can take a nap. Once again we are pitted against the evil might of the Zzyaxian Empire. You are in control of a space ship, the Gridrunner, which can move around the lower portion of a big red grid, it seems that space in full of them. Your task is to vaporize droids as they hurtle from the top of the screen towards and past you.
So far the game is just like a souped-up version of Centipedes. The nasty bits are the X-Y zappers which patrol the fringes of the grid taking pot shots at you and yours. They fire plasma pulses, which are bad enough, but when two pulses cross, a Pod is formed. Pods can only be destroyed by repeated blasting. After a few minutes of sewaty palms and joystick fatigue, a successful campaign is rewarded with the message, "Grid Zapped". The euphoria is short-lived, as within seconds another wave starts. A total of twenty waves complete the game. In its day Gridrunner was a masterpiece; it still plays well today, even if it is a little unsophisticated. Definitely a game for novices to sharpen their claws on.
Laser Zone turns Gridrunner on its head. Instead of dodging the X-Y zappers, you are now placed in control of them. Poacher turned gamekeeper. The program makes ingenious use of the joystick. X-Y zappers can move up and down the bottom and right and sides of the grid shooting at the port wretches that happen to be there. Funny how you can't remember what it felt like. Moving your joystick left to right controls the horizontal zapper, and moving it up and down controls the vertical one.
Initially the zappers only need to fire straight forwards, out into
space. However should the aliens reach one of the sides of the the
grid, they will crawl towards the zapper in order to destroy it. You
can get around this by controlling your zapper to fire a diagonal shot.
However you must take care not to blast the other zapper. The key to
mastering Laser Zone is mastering this diagonal shooting technique.
Of all the Llamasoft games, Hover Bovver stands out as being different. It is a distinctly suburban game, set in a large back garden. The aim of the game is to cut a lawn. It sounds simple. Yet the whole deal is complicated by the neighbours, whose mower you "borrowed" to mow the lawn. You avoid them, or better still, get your dog on them. Shouting "Down Shep" doesn't work. This is more a cutesy game than a blaster.
Hover Bovver is available on both the C64 and the Atari micros. There is little difference between the versions, yet the game feels slightly better on the Atari. In the Llamasoft newsletter, The Nature of the Beast, Jeff writes that "the more I see of the Atari, the more I like it. The potential of the machine is enormous, and the colour effects knock out your eyeballs".
SHEEP IN SPACE
Slightly reminiscent of Defender, Sheep In Space is set in surreal surroundings with a planet surface at the bottom and top of the screne, the inside of a huge torus of "doughnut" which is eight miles round. A number of these ecosystems were built to supply a human colony precariously located on the fringe of the Zzyaxian Empire.
Needless to say the fiends attacked. In response the humans refitted a number of sheep which hadn't yet been converted into casserole of lamb chops into "multi-shielded combat sheepoids". Each crazy mixed-up mutton is capable of firing "Bonios of Doom", ie. bullets and utilising "Dimension Jump Translation Modes", the woollen equivalent of hyperspacing.
As with other recent Llamasoft games, there is a wide variety of aliens for you to splatter, and a total of 48 different levels. The interesting feature of Sheep in Space is the way the gravity acts on the game. Both the upper and lower surfaces possess gravity. The nearer a sheep gets to either surface the slower it travels. So for maximum speed, life in the fast lane beings equidistant between the two surfaces. Bonios of Doom drop to the nearest surface when fired. It is important to keep your sheep fed. To do this he has to periodically land on a pasture and scoff. Overeating results in and exploding stomach, and can be very nasty. Easting also replenishes the sheep's shields so you need to strike a balance between muttony gluttony and shield status.
ATTACK OF THE MUTANT CAMELS
Basically the aim of this game is to butcher camels and get the hell out it (before the RSPCA catch you?). The Atari version of Attack has some of the most amazing graphics known to mankind. I've seen some sunsets in my time, but those shown as part of this game are breathtaking.
REVENGE OF THE MUTANT CAMELS
At this stage in the proceedings the Earth v Zzyaxian match has gone into extra time. Everything is even, and if one side doesn't make a breakthrough soon, the whole war will have to be decided on penalties. Llama-loving Jeff Minter must have fallen for those camel while developing Attack, because this time they are back, not as enemies, but as Earth's main defence against the heinous aliens.
Contacted by telepathic metagoats, the 90 foot high camels were convinced of their true loyalty to Earth. Pyramids with eyes wink in the background, another Minter motif, as dromedaries drift across the land spitting at all-comers.
Like metagalactic llamas, mutant camels spit is deadly. Targets include telephone kiosks and skiing kangeroos, all pretty normal zap fare in a Llamasoft game. The skies rain with canes, CND symbols and a Eugene carrying axes. A sideswipe at Eugene Evans, late of Imagine, or a reference to an obscure piece of music by some dead rock stars?
One way of looking at the latest Llamasoft computer confection, Ancipital, is to call it an adventure. At least there are certain elements of adventure to the game, but there is little resemblance to the GO NORTH, TAKE TREASURE nonsense that make text adventures such a bore. In fact there is hardly any text at all.
Ancipital's action takes place in the "Zzyaxian weapons-research outpost", the meanest place this side of a tube station at midnight. The air is filled with a powerful hallucinogenic designed to burn out the brains of any humands who might happen to stray into the area. So they sent the Ancipitals, half-man, half-goat and half-wits. There are 100 difference rooms or "chambers of defence" to contend with. Each has a different type of nasty to attack you and requires a different strategy from the player.
In the same way the Atic Atac scores are measured both by the number of points amassed and the percentage of rooms visited, Ancipital ha a dual-mode scoring system. One of the rules which helps reviewers tell a good game from a bad one is do you get better the more often you play the game? The answer with Ancipital is Yes. Ancipital is just enough to keep Llamasoft lovers going until the next piece of psychedelic Minter madness. Jeff calls it a "progressive" arcade game, I call it a damn fine zap.
Camel Ye Faithful and knuckle down to a session of
JEFF MINTER'S newest smasherooni - and a
continuation of the Ungulant Saga.
TONY TAKOUSHI reports...
JEFF MINTER's pilgrimage to Peru last October was the inspiration for his latest game called Mama Llama. It features a (surprise!) mother Llama and her two babies, all of whom are being attacked, in the best Minter tradition, by aliens.
Llamasoft Mama Llama Advert
The game follows the Minter style of a good shoot'em up but uses smooth scrolling backdrops to good effect. The scrolling backdrops are a first in that they are very colourful (unlike Tony Crowther who sticks firmly to four background colours).
The overall aim is to survive and protect the baby llamas, who mimic their mothers every action so as she leaps and spits at the aliens so do they! You have many sectors to patrol, with scanners within each section to help you locate any approaching nasties.
Following on from Sheep in Space and Ancipital, Minter has further evolved his gravity routines to allow incredible permutations on the alien attack patterns and on the movement of the llama. If you manage to clear a sector a warp gate will open to another sector, but you can choose to stay where you are a little longer.
Other sectors include the Inca City, Egyptian City, Space City, Rock City and Inca Homeworld - the gravity and viciousness of the aliens being suitably altered for each.
One of the most outstanding features of Minter games is his increasing ability to make the game feel good to play. When you pick up the joystick it feels true. Real gamers will know what I mean (the rest of you will just have to work at it!).
At the time of review the game was only half complete and had to be reviewed as such due to print deadlines but even semi-complete its quality stood out and I look forward to the finished item.
Rescue on Fractalus could be the finest 3D game in existence - that is said hand on heart. Behind Jaggi Lines (as it is otherwise called) was written by an Atari / Lucasfilm team who based it on the film Return of the Jedi.
You are placed in a cockpit looking out of your mothership preparing for launch. Press the fire button and the screen explodes into a crescendo of colour (honest!) as you zoom out through a launch tunnel and descend to the planet on a rescue mission for standard pilots.
Mama Llama by Llamasoft
Rescue on Fractalus by Lucasfilm
As you fly around the planet your instruments show where the stranded pilots are and you have to get within three lengths of them before you cut out your engines to land and rescue them. After you land you must switch off your boosters and wait for the pilot to run toward your ship from his wrecked craft.
As he nears you open the airlock (a beautiful soft hiss of air this) and wait for him to bang on the hull of your ship as he clambers in. You then fire the boosters, pull the ship's nose up and fly around to rescue the other pilots.
Life is not exactly easy as there are enemy posts positioned around the mountain tops firing on you - and the pilots you try to rescue could be aliens who trundle up to your ship and smash your viewing screen.
I cannot really being to do this game justice in a written review as it has to be experience to be believed. The way your craft swoops into valleys and climbs up the sides of mountains and drops down over them gives an incredible feeling of exhilaration. There is a game called Encounter on the market from Novagen (a Battlezone clone) that offers very fast 3D graphics, but this Atari game humbles it.
Rescue on Fractalus has 99 levels to choose from, with anything from 3 to 33 pilots to rescue, accurate and fast enemy laser posts and ever-increasing aliens masquerading as pilots.
It is officially available in the US now and Atari plan to release it in the UK, although no firm date is available at present.
I can think of no better reason to go out and buy an Atari than to play this game, and I promise you won't be disappointed.
Lucasfilm Rescue on Fractalus Cover
Article reproduced from Big K magazine February 1985 edition.
Although all text appears unchanged, some photographs or images have been added or modified for aesthetic purposes.
The "Ramalama! It's Mama Llama" page appeared in the original magazine, but not as part of the "Goatbuster" article. It has been added because of the relevancy to the Mama Llama game mentioned in Goatbuster. It is also by the same author of "Goatbuster", Tony Takoushi.
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Thank you to the following websites which were used for sourcing some images that appear in this article:
C64Games.de, Dave's Home Page, Lemon 64, Medwaypvb, MobyGames, Retrogames.co.uk, SPOnG.com, The Video Game Museum, Wikipedia, ZX81 Stuff.