ONE HUMP OR TWO?


Jeff Minter - Coin-Op

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.