Skeletons in the Closet: my own early Vic 20 efforts

After having taken the piss out of other people’s stuff for the last couple of weeks I feel it’s only fair to drag a few skeletons out of my own closet for public humiliation. This selection is largely from the very early days where I did a bunch of games written mostly in VIC BASIC, made shortly after I first got my Vic and before I got my hands on the spot assembler cartridge which made writing anything more than the odd helper routine in machine code viable.

To kick off here’s one which predates Llamasoft itself.

This is “Rox II” (I am not sure if there was ever a Rox I – probably not, I suspect I just added the number to sound cool. Certainly it’s hard to imagine an even more primitive predecessor. I do remember me and my dad playing this quite a lot in the December of 1981. It’s not even graced with any UDGs and is just made out of stock Vic 20 “graphics characters”. You have a little base on a “lunar surface” and “rox” fall down; your mission is to launch shots in one of three possible directions to try and shoot them before they hit the ground (or your base). If the ground was entirely breached or your base got hit (more usually) then it was game over.

Pre-Llamasoft I did do a little collection of games which were sold briefly as a package for about a fiver by my old brief publisher DK’Tronics for whom I’d done some ZX81 work and with whom I parted on not the best of terms after a dispute over royalties for the DK’Tronics Graphics ROM on the ZX81. For that reason the games weren’t sold for that long and the package is quite rare (I don’t even have all the games from it myself).

There is a slightly tarted up version of the same game called ‘Rox III” which I present here as well:

This was an “extended mix” for the 8K Vic which added UDGs and slightly fancier presentation. Llamasoft never sold this version to my knowledge so I guess it was probably part of the same package sold through DK’Tronics, as an optional version for people with the 8K Memory Expansion in their Vic. As well as the “improved” graphics there was an extra little segment every 4th wave where you had to shoot bombs dropped from a mothership, which you don’t get to see in the video as I died due to mis-triggering my smart bomb.

Next up is possibly the longest lived game I’ve ever done:

“Deflex V” (again with the arbitrary numbering system). The first version of Deflex was made on the Commodore PET while I was still at sixth form college in 1979, and the latest version is out on iOS, so it’s a game with a long history. It’s about as sparse looking a game as it’s possible to make on the Vic, with the graphics consisting of nothing more than a blob, a number, and the “bats” made out of diagonal lines. Nonetheless it’s still actually kind of fun to play. We did do a much fancier version on the Speccy and a not particularly great looking version on the Atari 800.

Next is a game which surely everybody who ever had a home computer with BASIC in must have made:

“3D Labyrinth” (alas, no minotaur). Once again written entirely in BASIC with just a smattering of UDG work to tart it up a little, this game would have benefitted greatly from a little dab of machine code to speed up the drawing of the view. Nonetheless it wasn’t too awful to play as you could kind of buffer up keyboard commands and then let it catch up while you thought about what to do next.

If you want to see a really bad 3D Maze game done by me then you should look for “3D3D Maze” on the ZX81. The idea of it was quite cool (the maze was a cube, and you could go through holes in the floor and ceiling as well as left and right) but it was balls-achingly slow making it pretty much impossible to play by creatures with metabolisms that run on a normal human timescale.

This game was sold by Llamasoft for a while but like all the early BASIC games we did, when I started making full machine-code games the old BASIC ones looked a bit shabby in comparison and as things moved on they got quietly dropped from the cattle-logue.

Next let’s look at “Rat Man”.

This is quite a rare Llamasoft game, for the reason that it really wasn’t that good when it came down to it. It was heavily outclassed in short order by later releases and so it was only ever mentioned in the first three Llamasoft ads. You take the part of a chap with a large hammer and your task is to wander left and right with a lurching gait and smash the crap out of any rats. The rats kind of queue up on the floor waiting patiently to be smashed. If one is lucky a travelling hole will pass beneath him and he’ll get to exist safely down below as a Pointy Stick Rat, poking a pointy stick up every now and again in the hope of catching a particularly dozy player unawares. (The pointy stick dudes were more or less lovingly stolen from “Uniwar S”, which at the time was the table top game in residence at the Hinds Head in Aldermaston, to which me and the Baughurst Piano Wizard would frequently retire for Guinness and gaming. They had a tabletop game in there that was changed every few months and was usually something a bit peculiar – I remember playing UniwarS, Checkman and Zaccaria Scorpion there).

Incidentally I just watched a Youtube video of Kim Jong-un looking at things this morning (he sure does have to look at a lot of things; it’s hard work being a god-leader I guess) and at one point he was looking at an arcade, and in that arcade they had those old tabletop games. I never thought I’d be envious of something from North Korea, but I do miss those old tabletop games in pubs, they were ace.

But anyway, Ratman tended to be a bit boring to play and was just a bit clunky compared to newer titles and so he was retired a few months after he was born.

Ironically enough one of my brothers has a pest control business and therefore actually *is* a rat man. He now has other people to do all the actual work for him and spends most of his time going on holiday. I sometimes wonder if I’d've been better off doing something like that instead of games, being as how my illustrious career has left me skint and abjectly scrabbling on the iOS treadmill desperately just to try to have enough to continue existing. I haven’t had any disposable income for over five years.

But anyway.

Next up in our villains’ lineup of early BASIC Vic 20 games is “Headbanger’s Heaven”.

This is a variant of a game that was popular back in prehistory, usually called “Moneybags”. A guy has to walk back and forth at the bottom of the screen to collect moneybags. He passes underneath three bunkers while projectiles fall down, eroding the bunkers and killing him if he gets hit. You survive as long as possible and grab as much swag as you can.

To spice up this basic formula I made it so that your guy was a “heavy metal nut” who actually enjoyed a bit of pain. He could (and should) take hammer blows to the head in order to increase a bonus multiplier that was applied to moneybags retrieved and hammer blows taken. Bigger bonuses would therefore accrue to the player who maxed out the pain meter – but too much pain would kill the player. At any time you could headbutt an aspirin and remove all the pain, resetting your bonus multiplier. So there was a risk/reward dynamic in there which a skilled player could exploit.

The game was actually kind of fun, but like all the BASIC games tended to suffer from sluggish controls and just wasn’t up to scratch when the likes of Gridrunner and Matrix started to appear, so was only ever on sale early in Llamasoft’s existence.

Finally here’s a game which I had genuinely forgot ever existed.

This is “Space Zap” which was made as part of that bundle of DK’Tronics games I mentioned at the start of this entry. I really had forgotten all about it until a few years ago when I was trawling through Gamebase on the Vic. At first I thought the character set looked familiar, but thought not much more of it since stealing of character sets was rife anyway. Then on the third page of instructions I saw a little llama and it triggered off distant memories of this game.

There was an arcade game called Space Zap that I’d read about in a book but never played or even seen. That game inspired this one I made for that DK’Tronics game pack. You have a turret in the middle of the screen containing a llama, ships fly in one at a time and eventually attack, you have to aim your turret and time a laser blast to zap the enemies. Laser heads get ablated away by impacts, exposing the llama, and if the llama is hit it’s Game Over.

Quite how this game came up nearly 30 years after I’d last seen it, labelled as being published by a US company called “Vic Soft” I don’t know, but as another of their games was called “Deflector” and appears to be Deflex I suspect shenanigans. But anyway it was kind of cool to see a game of mine I’d actually forgotten about it’d been so long since I’d seen it, for all it’s a bit primitive and rubbish.

And that’s enough primitive and rubbish for this week. Plenty more to serve up! Maybe one of these weeks I should pick on something other than the poor old Vic (which i actually love with all my heart, piss-taking notwithstanding).

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