GAMES WEEK COLUMN 6 - July 1991
***** - Eastenders
**** - Coronation Street
*** - Home And Away
** - Emmerdale
* - Neighbours
RIGHT TO REPLY
Phew! Our postman has had to take a holiday after struggling to cope with the weight of the letter that flooded in in response to my sulky old rant at ELSPA a couple of weeks ago on the subject of mixed-price charts. The letter was from none other than the Roger Bennett, General Secretary of ELSPA, himself, and went something like this:
"ORDERS FROM GESTAPO HEADQUARTERS
Today I am wearing my little black moustache, a black wig, and can be heard clicking my heels and shouting 'Heil ELSPA!'
I am sure you are sufficiently endowed with humility to be prepared to listen to the arguments for amending the charts which seem to have upset you so. I recall that you were a rational man (don't know where he got that idea from -Stuart) and that you would wish to hear both sides of an argument before taking a stance.
I can certainly take on board your argument on having charts based purely on sales but I am sure you will equally agree that comparisons should be based on a like for like basis. For example the record industry do not have LPs in the CD chart or 45s in the LP chart.
It is apparent that ST owners are not really interested in Amiga, PC, or any other format charts. The same goes for owners of all other machines. Additionally, the growth in specific format magazines requires specific charts based on full price and budget prices.
I hope that you will bear in mind that the costs of producing the charts are borne by ELSPA members and the information they require has significant influence on how the charts appear. A weekly bound report called 'Chartalk' with 24 charts listed is distributed to Companies who subscribe additional for obtaining it. This contributes substantially toward paying what is virtually a six figure sum for the annual contract to Gallup for collecting the data and producing the chart.
While it would appear that you would prefer a totally unstructured arrangement for the computer entertainment business, I would suggest that some level of industry regulation is ideally necessary. Software publishers can then perhaps continue to develop entertainment software based on achieving a level of profitability for re-investment in new, good quality product so that you have something to write about, consumers have something worthwhile to buy, and magazine publishers can continue to employ Stuart Campbell. Long may it continue."
Well, at least they've got a sense of humour. But let's take a look at the arguments. The LPs and 45s one is, I'm afraid, nonsense. LPs and singles are inherently different products, a single is just as its name suggests, one song (okay, and a B-side), whereas an LP is a much larger collection of separate tracks. The obvious parallel is with game compilations, but ELSPA's full-price chart includes compilations alongside individual games without distinction. There aren't different charts for ordinary LPs and double LPs either, so dividing things purely by price is clearly an artificial imposition.
As for the point about machine-specific charts, I'm a bit confused. This is a multi-format magazine, and I personally believe (backed up by other correspondents) that ST owners or whatever ARE interested in a general chart, so long as it's in their machine's field (ie 16-bit or 8-bit).
To ELSPA members, the question has to be "What information can you get from price-separated charts that you couldn't get from an all-in chart?" Mixed-price charts give you more information, not less.
And finally, no I wouldn't prefer a 'totally unstructured arrangement'. There's no point in comparing 16-bit sales with 8-bit ones, but it's quite definitely interesting to see whether F-15 Strike Eagle II on the Amiga is outselling Little Puff In Dragonland on the Amiga, despite costing £32 more. Quite where all this ties in with software houses making bigger or smaller profits is beyond me. Please Roger, give us back our charts.
BEG, BORROW AND BURN
Unfortunately, we seem to have reached the very lowest point of the software industry's summer recess, with the result that new games, be they good, bad or ugly, are incredibly thin on the ground. With that in mind, it's maybe a better idea to save your money and bugger off to Blackpool for a week, but if you really must buy a game...
F-15 Strike Eagle II (MicroProse, £39.99 for Amiga)
Finally out, it's the latest in a long line of definitive action flight sims from Wild Bill and the boys. It won't be the game to convert you, but if you're a fan it's a stunner, and it's accessible too.
Inspector Hecti In The Interchange (Hi-Tec, £2.99 for Spectrum)
This curious little maze puzzle game suffers a little from that old Speccy bugbear of unclear monochrome graphics, but it's inventive and addictive, and for three quid that can't be altogether bad, now can it?
Burn something? In this heat? Are you kidding? Don't you think the ozone layer's in a big enough mess right now, or do you think having radiation treatment for skin cancer would be an attractive and worthwhile way to spend the next couple of years? Besides, when software's this hard to come by, beggars can't be choosers. If you see a new game, buy it. (Er, but don't blame me if it's crap...)
HERE IT COMES AGAIN
This week: MOVIE GAMES
PLATOON (The Hit Squad, £3.99 for 8-bits and £7.99 for 16-bits)
Platoon was a game from the old school of movie licences - pull a few critical points of the film and make little sub-games out of them, then jam the whole lot together to make, hopefully, one decent whole game. It was an approach that led to a fair few inglorious failures, but this was one of the triumphs. Where Platoon succeeded was in capturing the tension and atmosphere of the movie, and making all of the games capable of standing up for themselves to at least some degree. Players found themselves creeping around, lost in dense jungle and jumping at the slightest sound, and suffering moments of heart-stopping fright as a Viet Cong guerrilla leapt up right in front of their face from out of nowhere. The game itself was well-designed and gripping, and still ranks right up there with Batman and The Untouchables as one of the very best movie licences ever. ****
MOONWALKER (Kixx, £7.99)
Is there any more that needs to be said about Moonwalker? If Platoon was the right way to go about a movie conversion, Moonwalker was surely an object lesson in how it could all go appallingly wrong. And yet the basic premise is the same, important moments of the movie turned into sub-games, so why was, and is, Moonwalker so unfailingly dreadful? The simple answer is that while the concept was sound, the execution (ie the sub-games themselves) was shocking. Moonwalker brought to the fore some of the worst game design by a live person in the history of mankind, coupled with - on the Amiga version only, fortunately for ST owners - technical ineptitude of the highest order. The looped sample of Michael Jackson's 'Bad' which continuously accompanied the game was so atrociously done that the amount of time anyone could bear it for before switching the sound, or more commonly their computer, off altogether roughly equated to how long it took them to stop laughing, pick themselves up off the floor, and wipe the tears from their eyes. ST owners were luckier, they only had to suffer the unbearably tedious gameplay, but really, there isn't a gamesplayer alive who should be made to go through playing this for love nor money. And I should know. *
RED HEAT (The Hit Squad, £3.99 for 8-bits and £7.99 for 16-bits)
Okay, trivia fans, here's a question for you. What have Michael Jackson and Arnold Schwarzenegger got in common? Well, not much, but there is one thing binding these two media titans together - they've both been the subject of truly dire computer games. What must surely be the nadir of Arnie's entire career (yes, even lower than starring in The Jayne Mansfield Story) came courtesy of this game, a software atrocity that's not so much red hot as head rot. It featured a 'Cinemascope'-type wide screen, bordered by huge expanses of black nothingness, a phrase which also serves to describe the state of mind of whoever had the downright cruelty to design the gameplay. Arnie lumbers slowly along the screen, punching out an endless line of badguys and occasionally coming a cropper to one of the many random hazards that pop up now and again from out of nowhere, giving him no time to react to them even if he was still awake (which is more than could likely be said for the unfortunate player any time after two minutes into the game). A couple of banal sub-games add no interest whatsoever, and the only truly remarkable feature is the breathtakingly bad (no, really, you wouldn't believe it) animation on the between-levels intro screens, which is at least good for a laugh. Which is all Ocean deserve for asking people to fork out for this disaster for a second time. If you buy it, I'll be back... *
SCOOBY DOO AND SCRAPPY DOO (Hi-Tec, Spectrum)
If you're stuck on this rather spiffy little platformer, fret no longer. When you're on the title screen, simply hold down the letters H, E, L and P. The border should go white, and you'll have infinite Scrappies. Whether this is a good thing or not, you'll have to decide for yourself.
ARMALYTE (Thalamus, Amiga, £25.99)
This is a re-write of a popular C64 shoot-'em-up from a few years back, and has been programmed by Arc Developments, last seen coding the phenomenal R-Type II for Activision, so when it came into the office I had high hopes of a top-notch blasting experience. First impressions seemed to confirm this, with big, lush graphics zipping smoothly around to the accompaniment of a tasteful soundtrack and some great zappy effects, but within minutes things started to take on a different complexion as it all went horribly wrong, in more ways than one. Initially, it went horribly wrong for my little spaceship, as it met a bloody death several times in quick succession at the hands of the game's exceptionally tough aliens and cramped landscapes, but then everything began to fall apart for the programmers too.
After losing my three lives (which didn't take long at all), the game insisted on keeping me hanging around for 50 seconds while it ran through a couple of unexciting animated sequences, displayed the title screen, reloaded the first level etc etc. Since my game hadn't lasted 50 seconds in the first place, this was more than a little bit frustrating, and there was no way of skipping the delay. With every passing game the wait became more and more irritating, and eventually the disk found itself ripped from the disk drive and hurled with great force against the office wall. Now you might say that this was just me being crap at games and/or incredibly impatient, but I spent hours trying to make a decent amount of headway, through Armalyte without success.
It's a tough enough game at the best of times, but when you lose a life you lose all your power-ups (in time-honoured fashion), and taking on the subsequent attack waves without them calls for more skill than even an ex-European video games champion like myself can muster. It gets even worse when you realise that at least 50% of the dangerous situations in the game are of the type where you don't see them coming, and if you're not in the right place when they appear you're a dead man. In fact, this game reminded me of nothing so much as Rick Dangerous, which used a similarly unfair way of impeding your progress. Armalyte is the kind of game which will suit incredibly talented zappers on the lookout for a stern test of memory, and who don't mind putting up with some decidedly iffy collision detection and samey landscapes while they're about it, but nobody else is going to care for it all that much.
MOVIE GAME COMPETITION!
Yes, you could win some top movie-game-type prizes if you're the first person to have the postcard pulled from the hat of cards containing the correct answer to the following movie-type question:
What do the films Tron, The Battleship Potemkin, and The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas have in common?
Answers to 'I Want To Win 50 Games', at the usual NCE address.
While taking a short holiday back in bonnie Scotland (home of clean air, decent water, real beer and chips with nippy sauce) this week, I happened across something which made my old heart do a double-take. Nestling away in the corner of an Edinburgh arcade, what should I spy but a Space Invaders machine. 'Nothing in the slightest bit abnormal about that', I hear you venture, but this wasn't any old Space Invaders machine. Oh no, this was a Prize Space Invaders machine. Yep, in a similar vein to the old cash-prize Tetris machines that came out a while ago, you can now play Space Invaders for money. You only get one life, you lose all your points if you miss a Mystery Ship, and the invaders themselves act in some strange ways (although if you ever played the rare first arcade sequel, Space Invaders Part II or Deluxe, you'll know what to expect), but those old monochrome graphics and that old compulsive gameplay are back, as if they'd never been away. The 50p-a-game price tag might jolt a few veterans a bit, but with a maximum of £20 up for grabs, you can't really complain (and you can always have a game with no prizes for 30p). Conclusive proof, I think you'll agree, that the world has finally gone completely insane...