Nature of the Beast – First Hairy Issue, June 1984
The Llamasoft newsletter

1. What is this anyway?
You may well ask. In fact, we thought it would be a good idea to do some kind of newsletter in order to keep track of high scores and games, warn you of any new releases and generally give out interesting bits of info about whatever comes into my head at the time. We don't intend to lay any heavy advertising on you, we assume that if you're reading this you'll have made your own conclusions about the games.

If you beat any of the scores we're going to give later in this newsletter, write in with details and we'll update the list whenever I get round to doing another one of these.

2. New releases
Sheep in Space – my most recent release for the C64. This is loosely based around a Defender-style scrolling planetary surface. The difference is that we have two surfaces, one at the base of the screen in traditional fashion, and one inverted at the top. The sheep flies in the space between the two planets, and may land on fields on either planet to graze when the stomach status becomes uncomfortable. Speed is controlled in a unique manner, being dependent upon your height above the planetary surfaces. Flying close to either "ground" slows you down (handy for landings), whilst flying in the centre of the screen equidistant from the surfaces gives maximum velocity. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to rid your planets of the various nasties inhabiting them. To this end, you can fire Bonios of Doom (well that's what they look like!) at your various assailants. These weapons are attracted by the gravity of the planets, and this must be taken into account when you aim.

Just to make life unpleasant, several of these nasties gang up to steal energy from your power stations. Glowing with the energy, they race to charge up their Planetbuster gun, which if allowed to reach full charge will blow up your planet. You should therefore give priority to the destruction of Charge Carriers.

There is a large "cast of characters" introduced gradually during the first 21 levels and a total of 48 levels of difficulty. The game is quite complex to learn, but rewarding to play well, requiring not only accurate blasting but also a certain amount of strategic planning as you attempt to keep your planet intact and your sheep alive.

If you like a challenging and different blast, this is a good one to have. If you're looking to play Defender though, don't get this, because although at first glance it looks a little like the Williams classic, the gameplay and strategy is totally different. If you want to play Defender, get Alligata's Guardian, which is a pretty good clone.

Metagalactic Llamas Battle at the Edge of Time is a C64 conversion of my original Vic 20 game with the same bizarre name. Programmed by Aaron Liddiment, a friend of mine who'll be doing some more Llamasoft conversions later, the game has been improved with better graphics, and given a fancy intro page and high score table. Two-player mode is also available on the new version.

For those who haven't seen the Vic version of the game, it is an unusual variation of the "shoot-em-up" variety. Under your command is a llama at the bottom of the screen. You cause this to move left and right with your joystick, and by pressing the Fire button you can make the beast spit. Moving the stick up and down controls a horizontal force field in the upper portion of the screen. By bouncing expectoration off the walls and the force field you can plug the nasty Arachnids (well actually spiders) which descend on threads from the top of the screen. If left unzapped, these eventually drop off their webs and land, mutating into weevils and crawling towards you in a disgusting manner. Zapping the weevils requires clever spit-deflection.

This game gets harder in a simple way: more of the same but faster. Don't get this if you want the variety of life forms you had in Revenge. If you want a simple but oddly compulsive zap, do try this. It's fun.

Attack of the Mutant Camels is now available on the Atari. This is my first Atari game for some time and I'm very pleased with the result. All the features of the C64 original are there, plus a few extras, and the whole is played out over one of the most beautiful backdrops I've ever seen on a game. I'm not just blowing my own trumpet here, do get a look at the game if you can. The Atari's tremendous colour capability enabled me to get a lovely "sunset" effect which will know your eyeballs out.

Gameplay is improved over the C64 original, with totally smooth scrolling and full ship inertia added, plus some nice "Robotron-style" explosion effects. The game is still the simple "laser the camels and jump to light speed" job, simple yet addictive, and fits into any of the Atari models. The Ataris have been neglected by all in England with the exception of people like English and Starcade, which is a shame because they have amazing potential for game design. Watch this space for future developments!

3. Game Development Tools
I often get asked what kind of development systems I use to write the games, so I'm going to run through the various stuff I use during the creation of a game.

I certainly do not subscribe to the "we've got a Sage IV and 300 programmers" school of thought which seems so common with the large breadhead software houses. I really prefer to work on the target machine; I don't really care if it takes longer because I never work to deadlines anyway.

On the C64 I've been using the Commodore Assembler/Editor package, disk-based on a pair of 4040 twin drives interfaced through an Interpod interface. I use the 4040s because my 1541 really can't stand the constant hammering which repeated assemblies give the drive. The 4040s are built like tanks and never go down, but they are very SLOW!!! I'm just now starting to use a new system, assembling on an Apple II which has faster drives and shoving the code into the '64 for test and debug. It's the slow speed of the drives which drove me to the Apple rather than any deficiencies in the AE package, which has its quirks but usually works.

For graphics, I use SPED and CHRED, utilities provided on the Commodore development disk. These are straightforward sprite and character editors. For debug I use the old Commodore ML monitor, of which I have various copies at various addresses. On the Atari I use the MAC/65 assembler cartridge in my 800, coupled with two 810 drives. MAC/65 is very fast and also has a nice debugger. If you choose addresses carefully you can run your object code without harming your source, which is nice, because you can just flick back and forth between the two, editing and re-assembling in a few seconds.

Also essential to my program development: my laser audio and video systems, the fridge in the corner with all the Coke in it, a daily run, the Tempest machine and the Star Wars cockpit machine, not being interrupted by the telephone, and Star Raiders on the Atari.

4. About the Author
I'll keep this bit brief 'cos I don't want to give the impression that I get a kick out of writing about myself. But for those who are interested, a brief summary follows:

Jeff Minter: about 6 foot 1, hairy, University drop-out into camels, llamas, sheep & goats. Started to teach myself games design and programming between A-levels at 6th form. Likes Python and 'The Young Ones' (favourite character Neil). Into Floyd, Genesis, Roger Waters, Steve Hillage, Rush, Camel, Led Zep, Marillion, more Pink Floyd, and more which I'll probably kick myself later for not putting in. Favourite video game Star Raiders on the Atari. Dislikes current heavy commercialisation of the games scene, and 'competitive' attitude of some software firms (I'm no more competing with anyone than Floyd are with, say, Genesis or Marillion). Enjoyed University life despite getting the boot, and miss the social life (being a programmer is like being a hermit!). Really quite an average human being and not a silicon whizz-kid at all (thank God!). Reads Fat Freddie's Cat and tons of science fiction. Writes weird video games.

5. Future Projects
I have just started a new C64 game about which I won't say much at the moment for obvious reasons, except that I hope to have a proto at least running in time for the PCW Show in September, and I'd really like to have it finished before I go on holiday to Peru. I'm giving up left/right scrolling for a bit, 'cos it suddenly seems that every C64 programmer and his dog are doing the smooth scroll bit, and I'm peeved off with it. The resulting game should appeal to anyone with a taste for the bizarre. Maybe I'll leak some more details closer to completion time! Meanwhile, rest assured that the Apple is getting a good pounding every day, I'm swearing when the bugs creep in, and the car is warming its arse on the disk drivers – usual work conditions for me!

6. High Scores
  level 18 Iain Fenton
Hell Gate
  level 19 Me!!
Laser Zone
    Iain Fenton
    Steve Kellet

Doubtless these are all out of date by now, so let us know your best. We've heard of level 15 being reached on Hovver Bovver but doesn't know the score. Also does anyone have a legitimate MATRIX score??

7. Whatever
Learning Machine Code ... I used PROGRAMMING THE 6502 by Rodney Zaks as a good 6502 book, and used the VIC and 64 Programmers Reference Guides for each machine. The VIC REVEALED is also good for VIC 20 owners. On the Atari DE RE ATARI is expensive but essential. Treat yourself to a good assembler and a disk drive if you're serious about doing a lot of 'code.

Good Games not by the Beast ... Alligata's Guardian is a brilliant Defender... Rabbit do the best Scramble... ENCOUNTER by Novagen is Battlezone but better... Task Set stuff is usually good my faves are Pipeline and Gyropod... Quiksilva's BOOGABOO is nice, really weird... FLIGHT SIM II – expensive but very good. Anirog Time Pilot is a good copy of the arcade one... Alligata LOCO is a good arcade copy, very pretty but a touch repetitive, buy it for the Jean-Michel Jarre... More of these next time... rest assured these are good, they're the ones I dig out when I need a rest from my own.

(c) and all that heavy breadhead bit 1984 Jeff Minter.

Correspondence, high scores, large sums of money, marriage proposals, etc. should be sent to us here at 49 Mount Pleasant, Tadley, Hants, RG26 6BN. Special greetings from Yak the Hairy to the 3 toed sloth... Rory will feature in the next one... 'Ta' to whoever sent me that anonymous disk... and hairy greetings to all fans of our beastly games.

The Nature of the Beast – Second Shaggy Issue, September 1984
The Llamasoft Newsletter

1. ANCIPITAL: the latest C64 game
I have now completed the C64 project I mentioned in the last newsletter. The resultant 50-odd K of program and data will be released at the PCW Show in London this month.

It is difficult to categorise this game. You might call it an arcade adventure, but the very word "adventure" tends to put off hardened arcade blast freaks. Certainly there are elements of adventure in the game (you need a map to play best, you collect things) but there is even more 'arcade' stuff than there was in Revenge.

The basic idea behind the game came from watching stuff like Atic Atac and Sabre Wulf. Both these games feature large maps and plenty of action, but there doesn't seem to be a great variety of actual attackers; seldom more than 20-odd different hostiles throughout the whole game.

What I set out to do was to create a large map, with doors and keys in the manner of an adventure, but to present in each room a completely different attack wave in the manner of "Revenge". The waves should be more complex than the Revenge ones, should appeal to zap'em nuts and rather than the standard knight/explorer/detective adventure scenario, I wanted psychedelic surrealism and general out-to-lunchness.

The resultant game I like to call a "progressive arcade game" rather than an adventure. There are 100 rooms laid out in a 10x10 grid, and six keys (which look like camels) open up various walls within the map. There are goats to collect which give you special powers. There is plenty gravity (I do love pseudo-grav routines) in 4 planes, so you can run and jump on the walls and ceiling. I wrote a Phil Collins module so each room has its own distinctive drum rhythm backing. Even the firing noise changes from room to room. The waves themselves are created by a more advanced core module than that used in Revenge, and subsequently have more variety. Some are pure shoot-em-up, whereas others require a little thought. Pressing 'H' whilst in a room pauses the game and displays three lines of Help text if you can't figure out what to do. There is a starry background for no other reason than to look good, and some freaky strobo effects. You get plenty of lives, and opportunities within the game to win some more. Doubtless if I lived in Liverpool I'd start calling it a Megagame but you know I don't go in for all that hype bit. I just think it's a nice original chunk of kilobytes that you won't conquer in five minutes.

The star of the game, the Key Figure, is the Ancipital. Those of you who have Sheep in Space will recognise the Ancipital as that harassed-looking little half-man half-goat creature which scuttles across the planet-surface and which you did your best to Bonio. He actually originated from my reading of Brian Aldiss's Hellconia stories, which are ace (read them for more background on the ancipital race). The poor creatures are always getting killed and enslaved, shot, speared, drowned and chucked off cliffs by the humans, so I thought I'd make them the heroes in this latest game.

If there is any single specific villain in the game, it must be Rory the Vicious Guinea Pig who has been known to savage an Ancipital to death. He crops up through the game in such attack waves as Rory on the Attack, Rory Plays Guitar, Rory on a CND March and several more. Never has a cuter-looking sprite been so vicious. I'm sure he'll soon be your favourite Ancipital enemy!

My best to date is 89% and about 3.6 million (it says less in the instructions, but I've played more games since then). We're also making use of the new Novaload audio-visual fast loader, which is more interesting than our old Turbo system.

Anyway, if you want a good heavy blast, but also a nice bit of strategy and forward planning, then Ancipital is a fairly good bet. Be warned though: as with a lot of my games you won't pick it up in five minutes. Learning to function well under the 4-gravity system will take you a little time.....

We now have the conversion of Hover Bovver running on 32K and over ATARI machines. The character graphics and 'feel' of the game are virtually identical to the C64 version, but you haven't got a multicoloured neighbour due to limitations of PMG (transcribers note: PMG = Player-Missile Graphics, the Atari 400/800/XL version of sprites). Still, there are advantages, such as four channel sound instead of only 3, and some very colourful hi-score and intro screens thanks to the Atari's unsurpassed colour generation. Everything is there, from the "English Country Garden" theme to the sounds of dog barks and mower noise.

I must say that the more I see and work with Atari, the more I like it. The potential of the machine is enormous, and the colour effects knock out your eyeballs! At the moment Atari owners are a rare but dedicated breed, and there isn't a lot of good cheap software about. However, due to recent developments this may all change soon: Jack Tramiel has just taken over Atari, and also Atari have a new graphics chip MARIE, which makes GTIA seem tame. Reports from the American press, where the new chip has been seen in the 7800 video game from Atari, say that the new chip is capable of generating unlimited (get that!!) sprites... With potential like that, if built into a low-cost 64K micro (which Tramiel is very likely to do to compete directly with the C64) no sane game designed is going to be able to resist it! Imagine Revenge of the Mutant Camels done using, say, 80 sprites plus all of Atari's amazing colours.... ATARI owners may be the obscure ones now, but in a year's time maybe things will be different!

3. This
Some of you have asked how this newsletter was produced. I use an Apple Macintosh micro to produce the whole thing. The text is laid out using the MacWrite utility, and the pictures are drawn using MacPaint. This graphics program is so good that even I can produce reasonable graphics using it, and I can't draw at all well using paper! MacPaint allows you to use pencil, paintbrush or spraygun, cut shapes out and move them around, add text, and generally do just about anything with a picture you want. Pictures can then be 'stuck into' the word-processor text wherever you want them. Once complete the whole is sent to the ImageWriter printer, and then the whole lot is reproduced exactly as it came off the printer. the Mac is very easy and enjoyable to work with; pity the graphics aren't in colour too!

4. Stick of Joy
I often get asked which joysticks I would recommend to players of my games. Joysticks are, like games, very much a matter of individual taste. My own personal favourite is the Competition-Pro, the one with two Fire buttons. Although it's not the most comfortable joystick, it is very sensitive and above all, it lasts! I usually take these sticks to shows where the receive a really heavy pounding, and out of the five or six I've had for over a year, the only one that no longer works is the one which was chewed up by the dog.

For those who like a tabletop joystick as opposed to a hand-held, the Fire Command is pretty good. This has a large heavy metal base with the stick in the middle and two Fire buttons, one for each left- and right- handers. I find this good for out-and-out blasters like AMC and Matrix, and also for the extended pounding of a game like Decathlon.

Also worthy of mention are the Arcade, which performs much like the Competition-Pro but with a single, centrally located Fire button. The Quickshot II is quite fun if you stick it down to a table and play one-handed (the two Fire buttons are operated by the hand grasping the stick. You can switch in a Rapid-Fire option which allows you to totally annihilate games which normally require repeated button presses, such as Defender and Vanguard on the Atari, and Caverns of Mars and Abductor on the VIC. This stick feels very chunky and 'macho' but it does get wrenched around when stuck to the table and I wonder how long it would last – after a couple of weeks mine started to creak ominously!

If you're rich and like Gridrunner, Matrix or Atari Missile Command then you might like the Wico Trackball. This is strong and ideally suited to the aforementioned games, but unfortunately it's quite expensive.

Joysticks are still primarily a matter of personal preference. The best way to choose a joystick is to try the ones on people's stands at computer shows – there's usually a fair selection. Make sure the one you choose will last under heavy stress! I'm going to make sure it gets a good pounding in all my games!

5. High Scores
  level 20 Iain Fenton
  level 18 Paul Dudley
Hell Gate
  level 18 Paul Dudley
Metagalactic Llamas
  level 17 A. Liddiment
    A. Jones
Sheep in Space
    Tom Burton

These scores are those which have changed since last issue. I've heard of a new "Sheep" score reaching level 27 but I can't remember the number! Please send in High Scores; we keep them in a file and it's easier for me to check them all. Whilst I'm at it, I'll add this to give you all a little something to aim for: Ancipital ..... 3,570,000 89% Jeff Minter!!!

6. Hairy Happenings
Now that Ancipital is finished, plans are afoot in my skull for the next C64 offering. I may well have to squeeze in an MSX version of Gridrunner first, since I've been promising to do some MSX for a long time, and it looks like I'll be doing my own conversions to the new machine.

Once again, I'll be experimenting with new designs, gameplay and control modes. It's too easy for programmers to turn out a 'chart-hit' game these days: give it simple controls, pretty-pretty graphics, smooth scrolling and a nice soft tune and you can't fail. The trouble with this approach is that it doesn't advance the art of games design at all. I like to pick a theme or control mode with which I'd like to experiment and build a game around it. In Sheep in Space it was speed control by vertical position, and with Ancipital the key theme is multiple gravity. You risk being slagged by the casual reviewer who, if he can't play a game within 5 minutes, considers it to be rubbish, but I as a player am getting fed up with the tired old 'up=up, down=down, left=left, right=right, button=Jump/Fire' control system. I like a game I have to learn, not just another re-run of the Manic Miner, Defender, Scramble, Space Invaders, etc. crowd with nice music and soft graphics. I like games that are hard, interesting, different and/or funny.

I have the seeds of at least 5 C64 game designs lying around; I'm tinkering with one at the moment, but I won't decide which one to go for until I've come back from Peru. You never know, 2 weeks in the Andes may inspire some freaky new game idea. Whatever it is, it won't be soft, and that's a promise!

After having completed my first game using the Apple development system, I must say I'm very pleased with it. I've just dug out the MSX and I'm now waiting to get hold of a disk drive so I can write that Gridrunner... My Interpod just blew up and so my 4040s are down, it's back to the old 1541. During the writing of Ancipital I took delivery of Williams' amazing Defender/Stargate machine... this has to be the meanest game around, but is totally amazing fun to play, and the graphics would blow you away. The most intensely satisfying feeling in all of video gaming comes when you arrive at Pod Intersect 00 and press the SMART BOMB button... the whole game slows right down and there's bits of Pod everywhere!!! It's really ace to sit in a darkened room, blasting out some heavy music and freaking out on the Stargate. Speaking of rock, my ears are still ringing from last night when I went to see D10... a really good concert, Egyptian theme, shame there weren't any Mutant Camels!

7. Pods 'n' Swarmers...
Various bits you might find interesting... I've played a few more games since last issue, and I'll once again recommend the games of others which I've played and enjoyed. Those of you who wanted Rabbit's Scramble mentioned in the last issue, don't despair because Rabbit went bust: the programmer of the Scramble is improving the game (and it was ace already!) and the improved version will be available on a new label Mushroomsoft. Andy Walker of Taskset sent me a copy of their new one Poster Paster. It is excellent fun to play, witty and superbly programmed and probably the best Taskset game to date. Don't miss it... Out of the new flood of Olympic Games, I've seen Activision's Decathlon and Ocean's Decathlon. I preferred Activision's, because although the Ocean one has better background graphics and music, the Activision one has much larger, excellently animated running figures. For those with disk drives is Epyx's Summer Games which has really ace graphics. Parker Bros. Gyruss is expensive, but plays just like the real thing and has the best soundtrack I've come across. Beeb owners are lucky to have Frak by Aardvark, and I'd like to see a C64 version of this amusing game featuring a yoyo-toting caveman! Quicksilva are bringing out Ant Attack for the 64; I've seen the Spectrum version which was good if a little jerky. Hopefully they'll have used the smooth scroll and the sprites of the C64; if they have it should be well worth a look for the unusual 3D-effect graphic display.

I'll finish now; the lure of the STARGATE is strong... Do send in high scores or anything you think we'll find interesting. Maybe I'll give out details of my next game then, who knows... I'll be very interested to hear how people get on with Ancipital... I think it'll be a while before anyone manages 100%!

Send high scores or any correspondence to us here at 49 Mount Pleasant, Tadley, hants, RG26 6BN. The Hairy One will be especially interested in your reactions to the Ancipital! Until next time, may your ears be filled with Pink Floyd and your life with hairy ungulates!!

The Nature of the Beast – Third Furry Issue
The Llamasoft newsletter

1. What's new in Hairy City?
We are just starting to get responses from people who are getting to grips with Ancipital. Most people are finding it as difficult as I intended but there have been a couple of master blasters who have done the lot. wow, you guys – that's really hot going because I've only ever got 89% myself and I know what's in all the rooms!!! The thing is, I always eventually get beat at my own games. Try as I might to make progress so difficult and obscure that surely only I, the programmer, could possibly get anywhere, you dedicated zap-fiends come along and cheerfully blast me off the face of planet Earth. It's good to think that you like the games enough to become so expert on them!

We've no actual new games to release this issue (gimme a chance, I haven't been back from Peru long!) but something new for the '64 is well under way (of which more later). those of you owning disk drives can now get disk copies of Hover Bovver, Revenge, Sheep and Ancip for £9.50 each. I'm sorry they're dearer, but since there aren't as menu disk as tape owners we don't make disks in such large quantities as tapes, so the production costs are higher.

I've also set in train (and I'm not talking about British Rail) events which should eventually yield 'Ancipital' running on the Spectrum and the Amstrad. Lest all you '64 and Atari hackers cry out in horror at the very mention of the black-Frisbee-with-rubber-protrusions-all-over-it, don't worry. I'm not taking time off from the real machines to do it, a mate of mine is a supremo Z80 hacker which was involved in one of the very few good arcade games ever to reach the dead fleshburger, that game being Atarisoft Robotron. The conversion should take a couple of months and may shed a little light into the benighted lives of those poor souls living under the shadow of the Rubber Keys of Doom.

Some people have found the main bug in Ancipital... you can stand sideways on certain walls. This is only mildly amusing at the time and can be downright dangerous. Try it at your peril! You can get it if you stand on the bottom and go very close to the left-hand wall. Once you get there jump up, and if you were close enough you'll be standing upside-down on nothing. I could always claim that he's hanging onto the left-hand wall with his toenails, but what's the point? I'll offer a prize of a copy of my new game (when it's finished!) to the person who sends me the best excuse for this bug. The entries will be judged on how well they fit in with the rest of the game, deviousness of the logic by which the excuse is worked out, and how convincing the excuse is, but mainly on which makes me laugh the most when I read it. I'll print the winning excuse of next Beast, and it will become the official excuse for the bug in Ancipital. The winner will receive a special copy of my new game which will proclaim him/her/it as the winner of the Grand Excuse Competition during the Novaload.

2. The Lland of the Llama
Quite a few of you have written in to ask (often amongst other things) what it was like in Peru. The answer to that can only be totally far out and amazing. Looking back now it's all a bit unreal. I walked knackered out of the PCW Show and took the tube to Heathrow. 20 odd hours later I stumbled off the plane zapped out of my head by jetlag and after stashing my bag set off to wander 'round the streets of Peru's capital, Lima. Everywhere I looked I could see Llama stuff... shops selling llama rugs, llama pictures, models of llamas, postcards with llamas on them, silver llamas, llama jumpers by the zillion. After a couple of days we left Lima to tour some of the rest of the country, and at each new place my mind would be blown all over again. there are some truly incredible places there... like the Colca Valley, twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and containing villages which haven't been visited to 400 years... or Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca, at 12000 feet the highest navigable lake in the world, upon which a whole village floats on a man-made reed raft. (Also in Puno, and the last thing I expected: walking down the street I heard the sounds of zapping coming from the darkened doorway, and upon entering I found a roomful of Peruvian kids blasting away in an arcade. The machines were about a year old and the kids were very competent, they found it very amusing to beat the pants off the 'gringo'!).

The Inca ruins were impressive too... huge blocks of stone weighing hundreds of tons placed together without cement so that even today you can't put a knife between them, and with edges so sharp and clean that you'd think they'd been cut out with a laser rather than by a people who didn't even possess the wheel.

The climax to the tour, and the final assault on my already totally freaked-out mind, was a visit to the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu. This stands perched on a mountain peak with dizzying drops all around. It is reached from the railway station by a road which zig-zags up the mountain for six miles. The whole place has an aura of power about it. I got up early one morning and hiked up Huayna Picchu, a mountain spire which raises a good 1000 feet above the ruins. You emerge, finally, up a ladder onto a small circle of rocks at the summit. There you just sit for an hour and quietly freak. Near vertical drops all around, and a view down through the clouds that was, truly, awesome. Wow. I didn't ever want to come down. I was high in all senses of the word!

And of course, everywhere you went, there were llamas. Herds of them seen from the train, Peruvian women leading them through the streets, or just wandering through the ruins. They were often accompanied by alpacas, which are like sheep build on a llama framework, woollier and not having quite such long legs or necks as the llama, and not quite such a funny little tail. They were almost without exception good-natured beasts, quite contrary to popular belief, and allowed you to get to grips with them in no uncertain terms. I even picked up a baby alpaca at one time. The exception was an old alpaca outside our hotel at Puno who was distinguished by his ability to spit with great accuracy from any angle. The local people were amused when I became the first tourist they'd ever seen to actually spit back at an alpaca!

The people were also good-natured and friendly, and I'm determined to learn a bit more Spanish before I go back next year! All I knew were phrases like 'another Inca Kola please', 'more llamas', and 'I haven't got a guitar'.

The whole trip was totally ace, anyway, and thanxx to you game freaks who buy my games! Ta! At least you know I'm doing something worthwhile with the loot rather than coming the breadhead bit and buying a Rolls or a Porsche. Believe me, I'd rather do a trip like that than have a fleet of Rollses!

3. Wot No Beasties?
I have had letters from many of you beast freaks who have had difficulty getting hold of the latest games. With both Sheep and Ancipital people were unable to get the game weeks after release; some weren't even aware they'd been launched yet!

The reason for this is, I'm afraid, the commercialisation of the games market. A year or two ago, if you wrote a good game, the shops (generally run by computer nuts themselves) saw that it was good and ordered accordingly. Good software prospered; bas software bombed.

Then people like Boots and Smiths started to become interested, and large distributors sprang into existence. This was fine for a while; the distributors bought the good stuff and supplied the chainstores, making it easier for you to buy the games.

Unfortunately, this is where the trouble started. Large companies saw that they could sell lots of stuff if they could get it into the chainstores. They started to churn out games like there was no tomorrow, giving not a thought to originality or quality, only to market share. The distributors no longer bought games on the basis of quality. They bought the games with the most hype behind them. Charts (compiled in the early days by computer enthusiasts in computer shops) now showed not which games were best (difficult to say anyway, since games are very much a matter of taste) but who had the best marketing behind them.

That's basically the way it is today. Too many people are trying to make too much money out of the industry. Companies talk of "megagames" and advertise products far before they're ready, and often originality is sacrificed just so that a more 'marketable' product (like as not an other flippin' ladders and ramps job) can be released. Chart hyping occurs; sometimes distributors (who compile the charts) actually own software houses (who then feature highly in those charts). The whole scene has become really heavy and commercial. All those breadheads trying to make a million pounds and never mind the games. It's disgusting.

The upshot of all this is that you'll often find it difficult to get hold of, say, Ancipital or perhaps the latest Taskset job simply because the distributors have bought 'Oh-God-Manic-Willy-Part-2311' because 'Megagame Software Inc' are backing it with 12 zillion full-colour adverts in the computer press.

You should fight back. You lot buying my games aren't interested in hype. You know a good game by now and will still be playing when the hype bubble bursts and the industry returns to some sort of equilibrium. In the meantime, don't take it lying down. If you can't get hold of one of my games, or have had difficulty in the past, you can write to the buyers or the two main distributors and complain bitterly that you don't want to be the victim of their hype game and that it was their fault that you couldn't get hold of Ancipital/Sheep/whatever. If enough of you hassle these guys maybe they'll take some notice. Remember, when the boom is over and the breadheads have moved onto something more lucrative, you'll be the ones still buying games from the software distributors and keeping them in business.

The people to complain to are Clive Digby-Jones, Websters Software Ltd., curzon House, Midleton Estate, Guildford, Surrey and Neil Johnson, Microdealer U.K., 29 Burrowfield, Welwyn Garden City, Herts.

4. Any Net Hackers Out There?
I must admit to having become something of a Compunet junkie. I like the idea of electronic communication with a lot of C64 loonies via the Net, often as not at about 1 a.m. in the morning because you don't want to run a massive phone bill.

At the moment, there aren't many users on there, but there who are seem quite keen. You can send mail and leave messages or even programs there for people to try. You can buy games if you want to, and there'll soon be stuff up there like MUD, the Multi-User Dungeon, which should be fun! I've already put up a free game for people to take, it's nice to be able to try out weird ideas without worrying if they'll sell! I'd also like to set up a Hairy games helpline screen where anyone having problems with one of my games could leave messages like "how the hell do I get past Escape-CND in Ancipital", and "what's the cheat mode in Revenge" to which I (or indeed anyone else who wanted to) could offer advice. This newsletter will shortly be uploaded onto Compunet too! If any of you are already on the Net, why not mail me and let me know you're out there? My USER I.D. is LLAMA (well what else did you expect???).

5. Wat's Going On 'Ere Then??
The good news for C64 zappers who like my games it that I have decided on my next project. It wasn't any of the ideas I mentioned last issue, but it was in fact an idea I for whilst listening to Pink Floyd on a bus in Peru. I'm well up with the coding with most of the core module written, and I spent today putting in the tune data. The Baughurst Piano Wizard has surpassed himself this time – the music sounds really nice. The game itself once again revolves around an unusual and untried idea. The controls are a little more conventional than Ancipital, but there's something else I'm trying out this time. The emphasis is on making the game a real pleasure to play, and making it challenging enough for the most expert zappers. Guaranteed no ladders and ramps!!! And just in case any of you were wondering, yes, the main character is extremely hairy!

My Tempest machine has blown up!! When turned on all I get is a lot of loud and nasty humming! This is deeply upsetting and I'll have to get an engineer in. I've now scored over 6 million on Star Wars and I've increased the difficulty to maximum and made the machine stingier on dishing out extra shields to maintain the challenge. Star Gate is as difficult as ever though! My top score is only 111,000 and perhaps I should practise more.

Some excellent new CD's have come out, The Wall and Meddle by Pink Floyd, Duke and Three Sides Live from Genesis, Led Zep 4 and much more good stuff besides. All this hi-fi heaven can only inspire me to greater heights of game design (or maybe depths of depravity is a more apt description)...

I've also had in some truly amazing ATARI games. You know you see 3D mountains in a flight simulator they're usually wireframe things that you can see through? None too convincing, right? Well, there's this Atari game called Behind Jaggi Lines which generates solid 3D mountains which actually look like mountains. It uses a branch of maths called fractals, and believe me it's good. This maths hurts when you fly into it. The game itself involves rescuing pilots down in this mountainous terrain and blasting hostile laser turrets. Nothing beats the simple pleasure of flying 'round the mountains at a scale speed of Mach 3.5 blasting up the laser turrets... I hope this comes over to the C64 soon!

Deep Purple have released an album! I can't believe it! It's really pretty good, too, if you like that kind of music (which I do!). Something else to sustain me through the long hours of hacking ahead....

6. High Scores Update
Hell Gate
  level 20 Chad MacAlastair
    Chad MacAlastair
  level 19 President Apocalypse
Sheep in Space
  level 41 Tom Burton
    Robert Grace
Ancipital hi score
  99% Chad MacAlastair
Ancipital hi %
  100% G.Penn

I'll try to keep these updated every issue. Wow!! Some people really know how to score on Ancipital, and I'm in awe of some of the percentages returned. Some of these people had better give ME lessons! It's a hard life when the only time I can be best at my own games is before I release them!

Keep on blasting those games anyway, and achieving new high score. I'd be interested to hear any opinions on the games – do you prefer a straight blast like Hell Gate, or a freaky one like Revenge, or something you've got to think about a bit like Ancipital?

7. Some Good Reviews
During the past few months we've come across some things that I'm sure you'll find amusing. Reviews are at the best of times mostly a reflection of the reviewers' own taste in games. A good reviewer can, however, make valid criticism of a game and no designer minds reading fair and constructive criticism.

Unfortunately, many reviewers these days are given a stack of tapes and told to review them in, say, an afternoon. Thus they spend about 5 minutes on each game (if that), probably don't get to read the instructions and get no real idea of what's going on. This result in some pretty bizarre things being said about the game, and at worst can lead to an unfavourable review which is totally unjustified.

To prove my point, here are a few examples that I've seen recently...

1) Home Computer Weekly had the kindness to assure prospective Sheep in Space buyers that extra fuel could be obtained by colliding with the aliens in Free Space. Well, that's news to me, I thought you had to land and eat grass! But no, the ground has other uses apparently, because the same reviewer then goes on to state that flying through the air is a faster way to get around the planet than walking on the ground... Actually, this is true; flying is in fact 100% faster than walking on the ground, because walking on the ground has the following drawbacks: zero velocity, static progression rate of zero pixels per second, infinite transit time from point A to point B, definite static tendencies, unwillingness of sheep's little legs to move, tendency to eat if landed on grass, tendency to explode if landed on anything else...

2) TV Gamer assured anyone interested in Atari A.M.C. that the background shading effects were just colours and that the graphics weren't even a fraction of what could be achieved on even the 16k ATARI... OK, if these guys were really on the ball maybe you could believe them, but then maybe Page 6, a specialist Atari magazine who make it their business to look at all Atari releases for both 16k and other machines, are more qualified to pass such sweeping judgements, and in their own review of A.M.C. they reached precisely the opposite conclusion...

3) Your Computer started off an Ancipital review extremely well by boldly stating that the game has 81 rooms. It states about four times in the Ancipital instructions that the game has 100 rooms and makes references to the 10x10 layout. The same reviewer then proceeds to opine that there's nothing really original in the game. I think I can tell you exactly what happened... a) Reviewer opens Ancipital box. Loads game. Feels instructions are too much to read. Has quick glance at map sheet. Notes room numbering 0-9 on each axis and makes elementary mistake of assuming that the range of 0-9 units is 9 units not 10. Therefore multiplies 9x9 and arrives at 81 for the number of rooms. b) Game finished loading and the reviewer presses Fire to start. He starts zapping and thinks 'another shoot 'em up'. Maybe he gets lucky and inverts onto the roof but doesn't get to stand on the wall because not having read the instructions he doesn't know how to jump-turn. After a while he gets the bottom door open and falls through to the next room. Messes around for a bit, maybe goes down to the Rory room and then gives up. Probably watches the attract mode a couple of times then writes his review. Concludes that there's not much original because (a) he always walks on the roof where he comes from; (b) he never managed to walk on the walls because he couldn't Jump-turn; (c) he never got to any of the puzzle screens and assumes it's all zapping; (d) he never saw the help screens because he didn't read the instructions; (e) he's probably into a different style of games anyway.

My point is that reviewers should do the job properly or not at all. By 'properly' I mean actually taking the time to learn a game thoroughly, spending several hours at the very least on each game. The whole idea of saying that any game is 'better' than any other is pretty stupid beyond a certain point anyway. Once a certain technical standard is assured and the game is bug- and glitch-free, anything else is purely personal opinion. It's like asking a Gary Numan fan to review Led Zep's Stairway to Heaven. So the whole bit about 'Jet Set Willy is better than Super Pipeline', say, is meaningless. Both games are well programmed, and JSW is better than SP but only to a platform game player – anyone into Taskset stuff would reach the opposite conclusion. So my plea to reviewers is to take time to learn the games, and don't attempt to review stuff which is too far out of line with your own likes. My advice to the rest of you is: Don't believe any review that says 'game X is better than game Y' unless game Y is obviously incompetently written. Don't ever believe advertising. Insist on seeing a demo before you buy if you're at all unsure that you'll like a game.

Quickly, my picks for this month: Space Taxi, Muse, C64: amusing Lunar Lander variant... Elite, Acornsoft, Beeb: a thinking man's star Raiders... Boulder Dash, C64/Atari, First Star, very simple idea well-executed and quite addictive... Bruce Lee, Atari/64, can't remember who by, nice kung fu game and I like the mooing cow screen... Rocket Roger, C64, unholy union of Jetpac and Son of Blagger, but unlike the latter the gameplay in this is far from soft, coded by the author of Guardian... Toy Bizarre, Activision, strange and original jumping game... More next time and full report on my next game... Keep on zapping!

Any feedback you have on anything to do with this newsletter or the games you can send to us here at 49 Mount Pleasant, Tadley, Hants, RG26 6BN. Yak the Hairy likes to receive communication from like-minded entities! More lunacy soon... And wherever you are, whatever you do, think of camels... (or goats, sheep, llamas, yaks, whatever...)

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