System 3 started off back in 1984 and was the brain child of Mark Cale. Mark decided to turn his hand to the software business and launched System 3 with the space game Death Star Interceptor. Although not a good game, it did show some promise of what was to come - and then came the start of System 3's publicity! They launched the game Twister - Mother of Harlots back in 1985 with promotion being some scantily clad women parading around the PCW show in London. Needless to say, some people were slightly outraged and so System 3 had their stand shut down and were subsequently banned from future PCW shows. Mind you, I should state that the game wasn't anything special so you didn't really miss anything.

The release of International Karate turns in to a court battle
Undeterred from this, System 3 started work on the karate game International Karate. Although it was rumoured that Ocean's Dave Collier was going to program it, and that Sensible Software's Jon Hare produced some of the early graphics which were re-drawn, the programmer Archer Maclean (who already had programmed Dropzone) produced it to rapturous applause in 1986 (and helped by a great Rob Hubbard soundtrack).

However, System 3 then faced a lengthy court battle with arcade publishers Data East, who claimed System 3 had ripped off their game Karate Champ. After a year of counter battles, the American court granted the victory to System 3, which had implications for arcade publishers as a whole. The argument was that karate is karate and no game publisher could copyright that for themselves. System 3 also had to fight off suggestions from Melbourne House that International Karate had also ripped off Way of the Exploding Fist, but again this proved in System 3's favour.

The Last Ninja, disk problems and IK+
System 3's next project was a bit more ambitious. The aim was simply to create a spectacular game, which would be both superb graphically, musically and in terms of playability. The Last Ninja set benchmarks for the arcade adventure genre back in 1987, and if this game did not inspire Tomb Raider, then I don't know what did. Its winning mix of six large beautifully drawn levels, superb ambience by Ben Daglish and Anthony Lees, and some wonderful hack and slash gameplay (Although some like myself argue the jumping on rocks over the water was a tad finicky).

However, System 3 soon landed themselves in hot water with many a disk drive owner, as the disk protection would often kick the drives out of alignment, rendering them useless, as one angry letter to Commodore User's letters pages proved. Also later that year, after the legal battle with Data East had been won, the sequel to International Karate, IK+ was released. It had three fighters, eighteen moves, awesomely fast gameplay and was really special. However, this turned to sour grapes when Firebird released Fist + in 1988, which was a shamelessly awful clone of IK+.

Bangkok Knights and one exceptional promotion tour
Late in 1987 came Bangkok Knights, a kick boxing game more than anything else, with huge sprites, sampled speech and slow gameplay, but it was pretty fun to play. The main reason that it got any publicity at all was that System 3 paid many UK computer magazine journalists to go over to Thailand and actually watch some Thai boxing for real. In the November 1987 issue of Zzap! 64, there's a shot of Mark Cale (owner of System 3) atop an elephant and one picture of Cíaran Brennan of Zzap! 64 and Eugene Lacey of Commodore User who also were there. Whether these sort of promotional antics influenced the reviewers, I don't know.

However, it should be noted that for the game System 3 used two famous C64 musicians to produce the music for them, the cassette loading music by Matt Gray and the main ingame theme by Rob Hubbard. Unbeknown to most people, he actually added a little mini-cover of Survivor's Eye of the Tiger (from Rocky 3) near the end of the ingame music.

The Last Ninja 2
1988 also saw a sequel to The Last Ninja. Last Ninja 2 was, in my view, the best of the series, with its modern day settings, improved playability (they sorted the jumping out) and an awesome Matt Gray soundtrack. It also had special memories for me, as I can remember visiting computer stores for weeks only to find the release date had been put back again... and again.. To give you some idea, Zzap! 64 reviewed it in their September 1988 issue (released in the middle of August) and System 3 delayed it until early November of that same year. Certain chains of stores also refused to stock the deluxe packaging of the game with a ninja mask and plastic shuriken (which served very well as a posey place mat) and so System 3 had to announce which stores would stock the full, proper boxed version.

Dominator, Myth, Vendetta, Flimbo's Quest
Gradually by this time System 3 released games a bit more frequently than before. Indeed 1989 saw them release Dominator, a shoot'em up marred by its ridiculous difficulty and the fact that the tape version was bugged - it would not load the final level! Also Myth, which was an excellent arcade adventure, albeit a little hard in places, which had you going through various mythological stages such as Medusa, the Pyramids and so on. System 3 even released the game on cartridge, although even with sales of the C64GS, they didn't sell too many.

Then 1990 saw them follow up with some more gems: Vendetta, a game which mixed Last Ninja style levels with a fast driving game. However, it was pretty easy to finish which meant you did not get much value for your money. And then there was Flimbo's Quest, a cute little platform game that to some looked like a rehashed version of Thalamus' Hawkeye with some cute graphics (it had some nice music by Reyn Ouwehand and Johannes Bjerregaard though).

The Last Ninja 3
But the natives were getting restless and wanted another instalment in the Last Ninja saga. And sure enough, 1991 saw the release of Last Ninja 3. Some superb opening and end sequences complimented the gameplay, although there was one infamous bug which meant sometimes an object which you carried from levels two to four would not appear in your inventory on level four, meaning you could not complete the game. Last Ninja 3 also was going to be a cartridge only game retailing at a mere £24.95 (ouch) but in the end they saw sense and released it on tape and disk as well. As it stands, existance of the cartridge is unconfirmed as yet, although hopefully I'll have news on that.

Again, the release date was heavily put back. They also developed from the driving stages of Vendetta and made it into an excellent driving and shooting game, Turbocharge. I loved some of the press releases: five channel sound (when it was just the way the effects interspersed with the music), huge stages (they weren't that big) and all that. It was fun to play, and very fast for a C64.

Deadlock from Cyberdyne Systems
Deadlock was a game that System 3 were supposed to release, but they didn't. Although it was worked on by Cyberdyne Systems, programmers of Armalyte, it was never finished and so it never saw the light of day. Reyn Ouwehand had actually made all the music for it, but at least one tune didn't go to waste. It was used as the end part theme for the famous C64 demo Dutch Breeze by Black Mail. As the game wasn't finished, System 3 did not pay Reyn nor Cyberdyne Systems either.

System 3 today
After this, System 3 almost vanished without trace. Another game that didn't surface was their C64 version of the game Fuzzball (despite getting to the playable demo stage). Nowadays they are more of a development house, with John and Steve Rowlands programming for them the Gameboy Colour version of IK+, and it wasn't that well received, sadly. It didn't have the same feel and the same look of awe the way the C64 version did, I think this was down to it being their first game they've programmed on any other format than the C64.

System 3 kept up the trend of suing people by suing Eidos Interactive. The reason? Eidos' new budget games label The Premier Collection (Tomb Raider and Links LS were two of the first re-releases). System 3 claimed that Eidos was simply copying their compilations of games back in 1992 which were also called The Premier Collection. I don't know what became of it though.

System 3 are now Studio 3, and they're planning (at last) an updated Last Ninja game, which will probably appear on the PC, Playstation 2, Microsoft X-Box, Gamecube and Gameboy Advance in late 2003. For more information, please consult Kai Spitzley's Last Ninja Archives. Of course all us Last Ninja fans cannot wait for this. If anyone else knows of any other planned Studio 3 releases, please let us know.

An old employee?
If anyone reading this ever worked for System 3, or indeed produced any games for them, feel free to let us know your experiences of working there.

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