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
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
Bangkok Knights and one exceptional
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
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
Dominator, Myth, Vendetta, Flimbo's
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
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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