28 March 2009




































Stuart Campbell comes from a long and extremely complicated line of ancestors who contributed their diverse genes to create and shape the unique individual that we all know and love so much today. But he’s not the only one.


It’s easy to get irritable when idiot videogame journalists excitably acclaim the stunning "originality" of games which have supposedly appeared out of nowhere, but about which anyone who knows anything about games knows otherwise. The most celebrated - if that's the right word - example of recent years would probably be Worms, recipient of all sorts of originality awards despite being simply the latest in a 20-year-old line encompassing scores of previous games which play in exactly the same way.

(The first example your correspondent knows of is Artillery Duel on the Colecovision from 1983, but the genre may well go back further still.)

But sometimes that ire is a tad unwarranted, because some games are so obscure that it's only by sheer dumb luck that anyone would even have heard of them, far less be able to identify that they were the estranged parent or illegitimate child of a far better-known classic. Count on the dauntlessly diligent descendant-detectives of Retro Gamer, then, to uncover some of the missing links and finally gather together some of gaming’s greats and their grand-relatives.




Chuckie Egg is one of retrogaming’s cornerstones. Alongside the Donkey Kongs, Manic Miners. Stunt Car Racers and Speedball 2s, Nigel Alderton’s high-speed henhouse hurry-scurry still represents many people’s ideal for the form, with its slick controls and non-stop action. Surprisingly few games, though, have actually replicated its style – not even its own sequel played similarly, being a comparatively staid and sprawling arcade adventure. The only game that can truly lay claim to Chuckie Egg’s DNA is Bill & Ted’s Excellent Gameboy Adventure.

Along with Lode Runner, Chuckie Egg is a contender for the game to have appeared on the most formats ever.

Despite this reporter’s single-handed trumpet-blowing crusade over the last decade, the number of people who’ve heard of this early platformer for the mono Game Boy is still, taken as an average and rounded off to the nearest whole number, zero. Which is a tragedy, because it’s simply one of the greatest platform games of all time. Comprising 50 single-screen levels spread across 10 worlds, it’s a riot of invention and pace with something new on almost every stage, but telltale signs like its speed, ladder-jumping and infinite-fall ability mark it out as a clear homage to Alderton’s game, with one of the most obvious tributes being the appearance in World 5 of a version of Chuckie Egg’s “super duck” (in the form of a flying stingray) which tracks the player across the level regardless of the platform structures.

They could quite reasonably have called this game “Bill And Ted’s EGGS-cellent Adventure”!!! (Get out – Ed)

Bill & Ted’s EGA takes Chuckie Egg’s ball and runs like the wind with it, leaving the tiny world of the farmyard behind for the boundless entirety of time and space, and the gameplay horizons broaden accordingly. While it never breaks from the basic run-and-jump-and-collect-stuff template, you never know quite what’s going to happen on each new level – you’ll be chased through paradise by relentless angels and teleporting monks, stages will turn invisible, walls and floors and keys appear and disappear, enemies pick you up and drop you off the edges of platforms, some throw boulders or grenades, rabbits roll deadly Easter eggs, other enemies shoot you with guns or with time-shift bolts that send you back to the level’s start position, and that’s not the half of it. Just like Chuckie Egg, some levels are edgy sniping battles where you pick off a key here and a key there while some are flat-out headlong sprints, but none will take you more than 30 seconds to play through once you master them.

But in fact, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Gameboy Adventure is more than just a de facto Chuckie Egg sequel - it also provides the missing link between one of gaming’s oldest standards and one of its newest pioneers. Because with its constant change, instant accessibility, breathless pace and endless invention and unpredictability, you only need to continue the logical line from Chuckie Egg through Bill & Ted and keep going a bit until you eventually arrive at Wario Ware.

And obviously this guy should actually be shouting “FOWL”!!!!!  (Really, I’ll have you killed – Ed)

Squished into a tiny 128K cart, Bill & Ted’s had to be endlessly creative with a very small number of elements. But take away that restriction – Wario Ware had a whopping 64 times as much RAM to play around with – and you can refine those levels down from 20 seconds and 10 seconds to five and three and one, twisting and bending and distorting them into crazy shapes while sticking to the same d-pad-and-single-button controls that made Chuckie Egg so instantly appealing. And you “hen’t” say fairer than that! (That’s it. Get my gun – Ed)



You all know about how Rockstar famously revealed in a magazine that the Grand Theft Auto games (originally meant to be more tellingly called Race’n’Chase) were fundamentally derived from Pac-Man, don’t you? With the obvious parallels between the overhead-viewed cities of the original 2D games and Namco’s maze-running classic?

(Interestingly, you were also originally supposed to be able to choose to play as the police, making the original GTA the parent in turn of Pac-Man VS - see, the DNA always makes its way through in the end.)

You do? Splendid. That’ll save us a lot of time later on.

“Goddammit, there’s gotta be a power-pill around here somewhere!”


Beyond any rational doubt, Sega’s The Typing Of The Dead is the funniest videogame ever made. It's based on Sega's classic arcade light-gun shooter The House Of The Dead 2, a game which - while cheesy - is also tense, atmospheric and in parts really quite scary. But by the simple expedient of replacing your gun with a keyboard and some random words, it suddenly becomes impossible to be disturbed by even the goriest assaults, or to react with anything other than a warm chuckle as a gruesome monster from under the sea jams a trident between your ribs when you fail to sufficiently quickly type "MAKE ME A HUMBLE APOLOGY" or "TELL ME A FUNNY STORY" at it to deflect its savage attack.

But this feature isn't here to talk about how great The Typing Of The Dead is (which is to say, amazingly great), but rather to identify its videogaming parentage. And unlikely as it seems, the only game (other than House Of The Dead 2, obviously) to which TTOTD owes a genetic debt is a long-forgotten title from the early days of the Spectrum about points management and maintaining customer satisfaction on a railway network.

The words you have to type aren't usually descriptive. We just got lucky here.

Microsphere's 1983 classic The Train Game wasn't a smash hit even when it only had about 50 other Speccy games in the whole world to contend with. In an age of the exciting new opportunities offered by the Speccy's high-resolution colour graphics, the barely-beyond-ASCII visuals didn't seize gamers' attention, and even those of us still mired in more medieval times, playing our games on black-and-white bedroom tellies, couldn't enjoy it either because a large part of the gameplay was focused on colour-matching the various trains to their passengers, and telling seven shades of grey apart on a 14-inch portable was a task of distinctly limited fun potential when there was Manic Miner to play.

Which is a terrible shame, as The Train Game is completely brilliant. It's a frantic mix of complex spatial awareness, fast reactions and multiple forward planning as the player tries to keep up to a mind-melting four simultaneous trains running around one of two small railways (there were two different track layouts for the game, one on each side of the tape), collecting colour-coded commuters from three stations before they flew into an explosive rage at being excessively delayed and cost you one of your four lives (which were also forfeited in the event of trains running into closed points, crashing into each other, or having points switched while the train was travelling across them).

The trains couldn't stop (except at stations, and only then for a fixed brief period), couldn't pick up passengers of other colours than their own (except the angry ones who'd turned white, who took precedence over all other passengers and could be collected by any train, but only at the cost of leaving any waiting passengers of the train's own colour behind on the platform), and couldn't be reversed. Each set of points could be set to two positions only, meaning that if you wanted to make a train reach a certain station, you'd often have to route it through a long and complex diversion in order to make it travel in the opposite direction down the line it was currently on. Oh, and sometimes, at the highest of the game's seven difficulty levels, a hurtling runaway goods train would appear and have to be sent into one of the tunnels at the side of the screen to get rid of it. Man, you kids today have it easy.

The seeming dead ends are actually tunnels – the one at top right loops to the one at middle right, for example.

But this feature isn't here to go on and on about how great The Train Game is (which is to say, amazingly great), but rather to identify its connection to The Typing Of The Dead, and your correspondent is sure that the intelligent, alert readers of Retro Gamer have spotted at least the obvious half of it already. Off the top of your reporter's knowledge-filled head, these are the only two videogames ever created (with the exception of later spinoffs like Typing Space Harrier, and obviously discounting specifically educational software) in which the primary gameplay skill is intimate familiarity with the layout of the QWERTY keyboard. But there's a bit more to it than that.

Both The Train Game and The Typing Of The Dead, in essence, are not only about typing skill, but about threat management. Most of the time, in either game, you'll have two or three pressing problems to deal with at any given moment, and not only do you have to deal with them all, you'll have to near-instantly assess their relative urgency and deal with them all in the right order. In both games, in fact, it's very frequently necessary to solve one problem purely to be able to even start tackling the second at all.

(In TTOTD you have to completely finish typing one zombie's phrase before you can engage the next one, or fight off the projectiles the first one's thrown at you. Similarly, in The Train Game you'll often have to route one train through a section of track as another one bears down unstoppably on the same stretch from the opposite direction. In either case, prioritise your actions wrongly and you're buggered.)

Spook! 'Calamari Smeghead' was my name when I was in a punk band in the late 80s.

The truth of the matter is that if you strip away all the surface irrelevance, TTOTD and TTG are basically the same game. As befits their respective heritages, The Typing Of The Dead is a little less cerebral and more manic, but at the higher difficulty levels The Train Game is if anything the faster-paced of the two, as well as harder and more relentless. Take on Track B at level 7 and you'll be doing well to last much over a minute. TTG actually inspired at least one more-obvious clone, in the form of German developer Kingsoft's superficially very similar Locomotion for the Amiga in 1992 (a fine game in its own right, which replaced the typing-based point-switching with mouse-controlled cursor-pointing), but it's only The Typing Of The Dead that plays the same way as its parent.

Only one of them's funny, though.



Sometimes the connections between games are a lot easier to spot, of course. As long as you're old enough, anyway. You've got to be a pretty long-in-the-tooth videogamer to remember Exidy's primitive 1980 coin-op Targ, but if you are then it's not hard to pick its grandson out of the ranks of today's high-resolution superstars.

You have to start a level very poorly to find yourself in this much trouble.

Targ is one of the simplest videogames ever released. Despite being set in the picturesque-sounding metropolis of "Crystal City", every level is an identical grid of yellow blocks inhabited by 10 red "ramships", whose name gives away their only attacking capability - crashing into you. You steer your chunky green "Wummel" truck around, shooting the ramships and the Spectar Smuggler, a blue cruiser worth up to 90 times as many points as the ramships but which only shows up occasionally from a random block of the city.

Just a few seconds playing Targ, watching the initial wave of arrowhead-shaped ramships sweep down the screen in a perfect line, will immediately trigger a sense of familiarity and recognition in all but the most unobservant of modern gamers. Can you guess what it is yet?

Trivia fact! This screenshot shows the PGR4 version of Waves, not the Geometry Wars 2 one.

Geometry Wars: Waves doesn't just share a superficial enemy shape, axes of movement and mode of attack with Targ, though those are the most instantly-obvious similarities. In both games, shooting the main enemies isn't your real source of points - it's just something you do to stay alive while you wait for the opportunity to nail the big rewards, whether that's a Spectar Smuggler or a juicy clump of score-multiplying Geoms. (In another little piece of borrowed DNA, Targ multiplies the scores for ramships as you go on too.)

But the main common facet of the two games is the extraordinary addictiveness created by the bone-simple gameplay, in which despite the almost total absence of intelligence or sophistication in your enemies (Targ's ramships are just about smart enough to get out of the way of a bullet if they see it coming at them from a long way off, while Waves' denizens aren't even as bright as that), a single game lasting over a minute is an epic feat of skill. Since it's hard to accept being done for by such dimwitted opponents, off you go again and the next thing you know four hours have passed. (Waves in particular is a brutal time thief.)

If you doubt me, fire up Targ in MAME and see if you can beat the default highscore, which is just 10,000. (Reaching the fourth screen will just about guarantee that many points, and the difficulty increases only by a tiny fraction along the way.) You're going to be there for a while.



The last game we’re going to look at is a much-overlooked classic, but one that alert viewers will recall already having been touched on passingly in the pages of previous issues of Retro Gamer - Centuri's 1982 coin-op The Pit, the game that gave birth to Boulder Dash.

(It gave birth to Boulder Dash at the scandalously young age of two, in fact - the latter game having been released in 1984 - but let's just skip over that alarming and disturbing paedo-fact for the sake of decency and move swiftly on.)

Boulder Dash is most commonly associated with the two classic earth-shifting arcade games Dig Dug and Mr Do, but beyond the underground setting it has almost nothing in common with either title. Dig Dug and Mr Do are both fundamentally about battling your enemies, not negotiating your environment. There are no obstacles in your way, and the rocks/apples which can fall down the screen are really there as weapons rather than dangers.

The Pit is different, though. While there are enemy characters chasing your diamond-hunting miner, they're pretty much only a distraction. It's perfectly simple for even a slightly-skilled player to conduct the first few seconds of any level in such a way (illustrated in the screenshot below) that the claw-wielding baddies are confined to a small space at the upper centre of the pit, completely blocked off from anywhere the player needs to go.

Here you’ve managed to block off all the pink and blue enemy robots’ paths with rocks (seen just to the left
and to the right of the central crossroads), and since they lack any digging ability they can’t get to you at all.


Your problem in The Pit is - like Boulder Dash - chiefly to navigate your way safely around each level in order to collect some diamonds and then get out of the exit without having a rock fall on your head. (Also like Boulder Dash, you don't actually have to collect all of a level's diamonds, but there are temptingly large bonuses for picking up more than the minimum.) There are walls, bottlenecks, rooms and environmental hazards, as well as the liberal scattering of rocks that constitutes the core gameplay element of both titles.

The similarities don't end there, though. For one thing, your miner doesn't just plough through earth like in Dig Dug and Mr Do. To make a tunnel, he blasts away a square of space with his, um, anti-dirt laser, then pauses for a moment before moving into the gap. (This is very much a character-block-centred game, which makes it all the weirder that nobody ever converted it to the Speccy. There were unofficial ports to the VIC-20 and the C64 though, one of the very few advantages of the CBM machines over the rubber-keyed wonder.) The skilled player, however, can use this behaviour to take out an adjacent square of earth and then quickly move off in a different direction, in a manner very akin to the Boulder Dash trick of holding down the fire button to dig/push/pick up something without moving into its space. In both games, it's a subtle play mechanic that separates the novice player from the expert.

And lastly, there's the behaviour of the enemy characters. The little grab-robots don't actually chase you - like all the moving enemies in Boulder Dash, they follow fixed movement patterns (if there's an empty space below, go down, if you can't go down then try to go left, etc) and only kill you if you get very close to them, at which point they leap on you and smush you. And as in Boulder Dash, they can only move in existing tunnels - they can't dig their own. And yet despite all this - their slow pace, limited abilities, lack of weaponry, rigidly-dictated movement and non-vindictive nature, you'll really come to hate the little bastards. (Maybe it's the way there's a brief but violent struggle when one attacks you, a bit like in Maziacs but with the crucial difference that you never ever win. It looks like a brutal way to die.)

If you want to see where it all ultimately led, either check out the superb Boulder Dash Xmas 2002 Edition, which is the finest BD game ever (playable for free online, with a full-featured downloadable version for about 11 quid), or Gran Turismo 5. See you next time, viewers!

This innocent first level might not look exciting, but Boulder Dash Xmas 2002 Edition is the finest collection
of brilliantly fiendish BD levels since the series was invented. You can play the full game for free here.



(“The Pit is basically the same game as Gran Turismo 5? WTF?" – Bemused reader, Essex)

Ah yes. The thing is, like many parents in today’s shamefully immoral society, The Pit had more than one offspring to more than one partner. Y’see, the use of the phrase “any level” back in the opening paragraphs of the Pit’s entry is a slight misnomer. The game only has two different screens - which are actually the same one except for rock placement - which alternate at ever-increasing pace until everything happens at blinding speed and becomes as much a test of memory as reflex. The enemies are largely incidental, pursuing their own path regardless of what you do and only causing you trouble if you actively collide with them.

Sound familiar at all?

The Pit is all about racing the same circular courses (you start and finish in the same spot) over and over, doing “laps” around them until you find the line that’s both fastest and avoids the pre-programmed enemy AI. As it goes on, you know exactly what to do and when, but sometimes your fingers just aren’t quick enough or co-ordinated enough to perform the actions your brain’s telling them to. Sometimes you panic and crash into an enemy because you’re short of time. Sometimes one mistake will force you to significantly amend your route and improvise a new ad hoc one, as it brings you perilously close to opponents you should have avoided. It doesn’t look like a driving game, but in every meaningful sense that’s exactly what it is, and in particular highly rigid and technical ones like the GT series.

I don’t know if I can stay awake long enough to write a caption for this pictZZZZZZ.

Videogamers have a lot of trouble with this concept, but in fact it’s really what this entire feature is about. No matter what the onscreen graphics depict, the simple mechanical fact of playing ANY videogame is that you’re pressing left and right and fire to move blobs of coloured light around a screen. It doesn’t matter if the game world nominally exists in two dimensions or three, whether you’re viewing it from above or to the side or out of your character’s “eyes” or whatever – you’re still just pressing left and right and fire on the joypad to move the lights around. To an observer who’s standing behind your telly, you appear to be doing the exact same things no matter whether you’re playing Tetris, Pac-Man, Call Of Duty 4 or Broken Sword: Shadow Of The Templars Director's Cut, and that’s because you are.

Fundamental gameplay concepts have nothing to do with either graphical style or game setting. It’s hard to imagine two more diverse things than, say, the story of Noah preserving the world’s animal species in the Ark and a heroic soldier invading a Nazi fortress to kill a massive cyborg Hitler. Yet the exact same game engine and gameplay concepts were used for both Super Noah’s Ark and Wolfenstein 3D on the SNES. They’re basically the same game dressed in different clothes, and it shouldn’t take a big mental leap to grasp that that simple fact – which is pretty obvious in the case of Super Noah's Ark and Wolfenstein - also extends to relationships between games that appear to be a lot less similar to each other.

Don’t let your eyes fool you, chums. If you ever want to truly understand games, be they retro or ultra-modern, you really need to get your heads round that idea.

Also, of course, The Pit is a lot more fun than Gran Turismo.

Feeding animals on a boat: a lot like shooting Nazis in a castle.


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