Monday, 12 November 2012

From the Archives: Cascade Games - Extra Interview 2

I interviewed Andrew Canham (aka PJ) for a boxout for this month's Retro Gamer feature on Cascade Games.  Unfortunately only a fraction of his hilarious responses on Cassette 50 were able to go in the boxout - so here's the full interview.  You can check out all of Andrew's remakes at his website

 Issue 109 of Retro Gamer is available in good newsagents now.  For the full lowdown on Cassette 50, check out my Story of Cassette 50 in issue 2 of Pixel Nation, available from

Hi PJ! Can you tell me your real name?
My name is really Andrew Canham, but I picked up the nickname "PJ" whilst in the RAF many, many years ago, and it has stuck with me ever since. I would tell you why, but this is a family magazine!

What do you remember of the original Cassette 50? 
At the time, I owned a Speccy, and had taught myself to program (albeit only in BASIC at that stage), and had learned many tips and tricks from reading code other people had written in the timeless classic, Sinclair Programs. I believe it was an advert in there that caught my eye - 50 games for less that a tenner? Less than 20p a game! It had to be a bargain, right? Er, no, not by a long chalk!

Did you actually buy it? And wear the watch?
 I did buy it (one of the many dark chapters of my life) and, to add insult to injury, when it first came out, there was no cheap plastic calculator watch offered with it either! So not only did I shell out my hard earned pocket money (I used to get money for helping my father on his milk round) on no less than 50 piles of turd, but I missed the opportunity to own a timepiece that would make a 99p Casio off the market stall seem like a Rolex!

Any games that stick out? 
Ouch, I tried to eradicate them all from my memory. Every last one. It took years of therapy, some astronomical psychiatrists bills, and enough Courvoisier to float an armada, but I got there in the end. Please don't ask me to relive that horror by going through them again with an emulator. I couldn't take the pain at my age!

Why Cassette 50 for a remake?
 I'm afraid you have to blame the Retro Remakes website for that one, especially OddBob (who makes a great scapegoat for anything, so feel free to lob the rotten tomatoes in his direction!) Just for a bit of fun, we (as a remaking community) were deliberately writing crap games for the hell of it. Well, this was my forte - I had previously done a joke remake of a tacky Basic game released by hitm4n from the same group, and, as the winner of the wooden spoon for the worst remake in the first annual remaking competition back in 2003 (it was deliberately bad, by the way) for Ground Attack Enhanced, I was determined that no-one was going to out-crap-game me! So I set myself a challenge to write at least one game each evening (which ended up being 2 or more an evening once I was in the swing of it) until Blitz50 was born. So, I guess, it has all just been one big joke (rather like Cascade's idea of 50 "Great" Games!)

Why not specifically remake the games on it? 
Have you seen the price of Courvoisier? Really, I'm having palpitations here, beads of cold sweat are forming on the mere thought of playing through them again to recall how truly awful they were. The mental scarring is irreparable from the first time round!

How did you go about making the games as rubbish as possible? Was this difficult?
You cannot imagine just how tricky it was. Firstly, to come up with 50 (actually, 51 - there is a hidden game that can be accessed by holding down 5 and 0 on the numerical pad on the menu screen) unique ideas (though 2 of the games are remakes of the first 2 games I wrote on the Speccy), and secondly, using Blitz Basic at the time (hence Blitz50) which wasn't really designed for churning out total tat. Unfortunately, there was a bug that had crept in to Blitz by then with the collision handling routines, making them wildly inaccurate, which also meant much of the collision detection had to be approximated and coded rather than using the inbuilt routines. Really, it was Blitz' swansong before I switched to the excellent GL Basic.

Did you ever think some of them were...too good?
Given that paying the gas bill is more fun than playing the original games, all of them! Many of the games were coding exercises, to be honest. For example, games like A-Maze-Ing, and the hidden game, Micromaze, were used to optimise my random maze generation code that I had previously used in the early remakes Maziacs and Fred. Microdot's BASIC Bouncerama was a simple exercise to investigate the feasibility of later remaking Pixy the Microdot, whilst Start Wreck was a chance to play with inertia and stupid levels of parallax scrolling. Juggler isn't too bad as a game, but my biggest disappointment in sheer lack of crapness has got to be Open Plan Pacman. I mean, there is actually a modicum of fun built in to that! Whoever would have thought that our eponymous hero, eating al fresco, would create a game you might want to play for more than 30 seconds?

Are you aware of the crap games competitions that have spawned from Cass 50? If so what do you think of them?
Ah, how can I not be aware of the comp.sys.sinclair Crap Games Competition? I always have a good giggle at some of the game names, where clearly more effort has gone into dreaming up the title than in the coding itself! I love the idea of crap coding, for one simple reason (and I feel sure I am not alone in this sentiment). I am the sort of person who loves the challenge of coding a game engine - getting the feel right - but hates the polishing required to make it look presentable afterwards. Crap coding dispenses with the need to do any of the stuff I loathe, after all, as the old saying goes, you can't polish a turd!

Any opinions on the rest of Cascade's games? 
Cascade did release a few really good titles - Ace springs to mind, along with 19 and Frightmare (which was clearly a "Santa brought me Cassette50 for Christmas" simulator!) But clearly with such turkeys as The Life of Harry in their back catalogue too, they never lost their touch in churning out garbage.

Considering Cass 50's role at Cascade (it basically funded the development of games such as ACE) how do you perceive it?
There could never be an acceptable excuse for Cassette50. Never. Anyone that would inflict this on people is obviously the sort of person that would kick a pet for fun. It's the equivalent of selling people hemorrhoids. Did you ever see the film Time Bandits? Where pure evil was portrayed as a coal like substance. No, pure evil should have been shown as the Cascade marketing division. If there is a heaven and hell, I just take comfort from the idea that Beelzebub has guest rooms waiting for them.

I've written an article on Cassette 50 for a magazine called Pixel Nation.
Someone owned up to making it? You mean it is not the illegitimate lovechild of a Commodore PET and a village idiot? I may have to have a shuftie at this, to see who I need to make a voodoo doll out of...

PS shame French Maid Pro never made it :-(
Never give up hope - it is still a WIP, but with 20 games written already, Revenge of Blitz50 may see the light of day yet. To be honest, this was largely a website cleanup exercise - since I had written a number of crap individual titles (like Ground Attack Enhanced, but also Galaxy Warrior, Voyager, Snobby, and Alien Kill, I was going to use RoB50 to merge them all into one title of pure pants. But just for you, I have also attached a screengrab of French Maid Pro running :-)

Thanks Andrew :-)

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