Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Remembering Deathchase: Extras

Still out in the shops is Retro Gamer issue 114 which contains my article celebrating the classic ZX Spectrum game Deathchase.

The aim of the article was originally intended to be developer and publisher input of the time accompanied by whatever extra material I could find on the game. Of course, ideally, a full exclusive interview with the Deathchase's author would have been the main attraction, but that wasn't to be...

Ultimately, however, an excellent interview with Micromega's Neil Hooper became the focus of the piece, bolstered by some enthusiastic comments from reviewers of the time. As a result, I had quite a lot of material left over which I am now posting here.

First up we have Robin Cooke-Hurle, Neil's colleague at Micromega. Thanks again to Robin for his time.

JD: Hi Robin. Tell me, did you ever meet Mervyn Estcourt?
RC-H: Yes I did meet Mervyn, and actually negotiated the commercial arrangements with him. What he did was so outside anything I could do that I was slightly in awe of him. He was not very easy to deal with, because he seemed to think that if we were happy with a deal then that must be a sign that he was being taken to the cleaners. However I think we did reach agreements which were fair to both sides, and I’m told had a big impact on his life, and we never tried to hold him in with exclusive options on the next game or anything.

JD: What did you think of Deathchase when you first saw it?
RC-H: Mervyn did three games for us, Luna Crabs, Deathchase and Full Throttle, in as far as I remember that order (Neil will know). The real ground breaker was Luna Crabs, which as far as I recall was the first Spectrum game ever to feature 3D graphics. I was staggered by what he did (it is hard to remember today how na├»ve the games market was) and could not imagine how it could be done inside 16K – and still can’t!! When I saw Deathchase and then Full Throttle I was therefore more or less ready for them, and saw them as an evolution. I was though thrilled that we had another Mervyn Estcourt game.

JD: How did the game sell?
RC-H: As far as I remember very well, though not as well as Full Throttle, which was phenomenal and topped the charts for some weeks.

JD: What do you think made it so special?
RC-H: Aside from the overall storyboarding of the games, which I guess Mervyn also did, the thing which impressed me enormously was how beautifully smooth it was.

JD: What do you think of the game today?
RC-H: I haven’t seen it for probably 25 years, but I still feel a slight sense of awe at Mervyn’s skill.

JD: It was well reviewed, especially by Crash, although Sinclair User were a bit unfair about the casual violence in the game. Did this bother you?
RC-H: Not at all – in fact I don’t think I’ve ever thought of it. It was obviously stylised, and was far more about skill and reaction times than anything else.

JD: Finally, Deathchase is regarded as one of the finest Spectrum games ever - and under 16K! How proud of this are you?
RC-H: I’m simply grateful that we had the opportunity to publish those games, which combined with others by Derek Brewster, Tony Poulter and others funded our development in to a commercial software house (Taxsoft) which ended up as the biggest supplier in the UK of taxation software, and was sold to Sage in early 1999. However Mervyn should be and I hope is proud of it, as should Neil be for shepherding the marketing so well, and also for managing what was at times a tricky relationship.

Next up we have Steve Wilcox of Elite fame.

JD: Do you remember first seeing Deathchase (perhaps in your shop) and if so your first impressions?
SW: My earliest memory, which may be false, is of it being ‘Game of the Month’ / ‘A Crash Smash’ in an early issue of the Newsfield magazine. That was generally a sign of a fine games, in those days.

JD: What do you think makes the game so great and enduring?
SW: It’s those early reviews, the not insignificant sales (both as a full-price and as a budget title) and the loyal and lingering fan base that maintains its appeal.

JD: What do/did you think of the game from a technical and/or software house angle?
SW: Graphically it was not that stunning (even in its day) but it clearly entertained. It’s what Ocean’s later release “Street Hawk” could and should have been inspired by.

JD: Who did you deal with to get it on your £2.99 classics label?
SW: I wish I could remember. We have a copy of the game on a ‘£2.99 Classics’ cassette in the office. When I get a moment I’ll take a look at what the inlay card says, that will remind me. We’ll also have the contract, deep in the vault.

JD: Why would you like to re-release it now?
SW: It’s amongst the ‘Top 100 Most Requested’ games by owners of our ZX Spectrum: Elite Collection apps.

Jim Bagley, coder of legendary Spectrum games such as Midnight Resistance and Cabal, also gave me his thoughts on Deathchase:-

"Yeah, of course I remember 3D Deathchase, who wouldn't it was a fantastic game, I'd love to do a remake, that's how much I like it. I remember first seeing Deathchase, way back, at my friend's house, it couldn't have been that long after it came out, it was fantastic, driving through the trees in real 3D (real as in back then real 3D haha). What makes it so great is the 3D feeling with the trees getting bigger as get closer to them, and the skill involved in navigating the trees at high speeds, whilst also shooting the baddie bikes!

From a technical angle, I absolutely adored the game, big massive tree sprites coming at you and enough to make it look like a forest full of trees, and it ran at a decent enough rate too, and sound! I still play it on the odd occasion, now and again, so rate it quite highly out of all the Speccy games."

Finally, here is the Retro Gamer forum boxout which sadly didn't make it into the final article:-

From the Forum

adippm82: For a 16K game it was incredible, just such a simple, seat of the pants game, great to put on for a few minutes, and that's what I did for a few years, and still occasionally do now.

Spector: It was reviewed in the first issue of Crash and the quality of the 3D effect and use of colour meant Deathchase wouldn't have looked out of place in the magazine had it been the last.

Markopoloman: Although I am not the Speccy's biggest fan, I thought Deathchase was very nicely done. It gave a good feeling of speed and had that very important 'just one more go' feel.

SirClive: The pure simplicity of the controls and game dynamic, coupled with great graphics and fast moving action make it an absolutely astonishing game for a 16k computer.

Matt_B: I'd say that it's massively overrated; the gameplay is very shallow and the graphics a cheap trick that was obvious to my 13-year-old self at the time


Later this week I shall post the full interviews of the three people I interviewed for the Remakes section of the article, Richard Wilson (CPC), James McKay (Tandy/Dragon 32) and Eugene Kiyanov (iOS).

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