Like karate champ Jeoff Thompson, Melbourne House is exploding into action. Meirion Jones asks what next after the Fist?
First Fist – then, Mordon’s Quest, Terrormolinas, and Lord of the Rings plus conversions of Starion and Fist for other machines – not to mention future projects like a Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race game and enhanced versions of current hits for new machines like the Commodore 128.
Everything seems to be coming up roses for Melbourne House since Geoff Heath became British boss a few months back but he would be the first to admit that the seeds of success had already been sown. The current wave of strong software was all under development long before Geoff took control, but when he arrived the company had faded out of the public view with Starion waiting to be launched.
Knuckle wrestler Geoff Heath, Melbourne’s new U.K. chief, still plans to go ahead with the launch of Terrormolinas – a holiday disaster spoof adventure by the team who wrote Hampstead – despite the trail of real life disasters facing tourists this summer, from hijackings and bombings in mid-air and on Spanish beaches to alerts in British resorts.
Although Fred Milgrom, the international head of Melbourne House, admitted to Your Computer that the likes of Ultimate were producing arcade games that “were technically far superior to what we were coming up with” and promised to do something about it, that was over a year ago and there was still no sign of action. Melbourne was a leading adventure house but had no chance of catching up with the arcade specialists.
Geoff decided to scrap the expensive video-style packaging planned for Starion and go for a simple cassette case in the belief that a good Spectrum shoot-em-up just needed to be seen on as many shelves as possible.
Timing was also important – with thousands of Spectrum owners looking for something like Elite to come out on their machine. But when Starion hit the shelves the quality of David Webb’s vector graphics on screen and the idea that Melbourne House could produce a successful program that was neither an adventure nor written by an Australian were both major surprises.
Commodore 64 and Amstrad versions of Starion are on the launch pad now that the Spectrum shoot-em-up is hurtling up the charts to prove that Melbourne House can produce arcade games as well as adventures.
But if Starion was a cracking good variation on an old theme, Way of the Exploding Fist was something else – one of those programs which sets standards by which others will be judged. Timing again was nice – out in good time for the World Games at Crystal Palace on July 27 where non-Olympic sports like Karate will have their world championships.
Gregg Barnett, who converted the Hobbit and Sherlock to the Commodore before making his mark with Way of the Exploding Fist, is now converting Fist to the Amstrad and Spectrum and – memory permitting – the BBC, in other words if the Plus ever takes off.
Jeoff Thompson, World Heavyweight Karate Champion from 1982-84 and Team Champion now, who is competing there, believes that Fist has enough of the feel of the real thing to attract computer gamers into abandoning the screens and taking up Karate. Jeoff urges caution though “I want to see the sport develop – and safely. If they wish to take it up go to a local karate club but be careful”. If anyone plays the game then wants advice on taking up the sport they can write to him for advice at Pursuit of Excellence, PO Box 699, Fulham, London SW6.
Jeoff first tried Fist at the Commodore show “it looked very authentic, movements, drop sweeps – the mood, music and atmosphere” but he couldn’t take it seriously – until he had suffered the indignity of being repeatedly laid out by kids of half his age, “I got really competitive”. With three hours a day training for the championships – “it’s a combat form of chess, you never really master it” – Jeoff has not had much time to improve his game on screen but he uses it as a break from training. He’d like to see a sport version where you take on teams from other countries.
After Starion and Fist, which were the May and June blows in Melbourne’s Summer offensive, July drops into lower gear with Mordon’s Quest. Geoff Heath was born in Morden, and if my supposedly efficient Croydon-based hire-purchase company claims to operate from Croyden on its headed notepaper, I suppose these Aussies can get away with a misspelt tribute to the head of the British office.
Mordon’s Quest takes up where Classic Adventure left off. It’s a 150 location text adventure and Mordon is the ancient one who asks you to find all the components of his immortality machine – if you fail the universe will be destroyed.
But no, Mordon’s Quest turns out to be just the next text only stage in the Classic Adventure. Mordon is apparently the most important person in the history of the universe so I suppose he need not worry about being mistaken for a grey south London suburb stranded between Mitcham and Cheam.
About the only significant feature of the Quest is that it will be ready simultaneously in Spectrum, CBM-64 and Amstrad versions whereas Starion and Fist will gradually migrate to other machines over the next couple of months.
Summer migrants to Spain are the targets of Terrormolinas, an adventure aimed at people who do not usually buy adventures by the team who wrote the snobby social climbing computer game Hampstead – Peter Jones and Trevor Lever. Peter works in public relations and he says that Hampstead went down well although “Your Computer were fairly scathing about it. It was tongue in cheek which perhaps you didn’t realise”. At least that well known micro mag The Listener made it their computer game of the year.
This time Peter and Trevor are taking more of a chance. Terror is based on the idea of collecting snapshots – unlike its predecessor this game has graphics – during a Spanish holiday in which everything that could go wrong does go wrong – from tummy bugs to bombs. Despite the risk of accusations of bad taste if tourists are hurt on the Costa Brava this year, Peter says it’s “less risky than actually going to Spain”. He’s also not worried that the Spanish government may be offended – “we haven’t written it for the Spanish tourist industry. I hope it does offend some people”.
No wonder Fred Milgrom asked them to “be nicer to the Spaniards” when he saw an early version. Fred’s other contribution was the name Terrormolinas which he suggested as an alternative to the working title which was Holiday in the Sun – after the Sex Pistols song.
A global conspiracy game is what Trev and Pete are working on next – sounds a little closer to the “plain of Tharg and the misty mountains of Blimp” which are the traditional settings for adventures and which they find “almost incredibly narrow”.
Lord of the Rings
Good news for Frodo fanciers. Fellowship of the Ring, first part of Tolkien’s Ring and eagerly awaited sequel to the program which established Melbourne’s reputation – The Hobbit – will appear in late September. Philip Mitchell, left, who programmed The Hobbit and Sherlock Holmes is team leader for Lord of the Rings and is seen here back at base with Lyn and Russel Comte and Fred Milgrom, right, who is the international head of Melbourne House.
Meanwhile back at the Victoria branch of the Melbourne House global conspiracy Philip Mitchell is leading the team working in the ultimate misty mountains adventure – The Lord of the Rings. After the Hobbit – which was also programmed by Philip – expectations are high so there will be no attempt to cram the whole thing into one game. He and his team, which includes “Fred’s creche” – a bunch of University of Melbourne computing students moonlighting in the vacations – are putting together The Fellowship of the Ring, the first part of the Tolkien Ring trilogy which again like the Hobbit will be a book plus game set to be released in late September. Then the other parts – the Two Towers and the Return of the King will be released at six-month intervals. Before the Two Towers appears the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race, which will run from this September to next March, should have made it to Australia and back again. Appropriately Milgrom plans a simulator game based on the race where you have to use radar and satellite navigation as well as fighting off the hazards of the sea.
Now that Melbourne House has a British boss – below Fred but at least every decision does not have to make the passage to Australia and back – the company seems to find it easier to hold to its intended course over here.
Geoff Heath does not think that the problems of Acorn, Sinclair and the like are a real threat to the software industry. “Even if Sinclair is having problems right now I don’t believe the consumer is worried by that. People have still got money to spend”. Piracy is not such a problem either “if you produce a good product at a good price” and the “new copyright act will help”.
He believes that most of the small software houses that have folded were bound to go anyhow. “The days of starting up in a garage and running off a few hundred are over. The big software houses – under 10 companies count – are run as businesses. Soon there will be six or seven companies with others under their wings”.
Looking forward to more Ram
New machines mean it takes more programming time to create games that will take advantage of increased Ram – which again favours companies with big resources, but programs like Fist use every last byte of the 64’s memory and Melbourne’s teams are already looking forward to the luxury of 128K Ram and beyond. “More memory has never been enough for the programmers” as Geoff points out. At first they will produce enhanced versions of existing games for machines like the CBM-128. Melbourne will still carry on producing books, for people who have just bought a micro “to tell them there are other buttons on it than shift and run” or who want to go on to machine code – “the helicopter head stuff’.
Before joining the Milgrom organisation Geoff was Mr Activision in this country so he’s seen it all but he is still enthusiastic about computer games. After all “there’s no other business where you can go home at night and be a karate expert”.
First published in Your Computer magazine, August 1985