Monday, 24 December 2012

Specvent Calendar Day 23 - Deathchase

Deathchase (Micromega, 1983)

So here is my third most treasured Spectrum game (again, apologies for the 25-day advent calendar, if it offends your sensibilities just drop the first game off the list and renumber accordingly - I think I've got a utility to do that in Sinclair BASIC...) and it's a final return to 1983 (the tenth time) and 16K (the fifth time.)

Ignore the inlay text, everyone knew your motorbike was actually a landspeeder, and those trees were in the forest of Endor. More importantly, everyone also knew that in a mere 16K of code, MJ Escourt had programmed the perfect twitch reaction game.  The aim is simple, after an initial blast of acceleration, just keep the fire button jammed down and steer left and right to hit the bikes while avoiding the trees - a fairly trivial operation on Level 1, even when day turns to night, but as you progress through the 16 levels (8 days and 8 nights) the tree density grows to the point where you're desperately speeding through avenues of solid wood just praying for a clearing. By this point you really do feel as though your hands are being guided by the Force rather than your brain as the action moves far too fast for conscious thought (or so it seemed...)

There is of course a sense in which you could argue that the game is simply Horace Goes Skiing 3D, but putting the game into first person perspective brings it to life, and again you can see in its simple but addictive gameplay the roots of many iThing endless runners. As for me, Deathchase holds the distinction of being the only game I ever bunked off school to play. Sort of... I may have slightly exaggerated an illness in order to have a day's uninterrupted Speccydom, but the original plan was to spend the day tackling The Hobbit. Until I realised a) how long the blessed scenery took to draw on each screen and b)how bad I was at text adventures. As it happened, I'd been given Deathchase at the same time, and it had just been named Game of the Month in the first issue of Crash... I didn't stop till I'd reached and conquered 8th Night (yes, it's a game I was better than average at - yippee!)

The only thing that bugged me was the scoring. The big points were for shooting the bikes and bonus tanks and helicopters that occasionally appeared on the horizon, but you also got points every moment you stayed alive. This meant that the longer you took to complete a level, the higher your score, bonuses being equal, and as your score went up at the same rate regardless of level, your best chance of a high score was to take as long as possible on Level 1. So for my own record keeping I devised a new system, based primarily on level reached, of course, but as a tiebreaker lowest score (and hence shortest time) would win. This did also mean that the bonus tanks and copters now counted against you rather than in your favour, but as this militated against just keeping the fire button held down it again added to the skill factor, as you now had to eliminate the enemy while avoiding friendly fire incidents...

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