It’s been a week of high drama, tension and uncertainty. No, I’m not talking about the referendum on Scottish independence; I’m talking about the cliffhanger from my last blog post: what was the first game I ever bought?
There were some great guesses from Soosh and Bryon, but neither quite hit the nail on the head. So, I can now exclusively reveal that the game that set me off on my game playing career was…
Jeff Minter’s Attack of the Mutant Camels.
There were probably three things that made the game stand out amongst the crowded Boots shelves. The first was the quirky picture of camels on the front cover. It was just different from all the other games (which mostly featured spaceships). The slightly odd name of the company – Llamasoft – also sounded fun, but the clincher came when I read the blurb on the back of the box and realised that this game featured laser spitting camels. I mean, come on, how can you possibly go wrong with laser spitting camels?
Attack of the Mutant Camels is a game inspired by the attack on Hoth at the start of The Empire Strikes Back. Replace the Imperial Walkers with dromedaries and you’ve got the general idea. Your base is under attack from giant laser-spitting camels and you have to take them down by blasting them into oblivion. Unfortunately, the camels also have shields, so they are going to take a lot of hits before they finally go down. If any of the camels reach your base, it’s game over, man.
The first thing that impressed about AMC was the graphics and animation which were unlike anything I had ever seen before. To someone used to the relatively small graphics of Space Invaders or Pac-Man, they were absolutely huge. And whilst the walking animation of the camels might look rather crude today, back in 1983 it made my jaw drop. The fact that you were fighting camels rather than aliens also gave the game a slightly surreal look and feel, so different from anything I’d encountered before.
When it came to gameplay, AMC was a lot of fun to play, whilst offering up a fair old challenge. There were so many ways to play the game. Should you focus on taking down a single camel at a time, or weaken the shield on several and then return to finish them off? Should you take out the ones closest to your base first, or work backwards? Whatever tactic you selected, as the beasts got closer to your base, so the tension increased.
Attack of the Mutant Camels might not have been the most demanding or original game in the world (it was essentially a shoot em up), but it oozed fun in gameplay terms. The controls were tight and responsive with a great use of real physics (if you were hurtling at full speed in one direction, it took a while before you were able to stop and turn the opposite way), the action was frantic and non-stop and there was just tremendous fun to be had from blasting away. Taking down a single camel felt like a massive achievement, never mind clearing a level.
I couldn’t have known it at the time, but the decision to buy AMC was to start a long term appreciation of Llamasoft games. I bought multiple titles of theirs on my C64 (Hovver Bovver, Gridrunner) and still love their games today (check out the superb Gridrunner remake for iOS devices or the sublime TxK on the Vita). Whilst not every game from Llamasoft was my cup of tea, it taught me that from an early age there really was no other software house could touch them when it came to shoot em ups. The name Llamasoft on a cassette cover was a guarantee that you would at least get something very different to anything else on the market.