Thursday, 7 January 2010

One Man and his Droid

Commodore 64 time. It pushed its competition into near-bankruptcy, it had a sound chip that still manages to get used in dance tracks today, and it was superior to all other home computers at the time in almost every way. It also had a selection of games that sold for as little as £1.99, which is a bit mad when you consider these days it can be £20, £30, £40 or more for something fresh.

Here's two pounds worth of game - One Man and his Droid, released in 1985 by Mastertronic (who would later go on to successfully distribute the Sega Master System in Europe before being bought out and merged into Sega). Now strictly speaking this wasn't a C64 exclusive - ports appeared on the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Atari 800 and the elusive Commodore 16, but it's the Commodore 64 version that gets the spotlight because like in most cases, it has the best music.

I came across this game accidentally the other day while browsing YouTube of all places. It's theme tune is recognised by C64 fans all over the globe, despite being limited for many years within UK shores, and even extreme British video game fans such as myself hadn't heard of it. I thought I'd give it a go just to see what all the fuss was about, and because it gave me an excuse to try out Commodore 64 emulation (which turns out to be quite awkward with strange key setups and screenshot-stopping mechanisms). As it turns out I could have booted up any version since they all more-or-less look and play identically.

Amazingly it's the ZX Spectrum version that looks the nicest this time around, mostly because of its bright colours (and that's saying something - the Spectrum usually got the worst version of the bunch). There's also a ZX Spectrum version of the game that involves pirates and spray cans, but word on the street is the code was stolen. A bit low to steal the code from a mid-80s Spectrum game that could be bought with loose change, but who am I to say how to live your life. The Atari 800 version is notable as well, because unlike the others it gives the animals more than one colour at the expense of a lower resolution.

The basic idea is to heard various animals into cages within a set time limit, though because it has a futuristic setting you're a droid instead of a dog, and you move strange patterns of pixels into gaps in the walls. There are two parts to each level, the first being somewhat similar to Frogger, finding gaps in lines of these strange moving animal things as you attempt to travel upwards. If you hang around too much or get stuck you're pushed to the floor, or to the sides... which push you to the floor. They say with older computer and video games you have to use a lot of imagination to fill in for where the hardware can't, but I'm having a hard time doing that since I've never seen a field with extremely powerful conveyor belts at both sides, or one as densely populated as this. Apparently it can become ridiculously difficult in the later stages, so if you're up for a challenge, this could be your thing.

The second part involves herding, and this part is okay, if a little dull. There's seven animal things running about in a closed off area and you've got to block routes to get them into a holding pen of sorts. A bit tedious, but for the hardware there's not really any other way it could have been done. In both sections your little droid can float about, tunnel underground in certain areas, and do some other things, but as there's no room for a map it's also quite easy to get lost.

The game's perspective is very similar to the likes of Boulder Dash, but the opposite way around. Instead of the main character being able to go where he pleases and gravity affecting the boulders, in One Man and his Droid, the gravity only seems to affect you, while the animals and obstacles are allowed to float around without trouble in a sense makes no environment. You can't die in the game, but you can run out of time, and this can be an issue later on when things start getting harder.

Overall it's not a particularly bad game, especially considering the hardware it was designed for, but it's not without its fair share of problems and you'd have a lot of difficulty marketing it to the computer user of today. But I suppose you can't really complain about a cheaply made game retailing for the price of two big Macs, and you just have to wonder how Nintendo could justify producing games that aren't much better for significantly more money. The concept of herding sheep in a video game seems a bit lame by today's standards but don't forget, this was the mid-1980s, before any of the platform, RPG, FPS and RTS genres had been defined properly, and people weren't afraid to experiment with new ideas. Ideas that would later inspire other Commodore owners to write software in their spare time. Don't get that so much with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

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