LLOYD MANGRAM travels to the wilds of Leicestershire and discovers a Killer Kong on the loose in the quiet town of BLABY.
When you arrive at its small centre, the town of Blaby seems to be little more than an undistinguished suburb of Leicester. Yet at the very centre, on a corner of the crossroads, is a white-fronted shop bearing the legend Blaby Video and Computer Games. Outside it all looks respectable. Inside is another world, for it is from this building that Killer Kong and Barmy Burgers were released on an unsuspecting world.
As you pass through the door, the everyday noises of traffic and chattering pedestrians are replaced by the beeps and gurgles of computer games. One half of the shop is all video, the back half is given over to games for a wide variety of computers. It’s hard to distinguish between customer and sales lads, since both appear to crowd onto the counter to get a better look at the screens.
In a remarkably tidy office behind this cacophony of sound and colour, sits the warden of this particular asylum, Mr John Bailiss. Cassette inlay cards cover the walls like the photos of film stars in a producer’s Hollywood office. In a sense these cartoon characters are the stars, High Rise Harry, Do Do (and the Snow Bees), the Kosmic Pirate, all look down on me as I find a place to sit amid the heaps of cassette boxes. John sweeps them aside for me and a seat becomes visible.
‘We devote all the space here to the shop, that’s where the work gets done,’ he tells me without a trace of apology in his voice.
Blaby Computer Games came into existence in January 1983 when John Bailiss, who already owned and ran a successful video business, realised the potential of computers, especially the ZX Spectrum. At the time there were few other companies in the field, producing games for the Spectrum, and it seemed like a good idea. Two enthusiasts, 16-year-old Gary Sewell and Gary Casewell submitted their ideas for John to market, and the result was three games, Gold Digger, Confusion and the popular Chopper Rescue.
‘Admittedly it was the wrong time of the year as the summer was nearly upon us,’ he says, looking back on the worst year yet for computer business. Hot and long summers are always bad for software.
But with a further six games on the verge of completion the young company ploughed through the holiday period. ‘We placed advertisements in all the popular computing magazines throughout the summer months and soon enquiries started to come in from home and abroad.’
Games available from Blaby
Do Do (and the Snow Bees)
High Rise Harry
Blaby was one of the first software producers, to my knowledge, to make up a video cassette with all the games being played on it. The video was well produced, showed the games, sheet by sheet, very well and above all, allowed the sound to be heard at volume. On seeing this video for the first time I was astonished at the graphics, sound and games. There seemed to be so many and yet they were not appearing in any top selling charts. In the space of only a few months that has all changed.
‘Our games are now produced under license in Iceland, Denmark, Spain and Holland,’ John says with evident satisfaction. ‘And Barmy Burgers has just been accepted by W H Smith. We hope it’s the first of many of our games.’
Blaby now has a small distribution network throughout the UK and mail order is taken care of from their shop.
The first serious hint of interest from the home market came at the 8th ZX Micro Fair at Alexandra Palace towards the end of the summer holidays, when over 7,000 people crammed into the sweltering heat of the plastic pavilion in one day. Blaby had a large stand, packed with screens showing the various games. It was hard to move within the exhibition area, but around the Blaby stand it was impossible. Barmy Burgers and Killer Kong were going through their paces non-stop.
‘That was a huge success,’ John reflects happily. ‘We had lots of orders and enquiries from home and overseas.’ It was also fulfilment because in one place the public were echoing the praise of several good reviews for the games. In my humble opinion, Barmy Burgers is as good as its arcade counterpart, better than the Atari version, while Killer Kong is undoubtedly the best Kong game for the Spectrum. High Rise Harry is an amusing and very difficult painter game, and an earlier success, Chopper Rescue is still among the most difficult games available in Spectrum software.
‘New games are always in the pipeline. We work very closely with the team of programmers, some of whom live locally. In fact, they sometimes work in the shop behind the sales counter.’ Or even on the sales counter if it’s crowded, I remark.
The latest Blaby games are Gotcha and Pluggit. Gotcha!, a cops and robbers game is described as extremely tricky and not for beginners, and Pluggit has a lost IC chip trying to get back to his socket deep inside ‘Uncle Clive’s’ computer. (Both games are reviewed in this issue). The exploits of robber Ernie and the IC chip proved very popular with the crowds at the 9th ZX Microfair in December.
The company is now busy at work on new games for early this year and John tells me that before long their programs will be available on micro drive and ROM cartridges.
Meanwhile, all attempts to cage the Killer Kong appear to have failed — it’s eating all those Barmy Burgers that drive him wild. He’ll be content with nothing less than world domination of the Spectrum software market and he seems to be dragging the willing Blaby games along with him.
Barmy Burgers is available at W.H.Smith. All games may be purchased from Blaby Games, Crossways House, Lutterworth Road, Blaby, Leicester, or from Crash Micro Mail Order and many other computer outlets.