It all happened at the Personal Computer World Show. It almost happened at the Newsfield stand, where Mr Urquart downed a few cans of the complimentary lager we had in store for chums. But happen it did. Somewhere, at the PCW Show, on the Saturday, an agreement was signed between Mike Baxter (a Big Cheese at Solutions PR), Christian Urquart and Mike Smith (programmers).
Thus was a new software company by the name of Alphabatim born. Christian, Mike and and Mike came to Ludlow the other day, to show us how work was progressing on Robot Messiah. This is what we saw...
By the time you read this, what with the delay involved in typesetting and printing, Alphabatim’s first game should be on the streets. When we saw Robot Messiah most of the screens had been committed to Spectrum memory and Microdrive cartridge, the animation sequence for the main character had been finished and the game designed — but the finished game was still a couple of weeks away.
Robot Messiah is an arcade adventure which stars a worker robot by the name of Sid. Sid’s mission in life is to save the downtrodden worker robot race on an android-run planet from an eternity of slavery.
Eons ago, the planet was visited by humans who designed and built a robot mining operation. Androids — with human traits such as ambition, determination and greed — were put in charge of the worker robots which actually did the mining. The humans left — and never came back. But the worker robots continue to labour in the catacombs, driven on mercilessly by the android race of robots, forced to continue mining the rare minerals contained in the planet’s crust. The androids merely pile up these minerals on the planet’s surface, using them for decorative purposes.
Conditions in the mines are horrific. The worker robots live and toil in an environment full of acidic dust which attacks their circuits and bodyshells, corroding and damaging them beyond repair. Driven on by unpleasant gnome creatures, worker robots do not survive very long in the mines. They slow down progressively, finally crumbling into dust which is trodden underfoot by their replacements, sent in by the androids.
A classic case of slavery. This state of affairs could have continued for eternity, but one android, amongst all the rest, was different — Socrates. Socrates believed that all robots, worker and android, were built equal and said so. This did not go down well with the other androids, who saw revolution on the horizon... so they punished Socrates by reprogramming him and sending him to the mines as a worker robot. So that he should suffer, it seems they only reprogrammed him partially — leaving elements of his original persona intact.
For many years Socrates labours in the mines, and gradually his dream of liberating the workers from their pointless labours fades. The acid dust takes its toll on his components. He is on the point of giving in, and allowing his lifeforce to ebb. Then news of Sid, a worker robot who speaks of overthrowing the androids and preaches rebellion reaches the expiring Socrates. Forcing his circuits to remain active, Socrates finds Sid and tells him that beyond the mines a greater hell can be found — a maze of tunnels and caves which contains a sinister test centre. Scattered around this complex are three fragments of program which, if collected and assembled together, could be used to reprogram a worker robot and convert him to an android.
The ailing Socrates convinces Sid that salvation for the worker robots is attainable. Socrates finally allows himself to cease to be, once he has passed on the secret of the fragmented program, and starts to crumble into dust. Sid, however, sets out on his quest... to find the elements of the program that will allow him to become an android and save the slaves. He is to be the Robot Messiah.
You control the Saviour of the Robot Race in the game — who is a strange looking figure. At first glance Sid looks rather like a cross between a Woodentop and a Flowerpot Man! That’s not being rude... he just moves in a rather odd way. When he jumps, instead of the more usual sproing from a standing start seen in jumping games, Sid sort of coils himself up, bending down, leaning his chest forwards and swinging his arms behind his back before unwinding like a spring and leaping. It’s really quite a neat bit of animation — very endearing.
As in most multi-screen arcade adventures, the rooms are full of rampaging nasties which Sid will have to shoot or avoid. And there are puzzles to solve and articles to collect on the way to finding the three program segments which will spell ultimate liberation for the workers.
Shuffling through his box of Microdrive cartridges, Christian loaded screen after screen into the Spectrum. “Look at that palm tree”, Mr Smith chipped in, “isn’t it great? We were wondering if we could put a coconut in there, so it could fall on Sid’s head...” Pointing out the yellow slave robots, mentioning the range of objects that would be lying round in the caverns, Mr Urquart explained how the blue gnome in the game was going to be ‘fairly intelligent’ and hunt Sid down. All the while, Sid stumped round the few locations that were ready for him, and sproinged across gaps in the floor and leaped onto platform.
A very good looking game indeed, this one. This year, there could be another Christmas hit programmed by Christian Urquart... a bit different from the last one, Daley Thompson’s Decathlon. We’ll be reviewing the full game next issue. Promise.