MINTER - Hairy, freaky, hilarious, unorthodox, irreverent, controversial. That’s JEFF MINTER, creator
of the world’s most bizarre computer games, and now regular Zzap columnist.
Miss him at your peril.
‘You do get the odd irritating verminous brat who SELLS copied games to his classmates’
GREETINGS, fellow bit-blasters and megazappers! In these articles I shall be attempting to give my view of what’s happening in the games scene. I am somewhat lucky to be in the unique position of owning a software house and at the same time being a keen games player and programmer. Hopefully I won’t seem too biased; I love a really good game no matter who wrote it, and I like to see innovation and clever design.
Firstly I’ll tackle some of the problems currently upsetting the software scene. Lots of companies are finding the market very unresponsive at the moment, and there have been some spectacular crashes. Many people are ranting on about the great demon Piracy, claiming that it will be the ruin of us all. In my opinion, piracy is the least of their problems....
Granted, commercial pirates are a nuisance and should be stopped, by finding and busting them as soon as possible. However, all the current effort is being put into anticopying devices and weird signals on tapes to prevent audio copy. This is fairly futile, since all that happens is that the ‘crackers’, people whose hobby is breaking protection systems, bust into your code and make an unprotected copy, which then circulates as usual.
True commercial pirates can dupe anything they get hold of, funny signals notwithstanding. Kids copying games amongst themselves will never harm the industry; we all copy music albums, but rock stars still get rich. You do get the odd irritating verminous brat who SELLS copied games to his classmates; such people should be stomped by their teachers or headmaster.
Keen gamers aren’t usually content with pirate copies anyway. I have many Floyd and Genesis tapes, all originals. If a new album is released by Genesis, I’ll buy it straight away rather than wait to get a copy off a mate. In gaming, as in music, I have found that if you’re really into someone’s games or a particular group, you’d rather collect original tapes than copies. Stuff you have on pirate copies is usually stuff you wouldn’t have bought anyway. Sometimes it even works the other way; you’ll get a copy of a game, find it to be good, and buy the later releases of the same author.
Far better than wasting time on fancy protection (which is extremely annoying for those owning disk drives and wishing to
transfer stuff to disk) is to make games that are enjoyable, complex and with wellwritten and extensive instructions, prefer. ably in a little booklet. People will want to have the original instructions and package if they are attractively done.
It helps if software houses try to develop an individual style, too. Part of the reason for my own success is that my games are distinctive. You can tell a Llamasoft game by just one glance at the screen. Most of the games around today can only be recognised by looking for the company logo on the title screen. People can’t be expetted to be loyal to a software house if releases from the company are devoid of an individual style and just like releases from all the other houses. When Iwrite a game, I’m writing for those people who like my game style; I’m not too bothered if some people don’t go for it. I’m happy to satisfy the Llama fans, who tend to be keen and enthusiastic gamers.
Piracy is not the main hassle in the industry at all. Perhaps the biggest problem in the industry today is that of DISTRIBUTORS WHICH DON’T DISTRIBUTE. They virtually killed my own Ancipital game. I made all the right moves; created an original and challenging game, got it reviewed (PCG Game of the Month in the same month as release), nicely packaged and duplicated. Then the major distributors didn’t take it. I still get letters and ‘phone calls from people just trying to buy a copy of Ancipital. The demand is there, the game is there, but there is a faulty link. The chain stores and the distributors which supply them.
‘Chain stores are the wrong medium for the sale of computer software’
The more you look at it, the crazier the situation seems. Automata’s Deus ex Machina was a bold experimental step, and was voted CTA Game of the Year. The distributors barely touched it, and the game sold less than it deserved to. Christian Penfold was justifiably bitter about it when he went to collect his award. Our own Psychedelia is apparently just too original for some distributors; if their sinister ‘selection boards’ can’t categorise it neatly into arcade, adventure etc., then you’re stuck mate. People may want the game but if they can’t buy it, what can they do?
For a start, as currently managed, chain stores are the wrong medium for the sale of computer software. They sell it like they’d sell bog roll: plunk it on the shelves and hope it moves. You have to run it more like a good record department. I can go into Smiths and ask for ‘A Nice Pair’ by Pink Floyd. If they haven’t got it they’ll order it for me. It should be like that for software, too: if you could order ‘Cippy or Deus or Psy it wouldn’t really matter if they weren’t in stock the day you went in.
Unfortunately, distributors supplying the stores can ‘play God’. If the guy looking ata game you’ve sent in to show the distributors has a headache one morning, or can’t get behind your game, then the distributors won’t buy. NOBODY should have this power of absolute veto. What do these selection people know aboUt gaming anyway? Who are THEY to say whether or not people can play my games? Just because I don’t place 8 zillion full-page adverts of purest hype, does that mean my game won’t be allowed a chance?
That’s the way it is at the moment. The distributors are hype and profit oriented, and not really interested in allowing original stuff the exposure it deserves. They’d rather take re-runs of the old formulas (laddersand-platforms, etc) backed by colossal hype, than promote truly innovative stuff like Deus and Psy.
If allowed to continue in this manner the industry will stagnate, new ideas stifled under a tide of multi-screen ladders-andplatforms games, endless hordes of arcadeadventures with 16 zillion rooms each, and huge quantities of pretty, pretty boring American imports.
Don’t let it happen! We can do our own small bit to try to avert this crippling blight on the industry.
DON’T USE CHAIN STORES. Find a specialist computer shop. They’re usually knowledgeable, willing to order stuff specially if it’s out of stock, and often willing to let you try before you buy.
HASSLE THE DISTRIBUTORS DIRECTLY. If they’re preventing you getting something you’re interested in, write and tell them just what you think.
Software houses too: they can do something, i.e.
DEVELOP AN INDIVIDUAL HOUSE STYLE: something for people to follow keenly.
OFFER MAIL ORDER IF NECESSARY. It’s a pain but until we get the distributors sorted, it’s the only way to ensure availability.
PUT STUFF IN FOR REVIEW. The distributors look pretty silly when stuff they’ve not distributed properly gets rave reviews (like Psy) or wins awards (like Deus).
Anyway, enuff moaning. Things can and will get better. Keep on zapping’em. The game which has most impressed the Yak this month has to be Realtime’s 3D Starstrike on the Speccy, an extremely good version of the Star Wars arcade game, and I should know, I’ve got one! An astonishing bit of Speccy programming, even sceptical Commodore owners ought to like this one.
Until next time, kosmick good vibes to you all from the Hairy One. . . .