Sorry that it’s a bit of a Dare-fest round here at the moment, just in a comfort read mode for some reason.

art by Martin Wheeler, pic from ZX Art.

Anyway. One of my more profound early (earlier?) inspirations lies with Martin Wheeler’s art for Dan Dare II. Both of the Gang Of Five Speccy Dare games are great (Probe’s entry, not so much) but gosh, the tile work in Dan Dare II still kind of blows me away. It’s up there with the more recent Vallation as one of the best examples of Speccy tile art.

Look at this! What an amazing thing to wring out of a Speccy. The colours! Just wow stuff still for me.

art by Martin Wheeler, screen from ZX Art.

Martin’s still plugging away at games, their latest is Separation for PSVR. Sadly, I can’t play it due to my sore noggin not really being receptive to weighty things being placed on it. It does look gorgeous though.

Scan from Spectrum Computing

Had cause to remember Avalon a day or so back and yeah, I remember the cover art/advert being a tad more imposing than it is. Plus, there’s not much to say about the nuddy fairy beyond “that’s well dodge”. Because it is well dodge.

I’m still in awe of Steve Turner all these years later and Avalon is just one of many reasons for that. It’s one of a special few games that through some exceptionally smart sleight of hand gave the impression it was so much more, so much deeper, than it was.

That’s not to underestimate how much was crammed into the thing or to do it down, on the contrary – it’s to point at the sheer skill involved in making an already pretty hefty game feel even more.

It’s a magic (yes, magic) that’s worked on so many different fronts! The wonderfully large player character, Maroc, who floats ethereally around the screen, bouncing against walls and obstacles rather than the usual few frames of walking animation. The sparse landscapes, enough to paint an image of a forest or a dungeon and to leave the rest to the imagination. That the player controls Maroc through the use of a ‘MOVE’ spell, just one of a number of spells, does wonders in selling the whole controlling a projection of Maroc lark.

It’s an especially clever design. Everything is in service to selling the whole wizard thing and it works a treat. An early fantasy exploration game that took familiar videogame parts and sewed them to create something that still feels kinda special 40 or so years later.

It’s a remarkable thing indeed and hard to believe it came so early in the lifespan of the Spectrum. 1984! Games were still in short trousers then! Ridiculous! But brilliant. Very very brilliant.

There’s a very particular genre of ZX Spectrum maze games where you travel room to room, exploring a pretty reasonably sized map and as you roam, enemies spawn in at random. I mention this only because it remains my favourite lost genre of videogame.

There’s similarities to a bundle of roguelite games (I really dislike the wooly, almost meaningless, taxonomy here but what can you do?) and to top down 8-bit RPGs but the focus isn’t on puzzling or story, it’s running from room to room and doing a bit of dodging or shooting. The larger goal is invariably collect 5 thingies or something, where the main obstacle keeping the player from their goal is just finding their way to the thingies without snuffing it.

They’re kinda simple but the pleasure for me is in both learning to navigate the twists and turns of the map and the speed you flit through them. It really appeals to my ADD brain, you know?

courtesy of RZX Archive

You’re never lingering in one room for more than an incredibly short while. There’s a possibility of getting held up shooting stuff but really that’s only ever momentary.

Dominic Wood’s Project Future is probably my favourite of them all (though Steve Crow’s homage to Ultimate’s Atic Atac, Wizards Lair, comes an incredibly close second place).

I’m an absolute sucker for chunky cartoon graphics, I’d sooner be running through a spaceship than a forest or whatever and I like games to use all the colours. Project Future is all that.

I’ve also a soft spot for its use of the Spectrum’s FLASH command to liven up backgrounds a tad and the enemy death animation that mimics a part of a Vidkidz style sprite explosion is, obviously, right up my street. I enjoy that the map is laid out to approximate the floor plan of a spaceship.

Really though, it’s the little bubbley lead character that is Space Cadet Farley with their massive helmet that got me first. Readers, I would marry them and we could both go for space jaunts in our space C5 and everything would be wonderful forever.

As long as there’s a maze, mind. Otherwise the deal is off.

Beaver Bob In Dam Trouble is my PT, or my Silent Hills if you prefer. Except instead of a playable advert, there’s only a magazine advert and a loading screen designed by someone else.

To be fair, it is a really good loading screen.

pic from The Gremlin Graphics Archive.

I have no idea what Beaver Bob was ever supposed to be either. You know as much as I do. Younger me was sold from the moment they saw the magazine advert regardless.

A game about a beaver? I’m there for that. It might have some log chopping? Oh yes. Please. Beavers and logs sounds great.

I bet Beaver Bob would be amazing too. I can say that because it never launched, maybe never existed. It’s preserved forever in that moment when I first saw the advert, preserved forever in the thoughts of all the things it could be. All the guesses, all the hopes, all the beavers.

It’s the industry’s open secret that more games get some way to existing than the public ever see. Sometimes those games seep through into the gaming conciousness. Maybe it’s an announcement, a tweet, a rumour or a trailer released before things happen. Things happen a lot to games.

They’re always the best games too. You just know they play fantastic, they look fantastic. There’s no day 1 patches, no microtransactions, no bugs.

Just a beaver and their logs, happily being the best game that never was for the best part of 40 years.