UK Games Industry: Beyond Software

Landscaping Genius

Whilst the first few titles were being released, Mike Singleton was busy working away on the game that would make a huge impression upon its eventual release. Mike’s epic game ‘The Lords of Midnight’ for the 48k Spectrum was an astonishing technical achievement and was also an incredibly atmospheric and absorbing game in its own right. There simply was no other game like it at the time. Starting off with a technique for generating a realistic looking pseudo 3D landscape fast, Mike had then built around it an epic fantasy style strategy game which was heavily influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’.

The story of Luxor the Moon Prince, his son Morkin, Rorthron the Wise and Corleth the Fey’s battle against Doomdark instantly became a huge hit on the Spectrum, and deservedly so. It raised Beyond’s profile again and set the bar for all the other Beyond releases that were to follow it. Reviews were universal in their praise, and the game won a slew of awards.

Jealousy

Once Beyond tasted some success, it didn’t take long for jealous accusations to emerge, casting aspersions on the integrity of EMAP magazines’ reviews and coverage of Beyond’s titles; something that Terry Pratt was more than aware of back when Beyond was being set up.

“It was one of my concerns back then that I didn’t want any favouritism and I insisted that the magazine editors at EMAP were free to give Beyond a hard time. I honestly believe that the reviews we got were genuine, but where we really suffered was in the advertising department because we never got good positions. I had constant stand-up rows with the Advertising Manager about that, despite the fact that we were paying our way (buying advertising space).”

Spies like US

Terry Pratt made a decision very early on to source some ‘ready made’ games from the United States to give Beyond a larger catalogue of titles. Beyond therefore licensed a handful of Commodore 64 titles for publication in the UK via ‘The International Computer Group’ agency, including MyChess II, Mr Robot and his Robot Factory, and Ankh from Datamost.

“We nearly licensed Cohen’s Towers from Datamost as well”, remembers Simon Goodwin, “but we didn’t take that option up in the end for reasons I now can’t recall.”

The best of the bunch from the US was undoubtedly Spy vs Spy, licensed from New York-based software publisher and developer, First Star. At the time Beyond took the option on Spy vs Spy, UK publisher Statesoft were already distributing a number of other First Star titles like Astro Crash and Flip and Flop. Statesoft’s John Fletcher explained at the time that “…First Star did offer us Spy vs Spy, and while we considered it, we didn’t feel we could do justice to it.”

Based upon a comic strip from the satirical US magazine MAD, the Spy vs Spy game involved two spies (Black and White) who had to explore a foreign embassy in a race against the clock. The ultimate goal was to grab a Top Secret briefcase and be the first to escape via an airplane on the roof.

The game featured a split screen view for both spies (using Simulvision!), and the game could be played simultaneously (using Simulplay!) between two players – or one player against the computer – who would set traps for each other, fight when in the same room and generally get in each other’s way.

“I thought that Spy vs Spy was an absolutely stunning game” says Terry, “but unfortunately it was just too complex a marketing concept for us to successfully get it across. I particularly remember sitting in a room full of youngsters who just couldn’t get the hang of it at all.”

Despite these reservations, Spy vs Spy met with critical success when Beyond released it for the Commodore 64 in 1984. Anthony Taglione and Malcolm Hellon (who worked for Incentive Software) were sub-contracted by Beyond under their ‘Tag and the Kid’ moniker to write the Spectrum conversion, which was released the following year.

Simon fondly recalls a particularly funny problem during development on the Spy vs Spy conversion to the Spectrum.

“I still remember some of the early code tests when one of the spies went bonkers and started animating like a frantic Harry Worth, running around with both arms and legs in the air at the same time!”

The Spectrum conversion was very well received, and in many ways was actually closer to the source material, retaining the black & white look of the comic strip compared to the Commodore 64 original.

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