I was wondering what to write about next when, whilst reading a friend’s blog about board gaming, I idly followed a link to an online ZX Spectrum emulator (the point of this completely eludes me – I have three Speccy emulators on this PC which is, to be honest, three more than most people would ever want) and idly scrolled through the list of games available before settling on Virgin Games’ Dan Dare license from 1986.
Then it struck me – a series of articles about those first Dan Dare games.
Dan Dare, for those who don’t know, is a British sci-fi comic book character (kind of like Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon, only with tea and crumpets) who spent his time fighting aliens from Venus called “treens” assisted by his plucky Lancastrian sidekick Digby. A game based on Dan Dare (called Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future) was released by Virgin Games for all the major home computer formats in 1986 – ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC. Nothing unusual about that, of course, licensed games were a big thing at the time. What’s interesting about this game, though, is that it was noticeably different game on each format. In fact, in the case of the Commodore release, it was a different genre.
This kind of thing still happens to some extent – witness the wildly different “cut down” or “re-imagined” versions of next Gen console or PC games converted to relatively underpowered handhelds, for instance – but the idea of a game (and a licensed game at that) being developed separately and differently on three machines whose abilities weren’t all that different and were more than capable of playing the same kind of game is rather odd. Different times, folks, different times.
Dan Dare spawned two sequels – predictably called Dan Dare II and Dan Dare 3. By the time these games were released, the usual conformity had returned and the different platforms basically got the same game. Whatever crazy notion or sheer neglect had lead to Virgin allowing three distinct versions of the Dare licensed game to be released on separate formats had been righted (or, perhaps, wronged).
What I’ll be doing is playing each conversion for an hour or so and then writing what I think of them, what works and what doesn’t and, most importantly, which platform had the best Dan Dare game. I’m going to be utterly non-partisan about this, incidentally, I’ll have to beat down my childhood-nostalgia-based prejudices. The only ones I ever played in the heyday of 8-bit machines was the Spectrum version and (very briefly) the Amstrad CPC version (on a green monitor, I seem to recall, naff-tastic!) but I’ll be trying to approach them as-new, sternly assessing each and every aspect of gameplay like a humourless government inspector with his clipboard and toothbrush moustache, eventually sticking a “best Dare” rosette to one of them whilst a crowd stands and applauds. Let’s see what one it’s going to be shall we? I almost can’t wait!