GAMESAUTEURS DE JEUX ★ GARGOYLE GAMES 1984 ★

Gargoyle Games 1984 (Greg Follis / Roy Carter)GARGOYLE GAMES SOFTOGRAPHIE
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Celtic rangers

John Cook delves into Celtic myth with Gargoyle Games

It never rains in Southern California, but 5000 miles away in Dudley it does; in fact it buckets down incessantly with a vengeance. However, this West Midlands town, complete with ruined castle and zoological gardens (both world famous in Dudley, according to Jasper Carrot) may soon become a place of pilgrimage for computer adventurers, as it is the home of Gargoyle Games, producer of Tir Na Nog, arguably one of the top ten Spectrum games this year — certainly in quality and, if there is any justice in this world, sales too.

Gargoyle Games is not a household name. They are not an offshoot of a megazorporation nor are they your common or garden teenage geniuses who, whilst taking a break from unified Field theory at university, taught themselves Z80 machine code and BMX racing. The truth is quite different

In fact, Gargoyle was formed less than a year ago, by two collegues, Greg Follis and Roy Carter, who, after a combined total of almost 30 years experience in commercial programming techniques, decided to write games for home computers.

Gargoyle needed some marketing expertise so Greg and Roy enlisted an old friend, Ted Heathcote, whose experience, surprisingly enough, was in running a clothing business. "Menswear is really very similar to software," he told me, and while 1 have yet to be seen sporting matching cassette box and tie, Tir Na Nog seems to be doing well under his guidance.

I asked the others a little about their computing backgrounds, neither providing the expected answers. Greg shrugged, -Well, after getting chucked out of Art School I did loads of jobs, and seemed to end up in computers." Roy continued, "I was working as a computer operator in a company, and the programmer left. I think they took me on because I was cheap!"

Gargoyle's first release, in April of this year, was Ad Astra, an entertaining little space wars shoot-em-up. Whilst this program was never going to change the world, it attracted something of a cult following, and was successful enough to encourage them to invest further time and effort in the next program, which turned out to be TNN.

For the uninitiated, Tir Na Nog is based on the exploits of a Celtic hero, Cuchulainn, and his deeds in the ancient otherworld Tir Na Nog, which means "Land of Youth', his task being to unite the four parts of the Seal of Calum The game oozes class, with outstanding graphic animation, enigmatic puzzles and a genuine atmosphere of mystery and adventure. 

Greg, who designed TNN, told me something about the original idea. "The Celtic myths have a great feel to them," he commented, "and no-one has covered them before."

The program comes with a booklet containing extracts from the Leabhar Glao-dhach, the Book of Tears, which are themselves very evocative. Greg looked a bit sheepish, "We wrote those extracts ourselves." he admitted. "There is in fact no such book... but it's a bit difficult to tell that to someone who's just spent hours in a library looking for it."

Perhaps the most striking feature of the game, initially, is the animation of the central character. Cuchulainn strolls around, hair waving behind him, in a most convincing fashion. How is it done? The scrolling is done off-screen, then put on screen, phased between interupts," explained Roy. Likewise the many frames for Cuchulainn, using a mask and overlay so you can't see through him. Using the mask only has the effect of making him look invisible... which is essential for completing the main quest.

I asked how long it took, real-time, to complete the game. "Don't ask me... I keep getting lost," said Roy... this may explain why it is he who does most of the actual programming. "In the final phase of testing though, Greg went through the whole quest, and it took him six hours." That's with knowing where everything is and what everything does! Bearing this in mind, they expect months to pass before a correct solution is found...

TNN is certainly big, but how big? Greg grinned. "About 3000 miles worth of road," he answered, "but to store it as pure map would take up far too much memory, so what we do is store a template of the area, and specify the appropriate alterations as you move along."
I've been having a little trouble with TNN so I ventured a few specific questions of my own, like how do you kill'Sidhe. "You must carry at least two weapons, and thrust with one of them," came the answer.

Also, what does the face in the Hunters'Cave actually say? Certainly not what is shown printed on screen. Gargoyle Games collectively smirked. "You'll have to work that one out for yourself," I was told. Lip readers drop me a line. "We're thinking of producing a screen sized animation synchronised with a sound output so it talks to you." continued Greg. "It links in with some of the research we've done on Artificial Intelligence...it would be programmed to argue with you." That's for the future though, what's coming up next?

"There's the Commodore 64 version of TNN; that should be coming out after Christmas; we're also considering an Amstrad conversion. Then there's the pre-quel to TNN, set in the land of the living this time in a city. This will limit the size of the game, so we have more space for anima-tions...which we think we are getting pretty good at:" After that? "We're trying to develop a game on The Hunting of the Snark, by Lewis Carrol, if we can get the rights. It'll be a three times removed lateral thinking adventure," he added with relish.

"What we are tying to do is to make games where you can create your own sub-plots within the adventure," remarked Roy. "We've had phone calls from people that have hidden items within the game, save it. then challenge their friends to find them." "As if the original wasn't hard enough.
Further into the future, the team intends to move into small business software, albeit under a different name. "I think the arrival of home micros has removed the fear from computers," said Greg. "In five years time, all the kids who are using computers at school now will be at work, and in business. There's a lack of the kind of good software for small companies, so we aim to write it."
You know, if Gargoyle keep this up, the castle and the zoo are in for some pretty heavy competition in Dudley.

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L'Amstrad CPC est une machine 8 bits à base d'un Z80 à 4MHz. Le premier de la gamme fut le CPC 464 en 1984, équipé d'un lecteur de cassettes intégré il se plaçait en concurrent  du Commodore C64 beaucoup plus compliqué à utiliser et plus cher. Ce fut un réel succès et sorti cette même années le CPC 664 équipé d'un lecteur de disquettes trois pouces intégré. Sa vie fut de courte durée puisqu'en 1985 il fut remplacé par le CPC 6128 qui était plus compact, plus soigné et surtout qui avait 128Ko de RAM au lieu de 64Ko.