|★ AMSTRAD CPC ★ SOFTOGRAPHIE ★ INCENTIVE SOFTWARE ★|
|Info - Incentive Software|
Postcards to Egypt
Simon Rockman talks to Incentive about its programs, including the latest Freescape saga, Total Eclipse. He sphinx it is going to be mega
IAN Andrew has always been a games freak. When he was little he made wooden pin tables with proper flippers and plungers. But it was another of his hobbies that first set him up in business, postage stamps. Or to be more precise, postage stamps and postcards.
He set up a company called I. Andrew Cards in 1978, but the grind of buying and selling stamps and postcards soon killed his enthusiasm for the hobby. So he bought a Sinclair ZX81 as a toy. It cost £79.95 from an advertisement in the Daily Mail. With his first hobby now his business, lan's new computing hobby captured his interest and when it was launched in 1982, he ordered a 16k Spectrum.
Writing software appealed to Ian, he found it more creative than buying and selling postcards. His first commercial program was Mined Out for Quicksilva. This was very successful, and was converted to several formats including the Lynx, Oric and Dragon, some of the conversions being handled by his brother, Chris.
Some software houses draw storyboards. Ian Andrwew plays with Lego >>
Having decided that software was the way to go, Ian sold what he had built up to be Britain's number one postcard business. The shop was in London Road, Reading. When the postcards went the shop became devoted to lan's new Spectrum game, Splat! The company name Incentive was chosen to reflect the £500 prize that was offered for a high score at the game. The London Road shop had a huge Splat! poster in the window, the game was the only thing the place sold. It was a success, and was converted first to the Commodore 64 and then to the CPC, where it hid its light under the Amsoft bushel.
No company can survive on just one product, so Incentive widened its horizons. The company dabbled with adventures such as The Mountains of Ket, a government management game called 1984 and Millionaire, a mediocre strategy game.
It was then that Ian went back to the thing he was good at. Innovation.
Incentive took the rights to convert the game Moon Cresta. With modern companies snapping up arcade games nowadays before they have hit the arcades, Incentive was something of a trend setter, even if the team did not start work on the game until five years after the arcade machine swallowed its first hundred yen. The Amstrad version of Moon Cresta was particularly clever, splitting the screen mode for the score, and stretching the display to emulate the arcade machine - which had the screen on its side - making the CPC Moon Cresta the best looking conversion.
If getting in on the licensing act before all the big guns was not innovative enough, then the next original game was something that made the world take notice. Confusion was a great game by Paul Shirley - a sliding block puzzle with an explosive problem to be solved. Very addictive and hugely successful. On a trip to the nearby Reading University computer club Ian met Sean Ellis. He joined Incentive after finishing his degree, and Incentive went quiet for a while. For a year no new games came out of the software house in London Road, until November 1985 when GAC, the Graphics Adventure Creator, was launched - a program that allowed you to produce your own adventures, complete with graphics, without having to learn to program. Many people produced playable games, and a few of the better ones were sold by Incentive. GAC is still the most popular adventure creator and continues to sell strongly. Like all good programs, GAC has been converted to other formats with the ST version being sold in Italy by Atari.
A pattern began to emerge. Incentive went quiet again. Ian talked darkly about Freescape and stunning programming, slowly and expertly hyping the program as he and his crew worked on it. Driller was the first program to use the stunning 3D routines which have become the recent hallmark of Incentive Software.
The software department was given the separate name of Major Developments, which comprises Ian, his brother Chris, Sean Ellis and Paul Gregory. They initially used Devpac on rom. HiSoft had started work on rom Devpac but had not got as far as debugging it. When Driller grew too big to fit inside a 6128 with the assembler, Ian rang HiSoft who offered to sell him, and only him, the program as a favour on the understanding that it was likely to crash. Freescape outgrew even this set-up. Now they use the ubiquitous PDS assembler.
So far Major Developments have only written products for Incentive, but with a couple of big companies offering to blow the dust off their cheque books Ian is talking about doing third party software development.
Freescape re-appeared in Dark Side, taking the story of the moon that threatened to explode a stage further. It was an ideal sequel and proved popular with people who had played the original. But for the latest Freescape game Incentive has moved closer to home - Earth and Egypt in the 1930s.
Total Eclipse Total Eclipse was originally called Curse. The Incentive crew boned up on Egyptian myths to make the game more realistic, an ideal way to show the honed and significantly faster Freescape routines. These routines take up around 20k of the CPC's ram, with 10k going to the game-specific parts and another 10k to data. All the remaining ram is used for calculations, buffers and variable storage.
<< Aaargh! Chris Andrew finds a bug
Much of the work in this kind of project takes the form of designing the game. Some software houses write business-like specifications, some write scripts, some have taken a leaf out of the film industry's book and draw storyboards. Incentive plays with Lego.
However it is mapped. Total Eclipse has a very different feel to its Freescape predecessors. You only travel on foot and the scenery is more realistic. Your task is to break an evil curse by climbing to the top of the pyramid and destroying a shrine. Like all good explorers you should not pass up the opportunity to pick up treasure, extra lives are particularly useful. They are shown at the top of the screen.
Other symbols are there just for fun. An arrow shows which way you are moving, a little man not unlike CHRSI249I ducks when you crawl under objects and flinches when you release a round from your service pistol.
Be careful not to fall down the stairs in one of the 60 rooms, it's fatal. Oh, and keep your water bottle filled. There are troughs throughout the pyramid, only a few of them have been poisoned. Run out of water and your heart rate goes up.
Watch out for sliding doors and pressure pads. Fall prey to one of the hidden arrows and you risk a heart attack. A gauge shows how near you are to this fate.
Egyptian tombs are not the safest of places. The compass is a useful guide. It makes mapping the place easier, even if you don't have a Lego set. Resting not only improves the state of your heart, it fast forwards through time. But it is too hot to rest in the sun, so get inside the pyramid quickly.