A growing AlternativeAlternative Software: The Alternative Budget|Amstrad Computer User)Alternative Software
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Alternative Software are the undisputed Icings off games about kids1 TV characters. ADAM PETERS travels to Pontefract and Sheffield in search off a cartoon sailor with a vegetable fixation, but only finds some blokes with silly haircuts...
They go about things in a funny way in Yorkshire. Take the case of sleepy Pontefract, the licorice city, and its attitude to the concept of rail travel. Not for Pontefract the usual arrangement of having a single railway station with enough platforms to take care of all the lines passing through the town. Oh no, not Pontefract. This town chooses instead to have three separate stations (one for each line), all located within a short distance of each other, each handling about 20 trains (and 50 passengers) a day.

This unconventional Yorkshire approach can also be seen in the activities of Pontefract's most glamorous sons, Alternative Software. Not for Alternative the comfortable descent into the world of identikit sequels, coinop conversions and mass pillaging of the computer games archives. Oh no, not Alternative. They choose instead to produce nothing but original product, and try to make every game into something new. Popeye 1 was a collect-em-up. Popeye 2 was a platform game. Popeye 3 is a wrestling game. Just making work for themselves, aren't they? The mad (in a cuddly sort of way) fools.

<< David Watkins of Alternative says joining the company has taught him a lesson!

The nonconformity doesn't stop there, as I discovered a few minutes into a guided tour of the company's Pontefract headquarters. As well as the usual collection of programming suites, playtesting rooms and administrative offices, the building also houses a tape duplication system and large areas of warehouse space where games are packaged and stored prior to distribution.

Alternative have the whole process under their control. They duplicate tapes at the rate of a thousand an hour on their Tapemation machine, and also handle all the distribution themselves. As well as the Pontefract HQ, the company also has a warehouse in Leeds and wholly owns two companies in Sheffield. The first, Design Etc, is a graphic design company that designs all the company's game inlays, their advertising and the quarterly Gas Club newsletter. The second company is a programming house called Bizarre Developments, who we will be dropping in on over the page.

“Altogether," says public relations chappie David Watkins, “we currently employ around 20 people, including the people at Bizarre and Design Etc." The company was set up in 1985 by a bloke called Roger Hulley who continues to run the company today. The third important player at Alternative is Chris Price, who is in charge of the Alternative programming team (both the Pontefract posse and Bizarre).

“The big change going on at the moment," says David, “is a movement in price. While we are continuing to produce games at £3.99, we are also launching a new label, Admiral Software, with games at £7.99. These will be packaged in Sega style soft packs: the first release will be a Doctor Who game this Christmas."

What are the company's future plans on the Amstrad? “We are fully committed to the machine and will continue to be. While people continue to buy Amstrad games, we will continue to produce them. With investment on an 8-bit title sometimes running as high as £30,000, we need to sell a hell of a lot of games, especially when you take into account the distribution costs."

Alternative will have released a total of 30 games on the CPC over the course of 1992, and all their games are still available. “Unlike other companies we don't delist games. All 120 titles we've produced are still available, and we're still selling in 1992 the games we released in 1986, though obviously in smaller numbers."

And that's the Yorkshire Alternative. In-house duplication and distribution, nothing but original titles, no delisting of games and three railway stations. It's barmy, but it works.

Harass your retailer!

If Alternative do all their own duplication and distribution, why don't they make their games available in more shops? “The problem is that retailers are reading in the press about how the Amstrad is dead and how Sega and Nintendo consoles are the only things that people are interested in." says Alternative's David Watkins. “They just accept that and stop stocking Amstrad games. Of course there are a lot of Amstrad owners out there, but they are finding it increasingly hard to get hold of the software because the retailers are pulling out of the market."

So what's the solution? "People have just got to hassle their retailer. We do our own distribution so we can supply our games to any retailer in the country: they just have to get in touch with us to place their their order.

"CPC owners have got to start going into shops and asking for the games, and get their mates to do the same. Retailers actually have a higher profit mark up on CPC budget tapes (up to 35-40%) than they do on Sega cartridges (20%). It's down to the Amstrad owners to fight for more shops stocking the format."

You heard the man. Go hassle your local computer shop for the CPC version of Reckless Rufus right now...

It's Bizarre!

Welcome to Sheffield, the fifth largest city in Britain, on the day the new city centre one-way system comes into effect. All around confused drivers stare at traffic lights wondering what's going on. Meanwhile in “one of the roughest areas of town", Bizarre Developments - aka Richard Stevenson, Paul Bellamy, Mick Lister and Steven Kirby -continue their task of programming groovy games based on popular television cartoon characters, in between having big water pistol fights and telling lots of jokes we couldn't possibly repeat here.

Paul, Bizarre's graphics guru, seems to like the Amstrad. I really enjoy doing the graphics for the CPC," he enthuses. “Compared to the C64 and Speccy they're much more colourful and better defined. Many people port over the graphics from the Spectrum to the Amstrad. We port the graphics over from the C64 and then spend a lot of time doing them up and adding more colour, so the graphics really are better on the Amstrad than on any other format."

Paul flashes up on screen the sprites of Popeye from the CPC and C64 versions of Popeye 3 to prove his point. “On the C64 he's made up of only three colours, with a black top, blue trousers and pink body. But on the Amstrad he's a perfect representation of the character, with blue cuffs, yellow buttons, a brown pipe and so on.

To do it with all the right colours on the C64 would mean drawing six different sprites. It would be a nightmare. But on the Amstrad it's really simple.

“A lot of people take the easy option of a 4-colour Speccy port, but we've got a special way of doing a full colour CPC game that looks and plays really well. It's the same resolution as the C64 but with nicer colours. The Amstrad version of a Bizarre game always tends to end up being the best looking version."

Richard nods his cropped head in agreement. “All the games Bizarre have ever done have come out on the Amstrad. I think that with Bangers and Mash [Bizarre's most recent game] the Amstrad version was the best version overall, graphics and playability combined. I think that's probably true of quite a lot of our games."

It's obvious that Bizarre love the CPC, but what else do they love?

Paul: My wife Angela, the drink Metaxa, the film Alien.

Richard: Girlfriend Christine, Coca-Cola, the band Torq.

Steve: Katharine, RPGs, Black Russians and Highlander.

Mick: Dawn, my Fiesta XR2, Blade Runner, anything alcoholic.

Some massive water pistols appear. These guys are very much the 'wackiness department1 of Alternative Software. But it's time to bid farewell to the Bizarre posse, now busy rummaging through each others drawers, and return to Sheffield's brand new (and surprisingly efficient, actually) one-way system. Er, no hang on, the station's back that way isn't it?... But we can't go that way... What's this, a double carriageway?... We've been driving a long time... What did that sign say?... Hang on... er... 'Welcome to Bradford'. Erm...

ADAM PETERS , Amstrad Action


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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.