Palace Software - From the Ashes Of An Industry Rises a Witch (Amstrad Computer User)Games Editeurs
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Early in 1984 an ex-Virgin executive convinced Palace Video that what they really needed was a games software arm. This was something of a strange claim, since at that time the games industry was in a state of change, from a market of rich pickings where a company could expect to sell just about anything to anyone who was even faintly interested in home computers to an industry which seemed to be in the throes of dying off, leaving a graveyard scattered with the bones of once famous companies.

Despite the signs of doom and despair Pete Stone got his way. He and Richard Leinfellner moved from selling videos in the Video Palace to a rather old cinema in Pentonville Road. The Scala Cinema is a centre for cult films - by 1985 it had also become a centre of games excellence.

Mark, the Amstrad artist, wrestling with Screen Designer

Palace's first game, The Evil Dead, didn't shake the Earth. Pete dismisses it. "In retrospect it was an experiment, we learnt a great deal about games software from that game, not least that there was a great deal more to the business than just getting the game coded and into the machine".
That lesson gave rise to the Palace philosophy which recognises four major components of a successful games. To begin with there had to be the concept, probably not from a programmer, more likely from an artist.

Then the imagery of the game would be more professional if it could be designed by an artist, as would the music if it were composed and arranged by a musician. The final task, the programming, would bring together the code from the artist, the musician and make it all work in one, cohesive game.
Putting together a team which included all of these separate talents was stage two in the development of Palace. Dan and Mark do nothing else but design the background and characters for the games. The artwork is developed on the target computer, so for the Amstrad game Mark used the Amsoft screen designer. Richard Joseph, the musician, is responsible for getting his music into the respective machine. He can't just present the programmer with a score, it has to be the code so he is experienced in using the same music development packages available to your or I.
Even now Palace are not satisfied with the arrangement. Stage three is to move away from the traditional method of writing a game on one machine and then converting it over to the others. Instead, they are expanding their teams so that they can create games for all three major machines at once.

Each machine will have its own programmer who knows how best to exploit the machine's strengths. But the artists work in a different way, instead of being tied to one machine they concentrate on one game. Dan Malone, for example, is working on the design of the next Palace game, Sacred Armour of Antiriad. He will do the design work for that game on all three machines.

The results

After creating Cauldron, Palace have a lot to live up to and their next two games show every sign of matching the magic of the first. In Cauldron II the player takes the part of a rather splendid bouncing pumpkin. The pumpkin suffered something of a hard time in Cauldron at the hands of a rather unpleasant witch.

Well now it's time to turn the tables. The task is to enter the witch's castle and cut from her head a lock of nasty, greasy, green hair. The hair is essential to the spell which will rid the world of this nasty lady. Of course getting the hair isn't a simple task, there are all manner of problems to be solved, enemies to be killed and booby traps to be avoided.

If anything the theme and game play of Cauldron II is even better than in Cauldron I. Moving about the castle is a very hairy (Ouch!-Ed) business. Not only are there gremlins who obscure your path and reduce your energy when you come into contact with them, but the traps are really hideous.

Take the gargoyles. They seem to be pretty inanimate objects until you stand on one and find that it tilts, casting the little pumpkin into oblivion. Getting to the lock of hair will mean finding and using a collection of other objects, any one of which can only be obtained at great personal pumpkin peril.

Pages from Dan Malone's comic. The opening The hero of Antiriad.

In Cauldron I the pumpkin was the bad guy, with his nasty leering grin and altogether bad designs on a poor and wretched witch seeking promotion. The pumpkin in Cauldron II is son of the nasty one and he is altogether a more lovable character, cuddly almost.
I was so perplexed by this wonderful bouncing action of his that I wanted to take him home with me but alas, they needed him for further development.

Palace have moved beyond the one game a year stage and their larger programming team should ensure that while the productivity of the company goes up the quality remains the same, or even improves. There was much evidence of this from what I saw of the Sacred Armour of Antiriad.

More than just witches and pumpkins

This game will come complete with a comic to help set the scene. The comic and the concept are the work of Dan Malone. Dan approached Palace as a talented artist with a portfolio, rich with bright and fresh ideas, but he had never touched a computer. The deal was that if he could turn out the same quality of work on a computer then Palace wanted him on the team.

"He took to computers like a duck to water", Pete reflected. Dan has a great affection for comics and his ideas for Antiriad were put across in comic terms. Gradually Pete and Richard realised that a great deal could be made of a game that began with a comic story and continued with the comic characters in the game. Thus Antiriad came into being.

The story begins with two major powers haggling over arms limitation. Both sides believe that the other side is busy creating a super weapon, the anti-radiation armour. But this armour is more than just a suit of protective clothing, it becomes the wearer's personal tank.

The sequences give some idea story to the Sacred Armour of Antiriad
of the work that goes into an animated character

Anyway, the arms limitation talks came to nothing when the two powers decided that the most expedient way of settling the argument was to blow each other up. This they did, and the world was left short of a few hundred million people. In fact civilisation vanished, leaving the charred Earth to evolve again.

Millions of years later a primitive but friendly bunch roamed the lands that had once been Maddison Square Gardens. The culture of these people was based on what they perceived as a god but in fact it was the blueprints of an anti-radiation suit. Due to an unfortunate tear in the plans they perceived the name to be Antiriad, but whatever the spelling of this being they worshipped it none the less.
This happy state of affairs continued for some time to come until a bunch of much more clever aliens descended on Earth and enslaved the inhabitants. The human elders took exception to this and decided that they would have to select their very best warrior to find the famed suit of Antiriad and do the aliens in. That's where the comic ends and the game begins.

Looking forward, looking forward

Palace have a number of plans for the future, one of the most promising is their tie up with Binary Vision, part of the team who created Fourth protocol and Zoids. Binary Vision have an excellent reputation for producing games which aren't just technically clever but which are conceptually brilliant. Without a doubt we have a great deal to look forward to from Palace.

Perhaps they might even get round to tarting the Scala Cinema up so it resembles the company logo. Now that would do more for the value of Pentonville Road than a couple of silly red hotels.

Amstrad User July 86


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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.