Video Game Highlight – Saboteur
Technology and the way games are published and made is very different today from how it was 30 years ago. You could say the same for any other industry, however the games industry I think has moved way faster than any other. Recently there has been a resurgence of games programmed by very small teams or a single developer with the re-birth of the indie scene. This may have something to do with the fact that computers are a much more consumable commodity and of course owe a little something to distribution services and easy ways to pay, like Steam. Thirty years ago these people were dubbed bedroom coders and I need you to imagine yourself back this far. Put yourself back in the year 1985 and in the mind of the then 18 year old, sole developer and self confessed college drop-out heralding from Taunton named Clive Townsend.
Don’t get the wrong impression here, Clive did not drop out of college because he found it too hard or was rebellious – he got a job offer that was just too good to turn down at the time. Clive was studying A Level Physics, Maths and Art and two years earlier had been approached by a company called Durell to come and work for them. Clive continued with his studies, even though his peers and tutors were telling him the combination of subjects was stupid and he would never get a job with all three. Some would argue that he did just that. Within months of working for Durell Clive had developed his first full game which went by the name of Saboteur.
The game was originally made for the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad, with a conversion (not made by Clive) also released for the Commodore 64. The ZX Spectrum version sold 20,000 copies in first six weeks which may not sound like much but in 1985 this was huge. Clive was on a royalty scheme with his game, earning 50p per tape sold and remembers vividly receiving his first cheque of £10,000. Now we could follow what Clive has been doing from then until now and you may be thinking he moved to his own tropical island and been sipping nothing but cocktails for the past 30 years however this could not be further from the truth. For at least the last 15 years or so Clive has returned to the South West and has been busy on a number of projects which have had a varying amount of success but has always wanted to re-make his original success Saboteur and for the last year or so this is exactly what he has done.
During development he has been faced with many challenges in trying to tackle the revival of his game, by far the biggest being that there are now so many platforms that he could release on. Changing a game made in the 1980s when touch screen and handheld devices were just a myth has been a bit of a journey for him. If you take into account that he is doing this alone, on a very minimal budget and does not have access relevant test hardware as a beginning obstacle. If that was not enough he also has to deal with mobile operating systems which are very subject to change and difference based on the age and model of the hardware and the relevant submission processes for things like Steam, App Store, Google Play and even Windows. All he wants to actually do is just make his game being faithful to the original. Of course this also gives him an opportunity to fill in the gaps that were originally skipped over by the original.
“There was an undocumented feature (some people may say a bug) in the original game” Clive mentions. “It meant you could run straight towards the helicopter and it would congratulate you even though you have done nothing towards the actual mission and I really wanted to address that. The graphics have been enhanced – although still within the Spectrum’s limitations – and the plot and map have been greatly expanded.”
Clive did not have access to anything of the original game apart from the final product emulated so his first major task was to disassemble the original to get access to the relevant assets and logic. From there he then made current hardware behave like Spectrum hardware including – much to any Spectrum lovers delight – the colour clash. Of course Clive now has a lot more memory and processing power to play with.
I asked him what’s next?
“Once Saboteur is out the way I want to concentrate on finishing the story that has been in my head for 30 years, remake Saboteur 2 and even finish a 3rd part to the story but this really depends on what sort of reception I get for the first. I also have storylines prepared for 2 prequels, a spin-off to Saboteur 2, and a Saboteur 4! The comments I have received on Facebook so far have been really encouraging and beta testing of the initial builds have gone well so far so it’s really down to the fans. ” he states.
“Games are so different these days. The internet hardly existed when I made the original Saboteur. It was only Durell that could give me feedback before and they were still learning what the industry was capable of. Now I am bombarded with feedback, most of it really useful but there is no way that I have time to respond to all or any of it if I want to get the game out before the anniversary”
Saboteur is scheduled for release on 3rd December 2015, initially on PC/Mac and a Web version. You can pre-order it for the small price of £3.99 (and extra donations are always appreciated) via Paypal. When that’s released Clive will look into also releasing the game on Android and iOS devices. One of the cool features I can tell you about is that your saved games are held on a central server and you can play the game on your PC and then continue where your last checkpoint was on your mobile device. You can currently follow the game’s development on Facebook and soon play the online demo on Clive’s website once he goes public with it. You can also sign up to the Saboteur Server and immediately start playing the game on the day of release. It’s likely that Clive will be able to hand over a pre-release version to GeekOut South-West so expect full preview/review and maybe even some YouTube footage.
A huge thanks to our guest contributor for this week, Chris Lock. You can find him on Twitter or his personal blog, and I would respectfully ask that you drop him a “hello” if you get a spare moment or two. We’ll always accept guest articles, so if you would like to contribute, please contact us. As ever, please remember to like this article, share on social media or leave us a comment below, over on Facebook and Twitter.