The need for speed: the majesty of S.T.U.N. Runner

S.T.U.N. Runner

Some gaming experiences stay with you forever. I’ve played more videogames than I care to remember, on many different platforms, but I distinctly remember ambling into a very small arcade in Clearwater and, among the beaten-up and half-dead machines, spotting S.T.U.N. Runner.

Akin to smashing a futuristic bobsled game into a rollercoaster experience with a hammer, S.T.U.N. Runner got over the feeling of speed in a way no games had done before and few have done since. The pace was breathtaking to my younger self, and the game over incredibly quickly. But on getting to grips with the game’s mechanics, S.T.U.N. Runner became a fantastic means to while away an hour, escaping from the hot Florida midday sun.

Snapping back to more recent times, Ed Rotberg was kind enough to chat with me last year about his classic tank game Battlezone, and we then talked about S.T.U.N. Runner. Preparing for the interview a day earlier, I fired up the game in MAME and had forgotten how pretty it is. Sleek vector-based designs shoot past at breakneck speed, and even when using a PC, control of the craft is just perfect.

Perhaps this is nostalgia putting the boot in, but I think it’s a massive shame that the game has never been done justice on home formats (with the exception of an astonishing and surprisingly faithful Atari Lynx effort), because even in today’s rush for increasingly extreme gaming experiences, S.T.U.N. Runner still impresses.

My interview with Ed (and co-conspirator Andrew Burgess) is in the current Retro Gamer.

S.T.U.N. Runner

April 8, 2009. Read more in: Arcade, Gaming, Magazines, Retro Gamer, Retro gaming

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Retro Gamer on NowGamer

Imagine’s answer to EuroGamer, NowGamer, went live recently. With the publisher having a dedicated retro magazine—the rather spiffy Retro Gamer—it should come as no surprise that NowGamer offers a dedicated retro section.

Most of the section appears to be reprint, but there’s some great stuff in there, including a slew of making-of articles, a smattering of company profiles and a couple of ‘def guides’ to videogame series. A fairly random selection of my own articles has been reprinted on the site, including The Making Of: Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, where I interviewed Steve Meretzky about his collaboration with Douglas Adams.

The game itself remains one of the meanest, toughest and funniest pieces of interactive fiction to date, and with the original article buried away in an old issue of Retro Gamer (and not making the cover nor even the contents pages), it’s great to see it get another airing, not least because Steve Meretzky was a wonderful interviewee. I hope that we can one day talk about the controversial Leather Goddesses of Phobos, which would make for a fun making-of in the mag.

Elsewhere, you can also read my making-ofs on seminal soccer title Sensible Soccer, ubiquitous action puzzler Tetris, US platformer Miner 2049er, fantasy/chess mash-up Archon, and overhead bouncing ball action game Bounder.

As for the magazine itself, Retro Gamer’s on the stands, priced £4.99, and can be bought from The current issue includes a making-of Space Invaders, Amiga and Mega Drive retrospectives, and my interview with Ed Rotberg and Andrew Burgess on their classic S.T.U.N. Runner.

April 6, 2009. Read more in: Gaming, Magazines, Retro Gamer, Retro gaming


In the (Battle)zone

Late last year, I had the good fortune to interview Ed Rotberg, creator, among other things, of the groundbreaking Battlezone. This vector graphics tank simulator was the first truly immersive 3D environment in videogames, and probably the first 3D update of a 2D classic, what with it being heavily based on Kee/Atari’s various overhead Tank games.

The current issue of Retro Gamer, 59, includes portions of the interview in ‘The Making of Battlezone’, and the game is featured on the cover as a beautifully rendered faux-vector scene.

This seems to have been good timing by Retro Gamer, since all kinds of Battlezone-related things seem to be cropping up right now. First, there’s Vector Tanks, a heavily Battlezone-inspired blaster for iPhone, written by the supremely talented Peter Hirschberg. Secondly, Wade Shooter’s video for Fujiya & Miyagi’s Sore Thumb dresses the band and instruments in vector ekoskeletons, occasionally cutting to scenes of vector tank warfare.

Battlezone video

The kind of band Red Dwarf’s Kryten no doubt dreams of.

January 27, 2009. Read more in: Arcade, Gaming, Interviews, Magazines, Retro Gamer, Retro gaming

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Retro Gamer 53: Marble Madness

Retro Gamer 53 yomped on in a couple of weeks back, containing my six-page feature on Marble Madness (including an utterly gorgeous two-page spread showcasing the game’s six levels). Despite being a slight game (seasoned players can speed through the entire thing in about four minutes), it’s one of the prettiest arcade games ever released, and it no doubt influenced a slew of modern titles, such as the likes of Super Monkey Ball.

Designer Mark Cerny, who now largely works as a consultant in the industry, mostly on console titles, provided a great overview of how the game came to be. However, one of his insights that didn’t see print was the fact that Marble Madness, to his knowledge, has never before received the kind of feature found in this month’s Retro Gamer.

This got me thinking. Most other publications that dare to acknowledge retro gaming do so in a somewhat cursory manner, perhaps grudgingly giving over a couple of pages each month to a single classic title. And even when the results are worth reading (Edge’s coverage of retro titles has been of a typically high standard), you’re still only looking at 13 titles a year. With so many great games out there, created by people who, judging my those I’ve spoken to, are fast forgetting how the games ended up like they did, this just shows how important to gaming a title like Retro Gamer is.

For more on Retro Gamer, check out the brand-new Retro Gamer website. And for more on Marble Madness, check out Bernhard Kirsch’s excellent site.

Marble Madness width=

One of the prettiest games ever made.

July 23, 2008. Read more in: Arcade, Gaming, Magazines, Retro Gamer, Retro gaming


Most wanted for retro-gaming interviews

If you’re a writer for magazines covering new-fangled games systems, your biggest worry regarding interviews is whether your potential interviewees will talk to you. With retro-gaming publications, things aren’t so simple. Before you can get to the all-important ‘will they or won’t they?’, detective work is often in order, to track down people who worked on classic games.

In my experience, potential interviewees fall into four camps. The most common is the ‘enthusiastic yes’, often from those still working in the industry, but sometimes from people who just have great memories of it. Guys like Jon Hare (Sensible Software), Alexey Pajitnov (Tetris) and Alan McNeil (Berzerk!) particularly stand out from my work for Retro Gamer as people willing to go above and beyond to talk about their old games.

The second group is the ‘bewilderment’ one. You track someone down, ask them to do an interview, and they act like several kinds of excitingly exotic fruit have simultaneously started growing out of your ears. “Are you serious?” is a question I’ve been asked more than once, although the people who ask that usually end up joining the first group, happy to wax lyrical about their classic creations.

The third group contains those games creators (or ex-games creators) who simply have no interest in reliving the old days, for whatever reason. It’s pretty clear some guys got totally screwed back in the day, and many simply don’t want to dredge up bad memories. Others simply haven’t got the time nor the inclination to talk to some strange British guy with an obsession for games titles a third of their way to a bus pass. Thus, sadly, the chances of making-of features on Paradroid, Hunter’s Moon and River Raid bounded majestically into the distance, never to return, along with the time it had taken to track down the relevant parties.

The fourth group, however, is perhaps even more frustrating. Often, a quick Google can provide contact details of the people I want to talk with. If not, contacts of contacts or cunning use of various social networking websites often does the job. Sometimes, though, every avenue is exhausted, and you just have to give up. Unless, of course, you have a blog, which might be read by people who might just know the whereabouts of people you’d like to talk to.

And so here’s a quick list of the top-three people I’ve been trying to track down for a number of hours that’s now grown so large that it’s just not funny any more.

1. Mervyn J. Estcourt. This is the big one for me. This guy wrote the utterly fantastic 3D Deathchase (merely ‘Deathchase’ to its friends) on the Speccy, which, to sane people, is also known as the Best Spectrum Game Ever. It finds you hurtling through a digital forest, Return of the Jedi style, hunting down bad guys. Sadly, I’ve never quite been able to catch Mervyn himself.

2. Pete Harrap. My calling Pete a sadist in issue 28 of Retro Gamer actually irked a couple of people, but it was meant in the nicest possible way. And let’s face it, there can’t be too many people who’d create a game (Monty on the Run) that forced you to select an ‘escape kit’ from a fairly large list of somewhat random items, and then have an indestructible and stationary deadly monster right at the very end of the game if you happened to pick the wrong item. Gah! However, Pete’s a genius, and I always preferred Monty to Miner Willy.

3. John Van Ryzin. Ex-Activision guru John Van Ryzin created the utterly amazing H.E.R.O., my favourite game. This classic title tasks you with exploring caverns to rescue trapped miners, all the while blasting paths through lava walls and avoiding the various beasties that pepper the levels.

So, if you know any of these people, please point them towards this blog, and maybe—just maybe—they’ll be interested in talking to me. (Please note: under no circumstances should any private contact details be sent to me, although I guess work ones would be OK.)

June 17, 2008. Read more in: Magazines, Retro Gamer, Retro gaming


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