Villordsutch reviews Merry Christmas Fom Horace on the ZX Spectrum…
Horace, the no necked, vacant staring shape of a being is – in some classic ZX Spectrum owners hearts – the official mascot of the their machine. Yes, we have Miner Willy from Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy, Monty Mole from a cluster of games revolving around the Life of Monty and later Dizzy the Egg, but if truth being told most gamers – from back in the 1980’s – who woke up to find a ZX Spectrum under the Christmas Tree possibly also found with it Horace Goes Skiing, I know I did.
Here Horace in the opening level darted across a rather intense busy road – initially mimicking Frogger – and then when you bought a set of skis you proceeded to hurtle down a slope, between flags and dodging trees before rinsing and repeating. It was extremely simple and this game created by William Tang has stayed with players for decades.
This wasn’t the first Horace game to exist. William Tang’s first release – in 1982 – Hungry Horace, was essential a Pac-Man clone but our hero had to eat flowers and escape the Park Keepers; this was quickly follow by the Skiing release. However, in 1983 we had the rather odd Horace and the Spiders in which our Blue Skinned hero took the fight to Spider Mountain for…reasons!The Horace Trinity
Unfortunately William Tang suffered a collapsed lung and his Horace programming days stopped, but this didn’t stop other people creating Horace titles for the ZX Spectrum which have included Bob Stuff’s Horace in the Mystic Woods, the Mojon Twins Horace Goes To The Tower, in which Horace is punished for appearing on lesser machines like the C64, Flippin’ Horace from Mulder which was an unfinished demo in 2010 and is suspiciously like the indie game VVVVVV. Along with this there was a rather splendid Horace Goes Skiing Remake on the PC from Space-Time Games.
Now out just in time for the special season of giving is Merry Christmas From Horace, a brand new Horace game from Steve Broad. Steve has previously delivered four other Horace titles in the past and recently dropped them onto a compilation Microdrive edition called “A Present from Horace”; these contain Horace Miner, Horace Miner 2, Horace to the Rescue and Horace to the Rescue 2. Each different and each retaining the charm that William Tang had delivered back in the early 1980’s.
In a Merry Christmas from Horace you play (once again) Horace and it’s your job to collect the numerous presents that have tumbled from Santa’s sleigh. The task has been made that bit harder by the fact you’re riding atop of a moving train and all of the enemies, who have attempted to hunt you down in the previous titles are on top of the train with you; also they’re really not fans of a) Horace or b) Christmas.
This latest Horace release once again retains everything that made the originals great. This game is extremely easy to pick up, the graphics aren’t overly polished, we have some splendid colour clash, and it is a Horace game to its core. As I describe it in the video below, it’s like we’ve found a lost Horace game and it is just that.
I spoke with Steve about his time in gaming and why he’s brought back Horace to expand his adventures.
Villordsutch: How long have you been making computer games and what year did you start creating the,?
Steve Broad: Since 1982. My brother Richard (Killertron Robot Wars fame) bought a ZX81 and I started to read the large spring bound manual. I learned Sinclair Basic from that manual and It all went from there. I was impressed with how you could make fairly good graphics by using blocks.
V: What was your first game published?
SB: The first game published was a Horace type character called Frankie. This game is part of the “A Present From Horace” package. It was all written in basic and is really terrible. But it was a first attempt.
V: Why have you chosen Horace to go back to for this release?
SB: I like simple games. Horace is a simple character and I like to write simple games that I would want to play. Horace was the first character I met on the Spectrum. I just want to keep him going for as long as possible.
V: What’s the next step for yourself in games releases and will Horace be involved?
SB – I have a lot of respect for the original programmers, designers of early Spectrum games. I like the Ocean/Imagine games from 1982 to about 1983. This is when I was swapping games in the school playground. I am heavily into reverse engineering. I like to take things apart and see how they work. This includes software with the help of the amazing Skoolkit freeware. That has helped me disassemble a few games from that era. I like to take parts of games and mix them in with others. Horace will always be involved. If not in character then in code. I am currently working on an original game based on my characters. But in the background, I am still taking games apart and adding bits of them to other games. I am currently also working on a new updated version of Ocean’s Hunchback where some code is merged into the Jet Set Willy engine. This allows me to use the Jet Set rope system which was far more superior than the rope in Hunchback for example. The graphics are taken from Ocean’s Hunchback with a few modifications by me to make them more to the original arcade version. The screen display system is a modified Jet Set routine which will allow the screen to scroll into place like the arcade version. I feel this scrolling feature was a massive loss to the Ocean Spectrum version. All of this helps to keep the Spectrum alive which is very important to me.
Bringing Horace back for Christmas is a fantastic thing, what was even more brilliant for myself on a personal level was that Steve contacted me early in the development and asked if myself and another retrogamer (BazzaH) wouldn’t mind assisting in the game’s testing – to which I couldn’t decline! To be involved in a Horace game wasn’t something to miss, no matter how small.
So now we have another Horace game on the ZX Spectrum scene, and considering that our blue hero is creeping up to forty years old he really isn’t doing too badly. He may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but for those of us that remember Quality Street in big metal tins, the iron fist of Thatcher and a time when British Television only had three channels having Horace on a computer again is quite fantastic.
You can download Merry Christmas From Horace over at Steve’s website for free. If you don’t have a ZX Spectrum to play it on there are many emulators available to play it on, a recommended one is Spectaculator.