I occasionally see complaints from those involved in game development expressing irritation that those playing or reviewing their games make sweeping statements about poor design or bad coding without having the first clue about either. Even though we’re in a quiet and extremely uninfluential backwater here, I daresay we’re guilty of making such statements on occasion too. Notwithstanding the fact that criticism of the end product is valid without necessarily being a criticism of the individuals involved or the amount of effort invested, it’s easy to forget how hard it is to put something together that works, never mind something that is critically and commercially successful, on time and within budget.

Like many people, I made the mistake of thinking that playing games bestowed me with the qualities required to make one, and during a certain period in my late teens, any shareware or commercial software that advertised itself as being “user friendly”, or not requiring you to learn any kind of programming language, became of particular interest. One early example was a programme called Illuminatus, which was actually presentation software (I think), but allowed sufficient interaction to cobble together a fairly terrible choose-your-own-adventure type affair with whatever hand-drawn graphics you could muster using MS Paint. Even so, I can’t recall actually producing anything with it, just a collection of half-baked and unfinished ideas that likely included far too much adolescent humour.

Klik & Play by Europress was a more appropriate piece of software for my purposes, as it focused on the easy creation of functional games, without the need to draw your own graphics or learn much in the way of code. I’m not sure if it was actually possible to make anything good, but it certainly made the process of getting stuff to move around the screen and interact with other things very easy indeed, and as such I spent more time than is healthy beavering away on a succession of unoriginal and highly unentertaining freeware titles for Windows 3.1.

Attempt 1 certainly didn’t lack ambition: my intention was to create a space shooter with an epic storyline, inspired by the likes of Wing Commander. And, like WC creator Chris Roberts, my focus was mainly on the story and cut-scenes, with the idea to staple on some generic 2D space shooter action afterwards.

Of course, I soon realised that I had neither the artistic nor technical skill to produce anything visually appealing, or anything that even actually worked, and the whole endeavour was soon abandoned not long after I’d begun trying to draw blue flight suits over the clothing of the stock character sprites.

Normally, this would have been the point at which I’d have given up entirely. But, after scaling back my expectations somewhat, I nevertheless persisted to the extent that I managed to produce four rather basic attempts at entertainment:

1. One-on-One Indoor Footy

Possibly my most successful title, in that I once saw two people I didn’t know playing it on one of the school computers, this was a largely plagiarised title heavily inspired by one of the bundled games, Go for Goal! (a title sadly not included in the version of Klik & Play currently available on the Web, but a quick Google does confirm its existence).

Like many of the bundled games, Go for Goal! was largely rubbish, and without minimising the scale of my theft, I think my changes did improve it. The original had giant players lumping a ball around a small pitch with goalkeepers moving about at random – it was less a football game and more a series of random collisions. My plan involved reducing the size of the players relative to the size of the pitch, turning the green playing surface to the colour of an indoor five-a-side arena, and removing the goalkeepers (I might have fiddled around with the ball behaviour parameters a bit as well).

Add to that a cheesy title screen using an image of ex-Leeds striker Toby Yeboah, a playful homage to the EA Sports “It’s In The Game” intro that was ubiquitous in the 90s (I recorded my own voice and increased the speed a bit so I sounded like a cartoon hamster on helium), and some player commentary by Barry Davies nicked from Actua Soccer, and you had the finished product. Hey, if you wanted to play a one-on-one indoor footy match between Gianfranco Zola and Dennis Bergkamp during which shooting was banned altogether, this was your only choice.

Thanks, MobyGames!


2. Road Rage In The Car Park

It went downhill from there. My next effort possibly started life as a genuine attempt to make a top-down racer, a genre that seemed within the bounds of possibility and actively supported by Klik & Play, based upon the library of pre-supplied graphics and sound packs provided and, yes, another demo game called Racing Line.

Racing Line was also pretty crap, kind of like a worse version of [8-bit budget racer] Grand Prix Simulator by Codemasters, but as with all of the demo games provided, it was also much better than anything I could come up with myself. My intention was to come up with something similar, but from scratch, rather than repeating the previous exercise of taking an existing game and fiddling about with it a bit.

From memory, despite taking a close look at the workings of Racing Line, I couldn’t work out how to make the lap counter function properly, and the whole concept was swiftly abandoned on favour of a “comedy” caper in an enclosed car park, in which the only thing to do was drive into parked cars to increase your score while a MIDI version of some classical music played in the background. Each collision was accompanied by a sample of Homer Simpson saying D’oh! that was nicked from the Internet. Reader, it was absolutely awful stuff.

Racing Line requires a second player for maximum enjoyment.


3. Club Simulator

One of the great things about not being young any more is that the pressure to be cool has dissipated completely, and if you weren’t cool at the time that it actually mattered, the release of that pressure comes as blessed relief. When you actually are young, though, not being cool can be the source of a great deal of bitterness and barely-suppressed anger, and on the evidence this particular K&P effort (ironically as uncool a weekend activity as you can get), I clearly decided that contemporaries who did ‘grown up’ things like go to festivals or nightclubs were a deserving target of these emotions.

I have clear memories of trying to create Glastonbury: The Game, possibly fuelled by my furious reaction to Radiohead’s seemingly never-ending set in 1997 dominating the BBC coverage. (I’ve long since got over it, and any hatred towards the band or any individual members, but at the time the very sight of Thom Yorke’s face would send me into fits of apoplectic rage). Anyway, MIDI covers of Britpop hits were sourced from the web, but once again, the lack of appropriate stock graphics, or indeed any real idea what the game would actually involve (probably something dull and boring which could be spun as a satirical commentary about how festivals aren’t actually that good) undermined progress.

So instead work began on Club Simulator, which recreated the disorientation and confusion of a busy nightclub with a static screen grab of a psychedelic flashing screensaver and some generic house music punctuated by another voice-over (yours truly, affecting a cockney accent and once again making use of a sound editor’s speed-up function). The aim of the game was to build up your ‘death meter’ by drinking, taking drugs, and dancing (here achieved with a click of the mouse, although the rules of the game dictated that you couldn’t just hammer one option repeatedly, you had to choose a different activity each time). Death could be achieved more quickly by getting fairly wasted and then clicking on the ‘Start Fire’ option, but if the ‘death meter’ wasn’t high enough at the time, then it wouldn’t work and valuable seconds would be lost.

You may infer from analysis of this setup that this game’s creator had adopted a disturbingly puritanical, right-wing tabloid view of youth culture without ever having been fully exposed to it, but that’s not the case at all. Coincidentally, though, I do now believe that all nightclubs are awful and should be closed down.

4. Rik Hard: The Game

In real life, no-one has ever called me Rik, and I’ve certainly never referred to myself by that name. As with anyone else who acquired a nickname as a youth, I’ve often wondered how it still seems to be attached to me, but am powerless to do anything about it without sounding like I’ve started taking myself extremely seriously (like when ex-Manchester United striker Andy Cole started insisting on being called Andrew) and/or having a better idea for a replacement.

Anyway, the etymology of the name is that, after getting a very short haircut aged 15, some wag at school joked that its severe appearance had been part of a wider transformation from standard mild-mannered nerd into some kind of hard-man nutcase. And with the word hard being the second half of my actual first name, and Die Hard being a popular action movie, my new moniker was created.

For completely logical reasons, a spin-off game inevitably (?) followed. Once again, the ambitious blueprint of a working piece of entertainment was scaled down into altogether more pointless territory, as Rik Hard: The Game saw the eponymous hero, viewed from the top down and possibly based on one of the One-on-One Indoor Footy player sprites, running through corridors and shooting crates, which then exploded. There might have been a time limit. No German terrorists were harmed, or indeed were featured. Again, it was very bad, but also took quite a lot of effort to produce [remind you of anything else? – FFG reader].

All the ingredients of a classic.


5. Untitled Exploding Grandpa Trivia Game (Incomplete)

Well, the title tells you most of what you need to know, really. Quite why I wanted to make this game, I’m not sure. What I do remember is that the player character had to approach one of two haystacks at either side of the screen, at which point an old man would leap from behind the haystack and present the player with a trivia question.

I can’t remember whether the Grandpa was meant to explode upon hearing the correct answer or the wrong one, but it didn’t matter because I mucked up the triggers in Klik & Play and the Grandpa exploded immediately after leaping from behind the haystack, and then reappeared and exploded again, regardless of what answer you selected. The project was swiftly abandoned thereafter, along with any plans for future titles.

I guess you have plenty of time to waste as a youngster, even if it doesn’t necessarily feel like it at the time, and perhaps the mild comedy value of each game, combined with the certain knowledge that a future in game development would not be for me, represented a decent return on my investment. But that would be a bit of a stretch, and certainly not enough to save these awful games from the Vault of Regret.

Klik & Play can currently be found on archive.org and needs Windows 3.1 to run (this can be done via DOSBox).