I’ve been thinking a lot about Bertie Bassett recently. I believe Donnie Darko had a similar problem with rabbits.
Ever since I first played the cover disk cake level demo of Robocod back in 1991 I’ve wondered what Basset’s mascot was doing in the game.
All the magazines at the time pointed out that Millennium Interactive had struck a sponsorship deal with McVitie’s who produce Penguin biscuits and that the confectionery and associated penguin characters would feature in the game.
Alvin and Murray open with an introductory animation and later appear as exit-opening collectables, while the biscuit wrappers put in an appearance as level backdrops, and also in the opening synopsis with the talking penguin ambassadors from the early 90s TV commercials.
Curiously, as far as I can recall no reference was ever made to Bertie or Liquorice Allsorts – the sugar candies he is composed of – which feature just as prominently in the sweet level.
Was a similar deal in place with Bassett’s? Was it simply artist Chris Sorrell’s affectionate homage to a favourite brand?
In the later ports of Robocod, the Bertie sprite received a dramatic colour palette swap; he’s unmistakably Bertie, but in an incognito gingerbread cloak. No formal press announcement was issued to clarify the situation. Had Bassett’s sued the Cambridge-based developers forcing them to censor subsequent releases?
[The 1992 Commodore 64 port of… something or other. It’s hard to tell what exactly.]
Why was no-one asking these critical questions? Were insidious, conspiratorial forces responsible for the cover-up? A quarter of a century later I took up the mantle of unravelling this clandestine enigma of a conundrummy mystery by asking the developer himself.
“Wow – very impressive article! …Certainly I can see that the mantle of James Pond’s fishy puns is being carried forward with pride 🙂
The Bertie Basset thing was a bit of a fiasco… In the original game we didn’t give nearly enough thought to how big companies might be protective of their signature characters. There was no agreement at all, and I think I recall that Bassett’s made threatening noises in Millennium’s direction. Either way he was out for all versions after the Megadrive and Amiga originals, and we all started to be a bit more careful with our references! Replacing him with the gingerbread guy wasn’t my call but he wasn’t a bad substitute. …I wasn’t aware that BB came back for subsequent versions! (Mostly because I had nothing to do with those, and after loading up a PlayStation disc I decided after playing for a couple of minutes that I’d already seen more than I cared to).”
[The de-Bassetted Bertie sprite as he appeared in the 1993 MS-DOS release of Robocod.]
While I was at it I asked Chris if he could satisfy my curiosity with regards to the collectable ‘baby food’ jars that appear in the game, as I allude to in my recent review.
“I don’t recall the inspiration for the baby-food bonus. I had been watching Robocop a lot around that time so perhaps that was it (can’t think why else I would have drawn a jar of baby food?!).”
I had high hopes for the 2013 James Pond revival Kickstarter, though sadly it was cancelled prematurely due to a failure to reach the funding target. Finally I took the opportunity to ask Chris if this was really the final curtain for the character that made Christmas ’91 one of the most memorable and joyous for me as a kid.
“I’m sorry to say that I am 100% done with James Pond. …I would have been prepared to go back to his world back when we started that Kickstarter, but frankly that whole experience really soured me on personal retrospection. …Don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud of what we did back on the Amiga, and feel tremendously honoured that people even remember the games after all this time (let alone write such lavish articles!), but I’m generally someone that strives to look forward rather than back. …The James Pond games were driven my my passion to become a better programmer, to make ‘better things’, and that’s still my outlook on life. I felt somewhat tricked into becoming part of that campaign in the first place. They made it seem like they had a lot more going on than they did, and where I thought I was signing on to do little more than support the notion of a good new Pond game, it soon became clear that they had basically nothing to show, no ideas, and no plan for the campaign other than to make it seem like my initiative which it absolutely was not! I’m sorry my involvement with JP had to end on that sour note 🙁 …Thanks again for being such a supporter of the games.”
Thanks again go to Chris for graciously giving up his time to nerd-out with a massive fan of his work. 🙂