If you’ve read my piece on the origins of Andy Davidson’s Worms you’ll know that the competition he submitted his entry to in November 1993 was won by an Arkanoid-y balloon popping game with a circus theme. We know this because the see-sawing, cloned clown game is snootily cited in every article referencing Worms, and the nasty taste hastily rinsed from the commentator’s palette with mouthwash. It’s gospel because it’s true. Sorry, this isn’t a conspiracy story.
Pub trivia time: you may be interested to know that the Dyna Blaster revamp, Blitz Bombers (see The One issue 82 for a four page preview), was entered in the same contest, and also dismissed. If you’re wondering why all three of these entries are so derivative, it’s because Amiga Format actively encouraged the submission of clones within the terms and conditions.
My personal angle concerns the whereabouts of the results. You’d imagine a throng of kids poured blood, sweat and tears into readying their entry for the (extended) February 1994 deadline, so the announcement of the results would be delivered with a fanfare of trumpets and much hyperbole-laded copy.
If the verdict wasn’t to be teased on the front cover of the magazine, you’d at least expect it to be highlighted in the contents pages, knowing how many entrants and curious onlookers would be waiting with bated breath. Don’t forget, the stakes were pretty high; one of two Amiga 4000 computers was up for grabs, plus the chance to have your game included on a future cover disk and distributed to thousands of fervent Amiga fans and industry insiders. It could have launched the career of an undiscovered, talented coder, making him or her a household name. It was The X-Factor for nerds!
I spent an embarrassing period of time trawling through a dozen issues of Amiga Format to track down the results so you don’t have to (yeah, yeah, I’m a real hero, enough). You know where I eventually found them? Page 170 of issue 61, dated July 1994. That’s a whopping 8 months after the contest was first announced in issue 52; practically 146 in Llama years, probably. No mention of the culmination of the event was made in the contents pages where someone might logically assume would be helpful, let alone on the front cover.
The winners didn’t even get to revel in the glory of the outcome occupying a dedicated page, instead it was lumped together with two other competition results and wedged next to the magazine staff contact details. No details of the winning games were provided either. No screenshots, not even their titles. Only the names of the two triumphant coders and their location. Let’s party like it’s 1994! …yay?
The magazine were true to their word, however, and both games appeared on future cover disks, though presented by their sister publication, Amiga Power (which was also owned by Future Publishing, as they were known then). Arguably this was preferable because it’s specifically a games magazine, while Format had a penchant for hardware, development and creativity, hence the spin-off in 1991 (Format had been up and running for two years by that stage).
‘Circus’ by Graham Mackarel appeared on cover disk 51b in July 1995 as a full PD release, alongside Missile Command and Spring Time.
It was also given the once-over in Amiga Computing issue 10 in May 1996.
Nick’s game was also later featured on Amiga Format’s Subscriber Superdisk 63 in September 1994. These were exclusive bonus extras given as a reward for committing to pay up front and have the magazine delivered to your front door before it hit the shops. It was accompanied by a ‘Backstage’ newsletter which included further details of the game.
So there you have it, a 23 year old miscarriage of justice is finally rectified. Names chiseled on stone tablets, committed to the interweb’s history books. Job done.
Neither Nick* or Graham** appear to have gone on to release any follow-up works. No doubt because Amiga Format failed to properly acknowledge their efforts all those years ago, thereby shattering their fragile self confidence, and dreams of a lucrative career in games development. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they’re now living in cardboard boxes on the mean-streets of Leyland and Sheffield. They could even be sharing the same box, huddled together to stave off the biting chill of winter’s perennial cyclones (it’s always winter in Blighty).
Shame on you Amiga Format!!! …and ! just for good measure.
*Actually Nick (left) went on to become an immensely successful programmer who has worked in a variety of fields and with a plethora of divergent platforms. You had to go and ruin my punchline didn’t you!
**Representing a perfect example of nominative determinism, Graham now works as a fishmonger. The lesson being, never let a barefaced lie get in the way of a good gag.