The Great Gnorm Gnat switcheroonie

<span style="font-size: 10pt">This article was written as part of the <a href="http://www.everythingamiga.com/2017/07/wish-upon-amiga.html">Make a Wish Week Amigathon</a>. Donations are now being accepted to help fulfil the dying wishes of terminally ill children.</span>

Long before The Edge Interactive chief executive and founder, Tim Langdell, began suing anyone who dared to even think about using the word ‘edge’ in a corporate capacity, he produced (and actually designed two) computer games. Between 1984 and 1994, Edge Games – formerly Softek Intl. – operating out of Pasadena, California developed and/or published 24 games including acclaimed titles such as Fairlight, Bobby Bearing, Urban Strike and Darius+.

Up until April 2013 Tim instead operated as a dedicated trademark troll, cashing in on the right to litigate against any competitors to his edgy papier mache​ throne. At that point the US Patent & Trademark Office woke up and cancelled his flimsy, common noun trademarks by court order, and the world rejoiced at his long overdue misfortune. Reverend Tim is now absolving his sins as a priest with the American Catholic Church in Southern California. No, really.

One of Edge’s most clawe-inspiring titles pre-meltdown was ‘Garfield: Big, Fat, Hairy Deal’. In fact it was the first video game to be based on Jim Davis’ cartoon strip (the Atari 2600 entry doesn’t count because it was cancelled) revolving around a lazy, food and coffee obsessed, Monday-spider-diet hating puddy tat; the same moggy who went on to become the world’s most widely syndicated comic strip star, appearing in roughly 2,580 newspapers and journals with a daily following of more than 260 million readers as calculated in 2013.

<span style="font-size: 10pt">Spot the ‘Jack’. I can’t imagine what the significance might be. ;)</span>

“I think Garfield takes our guilt away for being, essentially, lazy slobs. We’re constantly hearing ‘Exercise. Reduce cholesterol. Lower your fat intake.’ Garfield’s out there saying, ‘Go ahead. Have that donut!’ He’s an antihero.”

Jim Davies, garfield.com interview

Garfield, the sarcastic caricature with cat-itude – who will reach the ripe old age of 40 next year – emanated from Jim’s own experiences on a small farm in Fairmount, Indiana where he grew up surrounded by twenty five cats. You may also remember Jim for his work on Orson’s Farm (known as U.S. Acres in the… you can probably guess), although I have no idea where he got that idea from.

“I worked for Tom Ryan, the creator of the Tumbleweeds cartoon, for several years. I learned the discipline and skills it takes to become a syndicated cartoonist by watching Tom. I tried my hand at my own cartoon, Gnorm Gnat; a strip based on a bug. Comics editors at the newspaper syndicates thought the strip was funny, but as one put it, “Bugs? Who can relate to a bug?” So I decided to take a hard look at the comics page. I noticed that dogs were doing well; there was Snoopy, Marmaduke, Belvedere, but no cats! So I decided to use my experience with cats when I was growing up to my advantage. That’s when I started doodling around with cat drawings. In 1977, I came up with the idea, and on June 19, 1978, the first Garfield strips appeared in 41 U.S. newspapers.”

Jim Davis, garfield.com interview

“I love Monty Python and The Two Ronnies – they’re every bit as funny today. I love those left turns in English humour.”

Jim Davis: the interview (6th October 2009)

Oh, I almost forgot the ten dollar word of the day: anthropomorphic. Isn’t it amazing how many things that applies to? What’s the word for not anthropomorphic? It might be more logical to use that whenever the occasion presents.

“He took my drawing, and said, ‘Here’s your problem, he has these little cat feet. Give him big human feet’. So Charles Schulz drew the first standing Garfield. From then on Garfield walked on his back feet.”

Jim Davis, Telegraph interview (3rd April 2009)

Don’t tell anyone this but I underwent a bit of a Garfield fixation growing up. I owned all the books, comics, and you name it, every piece of memorabilia I could lay my claws on, and would spend hours on end drawing Garfield and Friends from memory (even Binky the Clown who you may be able to spot in Big, Fat, Hairy Deal) in a hundred and one zany scenarios. I’m purr-fectly OK now, as long as I keep taking the pills, although I do still silently speak with my mind. Like I said, keep it under your hat won’t you. Come on help meow-t, it’s not something I want getting online paw-lease.

“What’s the strangest Garfield merchandise someone’s ever proposed?” — Boaz T.

“I thought a toilet seat (for humans) was pretty strange. Turned out it was a good seller.”

Jim Davis, Pop Candy interview (September 30th 2010)

House-training the furry tearaway way back in 1988 on the Atari ST was coder Stephen Cargill (who would later work on Chaos Engine 1 & 2), in collaboration with Jack Wilkes who supplied the purr-ty graphics. John Jones-Steele (of Speedball II fame) – credited in-game as Abersoft – took charge of the Amiga conversion, whilst meow-sician David Whittaker (who’s so tail-ented he needs no brackets of explanation) contributed the ‘toons.

Big, Fat, Hairy Deal – already an established catchphrase in the Garfield lexicon – is an adventure game of sorts, only with no pointy-clicking and minimal dialogue. More of an exercise in object manipulation then really; one that’s tricky purely be-claws the ‘pick up object A and place in position B’ style puzzles are so esoteric. As such a player with a walkthrough can complete it in fifteen minutes, as opposed to someone learning on the job who may give up in exasperation long before tying up the loose ends.

As a game hinged upon what started as a seven cell newspaper comic strip you wouldn’t expect the plot to plumb the depths of a literary lagoon for inspiration… and it certainly doesn’t disappoint.

“I wonder what day it is? Hum…

“Garfield!”

What’s that??

“Garfield… Arlene’s been taken to the City Pound!!”

Hellooo Monday… it must be Monday. Nothing good happens to me on a Monday.

Well, I suppose… yawn… that it’s time to get started. Where’s Odie? Where is the world’s most stupid dog? Perhaps he could go to the pound for me… no I suppose I’d better go myself…

This is going to be difficult… Jon’s even locked the refrigerator. Can’t even say Hello to the Lasagna… and I suppose I can’t even get at his coffee whilst he’s looking…

 

It should be easy for me to find the City Pound… although it will probably be a little easier for me to find some other places… say the Butcher…

Yup… I should be okay as long as Odie and Nermal (the World’s cutest kitten) can help me… and as long as I don’t get too many Snack Attacks!”

On our journey towards rescuing Arlene from the pound we get to explore other Muncie, Indiana scenic hotspots such as the garden, shed, butcher’s shop (where we can refuel), cellar, town shops, park, golf course, and sewers. Task one is to get out of the house via the cat flap, and obviously you do that by placing a bone next to it and letting your co-inhabiting, dimwitted beagle, Odie, bound against it to light the way to freedom. Freedom from eating lasagna and sleeping, a lot.

“In some ways I’m a lot like Garfield. I love the good things in life – food, relaxing, TV, food. I do love lasagna, and just about any Italian food, especially pizza. On the other hand, I’m pretty driven and a hard worker, so in that way, I’m nothing like Garfield.

Many of Garfield’s characteristics are culled from my impressions of all the farm cats I remember from my childhood. I combined typical cat-like traits with the personality of my Grandfather, James “Garfield” Davis, who was a rather curmudgeonly fellow with a dry wit.”

Jim Davis, garfield.com interview

Speaking of chow, Garfield needs regular meals to keep his strength up and ward off cat-atonia, represented by a depleting stack of pizzas in the HUD. While lasagna is his numero uno preference, he’s not that fussy; the ginger tabby will munch his way through cherry pie, ice-cream, beef burgers, cookies, topped crusts from the Pizza Party joystick waggle fest, steal Jon’s coffee from the kitchen table when he’s not looking, and even wolf down any mission critical objects in his possession if he’s on the brink of the vaguest hunger pang, the repercussion being that you’re no longer able to complete the game – quite a novel life system!

Nevermind, if the worry of dying of malnutrition becomes too stressful you can always kick Odie for ten bonus points (and again on the rebound from the nearest wall), or Nermel for a hundred. To be fair Odie is asking for it; every time he comes into contact with you he drains your precious energy and steals your inventory! That does mean he can act as a useful baggage carrier given that you can only hold one item at once, yet that shouldn’t stand in the way of a spot of feline schadenfreude, Garfield’s specialist subject. That’s just one of the purr-ks of being a cartoon cat without a conscience – if Odie can’t handle the abuse, he can always pawse the game and take a breather.

Not that there’s any time to dawdle when we have pooches to rescue. Grab the torch from the bedroom and head down to the sewer to find Nermel who is guaranteed to be harbouring a gaming linchpin clockwork mouse you can kick loose to further your cause. Without a light source down under, you’ll quickly lose your bearings and be stuck in the sludge for all of your nine lives.

 

If you unleash this in the health food shop where the spinny-headed lady works behind the counter, you can shake free a spinach doughnut from the counter. Along with raisins, spinach is your worst edible nightmare so clearly you won’t be using either to boost your energy reserves. Instead you’ll want to feed the holy delicacy to the giant rat living in the sewer to incapacitate it long enough for you to swipe the dog pound key from the trunk.

We interrupt this review to bring you a juicy trivia tidbit: Garfield has been the mascot of the Kennywood theme park in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania since the ‘90s. It features several orange pussy themed attractions including ‘Garfield’s Pounce Bounce’ and ‘Garfield’s Nightmare’, a boat ride devised in close collaboration with Jim Davis, and one which shares its name with a game released for the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS in 2007.

OK, as we were… right after this commercial break:-

“I enjoyed the game immensely and would recommend it as an ideal Christmas present for young and old alike. This is the ultimate Garfield experience – taste it now.”

80% – Atari ST User (December 1988)

If the puzzles aren’t floating your boat you may like to take a step back for a meow-ment and appreciate the attention to detail in the animation. For instance, whenever Garfield jumps, he reaches the peak of his arc when the startling realisation dawns upon him that he’ll have to fall all the way back down to earth again… all three inches of the way! If you’re familiar with the comic you’ll be aware Garfield isn’t a feline who adjusts well to physical exertion.

Other neat touches exist similarly to raise a smile without really serving any game-oriented purpose. You can jump on an armchair and give it a good kicking to break its springs, mirroring Garfield’s perpetual war with Jon’s defenceless furniture, and if you remain idle for too long, Garfield will impatiently enquire, “hey, anybody there?”. Likewise you can topple over into a sewer grid with the help of a pie projectile where you’ll come whisker to whisker with a pizza monster if you’ve eaten more than is healthy.

“I am Jon, I’m the daydreamer. I hark back to my college days when I write for Jon. I didn’t have a whole lot of success getting dates, I was always a bit of a geek.”

Jim Davis, Telegraph interview (3rd April 2009)

Some apparent gimmicks actually serve a practical purpose. Take the aniseed balls for example. Pick these up and you become invincible for as long as you carry them, whereas if Odie gets to them first it will somehow prevent him from nicking your collectables. Maybe the explosive taste sensation is enough to make him forget that’s on the to-do list.

In the meantime, sell your reclaimed bucket to the hardware store to earn yourself a crisp new dollar bill, and swap this with the health food store clerk for some bird seed. Leave this by the tree in the park near the lady sitting on the bench and a seagull will swoop down and hoist you into the air to take you to… well you’ll have to hold your breath and wait to find out.

Before we go anywhere though, you’ll have to retrieve the key you left on the golf course green while you were faffing around sourcing the bird seed. Remember you only have short pockets. While you’re there you might like to have a go at pitch ‘n’ putt for bonus points. Four! Well, 100 actually for a hole in one, and 500 for hitting the sewer.

“The graphics remain amazingly expressive and there are dozens of little ‘extras’ to keep your interest (try setting Garfield to work on the chair). I’m not entirely convinced by the gameplay, but it could be that I’m just particularly sensitive to what I would call ‘unfair’. The sound effects are OK, but you may find the jaunty theme tune a little irritating after a while. Whatever – you must try and see it – if only for the graphics.”

74% – The One (Atari ST, December 1988)

As it happens, the seagull delivers us straight to the pound we need to visit to rescue Arlene. That’s jolly convenient isn’t it.

“Garfield, my hero!”

As the lovebirds walk through the flower fields into the sunset together, the curtains close with the adieu, “see you in paradise Garfield”. Would the next scene have been x-rated by any chance? We’ll never find out because cat’s all folks.

“The basic 8-bit game with few changes, save for clearer background graphics and animation. Obscure gameplay makes it one for connoisseurs of the genre – or Jim Davis’ cat character.”

554/1000 – ACE (February 1989)

While there’s no getting away from the accusation that it’s a poor approximation of an adventure game, it does have a certain charm that will win over Garfield and Jim Davis fans. To that end Softek captured the essence of the cartoon beautifully; the graphics are spot on thanks to their collaboration with Jim and all Garfield’s obsessive predilections and mannerisms have been diligently incorporated.

“While the game’s substance is over-familiar, the characters are well captured and add a unique element of furry humour.”

72% – The Games Machine (Atari ST, November 1988)

As for the gameplay, there’s not a whole lot of it, and it’s excessively frustrating to the degree that many players assume it’s broken rather than punishing by design. Still, if you approach the title as more of a digital pet distraction than a brain-teasing adventure game you’ll at least get something out of the experience.

For anyone who loved Garfield: Big, Fat, Hairy, Deal, let me leave you with some pro-cat-stination fodder to chew on… ‘Snoopy: The Cool Computer Game’. It’s more of the same, only now you’ll be able to ask Frank why he’s wearing that stupid beagle suit.

 

2 thoughts on “The Great Gnorm Gnat switcheroonie

  • August 8, 2017 at 10:41 am
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    I never got into Garfield. I was more of a Bill the Cat guy.

  • August 8, 2017 at 11:23 am
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    I don’t think he can have been very big in the UK – I’ve only ever seen a couple of pics. Apparently Bill is the illegitimate son of Garfield! 😀 No games were made based on the character by the looks of it.

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