Nine inches under tall

This article was written as part of the Make a Wish Week Amigathon. Donations are now being accepted to help fulfil the dying wishes of terminally ill children.

After the rip-roaring success of the first Garfield junket for the Amiga you could bet your bottom squeaky rodent it wouldn’t be long before Big, Fat, Hairy Deal had kittens. Sure enough in 1989 the same team – operating under ‘The Edge’ label – delivered their next bundle of joy; ‘Garfield: A Winter’s Tail’ sub-subtitled, ‘A Midsupper Night’s Dream’.

Initially developed on the Atari ST with a view to a winter release, dovetailing neatly with the snowy theme, unforeseen production delays led to the double-punning title finally emerging in August 1989. As was common for the time, the ST served as the lead platform, with a port to the Amiga planned to follow at a later date. And follow it did, in October of the same year, capitalising on the winter wonderland sentiment originally projected. Also on the brink of the ’90s, Amstrad and C64 owners were treated to a port, while Speccy fans joined the party a year later.

Coder, Steve Cargill, and graphician, Jack Wilkes, once again shepherded the litter, with Glyn Kendall and Justin Garvanovic adopting the Amiga conversion. David Whittaker must have been otherwise engaged since Dave Lowe (Uncle Art) picked up the meowsical mantle on this occasion, furnishing us with a single madcap, zany, carnival style tune that plays throughout. In small doses it’s fun, catchy, lively, and totally appropriate.

Steve and Jack were so proud of their efforts they had their names framed and mounted in the game itself. Not on the title screen as is more typical, in the actual game. We’ll find out soon if that pride was warranted.

While the first entry in the short-lived series is a leisurely paced adventure title, Winter’s Tail is a collection of three and a bit mini action games that must be completed in the correct sequence if you are to accomplish your strange mission and experience the head-scratcher of a finale. Otherwise they can be tackled in any order except for the fourth and final level, which you have to work up to. No icing before the cake or you’ll spoil your dessert!

In many stories you wake up at the end only to discover that whatever trippy, screwball adventure had just ensued was in fact merely a dream. Winter’s Tail turns all such notions on their head by beginning with a dream and leaving you in no doubt that this is precisely what’s happening; a narrative device aimed towards stringing together the totally independent challenges with a thread of continuity otherwise known as Garfield’s refrigerated siesta. You’ll see…

“It’s been a hard day for Garfield; he spent the entire day, well since waking anyway (which come to think of it wasn’t that long ago…) in the kitchen. The ice-box is now almost bare after some pretty hard work on his part helping Jon to reduce his house’s food stocks…

Garfield has fallen asleep in his box in front of the still open ice-box door and as the cool blasts from the ice-box waft over him he starts to dream…

He dreams of the Alps… and that reminds him of Northern Italy… which reminds him of lasagna! (hum… sounds like lunch). As his dream unfolds he is also reminded that Switzerland is just on the other side of the Alps… which reminds him of chocolate (hum… sounds like desert!). But once in the chocolate factory of his dreams he learns of the mythical ‘Chicken that Lays the Chocolate Eggs’! And the chase is on for Garfield to find this magical beast and catch it! The chase is on through the factory, across the frozen lake outside, and away into the nearby Swiss village…”

Just another manic Monday then. I hate those. I wish it was Sunday. Fast asleep in your bed you project a dream bubble overhead from which you can select a level to attempt. Make your choice and a heavily scanlined incarnation of yourself steps out of your corporeal body symbolising that your mind and spirit are venturing elsewhere.

If you’re gunning for the Big Payoff you’ll want to get proceedings underway with the downhill skiing slalom event… as opposed to the uphill kind I suppose, which is far too much like hard work for a furball who won’t get out of bed for less than a five course meal! This entails hurtling towards the base of a snowcapped piste at breakneck speed (he says applying Garfieldian sarcasm without cracking so much as a half-smirk), whilst shimmying around various treacherous obstacles that have been haphazardly strewn across the landscape to make your already stressful existence more arduous.

Looking uncharacteristically cheerful, your state of health is measured by the expression of the Garfield avatar in the corner of the screen. As time flies (while you’re having fun) you grow ever hungrier causing your level of alertness to dip until you become comatosed, and erm… wake up, signalling the end of the game. To ward off such a cat-astrophic occurrence you must imbibe regular meals on the go by swerving towards the Alpine villagers who await with steaming hot pies, chocolate gateau, chicken legs and other edible delights.

“Oh, hi Jon, how did you get inside my dreamscape?”

It’s often been debated whether or not Jon has a telepathic link with Garfield. Perhaps this is castiron evidence at last! Whatever the case may be, welcome to the inside of my head. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Only it’s not quite as simple as that because Odie’s on board too, and we know that spells trouble and strife. You’ll spot him gliding down the slope alongside you on an upturned dustbin lid, devouring your precious food parcels as he descends. There’s no need to look so disgusted; you dreamt him into the cast so you only have yourself to blame.

You’re not at your most agile twisting and turning to avoid logs, tree stumps and rocks so are best advised to attempt to jump over them, under your own steam, or using the ramps provided as a launchpad. Braving the final mega-ramp and leaping from the edge (sorry, I said it out of context!) at precisely the right meowment is mandatory in order to propel yourself into the next stage. How else do you intend to crash land through the roof of the lasagna factory? Duh! This isn’t Inception you know.

 

This micro half-event is designed to test your joystick-waggling prowess. The faster you waggle, the more lasagna you gorge on and the greater your energy reserves will be for the subsequent challenge. Long before your wrist disintegrates, Odie puts in an appearance to signal it’s “time for dessert”, blowing out the furnace’s flames to spoil your feast, or rather advance it to the next level. In other words we’re off to the chocolate factory. Who dreamt up these stages, some kind of food-obsessed pet with a bottomless pit for a stomach? Oh right, almost forgot. Silly me.

There you must clamber over conveyer belts, up and down fireman’s poles, in and out of lifts, and across escalators, tweaking valves to massage the flow of molten chocolate to feed mechanical chickens… just like real life. Wow, this is practically a food production simulator. I hope you’re taking notes.

Pushing buttons allows you to switch the direction of flow, helpfully indicated by rotating arrows. Predictably Odie is ‘Johnny on the spot’ when it comes to throwing a spanner in the works; whenever your back is turned you can guarantee he’ll be there to meddle and sabotage your hard toil. Luckily, as in the first game, he can be kicked out of harm’s way. No points are awarded, however, because Winter’s Tail doesn’t have a scoreboard system of any kind.

Once the needs of all the little cluckers have been met and they begin pumping out chocolate eggs we can access the lift to visit the control room and behold the fabled real-flesh chocolate-egg-plopping chicken. Remember the others are merely robobirds. I believe the system was modelled on the modern production plant at Cadbury’s World.

Is it just me or do fantastical creatures lose their sense of wonder when you consider that even in a dream they may be no more than folklore? Even if it’s there, it’s not. I’m overthinking again aren’t I? See what happens when there’s no killing and destruction to occupy our idle hands? There’s a lesson in there somewhere kids.

All this macro-analysis is academic as it happens because just as we reach the control room the chuck in question is hightailing it out the back door to a life free of battery farming. The upshot, we aren’t able to expose its eggs to the rigours of scientific inquiry, leaving us none the wiser vis-a-vis the bird’s authenticity.

Well whatever, living out a sleep-eat-sleep existence we’ve got nothing else in the diary so we may as well assume it’s the real deal and spend the next level tracking it down. Anyway, this game is short enough as it is, we can’t call it a day-dream yet.

If we’re going to go on a wild goo-chicken chase, we may as well do it in style, so why not hunt the critter on ice skates and trail its chocolate footprints across a frozen lake, wolfing them down as we go? We could perform 90 degree handbrake turns to navigate around breaks in the ice, snow walls, old bike tyres, rubber rings, you name it. Consider it a four-way joystick operation, forget trying to steer and you’ll be fine. We may even bump into our favourite teddy bear, Pookie.

If that all sounds too easy we could have Odie emerge like a periscope from beneath the ice, saw perfectly spherical holes in our path and submerge again to wreak havoc elsewhere. Still not tricky enough? We could brakelessly scoot across the Arctic tundra at the speed of light giving us no time to take evasive action when approaching a thoughtlessly abandoned obstacle, the allure of the Swiss village’s safe harbour ever-beckoning. Where’s the fly-tipping squad when you need ’em anyway?

Except on the 16-bit versions the ultimate reward, the payload finale sequence – whatever that might have entailed – never materialised because Garfield would hit an impasse, a juncture of corrupt graphics and impenetrable ice-water. And that folks would be where his quest for the poultry equivalent of the holy golden chalice ran aground.

Rarely were games patched once they’d hit the retailer’s shelves and recouped their return on investment so Amiga and Atari ST gamers never got to see the conclusion. That was until 26 years later when husband and wife YouTube retro gaming duo, Octotiggy, were putting Winter’s Tail through its paces for a Christmas let’s play video and the Mister Octopus half of the tag team spoke of his disappointment at having never been able to finish the game as a kid.

As luck would have it, accomplished Hungarian coder, retro gamer and bisexual spiritual deer, RoePipi, happened to be watching (*shrug* I dunno, he said it). Reliving Octo’s still raw, visceral heartache awoke in him memories of his own destroyed childhood, and with a steely glint in his eye and a flare of the nostrils he vowed to right the wrongs, heal the wounds that Garfield and his midsupper dream had carelessly torn open so many moons ago.

He toiled night and day, pouring over thousands of lines of code armed only with a fine tooth comb, tweezers, and a gritty determination to identify the source of the miscarriage of justice and retroactively save Christmas 1989. And get to the nucleus of the malfunction he did; the entirety of the final level was insitu on the disk, yet corruption had resulted from an errant load function.

Spanner at the ready (he’d called for backup at this point), RoePipi fixed the disk and in December 2015 revealed his special gift to the world! His version of Winter’s Tail at last allowed the game to be completed and even added the option to remove the snow barriers from the skating level to make it less hair-tearingly infuriating!

That still doesn’t answer the question of how the bugs were introduced in the first place, however. Were the coders of the original Atari ST release responsible? Did something go wrong during the porting process to the Amiga, or are the crackers to blame for breaking a previously perfectly functioning game? To get to the bottom of the matter I got in touch with one of the coders of the Amiga edition, Justin Garvanovic.

Firstly I put it to him that perhaps the corruption was introduced deliberately as an anti-piracy mechanism.

“I doubt it – my feeling is it was introduced by the crack. I don’t recall any copy protection, but I did use a special disk format that was not copyable on the Amiga, so it would have needed to be cracked to make it copyable.”

It turns out Glyn Kendall did the bulk of the translation work, while Justin applied the finishing touches.

“I didn’t do the conversion. Someone else ported it straight from the ST conversion, but the problem was they were running under the operating system, so they had used too much memory. I was brought in to remove all OS use (joystick and disk access as far as I remember), and make it all fit into 512K.

I never really played it that much – that was done by Edge – so I never saw the issue. Shame they never seemingly tested it very well.

I do think that it worked though… I would have had to see it all loading to make sure my disk routines worked OK…”

So was salvaging it worth the wait, what inscrutable enigma lay beyond the broken mess of graphical glitchery? Well, grab a can of Whiskers, hang onto your stripes and we’ll find out together…

Reaching the end of the lake triggers a visit to a crossroads in front of the Swiss farm. There a stern looking rooster patrols the entrance to the chicken coop believed to be the new home of the mythical Super Chuck. It being a designated ‘no Garfield zone’ naturally you’re barred from entry. Nevertheless, undeterred Garf hatches a cunning plan – a swift visit to the kitchen sees him return with a red rubber washing-up glove on his head, transforming him into a fantastically convincing rooster indistinguishable from the guard, enabling him to pass through the barricade without raising the alarm.

 

 

 

Behind the hen houses, to our delight we discover our missing in action bird and a goofy ear to ear grin spreads across Garfield’s beaming face. But wait, just then the chicken begins to multiply. One becomes two, two becomes four (that’s how multiplication works apparently), and Garfield’s premature glee evaporates into distress and regret. Smile rapidly fading, the scene closes on a cliffhanger, leaving us with a new conundrum. What the flappin’ ‘eck just happened? Sorry for the foul language, it just slipped out.

 

Why would one chocolate egg laying chuck be a cause for celebration, yet more give our feline chum the blues? Surely this dramatic turn of events is a bonus for anyone suffering from a compulsive eating disorder? Unless of course the cavalry has arrived to prevent Garfield from chucknapping the chocolate-making factory, so he assumes the game’s up and he’s going to go hungry. In which case, why not stay in the production plant in the first place? There was plenty of chocolate there.

Perhaps we shouldn’t expect to be able to follow The Edge’s logic, it’s not the only thing that doesn’t add up, and I’m not referring to Tim Langdell’s belief that he has the sole jurisdiction to use the word ‘edge’. If you look on the back of the game’s box you’ll see a ringing endorsement complete with exclamation mark, supposedly courtesy of Sinclair User: “easily the best cartoon license game ever!”. Which is distinctly odd because aside from the graphics, Sinclair User thought the game stunk, rating it a lowly 50%.

“The thing that bugged me overall about this game is that you don’t seem to have to accumulate points, no score appears at the bottom of the screen, and it seems to take weeks for your energy to run out. That aside, I thought the graphics were really brilliant, with both the Garfield and Odie characters staying true to the original cartoon.

I really wanted to like this game. The basic idea is fine, but it’s just too slow and frankly not very interesting. There’s more chance of me being knighted than getting addicted to Garfield Winter’s Tale.

Nice graphics, shame about the rest.”

Sinclair User issue 96 (March 1990)

And they weren’t the only critics to lambast Winter’s Tail. It wasn’t universally hated, yet no publication exactly strung up the bunting to usher in its arrival either. The Games Machine came the closest with their 80% review of the Atari ST version published in the August 1989 edition.

“With four subgames in one package Garfield – Winter’s Tail provides a fairly stiff challenge. The graphics are cute and cuddly and Garfield is his usual canine-punting, lasagna-gobbling self. Its attractions are more aimed at a younger audience, but it probably remains a game for anyone.”

It was downhill from there.

“With A Winter’s Tail split into five separate challenges, you can approach a more diverse range of tasks than were possible in its predecessor. However, these are not fantastic by any stretch of the imagination. A lack of speed is one of the most serious limitations. The skiing level in particular suffers from being too slow but it’s perhaps more noticeable here because it’s the kind of challenge which has surfaced in many an arcade action game.”

70% – ST Format (August 1989)

“After the (in my opinion) disappointing Big Fat Hairy Deal, The Edge needed a different slant for their next Garfield tie-in. Winter’s Tail isn’t nearly as complex as its predecessor, a lot of the gameplay relying more on joystick dexterity and a good memory. In some respects, it’s paid off, as this time it’s a great deal simpler to get into the game.

Winter’s Tail does have its drawbacks, however. The sprites, although large, colourful and immediately recognisable, tend to move too slowly, especially on the skiing level where a hasty slide to the left or right is essential in avoiding some of the obstacles (I also noticed that collision detection was somewhat suspect on this level, too). Still, Winter’s Tail deserves to do well, being an instantly playable, enjoyable tie-in of everyone’s favourite moggy.”

63% – Zzap! (Amiga version, March 1989)

“The great thing about Winter’s Tail is the way it captures perfectly the personality of the amiable Garfield. Some of the animation is very funny – I love the way the furry feline kicks poor Odie right off the screen. The cheerful music also adds to the cartoon atmosphere. My main niggle is that with only three levels the appeal won’t last too long although the option to play them in any order is a good idea. The gameplay that is present is also very simple, but Garfield fans will no doubt enjoy this light-hearted, lightweight licence.”

More from Zzap! (Amiga version, March 1989)

“And that’s the basic trouble with Garfield – Winter’s Tail. Although there are four different games in here there’s an odd kind of similarity about each one. Each section is too unaddictive, small and slow. Mind you, the graphics are a different tin of pilchards – even though the proceedings are in monochrome, Garfield and Odie have been drawn perfectly, and some of the expressions Garfield pulls are actually quite funny. But that ain’t enough to save it. No, I think I’d rather sit down with a copy of ol’ Bill’s A Winter’s Tale than this.”

50% – Your Sinclair (March 1990)

“Once again though, good presentation is let down by a poor game design. The first section (skiing) is OK: it lacks a lot of content, but it looks good and plays reasonably. Unfortunately, the Lake and the Chocolate Factory are both awful; the former is unplayable, the latter too boring for words. Fans of Garfield with money to spend on cuddly toys and other stuff of dubious usefulness might find it good value, but any games player is going to seriously question the importance of buying this. Not recommended to anyone but the most die-hard fans.”

43% – Amiga Format (November 1989)

“The best thing about the game is the animation and graphical representation of Garfield. He looks great, but unfortunately the games lack any imagination whatsoever. All four episodes are far too simplistic. Seriously lacking in gameplay and with a very low addiction factor this turns out to be more of a Garfield nightmare than a dream.”

29% – ACE (Atari ST version, September 1989)

“What a wasted license. For die-hard fans only.”

17% – Amiga Power (May 1991)

There, doesn’t your life feel that bit more fulfilled with this one ticked off your bucket list? If tonight’s catnap is the very definition of uninterrupted blissful serenity you’ve got RoePipi to thank for that.

Winter’s Tail may not have revolutionised contemporary gaming as we know it, it may not have made any sense, or engendered warm, fuzzily fond memories over which to reminisce more than a quarter of a century down the tracks. It may not have even made the faintest bleep on your radar, or… where was I going with this? Oh yeah, right, upbeat wrap-up time, it’s Christmas after all. It’s not? Well we had it in August in 1989 so Big, Fat, Hairy Deal with it!

A not so stellar Garfield game is still a Garfield game, and Garfield being the lovable sour puss legend he is, who could pass up the opportunity to let him into the Amiga sandbox for a round of ‘mail Nermal to Abu Dhabi’?

To give the developer’s their due, thanks to the seductively smooth, immaculately rendered animation and sprite design you can believe you’re actually watching and playing the genuine article. Who could resist the snarkily endearing charm of our curmudgeonly cynical chum as he executes his trademark ‘straight-legged failed toe touch’ maneuver whenever he reaches for an object on the ground in the chocolate factory, or the gleeful relish he savours when launching poor, docile Odie into the stratosphere? And of course not forgetting Odie’s startled expression upon realising that’s indubitably where he’s headed.

In spite of its drawbacks, encapsulating Jim Davis’ dour, off-kilter humour and charismatic artistry as adeptly as The Edge have done makes it that much harder to send this one to bed without its supper, post-supper, post-post supper snack, and pre-bedtime-post-midnight-snack-meal, proving, “It’s amazing what one can accomplish when one doesn’t know what one can’t do.” Ciao!

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