In light of the hysteria that culminated in Atari’s rumoured E.T. game cartridge mass grave being excavated and filmed for a documentary in 2014, you’d imagine the fact that Commodore has their own would be detonative news. Not so – it’s almost as if it has been entombed!
Commodore were principally a hardware company; they didn’t develop their own games in-house, yet did lend the cache of their chicken lips emblem to an assortment of C64 titles made by bedroom programmers on their behalf. ‘Spirit of the Stones’ – the unlikely joint venture of author John Worsely, the Isle of Wight Tourist Board and Commodore – was one such example.
It’s a peculiar mix of real-world beach-combing exploration and on-screen action, a feat that to this day has failed dismally to find its footing, despite the advent of head-mounted virtual reality technology.
A year prior to the release of Commodore’s 1984 game of the same name, John’s book documented a folkloric tale of the scattering of 41 talisman around his own stomping ground, the Isle of Wight. The novel and the game are riddled with clues – written in a “secret runic alphabet” – to aid you in your treasure hunt to decipher the whereabouts of the gemstones, and the ultimate prize, a genuine diamond known as the Great White Eye.
You don’t have to make the trip to the island with a shovel to play along, but Diamond Time holidays would have been very grateful if you did, given that their commissioned foray into the fantasy realm was a cunning PR exercise intended to boost tourism.
The finished product was shipped to the tourist board who made a tidy profit of £3 a throw for any units they managed to shift. Not a bad deal at all for a budget title back in the eighties. That said, it’s unlikely Commodore’s experimental scavenge-em-up would have set the world ablaze given that when their Corby factory was shut down in 1986 owing to financial difficulties, they were left with a surplus mound of 10,000 copies.
Commodore Horizons, March 1986
David Pleasance – who was Commodore UK’s sales and marketing lead at the time – was lumbered with the unenviable duty of getting shut of them at the cost-cutting behest of the president of Commodore International, Thomas Rattigan.
David knew he had to move fast so was willing to let them go for a knock down rate. He offered them to the Isle of Wight Tourist Board for a £1 a unit, allowing them to make a margin of 20 or 30 pence on each sale.
Held up against their prior, far more generous cut, they refused to take the bait. Clearly not one to be bartered with when there’s a principle at stake, David threatened to dispose of the entirety of the remaining stock and absorb the losses himself. They called his ‘bluff’ and he unceremoniously went ahead and dug their graves… the games I mean, he’s not Tony Soprano!
Commodore hired a JCB, quarried a 40 foot wide hole and jettisoned the cassettes into it, all under the diligent auspices of a legal team to ensure the ‘write-off’ was recorded legitimately.
Well, no time to dawdle and yak folks; I’m off to register www.commodoregameover.com and Kick my own Starter, or whatever the phrase is!