I’ve got the secret, I’ve got the key to another way

It must have felt like Groundhog Day for Steve Turner’s development studio, Graftgold. Having struggled to publish their highly acclaimed Rainbow Islands conversion following a protracted litigation ordeal with MicroProse and Telcomsoft, they found themselves in a similar predicament when the time came to distribute Fire and Ice.

Certain species of hedgehog are prey to wolves. Insert your own joke here.

Originally conceived in September 1990 as a Turrican style run and gun game, it was to be published by Mirrorsoft (along with a console port of Total Recall), right up until Robert Maxwell’s impromptu, fateful dip into the deep blue yonder put the kibosh on the arrangement. After a period of stagnation, Fire and Ice was eventually published by Renegade in May 1992 to largely rapturous applause from Amiga critics (an average of 89.83% across 12 reviews).

You adopt the role of Cool Coyote, the star of the horizontally scrolling platformer that sees you traipse the plains of seven climatically diverse arenas to track down a demented wizard of the fire element persuasion known as Suten who resides in the hottest locale of all. No, not hell, Egypt! Although you might be hard pressed to tell the difference as a foreign holidaymaker.

Directive two is to return the rabble-rouser to the prison in which he has been incarcerated for the previous 2000 years, scuppering his chance to harness the power of the sun to decimate planet earth. Before the inhabitants take care of it themselves via the magic of global warming presumably.

You’re operating at the behest of his arch enemy, defender of the realm, Glemm, who requires a Wily non-human (because they’re all dumbos) stooge to assist him in defeating Suten. Apparently he can’t do it by himself because that would cause a blip on Suten’s radar, torpedoing the salvation plan irreconcilably. Oh how convenient. You put your feet up while I save humanity from impending oblivion. Can I get you a cuppa to go with your Jammie Dodger Sir?

That’s your plot nut-shelled. Something like that anyway – it’s not important, I suspect it’s all fiction in any case.

PW = artist Phillip Williams in case you were wondering.
He shared graphic design duties with John W. Lilley

We learn from an interview given to Amiga Lore that Andy borrowed some of the “philosophies and mechanisms” of Fire and Ice from Taito’s Rainbow Islands, a title he is often eulogised for so proficiently translating to the Amiga.

Capitalising on code already in the bag so to speak makes perfect sense, and marks a cornerstone in Andy’s approach to games development. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Graftgold’s recycling and dilution of the Fire and Ice engine to produce Nipper Verses the Kats, a promotional game designed for HMV’s Oxford Circus store in London (though also released on Amiga Power cover disk 32), and the in-house edutainment variant tweaked for PowerGen that has yet to leak beyond the confines of the energy provider’s purlieu.

Our hip protagonist was originally designed to be a floppy, bouncy, long-eared canine rather than a coyote, a kind of spiritual descendent of the lead character from Gribbly’s Day Out, one of Andy’s previous C64 titles (and one that inspired Chris Sorrell to devise James Pond).

When the demo was submitted to Mirrorsoft for approval they weren’t overly enamoured with the lovable, kiddy-friendly furball. Thus Graftgold were asked to make him more edgy and grounded/conventional in the physics department so as to appeal to a more mainstream audience. Bunny-dog was sent packing in place of an altogether more lupine caricature, and Fire and Ice became a familiar runny-jumpy platforming affair, albeit with some novel Japanesey twists.

CU Amiga preview (June 1991)

Whilst also released for the Acorn Archimedes, Atari ST, DOS and the Sega Master System (in Brazil anyway), Fire and Ice was the first of Andrew Braybrook’s progeny to be designed first and foremost as an Amiga title, so naturally it exploits all the system’s more advanced graphical and audio capabilities.

The run and ice romp was also intended to appear on the Mega Drive and Game Gear (four reviews of which were published by various Sega/multi-format magazines early in 1994), though these versions were reluctantly retired before hitting the retailer’s shelves.

Furthermore, any data disk follow-ups or spin-off games Andrew had hinted at in interviews (see Amiga Power’s review) failed to make the leap from the drawing board.

Unbeknownst to Graftgold or Renegade, Virgin – who had no involvement with the game in any capacity whatsoever – had approached Sega to secure the publishing rights for the proposed console iterations, ludicrously armed only with a copy of the special edition Christmas demo given away on an Amiga Power cover disk (issue 20, December 1992).

That’s totally and utterly ridiculous… those stalactites should be hanging from the ceiling of a cave!

Subsequently when Graftgold in turn attempted to pitch the same game, even though they’d produced it from the ground up, they were knocked back and the negotiations hit an impasse. Sega were already on good terms with Virgin so were reticent to rock the boat, and Renegade refused to collaborate with a company they saw as irrelevant upstarts.

In effect, despite being 100% complete, the game never got to go head to head with Sonic on the Mega Drive or Game Game.

The Master System did get a port, though even then only in Brazil where TecToy were authorised to produce and sell officially endorsed Sega console clones. Remarkably there was still a thriving market for new 8-bit games as late into the 32-bit era as 1996 when Darran Eteo’s conversion of Fire and Ice became available.

TecToy continue to manufacture Sega clones to this day – in fact 2016 ushered in the release of their most accurate replica of the mark I Mega Drive to date.

Fire and Ice as distributed by ‘TecToy Industria de Brinquedos S.A.’ includes a reference to Virgin on the title screen. This is because Renegade and Virgin eventually managed to set aside their differences and hash out a deal that would result in the game being published under the Virgin banner, though for reasons unknown even to Steve Turner, it never was.

To get Virgin’s side of the story I thought I’d contact someone in the know, namely their former Director of Development (1990-91) and Vice President (1991-94), Stephen Clark-Willson, who is now ArenaNet’s Studio Technical Director. He didn’t unfortunately (know that is), but did have an interesting anecdote to share that’s too good not to include:-

“When I started at Virgin in 1990 we had a number of Amiga and Atari games in development – almost entirely by UK developers that Martin Alper, the president of Virgin Mastertronic in America – had known when he was in the UK. Most of my time was spent building up our console business so I wasn’t directly involved. Mostly I remember we’d receive milestone builds with Atari or Amiga disks wrapped in foil – and even then, many of the builds wouldn’t work. Later on, thank goodness, we had them delivered to us via BBS, which was faster and cheaper and more reliable. 

One thing I did when I first got there was look at the milestone contracts. We would pay monthly regardless of progress, so we had a lot of half finished games when all of the months had been paid, but developers ran out of money anyway. So I called up each developer and said, “Hey, I know we have this contract with you that pays monthly, but it sure would be great if we had some milestone descriptions – you can write the milestone descriptions yourself.” And everyone went for it! They wrote pretty good milestone descriptions and then we paid them when they submitted a build that reasonably closely matched the milestone description. We’d get a little more strict as they got toward the end, when we really needed a completed game. This caused us to have a lot more games actually get finished and shipped. 

Aside from your story, which doesn’t sound very friendly, we were a pretty good publisher.  We’d get a milestone build, and the developer would be short on cash, and a producer would hand-walk the invoice through the office to get the right signatures, a check would be cut, and then Fed-Exed to the developer, often times going out the same day as the milestone, which usually arrived via BBS in the morning.”

Where were we? Ah yes, Fire and Ice. The curtain rises with the chilly one sitting at a grand piano wearing a rather fetching pair of Deliverance dungarees, barking, winking and hammering out a solo concerto like a lycanthropic saloon entertainer. Even the piano jumps in time with the happenin’ beatz known as ‘Pianodemonium’ in the DOS version’s jukebox.

The cliche choice would have been an electric guitar or saxophone – that’s what Sonic would have opted for. In an attitude-free, ‘I’m too cool to bother trying to look cool’ kind of way, it’s beyond cool. That’s real proper genuine true cool. I don’t think I’ve used the word ‘cool’ quite this much since I was 13 years old… ironically when I owned more than a couple of shell suits.

A superimposed ‘push fire to play’ prompt transitions on screen, compelled to dance by pixel puppeteer Braybrook in a sequence some of the most accomplished demo scene coders would be proud of. So cool it makes Vanilla Ice look like a puddle!

Everything was lovingly drawn using custom STOS Basic mappers with an eagle eye focus on attention to detail (check out those magic colour changing pants!), whilst the animation – created with CyberPaint on an Atari ST – is wholly convincing, particularly where our hero’s non-verbal cues and subtle, endearing mannerisms are concerned.

Our beloved Amiga didn’t factor into the design equation at all surprisingly – to sidestep disk format incompatibility issues, the game was created via a PC/Atari ST and the code ported to the designated platform via SN Assembler.

The day-night cycle effect is distinctly impressive and isn’t just eye candy – on the seventh day Suten does his utmost to raise the temperature, coercing you into racing for the exit in order to survive. A throwback to the ‘hurry ghosts’ found in early Japanese coin-ops that would empty your pockets faster than, erm… a big rip you don’t discover until it’s too late.

Is this a Gribbly which I see before me… or art thou but a cameo of the mind, a false creation?

Multiple layers of parallax scrolling (running at 50 fps, which Andrew attributes to an exceptionally helpful phone conversation he had with German developer, Factor 5, regarding implementing more efficient coding techniques) are deployed to simulate the perception of depth, along with a variety of slickly executed shading techniques, leaving you in no doubt that this is a work of art diligently assembled by a talented team of professionals who care about the quality of the finished product.

Charting your progress along the bottom of the screen is a panoramic map of the islands that lay between you and your nutjob foe. Being Islands they’re surrounded by that wet stuff. Elegant, shimmering, reflective waves that mirror the looming landscape above.

Entranced by such exquisite chic it’s easy to forget there’s also a game attached to this visual feast of delights. Some even argue that’s the best way to approach Fire and Ice given how punishing the difficulty level is from the first paw-step.

Some levels are as cool as your designer ski-goggled self, others toastier than the devil’s hijacked hotrod (so I overheard in a police APB). I still haven’t the foggiest clue what the origin of the game’s title is however. It’s an enigma wrapped in an apocalyptic weather report.

Your goal on each level is to freeze the baddies with your projectile ice pellets, then touch them shattering their icy tombs to smithereens, revealing a hidden fragment of a key. Collect all six of these to exit the door to the next of the 30 stages.

Ha! Your puny photocopier is no match for pink paper power!

Configurations of these jigsaw pieces form the basis of the copyright protection system in that you have to enter inter-level codes by cross-referencing a key sheet with the manual. Get it wrong and no key fragments appear in the next stage, making further progress an impossibility.

Cracked versions of the game of course circumnavigated the check, leaving only legitimate buyers to wrestle with this encumbrance.

Here, take a copy of my handy cut out and keep wallet-sized guide to the interface.
No problem, it’s my pleasure.

Lending welcome nuance to your arsenal are a range of special weapons launched by holding down the fire button. Likewise, snow bombs can be detonated by pressing the fire button whilst pulling down on the joystick. These explode freezing everything on the screen, and can be collected from white clouds, ice blocks or crystal orbs.

Shooting the clouds causes them to release a rain shower. Keep it up and these quickly turn to snowflakes, freezing the baddies to the spot on contact, allowing you to poke them into shards of ice.

Some of the enemies are especially inventive. There are several proliferations of Chuck Rockish cavemen with wigs.

<span style="font-size: 10pt">How you doin’?</span>

<span style="font-size: 10pt">Archer MacLean or just a McArcher? You decide.</span>

One hidden level features a bonus-item-munching cameo from Gribbly himself as well as a number of his co-stars, and you’ll find computer game programmer, Archer MacLean, wielding a bow and arrow on the Scottish castle level…

…although I suspect this was a joke started by CU Amiga’s Mark Patterson as Andrew has previously said Gribbly represents the only tribute in the game.

It transpires that big bad uber-boss, Sutun, is a cloaked wraith of a figure who teleports between two thrones, launching conga lines of flame balls at you in the process. Defeat this incarnation and he morphs into a disembodied skull with an undulating fiery tail. Huh, there’s something you don’t see every day.

When Skeletor threatened he’d be back…

Cutesy wickle mini-me puppie-wuppies attempt to follow you and fire in synchronicity, adding to the potency of your munitions. Their movements vaguely correlate with the direction in which you release bursts of ice pellets so can be chaperoned towards the exit to earn extra lives. Ish. They’re still a tad thick.

Canine cavalry withstanding, none of it is easy. One close encounter with a baddie and you’re a goner, neutering one of the three measly lives you commence with.

On the early frosty levels your progress is impeded by having to get to grips with slip-slidey platforms on top of your usual sludgy inertia. Not exactly the ideal theme to open with when the goal is to entice new players to your game. Ideally, if included at all they should follow the pleasure-pain principle, in the right order, and preferably when you’re already heavily invested in the gameplay.

Unfortunately this was obligatory because Andrew had already committed to a cold to hot level progression scheme whereby your bone-chilling weaponry would become less effective as your efficacy in its use advanced.

Another way to sabotage your own game is to bolt on a floaty underwater stage with insufferable slow-motion inertia. Check! It’s hard to decide which is worse, ice or water. Now you can sit on the fence and suffer through both equally.

You’re just being paranoid. For the last time, nobody’s following you.

Nevertheless, you do get the opportunity to boost your life quota at regular point-collecting intervals (20,000, 70,000, 150,000, 260,000, 400,000). Collectable bones serve the same purpose though the 1up is instantaneous.

Turrican style power-up blocks eject floaty collectables when shot, allowing you to supercharge your abilities. These are so conspicuously borrowed to be anything other than a homage to Manfred Trenz’s sprawling, Metroidy platformer.

Reminiscent of Rainbow Islands, the backing chiptune music is jaunty, fluffily lightweight and inoffensive… that is until you realise it repeats incessantly on a 10 second loop! A composition akin to an underlying accompaniment rather than a soundtrack in its own right.

This was alleviated somewhat by the release of the CD32 edition with its enhanced Redbook CD audio soundtrack, though that’s not especially memorable either. Try listening to the Arctic world track imagining yourself riding a merry go round. If that scenario wasn’t already inseparably entwined, it will be now. Sorry. Candy floss anyone?

I was feeling guilty about condemning Jason Page’s music until I read what he had to say about it himself in an interview with Amiga Lore. I’ll sleep better now I know he doesn’t consider it his magnum opus.

“Writing that style of music is quite easy for me. It’s not cool. It’s not edgy or moody. It’s just fun, blippy bloppy, melodic pop”.

Where the CD32 release really shines is in the rejuvenated visuals. It ramps up the 16 colour palette of the main game to 256, and adds a plethora of sumptuous, lavishly embellished backgrounds. One is strikingly evocative of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, which is an enormous compliment however you frame it.

In early cuts of the Superman movie, the man of steel could often be seen conversing with seagulls.
They were originally to be the mythical origin of his strength and wisdom.

A shame then that the spectacle is tarnished by the hard core, merciless gameplay that might have been assuaged by a save game or continue feature, though wasn’t until Streetwise Interactive released an updated shareware version for the PC in 1995. Regrettably it’s a deal breaker.

Cheating my way to the finale to discover how our daring little adventure wraps up, I was undeservedly rewarded with a bonus house to explore rather than the usual static screen text summation.

CC’s been left Home Alone again. It’s an easy mistake to make …five times. 

Racing through your not so humble traditional English mansion abode you descend several flights of stairs, pass by portraits of Abraham Wolf, grandfather clocks and grammar-phones before reaching an enormous congratulatory cake.

Multi-coloured helium balloons ascend from the floor, while party poppers explode stage left, shooting snowflakes behind the inflatables. Ironically it’s the wallpaper border that bursts them as the credits roll to a frenetic ravey-pop track complete with digitised voice over, “waaah-ooooh, I… waaaanna dance”. It’s certainly different.

‘I Saved the World Cake’ for that special catastrophe-averting moment.
Walmart stock them in the chilled aisle I believe.

That’s the CD32 version any how. The standard edition has you flouncing around the most broken, psychedelically gaudy environment I’ve seen since witnessing a head on collision between a Smarties delivery truck and a gourmet Jelly Beans pick ‘n’ mix emporium… accompanied by a manic techno funk soundtrack, naturally.

If you suffer from epilepsy you may want to don a dark tinted crash helmet before letting it violate your senses!

Finale or the mother of all glitches? It’ll be one of the two I’m sure.

“Graftgold have succeeded in producing the best Sonic clone yet to appear on the Amiga” – Brian Sharp, Amiga Action (June 1992)

Clearly Brian was gaming under the influence of puppy love, or played a different title to me because beyond the fur colour, the two platformers share little in common, and style alone doesn’t make it fun to play.

Fire and Ice is such a good-natured, polished gem of a creation, criticising it at all almost feels like kicking a puppy (so I’m told!). So I’ll make this quick and then scarper…

…framing the boxed game and hanging it on the wall that is. What did you think I meant?

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