Having pitched for the license to produce a series of Discworld games and been given the knock-back by Terry Pratchett (the license instead went to Teeny Weeny Games and Perfect 10 Productions with Eric Idle taking the starring role), Simon Woodroffe decided to run with the general theme regardless, putting his own inimitable spin on the Monkey Island graphic adventures.
Consequently, Simon the Sorcerer (not to be confused with the Samaritan magus who lived in the 1st century AD and didn’t get on so well with Peter) burst free from his larger than life, point ‘n’ click cake in 1993, debuting on the Amiga 500. It’s strippers that do the cake trick, not magicians, isn’t it? I knew I should have gone with Houdini’s Chinese water torture cell.
Contrary to popular misconception the eponymous Simon wasn’t named after his daddy, Mr Woodroffe junior (whose own daddy, Mike, programmed and produced Simon the Sorcerer).
“…we wanted a name that was ‘something the something’ and since the character was of a magical nature it was really the only choice that sounded any good (some other suggestions like Willy The Wizard just didn’t cut it).”
Simon Woodroffe, interview with Adventure Treff (September 2000)
The game-play mechanics and SCUMMy GUI emanate from the Lucasarts stable, while the characters borrow heavily from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. The vicious, snapping chest on legs found in the Tower of Doom, for instance, is clearly a homage to Terry’s ‘Luggage’, “half suitcase, half homicidal maniac”.
Simon’s USP, nonetheless, is the kind of accessible, corny British humour of which Red Dwarf fans would approve. It’s no coincidence then that the protagonist’s voice was provided by Chris Barrie who played the neurotic pedant hologram, Arnold Rimmer, from the same sci-fi sit-com.
It appears the show was quite the breeding ground for gaming vocal talent. His Red Dwarf colleague, Robert Llewellyn aka Kryten would go on to play the lead alien in Adventure Soft’s 1997 sci-fi spin-off title, The Feeble Files.
Similarly, Craig Charles aka Dave Lister aka Lloyd from Corrie, narrated the plot and voiced an in-game character for Silicon Dreams Studio’s Dogs of War 3D real-time strategy game, not to be confused with the 1989 game of the same name published by Elite Systems and developed by Vectordean of James Pond fame.
Chris and Simon, the sarcastic, witty, cheese-peddling brothers from another mother are like two peas in a pod. Simon is a 14-year-old body trapped outside an adult’s brain. Often he can’t decide which persona should take precedence, though that never hampers the hypnagogic quip pro quo internal monologue.
“Simon is a character that kind of evolved. He’s a little bit Blackadder, a little bit Rincewind, a little bit Guybrush… I guess Simon is meant to be the inner teenager inside us all. He says what’s on his mind and is a kind of anti-hero for kids everywhere.”
Simon Woodroffe, interview for Adventure Classic Gaming (May 2000)
The addition of voice acting for the CD32 and DOS/Windows editions was a colossal undertaking involving 10 voice-over artists playing multiple characters, culminating in the recording of 12 hours worth of DAT tape audio material. The raw data was ultimately whittled down in the studio to 2 hours, constituting 3500 individual samples, occupying 143mb on the pressed CD! Pretty remarkable for a 2D 1994 title.
Chris has yet to lend his dulcet tones to any other video game soundtrack, although he was onboard to voice Simon’s sixth outing in 2014 before StoryBeast’s Kickstarter was abruptly cancelled.
He’s not gaming’s most ardent fan to tell the truth; I get the impression he’d rather people went outside and did something more productive.
“I have to admit that I’m in Manchester in the gaming show of the year and I am not interested in that. I concentrate on telling smaller people not to concentrate too much on it and do other things. But Simon the Sorcerer was something I was involved in. I did recently take part in a pitch to bring that back and I am quite excited about that.”
Chris Barrie, interview for Purple Revolver (October 2014)
Goose-stepping John Cleese style (real name John Cheese) through the opening credits, Simon ineptly conjures as he means to go on, breaking the fourth wall like an actor delivering a soliloquy to an audience of theatregoers. Sidelining any notion of belief-suspension, it’s hinted that all is not what it seems.
Cementing the idea in our consciousness, a pair of super-gruff billy goats debate with a troll the pros and cons of following to the letter the Brothers Grimm fairy tale script from which they are drawn. That and his union rights as a paid employee of the horned crag hoppers who would rather not be eaten.
He’s especially miffed that he has to keep rehashing the same tired old scene ad infinitum, being booted in the river and never getting to eat goat stew. Until he gets ‘satisfaction’ he’s going on strike. He literally “can’t get no satisfaction”, which is a trifle disheartening. Maybe Mr Jagger would know the solution?
Refreshingly, traditional fare it ain’t – a sketch the Pythons would be proud to have penned… well, aside from the abysmal voice ‘acting’ of the troll that is. We’ll get to that later.
Simon is fully cognisant of his ephemeral existence as a computer game character, regularly turning (and gurning) to the ‘camera’ to address his adoring public with pertinent questions and suggestions. Much of the comedy, in fact, is hatched from the dissonance this dichotomy spotlights.
“I dunno, I hoped a relevant question would appear.”
A potential line of dialogue from Simon’s repertoire upon striking up a conversation.
Meeting the ‘country bumpkin’ wizards in the back room of the Drunken Druid tavern for the first time, they are determined not to reveal their true identity or intentions to Simon. Yet sitting there in elaborately gaudy, flowing robes, their insistence on being of the farmerly occupation was never going to wash.
“When I move the mouse pointer over you it says wizards.”
The Very Important Pirate Leaders.
“Are you sure you’re not wizards?”
Laying the groundwork for this inside joke here, the oaf you meet later is able to perform what comedians refer to as a ‘callback’. Building a sense of rapport with the audience, and allowing them into Woodroffe’s secret society is something at which Simon is especially adept. It’s a bone fide bonding experience.
Oaf: “Are you a farmer?”
Simon: “Do I look like a farmer?”
Oaf: “You could be wearing a costume.”
When you’re beaming from ear to ear, the possibility that none of this is real is a mere footnote in the book of ‘Does it Matter?’ Did anyone stop to ask the same question while watching (insert your favourite Monty Python sketch)? We remain in the moment regardless; that’s the legerdemain of spellbinding script writing.
Part of the allure is that while the star of the show is a 14-year-old boy, you never get the impression you’re being patronised. The beauty of playing the game at a similar age is that you feel like an invested insider of a club you’re too young to attend. It has the same subversive vibe that’s more typically associated with the Leisure Suit Larry series, whilst remaining distinctly ‘PG’ (parental guidance, not Tips).
Pre-costume department visit, Simon wears a ’90s acid house t-shirt, and a poster on his wall seen in the intro displays the same yellow, smiley face insignia. Like us, he’s a dyed in the wool nerd with edgy aspirations.
The dialogue is that of a jaded 30-something-year-old, chock-full of mild cursing, talk of beer, “nights out with the lads” and getting girls’ phone numbers.
Amongst the fauna and flora you’ll find magic mushrooms, smoking/drunken dwarves, a “giant joint for bees” that are said to be “stoned”, and demons who seem to be away with the fairies much like hippy Neil from The Young Ones.
Then there are the allusions to meaty fictional tomes such as Lord of the Rings by acclaimed fantasy author, J.R.R. Tolkien, who incidentally grew up in the Woodroffe’s home town of Birmingham. Originally born in Africa, he moved to the village of Sarehole, believed to be the inspiration for Hobbiton and the Shire.
A scene shift along and Chris contemplates sweets that “remind me of when I was a lad”, and Simon chimes in with naively parroted parental advice such as “my mummy told me never to touch sharp things”, as only a prepubescent child knows how.
Who is this absurd schizoid chameleon misanthrope, and how is it we are able to identify with him so effortlessly?
The plot? you interject. Much like Adventure Soft, I almost forgot. Your twelfth birthday party is in full swing when a gift-wrapped dog mysteriously appears at your doorstep clutching in its chops ‘Ye Olde Spellbooke’.
It transpires that ‘Chippy’ belongs to a wizard known as Calypso (no relation to the ice lolly) who has been kidnapped by the repugnant sorcerer, Sordid – a black-hearted villain so poisonous he was evicted from the magic circle for contravening Rule 137 (don’t ask!).
In this white wizard vacuum milieu, he has free reign to lord it over a hodgepodge fairytale fantasy land known as the village of Fleur de Lys (A-ke-la we will do our best!). You can bet your bottom dollar he’s ruffled a feather or two in the process. Vigilantes, please form an orderly queue.
It seems that foisting his spellbook upon you was a cry for help …one that works too seeing as before long you stumble across the forsaken book in your attic, and thanks to its hocus pocus are reluctantly warped through an interdimensional portal to Calypso’s aid. Cue your not-so altruistic quest to become a mighty pir… wizard, vanquish the dastardly Sordid and restore peace and harmony to the land of make-believe.
‘In reality’, Simon believes he’s fallen asleep and is living out a particularly vivid dream until such time when he awakes and can return to the comforting realm of TV and the pizza-bar. We don’t find out until the denouement of his mission if he’s right… and even then it’s not entirely clear cut.
I say “before long”, yet in the final act Simon reveals to the stoner demons (a send-up of Beavis and Butthead?) that he’ll be “15 in 2 months and 3 days” time, so the Grand High Wizard’s plea for assistance has gone unanswered for nearly three years. That’s a hell of a long time to be trapped inside a block of concrete! Even Han-Solo’s dalliance with carbonite only lasted a couple of years.
Did I mention this is Sordid’s forte? Well, it is. It’s a Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe reference. What passes for a hobby in the mind of Jadis, Queen of Narnia, I suppose.
In the C.S. Lewis novel the White Witch’s victims are depetrified by Aslan’s breath rather than the destruction of Sordid’s wand. The ‘Great Lion’ is nowhere to be seen in Simon the Sorcerer although there is a cameo appearance from Aslan’s sacrificial Stone Table in the intro.
The goblins gather round the empty table reciting spells in an effort to ensorcel their next meal, when out of the ether Simon materialises. Note this is how Calypso’s tome of magic tricks comes to be in the possession of the goblins.
Each enchanting scenario serves to expedite your final confrontation with said doom and gloom merchant, and entails the usual adventure game tropes of pixel-hunting for often tiny, seemingly random objects, and combining them in ways that produce useful gizmos, or swapping redundant ones for more relevant gadgets. The tendency for players to struggle to locate key items in busy environments was addressed in the sequel, where you can opt to reveal all significant manipulatable items in unison by pressing the F10 key.
Simon can teleport around the village using a magical postcard map as long as he has visited the destination previously, and isn’t currently incarcerated… because that would be cheating.
En route you’ll encounter a motley crew of colourful personalities with whom to converse, extract information or barter. These tend to be contorted parodies of traditional folklore, nursery rhyme or pop culture figures, lampooned for comic effect. It’s the equivalent of watching your average ITV drama with your parents…
“Where’ve we seen him before?”
“Wasn’t she in…?
“Where’s that quote from?”
Take my advice and play it alone or you’ll never get a moment’s peace!
In the meantime, I’ll play the irritating parent and clue you in on some of the not-so-well disguised allusions.
The wicked witch is plucked straight from Disney’s 1959 animated musical fantasy film, Sleeping Beauty. Note the spinning wheel found in her edible cottage, no doubt modelled on the selfsame cursed trap on which Princess Aurora pricks her finger, lulling her into a perennial deep sleep.
The whimpering barbarian with a thorn in his foot is a variation of Gellius’ Androcles and the Lion parable (found in Aesop’s Fables) involving a slave who helps to relieve a lion’s pain, and is later rewarded by not being eaten by the starving lion.
In Simon’s version the barbarian promises to be at our beck and call at the sound of a whistle. We later take him up on his kind offer to remove a troll shaped obstruction from the bridge. The awkward git is launched into the stream like a rowdy punter being ejected from a bouncer patrolled pub.
Repulser, the semi-disfigured oinker, is Rapunzel in a parallel universe. Not quite what the Brothers Grimm envisaged in 1812, but still a blast – she really knows how to let down her hair at the weekend! In terms of hospitality, she nails it!
The druid manacled to a rack in the torture chamber proposes a ‘silver dagger through the heart test’ to determine whether or not Simon is a demon, parodying the medieval trials that entailed dunking women suspected of being involved in witchcraft. If they drowned, they were innocent, whilst floating to the surface would indicate guilt… and impending execution. The ‘perfect’ Catch-22!
The druid’s incredible shrinking potion – acquired from his apothecary – captures the essence of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland literary nonsense surrealism to a tee. Evaporating all doubt as to the connotation, his druidship informs us that an associate of his brought the concoction back from the outlandish realm of talking rabbits and mad hatter’s tea parties.
Nimble-witted allusion aside, it allows you to pass through a tiny crack in the otherwise impregnable door to Sordid’s tower fortress. Note also that your former stature is restored by consuming ‘eat me’ magic mushrooms. Don’t try this at home kids!
What adds to the aura of unreality is that we are unable to pigeonhole the precise time period in which all this takes place. On the one hand it’s very much olde worlde, yet the woodcutter has modern technology such as a metal detector at his disposal. It’s an OCD sufferer’s worst nightmare!
The oaf’s struggle with his insubordinate magic beans mimics the English fairy tale, Jack and the Beanstalk, written in 1734. If you can’t fathom the best course of action based on this information alone, you really should be playing space invaders instead.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – Disney’s 1937 animated musical fantasy film – is satirised throughout the dwarf mine, populated by inept, lazy, drunk and slumbering ‘workers’.
Belchgrabbit and Snogfondle, the true names of the stoner demons, appear to have been inspired by C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters; a series of satirical correspondence supposedly sent from a veteran demonic corrupter of souls to his apprentice nephew.
All the minor characters in the fictional text have equally bizarre, portmanteau names such as Triptweeze, Slumtrinket, Slubgob, and Toadpipe.
Sparky the talking teleporter may well have been modelled on ‘Old Sparky’, the nickname given to electric chairs used to execute serious criminals in various states of America. Activating it by pushing the ‘self destruct’ button would appear to compound the notion. See the world and we’ll throw in a free x-ray!
The mummy carrying the staff required by the wizard-bumpkins we release from the sarcophagus at the base of Repulser’s tower can be incapacitated by tugging at its loose bandage. Unravelling the inspiration behind the sequence is all very reminiscent of an archetypal Scooby-Doo episode.
Milrith – the metal the woodcutter needs to get his mitts on to forge an axehead sturdy enough to chop down the cursed trees and earn a living – is an anagram of Mithril. Mithril is a Tolkien invention, mined by dwarves and resembling silver, yet stronger and lighter than steel. It only exists beneath the Misty Mountains in the mines of Moria. The literal translation of Mithril according to Tolkien lore is grey or mist glitter.
The insubordinate snowman’s catchphrase, “you shall not pass” is a reference to a line uttered by Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring movie. The original edict delivered to the Balrog in the novel is slightly different (“you cannot pass”), yet the sentiment is analogous.
“You cannot pass! I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor. The dark fire will not avail you, Flame of Udun! Go back to the shadow. You shall not pass!”
Dr Von Jones is a palaeontologist in the Roy Chapman Andrews fossil-hunting mould (the inspiration for Indiana Jones in case that’s at all relevant).
Note the Dan Quayle “missing link between man and vegetable” gag. You may like to Google the great ‘potatoe’ (sic) incident to get the gist. Also, the doctor’s flippant remark, “ain’t nobody here but us chickens” relates to a reader’s joke concerning a chicken thief that was submitted to ‘Everybody’s Magazine’ in 1908. The phrase was later adopted as a line in a song by Louis Jordan by which it’s much more commonly known.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the most endearing character of all is the lonely Swampling who only asks to be loved… and for someone to dice with death sampling his revolting homemade birthday stew.
Make excuses and he breaks down into a blubbering, melancholic mess of mucus and tears, leaving you wracked with all-consuming guilt. It’s a wrench even when he thinks you’re eating it, while we know better… what’s this, Shakespearean dramatic irony in a computer game? Will wonders never cease? If Simon teaches us nothing else, it’s to carry a specimen jar at all times.
I dare you to name another occasion on which you’ve been empathically swayed to this degree by a cascade of low-res, blocky, 16-bit pixels. Your 60 seconds begin now.
Golum (with one l for copyright reasons) isn’t actually the selfsame, ring-craving, dishevelled hobbit we know and love from Tolkien lore. Rather he’s a member of the Tolkien Appreciation Society in a costume, and is here to attend the annual conference.
If you re-gift the Swampling’s delicious stew, the looky-likey will have something to feed his compadres for lunch and gives up his fishing rod. This can be used to ‘catch’ The Ring of invisibility, something which will come in very handy later when we need to breach the goblin dungeon.
“Nobody expects the talking woodworm!” appears to be a play on words inspired by ‘The Spanish Inquisition’, a series of sketches featured as part of Monty Python’s Flying Circus in 1970. The original line is, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”
“I have a bad feeling about this”, Han-Simon confides as he enters the witch’s cottage abode, instantly winning over the respect of Star Wars fans throughout the galaxy.
Having knocked out the ferocious fire-breathing dragon with cough medicine (naturally), Simon hatches a cunning plan to steal some of his gold coins by hoiking them through a hole in the ceiling of his lair using a magnet on a string.
As Simon remarks, “everyone knows gold isn’t magnetic”. Well, that’s true of pure gold – gold alloys are a different matter entirely since they may incorporate metals that are magnetic.
Where is this riveting science lesson leading? Erm… the dragon’s treasured, priceless stockpile is fake? He’s been conned by a travelling salesman? It’s another clue that everything you see is nothing more than cheap, flimsy scenery fudged together to form a theatrical stage-set? Your guess is as good as mine. This one’s a work in progress.
“Who the hell is Carmen Miranda?”, Simon probes, having run out of useful lines of investigation. A nod towards the geography-oriented edutainment series of games, ‘Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?’ by Broderbund I expect.
“I love wagon wheels”, Simon declares having spotted one leaning up against the side of a cottage. A circular snack produced by Burton’s Foods consisting of a marshmallow filling sandwiched by two biscuits and covered in a chocolate coating. So now you know.
Fiery Pits of Rondor meeter and greeter/souvenir shop assistant: “We’ve only had two visitors in the last three years, and one was a wizard”.
FPoRM&G/SSA: “Yeah, that’s it”. “The other was this little green fella”.
Yoda, Kermit or the Swampling? I wonder. Answers on a postcard to…
Throwing Sordid’s magic wand into the Fiery Pits of Rondor to release his victims from their stony tombs is a send-up of the Lord of the Rings. More specifically, the quest of Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee to destroy the ‘One Ring’ by casting it into the molten lava known as the Cracks of Doom – incidentally the exact location where it was forged by Sauron.
Monkey Island is notorious – and fondly remembered – for its Insult Sword Fighting (TM) schtick. Simon – never one to be outdone – ups the ante with his Magic Word Showdown (TM) corollary.
Each combatant takes it in turns to discharge a magic word (including the very pinnacle of mystical hex, ‘sausage’), transforming themselves into one creature or another (snake, dog, mouse, and so on). Snakes trump cats in the ferocity stakes so a point would be awarded to the slithering serpent on such an occasion. The sausage dog, of course, is the ultimate WMD!
Some people claim the sausage dog is actually a mongoose. Muppets! How could you possibly hope to crush such a potent necromancer with a flippin’ mongoose? That would be sheer lunacy.
This continues – paper, rock, scissors style – until someone accrues three points, and the winner claims the spoils. Any prizes/penalties incumbent on the outcome are demarcated before commencing, and dragons are strictly prohibited. As with all the best graphic adventures, it’s not possible to die as a result of these verbal sparring interludes. This isn’t some shoddy old Sierra game!
“I wonder how he did that”, exclaims Simon, having witnessed the dodgy geezer’s impromptu disappearance. How ironic that a sorcerer should be impressed by a magic trick! I know, I know, he’s still a trainee and hasn’t yet earned his Wizkid magician’s inner circle pack at this juncture. This was insightful commentary until you pointed that out, thanks!
If every action you try results in a “I can’t see the point” or “that doesn’t work”, you’ll be buoyed to know that Simon features a built-in, Owl-powered hint system. That’s right, conversing with the not-so-wise old bird will often shed light on how to proceed in the game… as long as you have the patience to listen to his meandering, absent-minded prattle.
If the notion of a bumbling, rambling, scatterbrained yet knowledgeable owl strikes you as familiar, it may be that you’ve seen or read Winnie the Pooh at some point. The most conspicuous deviation is that Simon’s owl lives inside a tree and Pooh’s owl lives between the branches in a treehouse he calls ‘The Wolery’ what with being dyslexic. He thinks his own name is spelt ‘wol’. Geddit?
For those of you still struggling you can ring the hints and tips hotline, which puts you straight through to the developers themselves! This ingenious idea was struck upon as a means of aggregating feedback from gamers to improve Simon’s future sequels, although I’d hazard a guess they’re no longer manned (or womaned) today.
Each lusciously absorbing vista and sprite was painstakingly hand-drawn in black and white, scanned, retouched and digitally enriched with the application of up to 256 vibrant colours using Autodesk Animator Pro.
Some adventure games would draw the line there, resting on their static backdropped laurels – not Simon the Sorcerer mind you!
Kevin Preston really pulled the rabbit out of the hat to bring the landscapes and inhabitants to life with dexterous flourishes of incidental animation, fostering a credible impression of an environment teeming with native wildlife activity… one you can believe will continue to go about its business whether you’re present to appreciate it or not.
Bunnies hop, squirrels scurry up and down trees, wolves stalk the labyrinthine forest, butterflies flutter (causing catastrophic ripples in the time-space continuum that change the world, no doubt), trout leap beyond the confines of their babbling brooks, not-quite-camouflaged rock and door-carved faces surveil your every twitch.
I didn’t want you to miss that deer in the background. OK, as you were…
In the preamble cut-scene you can pick out a tiny animated spider hanging from the loft rafters, and an ominous pair of eyes phosphorescing in a gloomy cranny (or is it a nook?).
Really swiping the biscuit though (as I believe the phrase goes), in the Swampling’s treehouse abode we can detect the oscillating shadows on the edge of the wood as your gracious host passes between the glowing embers of his stewpot hearthstone and the dining table. If that doesn’t bring a tear to your peepers you should adjust the dial on your soul! *sniff, snuffle*
And that’s just the peripheral animation. The foreground sprites move with the verisimilitude and velvet fluidity of any Disney cartoon you care to mention… and no white-tailed doe were harmed in the process!
Simon even has a charming idle animation, if that’s not an oxymoron. Whenever you leave him to his own devices for more than a few seconds he reaches inside his magician’s hat, brings out his Walkman and begins bopping away to the hip happenin’ beatz. Walkman is capitalised there because it’s a protected Sony trademark – people often forget that it isn’t a generic term, but a specific device invented in 1978.
You really can lose yourself in this whimsically atmospheric, Narnian wonderland, and that is in large part thanks to the sublime quality of Paul Drummond’s visuals. Over 1000 frames of animation were deployed in the construction of the Swampling scene alone! Now that’s a labour of loving attention to detail!
“Without doubt the best adventure on the CD32” – Dean Evans, CU Amiga
Simon was originally released in a variety of flavours beginning in 1993; ECS and AGA Amiga, CD32, DOS, Windows and Acorn Archimedes. The Android, iOS and Mac releases came much, much later.
The 32 colour ECS version was delivered on nine disks, and only features a single audio track, which plays incessantly wherever you find yourself in the game. The de facto way to ruin any piece of music regardless of its pedigree!
The colour quota was boosted to 256 for the AGA and CD enhanced versions, while the floppy tally remained at an unwieldy nine disks and the audio equally limited unless you were lucky enough to own a CD32.
The ‘talkie’ disc edition reset the bar for graphic adventures, adding an adaptive CD audio soundtrack and speech for every character… with no option for subtitles, much to the dismay of deaf people I’d imagine.
The main drawback of the CD32 edition, however, is the infeasible save game system. One stored state and your console’s memory is practically full, forcing you to finish the game before overwriting it. Technically, the blame for this should be laid at Commodore’s door since it’s an inherent flaw which pervades regardless of the game in question.
Simon’s main theme is surely the most memorable of the 36 track collection composed by ‘Media Sorcery’ (comprising university flatmates Mark McLeod and Adam Gilmore). It consummately sets the plodding pace and ethereal tone of his pilgrimage – the sense that anything can happen in this nursery rhyme purlieu of Four Seasons in One Day. Simon wasn’t endorsed by Crowded House in case you were wondering.
Simon’s leisurely footfall is well-nigh in synch with the drumbeat undercurrent, while the floaty, mercurial woodwinds ensure the overall sentiment is one of quaint, insouciant discovery, idyllic elegance and intrigue.
Which is fine as far as it goes, but let’s not forget that Simon is supposedly here to veto the black magic of “renegade warlock, Sordid”, so perhaps some ascription of unease may have been appurtenant.
That said, the composition that accompanies your tarriance to the goblin dungeon manages to work in a ratchet-like, crunching sample, which leaves you cringing as you converse with the rack-mounted druid. Is there a chiropractor in the house?!?
Entering a confectionery cottage that will send your deja vu detector into overdrive *cough* Hansel and Gretel *cough* we’re treated to a tame Disney cartoon-peril number. It’s a welcome change of pace, though it would be a stretch to call it unsettling. Where are the Psycho Strings? …and chocolate blood while we’re on the subject.
Everything you hear in the game was accomplished using an Amiga 500, the Music-X sequencer software, a Roland MT-32 and a Korg M1 controller.
I have this nagging feeling the ‘tune’ inflicted by the sousaphone player is a mangled sample of a ’90s dance track, but can’t quite put my finger on it. It’ll hit me at three in the morning when I’m dreaming about ecstasy, glow sticks and fog machines, I’m sure.
Several tempo-adjusted remixes of the capricious main theme crop up from time to time with various alternating instruments substituted for the breezy spirit of the flutes. One features a harmonica as the principal influence, and another a stylophone. I haven’t decided yet if that’s clever or just a time-saving short-cut. It certainly would have been easier to compose than something original.
According to our very own John Shawler, what accompanies the ‘dodgy geezer’ scenario is a minor key adaptation of If I Were a Rich Man from the Fiddler on the Roof musical. Quite appropriate for a chancer with aspirations of making a quick buck from selling cheap tat. I mean ‘priceless antiques’, sorry.
Sitting cross-legged mimicking a levitating genie and wearing a fez like a character plucked straight from an Egyptian bazaar tableau, I wasn’t exactly primed for his hackneyed Cockney accent. Still, I suppose it adds to the absurd aura infused throughout, so why not? Genuine Egyptians are tough to track down at short notice after all.
‘Mixed blessing’ is perhaps the best way to describe the collective voice-over work. Chris Barrie is exceptional as you would expect, this being one of his many already established talents.
Roger Blake also puts in sterling, multifarious performances as the druid, owl, Sordid, Calypso and host. No less than you would presume from the professional actor, impressionist and entertainer who voiced Prince Philip, George H. W. Bush, Robert Maxwell, John Prescott and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Spitting Image, and Jim Royle (of The Royle Family fame) on Alistair McGowan’s The Big Impression.
What did Chris get up to before creating the James Pond series? Well, funny you should ask…
The remainder of the voice acting ranges from impassionately entertaining (Jon Haines’ Swampling, and the woodworm by Tony Dillon and Paul Codish, for instance) to resolutely dire (Jon Haines’ oaf and Patrick Kelly’s troll are the worst offenders in a roll call of shame more wooden than the termite’s diet!).
Tony Dillon was a Sinclair User, CU Amiga, C&VG and Atari ST Review critic. I wonder if that’s the same guy? The one who worked on Simon the Sorcerer also returned for the sequel, as well as playing Perichaud in the 1998 TV movie opera, La rondine.
Several of the cast sound extremely similar what with being voiced by the same actors, and in some cases I’m not even sure that what emerges from their mouths constitutes a voice-over. Does it count if the vocal artist is simply reading from a script in their own bored, flat accent?
Nine out of ten of the characters could have been voiced by Malcolm from your office accounts team, and you wouldn’t know the difference. That’s how mundane and not in the least otherworldly they are. Could this be an astute extension of the ‘story as a play’ theme, or are they just incompetent?
I have a hunch the people responsible for the above weren’t exactly career voice actors since the majority didn’t do much more of it, in the gaming field at least. Steve Keen moved into programming, Patrick Kelly produced Leading Lap MPV and DreamWeb, while Tony Dillon switched his focus to game design, production, and 3D visuals. Oh well, you live and learn.
Mike Woodroffe is now working as a Commercial Energy Assessor (a surveyor) in the West Midlands, while his son Simon is Rare’s Studio Creative Director and also still based in Birmingham.
According to the former pixel-pusher himself, Paul Drummond resides in the North West and is now a “commercial illustrator, website developer, ebook designer, graphic designer, 3D specialist or small animal wrangler, depending on which day you catch me”.
Based in Durham, Kevin Preston currently keeps the wolf from the door working as Lead Artist/Art Manager for CCP and is based in Newcastle. His latest project is EVE: Valkyrie, a virtual reality, multi-player dogfighting shooter.
Chris Barrie didn’t return to voice Simon for the sequel – The Lion, the Wizard and the Wardrobe – as his popularity by that stage had escalated exponentially… along with his fee.
Instead, Brian Bowles who was previously known for his work on Beneath a Steel Sky was handed the baton (wand surely?). Chris has recently returned to his role as Rimmer to film the 11th and 12th series of Red Dwarf.
Simon 3(D that is) represents the quintessential, pivotal ‘Jump the Shark’ moment. That’s all I’ll say about the sequels.
Work was underway on a 2D version of Simon 3D, though because no publishers were interested in funding a new ‘old school’ game, the assets were binned and Adventure Soft went back to the drawing board. The WIP really-literally-metaphorically was dumped so there’s no chance of that ever surfacing. Literally.
Aside from this, that’s all I’ll say about the sequels. Unless I can think of something else.
Ushered in to the beat of death-defying high-rise trapeze act music, the game wraps up with a sojourn to Sordid’s lava lair of despair in which you intend to cast his wand to reverse the dark one’s ‘turn everyone to stone’ tour de force. Following a slight hiccup in your master plan, Sordid is defeated with a bucket of floor wax of all things, and the inhabitants of Fleur de Lys (I wonder if Simon Woodroffe was a scout by any chance) are reanimated.
A cut scene later a smarmy game show host is spliced into the outro to congratulate Simon on reaching the end of the game, and to hawk the upcoming sequel. As if by magic we transition back to Simon’s bedroom, and logically he assumes the whole escapade had been an offshoot of his overactive imagination.
“What an awful dream. I guess I must have dropped off.”
All of a sudden a Terminator-style mechanical arm (wearing a baseball glove?) crashes through the wall, snatches Simon from his bed and drags him back through a dimension-shifting portal to face his next treacherous adventure, laying the groundwork for the inevitable sequel.
Does that put the ambiguous dream issue to bed once and for all, or is this an isolated nightmare inside his initial dream? Is this only the Inception?
While you ponder that conundrum, let’s fade out to the spectacle of breakdancing stoner demons. Well, why the Hell not? They’re hot stuff!