Waking up the neighbours

Basing a game aimed at kids around a tedious chore all kids hate unanimously was somewhat of a harebrained move for Atari. Still, it turned out pretty well in the end; Paperboy with its bicycle handlebars controller – a modified hack of the Star Wars yoke – was a real crowd-puller as an arcade coin-op. One that went on to spawn a myriad of conversions for every home computer and console you care to mention, and even some we forget existed, like the RadioShack TRS-80. Sorry CoCo fans, it was barely a blip on my radar.

Before GamesMaster was even a twinkle in Jane Hewland’s eye, teams of school kids were competing against one another on a little known BBC game show called First Class, hosted by Debbie Greenwood. Contestants would occasionally have the opportunity to meet celebs from popular TV series such as Grange Hill or Eastenders, and the victorious school would win a BBC Master computer to take back to class with them.

Amongst the arcade games featured beginning in January 1986 were Track & Field, Hyper Sports, 720°, and – yes, you guessed it – the alternating two player deliver ’em up, Paperboy!

As 1986 drew to a close it was declared the ‘Game of the Year’ by the British Software Industry, having served as an arcade gamer magnet for two years in the lead up to this accolade. In September 1984, with a proprietary index score of 234 it took the no. 1 spot in a National Play Meter poll revealing the highest ranking coin-op cabinets based on operator surveys. In comparison, Bally Midway’s Pac-Land claimed second place, trailing well behind with a score of 187. Of the top 50 performers identified in September, the average score was 76.

An internal Atari memo dated 18th September 1984 unsurprisingly establishes Paperboy as the highest earning cabinet for the month. At Merlin’s Castle arcade centre in Saratoga, California, takings were $542 for the week ending 17th September, Paperboy’s first week on trial at an outlet housing approximately 100 machines. Breaking down to 15.5% of the gross figure, the public clearly didn’t need to be told Paperboy was to become a retro gaming gem, ported to every conceivable platform, even a dedicated handheld LCD toy.

Our nameless (he’s not called Julio, that doesn’t count), baseball-capped, adrenaline junkie protagonist would later go on to secure cameos in Disney’s 2012 animated comedy movie, Wreck It Ralph, and 2015 sci-fi Adam Sandler vehicle, Pixels.

A not-so-mini 3D mini-game revamp of the arcade coin-op can also be found in Rockstar’s 2006 PlayStation 2 action-adventure title, Bully.

 

Indeed, Paperboy finds himself the star of episode 12, season 2 of DIC Entertainment’s animated TV series (and comic book), Captain N: The Game Master, entitled The Invasion of the Paper Pedalers. Airing between 1989 and 1991 on NBC, the show revolved around teenager, Kevin Keene, and his pooch, Duke, who are whisked away to an alternative universe known as Videoland under the auspices of the Ultimate Warp Zone, a vortex emanating from his TV set.

Brimming with popular console game characters and backdrops of the era, Kevin’s destiny is to ensure the salvation of Videoland, which has been overwhelmed by Mother Brain’s evil forces, leveraged from her home stomping ground, a floating fortress known as Metroid.

All of which aptly demonstrates that even 33 years in the wake of his first appearance, Paperboy’s place in contemporary pop culture is as pervasive as ever.

It’s such a fundamental retro gaming classic that it barely needs describing, so I won’t. But did you know that there was to be a Britishised edition to mirror the homegrown American release? Sadly it never came to fruityness for reasons unknown, so POHMs and limeys like myself had to make do with peddling away maniacally on sidewalks, delivering the nooze to moms and pops, who no doubt had sired kids that play soccer at the weekend.

‘Reasons unknown’ until now I should add. To finally lay the abiding mystery to rest I sought to secure an exclusive interview with the chap who was at the time leading the team responsible for Blightyboy’s troubled development. None other than Bubba McGuffin, veteran coder and founder of the venerated games studio, Itsgotbellson Software, who had successfully negotiated a deal with Elite to sub-licence the IP.

This being the case I began forming words that – when arranged in a specific order – would constitute pertinent questions, as is my understanding of established interview protocol.

First of all, can you tell me why you felt a region-tweaked version was necessary?

“Well, when we showed the original to British kids they couldn’t get their heads around the foreign concept of throwing newspapers from a moving E.T. bike. Here, you see, we’ve adopted the alternative system of pushing them through clever devices we like to call letter boxes. Not quite as much fun, but we find we suffer far fewer pulp-orientated fatalities that way.

What else dumbfounded our test sample was the way the residents would have to keep repainting their houses as they subscribed, unsubscribed and resubscribed from The Daily Sun (‘the world’s most throwable newspaper’). A complete waste of time, energy and paint they reckoned.”

It makes sense to give them something they can identify with I suppose. So what went wrong?

“A team of 16 devs came up with this super-slick paper round simulator that replicated the experience to a tee. Right down to the unscrupulous newsagent handing over £2.71 per 750 papers delivered to the naive, bedraggled child risking life and limb, braving the treacherous British climate and salvos of “get off my lawn!”, mauled by rottweilers to ensure the populace could consume the daily news along with their chocolatey Cocopops.

(vacant, 1000 yard stare)

The memories still haunt my dreams.

Ahem. Uh, anyway, the problem was it was a real yawn-fest. You’d play a paperboy or girl (as in the sequel, to keep the PC mob off our backs), walk up to each subscriber’s front door at a leisurely pace, execute the not so perplexing task of pushing a small object through a bigger gap, and then repeat the maneuver next door. Sometimes a letterbox hinge would be a bit stiff because it needed oiling, and that’s about as challenging as the action got. It was certainly no Doom-killer!

When we unveiled Blightykid (we’d adjusted the name by this stage) to a focus group to playtest, half the panel jumped out the window of our seventh storey offices to escape the torment. So many young, precious lives were extinguished that day – do you know how much lost potential future sales revenue that amounts to? Such a tragic waste.

Anyway, long story short, allegations ensued and we were thoroughly lawyered out of existence. Obviously the project was canned. Our team were also forced to go into hiding, ID changes were necessary, plastic surgery, the whole works.”

So, no chance of bringing it back for a 30th anniversary revamp then? Sorry, ignore that one. I see the memories are still raw. That was insensitive of me.

“Actually, maybe if we… Hang on a minute, isn’t this one of those weird, esoteric ‘concept’ reviews like the ones Amiga Power used to pull out of the hat that only irritated or confused the readers without really analysing the game? Do I even exist?”

What a bizarre question. Of course you exist Mr McGuffin. You’re as real as I’m sane, and this is a solid piece of investigative journalism I’ll have you know. Incidentally, I love Amiga Power. I’ve been a subscriber since day one, only it’s been ages since I last received a new issue in the mail. I’ll have to check if there’s a problem with my direct debit… or maybe the paperboy (or girl) lobbed it in the fish pond by mistake whilst trying to evade an erratic road-driller. All too common these days.

“Uh, yeah, I’d definitely talk to your bank about that. Probably just a glitch in the system.”

OK, let’s just suppose this is a concept review, a flight of fancy dreamt up to ring the changes because we’ve run out of new ways to say the same thing about tried and tested genres and themes. If we ran with the cerrrr-razy notion for just a second, how would we go about crow-barring in some interesting and informative game facts to legitimise the gibberish and tick all the editor’s boxes, thereby keeping our jobs?

“Erm, say, just for argument’s sake, I’m not a figment of your deteriorating de-marbled mind, or afraid for my imaginary life, I suppose I could come up with some silky smooth segue to steer us into discussing the game’s mechanics.”

What game?

“Paperboy.”

Ah, fantastic! I’ve always had a soft spot for that one – it’s on my ‘to-review’ list only I’ve been too busy interviewing Amiga game developers to get round to it.

“You don’t say.”

I do and I did. As a kid I couldn’t understand why you had to chuck rolled up newspapers at houses like they were giant static Goombas to be knocked off their garden perches. I’d try racing the cars to the end of the street instead, only it turns out it wasn’t that kind of game after all.

Back in 1984 diagonally scrolling games were a rarity, so encountering an isometric coin-op that also broke the thematic mould by not requiring you to shoot aliens or race a car from a traditional perspective was a mindboggling luxury.

Moreover, one of many things that made the arcade game stand out from the crowd is the inclusion of synthesised speech. Although it sounds robotic today, much like a Texus Instruments Speak & Spell edu-toy, existing at all was a showstopper for such an early title. There’s plenty of it to keep us amused too. Listen out for “that’s rad”, “awesome sauce!”, “don’t tell my boss”, “body blow, body blow, uppercut, uppercut” (a sample from Punch Out), “right in the mail box!”, “am I great or what?”, “alright!”, “that’s not my fault” and “what a jerk I am!” whenever you screw up. That’s aside from the vocal introduction before you begin your task.

Each session takes place over the course of a week, the goal being to ride by subscribers’ houses flinging newspapers at their post-mounted mailbox or door step earning 250 or 100 points respectively for each direct hit, whilst actively targeting non-subscribers’ property with a view to wanton vandalism. This encourages them to get with the program and pay their dues, much like a mobster run protection racket. Whether they read the newspapers or not is irrelevant.

If you end the day with a ‘perfect delivery’ assessment having supplied reading material to all subscribers on the round you’re rewarded with an extra one the following day.

You’ll know which houses are which because a map presented prior to beginning each of the three street stages of varying difficulty (Easy Street, Middle Road, and Hard Way) identifies the two groups using different colours. Brightly coloured houses are the homes of the subscribers, while the dark, gloomy ones harbour the maverick dissenters who probably only read The Beano, or groom My Little Pony toys.

I’d hazard a guess this is deviously clever symbolism. The houses that refuse to subscribe to The Daily Sun, don’t get any, and are therefore left in the murky shadows to rot, much like the Addams Family mansion. Which is especially appropriate given the presence of the gravestones in their gardens, and their propensity for cantankerousness. Duly their welcome mats instruct visitors to ‘get lost’, and would be ironic under normal circumstances.

Plenty of hazardous obstacles and adversaries attempt to hobble your progress by blindly veering across your path. These vary between versions and include joggers, sentient lawnmowers, bombs, the Grim Reaper, lawn jockey ornaments, stumbling Michael Jacksons straight from the Thriller set (or are they drunks?), break-dancers (you’d never guess this was made in the ’80s), runaway tyres, unicycle riders, rampaging tornados, maintenance men, brawling knuckleheads, burglars, stray cats and dogs, remote controlled cars, and not last or least, Sinclair C5s in the home micro versions. Even the man hole covers have it in for you… showing their distain by going AWOL with obvious repercussions.

Many of these opponents can be taken out of the equation using your newspapers as projectiles, replenished like ammo by collecting fresh bundles from the pavement, or ‘sidewalk’ if you want get all literal.

Various ports of the coin-op furnish you with a different number of lives, and newspapers from the outset. In the Amiga version, for instance, you begin with 6 and 10 respectively, and you don’t have to buy them with 10 pence pieces or quarters strangely enough.

In the stingier C64 version, on the other hand, you’re allotted 8 papers (compared to the coin-op’s 10), and can only collide with an obstacle 3 times (as in the arcade original) before bunny-hopping to the great BMX track in the sky. Steve Lamb’s Speccy port is a tad more generous throwing you 5 lifelines before packing you off to join the dole queue.

Extra points are earned for smashing the windows of subscription shunners, or by toppling over gravestones found in their gardens, running with the grey, drab colour scheme. Presumably these are cardboard movie props. That or extremely lethal lead-lined newspapers!

If you miss making a delivery to a subscriber they unsubscribe from your round, forcing them to repaint their house accordingly (how is it the mob never considered artificially ramping up the price of paint to keep them in line?).

At the end of each round there’s the opportunity for more target practice by engaging in a time-trialed, off-road obstacle training course populated with archery boards worth 250 points a piece. With unlimited paper supplies at your disposal and a lost life not deducting from those remaining, it’s a relaxed opportunity to hone your paper trajectory skills. A vocal, animated crowd of placard-waving supporters will be sure to let you know how well you did.

 

It’s game over once your last customer bails out, and you find yourself prematurely on the scrapheap, the news of your callous dismissal announced on the front page of your employer’s tabloid rag. Oh, the shame!

That in a nut shell is the thrill-seeking peddle-powered Paperboy. Pure and simple, rapid-fire fun with few rivals to match its mundane, yet addictive ingenuity.

Our Amiga conversion courtesy of Elite and coder Martin W. Ward – who you may remember from arcade ports such as Commando (thanks Troy McClure) – isn’t quite what you’d call arcade perfect, hampered by the usual collision detection quirks that plague the ports in general, and jerky scrolling.

By way of compensation for the lack of speech, it employs a plentiful PAL playfield (that puts the otherwise almost interchangeable ST’s in the shade), and an easy on the eyes, bright and cheerful colour palette that improves upon the darker arcade original. The iced spoke-beads on the BMX cake is the remixed sonorous soundtrack that raises the bar out of reach of the competition. Bet you’ve not thought about those for decades!

Critics at the time acknowledged its accuracy, though were reticent to award scores above – a respectable regardless – 83% (CU Amiga) owing to its dated graphics, sound and mechanics. ‘Above average’ was the consensus of opinion, though several reviewers wondered why it had taken four years to land in the Amiga’s front yard when 8-bit gamers had already been playing Paperboy at home for two.

“That’s it then, is it? That’s your article done and dusted? You could at least flesh it out with some quirky trivia, only if it’s not too much bother.”

Listen Bubba, don’t think you can get all uppety with me just because you’re rocking this existential angst angle. Quit interrupting me anyway, I was just about to roll into the quirky trivia segment.

Hmm, let me think. How’s this? Paperboy was the first American produced game to be released for the NES, and furthermore, the first homegrown title to make an appearance on the Sega Master System in the UK, courtesy of US Gold rather than Atari. Will that do?

Oh yeah, in June 1986 schoolboys Mark Caesar (14) and Robin Hallingstad (16) filed a lawsuit against Atari Games for $1 million dollars for allegedly stealing their concept.

As the story goes they submitted their Paperboy blueprint to Atari in 1983. It was rejected outright on the basis that it’s not Atari policy to accept outside help, yet two years later they released… strangely enough, a game called Paperboy that entails adopting the persona of a Paperboy and enduring all manner of Paperboy related shenanigans. Things like, oh I don’t know, delivering printed reading material to customers. No doubt filling them with complimentary junk mail first.

Very little was known about the outcome of the case, or even if it actually got off the starting blocks, until Sean of Pie Factory Podcast fame began digging into the long-standing mystery. You can listen to his super-sleuthing exclusive discovery by checking out episode 58 dated 20th July 2017. The relevant segment – teased within an inch of its life – finally gets underway an hour and thirty-four minutes into the show, following an interesting, fact-filled precis of the game, along with a discussion of the Empire Strikes Back coin-op and ports, during which our own Amigos receive several mentions.

Oh alright, I’ll summarise the crucial bullet point if you promise to give it a rest with the Chinese burns. Be sure to couch the following with ‘supposedly’, ‘apparently’ and ‘allegedly’. I haven’t got the foggiest clue if it’s true or not.

Mark and Robin were coerced by a posse of 10 lawyers (versus their 1) into dropping the claim before it ever reached the Santa Clara courthouse to which the suit was initially submitted.

Neither of the boys were acknowledged for their fundamental idea, inspired by Robin’s own experience as a paperboy. Instead the credits for developing Paperboy went to Atari’s staff:-

Dave Ralston – Lead Game Designer & Artist, who many moons ago was a paperboy himself.
John Salwitz – Lead Programmer
Doug Snyder – System II Hardware Engineer
Rusty Dawe – Project Manager
Will Noble – Animation & Character Art
Don Traeger – Marketing & ‘The Voice of Paperboy’
Earl Vickers – Sound FX, Editing & Writer
Milt Loper – Mechanical Engineer
Linda Sinkovic – Technician

It won’t shock you to discover that John doesn’t corroborate the chain of events as recalled by Mark. When quizzed with regards to Dave’s influence over the game’s success he revealed…

“Amazingly important, the game would not have happened without Dave’s strength and vision. It was Dave that came up with the original idea and Dave that did all the amazingly detailed isometric visuals. At one stage it looked like Paperboy might get cancelled, but Dave’s vision and determination helped ensure it was finished.”

– Interview with John Salwitz, Retro Gamer issue 125, page 28-29

Speaking of John and the team, you’ll find a fascinating interview conducted by the Killer List Of Video Games/Vintage Arcade Preservation Society over on their forum. Already a compelling read, it goes on to present “Some of the original sketches from brainstorming sessions with Dave and Don”. There’s something you don’t see every day!

If your appetite for trivia remains unsatiated, here’s another amuse bouche to nibble on.

The oldest paperboy in the world is thought to be 90 year old WWII veteran, Bill Ogden, who has been tending to his customer’s literary needs for the past 26 years, in the process waking up at 4.30am every day to do so.

Had he been a paperchild rather than a paperman he might have been risking the sack because the law dictates that under 16s can’t start a round before 7am, as Sam Green-Jeffries knows better than anyone.

Actually, scratch that, Bill has some way to go yet before catching up to 100 year old Walter Sharp, who has a 67 year old retired son. Three years on from hitting the headlines I hope he’s still doing well.

Meanwhile, back to armchair distribution. Paperboy was ported to the Amstrad CPC not once, but twice, although only one version enjoyed an actual retail release in the UK (thanks Guru Larry Jnr).

Steve Lamb who was responsible for the monochrome 48k Spectrum port (there was no 128k alternative) supposedly attempted to recreate it on the Amstrad, made a bit of a hash of it and the code was consequently aborted. Later, freelancer Mark Haigh-Hutchinson stepped into the breach to write another version from scratch on behalf of Elite, which is aesthetically superior, yet lacks any sound due to memory constraints. It was released in 1987, a year after the Spectrum port, and much trickier Commodore 64 game coded by Neil A. Bate and Chris Harvey hit the retailer’s shelves.

In the meantime a Spanish publisher, MCM Software, approached Elite with a request to re-release the port for a local audience (without translating any of the English text!), assuming there was only one. Somehow Elite managed to send them the original, inferior – and therefore abandoned – version, and so for the majority of Spanish Amstrad gamers that’s what came to be known as the definitive, official port for their system. I don’t have access to a record of the volume of tears shed that Christmas unfortunately.

Today both versions are easily available online, making comparison between the two child’s play. Graphically the bodged Speccy port is eye-gougingly garish thanks to its awful red, blue, and yellow colour scheme. Engaging the Amstrad CPC’s mode 1 system, it was designed to operate at a higher resolution than was often the case, allowing more of the playfield to be seen simultaneously. Balancing the 8-bit computer’s limited resources, the compensatory payoff is a colour palette with a maximum range of only four choices.

MCM’s offering runs at a faster frame rate, incorporating music and sound effects where there’s a dearth in the British edition, while Mark’s version trounces it in the vibrant visual detail, and playability stakes, despite its restricted playfield. Thanks to Paul Walker’s charming, cartoony art style the Amstrad is the most alluring of the 8-bit interpretations.

Our UK release actually looks like a title developed from the ground up for the Amstrad, scrolls reasonably smoothly, and furthermore, controls well. Sadly, the former can’t be said of the unchallenging Spanish release, which managed to soil the good name of the charming – albeit graphically limited and collision detectionally suspect – fluid Spectrum conversion. It does, however, handle pretty nicely for a glitchy, unfinished game.

On completion of Mark’s game – having nailed the final “perfect delivery” – the route simply loops back to day one, whereas in the MCM incarnation you’re presented with a newspaper graphic to congratulate you on your achievement. Now you just need to clear space on your parent’s mantelpiece to display that hard-earned trophy!

None of the home micro conversions – it should be noted – incorporate the arcade’s janky digitised speech, opting instead to replace the same dialogue with text. It wasn’t until Tengen’s arcade-mirroring 1991 Genesis version emerged that anyone attempted to replicate this. The results are accurately authentic… authentically abominable.

“You’ve been slimed” – at the polar end of the scale – is the caption you’ll see whenever you crash in both the MCM release and the refreshingly responsive ZX Spectrum port, the two being virtually identical save for the colour palette substitutions. Designed prior to Ghostbusters hitting the theatres in December 1984, in the arcade original our hero instead receives a more relevant ‘whack!’ or ‘smack!’ whenever enduring a collision.

“64K games were the norm around Paperboy, so I had to fit in that space. PAPERBOY is one of my favourites. It was a year late because I didn’t start it until 6 months after the other versions came out. Apparently the guys who did the Spectrum version attempted to do a CPC version, but it was a real mess. I started from scratch, set up my own company (just me! 🙂 and wrote the game in 6 months to the day. I was fortunate that Paul Walker, another freelancer, did the great graphics for me. He lived a 100 miles away from me, so we did lots of stuff over the phone. He did a really good job.

I finished the game on the morning of my deadline… having worked a lot of nights – at least at this time I had a reasonable development system – I had two CPCs, a 5.25″ floppy (700K!), & other good stuff. Helped tremendously. I was very proud of the code I wrote for that game. Sadly at the end of the project I had NO memory left for sound – that was the only reason there wasn’t any! In hindsight I should have done something to get the space back…

Thanks for the kind words – I felt that my version was closest to the arcade – it was hard work but worth it in the end. I got a little money from royalties though I’m sure ELITE did very well out of it – no doubt if it had come out at the same time as the others it would have been very sucessful.”

– Interview by TACGR with the sadly late Mark Haigh-Hutchinson who died of pancreatic cancer in 2008 at the meagre age of 43.

There are simply too many other conversions of Paperboy than we have time to cover so focusing only on the highlights…

NES gamers received a subpar, diluted interpretation with stodgy controls, minimalist animation, drab visuals, and squished sprites. Regrettably it’s also devoid of much of the arcade original’s quirky nuance. Neat touches – for instance – such as landing on your backside wearing your E.T. bike basket like an oversized fascinator in the event of an obstacle-induced wipeout. Actually that may happen in NESville too; Paperboy collapses into a crumpled, incoherent mess so it’s hard to tell for sure.

Curiously Mindscape’s Game Boy translation is merely a screen-cropped port of the NES game, retro-fitted to function on a reduced resolution platform. As such it’s supremely tricky to traverse the suburbs whilst simultaneously reacting rapidly to obstacles with minimal forewarning. Like the NES’ contribution to the franchise the controls and collision detection are decidedly wonky.

Lumbered with the weakest of the 8-bit ports were C64 fans. This iteration is painfully ugly, the sprites blocky and squished out of proportion, with exceedingly hamfistedly controls for such a capable machine. Collision detection too – unpredictable as it is – leaves a lot to be desired. Music being the C64’s forte, Mark Cooksey put it to good use in remixing the original tune. It’s the port’s not-quite-saving grace.

Interestingly the BBC Micro port programmed by Andrew G. Williams introduces a turbo mode that doesn’t feature in any of the other releases. When collected you shoot into the distance at breakneck speed, your transport becoming completely uncontrollable, making it more of a hindrance than a bonus power-up.

Paperboy always was an uncooperative lead character, more inclined to fight against your command than work with you. Somehow he mustn’t have got the memo: you’re playing for the same team. Here he’d have been better off installing stabilisers rather than a jetpack! In unboosted mode, ironically the game moves at a crawling pace, whilst visually resembling the nippy Speccy port.

Paperboy is one of the arcade games that just didn’t appeal to me. Elite, as usual, have done an excellent job of converting from the original – the game is quite pretty, and the action is generally fast and furious. The graphics are carefully detailed, scrolling smartly in 3D, and the characters are well animated. The colour is unfortunately in boring old blue ‘n’ black-o-vision with a little bit of magenta thrown to add a touch of colour clash. The sound is good, with lots of spot effects and a couple of tunettes. I didn’t find this game as addictive or as playable as it should have been, but it certainly is worth a look if you enjoyed playing it in the arcades.

This game is well wicked. The graphics are a bit of a wimp-out on the part of Elite, but the game has a strange amount of addictivity to it. Though losing a lot in comparison to the original arcade version, Paperboy offers a good deal in the way of long term entertainment. Things like the racetrack and the old grannies make the game all the more fun to play, and the level of frustration is just right. When a drunkard comes wobbling down the road and knocks you off your bike, the urge to try again is still there. Though not as good as the Ghosts and Goblins and Bombjack conversions, Paperboy is still a pretty good game, and worth the asking price.

Although the game doesn’t contain lots of different things to do, Paperboy, like most of the Elite games, is fiendishly addictive — and once you’ve started there’s no stopping. The graphics are extremely well drawn, and despite them all being very small, most of them are recognisable. I felt more use could have been made of the Spectrum colours. Control was quite hard to get used to at first, but after realising that you can’t brake and turn at the same time, things became quite fluent. The presentation is quite bare, apart from the high-score table and the very well drawn front page of the Daily Sun. The sound was more informative than good. I’m sure that anyone buying Paperboy will play it for hours — but come away with the feeling ‘not much to that!’

88% – Crash issue 33 (October 1986)

Why Elite bothered to convert Paperboy to the 64 I don’t know. As far as I’m concerned it was a waste of time, effort and money. The tunes and spot FX are good, but the backdrops and sprites are rather crude, and the colour schemes are bland. The playing area is relatively small, leaving little room to manoeuvre and resulting in much frustration. Even so, Paperboy is quite playable, but nothing special and vastly overpriced for what it offers. If Elite are going to continue releasing conversions of this quality, then they should do so at a budget price.

Take an arcade game which relies heavily on its brilliant sound, speech and graphics to enhance its rather boring gameplay. Then remove them. What are you left with? … a repetitive and uninspiring arcade conversion. The graphics are awful, with poorly defined sprites and very bland backdrops. The sound is poor too – why not try to copy the tunes that featured in the arcade original? The game itself has plenty of niggles: the ‘damage total’ doesn’t seem to work properly; the papers disappear if you try to get them on the doorsteps; the sprite/sprite collision doesn’t work properly, and the actual playing area is tiny when compared to the original. A very disappointing conversion.

I wasn’t that impressed by Paperboy when I saw it in the arcades, and now it’s come home to roost I’m neither enthralled nor excited by its arrival. It appears to be hit or miss whether I was killed off when I hit an obstacle – sometimes I could quite happily sail through the hazards and the next time I’d be killed before hitting it. This might have some appeal to ardent fans of the arcade game, but it left me feeling cold.

44% – Zzap!64 issue 22 (February 1987)

The first thing you’ll notice when this game loads is the silence. There is no sound at all (which is due to lack of memory according to Elite). Perhaps a hacker out there could produce a routine to give sound using the extra memory on the 6128 – we’d love to print it. The scrolling of the screen is a bit jerky but this is only a minor problem because there’s good use of colour with bright and clear scenery. The inhabitants of suburban America may be a little chunky but they are detailed enough and come in plenty of interesting varieties.

The game plays well and although it’s a little repetitive it has something basically addictive about it that hooks you. Lack of sound is a bit disappointing so you’ll just have to listen to your favourite music while playing.

What are you pouting for now? I’ve covered the review scores, mechanics and trivia, as well as unearthing some exclusive revelations… announced by other people. What more do you want?

Second Opinion

It’s been a long wait for this conversion but they’ve definitely come up with the goods. The lack of sound is disappointing, but the most important thing is the gameplay – and that’s there in plenty!

There’s the thorny issue of repetitiveness but I think it’s got the right level of difficulty and variety to keep most players happy. I’ve never played the arcade version or any other and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

81% – Amstrad Action issue 25 (October 1987)

The graphics have been copied perfectly, as has the sound, right down to the voices used. Fans of the original should most definitely get hold of this version, and people who have never heard of it should join the queue, otherwise you’ll really be missing something.

88% – ACE (October 1989)

So how does it stand up as a conversion? Remarkably well. Graphically, it is very close to its arcade counterpart, it is all there, right down to the VW Beetles. I am not too sure about the collision detection, however. In some places it is over generous and in others it is too stingy. The houses and extra bundles of newspapers are very easy to avoid. Indeed at times it looks like you are going through them and getting away with it. Enemy obstacles on the other hand, are very hard to get past. You have to give them a very wide berth indeed.

The sound is perfect, almost identical to the arcade, right down to the identical voices used in the identical in-game tune.

Paperboy is worth the wait. It is a shame they could not provide handlebars with the disk.

83% – Commodore User (September 1989)

This is is an almost flawless conversion in virtually every aspect. The game play has been successfully recreated, and the lack of handlebars hardly makes any difference to the playability at all. Sound, too, is spot on – Atari’s distinctive coin-op sound has been faithfully reproduced, as have the tunes themselves to lend an authentic arcade feel to the proceedings. In fact the only aspect slightly off the mark is the graphics, which are ever-so-slightly chunkier than the originals. A first rate conversion – it was worth the wait.

80% – The One (September 1989)

Why isn’t this the same as the coin-op? The sound is arguably better (although there’s no speech), but the graphics are jerky, and the gameplay has been altered. It’s not a bad game, but it’s too old and too expensive to deserve greater praise.

69% – Computer and Video Games (October 1989)

Paperboy boasts crisp, colorful graphics and a bouncy jazz soundtrack. Unfortunately, gameplay is both repetitive and outdated. Five years ago this game might have caused a sensation. Today it merely takes up valuable retail shelf space while other, more original software designs struggle to survive.

55% – Compute’s Amiga Resource (February 1990)

“*Sniff, blubber* Well you’re reaching the end of your article and once it’s published I’ll be surplus to requirements. My days are numbered.”

Oh, don’t be so melodramatic you big baby, you’ll be fine. You’ll go on to lead a happy, healthy life for the foreseeable future, I guarantee it. Let me prove you’re real by beating you to death with this rolled up newspaper. How could I do that if you didn’t exist to begin with? See, that’s irrefutable, rational logic at work, it’s ‘What Makes Us Human’ (TM, probably).

“Sounds perfectly reasonable to me. Righty-ho, let’s give this a bash. I feel more chipper already.”

2 thoughts on “Waking up the neighbours

  • January 27, 2018 at 11:18 am
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    I really hate Paperboy. There aren’t many games that I actually hate (I’m struggling to think of any others), but this is one.
    I remember when I first saw it, thinking “Why do you throw the paper at the house instead of posting it through the door?” (do they REALLY do that in America?).
    I’ll stick with Trashman on the C64 or Spectrum, which is a ‘kind of’ similar idea.

  • January 31, 2018 at 2:17 pm
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    LOL. It *is* a tough sell on the surface. I’m still not entirely convinced by the newspaper throwing thing either. I wonder how common it is outside of movies, TV and comic strips. From what I understand it’s the norm to have a box at the end of your drive in America rather a hole in the door, so you’d imagine chucking a paper would be more effort than placing it in the box. Also, you’d think paying customers would complain at having their newspaper lobbed haphazardly at their house, even if it *is* shrink-wrapped.

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