What do you call a runny-jumpy action game that revolves around the movies? A cinematic platformer? Cinemaware? If it’s an Amiga exclusive developed by The 8th Day and published by Core may I suggest ‘Premiere’.
You play as Core Picture’s film editor, Clutch Cable. Definitely not Clark Gable, that would be silly.
Having pulled an all-nighter to put the finishing touches to the company’s latest silver screen masterpiece, as you snooze, the reels are swiped from under your nose by incognito lackeys operating under the auspices of rival movie studio, Grumbling Pictures.
To sabotage your efforts to meet the Premiere’s deadline, the scoundrel has scattered the celluloid between six sets located within his studio. Decorated to mirror genre staples, these comprise western, black and white, horror, cartoon, B-movie/science fiction, and fantasy.
On each level you acquire a different weapon appropriate to the current theme… dynamite, flour bags, a plasma ball thingy that lets you pretend you’re Ryu of Streetfighter fame, and so on. You can even curl into a Sonic ball and roll downstairs to bowl over enemies should you run out of ammo.
You’ll need to flick switches to disable traps or otherwise facilitate your passage to restricted areas, and flip between movie sets and backstage areas as the placement of doors allows. Whether behind the scenes or in the limelight, a menagerie of inventive foes are invariably on patrol. Luckily none of them are too bright so it’s easy enough to predict their movements and plan ahead.
Whenever there are no doors to enter, the same manoeuvre (executed by holding fire and pulling down on the joystick) allows you to jump onto the other plane of existence. In other words, you can travel along a route closer to the ‘camera’, or slightly further away from it. Regularly swapping between the two layers is essential to avoid obstacles and enemies (or target them), and align yourself with exits.
Unveiling Premiere to the critics Core’s producer, Jeremy Heath-Smith, divulged…
“We had long since wanted to produce a game similar to Prince of Persia, but we wanted to add more Rick Dangerous-style traps to liven things up slightly. Another specification we wanted was that it was to utilise large cartoon-like graphics. As Jerr specialises in these, he was the natural choice.”
What emerged largely nailed the brief. Premiere shares Prince of Persia’s convincing fluid animation, while offering a more accessible, responsive experience. I’m not quite sure why Jeremy felt that PoP lacks traps, however; leaping over or shimmying around spikes and collapsing platforms is half of the challenge!
In terms of game-play Premiere was compared to Bonanza Bros by some critics. Accordingly, scratch just below the surface and it’s a traditional 2D scrolling platformer. Nevertheless, it’s this surface lustre that really makes it shine.
The exquisitely animated hand-drawn Warner Bros style sprites were the work of former Sullivan-Bluth artist, Jerr O’Carroll. The same graphician responsible for making both Heimdall games and Litil Divil look so enticing… and generously helping me out with novel-length articles on the subjects.
Discussing his design goals during one of the magazine promo junkets Jerr revealed…
“We deliberately wanted to make something platform-orientated, but I wanted its success to hinge on playability rather than its complexity.”
…and he clearly got his wish. Premiere is very much a ‘pick-up-and-play’ affair that can be fathomed out through trial and error.
Looking back at what they achieved it’s hard to believe Premiere was brought to life by a tiny team of three in just six months. Working from separate offices, located miles apart, Jerr was accompanied by coder Dan Scott, and musician Martin Iveson.
All the graphics in their 32 colour glory including 300kb worth of protagonist sprite animation were created using DPaint III. You only have to check out Clutch’s meticulously animated lolloping quiff as he traipses back and forth with steely determination to know that Premiere is the quintessential definition of a passion project, a labour of love, rather than a quick cash-in like so many platformers that had gone before.
Matching Jerr’s dedication to delivering a quality product, Dan employed a 286 PC running SNASM to take care of the coding and debugging duties. Premiere’s refresh rate saunters by at a leisurely 25 fps, perfectly complimenting the pace of the action. This would be anathema to Sonic-worshipping speed freaks, yet Premiere doesn’t suffer from the low frame rate since it’s mostly not the kind of game that demands lightning-fast reflexes.
Controls can be a tad awkward at times since they try to work within the limitation imposed by only utilising one fire button. This can mean you sometimes fire – wasting valuable ammo – when you really intended to flip behind the scenes or switch pathways. Otherwise, they’re reliably tight and responsive. I can only assume you’re incapable of firing whilst jumping or ducking to make the game more challenging.
Luckily the same principle wasn’t applied to ‘fall damage’ – there isn’t any. That would just be annoying. What is a bit of bugbear, however, is having to restart levels from scratch should you kick the bucket before locating a clapperboard restart point. Incidentally, finding out the significance of the scene reference ‘5031 7’ is next on my to-do list. Keep your energy levels topped up by munching on traditional cinema delicacies such as popcorn, burgers and hotdogs and you won’t have to concern yourself too much with these in any case.
Each of the six levels encompasses a playfield eight screens wide by eight screens tall, plus the backstage areas. In between, you’ll encounter several bonus stages and some exceedingly imaginative bosses that attempt to rewrite the rules regarding what constitutes an end-of-level guardian.
Just when you’ve decided you’ve seen it all, the gameplay temporarily shifts up a gear and becomes a forced scrolling runner set in space.
Another break from the standard levels entails shooting a train whilst escaping on a reversing pump trolley as you jump over gaps in the track. All very Indiana Jones appropriately.
Jerr who designed as well as illustrated and animated the game didn’t want the bosses to be mere bullet sponges you’d pelt with barrages of ammo until they croaked. So instead he devised a sort of cross between interactive movie games such as Dragon’s Lair and more orthodox action platformers.
As such, tackling the first boss, a gun-slinging bulldog sheriff, is an exercise in precision timing. You must bide your time waiting for him to reach for his pistol, then beat him to the trigger by shooting first. If it helps you can pretend you’re Han Solo. 😉
In another level-wrapping tussle you’re required to sprint inside a human-sized hamster wheel to instigate the ascension of a portcullis. Were it not for the trident-wielding devil who must be kept in check with holy water bombs, this would be child’s play. In reality, you’re obliged to break away from your trundling to deflect his advances, forcing him to transform into a bat in order to retreat. Now there’s something you don’t see every day.
Later you test your mettle pitted against a disembodied artist’s hand that paints baddies into existence like Penny Crayon or Tony Hart. These include an egg-shooting pelican, a frog-panther hybrid with a dilophosaurus’s frilly mane and tooth-like projectiles, and a Tasmanian devil who unleashes spinning stars as it tornadoes about the playfield.
You could always rely on Amiga Power when analysing a game to highlight any ‘Neat Touches’. I wouldn’t be surprised if they even registered a trademark to protect their use of the phrase. 😉
As far as I know, there’s no canon definition of a ‘neat touch’, yet I’m sure we all get the gist. They’re impressive little novelties, Easters eggs or gimmicks that make a game stand out from its run-of-the-mill competitors. These can be graphical, auditory or relate to the mechanics of a game. As you can imagine they’d have their work cut out with Premiere, it’s chock full of them.
Exploring Grumbling Studios you’ll observe posters advertising the upcoming movie translations of various Core titles including Heimdall, Wolfchild and Chuck Rock. Taking the homage a step further you’ll also cross paths with a Chuck Rock statue…
…and several sprites lifted from Heimdall populate the medieval zone.
Quirky enemies are the norm (it’s nice to see Thing from The Addams Family making a cameo appearance)…
…though special mention should go to the guy dressed in a beaver suit who has made the sci-fi level his second home. His protruding human nose gives the game away long before he even strips down to his waist. Clearly a throwback to Chuck Rock where dinosaur suits are the in-vogue outfit in which to be seen.
All that tarnishes the presentation is the lack of a proper finale sequence. The last boss doesn’t appear at the very end as you might expect, and the game finishes abruptly, followed by a credits roll-call and a brief summary of subsequent events. We’re left with an impressive fireworks display and a still of Clutch surfing a film strip by way of compensation at least.
It’s certainly not a deal-breaker since Premiere will instead forever be remembered for its charismatic animated intro sequence, and beautifully drawn cut-scenes, sprites and backdrops. In any case, being such a long game, featuring an unorthodox initial boss that stumped many people, the majority of players will never reach the end under their steam.
Precisely the forte of YouTube and longplays, and of course it feels entirely germane to appreciate it in this way given Premiere’s cartoon roots and cinematic themes. Watch it like a feature length movie with a bucket of popcorn and you can even forget there’s a player behind the curtain directing the show.