What are the "lost" Ultimate arcade games?

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Rev_Stuart_Campbell
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What are the "lost" Ultimate arcade games?

Post by Rev_Stuart_Campbell » Fri Nov 15, 2019 12:22 am

I've always been really curious to know what Ultimate did before they were Ultimate, and I've been having a little dig around.

We know for sure that they made Dingo (1983) - it's credited onscreen to Ashby Computers And Graphics Ltd.

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It seems to be universally accepted that they also made Blue Print for Jaleco the previous year, though I can find no actual primary evidence for this.

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It's certainly in their sort of style, though, and has a noticeably British sense of humour (get killed early and it'll enquire as to whether you read the instructions).

A 1985 article in Commodore User credits it to them, but also Gyruss, which seems rather more dubious - Wikipedia lists a whole bunch of Japanese guys as authors.

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The article says that the Stampers made 12 games for Zilec Electronics, but that the other 10 are a closely-guarded secret. So what else did the company publish? Games Database gives us a list which excludes Gyruss but otherwise conveniently comprises exactly 11 games including Blue Print, ie 10 others.

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We know we're looking in quite a narrow window - Jetpac, the first proper Ultimate game, came out in May 1983. The Stampers claimed at the time to be "the most experienced arcade video game design team in Britain" so they must have had some titles to their name by then.

Check Man (1982), then, seems like a no-brainer. Published in both Zilec and Jaleco versions, it's very much got the look and feel of the games we know they made, and the timing and connections fit.

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Wizz Quiz and Cash Quiz, meanwhile, have some interesting features:

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That wizard character will look awfully familiar to Atic Atac fans, and the game's ticking-clock sound effect is an absolute dead ringer for Atic Atac's footsteps. (Wizz Quiz also features the music from Manic Miner, weirdly.) I'm calling it - both games are Ultimate's work.

(Interestingly they were also published by Konami as well as Zilec, so maybe we can't rule Gyruss out entirely.)

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Merlin's Money Maze - an incredibly savage cash-prizes maze game - also has a familiar-looking wizard and definitely feels like the work of the same authors as Cash Quiz and Wizz Quiz, so we'll chalk that one up too.

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From here, though, clues get thinner on the ground. Not listed on that GDB page is another Zilec/Jaleco collaboration called Grasspin, and the minute I took a look at a video of it on YouTube I thought "that's got the Ashby Computers & Graphics vibe all over it".

(Fun trivia fact: its music is a slightly tweaked version of the soundtrack from Namco's New Rally-X, released two years earlier, and itself based on the intermission music from Pac-Man.)

While researching Grasspin, I stumbled across the Wiki entry for Jaleco, which sure enough explicitly credits it to ACG, although it doesn't offer any citation for the claim.

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It also adds Saturn (1983) from the GDB list. Saturn is a pretty bog-standard Galaxian derivative, and the only tangible connection is that it has a very similar front end to Blue Print. Interestingly, it does share some aspects of Gyruss, though, in the way you travel through a solar system past various planets to the accompaniment of vaguely classical-sounding music. We have no reason to disbelieve the Wiki entry at this point, so let's put it in as well.

(Note, btw, at 3m in that video, some short bursts of some music you may have heard in another arcade game. Buggered if I can put my finger on it at this exact moment.)

[EDIT: this page appears to confirm the ACG team's involvement in both Grasspin and Saturn.]

What about the rest of the GDB list? We can rule out Reaktor as it's from 1987. And we know from a Retro Gamer feature in around 2010 that The Pit was the work of a Bridlington chap by the name of Andy Walker, later of Taskset. But funnily enough there IS a strong Ultimate connection there:

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(The same article that quote is taken from notes that Walker went on to design an unproduced game called Stamper. The RG feature also posits the notion that The Pit, which came out in 1982, may in fact have been the Stampers' very first published videogaming work, so it must have preceded Blue Print. This seems an apt time to repeat my call for a Speccy port based on my own mockup - guys, it might be the first Ultimate game ffs :D)

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But WAS it the first? Vortex dates back to 1980 and is a primitive monochrome Asteroids knockoff produced for Zilec by Associated Leisure, but it's possible the Stampers did some sort of work on it, as we learn from another Retro Gamer piece a year earlier:

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Phantoms II, another mono affair from 1981, might also just sneak in before they left that year to form ACG and work on Blue Print and Dingo. It's a Space Invaders hack notable only for the fact that if you hold down the fire button your spaceship launches into the air, almost as if it was attached to some sort of... jet pack.

(The attract sequence also sees a large fighter jet scroll onto the screen in a manner rather reminiscent of that in Saturn.)

So where are we up to? We have either official confirmation or at least credible cases for the following:

- Dingo
- Blue Print
- Check Man
- Wizz Quiz
- Cash Quiz
- Merlin's Money Maze
- Grasspin
- Saturn
- Vortex
- Phantoms II

That's 10, and Commodore User might have been slightly over-egging their part in The Pit to make it 11. And if we add Gyruss, which CU explicitly credits them with (rightly or wrongly), that'd be the 12.

Is that - finally - the full history of the Speccy's most enigmatic developers? We may never know. But at least it gives us the chance to look at a few obscure old games with fresh eyes, eh?
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Re: What are the "lost" Ultimate arcade games?

Post by MrCyan » Fri Nov 15, 2019 5:49 am

Sleuthing is fun. I did some searching through the roms:

Dingo

Code: Select all

ASHBY COMPUTERS AND GRAPHICS LTD. 12 THE GREEN ASHBY-DE-LA-ZOUCH LEICESTERSHIRE LE6 5JU ENGLAND TEL (0530) 411485
CHRISTOPHER STAMPER. JOHN LATHBURY. TIMOTHY STAMPER. CAROLE WARD.
COPYRIGHT 1983 ASHBY COMPUTERS AND GRAPHICS LTD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 
Just for completeness - of course it's also clear onscreen.

Blue Print

Code: Select all

CHRISTOPHER STAMPER. JOHN LATHBURY. TIMOTHY STAMPER.
Check Man

Code: Select all

COPYRIGHT 1982 DUNCAN SHORTLAND PETER HUGHES ZENITONE MICROSEC LTD *
PETER HUGHESDUNCAN SHORTLANDMALCOLM MAILERCOPYRIGHT 1982ZENITONE/ZILEC    MUSIC BY ROBIN CARTWRIGHT
Cash Quiz

Code: Select all

MALCOLM J MAILER
Wizz Quiz
Nothing of note.

Merlin's Money Maze
Nothing again.

Vortex

Code: Select all

AHMBPUERS  LSATT
C:CJHORHIN"C
which is probably nothing, really.

Reaktor
Again, nothing.

Phantoms II

Code: Select all

JOHN LATHBURY
CHRIS STAMPER
NORMAN PARKER
DAVE SWIFT
LEN PARKS
aka Enigma II; and if you play that version in MAME you get colour, too. These names are also at arcade-history.com, which I think is the source for the history.dat file that works with MAME frontends.

Grasspin

Code: Select all

CHRISTOPHER STAMPER,JOHN LA
Saturn

Code: Select all

THIS GAME SYSTEM WAS DESIGNED BY EXODIS LTDFOR ZILEC ELECTRONICS
EXODIS LTD. UNIT 2, 146 HIGH STREET, BURTON ON TRENT STAFFS. ENGLAND
JOHN LATHBURY,CHRISTOPHER STAMPER,TIMOTHY STAMPER
_THIS PROGRAMME WAS WRITTEN EXCLUSIVELY FOR ZILEC ELECTRONICS LTD BY A.W. ELECTRONICS.(C) MCMLXXXIII ZILEC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
And so, might as well check Gyruss

Code: Select all

PROGRAMED BY TOSHIO ARIMA CREATIVE BY YOSHIKI OKAMOTO CHARACTER BY HIDEKI OOYAMA SOUND BY MASAHIRO INOUE WE ARE MAKED TIME PILOT 
Well that's not mincing words. Though just to keep the dream alive, a comment by 'sho' at The Digital Antiquarian links to an article in Home Computing Weekly and notes the picture of a storyboard which indeed has an "uncanny resemblance" to Gyruss.
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Rorthron
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Re: What are the "lost" Ultimate arcade games?

Post by Rorthron » Fri Nov 15, 2019 6:13 am

I raised the subject on WoS a few years back and there was a little discussion of it there:

https://www.worldofspectrum.org/forums/ ... 6/dingo/p5
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Juan F. Ramirez
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Re: What are the "lost" Ultimate arcade games?

Post by Juan F. Ramirez » Fri Nov 15, 2019 6:23 am

A very interesting read, rev!
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djnzx48
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Re: What are the "lost" Ultimate arcade games?

Post by djnzx48 » Fri Nov 15, 2019 6:27 am

Apparently they also made something called 'Zog', which I can't find any references to other than one from Leigh Loveday.
Rev_Stuart_Campbell wrote:
Fri Nov 15, 2019 12:22 am
(Note, btw, at 3m in that video, some short bursts of some music you may have heard in another arcade game. Buggered if I can put my finger on it at this exact moment.)
Sounds like it's from Wipe Out.
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Re: What are the "lost" Ultimate arcade games?

Post by zxade » Fri Nov 15, 2019 8:51 am

MrCyan wrote:
Fri Nov 15, 2019 5:49 am
Sleuthing is fun. I did some searching through the roms:

Vortex

Code: Select all

AHMBPUERS  LSATT
C:CJHORHIN"C
which is probably nothing, really.
Apparently there are two developer credits, interleaved, in the main CPU at 0x47D8:

JOHN LATHBURY
CHRIS STAMPER

You can probably see that if you rearrange those groupings you found, (a few final chars appear to be missing for John Lathbury...)

C:CJHORHIN"C S LSATT AHMBPUER
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Re: What are the "lost" Ultimate arcade games?

Post by Ralf » Fri Nov 15, 2019 10:05 am

Interesting stuff. I didn't realise they were so much involved in arcade machines.
That explains the arcade quality of early Ultimate games like Psst, Cookie and Jetpac.

And they were always a bit mysterious people, not willing to talk much about their work.
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Re: What are the "lost" Ultimate arcade games?

Post by 5MinuteRetro » Fri Nov 15, 2019 10:48 am

Ralf wrote:
Fri Nov 15, 2019 10:05 am
And they were always a bit mysterious people, not willing to talk much about their work.
Indeed. And still. Tim Stamper appeared on Twitter for just a few months back in 2015, then mysteriously went quiet. It was an interesting few months, though:


Image
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Re: What are the "lost" Ultimate arcade games?

Post by Rev_Stuart_Campbell » Fri Nov 15, 2019 1:30 pm

I've updated this with the ROM info (credited) into a proper blog post so that everything's in one place that people can easily find:

http://wosland.podgamer.com/the-secret- ... -ultimate/
Last edited by Rev_Stuart_Campbell on Fri Nov 15, 2019 3:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What are the "lost" Ultimate arcade games?

Post by DouglasReynholm » Fri Nov 15, 2019 1:49 pm

Another clue perhaps - I just fired up MAME and ran the Grasspin ROM and it runs off the blueprnt.cpp driver, which means the hardware will have been almost, if not completely. identical to Blueprint's. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean they had the same authors (though @MrCyan 's stirling work above shows this is true in this case), but is another data point to consider for the other titles, I I haven't looked at any of them though.
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