Commercial Computer Games

Beginning in 1982, a number of small groups of programmers in Hungary began to develop commercial computer games. One of the first such groups, calling itself F°451 (based on Ray Bradbury's immortal story), developed several titles in 1982-83 for Commodore. Extremely primitive by today's standards, these games were nevertheless considered groundbreaking in their own time; no, not for their design (they offered very mediocre game play) but for some of the technically challenging solutions that they featured. The group initially had six members: Gabor David, Imre Kovats, Marton Saghegyi, Ferenc Szatmari, Viktor Toth, and Viktor Zambo. Many graphic designs were the work of the accomplished artist Robert Bekesi and his associates. The original game ideas were submitted by a variety of contributors in response to a contest held by Novotrade, the Hungarian firm that was behind this effort. As to why it was these ideas that attracted Commodore's attention, only the Devil knows!

We did these games on borrowed equipment, for laughably little money; I remember many a night when four or five of us put together all our dough to buy just one pack of cigarettes to last through the rest of the night. Yet we had more fun than ever! I'll never forget the evening when we designed the dragon heads for Save Me, Brave Knight based on Feri's giant schnauzers who liked to poke their heads in through a broken window on his front door (no doubt to check on us to make sure we're working hard.)

Thanks to evil hackers, I recently found some pirated copies of these games on Web servers dedicated to the past glory of the C64. No, I am not planning to sue; on the contrary, I am delighted to find our work still in circulation, and I was thrilled to be able to run the games on a C64 emulator on my Windows NT computer after all these years.

Arctic ShipwreckArctic Shipwreck was our first game, and also the first to feature some of the advanced algorithms that allowed, even with the primitive graphics hardware and slow processor of the C64, the display of a large, tilting, three-dimensional slab of ice in the arctic sea.

In this game, you were controlling a benevolent mammoth whose task was to balance the slab long enough for the rescue ship to arrive, without actually stepping on any of the survivors. The task was made harder by the occasional appearance of a man-eating bird who tried to snatch victims one by one.

Exciting, huh?


QuarkThe real reason why we were working on advanced graphic algorithms was of course not so that we can draw a silly iceberg. We wanted to create a flight simulator game with a moving horizon. This was a tremendous technical challenge on limited hardware; indeed, we were told flat out by the folks from Commodore that the machine doesn't have enough firepower for this. In response, we sent off a prototype program that demonstrated the moving horizon with over 10 screen updates per second...

That prototype grew into a game that we called Quark 9. The original version had a music score that was an adaptation of Bartok's Allegro Barbaro; I still believe it was one of the finest scores ever written for the C64's SID chip, even when combined with "energy weapon" sounds that sounded more like hungry chicks in a nest. Sadly, we were told to take the music out; it was eventually replaced by a hideous, barely recognizable tune that was supposed to be the Star Wars theme song (I wonder if anyone ever thought of paying royalties to John Williams? Then again, we would have had even more copyright difficulties with Bartok's work) and an even more hideous, totally unrecognizable version of Also Spracht Zarathustra from Richard Strauss (the theme music of 2001: A Space Odyssey).

The choice of the game title was also unfortunate: we of course had the ultimate subatomic particle in mind, but since none of us spoke any German, we were unaware of the fact that the word in Germany (one of our major markets) meant a kind of cottage cheese...

The game was never released, or at least we never received any royalties for it. How a copy found its way to a server in Norway, I have no idea!

Save Me Brave Knight!Save Me, Brave Knight can perhaps be considered a very early precursor of modern graphic role-playing games. The player is a medieval knight who must rescue a fair maiden from an evil castle, guarded by a sentient lock, flying witches and evil birds, and a fire-breathing dragon (yes, this is one dragon, albeit a seven-headed one, common in Hungarian children's tales.) After conquering all the obstacles, the knight must face a random choice between two doors, only one of which hides the maiden.

Hey, we were only programmers; no-one said we knew anything about game design!

Apart from being yet another (however primitive) 3D game, this program also featured a color mixing technique that allowed us to display many more colors than the original 16 of the Commodore 64. (No, none of us have heard of the term dithering at that time...)

Finally, here are a few additional links to old concept documents and concept art that I found in my filing cabinet. Apparently, these may be of historical interest to some folks. Sadly, some of the articles have been damaged in storage as old glue dried and lettering came off, but I think these are still worth looking at.

First, some material related to published games:

I also have some concept art for games that we never implemented:

 Finally, some game concepts: