King Kong – Chris Roberts First Game?

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Before he joined Origin and became famous for Wing Commander, Chris Roberts was a programmer over here in the UK releasing a couple of original games for the BBC and C64 and he also did a port of a football game.

Before any of this however, he wrote a couple of games in BBC Basic which were published in Micro User magazine for which he got paid £200 each. I found some copies of the magazine so I thought I’d see if I could track these games down. His first game is described as being based on King Kong in the biography at the back of the Wing Commander 3 guide, so I have to assume this is it from Issue 2 of Micro User (April 1983). I can’t be 100% certain but it’s the only King Kong game from the magazine that year so it looks more than likely. In every other one of these magazines the author either gets mentioned or has his name in the code listing but there is nothing to say who wrote this one.

This magazine comes from the days where you were expected to type the program in for yourself from a listing. For extra money you could order a tape however and you can download the tape image from here and run it in a BBC emulator. The magazine scans are below:-

KingKongScans2 KingKongScans3

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A few issues later there was actually a critique of the programming used in the game by one of the magazine authors which went on for numerous pages about how it could have been done better. I’ll post it if anyone is interested but as for the game itself, I have of course fired it up in an emulator to see what it plays like.

The instructions are built into the game. In short you have to fly a helicopter around rescuing some damsels in distress and then shoot King Kong 40 times.

The game has a short bit of music in true 80’s arcade style which plays each time you start a new life. King Kong throws white blobs of some description at me constantly which I have to avoid while air lifting out the two women stuck on the side of the Empire State building. In this first level there isn’t much range to the blobs and I can rescue the women safely as long as I don’t fly too near to King Kong.

The real difficulty here is the controls which are just horrible. The problem is that you don’t simply move left and right in the helicopter but have a thrust key and another to turn it around. The number of times I pressed the wrong key and smacked straight into the building was just ridiculous. The keys may have made more sense on a BBC keyboard layout but I did start to get used to them after several attempts. Another thing to note is that you can only use one key at a time so can’t fly diagonally.

Once the women have been saved, I have to shoot King Kong repeatedly. This is a case of getting in range of his arm and bobbing up and down avoiding the blobs while firing. There is a lot of slowdown when firing the machine gun which makes this easier. There is a Donkey Kong reference at the end of the level before the colour changes and level 2 starts.

The 2nd level is more of the same except it speeds up dramatically and Kong’s blobs have a much longer range resulting in my dying within a second of starting it. I don’t know if it is a problem with the emulation but it would be a serious challenge to last more than a few seconds and I left it here.

For a game written in BASIC, not to mention a first attempt at game writing, this isn’t bad actually. Roberts was only 14 when this was published and he went on from this to have his first machine language game (Wizadore) published and topping the games charts within 2 years. I’ve not been able to track down the other BASIC language game (Popeye) mentioned in the WC3 guide unfortunately but if anyone has it I’d be curious to give it a go.

7 thoughts on “King Kong – Chris Roberts First Game?

  1. Extremely cool! I’m glad someone is finally working out the early Chris Roberts stuff–a woefully unexplored part of Origin’s (pre)history. Lemme see if I can get Chris Roberts to confirm that this was his first game for you.

    • I saw an unconfirmed rumour on some BBC forums that it was Chris Roberts in the gorilla suit on the front cover. I’d love to know if that is true.

      I can’t find this Popeye game despite my best efforts. Martin Galway makes a reference to him walking into the publishers offices with it in 1983 in a 90’s interview but he doesn’t say what happened to it.

  2. Oh yes, that was the first. Chris was a neighbour of mine. We played as kids. My brother was also writing programs for the magazines. Mick Bibby used to come round to see what they were up to. The both featured in some article in The Sun (I think) about spotty children making money writing computer games. Chris borrowed my dad’s Master to do the enhanced version of Stryker’s Run. Fun times.

    • Very cool. The nearest any of my mates got to being famous is a guy who does some local news reporting for the BBC around Manchester.

      Do you know if Chris got any other games published in magazines back then? I heard that he had several in Micro User but I’ve not been able to find any of the others.

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