Review of Pip the Pipistrelle – new ZX Spectrum game by Purple Unicorn Software

Background

The brains behind this release from the newly formed Purple Unicorn Software is Steve ‘JammaJup’ Dixon also the man behind the excellent www.jammajup.co.uk and arcade game enthusiast.

When I first downloaded Pip the Pipistrelle and noticed that it had been based upon the Jet Set Willy engine using JSWed, I would have normally expected yet another JSW clone, I’ve seen loads and frankly (to me) they all look and play the same.

Knowing Steve though, this was not going to be the case, and I wasn’t disappointed! The game boasts well over 100 original screens and from the moment you see the extras that you get with this game (instructions with great original storyline, map, cast of characters), you really get the idea that the game is well polished and going to be something special…

Gameplay

…and difficult. Oh yes. Now whilst I play a lot of games, I will readily admit I’m not the worlds greatest gamer and I just play for fun. Consequently I have played JSW to death in all its incarnations, including many produced with JSWed and Pip IS (at the time of writing, I haven’t even been able to finish it yet, damn those Owls…) one of the hardest I’ve had the fortune of battling through. Be assured though, this makes it no less fun.

The use of a vertical tower as the main feature, meaning that the main direction of travel is always up, the many varied (original) characters and the wholly original storyline gel together to make this one of the most well-rounded modern platformers you can get for the Speccy. There are various ‘tribute’ screens scattered around the game reflecting Steve’s love of Arcade games and even a screen with a personal message from Steve himself.

The Verdict

In summary – if you remember the feeling of first playing Jet Set Willy or Manic Miner on your rubber keyed Spectrum under that dodgy colour TV, that feeling of exploration and discovery when you found another room you had never seen before, then this game is for you. I got a real nostalgia hit when I played this, almost like I was 11 again and I’m sure many of you will too.

The game itself runs in 128K and can be downloaded from the Purple Unicorn website or WOS for use with your favourite Spectrum emulator (see links at the bottom of this article).


 

Q and A with Steve ‘JammaJup’ Dixon

Q. Did you own a Spectrum the first time round? If so what were your favourite games of the time?

Steve: Yes I did own a Spectrum it was my second machine after the 6-switch Atari VCS, both these machines have a place in my heart and I have a lot of retro gaming memories associated with them. I was in high school 1982-87 so I heard a lot of the Speccy vs C64 vs CPC banter in the classroom and playground and although I am less bias today with my views to me the Spectrum still is the best.

I enjoy games with variance where the game layout or items are different each time you play, I find these games can be returned to even today. My favourite games have changed only a little but at the top of the list is always Halls Of The Things, Wriggler, The Hobbit, Jetset Willy, Warlock Of Firetop Mountain, Knightlore, Atic Atac and Elite.

Q. What gave you the inspiration to start Purple Unicorn Software?

Steve: Firstly I am a member of over 25 retro gaming forums and message boards and my favourite forum of all is World Of Spectrum.org (WOS), I have a lot of respect for the members and have enjoyed following the huge home-brew scene, downloading the endless stream of games and voting in the best new game of 2010/11 polls.

I simply wanted to be part of the scene and although I have always had an head-full of ideas for games I have no programming knowledge so I required some game making software of sorts, there were nearly 100 Spectrum games released In 2011 and one of them was `Vampire Hunter Willy` and being a Jetset Willy and Manic Miner fan I soon discovering a lot of other JSW style remakes in the game archives so I realised there must be a JSW editor somewhere, I found the editor JSWed by John Elliott and after downloading it I decided it did meet my requirements.

Purple Unicorn did not come about until Pip was almost finished and I was making the title screen, I felt I needed a logo or a software name, my girlfriend likes Unicorns and her favourite colour is Purple so…

Q. Where did the idea for Pip the Pipistrelle come from?

Steve: I have always been a big lover of animals and wildlife and like to do Volunteer conservation work whenever the chance arises so I decided that the games I would make would have a wildlife theme perhaps highlighting the perils associated in the day to day life of other creatures. Well I had to decide what the theme of the first game would be so I sat down one day with a pad and pen and had a eureka moment, one day at dusk in 2011 I recall watching a small Pipistrelle bat flying back and forth over a neighbours garden so I purchased a Magenta Bat-4 detector and when the bat re-appeared at a later date I was able to hear it and I have never forgotten the experience,it was very humbling. So I decided my first game would be about a Pipistrelle bat and the question I asked myself is how can a bat be placed in peril? The answer was being blown from the roost during a windy night storm.

Q. Where did you get your ideas for screen names from?

Steve: When you create a game using a JSW editor one thing that never occurs to you until you get started is that you have to create a lot of screen names, you can use the editor in different modes giving you various features, I used the editor in mode (64 W) which gave me more design tiles but reduced the number of game screens from 256 to 128 but that is still a lot of names to think off. You just have to be imaginative and use phrases you read on the web or hear on TV, with me they were almost leaping out at me. For example I remember one evening watching an episode of Porridge with the late Ronnie Barker who is a true master with words, I heard him say “no stranger to danger”  and included the phrase into the game as a screen the next day. There was also an instance when there was politics on the radio and I could hear the commons speaker shouting “order!…order!” I had plans for a screen with a swinging rope over some spikes and decided that I would call this screen A ‘Point’ of Order emphasizing the word point because of the spike hazard. The rest of the screen names are descriptions of the rooms, locations, creatures and related puns.

Q. What did you like least about designing your own platformer?

Steve: I am sure there is nothing I truly hated but when I first started building the game I had to learn how to use the JSW editor as I went along and there was a few frustrating moments when realised an idea I had could not be implemented because of the restrictions of the editor.

After the game and title screen the very last thing of all I had planned to do was create a loading screen and this was probably the most frustrating thing,not the design of screen itself but converting the screen and merging it with your game program. You first convert the image to a screens$ file then a .TAP file and then merge it with the game .TAP file to create a final .TAP file but all this required programs and code in txt files to be opened and started using command prompt windows and after a night of trying I gave up, way to much hassle to create a screen that will be displayed for just a few seconds.

Because the game had no loading screen I created a game map, instructions and a cast of characters card which was released with it, the card is something I have not seen done before.

Q. What did you like most about designing your own platformer?

Steve: There are several things I enjoyed the first is that I did not draw it all out on paper first, I started at the bottom of the tower and worked upwards screen by screen crossing off ideas I had written for rooms on scraps of paper as I went along, even the 10 secret screens were split into groups and inserted into the map when I felt it was time. It all just seem to work out and gel together that way making it up as I was going along.

The experience of creating the game and seeing it develop is really something as it gives you an idea of what it must of been like back in the day when people like Matthew Smith were probably making notes and sketches on paper, but something people will not realise is that although you obviously often encounter problems in the level design and have to make changes there are also times where you accidentally create a feature through blind luck, you test the screen a go “wow! I did not plan that to happen but I will keep that as a feature”.

Q. How long did it take to write and did you have any problems along the way?

Steve: I was using the JSWed editor and it was the perfect work horse with no coding or anything else being required from myself apart from the redesign of the sprites and rooms, at times due to restrictions with the JSW engine it did feel that the editor was dictating what I could and could not do but I found clever ways of getting around some problems. The whole game was done in just 10 weeks working from 4-10 hours a day, for the first three weeks I had so many ideas in my head it was like a maelstrom it was just crazy I had to write everything down to give me some relief but I am happy that most of my ideas were implemented into the game before I ran out of rooms.

Q. Without giving too much away, what is your favourite screen and why?

Steve: There are quite a few screens I like but the better screens are in the middle of the tower like the sun setting screens the main reason for this is the fact that by this stage my understanding of the JSWed editor had improved and it does really show especially with the wildlife and vegetation adding puzzle elements which is something you do not expect in a JSW game. The Tribute screens that replicate other classic video games are worth a mention especially ‘Halls Of The Things’ which is just awesome it actually looks as though you have left the JSW game engine and are in the Halls game, after that A Point of Order, Anthropogenic Contaminant, Sunset, The Box Room, Zoo Archaeological, Owls Nest, Nostalgia, Phobia and Going Pear shaped – they are all good.

Nostalgia is the hardest screen and will have people pulling their hair out and shouting abuse at their monitors, the Owls Nest, Going Pear Shaped and Pestacider may cause problems too.

Q. What else is in the pipeline for Purple Unicorn (future projects)?

Steve: Quite a lot of ideas on paper so there are a few games in the pipeline mostly with a wildlife theme,Terry The Turtle is about a new born Turtle that hatches on a beach and has to make it to deep water where he discovers and explores a sunken ship (sunk as a man made reef) this has 10/128 finished screens so far, Percy The Pigeon will follow where you must guide a young pigeon from the roof of a tower block to floor level (Arcade Crazy Climber in reverse), also Harry The Hedgehog, Louise The Ladybird, Barry Bumble and Pip The Pipistrelle II (Abaddon Vs Gigatron) which will be set in space on an alien planet. Perhaps a text adventure and future ‘Wipeout’ style racer may be a possibility too.

I will hopefully be learning to program as i go along and use software other than the Jswed editor, even though with Pip the Pipistrelle I have proven that something interesting and different can be created with it i will be in danger of all my own games looking the same as each other so that is probably the main challenge for me.

Link to Pip the Pipistrelle page
Link to Purple Unicorn page
Link to Pip on WOS

Author: Ant Harper

Father, Husband, website developer, avid gamer since the mid-70s and collector of just about anything video game related. 8-Bit microcomputer and Sinclair specialist with a huge Sinclair related collection of his own. Blogs about retro gaming here but occasionally elsewhere when people ask. Bored of Mario and never much liked Zelda. Performs quirkafleegs for cold hard cash. Often found destroying ice crowns in the Lands of Midnight. Remembers: Lunar Lander. Plays: Steel Battalion, Gears of War

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