Following on from the brilliant Bubble Bobble and the radical Rainbow Islands, Parasol Stars was one of the most eagerly awaited games of 1992. However, just as it was nearing completion, Ocean made a public statement in 1992 that their out-of-house programmer suffered a burglary in which his computer, monitor, and all his disks were stolen – including the ones with the Parasol Stars source code!
This caught everyone by surprise, including several mail order software firms who, anticipating it’s release, had included the game in their adverts. Re-writing the game from scratch would have taken ages, by which time the big advertising push would have been lost.
Rumours were flying over this game, the burglary story, a coverup of Ocean leaving the C64 scene and a domestic dispute leaving disks wiped. In 2005, GTW finally learned exactly what happened…
Indeed, Parasol Stars was being developed out of house and not by Graftgold (Jason Page of ex-Graftgold said that he weighed up a C64 conversion and saw it would have been a pain). or Special FX… The connection was very close though, and the developer has been unmasked as Colin Porch!… Coder of Operation Wolf, Head Over Heels and Gryzor on the C64. As the C64 died out, Ocean contracted their later games out to external developers on the cheap… and Colin was at the time working from home and took up the project.
After 3 months worth of work, Colin proved his worth with a really strong demo (quite advanced at this early stage) with his own graphics and took it to Ocean. Ocean liked what they saw, and gave Colin the full thumbs up to continue and finish off for publishing. This was to be Ocean’s final fairwell to the C64.
As development progressed, a strong conversion was shaping up to do the C64 proud. It so almost very nearly made it after another 3 months worth of work. Colin even confirmed that some of the scrolling levels had been completed, and there was a lot of action on screen via a combination of character based and sprite objects to handle the large Pianos and trumpet characters on the early levels.
So near, but devestatingly the game was lost. Rumours of a dispute with the wife was infact proven true. Colin confirmed that a parting of ways with his (now ex) wife didn’t mean just a cutting up of shirts, but destroying of disks too… which included all of Colin’s Parasol Stars code he had been working on. What did survive was the 3 month demo that Colin originally took to Ocean.
Upon travelling to Ocean to explain the situation, Colin produced the 3 month demo again and stated that he’d be able to get the game back within short time. Sadly Ocean didn’t want to see it through any longer, and left the C64 scene slightly more prematurely than they would have done. The 3rd installment was never to see the light of day.
By pure chance GTW discovered that Colin was behind the game when he first spoke to GTW and talked of working on Rainbow Islands that got scrapped. Of course, with Graftgold actually doing this, it set alarm bells ringing and the obviously link to Parasol Stars was like a slap in the face.
What with knowing that we will never see the almost complete version that was created, what is left now in the hope of discovering anything of the game? 6 months prior to GTW contacting Colin, he had sadly got rid of all his old development disks at the tip… Most likely with the 3 month old demo of Parasol Stars. But Colin gives hope that the disk survived the clearout, and so the search begins for the 3 month advanced preview that survived.
To find anything of this game would be a fantastic feat and of great importance. In the meantime GTW also searches for the game’s music which was developed by Keith Tinman. This sadly also seems lost, though Keith also gives us hope that he will find the ST disks with the tunes on. Imagine…. finding the demo and the tunes, and combining it all…. Maybe…. As one journey ends to find the developers, another begins to find the remains…
Could this lost relic be really found, or is it forever to be lost?…
Contributions: Ian Osbourne, Patrick Furlong, Jazzcat, Keith Tinman, Paul Hughes, Brendan Phoenix, Colin Porch
Colin Porch speaks to GTW about work on Parasol Stars...
"My wife decided she had had enough of life with me and took off with somebody else, but ruined all my disks with source code on before she left. I had one copy in my brief-case which was about three months old, but Ocean were not able to give me extra time to catch up. That was quite advanced.
It really is a great shame that you did not locate me 6 months ago. About that time, after trying unsuccessfully to see if anybody would like to take my old Commodore equipment off my hands, (C64s, D128, monitors, disk-drive - even tape decks!) I eventually dumped it all at my local Tidy-Tip. I'm afraid that all C64 source code went with it, although it did feel that I was discarding a huge part of my life. I cannot be sure that the "Parasol Stars" development was amongst them, but it was likely. After a brief search, I have managed to locate files from the "Caveman Games" (or some such title) that I worked on whilst at Special FX, and also Atari ST Files for the Head over Heels conversion. I believe that my ideas for a version two are there also, but couldn't be sure unless I dragged the ST out of our crowded loft space - assuming that it still works ! Sadly, no Parasol Stars !
As with the HoH ST version, (although I had the original graphics to work with there, but I could let myself loose with 16 colours!) I did the graphics for Parasol Stars myself, at least in a primitive way for the screens to make sense. As I remember it, I took the code to Ocean after about three months work, which they seemed quite pleased with, and continued working on it for a further three months or so. That is when I arrived home one day to find my wife gone and what disks she had found either broken or unreadable. (We had had an accident earlier when disks left in a bag next to a powerful vacuum cleaner were corrupted, but now she had done it on purpose!) I don't really think I can expect any credit for an unfinished game! Most of the elements of the game play had been included by then, although I was still having terrible problems trying to squeeze more sprites out of the multi-plexer. There were never enough! Although sound effect triggers had been included, the programs to produce jingles and effects were still unwritten.
I went back to Ocean and explained what had happened, but although I had kept regular back-ups, they too were destroyed. All I had was the disk already showed to them earlier. As I explained, they were unable to give me extra time to catch up on the work lost because of advertising commitments etc. I really felt awful, but there was little I could do. I did not feel that I could expect any more commissions from them. Bearing in mind that I was approaching 50 at that time, (surely a grandad in the computer-games industry!) there seemed little prospect of finding other employment in the same field, although I did try. I spent some considerable time working on new ideas for a more difficult HoH, thinking that I might be able to get Ocean to take it if it was ever finished, but of course, I had no title to the original ideas or characters.
As it happened, a few months later I met my current partner, and moved away from Liverpool to be with her. Although I still program for personal projects, usually in Visual Basic, I haven't worked on a game since 1992. Now I am 60, and have worked for the last ten years or so with the English Bridge Union, in various roles. I currently manage their Master Point scheme, by which players attempt to rise to the dizzy heights of GRAND MASTER!"
From the recent interview with Colin....
"My wife and I had not been getting on very well, (usually rowing about her drinking habits,) and she decided to go back to her first husband of twenty years earlier. Before leaving, she broke or corrupted all the disks she could find, including all the Parasol Stars developments and back-ups. She expressed extreme remorse afterwards, (she was two different people depending on whether she had been drinking,) but the damage was done. I only had a disk previously shown to Ocean, about three months old, which had remained in my briefcase since showing it to them. They, unfortunately, could not spare the time for me to repeat the work. I really felt that I had let them down, but there was nothing else I could do. I am grateful that they were so understanding, but I didn't get any more work from them.
The amount of movement required on the screen WAS daunting, considering the C64's limitation of 8 sprites at a time horizontally. At times I was using characters rather than sprites, to increase the number of moving objects available. (I used the same approach in Operation Wolf.) These take more processing time to animate etc.. a very fine balancing act. Although I intended attempting to make it "two-player", all the work done up to the finishing point was for a single player only. I'm not sure that 2 player was possible, given the C64's limitations, but I would sure have given it my best shot!
I was doing the graphics myself, in a primitive way. No doubt the Ocean artists could have "tweaked" them somewhat once all the routines were working. Ocean were happy with my efforts in the first stages, certainly. I was, after all, copying from the original arcade version - always easier that designing graphics from scratch.
About six months or so ago, having attempted to find anybody to take them off my hands, I disposed of all my Commodore gear. This included 2 C64s, a D128, several disc-drives, two monitors and a printer. I certainly disposed of a lot of disks at the same time, and it is likely that the Parasol Stars development was amongst them. However, I have since found quite a lot of development disks, - including Operation Wolf, Gryzor and Head over Heels so there is still a chance that it might turn up."
Then after asking about scrolling levels:
"I had certainly done some work on scrolling levels on PS, but don't think it was included on the demo version that I showed Ocean. I think that was just static screens.
I seem to remember having to use sprites AND character manipulation to get the multitude of objects jumping up and down...What a pain! Musical instruments weren't they? Trumpets and things? Or am I thinking of something else? My memory's not what it was..."