Wow… well, there were always a few questions about the existance of some Ultimate games on the C64, but this one was never really mentioned as a possible conversion.
But infact this rare Speccy game was being transferred over to our beloved breadbin back in the day by an up and coming company under the name of Lynsoft (Run by Steve Law and Paul Jacobs). The conversion was being coded by Matt Young (Chris "Quota" Young’s brother) with Jake Simpson and some contribution work by Simon Jacobs.
Jason Kelk spent a lot of time at Chris Young’s place in the 80’s, where he played a reasonably complete version which had the main game graphics dropped from the Speccy version and an enhanced status panel by Jake and it was pretty good. The game was unfortunately a lot slower than it’s Z80 counterparts, as we find out why further below.
The project was scrapped by Ultimate and the Amstrad PC based PDS machine (Written by Andy Glaister and Foo Katan) was formatted.It was rumoured that no-one was paid, but Ultimate did pay a flat fee to Lynsoft for the conversion. Matt later went off to university and Lynsoft folded soon after.
However, with further digging we got in touch with Matt Young and he had the following to say about the game:
"Bubbler — that’s a blast from the past! I do still have a bunch of diskettes with all the source code on (though no drive on which to read them!). We had quite a lot of the game working on the C64, and the slow-down compared with the Spectrum (which had a faster CPU and a bitmapped screen) was comparable with that of other 3D perspective games such as Fairlight. But when Ultimate saw it, they decided it was too slow and canned the project. Jake "the hat" Simpson was the guy doing the graphics.
I was always hacked off that we never got the speed thing in writing before we started. The guys at Lynsoft (slightly dodgy intermediary company through whom we were doing the work) had a device you could plug into the Spectrum to slow it down by any amount you wanted. In hindsight we should have found out what setting took Spectrum Fairlight to the same speed as C64 one, then shown them Spectrum Bubbler with the same slow-down setting and got them to sign on the line that it was OK. But we were young and naive… (I pointed out at the time that we could probably get it running faster on the C128, but I don’t think enough of those got sold to make it an interesting proposition to Ultimate.) "
So although the Amstrad PDS was wiped, not all traces of the game were lost – there was suddenly a large bundle of hope that GTW could be able to find and preserve something. We requested the possibility of retrieving the game for the site.
Whilst this was progressing nicely, we also managed to locate Jake Simpson (Thanks to Martyn Carroll) who confirmed also that it was functionally complete (Delivered as a beta, and ready for bug testing, a total of 8-9 months of work) – but there was no time given to do so or optimize further before Ultimate scrapped the project. Ultimate apparently had been looking around for someone to do Bubbler and everyone turned them down, with only Lynsoft being optimistic enough to accept the challenge.
They were told according to Jake that it would be a lot slower if they were to replicate the spectrum code methods – mainly because of the fact that the C64’s hires screen was laid out in such a bad way that it was damn expensive to draw it the way they were done so on the Spectrum. 90% of the speed issues would be with the drawing loop part of the program. No sprites were used at all apart for the display panel area.
Ultimate however still wanted a 100% conversion, down to the methods used – they were not worried about the slow downs that were warned of. Lynsoft were given the Spectrum source code along with some discs with the original art on. They were apparently a pain to convert due to the very old C/PM machine and obscure format the disks were formatted with.
Indeed in the end, the game was very accurate and smooth, an impressive conversion overall… but ran like a dog at speeds of between 10-12fps. Sadly Lynsoft took on a little too much with the project, but only because they wanted to do something big and get their name out there.
In the next couple of months, we hear from Matt again who managed to find a friend who converted the PC based source code, but not the C64 disks. We arranged to convert Matt’s disks, and within a few weeks GTW was busy converting a few boxes full.
And after only a few disks we started to encounter executable demo builds of Bubbler on the C64, even versions which were complete with music and sound effects, some with enemies and some without (running a lot faster too!). More digging found the long lost loading screen too, as well as several disks with source code. There was now serious potential of a full conversion being here, but there was a problem… there was no version with everything bolted together in one big piece.
Matt very kindly got digging into the source code again (Extracted successfully from the PDS files he had earlier retrieved) after many years and did a lot of tidying up and patched together a full version, but things hit problems with various bugs appearing. Sailor/Triad was put in touch with Matt, and both got looking into things and trying to get things working fully. After a few months, both emerged with a complete version, as bug fixed as possible and working with all the music, sound effects and titles all ready to show to the world for the first time.
And here it is!…. with a big thanks to Matt, David and Sailor/Triad, you can now check out the final conversion of The Bubbler on the C64. It is fully playable and authentic to the original – the only unavoidable issue is the speed, which can be resolved in emulation by speeding things up.
It is a huge shame that it never quite made it out and also that Lynsoft were not left to come up with a better drawing method, as it is easy to see what an impressive job they did given the restrictions they had.
NOTE: There has been some confusion about whether it was Lynsoft or Lynnsoft, but we can confirm it is Lynsoft with one N based on company records. Thanks to Adrian Robson for confirming this!
We hope you enjoy it!…. and with that we can happily say "Case closed"!
Contributions: Jason Kelk, Matt Young, Jake Simpson, David Simmonds, Sailor/Triad, Martyn Carroll, Adrian Robson