Wayne Gretzky Hockey

Electronic Arts

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Released on the Amiga back in 1989, Wayne Gretzky Hockey was a great little game of hockey. In an 1989 issue of games magazine "Games Player’s" and in its Amiga review, it mentioned that a C64/128 version was being planned for release that year. It is hard to imagine EA doing a game so late into the 80’s when you consider they practically left the C64 market early on to go onto the 16-bits.

However, we can confirm that a conversion was started…

Michael Hart was given a dream job at the age of 14 as a beta tester at Bethesda Softworks before they hit the big time. At one point during his career in around 1990, Michael joked about doing a C64 port of the original Wayne Gretzky Hockey game, seeing as the NES version was being done and released. Chris Weaver had heard the idea and told Michael to go ahead and do it if he wanted. Michael was loaned the NES source code as reference and Michael set to work on the game in his own time. It took some weeks to knock out a prototype due to school work and other things, but he got smooth scrolling just right with tons of players moving around the screen. The guys at Bethesda saw it and loved it and tried to encourage Michael to finish it off. But unfortunately just before he left the office that day, Chris Weaver decided to abandon the project due to the dying C64 market. That was the death of the game.

Michael did keep a disk with the work on, but sadly tragedy struck in years that followed and a leaky pipe destroyed all of his C64 disks and whatever might have remained of the game. There is a really really really slim hope that it ever survived in any other shape or form as a result.

It seems that the conversion was a test to see Michael’s programming abilities, with Chris knowing from the start that they probably couldn’t release it as it was too late into the C64’s life for them.

A huge shame overall, but we will keep this one open in the hope that it may turn up some day… you never know… For now, read Michael’s full story in Creator Speaks, and we’ll get on with the search…

Do you know more about this conversion?…

Contributions: Michael Hart

Supporting content

Michael Hart talks about work on Wayne Gretzky Hockey...

"Still slowly making my way through your wonderful site, and coming to the W section brought back some memories of a GTW that only a handful of people ever knew about.

First, some background. During the early 90s, beginning at the tender age of 14, I landed what almost any boy my age would have considered a dream job: I was a beta tester at a games company. That company was Bethesda Softworks, well before they hit the big time and became famous for the Elder Scrolls RPG series. Back then their passion was sports simulations, and their debut title of the American football game Gridiron for Amiga got them off to a good start. Not because it was popular -- it wasn't, although it was very highly regarded by some people -- but because Electronic Arts was interested in the underlying simulation engine.

For a while, BS and EA were in negotiations to develop an American football title together, but things fell apart, and that's where BS lucked out. EA had the gall to rip off part of Gridiron's simulation engine and repurpoe it into John Madden Football, which was released for several platforms to much success. One giant lawsuit and legal settlement later, BS walked away with a very large sum of money, which was good because they had gone into a lot of debt to secure the expensive celebrity endorsement and NHL licensing for their next game, Wayne Gretzky Hockey. WGH did very well in the Amiga market, and also faired decently in its ST and PC ports. Bethesda had the license for several years, so they went on to make the most of it by releasing two sequels. Wayne Gretzky Hockey II, in particular, moved quite a few units on both Amiga and PC.

It was shortly before WGH II's release that I came on as a beta tester. The Amiga version was pretty much done, so I spent a couple weeks putting the PC version through its paces. It turned out pretty nicely, and was essentially bug-free by the end of testing (I'd like to think thanks to me ;) ), which is quite a contrast to the bugginess their later games have been known for. It was shortly after WGH II was finished that, almost on a whim, Bethesda decided to produce an NES version of the original game in the series.

The brilliant young programmer Randy Linden had an NES dev kit he'd gotten somewhere, and in a legendary fit of coding during a long pizza party, is said to have written the NES version in ONE NIGHT. I wasn't at the party in question so I can't confirm that, but knowing Randy I believe it's probably true. (You may be aware that he later went on to write the incredible Playstation emulator, Bleem.) Anyway, since Bethesda didn't have a direct relationship with Nintendo, the game was ultimately released through an outside publisher (THQ, I think).

And here is where we get to our GTW. Although I'd never released any Commodore games, the guys at work knew I loved coding the 8-bit Commodores for fun, and I think as a joke they suggested I could do a C64 port. What may have started as a joke, however, became serious when the president of the company, Chris Weaver, heard the idea and told me to go ahead and do it if I wanted. They let me borrow the NES source code as a reference, and I went to work at home on my own time. Not being a genius like Randy, though, and having schoolwork to do as well, it took me some weeks to put together a playable prototype.

Getting the smooth scrolling just right with tons of players moving around the screen was quite a challenge for me, but I was pretty happy with how it turned out. When I showed it to the guys at work, they thought it was pretty cool and encouraged me to finish it up. Their encouragement meant a lot to me, so I resolved to really pour my heart into finishing the game. But before I left the office that day, Chris Weaver told me he no longer thought it was worth releasing anything to the C64 market, and in one fell swoop Wayne Gretzky Hockey for the C64 became a GTW.

No one except the few of us at work ever knew about it, but since it was the one and only time I ever came close to creating a commercial game, even if it was a port, I can't help feeling some sadness that it never came to be. Even more disappointing is that the prototype no longer exists, as the disks it resided on were destroyed years ago by water damage from a leaky pipe in the ceiling. I'm 100% certain no copies exist.

For one, I'm sure I only took one disk with me. Since they didn't even have any C64s or C128s at work, I had to lug my whole C128DCR with me by bus to work the day I did the demo. But just in case (and hoping) I was wrong about that, I also visited the Bethesda Softworks offices on Friday (still live near there) hoping to turn something up. It was nice to see a couple of the old faces still around, but disappointing to find that they've cleaned out most of the old things. They don't even have retail copies of Gridiron or Wayne Gretzky Hockey anymore, much less any development materials. All that's left is a framed photo of Wayne Gretzky from when he visited the offices one day, and an autographed hockey puck.

I never left a copy at work, so Bethesda Softworks wouldn't have a copy either. It's really too bad it's lost forever, as it was tremendous fun to work on -- and even if I do say so myself, would have been great fun to play. I'm tempted to create a mockup screen to show what the game looked like, as I very clearly remember that. It wasn't beautiful by any stretch of the imagination, neither was the Amiga version, but the uncomplicated overhead graphics made it easy for the player to focus on strategy."

Michael Hart.

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