Before and since the recovery of the infamous Sigue Sigue Sputnik from oblivion, we wanted to always learn more about the game via its creator, Tony (Gibbo) Gibson. Attempts had been in vain though sadly.
Mark Harrison popped up early this year though, and we both shared notes to try and find Tony. We both found a YouTube channel (with a number of music remixes) and other pages which Tony had created, which hadn’t been updated since around 2012. Sadly our initial fears were confirmed when Mark Harrison got hold of Tony’s son a few weeks ago. Tony very sadly passed away in 2013 after a battle with cancer.
Tony was a true pioneer in the gaming world – although not as prolific, he was up there with the likes of Jeff Minter in terms of having his own distinct style that went against the grain of the usual arcade conversions and games of the day. In Tony’s case, it was with his political and wacky topical themes that could be found within his games.
Starting out at Taskset, Tony was instrumental in the early days with creations such as Jammin’, Bozo’s Night Out and Seaside Special – both of which had a particular message for game players. Seaside Special caused a bit of controversy, where you would throw radioactive seaweed at politicians (or Polytikians, as the game would say) at No.10 Downing Street as part of one of the scenes.
Unfortunately relationships soured at Taskset during Seaside Special – due to artistic differences. Tony (followed by Mark Harrison) set up on their own to produce titles on a freelance basis, and under a development label called Significance.
This started with the classic Ghetto Blaster for Virgin Games, where you controlled a DJ who had to go and collect tapes to deliver to your office, but first had to play them on your Ghetto Blaster and get a certain amount of people to dance.
The game was later remixed and re-released by Mastertronic as Street Beat around 1987, which we guess was due to some kind of legal issues with the original release.
After Ghetto Blaster, Tony decided to “tidy himself up” – as described in a news snippet. The aim to try and give a more business purposed look.
It was here that a new title was being worked on. That title was Sigue Sigue Sputnik – no doubt trying to follow on from the success of Ocean’s Frankie Goes To Hollywood. SSS was a more controversial band, and Tony and Mark decided to get a part of it by creating a game based on them.
With a short demo created, there were interesting attempts made by them to get a publisher for the game, with rumor of them turning up at Domark and demanding £80,000 for the title – before swiftly being told to sling their hook. Things petered out after that, and the game was indefinitely shelved.
This was followed by Beat It!, a very cool sequel to Jammin’ – and again released by Mastertronic. Here, instead of collecting instruments – you would have to collect notes – whilst avoiding various nasties. Here is a video of the game as recorded by Tony himself back in 2009:
Things went quiet after this point, and it wasn’t until 1989 that Tony and Mark’s next release would surface. This time a game which would build on the environmental/political theme that Seaside Special had started and taken one step further with Greenpeace: Rainbow Warrior. A multi-part game with levels that were based on actual actions that Greenpeace had taken over the years. Sadly it wasn’t as well received as previous games, and it was to be the last C64 release by Tony and Mark.
Unfortunately, we’re not sure what quite happened next – hopefully Mark will fill in the gaps sometime. All we know is that in recent years, Tony was writing for The Guardian online – was still into his music, by running a fake and non-existent band called green@ngelband and doing remixes of his classic game tunes.
It is a massive shame that we didn’t get to celebrate Tony’s work with him and also share with him how much people loved his work. Personally, I grew up playing Streetbeat as a kid and lost many hours trying to complete it.
Then there was of course about Sigue Sigue Sputnik and the full story of what happened with the game – something which we may now never find out. Finally, we were hoping also to arrange a re-union between Tony and Taskset head – Andy Walker, to bury old hatchets and do something positive as part of our retro gaming quest – but it was never to be.
It wasn’t just myself who was a fan, but Paul Drury and Vinny Mainolfi grew up with Tony’s work and had the following to say:
“I was desperately sad to hear of Tony’s passing. His games, particularly his C64 work for Taskset, meant a lot to me growing up. They oozed personality. More than that, they seemed to tell you something about his personality. I always wanted to find out more about the man whose creative flair and singular vision produced Bozo’s Night Out, which involved staggering back from the pub after downing a skinful, and Jammin’, a game that practically insisted you roll up a fat one before playing it.
When I started writing for Retro Gamer, I hoped I might finally get to hear and share Tony’s tale. Sadly, it wasn’t to be but we will always have his distinctive, inspiring games to play. RIP Tony.” – Paul Drury
“Tony changed the way I looked at games through his delightful titles such as Bozo’s Night Out, Seaside Special and Ghettoblaster. A lot of games back in the day were very linear, but Ghettoblaster seemed to move away from those tired level-style designs and open up a whole map in which you could explore and interact.
It was amazing how much he was able to fit into 64kb and still have an incredibly playable and enjoyable game. He would have been someone I would have LOVED to have sat down with and chatted about his coding, design and life in general. His work is truly respected and still being played to this day!” – Vinny Mainolfi (C64 endings)
Rest in peace Tony, and thanks for all the games and the fun they gave!