Death Pit

Durell

Status: No Download, Findability: 2/5

Death Pit was advertised in various magazines for various machines including the Commodore 64. The game involved battling through a labyrinth of mines and corridors, containing Bats, mutant life forms, flooded corridors and rocky paths to dig through.

The advert was all that ever existed really of the C64 conversion. Noel Passmore was been linked with the game via instruction sheets for Shades (Thanks to Michael Plate from www.gamebase64.com).

Thanks to Retro Gamer and their recent feature on Durell, it has been found out that Death Pit was completed (at least on the Speccy), but decided that the game was not that great. It was reported that the code was reworked and used for the famous Saboteur game. Clive Townsend however later revealed to Graeme Mason in December 2021 that this wasn’t fully correct, and it was more the concepts and techniques that were just re-used and not all of the code (see comment).

The Spectrum version did eventually surface, so there was hope that a C64 conversion could surface too one day.

The C64 developer, Noel Passmore, was tracked down and he revealed that the game was around 95% complete before Durell decided to shelve the game. What is surprising to learn though was that Death Pit was not a straight port from the Spectrum version, but a completely different game.

Death Pit C64 only used some of the concepts from the original game, utilized the full 64k of memory by switching the BASIC and Kernal RAM off. It completely scrolled too, keeping the player in the centre of the screen and all NPC’s were constantly being updated even when not displayed. It sounded pretty impressive.

Noel was also assigned to doing the artwork for the game as well – and may well have been tasked for later composing SFX/Tunes for the game.

When asked about the possibility of saving the game, Noel offered hope that a disk still survives in England (as Noel now lives abroad) and will be contacting his family about the game. Noel is planning however to do a Deathpit 3D game on the PC in his spare time – so at some point we may well see something of the game.

For more details, read Noel’s Creator Speaks text. We hope to be bringing you more news soon!

Contributions: Dumbflag, Retro Gamer, Michael Plate, Noel Passmore, Clive Townsend, Graeme Mason

Supporting content

Creator speaks

Noel Passmore speaks about work on Death Pit:

“I actually worked in-house for Durell as a programmer. One of the many tasks assigned to me was Deathpit. It was not a conversion from the spectrum game but a completely individual game. It only used some of the concepts from the original game. As far as I am concerned the game was about 95% complete when they decided to shelf it to a later date as there were more important projects to start and complete.

All original art work and coding was done by me. At those times in our history there weren’t massive teams of designers, programmers, etc. just one person per job, rather strange concept in this day and age. Does this put any light on your question? I am sure that within a short space of time I will complete the 3D version on the PC. It will be sold under a new title, but it’s comparative with the original concept, just updated and enhanced. This is after all the 21st century.

I believe somewhere in England there may still be a copy of the original 5.25″ disk which I saved the data on, but I would have to contact my family about that. As for the Spectrum version, it was screen by screen, refreshing the screen as you walk off the side. The 64 version was written entirely in 6502 code, utilizing the full 64k of memory, this was accomplished by switching both the basic ram and kernel ram off. 8k for basic and 4 k for kernel. It was completely scrolling, keeping the player in the center of the screen, all NPC’s were constantly being updated even when not being displayed. It was designed in some of the screen where made in true high-res so as to allow complete use of colours.

The reason I got a job working for Durell was the fact I showed the owner a compiler I had made which could turn C64 basic straight into hard 6502 assembled programs, unlike the Commodore version I didn’t use kernel calls for variables etc, I used my own code, own variables etc. It made basic programs run about 100-200 times faster. also vary compact, it would load into high ram between the basic and kernel roms. and compile any program which was resident in the basic ram area, very fast compiling and execution.

After I left Durell I work for a computer company in Bridgwater with a package called Sentinel, it was a menu driven operating system to fight off Microsoft who where then still growing. The first task which was given to me was to write a time elapse program, you passed it two time stamps, one for the start time and one for the end time.Then my program had to return a time stamp with the elapsed time.

My boss said I had a week to write it. Well I wrote it full working and no bugs in 1 hour. It was written in 8086 assembler, which I had never used before, I glanced at the manual and wrote it like a high-score routine. The end time is always greater than the start time, so by subtracting the start from the end you are left with the elapsed time, so easy. They were amazed, silly people. Obviously they had no imagination. The name of the company was Systems Axis Technologies.

At one stage in my C64 career I had 200 games on the market, but they weren’t published in magazines, I just sold them at shows, I went to a few in London where I met many famous C64 programmer like Jeff Minter.(The Yak). Did you salvage any of his work? I guess there should be quite a bit around in junk shops.

I also wrote many games on the Amiga, such a shame that also went bankrupt, strange really because when I lived and worked in Holland I was building Commodore computers before they went bankrupt, but they were PC’s I left an Amiga 1200 with maybe 500 disks in Holland when I left, it also had a 3.5″ hard-disk in it full of my work.

Now I only program in my spare time as a hobby. I am a fully employed teacher in Asia. and in a few years I will retire. Maybe by then I can complete Deathpit 3D PC, I do a little bit now and then using Blender game engine, I guess I could always knock up a copy in C++ and present it to a good home., who knows.”

Update history

15/12/21 – Tidy up of the write up, as it was in a bit of a mess and extra notes from Clive Townsend, thanks to Graeme Mason.

2 Responses to Death Pit

  1. Hi Frank,
    I spoke to Clive Townsend today and thought I might clarify something above.
    This is his comment related to Death Pit:-
    “Durell asked me to write the Speccy version of Death Pit. I think magazines have quoted that Sab was made from Death Pit code – but it wasnt really. Well the code wasn’t. But the concepts involved in making a game certainly were. And I’m sure some assembly techniques were re-used. My colleague Simon Francis created the Amstrad CPC version. So although my Speccy version wasn’t finished, my title screen was used for the CPC version :-)”

    • Thanks Graeme! I’ve updated the page (given a good tidy up, as looks like it was written by a 18yr old me) and credited you both too. Also its prodded me to chase up Noel to see if he ever found the C64 version.

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