A very much long awaited game which many a C64 fan can remember. 1991 saw the introduction of a new C64 game based on the famous German POW prison, “Colditz”. It was based on the popular board game from the 1970’s and 80’s by Gibsons Games. Something which for all the years this page has been on the site, I’ve failed to mention and was picked up by a visitor recently.
The game has an isometric 3D display, in the same vein as Ocean’s “Great Escape”, but with full colour and no monochrome graphics. Not only that, but many new ideas and features to create a much better game of the style. The sheer scale of the game was immense, and technically very impressive due to its creative team on board.
Miles Barry, a talented programmer, who didn’t have much luck with getting his work released, was the guy behind this very game. As was Jon Law, who worked on the classic First Samurai, doing the fantastic graphic work. Music was well crafted by Richard Rinn, or Deek as he’s known by us all. The game was actually originally worked on by Steven Pattullo (creator of the Limbo games for CDU), but sadly he struggled early on to get things working – and so was unfortunately let go.
Miles picked up the game, but started fresh with a new engine, but using the same graphics from Jon Law (Who apparently got drunk one night and changed all the sprites to women to make a Prisoner Cell Block H clone for fun – according to Ste Pattullo)… Anyway!….
The graphics were ported from the Amiga, and were compressed into 6K for the chars, and 4K for each of the 120 rooms. Overall it was looking pretty decent and screenshot previews were shown in various magazines of the time.
People actually thought the game had been finished, and Commodore Format got a few hearts racing when promoting its review in Issue 12, only to have nothing actually inside the magazine. The game never appeared, and screenshots were all that remained, and some juicy details of what was going to be.
“What happened?”, I hear you ask… well Digital Magic, the creators of this fine game, unfortunately ran up debts of up to £100,000 and thus the company went under before the C64 edition was completed. No other company bought the rights to the licence from Gibson games, and so the game was finally laid to rest. Also, Jules Bert confirmed that Miles (although a great coder) was struggling to finish the game off and it was a little delayed. Had Miles been on the game from the start and got his head down to finish it – it could well have been released. Jules also speaks a bit more about the conversion in “Creator Speaks”, which is thanks to a great interview by Ross Sillifant and Grumpy Gamers.
What did happen, was that a preview actually got sneaked out, which included a full introduction and pretty much most of what the game ever was. It was sneaked out after Mistri/SCS got a copy of Miles’ “show reel” disk and put it out there, much to Miles’ disgust. If it wasn’t for that, then we may not be able to play the preview today.
This preview is available to download from here, but be warned, it is very bugged and you may find that your character gets stuck a lot of the time. However, with some recent perseverance, I discovered there was much more to this preview than I originally thought, and found that almost the entire game map is complete in this preview, which is huge. The guards are inactive, there is some interaction, and of course there are plenty of bugs. If you can’t reach the later parts, the screenshots show much of what to expect.
GTW has attempted to find Miles Barry to talk more about this game, and to discover whether there exists a more advanced preview of this game. Good sources reveal that hope in finding anything more is remote, due to most of Miles’ work being on PDS, which would have been wiped years ago. We believe though that this preview is the final version of the game.
Recently in 2012, Sean Connolly suggested that his Quota loader music was originally intended as the loader tune for Escape from Colditz. Marc Francois also did a tune which was unused like Sean’s. HVSC in June 2020 found Marc’s tune and released it, so you can find both Sean and Marc’s tune in the downloads section. Marc’s tune it seems was intended as the in-game tune!
In 2013, Vinny Mainolfi of C64 endings kindly produced a special hack to allow you to press keys to get around the game. It was originally just for us to get around the game, but I suggested it would be great to share it to let you have a play. Check the downloads tab for a new download!
A lovely preview (Albeit, bugged), unfortunate casualty of debt…
Contributions: Jason Kelk, Andrew Fisher, http://www.Zzap64.co.uk, Ste Pattullo, Vinny Mainolfi, Jules Bert, Ross Sillifant, Grumpy Old Gamers, Mistri/SCS, Kent Murray, HVSC
Jules Bert talks to Grumpy Old Gamers about Escape from Colditz…
“You’d mentioned the C64 version of the Amiga Escape from Colditz – another quite successful game for DMS. The article I read which you sent wasn’t entirely true – about who worked on what. We did really want to build the C64 version. We’d done some tests and realized we could recreate the disappearing walls – and really the game overall.
Stu the original programmer we’d hired had honestly struggled to get very far – and sadly I had to let him go at one point (my first firing). I remember that day – and how relieved he was that the pressure was off him, as he’d been struggling. Miles Barry joined the project and had written a bunch of impressive sound and visual demos. We really thought he was going to carry it through… but I remember I had to start learning to code 6502 to really get the game working fundamentally.
It relied on perfect multi-dimensional scrolling with layers that could be turned on and off. I was quite sad that we didn’t finish this game ultimately as it was looking cool and although Miles worked on it, he couldn’t seem to take it to completion.
Demo writers have a very different (and cool) skillset – sometimes making my jaw drop. I often encouraged these programmers to write games – but they were into something different. Miles however was a great laugh. He brought a new fresh dynamic to the company – but also sadly had joined us during that last challenging year before we closed shop…and so the C64 version died.
The shots included in the C64 article were interesting – particularly the black and white ‘german’ shots of us lot. I spotted another programmer that work for us who was a whizz – Mike Halsall. He was the Amiga programmer of Escape from Colditz.
He was also instrumental in helping us create an Amiga to Amiga development kit we had – which meant we could compile and then run on a connected machine – allowing pretty good live debugging through a wire etc. How Mike accomplished this and hacked the existing debugger to work down a cable – I have no idea. I remember his code was hidden in the ‘about menu’ of the debugger – so he was a sneaky guy but got amazing clever things done at DMS.
He loved queen (which i’d never heard of) and looked quite a lot like Freddy too. The story about making the characters female akin to prisoner cell block H probably was some late night hack we did – we sure were watching that show through the long days and nights. I remember Queen B…was the main prisoner that no-one argued with!”
Ste Pattullo speaks to GTW about work on Escape From Colditz…
“Just found your website, I did indeed program Escape from Colditz on the 64 after working freelance for a number of magazines. I did do a lot of work for popular computign weekly and commodore computing international. I spent a long time on Colditz using just laser genius and no development system (what a drag!!!) I am now 35, married and live in Rhuddlan in North Wales . There is not much call for commodre 64 programmers anymore so I now work as a hypnotist. Yes I have to admit I did write the Limbo games and did anyone actually type in my first game from PCW, it was UFO and it was dire!!!
I left DMS in 1991 when i thought the company was in trouble. I went to work for ICI and left poor old MIles Barry to Colditz. I think I may have a copy somewhere.
I may still have a copy of colditz somewhere at my mums house, I will do my best to dig it out for you. I think in the version I have all of the guards have changed to women as the graphic artist came in drunk one night and changed it into Prisoner cell block H!!
My list of games as far as I can remeber is:- Ufo Sphere Ufo2 Limbo Limbo2 Most of my magazine articles were on 6502 programming, and I had loads of stuff published in the 80’s and 90’s. I also programmed a load of routines for people to use in their games such as sprite movers and scrollers.
Before colditz I worked on the arcade game Vinicators for Tengen but I was working on someone elses code who left. I told Tengen that I wanted to re-writre it from scratch but they said no. I told them I was not prepared to carry on with the project. They then offered me Dragon Spirit but I turned them down.
Digital Magic was a great company to work for. At the time we were all very young and from early days it was not hard to see that the company was in trouble (late wages, cheques bouncing ect.) However I really enjoyed my time there and it was not un-common to go to work at 2 in the morning after staggering out of a night club!!
Platformania never got finished, it was a manic miner style game but with 2 players playing at once. It was very tacky but I am sure I still have that somewhere. The games I wrote for the magazines were very basic as i concentrated more on the programming articles. The games were written quickly and I was paid quite well for them.
My first published game UFO in 1986 netted me about £250, not bad for a 16 year old back then as all my mates were on about 20 odd quid a week on a YTS scheme! When I wrote Limbo2 the magazine asked me to write a diary of the game. I have still got that it you want me to send you it then lets me know and I will post it to you.
At the moment I am not on the internet at home so if I do not get back to you straight away then don’t worry I will do in due course. Anyway nice to hear from you, it has dragged up a few memories, anything else you want to know the please get in touch.
From left to right – Mike Halsall (Amiga), Ste Pattullo, Jon Law, Mike Steffens (Rep)
Ste Pattullo making an escape
- 27/06/20 – Added Marc Francois’ missing tune thanks to HVSC
- 07/01/20 – Updated about how the game was leaked
- 12/06/16 – Added Commodore 64 Guide scans thanks to Ross Sillifant.
- 14/02/16 – Jules Bert adds some notes about the game, thanks to Ross Sillifant and Grumpy Old Gamers