Incredibly rich from his exploits in Manic Miner and partying away in Jet Set Willy, the third instalment was apparently to see our intrepid hero up against the bane of the nouvelle riche, the tax office!… The actual name for the game was to be Megatree, and it seems there has been a mix up over the years regarding this game and Miner Willy Meets the Taxman – both very different games.
With Megatree, Matthew was a big fan of the early Nintendo coin-ops (Donkey Kong, Mario Bros.) and the design was rumoured to be heavily influenced by them. Originally it was rumoured that even the main sprite was changed to look more like Mario in appearance.
The big shock (breaking tradition with the other Miner Willy games) was that the game would be coded first on the C64 and then ported to the Spectrum later, so to try and attract the American market as well.
The game centred around the ‘Megatree’ as featured in the first JSW. Each level was entered from a ‘branch’ of the tree. After a level was completed you could climb up a bit further to get to the next level and so on. A similar system to that used on the later Super Mario Bros. games on the NES and SNES.
Besides the single screen Manic Miner style levels, there were also horizontally scrolling landscape levels. You were to also be able to move in and out of the screen, as well as left and right. You had to collect a certain amount of coins from each level, presumably to pay the taxman at the end. But after recent conversation with Matthew Smith, it seems the “coin collecting” and “taxman” references were mixed up with his other title “Miner Willy and The Taxman”… a completely separate game.
Matthew was rumoured to be heavily into partying at the time and progress was very slow. Originally the team working on the game were shoved into a house together for 3 months. Software Projects brought in a couple more people to try and push the project along, but the ‘team’ wasn’t working out and the project was cancelled after 3 months with nothing much being completed.
It was originally believed that 30-40% of the game was completed before being scrapped, but this has found not to be the case, sadly. After initial contact from Stuart around 2003, he stunned the Retro Community by selling all his development disks on Ebay. The winning bidder?… None other than Retro Gamer magazine.
Issue 5 became a famous issue where the mystery of Megatree was finally laid to rest. Alas, findings proved not as fruitful as hoped for, but there was enough scraps to show to the world for the first time, including some rare sprites drawn by Matthew Smith (including a new Miner Willy character) and a backdrop by Stuart Fotheringham.
Stuart also provided sketches of how the game was to be, and so we could build a picture in our minds of what these guys were planning.
Retro Gamer officially released all the disk images on their Issue 7 cover mount. Thanks to them, GTW64 now hosts the original screenshots and bits which were salvaged from the disks – so you are able to see what remains. This includes a specially made picture show to run on your C64 of the game’s background, a slideshow that Retro Gamer presented at the CGEUK, all the disk materials and any extras.
GTW also made a small discovery and found on the disks a CHARSET which was being designed for Megatree… this was almost left unnoticed as the charset was mixed up on a Sprite disk. But Stuart Fotheringham confirmed that this was in fact a unfinished charset for Megatree when questioned.
Marc (Wilding) Dawson no longer has any code created for the game. A playable demo did surface while in development, but these are apparently long gone now. Stuart’s disks are now the only known bits of Megatree left.
Matthew is now long back from Holland and he made a very famous public visit to the CGCUK in July 2004. It is tricky to get hold of Matthew for long periods of time to talk about some of his projects, but it is hoped at the next opportunity we will get a bit more information about the game.
Contributions: Ian Osborne, Deev, Stuart Fotheringham, Matthew Smith, Marc Wilding, Martyn Carroll, Shaun Bebbington
Stuart Fotheringham speaks to GTW about work on Megatree…
“My only unreleased C64 game — and I mainly did C64 games — was “MegaTree (Manic Miner III)” that was the sequel to Jet Set Willy and Manic Miner being developed by Matthew Smith, Marc Dawson and me. It was a C64 title rather than a Spectrum game because we were going for the US market with the franchise.
The project was cancelled after four months of development. The MegaTree stuff is almost entirely accurate. Miner Willy Meets The Taxman was the name we gave to the press to put them off the scent of the real project. Matthew, Marc and I put a great deal of work into the game design documents — I still have copies of most of them, including logos and stuff. One day I’ll put it all on a web-page.”
And later on after the game was partially uncovered…
“The second photo is not of Marc Dawson, its Matthew again. Note the checked shirts that he was so fond of, and I can tell that it’s him. ? Marc looked totally different, and still does!
The walking bird is Marc Dawson’s pet buggie called “Wonga”.
The graphics after the tree trunk fill the green squares in the “Menu selection… koala picture.” The first
ones are the house, the remainder at bushes.
You’ll also notice the graphics inbetween the numbers and tree trunk, those are holes in the floor (in hi-res mode) that was sprinked about too; these were brown in colour like the large hole in the middle.
I have often seen this “menu selection” screen and it’s not that, it’s the first game-play screen. And the
final version does not have the black grids – they are just for layout – and the background colour should be light green.
There were eight exits from this screen, the black ones behind the trees (and the house) then up the
Mega-tree in the middle or down the hole in the centre. This was the demo screen (with my colours as listed above) that had the various types of tree running around and the white “willy” sprite running around.
No. The blue sky is blue. The bit I am referring to is the bottom 2/3 of the screen that is currently light
blue with black grid lines – this should just be solid green (as per the green blocks underneath the pictures of the trees).
How this screen worked was…
Willy could run around up-right-down-left via joystick control.
When over entrances you could press fire button (jump) to select
There were trees running around “Big Tree” left and right.
Willy could run behind the Mega-tree trunk
Willy could run up the front of the Mega-tree trunk
If Willy hit a “Big Tree” he died, if he fell down a hole (except the big one in the middle) he died.
The font was for the bottom line of the screen in hi-res text: this was where score/lives was going to appear. There was a raster split between bitmap (top section) and character map (bottom section)
If you need to know anything else, or need more details to get a demo of this screen working then just let me know.
I’ll see if I can dig some more Mega-tree development photos out for you.”
More from Stuart thanks to WOS interview (1997)
I worked, and partied, with Matthew a lot in 1984 during my time at Software Projects Ltd in Liverpool. Matthew, Marc Dawson [now of Software Creations] and myself were developing “The Mega Tree” (commonly known as “Willy Meets The Taxman” — thanks to Marc for memory jog). Matthew had ‘worked’ on a third Miner Willy for months, but had really done nothing (his recreational activities prevented him from concentrating for periods longer than a few seconds).
Alan Maton was the producer, Matthew was the designer/director, Marc was the programmer and I was the graphics artist — you may be shocked to know that we were developing for the Commodore 64, with a Spectrum third-party conversion to follow. We were based at my house in Holt Road in Birkenhead, provided rent-free by Software Projects, that I shared with Steve Wetherill [developer of JSW2, and now of Westwood Studios]. Holt Road actually inspired a screen in JSW2 — the one with the beer barrels.
Marc and I were brought in to help Matthew deliver something, anything, to meet the demand for a third Miner Willy game. Our project was cancelled after three months — all we had delivered was a single screen. “The Mega Tree” was a psuedo-3D raised view, rather than a sideways view game, with scrolling as well as fixed screen levels. Miner Willy started at the bottom of the main access screen, he had been redesigned to look like more like Mario (we all loved Donkey Kong), and ran to the top of the screen where there was excessive foliage and trees (inspired by Sabre Wulf). On his way up the screen Willy had to avoid ‘running and Cossack dancing’ oak trees — they were great. In the centre of the foliage was the BanYan tree extending off the top of the screen, and either side were three paths into the forest. The idea was that Willy had to complete the six areas (in any order) by going down these paths, via this screen, collect enough flashing pound notes and then climb the BanYan tree — where the next access screen, with another set of paths off, would be.
Thinking back, “The Mega Tree” was quite a similar concept to the later Super Mario Bros games on the NES, although you could also run ‘in to’ (up) and ‘out of’ (down) the screen.
Marc and I left to help form Odin Computer Graphics, where we were later joined by Steve Wetherill — Nodes Of Yesod was our first published title. We still used to go clubbing and hang out with Matthew, although nothing lived up to the toga incident [see below], but thing went rapidly downhill for him from there — especially when Matthew Met The Taxman. Chris Cannon [author of The Castle] kept in touch with Matthew for years; but doesn’t know where he is now.
The person identified on the “Where is Matthew Smith? Eh? EH?” web-page http://www.jonlan.demon.co.uk/spectrum/matsmith/ sounds very much like the Matthew Smith, especially the motor bike stuff. He really got into bikes after JSW — I crashed his shiny, new, first motorbike the day he bought it, oops!
Marc (Wilding) Dawson speaks to GTW about work on Megatree…
1) What was it like to work on Megatree in the 3 months with Matt and Stuart?
“It was a very good time, but not very productive. The game design was in constant flux while we were trying to figure out the best style to make the game in.”
2) Is there any other elements which the game would have had, which Matt and Stuart have not mentioned?
“Not that I can thing of. It was nearly 20 years ago and I’m getting old :) “
3) All that has currently been found of the game is a background image by Stuart, and a set of sprites (Including what looks like a Multicolor version of Miner Willy). Was there any stage where Megatree was playable, or had any code running?.. and would it still exist today?
“Yes there was code running. A big tree in center screen with lots of other tree type characters running around in semi isometric. Unfortunely I left all of the code at Software Projects when I left so I do not have it anymore. The only disc’s I am aware of being out there were Stuarts.”
4) When asked, Matt said he would only finish Megatree if both yourself and Stuart were part of the team again to finish it. What is your take on that, and would you ever consider it if the conditions were right?
“It was my 40th Birthday party on Friday night. Matt & Stuart were there and we were discussing it. Problem is having the time to do it and also the format we would do it in. I have not programmed anything substantial for about the last 15 years as I went into Management. I think the same would apply to Stuart. May or may not happen.”
Design 1 – Entering different screens/levels
Design 2 – One of the new level concepts
Design 3 – A typical look of how another level would look.
Design 4 – A look at how the “Mario’esq” would work and how Willy would access the levels.
Matthew at work on his TRS-80 on Megatree.
Stuart Fotheringham and Marc Dawson at work.
And to see the Megatree related auctioned disks, click these links below
20/10/14 – Fixed title and added more notes from Stuart.