Monster Museum was mentioned in March 1989 of The Games Machine as coming soon with the following blurb – “Other games on Palace’s mean menu include Monster Museum, an arcade adventure with graphics by Gary Carr and main programming by Andy Wilson (Dan Dare fame).” … Was this another result of Palace sinking and Titus not wanting to pick up and release?
When we did some research on the net, some Amstrad sites were found to have listed it, but it is missing for them too. So we had to keep digging, firstly by finding some of the Gang of Five such as Andy Wilson to find out more.
In early 2009, GTW were in touch with one of the Gang of Five, who suggested that they had a bunch of disks for Monster Museum, but wasn’t sure what was on them. GTW obtained the disks and backed these up, but were unable to release what we found until permission was granted from the original coder Andy Wilson.
Upon the disks we were surprised to find many different executable builds of the game from a year’s span from 1989 to 1990, and even more so to hear some long lost tunes by the late Richard Joseph. The game itself is ironically a mix of Barbarian 2 and Dan Dare, with a female lead role. Very exciting findings and something we were desperate to share with people, hence the screenshots we originally leaked!
Firstly in our hunt for the coder Andy Wilson, we located artist Gary Carr, who sadly didn’t know the whereabouts of Andy… but shed some light on the game’s development for us. After Barbarian 1 and 2, Palace changed direction slightly and started commissioning games from external teams. Monster Museum was a project that wasn’t fully fleshed out and didn’t come with much of a team, but Gary was asked to take on the project form an artistic point of view and worked with Andy on the game concepts.
The premise of the game was particularly different to most, as you play a female character in the game in a proper substantial role, some years pre-dating Tomb Raider. This was quite odd for 1989! However, things get very weird/co-incidental when we learn that the lead character is the daughter of a museum curator, is dressed in tight shorts, a vest top and has pony style hair!…. Very spooky, but Gary quickly adds this is completely co-incidental as the game never saw the light of day.
The story behind the game we learn is that you are locked in the museum over night and the exhibits come to life (Of which Gary mentions that there has ironically been a cheesy movie along those lines recently – Night in the Museum). The game world takes place over a number of exhibit spaces including: Egyptian, Prehistoric, Greek Mythology and Science (Being more like science fiction to make it more visually interesting). The game as a whole was broken into two parts and single load – the second part borrowing a lot in terms of displays from the first part it seems with different puzzles. Using various objects you must solve various puzzles.
Well, all good and everything… but we had to find Andy to be able to show you it in the flesh!… And that we did!…A few weeks later we got some developer leads and managed to trace Andy who was more than happy for us to release the game to the world!… He himself hadn’t seen it for about 20 years!
We learn from Andy that Monster Museum was the last game he ever worked on before leaving the games industry for good and going into a different profession. Monster Museum came about as a result of working with the likes of Simon Birrell (Known from their Virgin Software days). Simon helped Andy out with the design and odd ideas, whilst Steve Webb (ex of Virgin) was doing the Amstrad conversion (Hope you are noting this CPC readers!) and Patricia Mitchell (another ex-Virgin Software person) was responsible for the project management. Some of Simon’s ideas submitted can be found here, as well as a map produced of the game.
Andy recalls working closely with Gary on getting, what was considered at the time to be some great animations – including a Head biting plant and a Toilet Monster with some humorous features throughout.
One of the key findings with the game has to be the music by the late Richard Joseph – a number of short tunes and various sfx which have been great to find just a little bit short of the 2nd anniversary of his sad passing. It was quite haunting to hear the tunes for the first time as a result. Andy recalls Richard coming down to his place and playing him Herschell Gordon Lewis’ “Blood Feast” soundtrack (Which Simon Birrell had given him a cassette of) – this was as possible inspiration for the game’s tunes and sound effects.
The game itself was mostly complete – believed to just be around 5-10% away from completion – so we have had to give it preview status (But we’re sure that you should find this certainly playable!). The reason for its non-release?…. Well, the game remained unfinished after missing a couple of deadlines and Andy hit some serious technical problems – Andy hated multi-load games and was determined to fit it into 64K, which mean’t he couldn’t afford to continue development without further advances, and Palace were not in a position to pay anyone anything. Andy eventually parted ways with Palace and left the industry. Additionally contributing factors according to Gary were that the team were never really together to make it happen quickly enough (Space between office, coder, artist etc was quite far!). Simon Birrell took over the game to try and finish it off, but by 1990, Palace were subject of a takeover, the C64 was a dying platform in their eyes… and the eventual takeover company Titus decided to drop the title. And that was the end of Monster Museum.
So now we begin to conclude Monster Museum and what has been a great finding!…. It’s a wonderful look at the excellent talent of Andy Wilson that follows on from the excellent Dan Dare game and its a huge shame this didn’t get finished off. 6R6 has very kindly tidied up the game and fixed a few issues and added some extra keys such as 1 to skip screens and 2 to get different items. Along with the download we have included all the original disks that were backed up with the different builds and also the scanned disk labels – so its a bit of a download!
Contributions: Simon Birrell, Andy Wilson, Gary Carr, 6RG, Jazzcat