Probably one of the last major lost titles left to find on the Commodore 64 – Murder! by US Gold. Finished and reviewed in 1990, but never released by the Birmingham-based company. The bloody cheek of them!
That is the strange thing with this mysterious title – it was fully reviewed for the C64 across all magazines of the time with good scores across the board. Reviewers loved it, and for a good reason – it was a solid isometric murder mystery which would keep you playing for a long time, with its randomly generated mysteries. The C64 edition had solidly converted over from the Amiga and was pretty much completely intact – even featuring sounds which almost sounded like samples, according to one reviewer.
Amiga/ST lead versions were written and designed by Grant Harrison and Jason Kingsley of Kingsley Harrison – a short-lived collaboration which pretty much only lasted for this one project. A shame, as Murder seemed to show a lot of promise for the partnership.
Contact was originally made some years ago with both Grant Harrison and Jason Kingsley who confirmed the game’s complete status, and both were dismayed at learning that the C64 version was not actually released or out there in any shape or form. It was news to them. Grant did not complete the C64 version, but was willing to try and find a C64 disk of the game for GTW. Sadly he did not find anything of the game.
It was however an external freelancer in the shape of Chris Walsh, who did the majority (if not all) of the C64 version programming. Wayne Billingham informed GTW that the mystery C64 coder was Chris back in 2005, the coder of Neverending Story 2 and Sleepwalker for Ocean no less! Chris was a sort of freelance C64 developer that dipped in and out of various companies, and Murder was another conversion job for him to bring in some funds and pay the bills.
Chris Walsh confirmed to GTW that the game was completed, and was quick to say that he thought the game was actually released. He passed on the finished version to Bob Armour and Tony Porter after completing everything and that was the last of it. Chris was paid and moved onto his next project (which was likely Neverending Story 2).
Bob Armour and Tony Porter revealed that they had nothing of the game unfortunately. Chris was also never given a full copy of the game sadly – but then we soon learn why that was probably the case further below.
Interestingly, Chris confirmed that the game was NEVER a multi-load… once the game was loaded, that was it! No more tape/disk accessing apart from saving/loading save games. This suggests to us that the game shouldn’t have been a problem releasing on tape or disk, and have caused any mastering problems. Unless Chris had written a loader which Ablex couldn’t handle – but then US Gold would have sorted it or got Chris back in i’m sure.
Pete Weighill tracked down an advert of the game some years back. There it details the C64 version as being disk only. The manual scans which we added later also showed Disk only loading instructions for the C64 (which, yes – were still included regardless of the C64’s non-appearance) – nothing at all about a tape version, which is just bizarre based on Chris’ recollections.
Investigating through magazines, there was a company called “Premier Mail Order” within Zzap 64, who for months after the review didn’t have any reference to the C64 edition on sale (nor did any other sellers!). The Amiga version was listed for a bit, with some delays it seems! Oddly though, in early 1991 – Murder was added to the C64 list at £9.99 on disk and was present for around 4-5 months in every advert! Did they really have a small stack of the game in stock??
Over the years we have attempted to contact various sources to find the game… including Centresoft, which would have been the distributor. Magazine reviewers from the likes of Commodore Format and Zzap 64 were all contacted – all confirming that nothing was kept from those days. Quite possibly with Zzap, when the Newsfield stock was sold off via the liquidators, the review copy may have gone to someone, but chances of finding that disk are how likely now do you think? Maybe Rik Henderson from Your Commodore still has his review copy, but again – how likely? And we’d probably get a polite “Fuck off!” anyway if we asked to search his garage!
We’ve contacted many from US Gold, including various ex-managers, production guys, mastering teams and the game testing team, which included Simon Hadlington – who, along with the others had never seen the C64 edition at all. Most people who we spoke to who could recall anything about the game, just talked of the 16-bit editions – they were baffled that a C64 edition even existed at all.
Bob Kenrick was head of production at the time, and was the only person who could fully confirm the fate of the C64 edition out of everyone (to a point!). Bob confirmed to GTW64 that the decision was made at US Gold not to release the C64 edition at all. But frustratingly so many years had passed that it couldn’t be recalled why that decision was actually made. Via an old website archive, we also found a chap called Mark Silveste who talked about trying to buy the C64 version via mail order in the UK back in 1990, only to be told that the C64 edition had been withdrawn and was never released – confirming pretty much that not even a small production run was made (ala Gauntlet 3), and that the Premier Mail Order listing could well have been in error. An ironic error though none the less!
Reviewing the evidence…
So based on our years of digging and research – lets review the evidence we have so far:
- The game was a single load (according to developer – though getting mixed up with another game perhaps?)
- The C64 edition followed the ST/Amiga editions, which were the lead versions – so the C64 edition would have been started later, and likely finished a bit later.
- The game was completed and handed over to production at US Gold by the developer
- The game started off as being developed on an Amiga linked to a C64, and at the last minute was ported over to a PC based PDS system. This was the version handed over to US Gold.
- It received solid reviews across the board from the press, and was reviewed at the same time as the ST/Amiga editions
- The released box and manual included references to the C64 version throughout
- The advert included the C64 edition
- The testers never saw the C64 edition at all (one unit at US Gold, all confirming they only saw the 16-bit edition).
- The C64 was still doing very well commercially, and US Gold would go on to release games into late 1992 for the machine.
- Various sources suggest that the ST/Amiga/PC versions all bombed in the sales charts
- Amiga/ST/PC budget Kixx releases came out in mid 1993 time. C64 budget titles were still being released well into June/July that year (Pirates, Robocod etc)
What we believed happened…
From the above, we believe that there was an inevitable delay with the C64 version being completed – a result of likely being started after the 16-bit editions and following their lead. Amiga/ST versions were the lead versions, they would have been play-tested internally at US Gold during actual development, and feedback would have gone back to Jason Kingsley and Grant Harrison to make fixes/changes.
The C64 edition would likely have been quite far from completion at those stages, so that version would have to come later. It is very possible that the testers were also focusing on playability aspects of the game, and not the quality of conversion to other systems. It could well have been thought that there was no point in testing a C64 edition as a result, so testing focused just on the 16-bit editions.
With the ST/Amiga versions likely completed first – they would be most likely put on sale as soon as possible – maybe a few weeks or more before Zzap and CF would get their reviews published. The box/manual would be the same for all versions, so there was no harm in pushing ahead.
During the weeks that the game could have been on sale, the C64 edition will likely have caught up and been completed at this stage. Around the same time, Danielle Woodyatt needs to go out to the press and deliver review copies of the game (as well as organize a murder mystery event to promote the game). The C64 edition at this stage was either just about complete, or a close to completion and untested version was given out to the press by Danielle. It could well have just required some polish (i.e. prep for mastering), but was probably considered to be good enough for review.
Around the same time – the game goes on sale on the 16-bits. Adverts were already in magazines, reviews were coming out – so the public would be aware of the title in late September 1990. The C64 edition is likely just being polished off now for public consumption or making master-able, so there is a short period where just the 16-bit editions are on the shelves. Maybe for a week or so, or more perhaps – who knows?
During this short period – sales look to have been completely abysmal, as reported by some sources. The game doesn’t seem to be charting very well at all (non-existent on the C64 too). Possibly due to the higher price point of the game compared to other titles, this may have put off buyers perhaps. Regardless of that – things were likely so poor that the distribution/sales/production teams at US Gold decided to cancel mastering of the C64 edition. Just shortly before this decision, its likely that Chris Walsh had handed over a complete master to production manager, Bob Armour. On a disk? We’re not sure and no-one can remember.
US Gold was a business don’t forget, and throwing away a complete game would likely have not raised any eyebrows when there was a belief that money could be lost from it. But you could argue that a business savvy company would see opportunity to reap some money back via a compilation or budget release – i’m not sure why this never really happened. Mega Twins almost got out via compilation possibly – but I don’t think Murder made any compilations on any format?
Tony Porter suggests that the last issue that usually stood in the way of a game’s release, was the mastering phase. Committing to tape/disk with copy protection would often cause a non-release of a game, and is what happened to Gauntlet 3 of course. Tony confirmed that it was not uncommon for review code to be sent or taken out on disk, often in a pre-release format and often weeks before it was finally committed to finished media and protected.
But it is interesting that a tape edition was never mentioned in the press or reviews, even though it was perfectly possible. This is something that doesn’t really make any sense, but maybe they just assumed it would never get squeezed onto tape, and Chris surprised them by doing it?
It does seem odd for US Gold to do just a disk release, but maybe the production team didn’t realize it could have been released onto tape? Maybe with the poor 16-bit sales, they knew that C64 disk only sales would be very low, and not worth doing. It may have been very different if it was known early on that a tape version was doable.
What about a Kixx release though? Well, the 16-bit editions didn’t see a budget release until mid 1993 – by which point US Gold had already left the 8-bit computer market. Had it been in 1992, there was a remote chance they could have finally released it then – something which had also been considered for Mega Twins, but not implemented. Why so late? Again, we’re not sure – but that delay in a budget release could well have been the final nail in the coffin for any chance of the game eventually making it out.
Conclusions + finding the game
This could well be the game that defeats GTW64, though we thought the same with Daffy Duck, and look how that panned out. It would be foolish to ever give up on the possibility that some day the game could be saved, but lets be honest – it isn’t looking too great at the moment. The leads remaining are pretty much now non-existant, with a large checklist of people/sources chased now done.
With Daffy Duck, we were incredibly lucky that the people involved kept hold of things due to the sentiment. With Chris Walsh, the development work was just a job, and as a result is probably why he never kept hold of any of his development disks. Other sources checked haven’t proved fruitful either, and we’ve chased many avenues – even ones which we almost knew wouldn’t result in anything.
There are but just a few small leads left before we become completely stuck, and unable to move forward any further with our search. Unless one of the chaps we have spoken to already manages to unearth something amazing, screenshots might be all we have…
Contributions: Jazzcat, Fabrizio Gennari, Gamebase 64, Jason Kingsley, Rob de Voogd, Andrew Fisher, Wayne Billingham, Iain Black, Nemo, Ross Sillifant, Arron White, Bob Armour, Tony Porter, Simon Hadlington, Martin/Stadium64
Both Chris Walsh (Coder) and Jason Kingsley (Graphics) give their accounts about Murder on the C64….
Chris Walsh answers some questions about work on Murder…
“I would think it’s unlikely I’ve got a copy of the source anywhere now, but I will check as soon as I get a chance. It was written using an Amiga connected to the c64, then transferred across to PDS (a PC based dev system) at the last minute. The source would be on the PC I was using but that has probably been thrown away now (it was an 8Mhz machine 🙂 )”
Answers to questions:
How far did the game get?
Well, the game was definitely finished for both tape and disk.
How did Murder play compared to the PC/Amiga versions.
As far as I remember it was exactly the same as the Amiga verison, except
for the obvious graphic changes etc. It used the same logic definitely.
Who did the Music/SFX?
Ah, That was me 🙂
Why was Murder never released?
I don’t know, I know the final version went off, I didn’t actually check after I saw the review so I’ve no idea, sorry.
Do you have any interesting stories about the game’s development?
Not really, but I remember the game didn’t need to access disk or tape once
it had loaded, and spending countless nights trying to cram it all in to 64k
Was the game just disk based?
No, it was tape and disk, it played in one load.
How has the search been for the disks so far?
I’ve had a look for the disks since I last spoke to you, but couldn’t find any of them (in fact couldn’t find any c64 or amiga disks at all!).
Jason Kingsley now answers some questions about work on Murder…
Do you know why Murder was never released on the C64, even though it was completed and fully reviewed?.. and was you dismayed at all that hard work not being seen by many C64 fans?
I have some memories of it being released, but given that I would never have gone to the shops to buy a copy I suppose its possible that it was never distributed. Its all such a long time ago now though.
How close would you say the conversion was if compared next to the Amiga version?.. The review reported that it was pretty much nigh exact to the Amiga version. Were you pleased with its translation?
The game mechanics were exactly the same, but if I remember well we had to cut down the graphics quite a lot to get them to work, specifically the Amiga Version had a lovely grey colour palette that could do subtlety up to a point, but the C64 was less subtle, and I think lower resolution in the horizontal and vertical, though the sprites were stretched vertically to make them taller, wow as I type this stuff is coming back to me! I remember using a joystick and the single fire button to place pixels and change their colour… how tough was that compared to Photoshop?
What was it like working on the C64 conversion, and were there many headaches?
See above, but the graphics were a pain to convert. I can’t answer for Grant about the coding, but the difficulty making the colour palette from 8 greys down to three was troublesome, and frustrating to say the least. I think we also didn’t have room for as many animations, so they had to get reduced too.
Did you actually create everything on the game, or did someone else do the likes of the music/sfx?
I worked on all the graphics, Grant handled the coding and music if I remember clearly, at least I didn’t have anything to do with anything other than graphics and the original pitching to the publisher.
Finally, you also worked on the Amiga version of Captain Planet. Do you know anything about the C64 conversion and whom got that project to work on?
Captain Planet… No memories of the C64 version of that, but fragmented memories of making sprite sheets for the Amiga version. It was a bit of a rush job I think.
A few reviews made it into the magazines of the game, so now you can read these for yourself to find out even more about the game.
Extracted from Zzap 64’s review, originally from Gamebase64 (I.e. Some names have been changed by the Gamebase team)…
“A scream pierces the night air, penetrating every room of Gamebase Manor. The maid has discovered something rather chilling on the dining room floor, the crumpled (ie dead) body of Sir Michael Plate. Was it just an accident with his borg equipment, or suicide after discovering he still had 2,300 games in his to-add folder? Well, NOT unless he battered himself to death and hid the weapon afterwards! It’s just as well there’s a supersleuth such as yourself on hand to investigate — Scotland Yard won’t arrive for another two hours.
Gasp! Another murder! The suspicious guy in the brown overcoat is you! The icons are, from top to bottom, go into question mode, display house maps, display notebook pages, take fingertips, examine fingerprint files, wipe object clean, take object, and make an arrest.
First thing to do is question a few of the many people staying at the mansion. You can ask about any of the other occupants, the many rooms and various household objects (including five types of pistol and four knives!). In addition you can ask more specific questions about the relationship between two people (murder motives include inheritance, blackmail and lust) or about a particular person in a particular place with a particular object etc. Of course the person may not know anything, or even lie. Any useful answers can be entered in your notebook by clicking on an icon. The notebook is divided into four sections: people, places, clues and motives.
The maid tells you she saw Lord Demetrius near the scene of the crime just before it happened and also that he stood to inherit the leadership of a popular 8-bit computer project from Sir Plate. You decide to explore the Manor’s four floors in search of more clues. Movement is achieved by clicking the cursor over an exit. A map screen comes in useful for navigation — and knowledge of the house layout is also essential for working out if a suspect could have reached the scene of crime in time.
In many rooms, household objects will have been left lying around. These can be examined for fingerprints which can be stored and compared. Aha, what’s this on the assimilation room mantelpiece?: a candlestick — some very strange prints on this… hmmm.
Interrogation mode, icons from left are: two character lists, (ask A about B), ask about a room, object, relationship, erase question, make a note, and speak question.
Ah, here comes Lord Demetrius. Now if only you can get his fingerprints. A pity he’s not carrying anything at the moment. The best thing for you to do is grab an innocuous item — this bottle of Ouzo will do –, wipe it clean and wait for him to pick it up and drop it again. There, that didn’t take long. Now let’s examine those grubby prints… well, well they perfectly match those on the candlestick. Now all that’s left to do is pick up the candlestick for evidence and arrest Lord Demetrius… whoops, what’s that ball of Greek Fire doing stuck between your shoulderblades? Looks like another murder!
Never mind, by varying the date and the name of the mansion at the start of the game you can investigate approximately three million uniquely generated murders! You can even change your sleuth’s appearance (and name) by altering his facial features, hair and glasses. There are four skill levels ranging from novice to supersleuth.
By examining objects recently dropped by a suspect, you can store their fingerprints for matching with those on the murder weapon.
Phil King: “Anyone who’s ever enjoyed Cluedo will love this. It’s a truly interactive whodunnit with plenty of witnesses and suspects to be questioned. I wouldn’t say it was that realistic, what with dangerous weapons left lying all over the house, but the game certainly has a marvellously tense atmosphere. The monochromatic graphics may look a bit dull at first sight, but on both machines, they are beautifully detailed with an enormous variety of art deco furniture and period-dressed characters who move around at will, picking up objects and even lighting cigarettes. Interrogating characters is a fascinating process, often with humorous results: in one game two characters were having a secret affair which everyone else seemed to know about! Even funnier (and sicker), the victim’s body is left sprawled on the floor for the other characters to walk over! Quirks apart, though, Murder is a seriously brilliant concept, perfectly implemented.”
Robin Hogg: “Murder doesn’t look all that hot at first glance and the idea of taking your time analysing evidence, cross-questioning suspects and wandering around many a similar mansion isn’t one to set the gaming world alright. Amazingly through, the game is incredibly addictive, the piecing together of information becoming an engrossing task (akin to the best of puzzle games). What is really clever is the way the skill levels expand the game challenge immensely. Choose a higher skill level and suspects know more information (be it relevant or merely red herrings), more events happen to disguise the crucial time of the murder and suspected murder weapons tend to get moved around more. On novice level it’s a nice and gentle trail to follow but come the likes of an average/experienced skill level and beyond and you’ve really got to be on the ball (even Sherlock Holmes may have detective difficulties at Supersleuth level!). Addictive and highly original, Murder is a great game to while away the hours with.”
Stuart Wynne: “Murder is one of those games you’re either going to love or hate. The complex web of clues, motives and characters provides an excellent simulation of those ever-popular murder mysteries. Of course, these mind-bending puzzles can test your note-taking and map-making skills, so programmer Gran Harrison provides both maps and a surprisingly detailed automatic notebook. This means ‘all’ you have to do is put the clues together to get your man — or woman. You don’t even have to type in any questions, it’s all ambitious scope and comprehensive features might seem unworkable, but the icon system makes it all very easy to play. Of course with any brain-bending game the graphics are secondary but artist Jason Kingsley has set the period scene well. The subtle detail and monochrome shading work best on the Amiga due to higher resolution, but the C64 still looks pretty good and the large number of different rooms is impressive. There’s also some limited, but excellent sound FX on both machines. If you fancy yourself as a sleuth, you can’t miss this!”
Presentation 90%: Impressive loading screen, plenty of locations, four skill levels, one load and automatic note-taking.
Graphics 74%: The restrained, realistic settings don’t work as well as on the Amiga. But they’re effective enough and there’s plenty of variety.
Sound 72%: Most of the excellent, superbly atmospheric Amiga FX have been duplicated.
Hookability 85%: The icons aren’t quite as clear, but you soon get the hang of things and crime-solving has never been more addictive.
Lastability 96%: Over 3 million murders on your C64! An immense amount of playability to keep you occupied for ages.
Overall 93%: An absolutely fascinating and compulsive detective game.