Status: Preview, Findability: 4/5

A sort of “Lords of Midnight” type affair which got a release by Firebird on its “Hot Range” back in 1985, and in particular on the ZX Spectrum. A young Chris Yates and Jon Hare were just getting started in the game development world before Sensible Software was born, and they were contracted to do the conversion of this well recieved Spectrum game under a developer house called “LT Software”. It was a game worked on for 13 weeks approximately before Sensible Software was set up.

The game is a graphic adventure that was coded originally by Alan Davis, and was produced also by Games Workshop. The game featured a technique called “Venturescope”, whcih combined real-time action, a full text interpreter, multiple command input, deozens of independant characters and 8,000 views from over 2,000 locations. The spectrum entry for the game can be found with full reviews and scans.

The game conversion was completed (in around 2 weeks!) and was quite successful, but sadly Firebird apparently complained that the game was too slow. Jon Hare/Chris Yates in an interview in Zzap 64 – issue 61, fought back by saying that it was actually the fault of Firebird’s loader (Was it really down to the loading speed of the game that cancelled it?). In the end the game never got released as a result and Jon and Chris were never paid.

Seems a shame that a completed conversion that pretty much did the business never saw the light of day. We need to find out a bit more background to what happened, but now we hope that we can try and uncover remains (or even the full conversion) to bring to GTW in the future.

However, in late 2011 – ported a series of disks from Darren Melboune, on one of the disks was a set of graphics by Lizard (Who I think was a relation of Stoat – his brother?) On the disk was a file called “Roonstone” which when loaded up, presented shockingly a C64 conversion of Runestone!
We are unsure just how complete it is or if it is by the Sensible lads, but check this out and see for yourself! (Thanks to Slator for the fixed files)

Maybe this was a second conversion that failed and which followed Sensible’s version?

More to come on this game, but check it out! Yet another big Firebird game preserved!!

Contributions: Peter Weighill, Jon Hare, Darren Melbourne,, Slator, Ross Sillifant

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From someone who worked at Games Workshop (name undisclosed – known only as Mickey)

“A friend of mine pointed me in your direction as up until recently I worked in the Games Workshop licensing team and may be able to shed more light (or muddy the waters…) on this and a few other GW 8 bit games.

For many years there was a cupboard in the licensing department that held samples of every GW licensed product along with production materials. Tucked away in the corner was a cardboard box with a selection of cassette tapes and three and a half and five and a quarter inch disks. Some of these were product samples of released games – Space Hulk, Chaos, Tower of Despair, etc – along with what I presume were development tapes and disks for those same games. However, there were also some ‘orphan’ five and a quarter floppies that didn’t appear to tally with any of the released titles and one of those had a hand written label that simply said ‘Runestone’. I never knew which system it was for but reading this article makes me think it could have been for the C64.

What may be of more interest were some of the other things in that box. Alongside three sealed cassette tapes for a Spectrum version of ‘Blood Bath at Orc’s Drift’ with cover art matching the Warhammer supplement it was presumably based on, were an empty clam pack for a Spectrum game called ‘The Enemy Within’ and a cassette and five and a quarter floppy with the same title handwritten on them. The screenshots on the back cover indicated it was an RPG – stat block on the left of the screen corresponding to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, a list of commands down the right and a map in the middle – but of the three screenshots, two of them definitely weren’t of the Spectrum version and looked to me like C64 screens. There were also a couple of five and a quarter floppies with ‘Battlecars’ written on them (different handwriting on each) and another with ‘Chaos’ scrawled on it.

When I asked around the department about why these games were seemingly never released I was told by somebody who had been with the business since the early eighties that when they first joined, GW would often play it fast and loose with contracts and products and that they had contracted programmers to port titles that GW didn’t actually own the rights for! For the games that GW did own the rights for – Blood Bath and The Enemy Within – the programmer who was hired had simply copied the code from existing games and changed a few names and sprites to fit the source material.

This was only spotted after they delivered The Enemy Within by which time copies of Blood Bath had already been produced which is why there were finished copies in the box. The same person also told me that at one point there were at least a dozen copies of Blood Bath in there and when GW decided they only wanted to archive three copies of everything, the spares were either chucked out or sold at events!”

When asked about if the tapes/disks still existed today and if they could be preserved:

“It was about 4 years ago that I found the box while we were tidying up the department for what was our third office move in as many months. The disks and tapes likely do exist but they were moved off site into a storage unit a few years ago when GW needed to use their on site archive for office space. I think the odds of a company like GW allowing these to be preserved is practically zero as there’s nothing in it for them.

Prior to that move – maybe 10, 12 years ago – they culled the entire archive to keep only 3 copies of any released product and what wasn’t thrown in the skip was sold at events held at Warhammer World. I was at one event where they had stacks of old pen and paper RPG books and supplements that they were selling for way below ebay prices. I don’t recall there being computer games being sold on the day but they did put stock out at at least two other events so there’s a chance that some copies may have made it into the wild, especially as there were precisely 3 copies of Blood Bath in the box in the cupboard.

There was nothing D Day related in the box but regarding Battlecars, my first assumption was that the two disks I saw were for the C64 and/or BBC but I don’t know whether programmers used five and a quarter floppies to store Spectrum games back then? I have no idea what the arrangement was with the programmer of the Spectrum version but GW certainly owned the Battlecars brand so should have been within their rights to commission the ports but, if they are indeed versions for other systems, I have no idea why they wouldn’t have been released.

My friend at the company who had been around since the early days of GW seemed to think that around the end of 1985 GW made the decision to exit the computer games business due to all of the hassle it had caused them so that may explain it. As an aside, he also told me that the manager of one of the GW stores was in a relationship with one of their tabletop games designers who threatened to quit unless his girlfriend was given a job in the design studio. When she arrived for work on her first day, nobody had anything for her to do so they set her to work designing loading screens for the computer games despite the fact she had never touched a computer before in her life!”

Update history

  • 10/05/23 – Added some details regarding copies of Games Workshop games being in storage.
  • 10/04/14 – Added small snippets to why the game was never released.
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