After the many years of enjoyment with Lords of Midnight and Dungeon Master, Thalamus revealed their latest masterpiece The Search for Sharla.
The game was to feature a staggering 32,000 views from each direction, sleep option and 512 totally interactive characters. It looked very impressive from the many previews shown in the press at the time. So much faith was put into this game by Thalamus, that many adverts were shown for quite a long period of time.
GTW originally had contact from people within Esprit, who gave their own account on this wonderful looking game. We actually find that Sharla was almost complete on the C64, and was scrapped on all formats due to payment issues. Thalamus had reportedly ordered Esprit the rework the graphics and perspective for a set figure sum, and they only paid part of this, so Esprit decided to cancel development.
The game was not actually scrapped as first believed due to passing the limits of the C64, as the game was actually fairing quite well on the system at the time. Lance Mason, the head of Esprit, has over the years tried to help GTW by finding the C64 developers and something of the conversion, but currently nothing has turned up.
Lance does have remains of the Amiga and ST versions, which hopefully will be recovered and shared in the future. Lance in the meantime kindly allowed GTW to release the game’s Novella to the public, which was intended to go with the game’s manual on its release. So at the very least, you are able to read the story about the game.
We eventually discovered that the man behind the graphics was none other than Hugh Binns. Hugh gave his own account of the game, and although Hugh promises no code, he has said that if he comes across any C64 disks with his graphic work, he’ll happily pass them on. Check out his account of the game in the Creator Speaks pages. Shortly after, it was confirmed that code was started by Mike Brown, but its uncertain if he or someone else took over later on.
John Wood is also a possible candidate for another artist on the game, which seems quite likely according to Pete Dabbs who worked at Esprit at the time. But in a final twist … a 1991 issue of Commodore Format had a reply to a reader’s letter that gave information about the Apex brothers being some sort of part to the game, the end sequence in particular.
Dave Birch asked Steve Rowlands to do some graphics for the end sequence (which was mentioned in one of the Creatures diaries in Zzap). Steve knew nothing about the game, and knocked out the graphics quickly in a couple of days and got back to Creatures. It wasn’t coded together at this point. Years later when working with John and Steve on Mayhem, Andy Roberts asked for a copy of the graphics and possibly felt it would be a good side project to practice his coding skills to put the ending together.
The end result wasn’t quite finished back in 1995, and was resurrected for GTW and finished off in 2014, taking a few references from the Sharla novella and some music from the Apex archives. After a lot of tidying up and work, Andy Roberts has compiled up the end sequence from his source disks, and for the first time you are now able to see something of The Search For Sharla up and running!
A huge thanks also goes to Vinny Mainolfi for helping test the end sequence for Andy on a real machine and give any feedback on any bugs. However, the search for the actual game goes on! Where is Mike Brown? And can Hugh Binns find anything of the game on his disks? Time will tell!
The Search for Sharla continues for GTW…
Contributions: Steven Day, Paul Crawley, Lance Mason, Brendan Phoenix, Hugh Binns, Pete Dabbs, Andy Roberts, Vinny Mainolfi, Ross Sillifant
Lance Mason speaks to GTW about work on Search For Sharla…
“I’m fairly positive that I still have an Amiga demo’ somewhere, but I’ll need to track down the C64 one (if it still exists).I’ve sent an email to the original programmer of the C64 version (he now runs a development studio in Cheshire), but he hasn’t got back to me yet.
One of the original artists works for him now, as well, so fingers crossed…I haven’t checked through my own archive material yet, but will when I get the chance. I showed TSFS to Psygnosis many years later, simply as a demonstration of what was possible on the Amiga/ST and they wanted to buy it…?!
I’ve had a look through some of my archive material and couldn’t find anything associated with the C64. I’ve even asked one of the other programmers (now in Dallas), but no luck. I did find all of the AM/ST material and even some of the PC. I still haven’t come across the spec’s and, without hunting through a few hundred stored FD’s, I don’t expect to. I did manage to find the (unfinished) intro-story that was supposed to go with it and enclose it for your amusement (I retain all rights to the story/design [hey, you never know], but allow you to redistribute it).
I found it a few years back and converted it to Word out of a sense of misplaced nostalgia. SFS was shelved for the following reason: We had a verbal agreement with the then MD of Thalamus to completely re-do all of the game graphics from a new viewing perspective for a total of ?12K, which we then did. We only received ?5K, as the owner of Thalamus said the MD hadn’t the authority (!) to make such an agreement. We shelved it until the full payment was received (we’d paid the artists, so…). It never was: end of story.
And Ste’ is incorrect in it not living up to its over-the-top spec’s, as I have an Amiga demo’ that displays land and dungeon navigation, interiors of buildings and even has the main planet rising and setting in the sky (with astronomically correct phases). Sad, huh?”
Paul Crawley speaks to GTW about work on Search For Sharla…
“We had SFS as a finisihed product, all be it at bug testing stage when Thalamus pulled out because of backing from the ZZap 64 guys, who owned thalamus. we were so impressed with that, that a graphic artist that worked on the game even named is first born child “Sharla”. that’s one of the reasons that we all got out of the game business, too much politics.”
Steven Day speaks to GTW about work on Search For Sharla…
“As one who worked off and on for Esprit software, i can tell u that Thalamus pulled the plug on Sharla because the programmers ran WAAAAAAAYYYY over time & budget and Thalamus lost patience with them.
Although i dont remember seeing the 64 version i saw quite a bit of the ST/Amiga one which was the most advanced at the time of termination and i can tell u that it was no way EVER going to deliver on the promises made for it.”
Hugh Binns speaks to GTW about work on Search For Sharla…
“I did freelance graphics for several C64 games around 1986-1989, including converting some graphics from the amiga version of Sharla to the C64.
I vaguely remember the boss, Lance, and also an amiga artist (Carl ?) on sharla who was really good.
The game seemed ambitious, even for the amiga, so god knows how they were going to get it running on C64. I don’t remember seeing any of the graphics actually in-game on the C64, but it looked very nice on the amiga.
Only other memories were trying to avoid getting mugged on the bus on the way home from Bilston (west midlands) where esprit were based, and that Lance was decent enough to pay me in full even through esprit had got into financial difficulties. Most other bosses of game companies at that time wouldn’t have bothered
I don’t know who was programming the c64 version unfortunately. I also don’t really remember what
graphics I’d done on it, other than some environment objects and also some sort of tunnel/cave type graphics for the internal areas. Sorry I can’t help any more than that.
I vaguely remember packing up all my c64 stuff (and st, as after cybernoid I did a lot of the c64 graphics using advanced art studio on the ST) but have no idea where it is now after multiple office and house moves. If ever I come across any of it I’ll be happy to pass it on if it’s of interest.”
Andy Roberts talks about the end sequence he worked on:
“Steve was approached by Dave Birch to do the graphics for the end sequence (this is mentioned in one of the Creatures diaries, I believe), but he knew nothing about the game. He knocked out the graphics quickly in a couple of days and got back to Creatures.
Years later when I worked with John and Steve on Mayhem, I asked for a copy of the graphics (not sure why – maybe I thought it would be an interesting side project to test my new-found coding skills). I started putting the sequence together as a side project in 1995 using my Amiga-C64 cross-development system, and then, once real life got in the way, it basically sat unfinished on a floppy disk somewhere until I contacted you about it (about 5 years ago now, if memory serves).
So, it’s really just MY interpretation of those graphics, along with a few references to the Sharla story taken from lance’s novella. Throw in some music borrowed from the Apex archives, and voila! :)”