“Behold, the fifth generation of home computer entertainment Get the Sigue Sigue Sputnik computer game from your favourite software house now…” – was the advert blurted out after one of Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s tracks on their recent album back in 1986. Credits listed on the album were TONY SELLINGER/GIBBO.
Sigue Sigue Sputnik was to follow in the footsteps of Frankie Goes To Hollywood and have their very own game produced. The game was meant to be a sort of spiritual follow up to the classic Jammin’ game but with twists of Ocean Frankie Goes to Hollywood blended in. It seems the success of Ocean’s game was enough to give others confidence of doing a similar title. Did I say Jammin’ ? A clue to the credits – Read on!
Computer and Video Games issue 60 first gave news of this game with a column of text that gives an insight into what the game was to be featuring:
“”No, no” I screamed, as the editor grabbed me by the hair and dragged me kicking to my Commodore 64. “I don’t want to review it!”, I protested. “It’s just hype, the game doesn’t really exist!”. “Now calm down Tony,” Tim ordered. (Tim’s the kind of guy who can make a kick in the teeth seem reasonable…). Having wired my chair to the mains, Tim suggested I get on with the review before a fuse blew… Who am I to argue? The latest, not to mention hottest, piece of software to hit my sweaty palms is the official Sigue Sigue Sputnik game.
Don’t groan! It’s poor, it’s ugly, it’s offensive and it’s down right mean, but I love it! Your problem, readers, in deciding whether this review is legit! SSS are well known for their hype and general bad taste and I would hate to ruin that reputation. The game is based in the 21st Century and you play it in front of a giant video screen which splits your TV screen into four equal quarters. You are faced with dozens of TV channels to choose from and various characters take to the video screens and try to blow Tony James to bits (hooray). You control Tony James (who is beautifully animated) at the bottom of the screen and can strut around firing at the beastly attackers. When you have destroyed an attacker in one window he reappears in the next window and so on until all four video screens have been filled. When one window is cleared there is a clapperboard countdown from seven to one and that attacker appears in that window as a large animated graphic.
Each level has four attack waves and each wave has 400 sprites. There will be six levels to work through (at four waves per level that makes 2400 sprites, this must be a record). The general feel of the game is very good and despite its basic shoot-em-up theme there are a lot of very exciting ideas and graphics that will grab and hold you for many a session.
Other characters who appear include Madonna, Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, Norman Tebbit, Maggie, and a mysterious roadie. Again all are larger than life and very well animated. Tony Gibson is writing the game and has developed a new graphics system (“A computer generated character set”) to handle the very special effects. The game should be released in September and will initially be released on the Commodore 64 (around £9.95) with versions to follow for the Spectrum and Amstrad””
The news item came complete a loading screen picture, which looks like it was done by Mark Harrison – due to the MH initials which seem to be in the corner. A colour version was printed in Commodore User, who seemed to suggest it was a fan picture. We’re hoping to get this confirmed soon.
During our time researching – we had an interesting snippet from Ben Hayes (who was working at Enigma Variations at the time) about his experience with the game…
“I’m probably responsible for losing the only surviving copy of the unfinished “Sigue Sigue Sputnik” game, which was previewed in C&VG around 1986 (they printed a screenshot). I found it while going through a load of old C64 discs while at EV, but I’m not sure who was responsible for coding it. It was a playable game but there was no scoring or structure to it, but you controlled a SSS-esque bloke, firing things at a bank of TV screens which showed caricatures of various celebrities (I remember Phil Collins being one). That disc is another that was lost about 15 years ago (left at a friend’s house, I never got them back and he said they got caught up in some flooding and were chucked…)”
Terrible news and from a credible source – but was it surely the last ever copy? And why was it found at Enigma Variations? Darren Melbourne helped to join up the dots, as when Darren first told us about his involvement with the game – we realised that Mark Greenshields worked at Enigma Variations, and seems the most logical way the game got there. Darren Melbourne confirmed that both of them had some minor involvement in the game, but only from a potential publishing stand point. Darren had seen it and played it too.
Darren confirmed that both Tony Gibson and Mark Harrison were the guys behind the game, but there was no idea who Tony Sellinger (the man credited on the album) was.
The game was shown to a variety of the big publishers at the time, there were various publicity stunts attempted to get the game heard about. Even with a bunch of the guys promoting the game going to Domark, all dressed up, and demanding £80,000 for the game – before being promptly told to f**k off.
Darren confirmed that the game never progressed beyond early talks. Nexus were most interested in publishing the game, but weren’t interested in taking the financial risk involved in paying for the development. After that the game effectively ground to a halt at the end of 1986/87 and was the last that Darren heard of the game. Tony and Mark went on to do other titles such as Beat It! and Rainbow Warrior – but SSS was put to rest.
Over the years, GTW64 and C64.com had processed Darren’s disks for preservation and saved many titles (including Nuker), but there was nothing of SSS sadly. Darren however had one final large batch of disks which were shipped in December 2015 (I had mentioned to Darren at Play Expo Manchester 2015, that I had hoped to find something of the game on them). As I went off one night to make a start preserving the disks, I half joked with my wife that I hoped to find it – but wasn’t expecting to.
Sifting out a bunch of oddly labelled or non-labelled disks and cleaning them up first of all, about 2-3 disks in gave up a directory listing with one of the titles named “Media Wars”. Upon loading – I was presented with a flashing high-score with the words “Sputnik” at the top, and a familiar tune playing! This was it! Finally!
Playing the game, it was clear that it was far from completion – but the game pretty much identically matches the description which Ben Hayes gave. It is very likely that this is in fact the very same demo he played. You can shoot lots of things, including Phil Collins – there are multiple TV screens – but the scoring is pretty odd and doesn’t mean a great deal and there doesn’t seem to be much progression. The heads and characters change though and the main character animates very well – even though they are a bit blocky.
What sadly we couldn’t find to go along with the demo, was what we believe to be a Mark Harrison loading/intro screen as shown in CVG and Commodore User. We scanned through Darren’s disks, and nothing was found. We guess that Darren was just given a frozen demo, and the intro picture was never passed on. Could that be found some day?
Mark Harrison got in touch with GTW64 about the game in 2016. Mark confirmed that the image was his own work – drawn on a Koala graphics pad and with his distinctive style. Sadly all of this is completely lost.
Sadly he hadn’t spoken to Tony for years. They fell out and lost touch soon after Rainbow Warrior was produced, but did swap emails for a few years afterwards before losing touch again. Mark couldn’t recall much about the game – but vaguely recalls him and Tony putting a rough demo of the game together and heading off down to EMI studios to meet Tony James. Nothing came from it though – Tony James wanted more blood and violence, and more chainsaws! However, they couldn’t find a backer for the game – so that was that!
So was this as far as the game ever got? It is believed, based on Darren’s past recollections, that it was. This demo was done to try and get a publisher onboard – and would have been what was touted to the likes of Nexus. The intro picture was maybe something released for the press to cause controversy due to the chopped off head perhaps? Maybe it was as a result of the meeting with Tony James and the request for more gore?
Sadly Tony Gibson passed away several years ago, so we may never know the full details. In 2018, an Ebay auction surfaced with a rare promotional copy of the demo that Tony and Mark sent out. Mark confirmed that this seemed to be a legitimate copy that they sent out. Unfortunately it seems it hasn’t yet been preserved by anyone, which could include Mark’s long lost loading picture – which is still at large. The demo should be the same as what we have here.
This is yet another famous lost C64 title recovered (and de-frozen thanks to Martin Pugh) and a key piece of unreleased history preserved…
Contributions: Andrew Fisher, Wayne Womersley, Darren Melbourne, Peter Weighill, Fixater, Ross Sillifant, Darren Melbourne, Martin Pugh