A game you may fondly remember growing up, but a game which had a history much deeper than you may think.
Eagle eyed fans of Zzap!64 may recall a feature on a programming team called “Active Minds”, who gained licences for both Gazza 2 and Total Recall. The Total Recall licence had been acquired by Ocean, and Ocean called on the new “Active Minds” team (also based in Manchester) to develop their Christmas No.1.
Looking closely at the screenshots they showed, you will see that its significantly different to the version we all know and love.
After getting started on the project, artist Simon Butler was hired by Active Minds to help work on the graphics. After seeing the work that had been done, his jaw dropped in pain at the quality of the work that had been created.
Ocean were fast on the verge of a Christmas disaster instead of the hit they were anticipating. According to Simon, all was helped by the fact that most of the staff were smoking dope and generally not doing a great deal of actual work.
The game was not shaping up well at all, the graphics were not up to the usual Ocean standards. Simon therefore kicked up an almighty fuss and changes were made, the artist let go after his poor work, and after some niggles after a shake up – work finally began to pick up, but still the game was at a terrible state.
Simon kept informing Ocean of the game’s poor progress, but it fell on deaf ears at first, and it seems all because of a plot to give Ocean a Christmas Disaster according to Simon. Read more about this in Simon’s own account of the game in “Creator Speaks”. Simon takes no prisoners in his honest and compelling account of the development.
Eventually, Ocean saw the conversion for what it really was, and panicked. Everything was under threat, so Simon offered a final lifeline to get them their game by collaborating a series of existing Ocean team members and some of the more talented people from Active Minds. They set to work from scratch, and completed the actual released C64 game in only 2 weeks! And it even made it to number 1.
However, the first incarnation is still at large – even though the ZX Spectrum version snuck out in the form of a demo. The Amiga/ST editions seem to be close to the original Active Mind developments still in comparison, though we’re not sure how much was just lifted from those versions and put into an entirely new development. The C64 version had nothing from the Active Minds development.
Of course, it would be fantastic to find something of the game out of curiosity, especially to try and recover David Whittaker’s long lost music which he composed for the game, and which was not used for the C64 Ocean release (Jon Dunn’s stunning tunes being used instead – check out the title tune in particular!).
Simon no longer has anything of the original development, so it was hoped to hold of the developer Mike Lyons to see what could have been.
In later years, Mark Jones Jr uncovered some documents relating to the game’s development, namely the Active Minds conversion, and we have compiled these together into a PDF for you to check out. This gives some inside into the structure of the game and possibly some extra plans which were scrapped from the final release.
Another piece of interest is this Amiga long play, which is pretty much the same Active Minds game. This would have been close in nature to the C64 V1 edition, including the music. The 16-bit editions would continue to use David Whittaker’s tunes.
Finally though, Mike Lyons got in touch with us in December 2022. He recalls that he never got any music given to him to include, but there was limited graphics in the form of the main character and the baddies.
In total, Mike only worked on the game for about three months. When Active Minds couldn’t pay, he left and ended up working at John Richardson Computers for 3 years.
When we asked about remains of the game, Mike sadly confirmed that Active Minds retained all the source to the development and that he didn’t have anything. He has found some of his other work, so it is hoped there may be a stray forgotten disk that surfaces in the future.
It’s disappointing news – but strange things can happen. At least we know that there probably isn’t a long lost set of David Whittaker tunes to find (unless David surprises us some day!)
Contributions: Andrew Fisher, Simon Butler, Mark Jones, Stephen Stuttard, Mike Lyons
Simon Butler gives a ‘No guns barred’ story about work on Total Recall V1…
“Ok…the tale goes something like this.
I was hired by Active Minds in Manchester, who somehow had managed to get two licenses. Gazza 2 and Total Recall.
Total Recall was Ocean’s big movie tie-in of that year and how the main man behind Active Minds managed to secure that is a complete mystery to me. The guys he had already hired before I arrived were the worse bunch of talent less numbskulls it had ever been my misfortune to meet. The Boss showed me the progress to date upon my arrival and I was staggered at the sheer lack of content. For the sake of this tale, and to avoid any legal impropriety shall from here on in be called DC.
DC was blissfully ignorant of the fact his staff had for several months been pulling the wool firmly down over his eyes. He was a total industry virgin in that he knew nothing of coding and was therefore ignorant to the truth that the coders had done little or no work in that field. He had no idea at all about the development of game graphics and thought that the baboon scribbling’s that his lead and only artist had come up with so far were of a passable state. He was also completely blind to the fact that said artist was smoking dope in the office on a daily basis and providing same for the coders. DC was perhaps the most naive person I had ever met. But I get ahead of myself.
I then came into the picture. I was hired as the second artist. The lead artist was absent on my first day but I was given access to his graphics so that I could make myself aware of the standard that I would be required to attain and maintain. I could scarcely believe my eyes when I saw: A: how little work had actually been done to date and B: the appalling standard of the graphics. But, for the time being I decided to keep my mouth shut and see how it all panned out.
The second day, the lead artist came in. He waxed lyrical about the game design that he had put together, which consisted of two exceptionally tatty pieces of paper that looked as though someone had kept it at the bottom of their birdcage for six months. It was covered with spare and childish scrawlings that looked as if their were the product of someone with behavioural problems. How anyone was to put a game together from this was unfathomable. But again, I said nothing. He passed me disks with his graphics on, not knowing that I already had them on my machine. He expounded at length as to how the graphics to date were some of his best work and that he had sweated bullets to come up with them.
The fact that Stevie Wonder could have done better never seemed to cross his mind, or indeed the mind of anyone else within the company. As he sparked up his first joint of the day, while sat at his desk I had made up my mind that things were about to take a drastic and unpleasant turn for the shiftless layabouts of the unfortunately named Active Minds.
My superior, the talented Lead Artist, disappeared again the next day, something I learned he was wont to do. I took this opportunity to call a meeting with DC. I explained to him that the graphics were unacceptable and that he had been conned from day one. All excuses from the coding staff regarding their lack of progress was bull from start to finish and that he should be aware of the fact that a senior member of staff was smoking dope in the office and providing more for his colleagues. Said artist was sacked.
Another meeting was called where the new and real facts of life were explained to the remaining members of staff, some of whom where ignorant of what had been happening. The others were the ones in cahoots with the now departed artist and were in high dudgeon about me, the johnny-come-lately getting on his high horse and throwing his weight around. They were told, by the johnny-come-lately that they were not irreplaceable, but because of the rapidly approaching deadline for the Christmas release it would be foolish to start afresh with a completely new team. So they could either shut up and do their jobs, which was something they had not done to date…or they could whine about the injustice of it all in which case they would be shown the door and they may even find the police waiting for them as they left. Needless to say, they shut up. You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife from that point on, but at least we started to make some progress.
The first thing we did after that was put the existing design into the bin. Then we informed Ocean software as to what had taken place. Needless to say they were none to happy about the situation, but the news did not filter through to GB, the man in charge of development at Ocean. It was being held back by the producer on the project, an Irish malcontent who shall be called CG. CG was happy with the progress of the project to date. Why that was didn’t become clear for some time. Time passed and I brought in other artists, some of whom shaped up and others who didn’t, but progress was being made. After a fashion.
The deadline was rapidly approaching and while things had come along in leaps and bounds from the point when I first started it was still perfectly clear that the game was never going to be finished.
My superior, DC did not seem bothered and nor did the producer CG. I voiced my concerns to DC and the air got rather heated. To the point where I handed in my resignation and went immediately across Manchester to Ocean Software to inform GB of the situation and explain my side of things.
On my arrival at Ocean I was slightly surprised when I informed GB of the Recall fiasco. But nowhere near as surprised as he was. He informed me that I was didn’t know what I was talking about and that the project was on schedule, looking great and going to be a Christmas number one.
Needless to say I was confused, but I asked him if he had actually seen the game in question only to be informed that he had not seen it, but he had it on the best of authority that the game was a triple A title. And who had told him this? Why his sidekick, the aforementioned CG, the Irish producer.
Viola! It was now as clear as day. GB was being played by his second in command. He was going to be made the scapegoat for an abysmally bad Christmas Blockbuster that would have cost Ocean millions and that would never see the light of day. How exactly the chubby Irish ne’er-do-well was going to make sure he wasn’t painted into a corner as well was beyond me, but GB would carry the can. That was a fact. GB, still adamant that he was right and I was wrong told me to wait in his office while he went across to the offices of Active Minds to see for himself what he knew to be the truth.
He came back some time later with a face the colour of boiled shite.
He looked like a man walking to the gallows.
But I told him that if I pulled together the one or two people from Active Minds that I knew I could trust and teamed them with people from Ocean that I had worked with before then I knew we could salvage the project.
Like any drowning man, GB grabbed at this, his only straw.
We assembled our teams and with the exception of an Australian coder on the Spectrum version, who couldn’t get laid in a monkey whorehouse with a sack of bananas, we had the makings of Ocean’s salvation. The Antipodean halfwit was eventually replaced, after GB and another senior member of staff kept him virtually imprisoned within Ocean’s office until they finally conceded that he was a contender for most inept man on the planet. They showed him the door and the Amstrad team, myself included stepped into the Spectrum vacancy.
The C64 Version, coded by John Meegan and Andrew Deakin was completed in two weeks. The Spectrum Version took a week, as did the Amstrad version.
All three versions met their deadlines. They were number one for Christmas. The dregs from Active Minds that we had been forced to drag along with us were summarily given their marching orders.
And that’s the tale of Total Recall.
One footnote is that somehow the Irish halfwit managed to talk himself out of redundancy and lasted at Ocean for over a year more, when he finally did stir up enough trouble to get rid of those people who could point the finger at him and say “That man’s a fool.” Myself included.
He now lives in America.
But that man’s a fool.”
Zzap! October 1990
Total Recall is the sort of spectacular gore-fest kids are meant not to see, but that didn’t stop Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop Movie becoming the best-selling game of all time and his latest film is just as good. Active Minds are the independent programming house aiming to give you ‘the ride of a lifetime’ and STUART WYNNE paid them a visit.
Total Recall is set in 2084 when a continual war rages between two power blocs and Mars has been colonised by the brutal Cohaagen. Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a hen-pecked construction worker who longs to emigrate to Mars, despite the daily terrorist explosions. Then one day he hears or Rekall, the company which implants false memories so people have the illusion of having visited distant planets. Quaid asks for a Mars memory, but rather than a tourist trip he wants a secret agent fantasy to be implanted. One where there’s lots of violence, beautiful women to meet and an entire planet to save”¦
However the memory implant fails because Quaid actually was a secret agent who’s had his memories wiped. Upon leaving Rekall, Quaid comes under attack from Cohaagen’s men who fear he’s regaining his memory. From then on it’s one big roller coaster chase packed with violence, gore and imaginative plot twists.
Dave Colley, the joint head of Active Minds with Alison Kelly, clearly thinks the licence is terrific. ‘Ocean and Schwarzenegger are huge names, we couldn’t have asked for something better to start with’. They could’ve asked for more time though, while their OCP-like marble finished offices are impressive, moving in was hectic. ‘We started work at the end of April, or May I think it was. It was very frantic to begin with. We’d just moved into the new offices and were buying all our new equipment. We had problems with the PDS system as well.’
Active Minds is Dave and Alison’s second company – Video Images being the first, currently dormant after some initial work on Bangkok Knights. I didn’t have enough people, so with Active I wanted to get all the best people I could possibly muster. Lots of people with lots of ideas.’ These include Amiga programmer Fred O’Rourke (16-bit Laser Squad), graphic artist Simon Butler (RoboCop) and C64 programmer Mike Lyons (US War In Middle Earth).
For Total Recall, We came up with a spec which Ocean liked the look of. There have been one or two changes as we’ve gone along, but mainly we’ve been left alone. It’s really great to have that sort of freedom.
While Dave hadn’t read the original Philip K. Dick short story, ‘We Can Remember It For You Wholesale’, he had a lot of material from the film. We had a copy of the script from the start so we knew where we were going. Then we went to a special showing in London to check the backgrounds, though they weren’t all that imaginative anyway!.
According to Simon Butler, “It’s nigh on impossible to really do a film licence unless it’s on CD ROM. So you have to get the essence of the thing. The main element in Total Recall is that it’s a chase. We took that theme and developed it as much as possible.”
There are five sections altogether, the first taking place after Quaid has left Rekall offices and is being pursued by the baddies. He has to find a number of special objects that he needs to escape. The section is viewed side-on, RoboCop-style with Quaid sprinting around, beating up baddies. He can also pick up weapons to use on them. On the C64 Quaid will have over 80 frames of animation.
According to Dave there’s “an enormous map which would take you ten minutes to cross from one side to the other” well, that might be an exaggeration, but it is very big. There are also four types of baddies: Homers, Patrol, Static (until they see you) and Grunts which come out and try to beat you up.
Stage two is a car chase, viewed from overhead in Spyhunter-style. Quaid has taken control of a Johnnycab and must lose his enemies in traffic. This ends in a warehouse where Quaid is briefed by his previous secret agent self on who he is. More answers lie on Mars: level three is a small side-on action game, recreating Quaid’s dramatic arrival on the Red Planet.
But Quaid’s investigations on Mars soon get him into trouble with Cohaagen again and another car chase results. Only now Quaid is armed and the race through the underground tunnels has plenty of violence including some tunnel-digging machines with dozens of spinning drill bits to avoid.
The final level is another side-on view, platforms and ladders arcade maze. After plenty of gunplay, leaping from platform to platform and extensive exploring, Quaid will finally take on Cohaagen and maybe save a planet. Active Minds are promising an ‘interesting’ conclusion to the game which they hope to keep secret.
Originally there was talk of the game being squeezed into a single load on C64, but now it seems more likely to be multi load like the Amiga. Between each level will be scenes from the movie, probably in comic strip form. The music is being provided by Dave Whittaker, who’ll be composing his own theme rather than using Jerry Goldsmith’s movie score.
In any case, Total Recall still requires plenty of work – there are new people coming onto the project any day now – but an October release date is planned so hopefully we’ll have a review next month. Dave Colley is determined it’ll play well and to exhaustively play test it. ‘We’ll make time, even if it means a lot of late nights. I’m in charge of that so I’ll make sure it’s done. The first level won’t be incredibly difficult. I want it to be so you can play it as soon as you pick the joystick up.’
PAINT IT RED
Programming Total Recall has been ‘a bit of a pain, but enjoyable overall’ for Liverpudlian Mike Lyons. The C64 programmer used to work with Mike Singleton’s Maelstrom Games, helping out with the dramatically different US version of War In Middle Earth. After that he did some work on Survivor, a project which was shelved so everyone could concentrate on finishing Midwinter. Mike did some programming on the PC Midwinter conversion prior to briefly turning freelance before Dave talked him into his new programming house. While strategy games are his favourite, like many programmers he doesn’t play games that much not even having a computer at home. In the office RoboCop is thrown on when he’s bored.
One of three people who came over from Ocean to form Active’s art department, Simon Butler is working closely with Mike over the graphics. However, ‘I came in six weeks into the project and had to catch up pretty damn quick.’ Like most graphic artists he uses an ST to develop on. I asked if programmers told him how many frames of animation to do. ‘They try to, but graphic artists have more input nowadays, saying what they think. I always go for the maximum, see if they can do it. There’s lots of coin-op conversions, so it’s exciting to have a chance to do original stuff like Total Recall. When doing human animation it’s good to do something different and dynamic with the sprites. These couldn’t be beefier if I tried!’
The Amiga sprites have already been through a dramatic change. Early preview shots showed a fairly realistic style, the new style is much more exaggerated. ‘There’s very few new people coming into graphics, so its all the same people, bored with trotting out the same old thing over and over again. We want to do new stuff. Programmers feel the same. I suppose I remember working on The Vindicator and David Ward called me in to ask me about it. There were these things in it with their insides falling out. They weren’t human, so it was alright. I want something with oomph, something worth talking about..’
- 19/12/22 – Details from the developer about what happened and chances of finding code.
- 27/08/20 – Tidied up piece and added better quality scans thanks to Mort.
- 13/07/14 – Added Amiga long play video to show how the C64 edition would have been roughly.