Had it found its way onto the 8-bit market, Whirligig would have been that rare thing for the time, a game planned to be released on all the major gaming markets, the 8-bit, 16-bit and the PC (However, although it was released on the ST and the Amiga, the 8-bit versions (And also PC version according to Richard Hewison) never saw the light of day.
The game itself is a 3D space exploration game, although in reality it seems like only a few of the sprites, including the player, were drawn in 3D and the game itself plays pretty much in 2D. In fact it plays like a souped-up version of the classic ‘Asteroids’ and as such seems like it could be easily ported to an 8-bit system.
A review of the game in Computer and Video Games Magazine from August 1988 states that the 8-bit versions were to follow in the autumn along with the PC version, ‘no earlier than October’. The PC version made it, so why didn’t the 8-bit versions?
Well, Mike Singleton confirms that when Microprose took over Firebird, they decided to drop the C64 versions due to concerns with framerates and also that the markets were dying and did not want to waste too much time on the platforms. Otherwise the games would have in fact been completed and released.
We know from an interview Chris Pink did with the Amstrad CPC Games resource website (http://tacgr.emuunlim.com) that not only did he create the graphics for the PC version of Whirligig but that he also programmed the 8-bit versions.
Indeed Chris confirmed to us he was involved, and confirms that a C64 conversion did indeed exist. The C64 version was not done by Chris though, but by Mike Lyons – with most of the maths done by Chris.
The game had a working level system which showed the map (where you could pick a gate to go through to test). The Spectrum and Amstrad versions were fully playable, but also scrapped. The C64 version isn’t available from Chris, but he does have the PC, Amstrad and Spectrum code still… maybe someday people will get to see it.
Mike Lyons got in touch with GTW in December 2022 and explained there was very limited graphics for the game, most of the sheet sprites were computer generated and the ship from a mesh. The rest of the graphics used complex maths to draw. It took about a minute of processing time on the ST 16-bit version, and with that in mind it was probably beyond acceptable for the 8-bits.
Mike had actually taken over the project from Kevin Mulholland, and it was worked on after finishing a UK and US version of War in Middle Earth.
Chances of finding anything are slim, though Mike does have some disks still and is in the process of going through them. An early concept or remains of the code could some day be dug out to show how it was looking.
Contributions: Andrew Fisher, Richard Hewison, Mike Singleton, Ross Sillifant, Chris Pink, Mike Lyons
Chris Pink and Mike Singleton talk about work on Whirligig…
“So I just saw your page on Whirligig. Yes there was a C64 version in production but my involvement was limited (I wrote the math libraries to get the level generator to work). Mike Lyons and another coder also worked on the C64 version (they both left the industry to write medical billing software). The Spectrum version was playable with a limited number of sprites. The Amstrad was close behind the Spectrum one
The game had a working level system for sure. As I said in the original email I put together the math for that and we had the start of level screen working which showed the map (you could then pick a gate to go through to test it). I don’t have any of the C64 stuff. I do have some of the ST, Amstrad and Spectrum code.
Along with the graphics I did for the PC (somewhere in my basement in one of the many boxes that haven’t been opened in five years). As for Mike, I saw him once after he left (he moved out of Liverpool for the job he got) and that was it. He definately was enjoying his new job better than doing games.”
“As regards Whirligig, 8-bit versions were planned both for C64 and for Spectrum. I’m not sure if you know, but 16-bit versions were actually completed and released on Atari ST, Amiga and PC. At Maelstrom, we had got some 3D graphics working on the 8-bit machines but but the publisher, Microprose wanted to drop these – a combination of concerns about the falloff in the 8-bit market at the time, doubts about whether we could achieve a reasonable frame-rate and lastly, the extra time it might take us to complete these versions.
So, we focused on the 16-bit versions instead. The guys credited with those versions had also been involved on the 8-bit side, so I suggest you check the Whirligig credits (must be somewhere on the web) – I might forget to mention someone!!!
Whirligig was an important step for us back then, not least because it was our first pass at a 3D solid graphics engine, which then took us on the road to Midwinter.”
- 19/12/22 – Details added from the programmer.
- 28/05/14 – Added scan thanks to Ross Sillifant