Worron

Firebird

Status: Full Game, Findability: 1/5

Worron is a rather bizarre little title, which was never advertised, and only came about thanks to Richard Paynter getting in touch to shed some light on the title. Rick signed a contact with Firebird in October 1987 to complete this particular game, and this was written about a year or two after winning an Elite competition, where Richard had met Colin Fuidge (who presented his award).

The game itself was a top down Sabre Wulf style game, with a hint of platform action mixed in according to Richard. Bas-refief graphics were used to good effect to give the perception of depth going into the screen. For instance, you could only run over platforms when they were at the correct level. The game also included some jazzy parallax scrolling and all kinds of nice little features. Apparently, Mark Greenshields was so impressed with the scrolling, he borrowed the routine for one of his games.

Everything was signed off with Firebird, and the game was delivered about 2 weeks later. Richard also got an advanced royalty cheque too – but that was it.   Richard went to work with Paranoid Software for a bit, before then going off to University.  Throughout that time he never saw Worron appear in the shops.

Thanks to Richard Hewison’s investigations, we found out that Colin Fuidge (who had signed up the game), had been drunk when he originally agreed to sign the title, and when the final version turned up – he didn’t like it.  With work going on with setting up Silverbird, the title was put to one side with the hope of maybe trying to rescue it.   When it was sidelined though,  it was completely forgotten about.  So that is why it never got to the shops!

When we asked Richard for a copy of the game though, he sadly had no longer kept any of his disks.  The likelihood of ever finding it even from an ex-Firebird employee was looking bleak.  Until that is we received a last batch of Darren Melbourne’s disks in December 2015 – where we were happy to discover two builds of the game, including the version sent to Firebird!

Although the game is well presented and (to be fair) is an early effort from Richard,  we think that Colin was right that the game wasn’t quite there.  It has lots of promise, but there are a fair few things broken in the game which don’t make it too playable overall.

What is odd, is that although the game seems to be mostly complete (with an ending screen) – it doesn’t seem to match the descriptions that we have heard about the game.  It also does not include any sound, apart from on the high-score table.   Is it possible that we are missing a slightly later version? Richard confirms that there may have been a slightly different version, where you could interact with the holes that appear in the ground – but its pretty close to the final version created.  There was never any sound in the game, apart from the high-score and it was for Firebird to add at a later date.

Richard was amazed to see his game again after so many years, but the fact that the game was never quite seemingly in a finished state in 2015 had bothered him.  In early 2021, Richard contacted GTW once more to say that he was busy working on finishing off Worron and polishing it up a bit. Then in May 2021, he got in touch again to say that he was done.

Amazingly, Richard has painstakingly decompiled the original code that GTW had salvaged and then carried out the following fixes and additions (which we have copied directly from Richard’s rundown):

  • I Re-enabled the collisions with all the background elements so that you die in all the right places
  • I wrote my own music routine + original score/sound fx – I’d actually written the music routine for another project I’ve got brewing in the background.
  • I added an extra life at the end of the level as you need it!
  • I added a bitmap ‘loader screen’ + new (8k LONG) scrolling message containing instructions for the game in the absence of a cassette box inlay + history of the game
  • I fixed a load of bugs that my 17 year old self could not :)
  • I made the portal open/close flash
  • I improved on some of the level colours

Essentially, Richard has made sure the game can now be completed without bugs, and feels its pretty stable now and as complete as he’s prepared to make it. One thing to note is that he didn’t want to make the game better or easier to play, and states that it is what it is. There were just a few things at the time missing that were an itch to Richard that needed to be scratched.

So here is the very final edition of Worron in a now full game and complete state. Shortly afterwards, he kindly also provided a copy of his development diary, which is an amazing 103 pages and chock full of technical detail of how he put everything together.  

Additionally, in August 2021 – Richard kindly passed on the music he produced for Worron before creating as a SID version for the game. Here is what Richard had to say:

“Hi Frank – something you may or may not want to add to your site is that I mocked-up the Worron music in Logic Pro before adding it to my music routine… it’s pretty much the same music albeit without the rapid SID arpeggios:

I’ve also included screen shots of the score in Logic Pro + a mid-file version just for the hell of it… you can play the mid file in VLC or most players, or pull it into garage band or similar. But it gives an interesting insight into how you use 3 channels and fill it with notes. I mean, I’m a SID novice, and this was my first SID tune, so I’m not SID expert… but it’s interesting nonetheless.”

This is my soundcloud account which is massively out of date, but which I’m planning to populate with everything I’ve been up to over the past 10 years +

Soundcloud page

And here is a link to a Landrover advert that I did the music for:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PZxKevhWwc

This is why we love what we do at Games That Weren’t. The preservation efforts of a last remaining copy of someone’s work has allowed them to revisit and scratch an itch. We hope there will be many more instances like this.

Contributions: Richard Paynter, Richard Hewison, Martin Pugh

Supporting content

Creator speaks

Richard Paynter talks about Worron, post recovery

I happened across the working version of “Worron” this morning by accident and have just played it for the first time in 30 years.  This was quite a blast from the past. I’m thrilled that this was found on a decaying disk in someone’s loft. The story of it being resurrected from the dead is probably more interesting than the game.

The game as it stands is close to being the final version I handed into Firebird’s New Oxford Street offices (as I remember). Despite going on to write a little advert music years later, I wasn’t really an able commodore 64 musician so the plan (I’m guessing) was to get Firebird to add in a tune from one of the regulars on the scene + some sound fx.
Colin Fuidge of Firebird was unkind about the game a few years back when it was first posted as a missing game. He claims he was drunk when he said “yes”, but this was not the case. He may just not want to admit to bad judgement :)

The major thing missing from the game play in this version is that the character is supposed to interact with the animations in the background and die if he falls down a hole/gets crushed by moving scenery/electrocuted. This was definitely working. It may be that I turned it off for this version just so it was playable! :) This version appears to be one that I took up to friends at Nexus/Paranoid Software to demo. It is likely not the final version. Having played it through now, I can see that it is a big buggy in places towards the end levels, plus would have been almost impossible to finish with all the collisions turned on. But it generally holds up without crashing.

It was hard to write as I only had one machine and no disk drive for a lot of it. Anyone who wrote that way in their bedroom can tell you that things get tough when you are trying to maintain source code/compile/run game all in the same memory.
But it had some nice features with sprites in the border, some psychedelic raster interrupts. These things had to be discovered by one self most of the time as there wasn’t anyone else to find these tricks out from or an internet on which to search for routines. You saw things in magazines such as Zzap and tried to figure out how they were done, be it bas-relief graphics or sprite multiplexing.

So is the game any good? Should it have seen the light?

Let’s be honest. Not really. But am I proud that I wrote this in 1986 as a 16 year old? Yes, I think so. I can laugh at the text, the references to school friends and John Carpenter soundtracks and laugh at some of the primitive game play, but having played it today as a 46 year old, I feel quite proud of it in a funny way. I don’t think it probably deserved to be marketed in 1987, maybe 2 or 3 years earlier. But it’s ok. It had some potential given another month of cleaning up, adding more complex sprite movement, sound fx and various other bits and pieces.

More importantly, it acted as a leap-board for my career in defence (fighter aircraft) and then finance (25 years writing trading systems in the City), so I can’t complain. Plus this game is the sole reason I got into University when I didn’t get the grades (ironically from spending my time writing a subsequent Commodore 64 game rather than working on my A Levels)

Besides, I was always more happy with my title screens than the games themselves.

As for where the name “Worron” came from??? I have absolutely no idea. Pass.

Thanks to all that were involved in finding this and go easy on it… it knows it isn’t that good :)”

Richard Paynter talks about work on Worron before the finding…

“Spotted your site whilst randomly googling and noticed myself on there as Rick Paynter (how I used to be known at school). I did indeed know the guys at Paranoid Software back in 86/87 when I was 16/17. I was a commodore 64 programmer back then, although only completed one game “Worron” for Firebird, which never got released.

It was back in August 1985 when I was 15… I had been writing c64 games for about a year or so, but only at home and few of them were completed. I was still learning.

I took part in an Elite-athon down at Regal Software in Gillingham, Kent in that August 1985, where I met a Colin Fuidge of Firebird who was there to present the prize. It was a 24 hour charity thing that my team of two won… I still have the prize, an Order of Elite lying around somewhere gathering dust. Anyway, in 1986 when I had completed my first game, “Worron” (can’t remember why on earth I called it that, but thought it sounded good at the time), I decided that Colin might be a good contact for marketting it. Hence I rang him up out of the blue and took my 16 year self up to New Oxford St to their offices.

They liked the game and I signed an advance contract, getting 1.5k of royalties up front, which I spent on my first musical gear. I delivered them the final disks and all was done and dusted, awaiting release.

I did everything on the game, including graphics and music (something I now do professionally – see www.richardpaynter.com). The game was a top-down Sabre Wulf style game, but was also a platform game. I used bas-relief graphics to give the perception of depth going into the screen. You could only run over platforms when they were at the correct level. It had parallax scrolling, the works. In fact, I believe my scolling routing was borrowed by Mark Greenshields for one of this games… Was quite pleased with it.

Time passed and time passed, I got involved with Paranoid Software/Nexus for a bit, before heading off to University in summer 1988, but heard nothing of Worron. After a number of years I forgot about it, the c64 scene had moved on etc. as had I… Eventually, I guess my contract expired. I was too involved in other things at that stage to go back after it… and too naive to think that the c64 would ever re-surface in the emulator world. All disks have long since ended up on a dump somewhere unfortunately.”

Update history

  • 15/06/21 – Richard’s diary about the new development added.
  • 23/05/21 – New development by Richard Payner added to the archive!
  • 07/04/16 – Added notes by Richard Paynter

8 Responses to Worron

  1. “Hopefully soon we’ll be adding Richard’s diary on his development work too, so watch this space!”

    This is awesome, thank you! Would the dev consider releasing the decompiled source code for preservation/learning purposes?

  2. I honestly don’t know what Firebird were (or Colin Fuidge was) thinking to shelve this game back in 1987.

    I’ve committed myself to trying to reach the highest level possible in a week’s time and it is a hell of a skillcheck for a game made in 1987.

    Even if frustration builds up rapidly, it invokes that “just one more go”-feeling which is indicative of a good game, in my humble opinion.

    It would have certainly been picked up by a few people back in the day, but maybe the fact it was unreleased back then and has been finalized by its original creator now, 34 years later, is actually going to do it some good.

    Supposed “ragequit”-titles tend to do well on streams and pre-recorded video platforms like Youtube, and I could highly recommend running this game in such a setting.

    I’m personally running it through libretro using the VICE core, emulating a C64 PAL version with a 8580 sound chip. This seems to be the intended configuration (as I’ve had confirmed by Richard Paynter himself, who went on to say he’s personally only tested it with keyboard controls), and it’s most definitely doable with those settings.

    I must applaud Richard for having gone the extra mile to complete it after it was found again. I am thoroughly enjoying it. :D

    I highly recommend giving it a go if you like a challenge.

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