Friday, 14 August 2015

Penultimate - Don't Play the Game: The Stamper Brothers Lost Arcade Games

Coming next, the Stamper Brothers 'lost games'....

The Stamper Brothers, founders of Rare Inc. and the men behind some very fondly remembered games, are back in the news again thanks to the release of Rare Replay on the XBox One. This 30 game compilation has been pretty well received, getting good reviews and making it to the top of the UK charts, no surprise really as it features a lot of quality games. It's interesting just how far back this collections goes, as it includes not just the internationality successful Rare console games, but also early 80's home computer titles from Rare's predecessor, Ultimate Play The Game.

Blue Print - One of the 'lost games'

What this collection doesn't feature are the very first games that the Stampers created, before they made a name for themselves in the British home computer market. It seems that before founding Ultimate, the Stamper brothers worked for a British arcade game developer called Zilec, where they made at least three and maybe as many as twelve coin-op games. They also developed at least one more arcade game with their own newly founded company Ashby Computers and Graphics, which later became known as Ultimate.

The story is pretty murky and it's tough to find any reliable information about these early years, despite their massive later success. Whilst Jetpac, Knight Lore and the rest get a lot of nostalgic attention, these games seem to be almost completely forgotten.

The video above features the three games that seem to be most reliably credited to them. In two of them, Blue Print and Dingo, it's pretty easy to see some parallels with later games. Blue Print has the player collecting parts of a weird machine whilst avoiding nasties in a classic 2D maze, a mechanic that bears some resemblance to the much better known Jetpac. Dingo on the other hand seems to use the exact same font that was used in Atic Atac, released later the same year and it's maze looks a lot like the jungle sections in Sabre Wulf, another Ultimate classic.

Dingo - Similarities to Atic Atac and Sabre Wulf?

What about the other nine? Well, that's hard to say. According to this issue of Commodore user, the Stampers worked on Gyruss, the classic Konami shooter, though other more sensible sources (i.e. everyone) credit that to Yoshiki Okamoto. Zilec did develop quite a few games, some of which were licensed to better known games companies, but most of these came out long after Ultimate started releasing the titles we hear so much about. Were the Stampers moonlighting for Zilec whilst running Ultimate? Maybe, but it doesn't sound likely to me.

Why are these games so obscure? Well it seems like none of them were a huge success, sinking without trace in a very competitive arcade market. Blue Print had a few home conversions on various Atari machines, but this may have been more of an attempt to recoup losses by the distributor Midway, rather than due to massive consumer demand. The other two seemed to just fall of the radar after release, presumably not bringing in many coins.

Atari 2600 Blue Print

The fact that most of these games were developed for and licensed to other companies means that the Stampers probably don't retain the rights and may be unable to release them if they wanted too. It looks like these titles have been pretty much abandoned by both gamers and their creators.

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