In the first of what I hope will be one of many interesting retrospectives, we are going to be taking a fairly in depth look at Ultimate’s famous missing game, ‘Mire Mare’. A potentially great and eagerly awaited part of the ‘Sabreman’ series; unfortunately never released.
On the quest for the missing ‘Sabreman’ game
Sabreman was first introduced to us in the excellent ‘Sabre Wulf’ (review coming soon) and then continued his adventures in ‘Underwurlde’. Those of you who have had the pleasure of playing and completing ‘Underwurlde’ will remember that there were three exits you could choose to end the game, each which contained an advert for a then upcoming game continuing the adventures of Sabreman. The first exit mentioned ‘Knight Lore’, which was released around the same time as ‘Underwurlde’, the second ‘Pentagram’ which came out a year later in 1986 and the third names ‘Mire Mare’.
In addition, if you successfully completed ‘Knight Lore’ and ‘Pentagram’ the following poem and message were displayed, respectively:
THE POTION CASTS, ITS MAGIC STRONG, ALL EVIL MUST BEWARE, THE SPELL HAS BROKEN, YOU ARE FREE, GO FORTH TO MIREMARE
CONGRATULATIONS, YOU HAVE COMPLETED, THE PENTAGRAM, YOUR ADVENTURE CONTINUES IN, MIRE MARE.
Why didn’t we get to see this potentially awesome game?
In the mid-eighties the Stamper brothers, owners of and main coders for ‘Ultimate’ (the trading name of Ashby Computers and Graphics), were looking beyond home computers and turning their interest towards developing games for the emerging consoles. There are many documented reasons for their decision: (i) increasing frustration with the technical limitations of computers at the time, in particular their main platform the Sinclair ZX Spectrum (most don’t realise that the Stampers didn’t actually code many games for other home computers), (ii) elimination of load times with the new cartridge based consoles and (iii) increasing amounts of software piracy. As such, from as early as 1983 they became interested in developing games for Nintendo’s NES, which alleviated many of their concerns and frustrations.
US Gold and the transition to Rare
As part of their company development and move to console game the Stampers sold part of Ultimate to US Gold in 1985 and formed a new company within Ashby Computers and Graphics (the parent company of Ultimate) to produce games for the NES. That company was to become the (once) much regarded Rare Ltd.
Unfortunately, the US Gold takeover occurred much quicker than had been anticipated. US Gold were not interested, at least initially, in developing new games under the Ultimate label; instead they wanted access to the back catalogue for their own budget £2.99 Kixx label. The result was that although rumoured to be partially coded (the cover art work had even been done), ‘Mire Mare’ was at best incomplete and US Gold subsequently cancelled the game.
What would ‘Mire Mare’ have been like?
It was envisaged by many that ‘Mire Mare’ was being coded as another Filmation game, but Leigh Loveday from Rare Ltd. revealed in the late 1990’s that it would have been more of a return to the ‘top down’ game play of ‘Sabrewulf’. Leigh even sneekly managed to scan the cover artwork, from Tim Stampers personal folder.
So there we have it; a missing game that could have been a fantastic end to the Ultimate legacy if it were not for a rapid take over from US Gold.. ..fortunately this is not entirely the end of this particular story.
Did a copy of ‘Mire Mare’ actually exist?
In the early 2000’s a claim made by a mysterious ex-employee of Ultimate stated that he was employed in marketing in the late 1980’s and that ‘Mire Mare’ had indeed existed, that he had actually played it and that it was fantastic!
If this was true why wasn’t it released? The source revealed that apparently the Stamper Brothers (owners of Ultimate) were really unhappy that US Gold simply wanted Ultimate for its back catalogue. When they found out that ‘Mire Mare’ (their grand finale title) would have simply been released on the Kixx budget label, they were so disappointed they simply lied and said that it was incomplete.
So far, all of this seems very plausible and very exciting.. ..as it implies that there could well be a near complete copy of the game somewhere in the Rare Ltd. archives or at least held by the Stamper brothers!
Unfortunately, the story had plenty of anomalies.. ..particularly in relation to some of the time-lines described by the source for various games development; they were either simply wrong or implausible. Indeed this ‘former employee’ seemed to be very hard to identify, even by his former colleagues; Leigh Loveday (who worked at Ultimate at the time) confirmed it.. ..he had never heard of this mystery colleague.
So, unfortunately, the existence of a partially working version of ‘Mire Mare’ seemed to be nothing but a hoax.
The Stamper brothers are renowned in the games industry, not only for developing fantastic games, but also because they have rarely given interviews or speak of their work. It seems we will never hear from them if ‘Mire Mare’ did exist in some form.
However, over the years reporters have spoken to various employees at Rare Ltd. (especially after the Stampers left) and inquired if anything was ever revealed about the game. The story is always the same.. ..the artwork had been completed, but nothing else.. ..no game. It seems unlikely that the Stampers would continue the pretence for so many intervening years, so it seems the story ends here – there is no elusive copy of ‘Mire Mare’.
What could have been
But, the story doesn’t completely end here – we can speculate (excuse the pun!) what the actual planned version of ‘Mire Mare’ might have looked like. We will never know for sure, probably only the Stamper brothers know.. ..but there are clues. The cover art work for the game features a fire pit/volcano with flames and a phoenix type creature, but the name suggest a swamp environment. There are other clues.. ..included in the now rare ‘Ultimate a Collected Works’ is an often missing map.
On that map, the ‘Land of Ultimatum’, all of the Sabreman games are fully referenced. However, there are also fire pits which do not feature in any of the released games and must therefore relate to ‘Mire Mare’. Around these fire pits are several areas; ‘Dark Mountains’, ‘Mount Sol’ and ‘Stone Hills’, maybe these were to be zones within the final game?
A long awaited release
The desire for ‘Mire Mare’ is so strong that a group of fan’s have even coded their own homebrew vision of the game, entitled ‘Land of Mire Mare’.. ..and it’s excellent, not quite up to Ultimate standards, but hey.. ..Sabreman finally gets his last adventure!
‘Land of Mire Mare’ was coded by Luca Bordoni (from Italy), Jarrod Bentley (from the UK), Mister Beep (from Poland) and Chris Cowley (from the UK). It was released for the 48K ZX Spectrum in 2014, in similar packaging to that of the original ‘Ultimate’ big box releases.
‘Land of Mire Mare’ is clearly inspired by the Sabreman series and features many recognisable locations and enemies, giving the series some ending justice. Maybe taking the hint from Loveday’s comments on the game, it plays more like ‘Sabre Wulf’ than Ultimate’s later isometric games.
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