George A. Romero has died aged 77

It is with great sadness that the death of George A. Romero has been reported, my thoughts and condolences are with his family.

The contribution that Romero made to the horror genre cannot be understated. It seems a shame that Hollywood does not seem to respect the genre as much as it does others.. .. if there was ever a filmmaker who deserved more recognition for their work, it was surely Romero.

It was reported by the Los Angeles Times, that the director had died in his sleep after a “brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer”.

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NEWS – The Sinclair ZX Spectrum is 35!

Sunday April the 23rd was the 35th Anniversary of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum!

ZX Spectrum 35th Anniversary

This diminutive little marvel with its tiny rubber keys was released 35 years ago in 1982. The collective minds of Sir Clive‘s team and the brilliant industrial design of Rick Dickinson produced one of the best computers to come out of the UK and a machine that many people are still in love with today.

So happy birthday to the ZX Spectrum!

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REVIEW – Rastan Saga (Taito, 1987)

Rastan Saga, originally known in Japan as ‘ラスタンサーガ’, is a side-scrolling platform video game developed by Taito and released to the arcades in 1987. ‘Rastan Saga’ is based on themes of fantasy and mythology and was released simply as ‘Rastan’ outside of Japan. It was a popular arcade game and was subsequently released on many home platforms.

Rastan Saga LOGO

Personal RecollectionI first came across an upright version of the arcade game in the Student Union of Halesowen College in 1987. It was right next to a standard upright version of ‘Outrun’ and whilst ‘Outrun’ initially received more of my attention, I quickly completed ‘Outrun’ and found ‘Rastan’ to be the more challenging game.

The Story

In the game you play as ‘Rastan’ a barbarian warrior who will recapture a kingdom for a princess by embarking on a quest to slay a dragon. Upon your journey to the dragon’s lair you encounter all manner of monsters and hordes based on mythological creatures such as harpies and chimeras.

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‘Rastan Saga’ arcade introduction (Japanese version)

The following introduction is largely based on the text provided with some of the home conversions of the game, in which the story is somewhat changed:

Rastan, barbarian King of Maranna/Ceim is the only man tough enough to liberate his kingdom from the evil influence of the wizard Karg. In an attempt to gain control of the barbarian race the nefarious necromancer has released a host of beasts and demons upon the land.

Protected only by leather and bearing his trusty sword, Rastan hacks his way across a horizontally scrolling landscape of underground passages, grim citadels and rocky cliffs. Unexplored parts of this hostile terrain are connected by flights of steep steps and ropes swinging perilously over lakes of fire. Remote areas boast deadly streams and lava flows: contact with either of these results in instant death.

The wizard has enlisted a grisly crowd of allies, ranging from docile looking lions to ghoulishly aggressive demons. Their instincts are to attack on sight, and the more humanoid beings have seemingly unlimited shot power.

Rastan can find and collect a number of helpful items including more powerful weapons, bonus shields, mantles and also medicines which reduce vulnerability. Some enemies carry jewellery which bear a variety of mysterious powers, and more devious opponents attempt to fool the warrior king by carrying poison in the form of a magic potion.

Each level hides a particularly powerful adversary which must be defeated before passing on to the next. A beating heart and attached energy gauge record health status and should all of Rastan’s five incarnations be lost, the player is given the option of starting again on the last level visited. This option is offered three times after which Rastan’s quest is started again from the beginning.

The barbarian king’s mission reaches its climax in a final confrontation with Karg himself. The wizard takes on the most powerful form he knows: the body of a soul-sucking dragon. Only the most legendary of heroes has the power to pierce his hide.


You control our hero using an eight-way joystick complimented by attack and jump buttons. By using the joystick in combination with the jump button, the player can control both the height of Rastan’s jumps, as well as the direction.

There are a total of six rounds, each consisting of three areas: an outdoor scene, a castle scene and a throne room where the player must confront the individual stage’s boss.

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‘Rastan Saga’ arcade version, round 1

The outdoor areas are themed around fantastical landscapes with changing colours, details and sky effects. The bosses encountered at the end of each stage consist of ‘Graton’ (a robed but skeletal warrior who wields a halberd), ‘Slay’ (a demon swordsman who can sprout wings), ‘Symplegades’ (a wizard), ‘Laios’ (a dragon knight), the ‘Hydra’ (a five-headed snake) and the final boss, the ‘Dragon’.

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‘Rastan Saga’ arcade version, round 1, Castle entrance

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‘Rastan Saga’ arcade version, round 1, inside the Castle

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‘Rastan Saga’ arcade version, round 1 end boss ‘Gratan’

You can pick up items by walking over them; new weapons are obtained by striking them with your current one. All of the weapons and power-ups are only equipped for a short period of time. Icons appear the bottom of the screen to indicate which weapon or power-up is currently equipped and disappear when item’s effect has expired. This is also where the number of lives left, life gauge and ’round’ indicator are shown.

Rastan can only wield one weapon and one piece of armour at a time. Weapons consist of a sword, a mace, an axe and a special fire sword that can also shoot fire balls. Armour consists of a shield, a mantle or a body armour. Other items, such as rings and necklaces, are simply decorative but also add to the cumulative score.. ..they can also be worn at the same time as the current weapon and armour.

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‘Rastan Saga’ arcade version, round 3 in the catacombs

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‘Rastan Saga’ arcade version, round 3 in the castle

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‘Rastan Saga’ arcade version, round 6 the final boss!

Many of the enemies drop jewels that add bonus points if collected.. ..there are also potion bottles that will either restore or deplete the player’s health depending on their colour. A much less common item dropped by some enemies is a golden sheep’s head which will completely restore Rastan’s health.

Hints and tips

The following ‘tips and hints’ can really help to complete the arcade version of ‘Rastan Saga’ and ‘Rastan’. If you want to go simply for a ‘speed run’, keep moving forward and ignore the caves (the game can be completed in a little over 20 mins by really experienced players):

  • If you are playing with a decent sound system you can actually hear your heart beat getting faster and louder as you run out of health. This matches the heart icon on the health bar which also pumps faster as your health  weakens;
  • Pushing up and the jump button together will cause Rastan to jump higher than pushing the jump button alone. A common feature now, this was quite revolutionary at the time of the games release;
  • Always go after the special weapons where possible; if special weapons run out, jumping and striking doubles the damage done with the sword;
  • If you are going for a high-score, always ‘pick-up’ the poisons. They are worth a lot of points;
  • In ‘Rastan‘ the game attract sequence does not reveal the purpose of the rod. If you are carrying it, killing an enemy of any type causes all other on-screen enemies of the same type to die.. eh!;
  • The ring can always be obtained in the first round castle. Proceed past the 3 ropes used to traverse the first large fire pit, down the next long chain and then up the next long chain. Slowly nudge this chain off screen and two guards appear on the left-hand side, one of which always carries the ring;
  • Chains in castles can often be traversed upwards much quicker by repeatedly jumping against a nearby wall. Others needing to be traversed downwards can be missed by jumping off and falling. The round 4 boss is virtually impossible to defeat unless this tactic is used;
  • The ‘mud pits’ first encountered on round 2 will not kill you, they just cause you to sink, requiring many quick jumps to escape them;
  • Repeated high vertical jumps are a good method to ‘stall’ on slopes approaching bouncing fireballs.

Regional differences

The original Japanese version entitled ‘Rastan Saga’ features a really nice opening sequence, which thoroughly explains the purpose of Rastan’s journey. This opening is absent from the other versions released worldwide. In addition, when the player completes a round the ‘victory’ screen text continues the story-line in the Japanese version, which is simply generic text in other versions, stating “You are a brave fighter to have cleared such a difficult stage“.

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‘Rastan Saga’ title screen, Japanese arcade version

rastan title RestOWorld

‘Rastan Saga’ title screen, US arcade version

However, the non-Japanese versions do feature a different attract sequence which shows all the items that can be obtained by the player along with their effect.. ..but this still offers little in regard to what the actual story is about.

Finally, in the original Japanese ‘Rastan Saga’ there are far fewer bats in the castle of Round 1 than in overseas territories.. ..which is great as they are an unnecessary nuisance.

The corollary of all of these changes is that the original Japanese version of the arcade game, ‘Rastan Saga‘, is slightly more enjoyable to play, overall.

The system

Rastan’ is based around a fairly complex PCB that has many similarities to the Capcom CPS1 boards, but is actually unique to Taito. The main CPU is a Motorola 68000 with a Zilog Z80 acting as a co-processor. The excellent music and effects are provided by Yamaha YM2151 and OKI MSM5205 sound chips. Whilst all of this is the same as the CPS1 system the roms are not simply replaceable as a ‘cartridge’ on the Taito board.

The board adheres to JAMMA standards and has proven relatively resilient.. ..although there are numerous reports on arcade forums of graphical aberrations, which are fortunately fairly easy to fix by re-flashing the appropriate eproms. As to be expected such issues are usually exacerbated in the bootleg versions of the game.


The fairly complex ‘Rastan Saga’ main PCB

Both ‘Rastan Saga‘ and ‘Rastan‘ were supplied as upgrade kits for other Taito machines, where the main PCB board, marquee, screen bezel and control panel stickers were provided. Some of the machines therefore have either the wrong side-art, no side-art or simply a generic Taito artwork.


Rastan’ is obviously inspired by the ‘Conan the Barbarian‘ saga novels, by Robert E Howard, both in terms of his looks and motivation. Indeed the player select screen shows a clearly aged Rastan sitting on a throne which mirrors the ending of the 1982 film.. ..making it clear that Rastan, like Conan, is not embarking on his quest for purely altruistic reasons, there is a price to be paid by the princess for slaying the dragon.. ..her kingdom.

Rasyan US flyer

US arcade flyer

In the background of the first stage, giant stone statues can be seen which bear more than a passing resemblance to the statues that featured in ‘The Lord of the Rings – Fellowship of the Ring’. While the film was produced several years after ‘Rastan’, these statues are based on artwork that featured in the deluxe addition of the Tolkien’s original 1968 book. Clearly the book influenced their inclusion in the game.

Here are some other interesting features of the arcade version:

  • The main character, Rastan, appears as a selectable character called ‘Miracle Rastan’, in ‘Champion Wrestler’, another arcade game by Taito;
  • There were two sequels to the game – the largely disappointing ‘Rastan Saga II‘ and ‘Warrior Blade: Rastan Saga Episode III‘. The latter of which also contained additional playable characters and was played across two screens;
  • The game contains several bonus items that are not normally dropped by enemies – a golden armature, a brown scroll and a yellow scroll. Graphics for these can be seen in the games tile-sets. Indeed, changing the game’s code can cause them to be dropped. The golden armature acts like the existing armature, however, the scrolls do nothing;
  • The game contains a built in test mode, activated by the value of two bytes towards the end of the games code. By changing these invincibility can be selected, causing ‘NO-HIT’ to be displayed at the bottom of the title screen. The starting level can also be modified;
  • The game forbids players entering the initials ‘SEX’ on the high-score table. If you try, they get changed to ‘AHA’.

The soundtrack

The arcade versions of both ‘Rastan Saga’ and ‘Rastan’ contain the same excellent and exciting sound track, composed by Naoto Yagishita and Masahiko Takaki, which really brings the game ‘alive’ (although ‘Rastan’ omits the intro, which also has a really nice track associated with it). Added to this are some really nice sound effects and a powerful rumbling bass.. ..listen out for the excruciating cry of pain, when you lose a life.

Pony Canyon/Scitron released a limited-edition soundtrack album for this game in 1988 and Zuntata Records (Zuntata is Taito’s ‘in house’ band) also released a limited-edition soundtrack in 1999.

Rastan flyer UK

An unusual ‘Rastan Saga’ flyer for the UK territories

Ports to other systems

Due to the popularity of the arcade version, ‘Rastan’ was ported to the Commodore 64Sinclair ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC in Europe by Imagine Software in 1988 (which had recently been famously taken over by Ocean Software Ltd.).


The Sinclair ZX Spectrum version

The Sinclair ZX Spectrum version was particularly well regarded and awarded 9/10 in the July 1988 issue of Your Sinclair. Indeed, it was placed at number 54 in the Your Sinclair’s Top 100 list.. ..although it plays well and is a good approximation of the arcade original I find the enemies tend to blend in to the detailed backgrounds a little too much; as a result you die rather unfairly. In contrast, the Commodore 64 port was rushed and is rumoured to be unplayable due to an impossible platform jump about half-way through.


MSX2 Version

Taito later exported a fixed version of the Commodore 64 port to the United States in 1990, releasing it alongside two additional versions for the IBM PC and Apple IIGS. Both are poor.

In 1988, Taito also developed its own conversions of ‘Rastan’ for the MSX2 in Japan and the Master System in North America and Europe (both versions feature redesigned levels, with the Master System also containing some alternative boss characters). The Master System version is particularly good and was later ported to the Game Gear and released exclusively in Japan in 1991.

A demo version for the Atari ST was produced, but the game never was released commercially on the 16 bit computers.

Finally, after these largely substandard ports a practically arcade perfect version of the ‘Rastan’ arcade game was included in Taito Legends Vol. 1, which was released for the Sony PlayStation 2Microsoft Xbox and Windows PC in 2006. These are still easy to find and easily one of the best ways to play the game today, without resorting to the murky world of emulation (although they are also, of course, emulated versions of the game)!

Near perfect emulation is available via MAME if you own the original roms.

Rastan Arcade Upright

‘Rastan’ upright arcade cabinet, with generic side-art

Retrollection recommendation

Rastan’ is a fantastic game.., exciting and addictive. The gameplay, whilst simple is really satisfying and the soundtrack and effects really add to the overall experience. This is a game that needs to be played with the sound cranked-up loud so you can really feel the bass thumping away.. ..driving you forward on your quest. Fortunately, the ‘Taito Legends Vol. 1’ version of the game is fairly easy to find – so purchase, focus and get ready for a real ‘thrill ride’ of a game.. … totally recommended!

CC logo Fair use ‘Rastan Saga’, ‘Rastan’ and ‘Taito’ are registered trademarks
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REVIEW – Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (Capcom, 1988)

‘Ghouls ‘n Ghosts’ was originally released in Japan as ‘大魔界村’or ‘Daimakaimura, the literal translation of which is “Great Demon World Village“. It is a side-scrolling platform video game developed by Capcom and released to the arcades in 1988. It is the second game released in the ‘Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise and was arguably more successful than its predecessor both in terms of sales and revenue. As a result it was eventually ported to a number of other platforms.


Personal recollectionI first came across an upright version of the game in a bar called ‘ Moriarty’s’ (long since gone) on Queen Square in Wolverhampton in 1988. I was at University at the time and whilst everyone else was getting drunk and generally talking rubbish, I would occasionally have a quick blast on this excellent, but taxing game.

The story

Once again, as in ‘Ghosts ‘n Goblins’ you play as Arthur, a knight who is on a quest to rescue his beloved princess, Prin Prin. Three years have passed and the princess, along with many other local villagers, have been possessed and incapacitated by the evil dark lord Lucifer (renamed Loki in the English-language Mega Drive and Master System versions).ghouls_flyer_trans

Gameplay is similar to that of ‘Ghosts ‘n Goblins’ in that you control Arthur through a series of demonic and gothic horror inspired levels, fighting off all manner of demonic and undead creatures in your quest to restore the villagers and rescue the princess.

The gameplay is evolved somewhat from its predecessor in that as well as weapon pickups there are also different types of armour, which can give more fire power. Arthur can now also fire up and down (whilst jumping), in addition to left and right.

The player has to traverse five levels before they can enter the sixth and final level, Lucifer’s chamber. As is the tradition in most of the ‘Ghosts ‘n Goblins‘series, the player has to complete the main levels (one to five in this case), twice. One the second play through Arthur is able to obtain a special weapon, which is needed to defeat Lucifer.. addition to having equipped both the magic armour and the Psycho Cannon, the player must have also successfully defeated ‘Beelzebub’ the ‘fly boss’ at the end of the fifth level in order to be finally allowed into Lucifer’s chamber.

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‘Ghouls ‘n Ghosts’ title screen, arcade version

The levels


Ghouls ‘n Ghosts in game map, arcade version

As with the original ‘Ghosts ‘n Goblins’ the player is shown a fairly detailed in-game map at the start of each new life.

Level 1 – The Haunted Graveyard and the Haunted Hill

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Level 1, arcade version

Level 2 – Village of Decay and the Village on Fire

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Level 2, arcade version

Level 3 – Baron Rankle’s Tower and the Horrible Faced Mouintains

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Level 3, arcade version

Level 4 – The Crystal Cave and the Icy Descent

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Level 4, arcade version

Level 5 – Lucifer’s Castle (parts 1 & 2)

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Level 5, arcade version

Level E – Lucifer’s Chamber

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Level E, arcade version

Treasure chests and the evil magician

Evil magician

The Evil Magician!

Throughout the game, traversing certain locations will cause a treasure chest to be unearthed, which can then be broken open with the current weapon. When opened, the treasure chests can reveal special armour or another weapon. The special armour allows you to ‘charge’ Arthur’s current weapon (by holding the fire button) to release a powerful magical attack (e.g. lightening), which varies according to the weapon being currently used.

There are, however, two exceptions to what can happen when opening a treasure chest:

  • More often than not an evil magician will materialise from the treasure chest. If not immediately killed by Arthur, the magician will cast a spell on him turning you into either an old man on crutches or a duck. Whilst both are very amusing to watch, the player is left defenceless against attack from the various enemies on the screen. The spell wears off after a while returning Arthur to normal;
  • If Arthur is in possession of the special weapon, it will not charge up and have a special attack, unlike all the other weapons.

The soundtrack and audio effects

The excellent and spooky original soundtrack and audio effects for the arcade version were composed by Tamayo Kawamoto. Many ports of the game to home computers in the late 80’s include an alternative soundtrack by Tim Follin which consists of some new arrangements. Follin’s soundtrack on the Commodore 64Atari ST and Amiga versions has received much critical acclaim (the selection of pieces and some scoring differs slightly between the different systems).

The CP Arcade System

The arcade version of ‘Ghouls ‘n Ghosts‘ runs on the Capcom CP System (システム), one of the early arcade system boards that ran games from replaceable roms. The system is also known CPS1 to distinguish it from the successor CPS2 system. The ability to change games by simply replacing the roms and the cabinet artwork was a very welcome development and made the systems cheaper to produce and reduced overheads for arcade operators. However, the system was quickly plagued by a multitude of bootleg roms; in some regions these were more common than the official Capcom ones.

The system is based around a Motorola 68000 running at 10Mhz with a Ziolog Z80 running at 3.579 Mhz acting as a co-processor. The very competent sound abilities of the system were provided by a Yamaha YM2151 and Oki OKI6295 chips. The system adheres to JAMMA standards.

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The Ghouls ‘n Ghosts logic board, a Capcom CPS 1 System

Insight – the Capcom CPS Changer

Because of the replaceable nature of the game roms the CP System was used as the basis for the unsuccessful and largely forgotten Capcom Power System (CPS) Changer. This was Capcom’s attempt to enter the domestic markets, similar to and aimed to compete against, the NeoGeo AES.

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The Capcom CPS Changer

The CPS changer is little more than a SuperGun JAMMA TV adapter in a box with Super Famicom controller ports attached. Protection against using the arcade version of the roms in the home system was achieved simply by changing the physical shape of the game cartridge.

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The Capcom Power Stick controller

Capcom also released the Power Stick Controller around the same time as the CPS Changer, which along with the games completed the system. The Power Stick Controller was also compatible with the Super Famicon/Super Nintendo due to it using the same underlying hardware as Super Famicon controllers and their connectors. The CPS Changer was only released in Japan and was not successful.. ..only a handful of games were ever released for the CPS Changer and unfortunately they did not include ‘Ghouls ‘n Ghosts‘.

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US Flyer for the arcade version of the game

Ports to other systems

Due to the popularity of the arcade version of ‘Ghouls ‘n Ghosts’ it has received numerous ports to other systems over the years:

Various ports were released in Europe in 1989 for the Amstrad CPCCommodore AmigaAtari STCommodore 64 and Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Unfortunately, they were all developed by the same team (Software Creations) and are pale imitations of the arcade original. Whilst this is acceptable, indeed somewhat to be expected on the 8-Bit machines, even the versions on very capable 16-Bit systems like the Amiga are poor in comparison.


‘Ghouls ‘n Ghosts’, Level 1 on the Commodore Amiga

This is particularly disappointing as the Amiga port of the original ‘Ghosts ‘n Goblins’, coded by Elite Systems, was almost arcade perfect as the Amiga hardware is relatively similar to that of the arcade machines.

Other notable conversions have included:

  • daimakaimura megadrive

    The SEGA Mega Drive version

    SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis port of ‘Ghouls ‘n Ghosts’ was also released by SEGA in 1989 in Japan and North America; and in 1990 in Europe. SEGA handled the conversion ‘in house’ and whilst lacking some detail compared to the arcade original, it is very close and one of the best games on the system. Due to the popularity of the arcade original the Mega Drive version was also one of the most expensive games on the system, retailing for £45 in the UK upon release. This version was re-released as a handheld TV game with Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition in 2005 and as a downloadable Virtual Console game for the Wii in 2007.

  • SEGA also released a Master System version of the game in 1990. Due to the lack of processing power on their 8-bit system, significant changes were made to the game play. The power-up system was modified, allowing the player to enter secret shops and upgrade parts of their armour. In addition, armour now includes helmets, chest plates and boots, which give the player access to new weapons and magic or allow the player to sustain more damage or increase their speed, respectively.
  • An excellent SuperGrafx port of ‘Daimakaimura’ was coded and released by NEC Avenue in 1990 and is one of only five games released for this short-lived system. Whilst it captures the arcade game-play well, the music is slightly off as are some colours.. ..however, some would argue that the music is actually nicer in this version.

‘Daimakaimura’ for the NEC SuperGrafx

  • A pixel perfect version of ‘Daimakaimura’ was released by Capcom in 1994 for the Sharp X68000. This is no surprise as Sharp’s system was very close to the arcade machines of the time and Capcom actually used them as CPS development units.
  • In 1998, Capcom released Capcom Generation 2 for the Sony PlayStation and SEGA Saturn in Japan, a compilation which included ‘Ghouls ‘n Ghosts’ along with ‘Ghosts ‘n Goblins’ and ‘Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts’. The PlayStation version of this compilation was re-released as a bundle in Europe with three other volumes entitled ‘Capcom Generations’ under the title of ‘Capcom Generations: Chronicles of Arthur’. Capcom later released ‘Capcom Classics Collection Vol. 1 for the Sony PlayStation 2 and Microsoft Xbox in 2005 in North America and Europe and ‘Capcom Classics Collection: Reloaded’ for the Sony PlayStation Portable in 2006, which includes all the ‘Capcom Generations’. Whilst the emulation on these compilations is very good and in the main represents pixel perfect renditions of the arcade originals, the screen display is often a little too dark on some of them.

‘Capcom Generations’ for the PAL Sony PlayStation.. ..disc 2 is of interest!

Near perfect emulation is available via MAME if you own the original roms.

GnG Arcade upright cabinet

Ghouls ‘n Ghosts upright arcade cabinet

Retrollection recommendation?

Whilst as infuriatingly hard as its predecessor, there is just as much to enjoy here. I would say that in general ‘Ghouls n’ Ghosts‘ is slightly easier than ‘Ghosts n’ Goblins‘, particularly in the middle levels, but the first stage is tough.. ..especially when you are ascending the ‘Haunted Hill’. Nonetheless,  I love playing ‘Ghouls n’ Ghosts’ and the additional features and graphical upgrades are spot on.. ..this is a no brainer recommendation.. ..go rescue princess Prin Prin, again!

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RETROSPECTIVE – Masquerade (Jonathan Cape, 1979)

Masquerade Book.pngMasquerade’ is an illustrated story book written by Kit Williams and published by Jonathan Cape in August 1979. It went on to become an international best seller with hundreds of thousands of copies being sold in the UK alone. The book sparked an ‘armchair’ treasure hunt craze, which survives to this day.

Somewhat ironically, the story of the book is far more interesting than the story contained within the book.. brought the author/illustrator unwelcome fame and a little controversy at the time, contributing to him shying away from the public gaze for 20 years before being reunited with his ‘prize’.

Masquerade – the story of a story

It seems hard to believe that this story starts with Kit Williams and renowned TV presenter Bamber Gascoigne (a credible witness) secretly burying a bejewelled golden hare in the grounds of Ampthill Park in the middle of the night on the 7th August 1979. Although, the actual story, of course, starts somewhat earlier.

In the early 70’s Kit Williams had been challenged by his publisher, Tom Maschler, of the publishing firm Jonathan Cape, to “do something no one has ever done before” with a picture book. William’s accepted the challenge and wanted to create a picture book where the reader would be encouraged to study the pictures in detail instead of giving them a passing glance. To do this he decided that the book, and in particular the pictures, would provide the clues to the location of a buried treasure that he would also hand craft from gold.

As such ‘Masquerade’ features fifteen beautify detailed paintings which serve to illustrate the story of a hare named Jack Hare, who is asked to carry a treasure from the Moon (depicted as a woman) to her true love, the Sun (a man). On reaching the Sun, Jack finds that he has lost the treasure, and the reader is left to discover its location.

Kit Williams has been quoted as saying “If I was to spend two years on the 16 paintings for Masquerade I wanted them to mean something. I recalled how, as a child, I had come across ‘treasure hunts’ in which the puzzles were not exciting nor the treasure worth finding. So I decided to make a real treasure, of gold, bury it in the ground and paint real puzzles to lead people to it. The key was to be Catherine of Aragon‘s Cross at Ampthill, near Bedford, casting a shadow, like the pointer of a sundial.”

Personal reflection

My first introduction to ‘Masquerade’ was at my cousin’s house in the winter of ’81. They had a lot of books, very unlike the situation at my parents’ house, ‘Masquerade’ was one of their favourites. I was immediately enthralled with ‘Masquerade’ and my cousin and I were convinced (along with probably the rest of the UK) that we could work out where the treasure was buried.. ..suffice to say, we couldn’t!

The treasure hunt

The treasure in question was a marvellous 18 carat gold hare on a segmented chain, fashioned as a large filigree pendant, bestowed with jewels.. was estimated (at the time) to be worth c. £2,500 and would eventually sell for more than ten-times that amount.

Williams encased the hare in wax, sealed inside a detailed ceramic hare-shaped casket (both to protect it from erosion and to foil metal detectors). The casket was inscribed with the legend “I am the Keeper of the Jewel of MASQUERADE, which lies waiting safe inside me for YOU or ETERNITY“.

Masquerade Jewel

The golden Hare

Soon after Williams buried the treasure, with Gascoigne as a witness, he publicly announced his forthcoming book. Revealing that it contained all clues necessary to locate the treasure’s precise hiding place in Britain to “within a few inches.” At the time, the only additional clue he provided was that the hare was buried on public property that could be easily accessed. To ensure that readers from further afield had an equal chance of winning, Williams also announced that he would confirm the first precisely correct answer sent to him by post.

For three years after the books publication Williams was inundated, on a daily basis, with post from treasure hunters who claimed to be close to finding the location.. ..nearly all were nowhere near finding the actual solution and hence location of the treasure.

Treasure hunters often dug ground on public and private property acting on hunches.. ..indeed ‘Haresfield Beacon‘, unsurprisingly,  became a popular site for searchers with Williams eventually paying for a of a sign to be erected notifying them that the hare was not hidden on the premises. Real-life locations reproduced in the paintings were also routinely searched by treasure hunters, including Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire.

The golden hare is found!

Two physics teachers, Mike Barker of William Hulme’s Grammar School and John Rousseau of Rossall School, correctly deciphered the clues within the book to discover the location of the golden hare in March 1982. However, they could not find it when digging at Ampthill and were subsequently disappointed to discover, upon contacting Williams, that another hunter had just sent in the location and successfully claimed the prize from underneath their noses.

Just a few weeks prior to Barker and Rousseau’s contact with Williams he had received a letter and location map from a ‘Ken Thomas’. Williams realised that although Thomas had not solved the puzzle as intended, seemingly blundering in with a lucky guess, he was indeed in the right location. As such, Williams immediately phoned him to tell him where to dig.. ..amazingly it is reputed that Thomas eventually found the clay casket containing the hare in one of the earth piles left by Barker and Rousseau, who had not recognised it as the prize!

It seems that Barker and Rousseau were the only people to ever correctly decipher the clues as Williams had intended.

Upon reflection, it may seem that Williams was a little too hasty to award the prize to Thomas, who had not correctly deciphered his clues.. ..however, by then the book had been out for more than two years, sold over a million copies world-wide, with very few even coming  close to solving the main puzzle. Williams was immensely relieved that someone was finally at least in the right location.. this time both the press and public were becoming sceptical that there was actually a prize! Indeed, William’s publisher even received a letter accusing him of fabricating the artist, arguing that ‘Kit Williams’ was simply an anagram of ‘I Will Mask It’!

The golden hare was eventually removed from its casket and wax for the first time since it’s burial by Kit Williams himself, at the behest and in the presence of Thomas.

The solution to the puzzle

Masquerade‘ presents an overly elaborate puzzle, it’s no wonder the majority were either way off course or had no idea whatsoever what was going on (including me)! As a result of the puzzle being so complex, Williams made his next treasure hunt book (‘The Bee on the Comb’, 1984) much easier to solve.

Of course, to fulfil Williams’s desire for people to examine his exquisite pictures in detail, several clues are hidden within the fifteen illustrations; the actual text in the book is largely irrelevant to the solving of the puzzles.  The main clue is revealed by correctly interpreting both the 4th “Miss Penny Pockets” and 12thIsaac Newton” paintings in the book. The colours in the magic square pinned to the wall in the 12th painting correspond to the numbers in the magic square on the 4th painting. This colour sequence also matches the rings on the puppets in painting 12.. strings connecting to a puppet, if you draw a line in each painting, running from each creatures (including humans and any ‘hidden’ animals) left eye, through the longest digit on its left hand it will point to one of the letters on the border legend (as per the clue on the book’s title page, about using your eyes and pointing to the prize). This is then repeated, from the left eye through the longest digit on the left foot; the right eye through the longest digit on the right hand; and finally the right eye through the longest digit on the right foot (this is only done for eyes and digits that are visible in the painting). The letters in the frames of the pictures that these lines point to can be made to form words; either by treating them as anagrams or by correctly applying the sequence of animals and digits described in the 12th painting.

Following this method reveals fifteen short phrases, which when collated form the following nineteen-word message/instruction:


Mascerade Monument

The Catherine of Aragon monument

The acrostic of these words and phrases then reads “CLOSEBYAMPTHILL“. Properly interpreted, this tells the reader that the treasure is buried near the cross-shaped monument to Catherine of Aragon in Ampthill Park. The precise spot to dig is revealed by the tip of the monument’s shadow (literally a cross marking the location) at noon on the day of either the Spring/vernal or Autumnal equinox.

Personal reflection

The irony of this for me personally is that I first read Masquerade at my cousins house and we imagined the golden hare buried somewhere remote; a vast distance from where we were sitting. They lived in Luton.. ..the elusive treasure we sought was a mere 14 miles away!

Many additional hints, or ‘confimers‘ using Williams own prose, are scattered throughout the book. For example, in painting 2 “The Sun and the Moon dance“, the hands of the two figures are clasped together, crossing and pointing at the date of the spring equinox; this is ‘balanced’ at the bottom of the picture with the scales pointing to the date of the alternative autumnal equinox. In painting 3 “The day begins” the rather obvious Hare is standing on a stone which resembles a frog.. Ampthill park there is a weathered stone know as the ‘Frogstone’. There is a picture of a football field in painting 5 “Tara Tree Tops” indicting the location is  near a football field and the clock in painting 10 “Jack in the green” is very similar to the one in Ampthill itself (unfortunately, this latter clue is slightly obscured by the centrefold of the book itself). Surprisingly for such a complicated puzzle book, the 1st painting “One of six to eight” and the associated text instantly presents one of the biggest clues within the entire book, hinting at a link to Catherine of Aragon. This page also states, “In the earth am I”, confirming that the treasure is indeed buried in the ground somewhere, and not inside a building, vehicle, or other man-made structure.

Clues in the book are presented at various levels of obscurity, for example one of the more unnoticed clues is one that confirms the critical link between paintings 4 and 12.. ..this is indicated by the so-called ‘hare bell’.. is mentioned a few times in the story, and appears a few times in the paintings… but there are only two story/painting combinations where it is both mentioned and pictured – namely, paintings 4 and 12!

However, there are also many red herrings. For example, painting 13 “Jack meets the fish” is of a rather obvious red fish which reveals the word ‘IN’, not essential to the solving of the riddle. In addition, painting 5 “Tara Tree Tops” whilst revealing the football field clue also contains a red herring number square within it; the numbers in the football field are atomic numbers, and when translated into their elemental abbreviations, spell out “FALSE NOUU THINK AGAIN“.

Some letters in the borders of the paintings also have small barbs on them or are coloured red; they’re quite easy to spot. By rearranging these letters you can form secret words.. ..they are not related to the main riddle but they do refer to the paintings they surround, so they’re simple self-contained puzzles. Finally, a hare is also ‘hidden’ in each of the paintings for the reader to spot.

As the main puzzle was so difficult to solve, Kit Williams printed a completely separate illustrated clue (including the familiar hidden hare, a ‘red herring’ and a self-contained secret ‘Merry Christmas’ message) in the Sunday Times on December 21st 1980.. ..which largely seemed to confuse everyone even more!

The controversial and mysterious winner

The announcement of the winner was strange from the start as ‘Ken Thomas’ proved to be a very secretive individual. He did not want any publicity surrounding him and was very reluctant to appear on photos or give interviews, indeed he often hid his face from view and only agreed to an interview on an a related BBC Omnibus programme (in 1982) by being allowed to sit obscured behind a reeded glass window.. ..there seemed to be more to his secrecy that just wanting to simply stay out of the lime-light.

On December 11th 1988The Sunday Times accused ‘Ken Thomas’ of fraud. Firstly, his name was revealed to be a pseudonym of Dugald Thompson. They then went on to state that Thompson’s business partner, John Guard, had been the boyfriend of Veronica Robertson, a former live-in girlfriend of Kit Williams. Guard had allegedly convinced Robertson to help them find the buried jewel because both were said to be animal rights activists and Guard promised to donate any profits to the animal rights cause.

The Sunday Times alleged that while living with Williams, Robertson had learned of the approximate location of the hare, while remaining ignorant of the proper solution to the book’s master riddle. After supposedly finding out from Robertson that the hare was in Ampthill, Guard and two assistants were said to have started searching for it using metal detectors. After searching for some time with no success, they drew a crude sketch of the location, which Thompson then submitted to Williams as ‘Thomas’, and it was this that Williams acknowledged as the first correct answer.

Williams, understandably, was shocked to discover the scandal and is quoted as saying: “This tarnishes ‘Masquerade’ and I’m shocked by what has emerged. I feel a deep sense of responsibility to all those many people who were genuinely looking for it. Although I didn’t know it, it was a skeleton in my cupboard and I’m relieved it has come out.”

Dugald Thompson has rarely spoken about these allegations, but did surface in 2009 to tell the BBC that the Sunday Times account of things was wrong; but was unable to reveal how he actually found the jewel for “legal reasons“.

Robertson has always maintained her innocence in the finding of the original treasure, insisting that she never knew the location of the jewel or even which part of the world it had been buried.

Insight – a continued deception?

However, the apparent deception by Thompson and Guard may not have simply stopped with the claim on the jewel.. ..shortly after ‘locating’ the golden hare they founded a software company called “Haresoft” (which had at least two different PO Box addresses, see the cassette inlay images below). The company offered £30k or the actual golden hare as a prize for a new contest which took the form of a two computer games, under the ‘HARERAISER‘ moniker; ‘Prelude‘ and ‘Finale‘. The games, heavily advertised and released on nearly every single 8-bit platform of the time, were very simple (each being only c. 8 kilobytes in size) but cost an eye-watering £8.95 each.. ..rather suspiciously you were forced to purchase both to complete the puzzle.

Indeed the winner would have been required to send both of their game cassettes back to Haresoft (to which of the two PO Box’s being somewhat unclear) as proof of purchase !

Hareraiser Prelude

‘HARERAISER (Prelude)’ inlay for the 48k Sinclair ZX Spectrum

It seems highly unlikely, based on the dubious nature of Thompson and Guard, that a solution actually exists for the games. Even when examining the underlying code, both seem to be little more than a collection of meaningless text and simplistic graphics intended to relinquish hopeful treasure-hunters of their hard-earned cash.. ..but surely, if this was a scam, it was too obvious, too easy to prove?

Well not really.. ..if pressed, it would have been fairly simple for Haresoft to concoct a spurious solution to the competition to prevent any further investigation or accusations of a ruse.

Hareraiser Finale

‘HARERAISER (Finale)’ inlay for the 48k Sinclair ZX Spectrum

Fortunately, the public were indeed sceptical and the company and its games, were unsuccessful; ‘Haresoft’ going into liquidation shortly after launching ‘Finale‘ – which due to very poor sales is now, ironically, quite rare and collectable.

Unsurprisingly, no winner of the ‘HARERAISER’ competition was ever announced.. ..even although, Thompson and Guard reputed that TV star Anneka Rice (of ‘Treasure Hunt‘ fame) had spontaneously given a clue to complete the game at an unrecorded and undisclosed time in Hamley’s of London?!?

So, did the games present a genuine solvable puzzle and a chance to win £30k or was this a complete scam? I’ll let you decide that one for yourself!

What happened to the golden hare?

The golden hare was later auctioned at Sotheby’s in December 1988, selling for £31,900 to an anonymous buyer. Williams himself went there to bid, but dropped out at £6,000. It was put up for sale to compensate for the losses incurred by the collapse of “Haresoft”.

The treasure’s whereabouts then remained unknown for over 20 years, until it again came to light in 2009.

The BBC Radio 4 programme, ‘The Grand Masquerade’, broadcast 14th July 2009, told the story of the creation and solution of the puzzle. Williams was interviewed and presenter John O’Farrell claimed that this was the first time Williams had talked about the scandal for 20 years. During the interview Williams expressed the desire to see the hare again. Hearing this, the granddaughter of the current owner arranged for Williams to be reunited briefly with his work, which was featured in a television documentary, ‘The Man Behind the Masquerade’, which aired on BBC Four on 2nd December 2009.

More recently, the hare has been displayed at the V&A Museum, London, as part of its “British Design 1948–2012” retrospective in 2012.

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RETROSPECTIVE – Dark Seed II (Cyberdreams, 1995)

Dark Seed II’ is a 1995 psychological horror game and sequel to the point-and-click adventure game ‘Dark Seed’, which was itself released in 1992. It continues the story of the protagonist ‘Mike Dawson’ and his adventures in the H.R. Giger inspired ‘Dark World’.

Unlike the original game the main character is not portrayed by the real ‘Mike Dawson’ (the designer and producer of the original game), who had by this time left Cyberdreams.. ..instead being portrayed by an actor named Chris Gilbert.

‘Dark Seed II’ was written by the novelist Raymond Benson, who would later go on to write James Bond stories.

‘Dark Seed II’ was released for Microsoft Windows 3.1x, Apple Macintosh (both in a similar box to the original game) the SEGA Saturn and the Sony PlayStation.. ..although the latter two, as with the original game, were only released in Japan. Again, it is largely based around the fantastic biomechanical artwork of H. R. Giger.

Synopsis (contains spoilers)


Mike Dawson returns – Windows 3.1x version

Mike Dawson is now living at home in Crowley, Texas with his mother, after selling up his Victorian house in Woodland Hills. Although he is trying to put his horrific encounters with the Ancients behind him he is still plagued by nightmares and is recovering from a mental breakdown brought on by his previous adventure.

Mike grew up in Crowley and he hopes that being in his home town with his mother will give him some much needed solace.

A year has passed since the first game, but Mike is still very much haunted by his recent past. Worse still is the fact that his former girlfriend, Rita, has recently been found murdered shortly after they rekindled their relationship at a High School reunion. Poor old Mike is firmly in the frame for the murder and everybody in Crowley suspects he did it, with the exception of his old friend Jack.


Windows 3.1x version

Again, it quickly becomes evident (from watching the TV!) that the Ancients are somehow behind Rita’s murder and Mike must again cross between the alternative realities to find what is happening and to clear his name.. ..maybe also to escape the Ancients, once and for all!

Unfortunately, the Ancients have no intention of leaving Mike alone and are again intent on using him for their plans to take over the world.


The SVGA resolution finally does the Giger artwork justice – Windows 3.1x version

It is not long before Mike dies in the game (which can be for a number of reasons/actions) and as a consequence, once again, he encounters the strangely beautiful ‘Keeper of the Scrolls’ in the ‘Dark World’. She informs him that he is destined to die, but on this occasion she will be able to return Mike to the real world. However, if Mike dies a second time he will return to her to be plunged into a river of blood for eternity.

The ‘Keeper of the Scrolls’ also informs Mike that the Ancients have created a monster which she referees to as the ‘Behemoth’ and that it has sucked the ‘life force’ from the Earth (this scenario can also happen near to the ending of the game if Mike fails to race through the ‘Maze of Mirrors’ – located in a carnival that has come to town – before the Behemoth, as it will then cross into the real world and become immortal).


Windows 3.1x version

Once Mike has talked to several people in different locations around Crowley, including repeated conversations with his friend Jack, he enters the Dark World, once again. As before Mike needs to make the crossing several times in order to collect various items and solve puzzles. However, on one occasion he does not realise he is still in the Dark World, as this time it looks exactly like his mother’s house. Indeed, during this section Mike thinks he is taking to his mother (as usual, busy cooking) until, shockingly, her head explodes!


Windows 3.1x version

Mike then sees a vision of Rita shrouded in the vapours of his dead moms cooking. Rita explains that the Behemoth can be killed using a special sword, which is held by another Ancient called the ‘Keeper of the Sword’.

After Mike obtains the sword the ‘Keeper of the Scrolls’ advises him to take a short-cut through the ‘Maze of Mirrors’ and he should then be able to meet and kill the Behemoth.

Mike does so and then proceeds destroys the Ancient’s spaceship (again!), being congratulated by the ‘Keeper of the Scrolls’.. ..or at least, seemingly the ‘Keeper of the Scrolls’.

He wakes up in his psychiatrist’s office and finds Jack there next to the body of the obviously recently murdered psychiatrist. Mike accuses Jack of being the killer, who laughs and informs Mike that he is actually the murder.. he and Mike are in reality the very same person! Mike now realising that Jack is his ‘Dark World’ counterpart (as seen in the opening titles) attacks Jack but is overpowered and killed by Jack using the same knife that he just killed the psychiatrist with.


Windows 3.1x version

Sheriff Butler and his deputy then arrive on the scene, apparently totally oblivious to Jack’s presence, concluding that Mike is indeed the murder of Rita and the psychiatrist, as well as the Mayor and others that have been killed throughout the duration of the game. They conclude that Mike was a deranged serial killer who then committed suicide.

Jack is finally seen leaving the Dark World on his bike, leaving it ambiguous as to whether Mike really was a serial killer, or if the entire saga was a delusion and part of Mike’s ongoing mental condition.


Windows 3.1x version

Is it any good?

Not especially.. ..which is a real shame. The artwork is still fantastic and benefits from being at a higher SVGA resolution and colour pallet than the original, but ‘Dark Seed II’ falls short of the original, for a number of reasons.

But, let’s start with some positives as there are some improvements.. ..the interface has been refined and the graphics have again been done very well (using similar techniques to the used for first game), in many cases looking much better than the original (particularly the ‘real world’ scenes).. is certainly the more colourful of the two. The music is also much better, bringing an appropriate level of atmosphere without being intrusive. I contains some appropriate and interesting motifs, which are similar in nature to those used in Twin Peaks.

We find out much more about the ancients in this second outing, which whilst removing some of their mystery, is an interesting insight into the overall story. In addition, we have a proper map this time, which is a very welcome addition.

I also quite like the ending.. ..whilst predictable from about half-way through, it is still enjoyable and more satisfying (in some ways) than the rather abrupt ending of the original game.

However, the major downfall in ‘Dark Seed II’ is with the weak story and character development.. ..I didn’t connect with this Mike as much as I did the original; in that game I was really rooting for him.. this one I was not particularly surprised that he could be a murdering psycho.. ..I also didn’t really care!

None of this is helped by the voice acting, which is largely awful.. ..conversations are over verbose, poorly scripted and often of little point to the games plot. Unfortunately, you need to go through them as they are trigger points for continuation. There are many of these triggers and you also have to do a lot of back tracking in ‘Dark Seed II’, more so even than the original game.

Also, like the original game, there is still too much ‘pixel hunting’ (for example, it took me ages to find the ‘buzzer’ in the morgue) and most of these puzzles are laboured and not much fun. The ‘Maze of Mirrors’ puzzle is particularly frustrating, requires a keen eye, is key to completing the game and is a point where many players have admitted to giving up.


The infuriating ‘Maze of Mirrors’ – Windows 3.1x version

The ‘Behemoth’ is very disappointing.. is great that you actually ‘fight’ a boss monster this time around, but I found its design to be very weak, mainly as it has no relationship to the rest of the H. R. Giger artwork and is poorly envisioned.

Do I recommend you play it? Not really.. ..whilst it strives to improve on the original, ‘Dark Seed II’ is too marred by its many gameplay problems to recommend; they unfortunately serve to overshadow the improvements made to this sequel.

However, if you liked the original game or admire H. R. Giger’s artwork, you may find it interesting. If you do decide to play ‘Dark Seed II’ have a walk-through handy.. ..the game can frustratingly difficult without one.

Insight – development of the game

By the time ‘Dark Seed II’ was produced much of the original team at Cyberdreams had left and by the time of its release in 1995 the company was already starting to face financial problems.

David Mullich produced and oversaw the development of the game, while Raymond Benson wrote the script, dialog and puzzles. Benson was heavily influence by David Lynch’s work, particularly as he was (with several million others) engrossed at the time with ‘Twin Peaks’.. ..indeed it was Lynch’s influence which was responsible for the games ambiguous ending and the feeling that all is not as it seems in Crowley and with Rita; she initially comes across as an ‘all American girl’, but the more people you talk to the more you see of her potential dark side.

Benson had previously worked at MicroProse where he had recently been laid off along with c. third of the other staff. He was approached by Mullich to work on ‘Dark Seed II’. He accept and worked on the script and puzzles over a three month period from his house. According to Benson the team already had access to Giger’s artwork and so the artist was not directly involved in the production of this sequel.

Console ports

The game was ported and released at around the same time as the Windows 3.1x release for the SEGA Saturn, Sony PlayStation and the Apple Macintosh. The Mac versions is graphically very similar to its PC brethren, but the console versions run at a slightly reduced resolution.

The game was published by Bandi Visual and B-Factory on the Saturn and the PlayStation. Unlike the original game the Saturn version no longer supported the Saturn mouse.

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RETROSPECTIVE – Dark Seed (Cyberdreams, 1992)

For my first article of the New Year I wanted to do a retrospective about something that combines my two favourite genres – horror and video gaming.

So today we will be taking a fairly in depth look at a both divisive and largely forgotten video game.. ..‘Dark Seed’ was a psychological horror point-and-click adventure game developed and published by Cyberdreams in 1992. It was one of the first adventure games to use high resolution graphics and was largely based on the artwork of H. R. Giger.

Insight – who is H.R. Giger?

Hans Rudolf “Ruedi” Giger was a Swiss surrealist painter whose work was adapted for many media types including record-albums, furniture and tattoo-art. He is known to most people as the creator of the titular ‘Alien’ from the 1979 classic film of the same name. He was born on the 5th February 1940 and died from a fall in 2014.

Zurich-based, Giger was best-known for his airbrushed illustrations of humans and machines fused together in cold, sometimes sexual, ‘biomechanical’ relationships. His work on ‘Alien’ won an Academy Award and his work is now on permanent display at the H.R. Giger Museum at Gruyères. He was widely recognised as somewhat of an artistic genius.

Synopsis (contains spoilers)

The ‘Dark Seed’ story revolves around a successful advertising executive and writer called Mike Dawson. Mike is the Chairman of the Board for a thriving, San Francisco based, advertising company. However, Mike’s ambition is to become a writer and he searches for a tranquil haven where he can pursue a new career as a novelist. As such, he buys a fully-furnished Victorian manor on Ventura Drive (named after Ventura Boulevard) in the small town of Woodland Hills. During the game we control his adventures over a three day period. Incidentally, Mike is named after the game’s designer and producer who also lent his appearance to his character’s in game sprite.

Dark Seed Embryo Implantation

The implantation of the ‘Dark Seed’, Commodore-Amiga version

During the first night in his new house, Mike has a nightmare about being imprisoned by a machine that surgically implants an alien embryo into his brain – the eponymous ‘Dark Seed’ (a scene inspired by Giger’s 1967 ‘The Birth Machine’). Mike wakes up with a severe headache and, after taking some aspirins and a shower, explores his new abode. At first, Mike rationalises these dreams he’s having as nothing more than deluded fantasies, but when he starts having visions while still wide awake, of china dolls turning into deformed fetuses or his own reflection changing to a translucent fanged monster (based on Giger’s 1985 Poltergeist II), he gradually accepts the terrifying reality that something is horribly wrong in Woodland Hills. As he explores his house and the town he discovers parts of a journal left by the house’s previous owner.. ..they also seem to have suffered from the same symptoms as Mike. You quickly learn that there is another parallel world, just outside the border of our own, where an alien race of deformed and perverse alien creatures known as the Ancients are waiting to invade Earth and annihilate all of humanity. It is the ancients that have implanted an embryo inside Mike’s head.

Dark Seed 04

The embryo implantation plans, PC version

Dark Seed 02

‘What the ?’ – PC verion

On the second day, he travels to the alternate ‘Dark World’ through a large ornate mirror in his living room, which acts a portal. The Dark World is full of manifestations based on Giger’s work (mainly taken from his Necronomicon works) representing malevolent aliens. However, Mike soon meets a friendlier alien called the ‘Keeper of the Scrolls’ (based on Giger’s Li II, 1974; also featured on the games beautiful box artwork). She tells him that the nightmare he had on his first night was indeed real and warns him that if the embryo is born, it will not only kill him but will also destroy all of humanity. She also reveals that it is in Mike’s power to stop all of this; as long as he can disable the Ancient’s power source. As the town and Mike’s house are all mirrored in the Dark World, you begin to understand that things you do in the one can affect the other.. ..this helps you to locate essential items and complete the various tasks.

Dark Seed 03

Mike crosses over into the Dark World, PC version

Dark Seed 06

The Dark World, PC version

Dark Seed 07

The ‘Keeper of the Scrolls’, PC version

On the third and final day, Mike executes a typically (over) elaborate plan that culminates with the Ancient ship’s departure from the Dark World (which was shown landing during the title sequence), depriving them of their power source. Mike then destroys the living room mirror, closing the portal and sealing the Ancients out of our world. The town librarian (a potential love interest) then visits Mike and tells him she found some pills in her purse prescribed for him. The medication will presumably kill the embryo inside his head. A morphing animation reveals that, unbeknown to the librarian, she is the ‘Keeper of the Scrolls’ real world counterpart. Mike then states that he’s just beginning to understand and the game ends.

Dark Seed 05

The jail cell in the Police Station (a pivital location) – PC version

Dark Seed 08

On board the alien spaceship – PC version

Dark Seed 09

Mike smashes the connection between worlds – PC version

Is it any good?

‘Dark Seed’ is strange game and a difficult one to review.. many ways it was both ‘a breath of fresh air’ and an astonishing achievement (for the time) – the level of graphical detail, the artwork overall and the narrative.. ..were all simply outstanding. It was also one of the first interactive horror games. However, the game play was where things weren’t quite so polished.

As you might have guessed, the actions you take in Woodland Hills are often connected to similar things happening in the Dark World. However, the logic that defines these connections is somewhat haphazardly implemented. So for example, opening a secret passage in one world will usually open the corresponding passage in the other, which makes sense. But some other interactions are simply obtuse or bizarre, particularly those involving the police.. ..they make no sense and do not have logical solutions (e.g. knowing which items you need to hide under the pillow in the Police Station and the need to use the rope for the balcony).

In addition, unlike most point-and-click adventure games of the time, which give you ample (usually unlimited) time to explore, the actions in ‘Dark Seed’ must occur within precise time limits. If they are not completed within this timely ‘dictat’ the game will end up in an unwinnable state.. ..frustratingly this is usually unknown to you the player. As a result, you must eventually start over, when you realise you cannot progress your game.

The interface, whilst quite clever for the time, required you to occasionally have the cursor precisely located in order to find a clue or item.. ..sometimes these locations are only a few pixels square in size, so it can turn into a little bit of an uninteresting and frustrating hunt and ‘click-fest’. Admittedly, most things are easy to find and there is some logic to their location, but others are bewilderingly obtuse. As such, the actual game play has not aged at all well.

For some of these reasons, reviews at the time of the games release, whilst favourable, were also critical. For example, Computer Gaming World stated that the game was “the most integrated and effective feel for a horror adventure yet” but criticized the unforgiving real-time game play that often caused un-winnable situations, hard-to-find on-screen puzzle elements, and an overly abrupt ending, stating that “the interactive elements are so poorly implemented that they nearly destroy the effect” of the graphics and sound.

However, in 1993, the game received a Codie Award from the Software Publishing Association for Best Fantasy Role-Playing/Adventure.

Personally, I love ‘Dark Seed‘ and recommend you give it a try.. ..but you have to be patient and mindful of when it was made; having a ‘walk-through’ handy is almost obligatory.

Insight – development of the game

The development of the game is an interesting story in its own right. For the time, Cyberdreams were very ambitious creating a game which showcased the artwork of Giger, maybe overly so. However, the game does to a large extent get across the wonderful macabre nature of the artist’s work.. crawls into your psyche from the very opening scene.. ..the game has always stayed with me over the years and I still think it looks pretty good today!

It is hard not to be moved by Giger’s work, it is both beautiful and abhorrent at the same time and Cyberdreams captured it well.. ..amazingly so when you consider the limitations of the hardware at the time. Today a game like ‘Dark Seed’ would be easy to make, even considered ‘lazy’ programming, but this is certainly nothing that Cyberdreams could have been accused of in 1992.. ..creating ‘Dark Seed’ must have been a bit of a labour of love.

The idea to ask Giger to supply his artwork was as much as a stroke of genius for Cyberdreams as it was for Ridely Scott to approach him to create the ‘Alien’.. ..who better to supply the imagery for the nightmare that you, as Mike Dawson, would encounter.

Patrick Ketchum, was the president of Cyberdreams and he approached Giger to supply artwork for the game c. 1990. From an article in the November 1992 Compute! magazine, it seems that initially Giger was (unsurprisingly) not at all impressed with the blocky nature of the then widely adopted VGA graphics.. ..but as a computing neophyte he realised what could be achieved at higher resolutions and wanted his artwork represented by as many pixels as possible.

To this end the Cyberdreams team increased the resolution of the game to 640 x 350, which also reduced the number of available on screen colours from 256 to 16 (due to hardware limitations). This worked well with Giger’s artwork and the artist was impressed.. much so that he granted them almost full access to his artwork and granted permission for use in a follow up game (more on that in later article).

The task of getting the artwork into the game was no mean feat. The Cyberdreams team scanned hundreds of images from Giger’s portfolio with an Epson ES-300C flatbed scanner and then manipulated the images in DeluxePaint IIe on a PC. As the team was free to choose from virtually all of Giger’s artwork they were able to piece together some distinct and menacing locations and characters. ‘Dark Seed’ has fantastic landscapes (at least in the ‘Dark World’) and the animation, whilst limited by contemporary standards’ does largely succeed in bringing this strange world to life.

The animation was accomplished using a CommodoreAmiga, Newtek’s Digiview and a S-VHS recorder to digitise the real Mike Dawson. These images were converted to 16 colour grey scale and edited in the Amiga’s renowned version of Deluxe Paint. They were then saved as IFF files and transferred to a PC using CrossDOS for further editing. The Amiga was also used for the processing the sound samples and for the morphing effects seen the game.

The Cyberdreams team then spent what must have been a painstaking six months re-colouring all of the graphics by hand.. ..the initial scans being a little too ‘flat’ to use in the game, due to the reduced colour palette.

To conserve memory and reduce disk access your actions within the game are shown in a 500 x 200 pixel window within the main 640 x 350 screen. Now this might sound like bit of a marketing cheat, but it works well.. ..placing some welcome distance between you and the macabre Dark World. The decorative boarder also adds a wonderful sense of claustrophobia.. ..the draped curtains, the third eye of the Illuminati watching your every move.. feels like you are watching a surreal stage play and sets the scene well.

Release and ports to consoles

‘Dark Seed’ was originally released for MS-DOS on the PC, then shortly after on the Commodore-Amiga. These versions came in a beautifully designed box with the Li II/Keeper of the Scrolls on another box embedded in the front. Although the sound is arguably better on the Amiga, it looks and plays better on the PC as the graphical resolution was slightly reduced for the former.

Dark Seed PC

The PC MS-DOS version

Dark Seed Amiga

The Commodore-Amiga version

The game was later ported to the Commdore Amiga CD32Apple MacintoshSEGA Saturn and Sony PlayStation.

Dark Seed Saturn

The SEGA Saturn version

The PlayStation and Saturn versions were only released in Japan by ‘Gaga’; however, the Saturn version is not dubbed in Japanese, only subtitled, making the game’s story accessible to English speakers. These two ports are not great – they double the speed that time flows in the game, as well as speeding up the soundtrack.. ..the graphics, which are identical, irrespective of hardware, are at a fractionally lower resolution than the PC versions.. ..both smack of a rushed port and release cycle.

The Amiga CD32 port is essentially the same as the Amiga version but adds speech and the Mac version is very similar to its PC counterpart.

There was also a version developed for the SEGA Mega-CD and even promoted for an American release, but publisher Vic Tokai never released it.

A very scaled down and unlicensed Nintendo NES port entitled ‘黑暗之蛊 ‘ was developed by ‘Mars Production’ and released by ‘Union Bond’ in China.

Dark Seed NES

The unlicensed NES version – ‘Real World’


The unlicensed NES version – ‘Dark World’

The NES version does not end correctly, getting stuck in a loop, repeating the librarian’s end text, infinitely. The sound is also very poor, with a single 15 second original track that repeats constantly throughout the game. Finally, Dilbert’s dog is absent from this version and therefore so is ‘Fido’ from the Dark World.

Giger, I am sure, would have been horrified if he had seen this version as the graphics (which are actually not terrible for a NES game) are totally unrecognisable from his original artwork due to the severe limitations of the hardware.

What happened to Mike Dawson and Cyberdreams?

Interestingly, there was  a long standing urban myth that the real Mike Dawson, who worked at Cyberdreams and gave his likeness and name to the main protagonist, went insane due to the intense pressure of designing the game.. ..the actual truth is a little less dramatic. Mike left Cyberdreams following the game’s release in order to write for television, which he did until the late 1990’s. He has since moved into teaching, and has developed and taught courses for UCLA and The Digital Media Academy at Stanford University, details of which can be found on his website.

CyberDreams continued until early 1997, releasing titles like the acclaimed ‘I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream and ‘Darkseed II, which again featured the protagonist Mike Dawson, though his namesake had little to do with this game. Patrick Ketchum, who had previously founded Datasoft, founded Cyberdreams in 1990. In 1995 an “internal shake-up” took place by which the investors removed management and installed a “turnaround management team” aimed to transition it to 3rd party publishing. At this point Ketchum left the company and started a career as photographer.. ..the company was defunct less than two years later.

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