A Simple Puzzle Game

More than 25 years ago, I wrote a video game called Chimera. Chimera was the first true copy of the Ultimate Filmation style, if not the technique (not until the C64 version anyway).

Now I have everything I need to make a game, and a week to make a significant start, but I feel paralysed by fear, indecision and self-doubt. The same daemons that have stalked me since the early 90s and the end of Pandora.

I have been taken aback at just how many people played Chimera and claimed to have liked it. I think the audio played a big part in that, and the stark graphics helped. so I will go for a stark isometric look, with strong audio in the remake.

Chimera is essentially a bunch of simple puzzles operating under time and resource limits, with extremely simple rules, as follows:

1) Find and pick-up spanner.
2) Take to all electric fences that bar your way and disable them
3) Go to bolt and combine, missile created
4) Take missile to a blue room and arm – get the hell out

Rinse and repeat for four puzzles, then make your way to the green exit room, avoiding radiators and managing your food and water supply along the way.

Chimera didn’t start off as a game. It started off as a tech demo, on the Spectrum. My background was in 6502 assembler, having completed Jet Set Willy in 1984 on the Commodore 64, so the move to the Spectrum was probably the first commercial decision I made of any importance. Like many others, I was hugely inspired by Knight Lore’s arrival on the Spectrum. It changed what we thought was possible on a machine. It was sensational, without parallel and I don’t think any game, other than perhaps Ultima Underworld has ever had that degree of impact on me. I was determined to copy it.

So Chimera started off as a tech demo on the Spectrum. Though I didn’t reverse engineer their code (that would come much later and is another story), I did come up with an elegant solution to masking moving sprites at a reasonable speed on the Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC versions, which were to come later. I used a slower method on the Spectrum and Atari 800.

My first version was rejected, so I spent a day brainstorming ideas with my good friend David Eastman, with whom I’d go on to collaborate on a number of other games. These were then hacked into the game in around two weeks and the second version was accepted. A detailed story is available at The Bird Sanctuary.

In the end, Chimera on the Spectrum used a number of advanced techniques, like the use of speech on the Spectrum (which scared the living daylights out of a lot of people) and the border effects on the spectrum and colour-cycling on the Atari version.

Why did the original tech demo use a spaceman? Well, it was boxy and easy to draw. I couldn’t draw organic shapes and so Chimera featured mainly simple geometric shapes. The story was also tacked on right at the end and was essentially nonsense.

The game received on balance, acceptable to good critical reception and commercially did well too. If I made the same out of the game in a 25th anniversary edition, that’d be fine, but I’m more concerned about getting the critical acclaim up.

Several questions now arise.

1) I have a good job, why am I doing this?
2) Why choose Chimera? Weren’t there better games I could re-make?
3) How would I remake this?
4) Which platform?
5) Where are you going with this, Ikea boy?

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