Pages

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

A History of Finnish Games, Part 1

Okay, it's not a comparison, but just to justify the word "Finnish" in the blog title, in more than just the fact that I happen to be a Finnish person living in the said country, I decided to lecture people  about some classic Finnish games. And why not start with the computer that they even advertised as "Computer of the Republic". I kid you not, it's right there in the advertisement scan. And I'm doing this, because this blog now has reached readers from quite a few countries over the world, so here's something completely different to you. Perhaps you guys from other parts of the world will share  your histories of gaming industry similarly, so we can get the comparison part here as well. ;-)



---

My first home computer was a 48k ZX Spectrum, which I loved to bits, regardless of it's lacking sound capabilities, rubbery keyboard and tempermental tape loaders. The first proof of Finnish game writing that I remember of, was on the Speccy, called Kultakuume (Gold Rush), written by Marko Aho and Kari Aaltonen in 1985, and released by Triosoft in 1986. This game was a really limited  print, apparently 50 copies according to Marko himself. It is pretty much impossible to find physically these days. Even World Of Spectrum archives don't have an image of it, but Marko's website offers it for free download here:
http://koti.mbnet.fi/ahom/projektit/index.html
Grab it while you can, if you can find it. ;-)

ZX Spectrum: Kultakuume (Triosoft, 1986)
Of course, this isn't even nearly the first Finnish game that ever existed, and I dare anyone to try and locate it. A nice fellow named Niila T. Rautanen keeps a retro computing website at - http://www.ntrautanen.fi/computers/ - and has an archive for Finnish Commodore and Atari software. It's a nicely structured archive, and it's pretty easy to find anything you might need in this area specifically.

---

As the C64 was released to the world in late 1982, it isn't really a wonder that the first homemade games started gradually showing up in Finland during 1983, mostly as listings in magazines. The success of the computer was such a big deal, that what used to be a seldomly appearing appendix ("Mikro2000") for another computer technology magazine ("Tietokone"), departed and became a  huge computer & gaming magazine by itself, titled MikroBITTI, which for a long time was the most sold computing-related magazine in Finland. It's closest competitors, ZX Spectrum and the MSX, dragged behind the C64's popularity by miles.

Alongside magazines, Amersoft was the first game publisher in Finland to release games in other format than on paper. The first examples that I'm aware of having a tape or a disc release are games called Raharuhtinas (literally translated "Moneyprince") and Yleisurheilu ("Athletics").

Commodore 64: RahaRuhtinas (Amersoft, 1984)
Commodore VIC-20 & C64: Yleisurheilu (Amersoft,1984)

Raharuhtinas looks something like an early attempt at Dungeon Master, although I haven't really learned how to play it yet... and Yleisurheilu is a very basic athletics game with 13 events: 6 different distances of running, Hammer Throw, Discus, Long Jump, Triple Jump, Javelin, Shot Put and High Jump. Yleisurheilu was also released on the VIC-20.

Wikipedia says the C64 version of Afrikan Tähti ("The Star of Africa", a board game conversion)  was released in 1983, but no other website agrees with this. Besides, it was released by Amersoft, and they weren't established until 1984, so... well, make of it what you will. It's a surprisingly good game, though, and was programmed by Jari Heikkinen and Otso Pakarinen with permission from the original game designer, Kari Mannerla.

Left: Afrikan Tähti (C64, Amersoft 198?) - Right: Tietomestari (C64/VIC-20?, Weilin+Göös, 1984)

The first C64 game to quench the thirst of Finnish digital quiz fanatics was released by Weilin+Göös in 1984, translated from Ivan Berg Software's 1983 original Quizmaster. The game that became  known to us as Tietomestari was also supposed to have a conversion for the VIC-20 as well, but no-one is known to have a copy, so the jury is still out on that.

To end this year with a blast, the first known game from a well-known Finnish C64 star programmer appeared, called The Odyssey. The game itself still isn't all that well-known, but it was one of those games that felt like this country could actually achieve some greatness in this field. It's an action game based on the mythology written by Homer, as it says on the high score list. The music is quite delightful, the graphics are surprisingly good and the controls are uniquely restriced to diagonals. Somehow, it works, although it takes time to get used to them. Stavros Fasoulas was the programmer of this rare gem, and he had started on the VIC-20 by programming a Pac-Man clone earlier the same year. Not bad, huh?

C64: The Odyssey / VIC-20: Pac-Man (Stavros Fasoulas, 1984)

---

In 1985, a Dutch publisher called Radarsoft started releasing translated software in some parts of Europe, including Finland. The most commonly known of them are the European and World Map games, and the Traffix/Verkeersrally translation simply called "Liikennepeli" (Traffic Game). These are well enough known worldwide, so there's not much point in dwelling on them any longer.  (Although, as a side note, dk'tronics' Dictator was also translated to Finnish in 1983)

Also, another computing magazine called Floppy Magazine was established in March of 1985, which brought in some diversity in hobbyist presentations. The most well known figure from Floppy Magazine, at least to us, would be Uncle Ilpo, the infamous secret agent with a new adventure in almost every magazine. Other rather well-known games that were released during the three-year lifespan of Floppy Magazine, were Viljo, Return to the Home Castle, Sanghai, Space Cards and The Crucible.

Left to right: 1. Suopon agentti Ilpo Piipponen & kirjeisiin kätketty kuolema, 2. Viljo, 3. Sanghai, 4. The Crucible (all C64)

Gradually, our schools started to tech up a bit, and started buying C64's. Naturally, there had to be a company to serve this purpose as well and make educational programs for schools, so a company called Koulun Erityispalvelu Oy started releasing typing and reading tutors, math exercise programs and who knows what else. Most of these programs used a PS-64 speech synthesizer cartridge, so they would be quite expensive and tricky to acquire if you wanted to use them at home. Of course, no-one did. Still, later on, another company called Kielinauhat Ky started releasing their own educational software as a serial called Treenari, featuring maths, English, Finnish and Swedish. They even worked without the PS-64, which helped a lot, but still were difficult to acquire.
Left: Treenari Ruotsi & Matematiikka (Kielinauhat Ky, C64) - Right: Joe the Whizz Kid (1985, ATA Software, C64)

Stavros Fasoulas, our first star programmer, went on to produce his second game, which was his first to be published. Not by a big publishing company, but it's something. Joe the Whizz Kid is an arcade adventure game happening in a big department store, with a rendition of Genesis' song "That's All" as its title tune. I could never get too far in this game, but perhaps it was a preview version of it that I had on a turbo tape, I don't know.

---

1986 brought along another up-and-coming C64 game artist from Finland by the name of Jukka Tapanimäki. His first games featured a simple 3D shooter called Monoliitti, translated Monolith, released in MikroBITTI magazine, and an interactive fiction game called Aikaetsivä, translated Time Detective, released by Triosoft.

Left: Monolith (MikroBITTI, 1986) - Center and right: Aikaetsivä (Triosoft, 1986)
Stavros' first big league game, Sanxion, was released through Thalamus in 1986. It was a side- scrolling shoot'em-up from two simultaneous POV's, so it was essentially a 3D shooter - you just had to translate the information from the screen in your mind to 3D. Some of you might even know there was a Spectrum conversion (or remix, as they called it) made in 1989 by a group of people titled Softstorm Developments, who included Dave Thompson, Jarrod Bentley, Dennis Mulliner, Wally Beben and Rob Hubbard. The soundtrack won a prize that year, but the conversion itself remains relatively unknown, mostly due to it not being really good enough.

Sanxion (Stavros Fasoulas/Thalamus) - left: C64/1986 , right: Spectrum/1989
Meanwhile, the MSX enthusiasts had published a couple of games on their own. Teknopiste released a trilogy of adventure games starring Bomulus, and a miner game called Mr. Seek. Ikesoft released a slower and more basic version of Boulder Dash, titled Diamond Luis, and Boss Company released their mega hit, Miner Machine, which was re-released by two other companies and once on a compilation in 1987. Whatever the case back then, all of these are now extremely rare collector's items.

Left: Mr. Seek Kaivosseikkailu (MSX, Teknopiste 1985)
Right: Miner Machine (MSX, Boss Company 1986/Eaglesoft 1987)
Of course, the C64'ers had come up with a secret weapon by this time: licence games. Chart Top Design would release in association with Tikkurila, the biggest Finnish paint company, a game that would advertise their products. This became Painterboy, which is one of the more known games throughout the world, even if a very small percentage understands what's going on. Well, here's the deal: your job as the Son (Poika!) is to take jobs to paint buildings in correct types of paint. You get a selection of five different paint cans, and if you select correctly, you'll get to continue without getting critiqued by your father, the Yoda of paints. Then, you get to drive to a designated location, where your compass will show the direction. The pick-up truck will move in a semi-realistic fashion: up increases speed, down decreases speed, left turns your car counter-clockwise 45 degrees per tap, and right turns your car clockwise 45 degrees per tap. Once you're at the location, you have to paint the blue parts of the building to red, and dodge anything that might lose your focus on the job: girls, dogs, birds, and even the grand master himself will get in your way occasionally. Luckily, you just have to watch out not to paint him, walking past him won't hurt you a bit. Two hits and you're fired. Three lives per game and that's it. Not too fancy, but entirely more playable than the one that stole Painterboy's thunder: the movie licence game, Uuno Turhapuro Muuttaa Maalle.

Commodore 64: Painterboy (Chart Top Design, 1986)
Finland's equivalent of James Bond in the number of movies in the series, Uuno Turhapuro is a good-for-nothing, lazy bastard who wears a broken net shirt, looks like the worst bum ever and acts like a diva. According to IMDb, the movie had a somewhat international release, and was translated as "Numbskull Emptybrook Back In The Country", which is pretty much what it is. It was a huge hit movie in Finland back then, and in the wake of Rambo and Cobra and all that, Uuno became our first licenced movie game for the C64.

Commodore 64: Uuno Turhapuro muuttaa maalle (Amersoft, 1986)
The game itself is a nice-looking, but impossible avoid'em-up, with four lives, hellishly long three stages and a collision detection located in front of you. I've never gotten past the second stage, and even the first one is stupidly long and difficult. What almost makes up for all this, the game intro is a brilliant rendition of what happens at the beginning of the movie: Uuno's wife has gotten tired of him and has left him, and moved to the country. There's nothing in the fridge but the light and the message written by his wife Elisabet, which is where Uuno usually looks first when something is wrong. The game proceeds through three very minor sections of the movie in an arcade fashion, with a tasteful soundtrack and funny effects. Uuno is animated in a wonderfully detailed way, and you can control your speed by pushing the button and shoving the joystick up and down, when Uuno raises or lowers his other hand, during which you can't steer. Pasi Hytönen has certainly programmed a good-looking and wonderfully playing game, even if it is damn difficult, and Jori Olkkonen (Yip) has definitely created a worthy soundtrack for it. According to MikroBITTI issue 6-7/1988, a sequel to Uuno Turhapuro was in the making, but I guess it never came to exist.

---

The year 1987, the mid-life in C64's commercial life, saw the release of Stavros Fasoulas' Delta, one of the greatest side-scrolling shooters on C64. Definitely a contender for Nemesis. Nothing groundbreaking, really, but a very well executed contemporary space shooter. The loader, however, was something really different. You had a rocking tune playing, which you could mix to your taste, while the game was loading. Amazing stuff, but then again, the tune was made by Rob Hubbard.

Commodore 64: Quedex & Delta (Stavros Fasoulas/Thalamus, 1987)
Stavros had time to make another game this year, an intriguing ball-rolling puzzler called Quedex - Quest for the Ultimate Dexterity, as the full name goes. It's really difficult to say much about it, because the game is separated into 10 sections, some of which have subsections, and all of them are entirely different in their idea. You'll just have to check it out. Probably my favourite Stavros game, this one. Both of his works this year were released through Thalamus.
UPDATE! 6th of December, 2014: I wrote a comparison of Quedex for this year's Independence Day. That should be enough to give you an idea what the game is like, but I still do urge everyone unfamiliar with it to try it out for yourselves.

Jukka Tapanimäki had pitched his newest idea successfully to English Software, and they released it as Octapolis. It combined the ideas of Sanxion and Uridium to alternate with a platforming game in between the space shooter sections. Very nice, graphically, sonically and by playability. Probably the best arcade game we have had to offer for the C64, at least during the classic era.

Above: Octapolis (Jukka Tapanimäki/English Software, C64, 1987)
Below: BMX Kidz (Firebird, 1987; music by Yip)


Meanwhile, Jori Olkkonen of Uuno Turhapuro fame borrowed his SID musician skills to Gigglywurx and Firebird's BMX Kidz, and his tasteful tune can be heard during the high score section.

Nero 2000 (Bio-Syntax Method Oy, 1987)
Above: PC - Below: C64
Another quiz game emerged by the title of Nero 2000 (Genius 2000), and this time it had a rather original idea. You would choose from four question packs, and play against either the computer or a friend, whichever happened to be around. At the beginning of the game, you would both have 100 points in store, which you would have to gamble away at your own pace. You would bet some points to get to a question, which you would either lose if you didn't know the answer precisely as it's written in the database of the program, or win back doubled, tripled or quadrupled, whichever of the multipliers you happened to hit when you set your betted points. Besides the points, you would have 10 lamps, which would burn out one by one when you didn't know the answer, or light up if you answered correctly, and at the beginning you would have 5 lamps lit. The game was released at least on the C64 (disk and tape) and on the PC, but there are rumours of other existing versions around.

MSX: Talvisota 1939 (Triosoft, 1987)
While not exactly the most famous, the most sought-after Finnish MSX title was released in 1987, called Talvisota (or Talvisota 1939, as the instructions and the loading screen say). It was programmed by Olli Kainulainen and released by Triosoft. It's a strategy game based on the Winter War of 1939-1940, when the Russians attacked Finland without a declaration of war. Here's an article on Wikipedia, if you want to educate yourself further on the matter:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_War

The game puts you in control of the Finnish troops, and you will have to fend of the attacking Russians. You will get strategic information updates in the form of newspaper articles and lists of action, but mostly you're in the map screen, commanding pixels. Too bad the game is entirely too uncommon to find a copy for auction, and when you do, it'll cost a fortune. Luckily, we have these photos of some of the screens in the game, so you can see something. It's not pretty, but hey, it's a strategy game, what do you expect?

Sceptre of Bagdad
Left: ZX Spectrum (Productive Playtime, 1987) - Right: C64 (Jon Wells/Psytronik, 1993)
Last for the year 1987, but certainly far from the least, we have a game called Sceptre of Bagdad, which, for me at least, was a complete surprise to find out while writing this blog, that it was a Finnish product. Strangely enough, I've owned the C64 conversion by Jon Wells for quite some time now, but the original ZX Spectrum version was made by a Finnish group called Productive Playtime. The team, according to the loading screen, consisted of Ilja Summala, A. Raita and D.R. Tomppe, but according to a review of the game in MikroBITTI's issue 10/1987, it was made by Tomas Westerholm (Dr. Tomppe?) from the city of Lahti. Live and learn.

---

1988 brought us some action on the 16-bit section as well. WSOY Publishing released Ratco for the Commodore Amiga, which was basically a Scrabble clone with some finely altered rules. The game is supposed to have had an English and a Finnish version, but I'm not sure.

Left: Ratco (Amiga, WSOY 1988)
Above right: Japlish Assault Razor (Atari ST, Seppo Loisa 1988)
Below right: Birds (Atari ST, Jouko Kulomäki 1988)
Atari ST users would have some magazine-type publishings in the form of Birds (a basic shooter) and Japlish Assault Razor, a 3D game.

The C64 scene was very much alive still, and the next hit games were Netherworld, a space maze shooter, and Zamzara, a different kind of a space maze shooter, both from Jukka Tapanimäki and released by Hewson.

Left: Netherworld (C64, Jukka Tapanimäki/Hewson 1988)
Right: Zamzara (C64, Jukka Tapanimäki/Hewson 1988)
All other pictures: Golf Master (C64, Mikko Helevä/Hewson 1988)
Middle below: Space Ace (C64, Mikko Helevä 1986)
A new C64 programmer by the name of Mikko Helevä entered the big scene with Golf Master, also released by Hewson. Mikko's only other credit is for Space Ace, a basic Asteroids clone, which was probably released privately among friends and later found its way to the net.

Stavros was called to serve his duty in the Finnish Army, so his career was cut short for a while. A year later, he only managed to convert Quedex for the Amiga, newly titled as Mindroll, and slowly work on a Bubble Bobble clone called Galactic, which finally only got released on a coverdisk of The One magazine in 1993.

Left: Galactic (Amiga, Stavros Fasoulas/The One coverdisk #64, 1993)
Right: Mindroll (Amiga, Stavros Fasoulas/Thalamus, 1988)
---

At the end of the first life for C64, people started turning to the Amiga for new challenges and better probabilities at gaining that all-important fame and money. Avesoft was established in 1989, and their first game was released the same year. Bloody Afternoon was a horror themed Operation Wolf clone, which was a nice beginning. The company is probably most famous for their second game, Coloris (1990), which is a slightly modified clone of Sega's Columns from the previous year.

Above: Coloris (Amiga, Avesoft 1990)
Below: Bloody Afternoon (Amiga, Avesoft 1989)

Commodore 64: Moonfall (Jukka Tapanimäki/Hewson 1991)
In 1991, Jukka Tapanimäki tried one more time to breath some life into the C64 scene with a 3D space shooter strategy simulation, which instantly would bring Elite to mind, but it's different enough. The game was originally sent to Hewson Consultants for release, but as the company went bust, Jukka only received the first part of his payment from the game. However, the game was still released by the 21st Century Entertainment Ltd., which was basically the same company resurfacing under a different name.

Of course, it was already too late, so we dragged our forces to the next generation machines, and gradually started producing some nice stuff there as well. Smash the Beast was another puzzle game from Avesoft, released in 1992, and Moonleague, a top-down futuristic space-themed RPG saw its release in 1994, also from Avesoft.

Atari ST scene was small, but for a while, they managed to procuce some small gems as well: a Tetris-clone called Clintrix, an Operation Wolf clone called Executioners, a Finnish translation of a German version of Wheel of Fortune called Güldrach (translated to Finnish as Onnenpyörä), and a worm game called SeePee.

But that was small league stuff. Next chapter, more Finnish gaming in the 90's, but we'll get there after a bunch of normal game comparison posts. Stay tuned.

Update!
The rest of this series can be found here:
Part 2 , Part 3 and the Appendix.

2 comments:

  1. Great, Very good post ! I loved it !
    I have a Spectrum clone, a TK90X, still working.

    Keep up this good blog !

    ReplyDelete
  2. Whoa, many new discoveries.

    ReplyDelete