Sunday, 16 July 2017

SPECIAL: A Brief History of Scandinavian Games

That should probably read "Other Scandinavian Games", since I've already dealt with Finland. But yes, you read it right: it's time to dig into the history of our neighboring countries' gaming industries. The topic has been requested by a few different readers occasionally, and because I couldn't find any proper easy-to-browse articles about this topic from the internet, I decided, that before I call it quits with this blog in the not-too-distant future, this should be one of the special entries I make before the inevitable. Mind you, at least the history of Swedish gaming industry has been made into a book called "Svensk Videospelsutveckling - Från 50-tal till 90-tal" by Thomas Sunhede and Martin Lindell, and the book was released in October last year; I have no idea about the existence of either Norwegian or Danish equivalents. Unluckily for me, the book mentioned has been published in Swedish only, and I'm not proficient enough in the said language to have any interest in buying the book, so all the information I have dug into this article have been found by heavy googling, so if any game historian finds anything of interest missing, comments are welcome.

Just to make a few points of reference, and because I didn't mention it earlier, the first known commercially released Finnish computer game was a chess simulator called Chesmac, written by Raimo Suonio for the Telmac 1800 computer in 1979, and released by Topdata. If we go even further back in time, the first dedicated game machine built in Finland was a Nim game built by Hans Anders with his colleagues in 1955 as a birthday present for a well-known Finnish academic and mathematician, Rolf Nevanlinna. Finally, the first Finnish computer was called ESKO, which was built from 1954 to 1960, but the first Finnish home computer was the aforementioned Telmac 1800 from 1977. Not that any of this has any real meaning in the grand scheme of things, but still, it might be interesting to some. So, here we go - back once more to a very distant past...




Title screen from the DOS version of "Stugan"
First, we shall be taking a look at the beginnings of the Swedish gaming industry. So far, I haven't been able to find out about any non-commercial video or computer games before the first commercial release, but since the book by Sunhede and Lindell is about the industry from 1950's to 1990's, there's bound to be something before the first commercial game, and I'm sure someone will point it out eventually. The first commercially released Swedish game is called "Stugan" (the Cabin), which is a text adventure mostly written with a Texas Silent Writer for a mainframe computer called Oden in Stockholm in 1978. Perhaps even more impressively, the game was written during 1977-78 by three children: brothers Viggo and Kimmo Eriksson and their friend Olle Johansson, whose age ranged from 10 to 14 at the time. For further, very interesting information on the game, click on this Wikipedia link. Stugan was eventually converted for the IBM-PC compatibles in 1986, and published by Scandinavian PC Systems, and in four different languages, too. The Swedish PC version can be played freely in your chosen browser at the Internet Archive.

Screenshots from ABC-80 games Trekamp, Missile and Flipper.

Before the young coders in Sweden got around to finally making games, the industry was more focused on building their own computers. Luxor built and released their first proper computer in 1978, and it was called ABC-80. I only found out about it when I started doing the research for this article in February, so you get the idea of how well the machine was known in Finland. Whatever the Luxor machines' popularity outside of Sweden, it seems their computers were the most popular line of machines in Sweden up until 1983 or 1984, and there was even a surprisingly large library of games made for the ABC-80 and its successors.

However, although I did find an archive site for BASIC games for ABC-80 and an emulator to try them out, I couldn't get any of the games to run, nor find out, in what time period the bulk of the games were written. Perhaps with some more research and perseverance, I might be able to get some to work, but for now, I'll just throw a couple of links for you to start with, in case you're interested in having a go yourself. Exon's ABCWin is probably the only dedicated ABC-80 emulator around, but MESS is also capable of emulating the ABC-80, if you're into more unnecessary dabbling with files. Here's a nice (but old) Hungarian website, which has a good list of basic commands to start your ABC-80 experiments with, and finally, has a "programbanken", which also features plenty of games to try out. Good luck with that.

Other early Swedish computers were made by at least Ericsson and TeleNova. TeleNova's COMPIS from 1983 was their only attempt at creating a PC, and they manufactured it from 1985 to 1988. Whereas COMPIS had a CP/M-86 as its operating system, Ericsson went with an IBM-PC compatible system for their Step/One, with a special MS-DOS version 1.25 as its OS. Ericsson also had a laptop, which was back then called a Portable PC. Later on, Ericsson became more known for their mobile phones. For more information on all Swedish computers, you might want to take a look at Rune's PC-Museum, although if you don't read Swedish, you might want to use Google Translate for loosely approximated translations.

Lesser-known Swedish ZX Spectrum games, left to right: Go Kart (Xenon Software, 1984), Biljard (Birger Larsson, 1987), Delaila (Software of Sweden, 1985) and Ping Pong (Ronny Nordqvist, 1984)

Similarly to our game developing history, the Swedish gaming industry took a while to get really big outside their own sphere. In 1984, plenty of games made in BASIC language for the ZX Spectrum appeared, which seems to have been the first big thing since the Luxor computers. Swedish games for the ZX Spectrum kept appearing at a good pace for a few years, and kept on coming up until around 1989-1990. Most of these games were text adventures in English and Swedish, but a few puzzlers, management games and gambling games also got into the mix. Some of the most productive people in the Swedish Spectrum community appear to have been Birger Larsson, Stefan Andersson, Ronny Nordqvist and Clas Kristiansson (with 3 or 4 games each), although the general quality of their games can be argued. That said, things weren't much rosier in the amateur scene on this side of the pond, either.

Bo Jangeborg's games on the ZX Spectrum: Fairlight 1 & 2 (The Edge, 1985/86) and Shoot 'em Down (?).

Without any doubt, the peak of Swedish game development for the ZX Spectrum was Fairlight, an isometric adventure game released in 1985 by The Edge. This classic game has been keeping a shared number one spot at World of Spectrum's Top 100 voters' list for quite a while now, sharing the spot with R-Type and another isometric adventure, the Great Escape. Bo Jangeborg did the Spectrum and Amstrad versions, and the C64 conversion was given for Trevor Inns to write. Fairlight had a sequel one year later, but it was released without Bo's permission for whatever reason. Bo Jangeborg was also responsible for another game called Shoot'em Down, as well as a graphics utility called The Artist.

Left: Hamte Damte (ZX Spectrum / Firebird, 1987) - Right: Troddlers (Commodore Amiga / Storm, 1992)

Judging by the list of Swedish games at the World of Spectrum archive, the only other potentially big title was an arcade-action game called Hamte Damte (as in Humpty Dumpty, but in Swedish), written and published by Firebird in 1987. The game is a fairly basic cave jumping thing, but apparently, it did well enough to warrant a budget re-release with a different title. The two men behind the developing team Cross Technics, Christoffer Nilsson and Thomas Liljetoft, established their own company, Atod AB, in 1987, and would later make more impact with a Lemmings-style puzzler called Troddlers (1992) on the Commodore Amiga, which was eventually converted to Super Nintendo, DOS and Sega Megadrive (1993).

Early Swedish C64 games published by Handic Software, left to right:
Orin 1 (1983), Q-Hop (1984), Space Trap (1984), Real Estate (1984)

Now, it's time to rewind a bit and check out the Swedish Commodore scene. Much like here in Finland, young people started getting into gaming and even programming on the VIC-20, but things really got developing in a big way when the C64 was released. Reportedly, there were some text adventures and such written (perhaps most notably by Zyntax Software) and published for the VIC-20 already in 1982, mostly through Grana Software, Tial Trading and Handic, the latter of which would expand their game range to anything with graphics the next year. These new, more graphically designed games released by Handic at first were variations of familiar game ideas, such as Space Action (Scramble), Orin 1 (Jupiter Lander) and Q-Hop (Q*Bert), but some slightly more interesting material started appearing in the form of Arne Fernlund's Space Trap in 1984, which was a scrolling platformer, and a unique take on Monopoly called Real Estate by Leif Petterson, also released in 1984.

C64 games published by Computer Boss International, left to right:
Time Zero (1985), Astrobot (1984), Centurio (1984), Walliball (1987)

The year 1984 saw the emergence of another new Swedish game publisher called Computer Boss International, often abbreviated as CBI. The company's most prolific game designer seems to have been a fellow named Roger Svensson, who created five games for CBI between 1984 and 1988: Jump (a Jumping Jack clone), two Astrobot-named platformers, an Othello game and a breakout-clone called Walliball. However, the wider range of C64 gamers might be more familiar with the name Per Håkan Sundell, who co-operated with a very Finnish-sounding person named Ale Rivinoja on two shooter games: Centurio, released in 1984, and Time Zero, released in 1985. Of course, Sundell is now better known for having created one of the longest-developed C64 emulators, CCS64, the name of which is based on the cracking group Sundell founded with Ale in 1983 - Computerbrains Cracking Service.

C64 games published by American Action AB, left to right:
'43 - One Year After (1987), Blood and Guts (1986), Captured (1986) and The Three Musketeers (1987)

Another game publishing company named American Action AB was established in Sweden sometime in the early 80's as a subsidiary for Svenska Microdealer. For the most part, American Action AB did exactly what the name suggests, and imported American games to Sweden from companies like Datasoft, First Star and Accolade - much like U.S. Gold did in the United Kingdom. However, they also released Swedish games from developing teams like Greve Graphics and Voodoo Design between 1985 and 1987. You might be familiar with titles such as '43 - One Year After, Blood and Guts, Captured and Sky Twice. These were probably the first commercial Swedish games that got really widespread, because they're also the first ones I remember seeing when I was younger from the whole list so far, apart from Fairlight, of course. In early 1987, American Action went bankrupt, and was bought soon after by a company called Effekta AB, who managed to release a game called The Three Musketeers for the C64, Amiga and Atari ST from a dev team named Computer Novels, and had another similar game based on Ivanhoe in queue from the same team, as well as a number of other planned games to go from Greve and other developers, but as it is, the Three Musketeers was where American Action AB's story ended.

Screenshots of some of Karl Hörnell's C64 games, left to right:
Melonmania (Interceptor, 1986), Clean-up Service (Players, 1987), Ronald Rubberduck (Players, 1986), Fungus II (unr.)
Sweden also had their equivalent of a star programmer on a famous foreign publishing company, like we had Stavros Fasoulas and Jukka Tapanimäki at Hewson. Perhaps theirs was not of such a high profile one, but it cannot be argued, that Karl Hörnell's games didn't gain some sort of a cult status over the years, and it's not as if his games were all that bad. After all, he did get a publishing deal with Interceptor Software when we was just a teenager. According to his interview with, he and his friend (unnamed in the article) sent Interceptor some fan mail when they were around 14-15 of age, along with a game demo with request for feedback. Eventually, Interceptor called Hörnell to make a deal with him to publish his games for their new budget label, Players.

With the exception of a couple of unreleased titles, as well as Melonmania, which was released on the full-price Interceptor label, all of Karl Hörnell's games were published through Players. His other published games include the two Clean-Up games (Time/Service), the two Velocipede games (of which Melonmania was a sequel), Toadforce, Ronald Rubberduck, Fruity and Fungus, but the unreleased sequel to Fungus (available at Games That Weren't) is really what I feel is the pinnacle of his C64 game developing career. His professional game developing career almost ended on that one, but it appears he has lately been up to developing gambling software, as well as working on less high-profile mobile games.

More random Swedish C64 games, left to right:
Vendetta (Bratpack, 1989), Point X (Powersoft, 1987), Space Towers (CP Verlag, 1992), Psychic Kaos (CP Verlag, 1993)

Here are some more random Swedish games that I'd like to point out from the C64. Powersoft's only known game release, Point X, was a blatant rip-off of Xevious, but due to the funky title tune, became my favourite variation of the game on the C64. Another lesser-known group that I hesitate to call a publisher called Bratpack (because it sounds like it isn't, and I haven't heard of it prior to this) released two games in 1989: Vendetta, a cross-hair shooter from Björn Nilsson and Pontus Söderström, and DIE - Death in Effect, a platform-shooter game from Torbjörn Härje. A rogue developer by the name of Ola Zandelin got a few games made for the C64 between 1989 and 1992, only one of which is available for download: Space Towers, a platformer combining elements from Ghosts'n'Goblins and Ice Climber. The game was published in the "Game On" diskmagazine, which was published by the German CP Verlag GmbH. Other at least partly Swedish games published in the "Game On" diskmag, that I could find with a quick browse through Gamebase64 are: Motorhead and its sequel Dawn Beyond UB-11 (both from 1989), Apoxoly (1991) and Psychic Kaos (1993), each of them well worth a look. As for Ola Zandelin's other C64 productions, you might want to take a look at the softography page on his personal website, because it seems screenshots and information is all you can find at the moment.

Left and middle left: Twisted Minds' No Mercy (1989) and Rubicon (1991)
Middle right and right: the Anderssons' TankAttack and Wulfpack (1989)

Two slightly more high-profile developer teams need to be mentioned from the Commodore scene. A team called Twisted Minds, which basically consisted of programmer Fredrik Kahl and graphician Joachim Ljunggren, created two rather nice shooters for the C64: No Mercy (published by CP Verlag in 1989) and Rubicon (published by 21st Century Entertainment in 1991), although both games feature music and sound effects from other fine artists - Markus Schneider and Maniacs of Noise, respectively. They also worked on a sequel to Rubicon, which unfortunately never materialized on any platform.

Finally, Åke & Henrik Andersson's surprisingly common strategy games Tankattack (based on the board game) and Wulfpack were both released in 1988 - weirdly enough, through different publishers: Tankattack was published by CDS Software, and Wulfpack was published by Blue Ribbon/IQ Software. It escaped me while going through the World of Spectrum archive to find Swedish games in general, but both games were actually also released on not only the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum, but the Lemon64, WoS and Hall of Light pages lead me to find out, that TankAttack had conversions for the BBC Micro, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST and Commodore Amiga as well, so this might well be the most converted Swedish game of all time. Wulfpack was also released for the Amstrad CPC, and it seems like the Anderssons also made a board-quiz game called Hi Q Quiz, which was released on the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and BBC Micro in 1989.

UPDATE! 29th December 2017:  A while ago, I was approached through e-mail by none other than Martin Lindell, who is one of the authors of the aforementioned book on the history of Swedish game industry, and I got some very useful information from him that need to be added to this entry. One of them was for this section here.

Swedish games for the Philips Videopac (top row, left to right): Clay Pigeon, Frogger and Nightmare
- and Videopac+: Trans American Rally (bottom left) and Helicopter Rescue (bottom right)
From 1981 to 1983, there was a fair amount of Swedish-made games released for the Philips Videopac consoles - more notably for the Videopac+ machine, which was never released in North America. (Readers from the US might remember the Videopac better as Magnavox Odyssey².) Apparently, a programming house called Intron was established in 1982, which was probably the first successful such company in Sweden, that was not just a one or two people team. It is suggested, that at least Christer Medin, who had earlier made Chess and Stenslunga on his own, would have been part of the company. Whoever Intron actually consisted of, they made a few very notable titles for the Videopac/Odyssey and Videopac+, such as Frogger, Nightmare, Trans American Rally, Helicopter Rescue, Air Battle and Clay Pigeon. They were also responsible for some not so successful titles for the MSX, such as Buck Rogers and Congo Bongo. When Videopac went under, most of Intron's personnel moved on to other jobs.

Aside from the above, there were also a small number of (mostly text based) games developed for the MSX/SVI-computers, as well as for Sweden's own ABC 80, but most of them are practically impossible to find, and due to their non-graphical nature, a bit uninteresting to use here for showing what the games looked like. More information on Swedish text adventures and C64 games can be found from one of my favourite sources used for this article at Spelpappan's website. Just so that this wouldn't become such an obvious celebration of Swedish game developing, let's take a look at what was happening in Denmark and Norway in the meantime, before jumping onto the 16-bits.



Digging again through Wikipedia got me finding out, that the first computer in Denmark was called DASK - Dansk Aritmetisk Sekvens Kalkulator. Should be rather self-explanatory. Of course, because this was during the 1950's, the computer would fill a large cupboard or a very small room. I'm not that sure about the first game programmed in Denmark, though. A search through the Danish Datamuseum's database would suggest, that perhaps a Mastermind clone was programmed for the RC4000 system during the 1970's, or something else called a Flexowriter for the GIER machine. According to Mark Wolf's book "Video Games Around the World", one early attempt at making a Danish commerical video game was Kaptajn Kaper i Kattegat (released in English as "Privateer") for the IBM-PC compatibles in 1981. This was surprisingly a rather complex sea-pirating simulator, much like Sid Meier's Pirates! would be about six years later on a completely new level.

Screenshots from the Danish DOS version of Kaptajn Kaper i Kattegat.
You can already tell from digging through the Danish C64 scene history, that the C64 was big in Denmark. It has been documented, that already as early as January 1984, two major cracking groups were established, and the Cracker's Map at the Recollection site shows a huge list of other Danish cracking groups from the 80's. Strangely enough, even the official Danish Datamuseum website mentions the C64 scene as being notable, and mentions very little of computers that are not  Commodore.

Screenshots from Søren Grønbech's games on Commodore 64 (top row) and Commodore Amiga (bottom row).
Top row, left to right: Cracker's Revenge (1985), Cyborg/Cyber-1 (1985), The Vikings (1987)
Bottom row, left to right: Datastorm (1989), Guldkorn Expressen (1991), Sword of Sodan (1988)

One of the earlier Danish star game developers rose to fame from the cracking scene: Søren Grønbech, whose first game was the widely spread public domain game, Cracker's Revenge in 1985. His commercial C64 titles include the Vikings (which was featured as the second Format Wars article in the Reset magazines), which was published by Kele Line; and Cyborg, also known as Cyber-1, which was published by Quick Soft (a budget label of Creative Sparks). He also got three games published for the Commodore Amiga, all released through different publishers: Sword of Sodan, a side-scrolling sword-brawler from 1988; Datastorm, a Defender/Dropzone-clone from 1989; and Guldkorn Expressen, a side-scrolling arcade-racer from 1991, which was made as an advertisement game for a cereal company. Currently, Søren's Sodan Design is busy with a rather impressive voxel-based world designer called Build A World, which features the ability to print a 3D model of your BAW-map with a 3D printer. How cool is that!

Due to Denmark being so closely situated to Germany, and subsequently to the rest of continental Europe, it was easier for Danish game programmers and artists to combine forces with game people from other countries. Some of the most memorable Danish artists from the 80's, such as musician Johannes Bjerregaard, graphician Torben Bakager Larsen and programmer Bo M. Nielsen, took their part in creating some great games for major UK game publishers - you might recall games like Eagles (1987), Thunder Force (1987) and Stormlord (1989) from Hewson, Special Agent from Firebird (1988), Zoom! from DSI (1988), Kamikaze from Codemasters (1990) or even Flimbo's Quest from System 3 (1990).

Some randomly Danish C64 games.
Top row, left to right: Eagles (Hewson, 1987), Thunder Force (Hewson, 1987), Special Agent (Firebird, 1988).
Bottom left: Kamikaze (Codemasters, 1990). Bottom right: Zoom! (Discovery Software International, 1988).

Another sort of a search you can do with Gamebase64 is to click on the [Danish] language link below a game title on a list page to list all games that have the in-game messages in Danish only. This doesn't necessarily result in Danish-programmed games only, but you also get games that were translated into Danish. So, here's a few Danish C64 grabbers for you that I found out to be charming in some cheap manner: 7'up Pub Spil, Cosmic Killer and Gold Fever.

However, it was much more difficult to find out, which high-profile programmers, musicians and graphicians were actually Danish, rather than, say, Norwegian, Swedish or even Austrian or German, because some of the names get so easily mixed up, and most databases don't really offer this sort of information unless the person in question is particularly well-known. So, I shall leave it to you, dear readers, to throw me some names.

Because I found tracking Danish names such a difficult job, I moved on to doing research on Danish game publishers. The aforementioned Kele Line was one of the first professional game publishers in Denmark, but was rather short-lived. They released only 3 games: Zyron's Escape, The Vikings and Tiger Mission. From the three games, you already know what happened to the writer of The Vikings, and Tiger Mission features artwork from Bjerregaard and Bakager, but the programmers only did this one game; but Lars Hasselbach and Nikolaj Pagh, who made Zyron's Escape, also got a game called Unitrax released through Domark's short-lived budget label Streetwise.

Properly Danish games, left to right:
Zyron's Escape (Kele Line, 1986), Tiger Mission (Kele Line, 1987), MACH (Starvision, 1987), Unitrax (Streetwise, 1987)

Bjerregaard and Bakager moved on to a new software house called Starvision, run by Ivan Sølvason. They managed to release a single game called MACH - Maneouverable Armed Computer Humans in 1987, which was a mediocre shoot'em-up. Starvision had four other games planned for release in 1988, none of which are currently known to exist past an advertisment in 1988. Games That Weren't also has 7 unreleased games listed from Kele Line, featuring entries from Bakager, Bjerregaard and Grønbech. Not only that - unreleased games from short-lived companies called Power Games and World Games, featuring the same familiar names, are also featured. Lots of interesting things to read, if you're into this sort of stuff.

Random Danish games on the ZX Spectrum, left to right:
Crazy Cars (JB Software, 1985), 3D-Pacman (Freddy Kristiansen, 1983), The Sillycon War (Maz H. Spork, 1985)
and Trail Racer (JB Software, 1987)

On the other major 8-bits, it's been more difficult to find any notable games, apart from a few text adventures. Of course, you can find some utilities released for practically every system on any language of a major market area, but since this blog focuses on games, we shall not enter that realm. The only games I found for the other 8-bits were not very surprisingly for the ZX Spectrum, most of which were cheap clones of other well-known games, such as Pac-Man, Pong and Joust, and then you'd get the odd text adventure for each unimportant clone.

ZX Spectrum: Globular Troubles (Jørgen Bech, 1987)

The only interesting Danish game that I found from the World of Spectrum archives was Jørgen Bech's Globular Troubles from 1987, which is a curious little isometric jumping puzzler, which reminds me a bit of Que-Dex on the C64, but has less variety in gameplay and is certainly more puzzling. It's still very well worth a look. Now, let's take a visit to Norway, before we go back to Sweden.



The beginnings of the Norwegian game industry was much more difficult to track down, particularly because they had very little notable game developers or publishers until the 1990's. However, it has to be noted, that the Norwegians did have their own magazines for computers and games as early as 1982, with Hobby-data, later known as Mikrodata. Another computing magazine called Hjemmedata was established in 1983. Both of these saw their last publication in 1987, when another computing magazine called Exec came about - perhaps a continuation of the other two?

Early Norwegian MSX games by Roger Samdal/Nord Soft. Left - Flipper Man. Right - Labyx. (1984)

The earliest semi-professional-looking published games I have managed to track down as image files were written by Roger Samdal (Nord Soft), who got his Flipper Man and Labyx games for Spectravideo published through Mikrodata and Hjemmedata magazines, respectively, and was given a few hundred NOK for each game. This lead me to find out, how much of type-ins these magazines actually featured, and found plenty of scans of both Mikrodata and Hjemmedata (as well as many other) magazines from Stone Oakvalley's website (known for his real SID recordings). If anything can be gathered from browsing through some of these Norwegian magazines, is that there was plenty of variety available (even computers like Sord M5 and the Sharp MZ-series were available), only the prices were so high that people didn't have that much of a chance to actually get into computing. However, there are plenty of type-ins to be found on these magazine pages, if anyone's willing to turn them into actual runnable files, or point out to me and others willing to explore, whether there already exists an archive of this material in files or not.

C64 games by Helge Åkesson (Data-Tronic): Workman (198x?) and Pacboy (1991).

Some time ago, I noticed one of the most frequently mentioned Norwegian games being a basic stock market simulator called Oslo Bors for the C64. It isn't known, who wrote the game, or when was it published, but Folkedata is listed as the publisher at Gamebase64 - I'm guessing it's another magazine. A quick search for "language: Norwegian" at Gamebase64 reveals four pages of games, most of which are either public domain or published in a magazine, so hunting for more commercially successful Norwegian C64 games looked like a needle-in-a-haystack sort of a case. The most promising publisher name was Data-Tronic, under which there are 17 titles in the database. The most promising games from their catalogue are called Space Attack!, Wet Paint and Workman, of which the last one was actually written by a Norwegian fellow. Unfortunately, Helge Åkesson only made one other game for the C64, which was a Pac-Man clone called Pac-Boy. At this point, I had to give up and check the World of Spectrum database.

Left: Oslo Børs (C64; Folkedata, 198x) - Right: Trondheim Børs (Spectrum; Næss Data, 1987)

And what do you know - I stumbled upon a game called Trondheim Børs, which was based on the C64 game Oslo Børs. Seeing as this version was released in 1987, the original has to have been made either the same year or prior to that, so it cannot have been done in the 1990's. Other than this, there were only a few other Norwegian games listed in the Spectrum database, all of which were MIA text adventures.

Funcom games: A Dinosaur's Tale (1994), Nightmare Circus (1996), The Longest Journey (1999)

Things started to look more positive on the commercial side of Norwegian game developing scene in the 1990's, but naturally, things had moved on to the 16-bits by then. The first big commercially released thing was a Christmas-themed game, which has actually already been once mentioned on the blog: Daze Before Christmas from 1994, for both Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis/Megadrive. The game dev company responsible for Daze Before Christmas, Funcom, had already written another action game for the 16-bit Sega machine, based on Steven Spielberg's animated movie "We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story", and got it published through Hi Tech Expressions as "A Dinosaur's Tale", but only in North America. Funcom's adventures in animation-based games continued with Disney's Pocahontas and Casper, and they also did a rather unique (if not particularly playable) platforming brawler called Nightmare Circus for the 16-bit Sega, as well as a Norwegian/Danish-joint-operation sports game called Winter Gold (earlier mentioned in Unique Games Part 2) before they moved on to the 32-bit systems. Since then, Funcom have become a worldwide organization, and are probably best known for their Anarchy Online and Age of Conan series, but older PC gamers are probably better acquainted with the Longest Journey and its sequel Dreamfall from their catalogue.

Top: The Spitting Fish (Atari ST; Budgie UK, 1993) - Bottom: Fuzzball (Commodore Amiga; System 3, 1991)

At the more computer-focused 16-bit camp, things look a bit grim. The only game I found from the Atari sources for the ST with any relation to Norwegians was an STOS manufactured mouse-driven shooter game called The Spitting Fish from 1993, which was at least published by some company called Budgie. The Amiga sources looked nearly as grim, but at least the Norwegians can boast of having created a good, original platformer for the Amiga, as well as originated a mystery not of their own making. See, Scangames Norway AS developed a rather unique platformer called Fuzzball, which was released by System 3 in 1991. The game was also in development for the Commodore 64 (not by a Norwegian team, though), but was canned by System 3 when nearly finished. More information about it at Games That Weren't.

Left: Crossfire (open source, 1992-); Right: Combat Cars (Accolade, 1994)

Wikipedia was able to tell me about a free and open source cross-platform multiplayer online RPG called Crossfire, which was originally made in 1992 by Frank Tore Johansen. The game is apparently a mish-mash of ideas from Nethack, Ultima and Gauntlet, which already sounds like a real hoot. While it's not quite the same thing as Unreal Worlds, it does have the same development time, so it should have plenty enough to get yourselves sucked into, even for the most hardcore of you roleplayers out there. And then, I found this one lead from a book called "Video Games Around The World" by Mark Wolf, which mentions a Norwegian game called Combat Cars from 1994. MobyGames didn't have the game's credits, apart from it being published by Accolade, but GameFAQs seemed to know better - apparently, Scangames were also responsible for this 16-bit Sega-exclusive, simultaneous 2-player vehicular combat-racing title.

Screenshots from a couple of more modern Norwegian games.
Top: Project I.G.I. (Innerloop, 2000); Bottom: Among the Sleep (Krillbite, 2014)

It was not until the PC hardware development had reached a certain point, that Norwegian game developers started focusing on PC's - more specifically, Windows-based machines. One of the better-known PC game developing studios, Innerloop, existed from 1996 to 2003, during which they made their mark with the two Project I.G.I. games in 2000 and 2003, and an extreme sports game for Windows and Sega Dreamcast, simply called Xtreme Sports, published by Sega in 2000. After that, most modern Norwegian games are either still being developed by Funcom, or then they are more or less one-offs from pop-up game dev studios. Some of the more interesting Norwegian titles of recent years have been an adventure-RPG called Earthlock: Festival of Magic, and a survival horror game called Among the Sleep.

Examples of new Norwegian C64 games, left to right:
Rocket Smash (2013), Bellringer III (2014), Dog (2016)

Being a retro gaming blog, retro is really what we're interested in, and so we return to the old hardware. It seems like from all the 8-bit communities, the C64 has the most active members in Norway. John Christian Lønningdal, who maintains a Commodore collecting website called Commodore Retro Heaven, is also responsible for programming a couple of rather nice games, both of which were originally written for the RGCD 16kb cartridge competitions, and both of which are basically remakes of earlier games from other machines. His first game, Rocket Smash and its full commercial release Rocket Smash EX are based on the ZX Spectrum classic Jet Pac, but Rocket Smash has its own few twists that make it a different enough experience. More recently in 2015, he wrote Icicle Race, which is based on the NES game Fire 'n Ice, the official prequel to Solomon's Key, even though it was released as Solomon's Key 2 in Europe and Japan. Icicle Race won that year's RGCD 16kb development competition, which I cannot help but agree upon. Fire 'n Ice has also had unofficial conversions for the ZX Spectrum and Commodore Amiga in the current millennium.

A coder by the name of Geir Straume sounds a bit German, but according to CSDb, is from Norway, and his first game, Battle in Space, was written in 1988. Talk about a long-time scener, right? Well, not quite, because that was his only publication for the C64 until 2002, when he entered a 1K Game programming competition with Diamond Maze 64, and enhanced it to a 2K version later that year. Since then, he has been a bit on and off the scene, but has written such well-received titles as the Bellringer trilogy, Sub Destroyer and Brilliant Maze (which looks like a sequel to Diamond Maze) as his latest game.

Another, this time a proper long-time scener called Vanja Utne, who is mostly known for her outstanding graphics, founded a new game developing and publishing house called Pond Software in 2016, whose first game was a team effort with a Swedish programmer. Vanja's own games so far have been small, but utterly charming - both toppers of the 2016 C64 4kb coding competition: Goblin and Dog. In addition to those, she has provided graphics to numerous recent C64 games, demos and whatnot. Finally,  the newest Norwegian game scene member is called Docster, and is just beginning his C64 programming career with an upcoming game called Tombstones - Retirement Day, which is a typing action game with hilarious backstory and graphics - can't wait for that one! Now, back to our other neighbour...



The Swedish game industry really only started properly blooming at the turn of the 90's, when the Commodore Amiga eventually replaced the C64 as the nation's chosen computer, much like what happened here in Finland. Now, I'm only going to go through what I think were the most interesting and/or important companies and game developers, because there were so many of them in Sweden, particularly after the turn of the millennium, that it would be impossible for me to get through all the necessary ones within a "Brief History" entry.

C64: Bouncy Balls (Cherry Software, 1996)
After the C64's initial commercial death in 1993, a few odd games came out from Sweden for the platform, most notably Bouncy Balls from Cherry Software in 1996. Developed by a group of five people previously from Censor Designs, it definitely was a big deal at the time - it was previewed in most Commodore magazines at the time. Of course, fashion being as it was back then, the game was a rather boastful platformer, spreading over two disk sides, but looking at it now, I cannot say the graphics really made the game any better than its first 10 seconds. Cherry Software got plenty of press at the time, but nothing finished ever seemed to come out from the company aside from Bouncy Balls, which I think is a rather clear pointer to how things were in the C64 world in 1996.

Games from Digital Illusions CE: Pinball Fantasies (21st Century Entertainment, 1992), Benefactor (21CE, 1994), Motorhead (Gremlin/Fox, 1998) and Battlefield 1942 (Electronic Arts, 2002)

Before that, however, two very important game development studios were established in Växjö and Norrköping. First, from the ashes of a demo group called the Silents came Digital Illusions, which became the main developer team for a publishing company called 21st Century Entertainment, which itself was basically Hewson's reincarnation. Digital Illusions' first two games, Pinball Dreams and Pinball Fantasies from 1992, instantly became the new yardstick for quality in pinball simulation, and still feel unsurpassed in sheer fun and playability compared to all proper pinball simulations that have come since. The trilogy ended with Pinball Illusions in 1995, but happily, that's not all they made for the Amiga. At least in my humble opinion, one of the best puzzle-platformers ever came from the same team: Benefactor, from 1994.

Later on, Digital Illusions CE worked mostly on racing games, such as Motorhead, Test Drive Rally and Rallisport Challenge, but their two most currently memorable franchises are the Battlefield and Mirror's Edge series. Naturally, since DICE became bigger with Battlefield 1942, the series was handled by an international group of people, rather than strictly their Swedish DICE department - only when Battlefield 1 came along (fifteenth installment in the series!), the bulk of development was taken by an almost completely Swedish team, and the two Mirror's Edge games are practically fully Swedish-made as well. But that's in no way retro; I'm just getting the retro leads to the present here.

Games from Unique Development Studios: Slam Tilt (21st Century Entertainment, 1996), Substation (UDS, 1995),
Ignition (Virgin Interactive, 1997), Airfix Dogfighter (EON, 2000)

The studio established in Norrköping was called Unique Development Studios. "Was", because they were only around for eleven years, from 1993 to 2004. Like Digital Illusions before them, they focused on making high quality pinball games, since it had now gained a huge market due to DI's success. UDS's pinball titles include Obsession, Absolute Pinball, and probably the most popular of the three, Slam Tilt, although none of these can boast of being quite as successful as the Pinball Dreams trilogy from DI. UDS have some more interesting games in their catalogue, though: an early 3D shooter for the Atari STe called Substation from 1995, a crap-tastic shopping simulator called Mall Maniacs from 1999 (released as Mega Game I in Finland), and a couple of properly good modern classics, like Screamer Rally, Ignition (both from 1997) and Airfix Dogfighter from 2000. The last game UDS was involved in was The Kore Gang for the Nintendo Wii in 2010, after a seven year break since their take on a Futurama game, although at that point, only a handful of the people involved in the game's design were actually Swedish.

UPDATE! 29th of December 2017: Somehow, I had managed to overlook one important game studio from the list, and thankfully, Martin Lindell reminded me of this. However, the reason for this overlook was, oddly enough, that the company is now based in the United Kingdom.

Part of Team 17 originally was UK-based, no mistake in that. This was a disk magazine called 17-Bit, established in 1988 by Martyn Brown, through which he discovered a company called Team 7 International, who were already a merge from previous Swedish-based game and demo developing teams International Software and Team 7, so already we have a long history, which would require lots of more text, which I'm trying to avoid as much as possible here.

Screenshots from Team17 games.
Top row, left to right: Miami Chase (1990, Codemasters), Full Contact (1990, Team 17), Alien Breed (1991, Team 17)
Bottom left: Superfrog (1993, Team 17). Bottom right: Worms (1995, Ocean)
Team 7 International's first game was a Codemasters release called Miami Chase for the Commodore Amiga, with music by the resident UK composer, Allister Brimble. Being more or less a remake of Ocean's ill-fated Miami Vice, it was not a very strong start, but enough to get started. The full merge of 17-Bit and Team 7 International as Team 17 finally came about in the team's next release, Full Contact, which was only a slightly better an effort than Miami Chase, but this time it was a one-on-one fighting game.

It didn't take Team 17 much longer to find their moneymakers. Their first hit franchise saw its first game release in late 1991, when a top-down sci-fi/horror-themed shooter Alien Breed was released. Between that and the next hit franchise, they produced a high-quality side-scrolling shooter called Project X, and a cult-favourite platformer called Superfrog. However, input from the Swedish part of Team 17 would be diminished after this, that it could hardly be called a Swedish-based company any longer. And then in 1995, Worms was released, and the rest is history.

As we approach the present, the rate of new game developing companies increase. A couple of very different types of dev teams emerged in the latter half of the 90's, one of them being Paradox Development Studio, who focused entirely on creating epic strategy games for PC. Strategy game fans will recognize such series familiar, as: Europa Universalis, Hearts of Iron and Crusader Kings.

Games by Iridon Interactive: Dink Smallwood (Iridon, 1997), Pure Pinball (Iridon, 2003)
and Legendo's the Three Musketeers (Legendo, 2005).

We're already bordering the line of what's retro and what isn't, but we'll end our timeline to the births of two companies from 20 years ago, and see how they got on in their respective businesses. First, Iridon Interactive. Established in Gothenburg in 1997, and turned into Legendo in 2005. Their first publication was a relatively obscure, but now considered somewhat of a cult adventure game: Dink Smallwood. Iridon also had their hand in pinball simulation with Pure Pinball in 2003. Under the Legendo flag, their biggest franchise is probably the Three Musketeers series, which started in 2005, and the latest part was released about 6 years ago.

Games by GRIN/Overkill: Ballistics (2001), Bionic Commando: Rearmed (2008), Payday: the Heist (2011)

The other big company established in 1997 was originally called GRIN, but they became Overkill Software in 2009. Us old folks probably remember GRIN best from their ridiculously awesome remake of the NES version of Bionic Commando (Rearmed), as well as the not quite as ridiculously awesome third-person Tomb Raider-style action platformer version of the same concept. They did have a few other memorable titles, such as their first game ever, Ballistics (a futuristic racing game), and the two Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter games. More recently, the Payday series has been Overkill's flagship... although "was" would be more accurate, since it has been co-developed with another Swedish game dev studio, Starbreeze Studios, who acquired Overkill in 2012. Starbreeze are also responsible for many modern classics, such as The Darkness, Syndicate (2012) and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.

Screenshots from random games from Swedish indie developers.
Top row, left to right: Mondo Medicals (Cactus, 2007), Knytt Stories (Nifflas, 2007), Iji (Remar Games, 2008)
Bottom row: Shotgun Ninja (Cactus, 2008), Hyper Princess Pitch (Remar Games, 2011), Saira (Nifflas, 2009)

Since I did mention some indie game developers in my History of Finnish Games series, I couldn't possibly keep the indies out of the other Scandinavian histories. My introduction to Swedish indie games came about with a couple of cute little freeware platforming adventure games featuring a creature called Knytt. This guy, Nicklas "Nifflas" Nygren, specializes in creating atmospheric, story-driven 2D platformers, and his most immersive classics include Saira, NightSky and all four Knytt games. Other Swedish indie game developers worth noting are Daniel Remar, who is responsible for Iji, Hero Core, Hyper Princess Pitch and MURI; and Dennaton Games - Jonatan "Cactus" Söderström and Dennis Wedin, who have now gone commercial with their two Hotline Miami games. In the latter half of the last decade, seeing the name "Cactus" in an indie game usually meant lots of mad psychedelia or other surreal atmospheric weirdness, and I hope you'll take the time to find some of his old games, like Mondo Medicals (and Mondo Agency), Shotgun Ninja, EVAC or Psychosomnium.

From-indie-to-commercial game developers' games:
Minecraft (Mojang, 2009), Amnesia: The Dark Descent (Frictional Games, 2010), Candy Crush Saga (King, 2012)

Some indie developers started as small as the others, but became as commercially successful as the best of them. Still in a relatively minor league, Frictional Games started with releasing freeware first-person survival horror adventure games called Penumbra. Later on, the series was released as a commercial package in Steam and elsewhere, when their first actual commercial game became a huge success. That game was Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and while it continues a similar path started by the Penumbra series, the less said of the game, the better - it's (at least in my opinion) one of the best survival horror games ever released. The second full Amnesia game, A Machine For Pigs, which was developed by the Chinese Room (not a very Swedish team) instead of Frictional Games, didn't do quite so well, because there were less horror elements, but the atmosphere is still good, and the story makes the game worth a play. Frictional's own adventures in survival horror have continued with SOMA, and will apparently continue with something else in the not too distant future.

King Digital Entertainment is probably one of those companies that are known only to people who have ever played any of the bigger "Saga" games on Facebook or mobile devices. Although King was founded in 2003 (that's a bit too new for our taste, isn't it?), it's now practically one of the biggest game developing companies in Sweden, precisely due to their talent on targeting their focus group. All the mobile/FB puzzle games with "Saga" in their title are made by King, and are as addicting as they are old news in game development - you get your variations of Puzzle Bobble, Peggle, SameGame, match-3-or-more swapping tile games, etc. Nothing new here, just well-executed remakes of old ideas for a new generation. If that's not a perfect example of making money with something retro, I don't know what is. Naturally, Activision Blizzard bought King in 2016, so King is now a subsidiary of something bigger, which makes it not so much Swedish anymore.

Well, then of course we have Mojang, which was basically Markus Persson's own developer/publisher name, established in 2009. We all know Mojang's story: it's basically just Minecraft, with a couple of smaller games on the side (Cobalt and Scrolls, which I've never played). I used to play quite a bit of Minecraft when it was still an indie thing, but after Microsoft bought Mojang, they started releasing all sorts of silly adventure mode games and whatnot, and I lost interest. Still, it's the biggest thing that came from Sweden since ABBA or Volvo, and if you haven't played it, there's really no reason not to try it out now.

New Swedish C64 games, left to right:
Knight 'n Grail (Psytronik, 2009), Panic Analogue (RGCD, 2011), Cosmos (PD, 2014), Double or Nothing (TND, 2014)

As our journey continues on to the current decade, we will turn our eyes away from the modern technology, and go back to what's really important. The C64 scene looks to be as blooming now as it really ever was in the 80's - only now, most of the games developed are of a higher quality on a higher percentage than they were in the 80's, thanks to the advanced cross-platform programming/compiling utilities, better availability of programming literature, and a more unified group of C64 fans helping each other out. Noteworthy games that have come from Sweden in the last 10 years are Mikael "Mix256" Tillander's Knight 'n Grail (2009) and Fairy Well (2011); André Högbom & H. Macaroni's Panic Analogue (2011); Encore's conversion of a Spectravideo game called Frantic Freddy (2011); Jonas & Patric Hultén's Cosmos (2014), which is a port of a lesser known arcade game from Century Electronics in 1981, as well as Jonas' port of Bruno R. Marcos' Bruce Lee II (2015); and Andreas Gustafsson's Spaceman Splorf and Super Ski games for Pond Software (2016). At least Tillander is currently working on two very promising projects, and I should imagine at least Gustafsson might be up to something as well, considering Pond Software's recent successes. Also, I cannot move on without mentioning Software of Sweden, who switched from the ZX Spectrum to the C64 in the 80's and have created new C64 games even during this decade; and then there's the author and part-time SEUCK legend Alf Yngve, who has done pretty much everything you can think of and then some with both the original Shoot'Em-Up Construction Kit and its Sideways modification, and his work with SEUCK has been relentless from 1989 to this day. Can't help but wonder, what's next in line from Sweden.




Zoom! (C64; DSI, 1988)
At the end of Part 1, we left Denmark at the point, where things would start turning radically towards the 16-bits. As you will see, though, the C64 was still aboard for new game development for quite a while. Discovery Software International (DSI), who also published Hybris and Sword of Sodan, published only their first in-house game, Zoom! (1988), for the C64 as well, and even there, the only properly Danish part of it was Johannes Bjerregård's soundtrack. Zoom! was also released for the Amiga, DOS and Sega Megadrive, so there's a rather good idea for a comparison someday.

Screenshots from SilverRock/ITE Productions' games on Commodore Amiga, left to right:
Super OsWALD (1989), Skaelmtrolden Hugo (1991), Harald Hårdtand (1992)

Now we get to the part where Denmark starts to properly raise its ugly (literally) head to the public at large. In 1988, a company by the name of SilverRock Productions was established, who specialized in creating games to be played live on TV over the phonelines. Their first game ever, Oswald of the Ice Floes, was created as such a game, although it was only ever used on some Danish TV show. Oswald in its original form was also ported for the Commodore Amiga, but it was soon realized, that it needed an upgrade to be at all viable for home gaming, so they made Super Oswald in 1989, which enabled a second player to join the frantic ice float jumping. In addition to the Amiga version, Super Oswald was also released for the C64 and IBM-PC compatibles. SilverRock's further home computer games were just promotional games for different companies, such as the aforementioned Guldkorn Expressen for Guldkorn and Harald Hårdtand for Colgate. SilverRock became ITE (Interactive Television Entertainment ApS) full-time in 1992, when their Skærmtrolden Hugo franchise took off huge in various countries. Hugo was the next step in live TV phone-gaming, and was properly popular for a stretch of five years. According to Wikipedia, Hugo was aired in more than 40 countries, so it can be said without a doubt, that Hugo the troll is what put Denmark on the gamers' map worldwide. In addition to spreading the Hugo franchise in a million different directions, ITE were responsible for a few other interactive TV products, such as Crazy Cartoon Soccer and The Interactive Cartoon Show, but none of them reached the same level of popularity as Hugo. ITE was eventually purchased by NDS Group in 2006, and renamed NDS Denmark, but they closed down in 2010.

Cope-Com's Hybris and Battle Squadron for Commodore Amiga (1989) and ASCII's Double Clutch for Sega (1993)

You might recall Martin Pedersen and Torben Bakager Larsen from a game called The Vikings, released for the C64 and Amstrad CPC by Kele Line. Well, these two men met while making graphics for the Vikings' different versions, and decided to join forces to establish a new developer team called Cope-Com, in order to have a platform to create games solely for the Commodore Amiga. Their only two games were released in 1989, and both were highly acclaimed vertical shoot'em-ups: Hybris (released by DSI) and Battle Squadron (released by Innerprise Software). The latter, however, was ported to Sega Genesis/Megadrive in 1990. Both games were remade for iOS devices about five years ago, and they also re-started a project called Aviators (Amiga-only sequel to Battle Squardon) in 2010... but we still haven't seen anything come of that one. While Pedersen never really took his programming career any further, Larsen continued to make graphics for a while, including such gems as Double Clutch for Sega Genesis/Megadrive in 1993 and some artwork for the Elder Scrolls' second part, Daggerfall for PC in 1996.

Screenshots from Commodore Amiga versions of Interactivision games:
Labyrinth (1989), Jagten på Bubbers Badekar (1991), Prime Mover (1993), The Ultimate Pinball Quest (1994)

Next, a publishing company called Interactivision (not at all to be confused with Activision) started as a strictly developing team in 1989, and got their first game called Labyrinth (rather peculiarly a fusion of maze-arcade and quiz) published in Det Nye COMputer magazine's coverdisk in 1990, and the game was also released for C64 and PC (DOS). Other "classic" games developed by Interactivision are Jagten på Bubbers Badekar, Prime Mover and the Ultimate Pinball Quest. They turned into a publishing company in 1994, releasing Ultimate Pinball Quest as Living Ball for the PC, an airline simulator called Airlines strictly for PC, and a brilliant platformer called Naughty Ones for the Amiga. Interactivision continued publishing as such until 1999, after which they became InterActive Vision, and carried on developing games for other publishers.

Melon Dezign's Naughty Ones (Interactivision, 1994) and Jimmy's Fantastic Journey (Lionheart, 1994) for Amiga.

I mentioned Naughty Ones above - it was developed by a team called Melon Dezign, who also developed another cute platformer called Jimmy's Fantastic Journey, which was published by Euro Power Pack in Denmark and Lionheart worldwide. Euro Power Pack seemed to reach both their peak and end with Jimmy's Fantastic Journey, and having previously only released a Dungeon Master clone, a bunch of Populous editions and football game compilations in Denmark, EPP left their only interesting case called Trik Trak open for speculation.

Loosely related games from the makers of Cover Girl Strip Poker (Emotional Pictures, 1991):
Banshee (Core Design, 1994), Lollypop (Rainbow Arts, 1995), Eskimo Games (Maitai/Magic Bytes, 1989)

I'm getting a bit mixed up about my timeline here, but no matter. This lot of games in the above screenshots have much to do with a group called Emotional Pictures, whose only finished product together was Covergirl Strip Poker, which was released for Amiga, C64 and DOS. The Amiga game database website Hall of Light also has an entry on an unreleased game called Back Sides, which is supposedly an Othello-clone - naturally, with an adult theme. Since it was apparently finished, perhaps we shall see it someday, but for now, we can only daydream. From Emotional Pictures, people split up to create familiar games for familiar companies. Hans Jürgen Hansen and Henrik Thomas went on to work on Prime Mover and the Ultimate Pinball Quest for Interactivision; Jacob Anderson did freelancing for Core Design on their game Banshee (1994), as well as for Brain Bug on their cute but rare platformer called Lollypop (1995); and Martin de Agger did some music for Melon Dezign's Naughty Ones. Earlier on, Kenneth Bernholm did some programming on Maitai's not-very-sporty collection of events called Eskimo Games, published by Magic Bytes in 1989.

Parsec (and related) games: The Persian Gulf Inferno (Innerprise, 1989), The Way of the Little Dragon (reLINE, 1987),
Tom & Jerry in: Hunting High & Low (Magic Bytes, 1989), U.S.S. John Young (Magic Bytes, 1990)

A few odd findings since writing the above lead me to realize, that one of my all-time favourite Amiga games, The Persian Gulf Inferno, was developed by a mostly Danish team called Parsec in 1989. At least for the Amiga, it was. Earlier on in 1987, the mostly Danish team also made a beat'em-up game called the Way of the Little Dragon. Most of the team also worked on Magic Bytes' Tom & Jerry series (even though the team name isn't mentioned at HOL), and Allan B. Pedersen also worked on a marine simulation called U.S.S. John Young, which features music from another Danish scene legend, Jesper Kyd.

Sega Megadrive and Saturn games from Lemon and Zyrinx, left to right: Sub-Terrania (SMD; Scavenger, 1993), Red Zone (SMD; Time Warner, 1994), Scorcher (Saturn/DOS/Win; Scavenger, 1996), A.M.O.K. (Saturn/DOS/Win; Scavenger, 1996)

This leads me to a really complex story, and it's about a game developing company called Reto-Moto ApS. Things started with a smaller group of people, who had all been part of the Amiga demo scene in the late 1980's and early 90's, including Jesper Kyd. This group was called Zyrinx, who released games almost solely for the Sega consoles. Their first two titles, Sub-Terrania and Red Zone were both rather unique sorts of shooters for the Sega Genesis/Megadrive, and their final publication was a futuristic racer called Scorcher for the Sega Saturn and Windows PC in 1996/97.

Meanwhile, a dev team called - believe it or not - Lemon was founded in 1994 by Søren Hannibal and Jacob Andersen, who had previously been in a demo group of the same name, and also had worked together on a familiar game called Banshee for Core Design. Lemon's only release was a voxel-based 3D shooter called AMOK for the Sega Saturn and Windows PC. By a chance, AMOK was published by a company called Scavenger. When Scavenger went bankrupt, teams Lemon and Zyrinx split up. Søren Hannibal went on to work for Shiny Entertainment, and his name can be found in games like Enter the Matrix and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Jesper Kyd set up his own sound studio in New York City called Nano Studios, and has worked since 1999 as a freelance video game musician, with an increasingly enviable Curriculum Vitae.

The remaining members of teams Lemon and Zyrinx joined forced and renamed themselves Reto-Moto in 1998. As Reto-Moto, the team hasn't really done anything of note, apart from the recent free-to-play MMOFPS called Heroes & Generals. Instead, they established IO Interactive on top of the remnants of ASX/Mermaid Invest, and started making games like the Hitman series, Freedom Fighters, Kane & Lynch and Mini Ninjas from 2000 to 2017, during which it was a subsidiary to Eidos Interactive (2003-2009) and Square Enix (2009-2017), until finally, just about a month ago, IO Interactive became once more independent.

Newer Danish C64 and Spectrum games: Shotgate and Linus vs. Simon by Simon Quernhorst (2008/2013)
The Speccies and Dingo by Tardis Remakes (2013)

And so we reach the current age. I'm sure there are more big modern Danish game developing houses and publishing companies, but as I said earlier, we're only really interested in the past, and how the past calls back to us in the present and future. A couple of clearly retro-affected modern Danish games that I can recommend wholeheartedly are Playdead's Limbo (2010) and Inside (2016), the former of which is actually being currently demade for the C64. Speaking of which, I think the person responsible for the C64 demake preview (or proof of concept) is Danish as well.

Although there aren't too many current Danish game developers for older machines, the few notable games can be found rather easily. Simon Quernhorst is one of the more productive Danish game developers for the C64, with lots of neat little games on his list, such as Shotgate (a demake of Portal), Pixel Pix (a Picross clone), and Linus vs. Simon (a digitalized version of a pen-and-paper game called Squares). He has also written a few games and demos for the Atari 2600, most notably the A2600 port of Aztec Challenge, which I mentioned earlier in my Aztec Challenge two-fer entry in January 2014. The ZX Spectrum game developing community also has one notable Danish contributor, Søren "Sokurah" Borgquist of Tardis Remakes, who has so far finished four games for the Spectrum - all of which are either remakes or conversions. The most famous of them is undoubtedly his conversion of A.C.G's arcade-exclusive game called Dingo, but his two Speccies puzzle games and his expanded version of the C64-original shooter Vallation are definitely worth a look as well. So, while the retro game developing scene isn't that massive in Denmark, it is still rather good. If I missed anything worth noting here, or in the Swedish and Norwegian's sections, please leave a comment below.



One thing became surprisingly clear, while doing the research on this entry: the further away a country was from continental Europe, the lesser it had the chance of becoming fertile ground for game development in the 80's. Norway was clearly a late bloomer, with most of their memorable old titles having been made in the 90's, and Iceland seemed to only become a game developing country within the last 15 years or less, their earliest big hit game being EVE Online from 2005, even though their first big computer-related product was launched in 1989: FRISK Software's classic antivirus software, F-Prot. I guess it's because computer hardware was ridiculously priced all over Scandinavia, and the further you got from the point of origin, the more expensive the hardware became. For instance, many people have commented on forums, that C64 disk drives were more expensive in the early days than the computer itself, and with the computer itself costing a small fortune (in Finland, it was around 3000 mk in 1984, and in Iceland, the cost has been said to have been around double of that), you come to understand the popularity of cassette drives. Also, the hardware costs fully explain, why the Amstrad CPC computers weren't too popular in Scandinavia, since they came with their own monitors and in-built tape/disk drives, at least either of which other computers lacked for the lack of structural requirement.

In short, all around Scandinavia, the early days of game development seemed to focus on the C64 the most, rather than any of its competitors, and later in the 90's, the majority of game developers naturally moved on to, or started on the Commodore Amiga, but at least there was a more balanced spread of developers doing games on different consoles as well as computers. Now, it's 2017, and amazingly, we have new pro-quality retro game developers from all around Scandinavia, including Norway, but Iceland is still separated from that jolly bunch. Also, these new games for old machines are made for all sorts of machines, not just the C64 and Spectrum - there still are fairly alive communities for the MSX, VIC-20, Amstrad CPC, NES and Sega machines, and it has definitely become clear, that the Internet has made us all connect with each other in ways we couldn't have imagined back in the 80's. Our world is finally global, and there are only a few rare lone wolves who do all their games alone. So much the better.

From the point of view of a Finnish gaming enthusiast since the 80's, I can only say that while Finland has its cultural, linguistical and tempermental differences to the other Scandinavian countries, our geological area is similar enough to give a similar point of origin for game development with the other Scandies, and we all share a similar history in game development. Seeing as many of the most popular and highest quality games of today come from Scandinavia, we have plenty to be proud of.

That's it for now, hope you learned something new, like I did! Next time, I shall focus on a topic slightly visited in this article already - see if you can guess what it is. Thanks for reading, see you soon!


  1. Luxor was eventually purchased by Nokia, but at that point almost the entire ABC series had been abandoned, at least the Z80 models. I think Nokia slashed the juicy parts from Luxor and dumped rest of the carcass, but to a large degree it was the final nail in the coffin of the Swedish computer hardware era, despite Ericsson's attempts to make PC compatibles.

  2. Very Informative and useful... Keep it up the great work.