Friday 24 March 2023

Trailblazer (Gremlin Graphics, 1986)

Developed by Mr. Chip Software. Designed and written by Shaun Southern with additional graphics by Andrew Morris. Originally published for the Commodore 16/+4 by Gremlin Graphics in 1986.

Commodore 64 version also written by Shaun Southern with title screen by Andrew Morris; published in 1986.

Atari 400/800 version ported from Commodore 64 by Amin Hoque, and published by Gremlin Graphics in 1986.

Amstrad CPC, Sinclair ZX Spectrum and MSX versions: Programming by Chris Kerry, Peter Harrap and Shaun Hollingworth. Additional Amstrad programming by Greg Holmes. Additional MSX programming by Colin Dooley and Greg Holmes. Graphics by Terry Lloyd and Peter Harrap. Spectrum and MSX loading screen by Steve Kerry. Amstrad music by Ben Daglish. Published by Gremlin Graphics in 1986.

Atari ST version: Programming by Shaun Hollingworth, Greg Holmes, Peter Harrap and Colin Dooley.
Graphics by Steve Kerry. Published in Europe by Gremlin Graphics and in North America by Mindscape in 1987.

Some unofficial versions are included in their own section after the main comparison.



Because February was such a hectic month with three entries, I wanted to lower the pace and focus on just one big entry for a properly classic game this month. Actually, work on the comparison of Trailblazer started late last year already, but was postponed due to finding out about two relatively new unofficial conversions, one for a machine I had never even heard about before - Tesla PMD 85. Well, now is the time, and here's to hoping this classic ball-rolling game gets the comparison it deserves.

In late February 2023, the available scores and ratings for Trailblazer are as follows. The original C16 version's rating at Plus/4 World is 8.6 out of 10 with 23 votes, while Southern's own C64 version only has a score of 7.62 from 105 votes at Lemon64. From the old archived World of Spectrum website, we find a 7.68 rating from 21 votes, while the current equivalent at Spectrum Computing is 7.7 from 3 votes. The two Amstrad scores are 14.71 out of 20.00 at CPC-Power, and 9/10 at CPC Game Reviews. From 24 voters at Generation-MSX, we have 4 out of 5 stars. Finally, the two Atari versions' ratings from Atarimania are 7.8 from 258 votes for the 8-bit version, and 8.5 from 11 votes for the ST version. All around, pretty high ratings, so we're certainly in for an interesting comparison.



It's a bit difficult to categorize Trailblazer as anything in particular. For me, it's more of a memory puzzle game, but then you do race against time through 16 courses full of these patterns you need to memorize, so it's a puzzle-racer, I guess. And a fast paced one, at that... in 3D. Basically, it's a very different looking version of Kikstart.

Of course, for most of us who grew up with practically any of the major 8-bit computers in Europe, and for some part in America as well, Trailblazer became pretty much a household title in the latter half of the 1980's, so describing it would more likely be an exercise in futility than not. In the odd chance that there is someone reading this blog, who doesn't know what Trailblazer is about, you control a ball or a marble or other round device in a series of checkered stretches of straight roads in space, and try to reach the goal within the allotted time. You only have a finite number of jumps to utilize for each level, and the roads are filled with holes and other kinds of differently coloured squares, all of which have a different effect upon your device - jumps, speedboosts and whatnot - which we will get into later on. Your mission is to make it through each of the game's 16 levels before your time runs out.

Because of Trailblazer's three-dimensional scrolling and requirement for speed, it's not an easy game to master. I'm still having trouble with it, after almost 40 years. But it is a properly addicting game, and has earned its status as a classic for a reason - particularly on its original platform.



There's a good deal of tape loaders around of the original, official bunch of Trailblazer versions; in fact, there are so many, that I decided to go only with the fastest loaders, if more than one are available. Naturally, this excludes the Atari ST version.

AMSTRAD CPC: 5 min 19 sec
ATARI 400/800: 7 min 30 sec
COMMODORE 16 - Triple Decker: 1 min 25 sec
COMMODORE 64 - Ricochet: 1 min 40 sec
MSX: 2 min 30 sec (version that loads with RUN"CAS:")
SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM - original: 2 min 39 sec

Just to be clear, the differences in loading times between the various re-releases on different platforms aren't that great, so any one of them should be enough for your collection, unless you're either a completist or just want to have the exact original release.

Loading screens. Top row, left to right: Commodore 16, Commodore 64, MSX, ZX Spectrum.
Bottom row: Atari 400/800, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST.

Apart from the C16 original, the loading screens, where such has been given, use the cover art as the source material. There are some colouring differences between different versions, but all 8-bit loading screens use the same perspective and style, completely forgetting that the original ball in the cover art doesn't have the traditional football (soccer) colouring pattern. The ATARI ST loader uses a completely different angle, and the title logo itself is very much redesigned, but otherwise, it's the same idea. The original C16 loading screen only has some sort of a game logo (that looks more like the Dropzone logo) and a bunch of other text in a designer font.



In its original C16/+4 form, Trailblazer was reportedly built around a similar idea as Metro-Cross - a game that has been compared on this blog earlier - only the perspective was changed to a 3D behind-view, and the soda cans and other elements from Metro Cross were switched to only appear as different coloured squares on the never-ending checkered road. The C16/+4 game is a single-player game of 16 levels; it has no options, and supports joystick badly (up and down do diagonal movements). The suggested method is to use keyboard controls, which are mapped as 3 and 4 for left and right, A and Z for acceleration and deceleration, and T for jump, which also starts the game.

The aforementioned Metro-Cross element of Trailblazer, the differently coloured squares, feature the following elements: jumps (blue), speedbursts (green), slowdowns (red), bounce-offs (purple), control reversers (cyan) and holes (black). Some later versions of Trailblazer also feature rarely appearing warp speed squares (white or flashing), first introduced in the C64 version, but the effect of it is rarely so helpful as to make it worth noting in the comparison, as you need to have both a thorough knowledge of the levels in which they appear, as well as staggeringly good reflexes to be able to control the ball in warp speed.

Shaun Southern's own C64 port could be considered somewhat of an update, since it adds five new levels into the game, a high score table, best times for each level, and five different game modes. Perhaps the most notable change to the game is, that the game is always shown in a split-screen view, because now there are two game modes to be played by two players. The arcade mode will let you play through all 21 levels in sequence; the time trial will let you practice the first of the chosen levels; the 2 player match mode and the player versus robot mode will let you race a human or CPU opponent through three selected levels. The C64 version is played with two joysticks, or the other player can use the keyboard with the keys overlapping port 1: CTRL and 2 for left and right, 1 for acceleration, [arrow left] for deceleration and Space for jumping.

The 8-bit ATARI version is based on the C64 version, so the initial differences are minor. You can only use joysticks to play the game, and the level selector appears as a separate item after selecting a game mode, which allows you to select the three levels.

The SPE-CPC-MSX trio of versions shares a lot of new design choices, one of them being the reduction of levels to only fourteen. They also share a similar options menu which pops up when you press a key/button in the title screen. The game mode options and level selector can be found from behind #4 of the menu items, and the game is started by pressing 3. The SPECTRUM version is the only one to feature some control options, which are selected from the main menu with numbers 1 and 2. The MSX version is the only one of the three - in fact, the only one of the entire lot, which gives you the option to toggle music, although you can do that during play also. However, this trio can only be played in a couple of different single player modes, so the split screen view is gone.

Contrary to what you might expect, the only official 16-bit version for the ATARI ST shares very little of design choices with the 8-bit Atari version - but then it doesn't exactly try to copy any of the other versions, either. There seem to be only 10 levels available here, and there is no time trial or a versus CPU mode - just a 3-level trial mode and a single player arcade mode and a two-player arcade mode, and joysticks are your only available controllers.

In addition to the controls and number of levels, there are some notable, if less pronounced gameplay differences. First, the ball's acceleration is surprisingly slow in the original C16 version, if you have gotten used to, say, the C64 version, like I was. The two ATARI versions follow the original in this, but the ball's acceleration isn't exactly immediate in the other versions, either. The AMSTRAD, SPECTRUM and MSX versions feel a bit odd, since after a fall, your ball jumps back up in top speed, but immediately upon hitting the floor, you accelerate back from almost no speed at all, but the acceleration is surprisingly fast, which begs the question, why drop the speed at all?

Second, the level designs are wildly different in the AMSTRAD, SPECTRUM, MSX and ATARI ST versions compared to the original, and as I mentioned earlier, the C64 and ATARI 400/800 versions have warp speed squares added to the already hard to memorize squares of different colours. Maybe some other versions have them as well, but I have yet to come across any. The levels are a little bit longer compared to the original on the CPC, SPECTRUM and MSX versions, and the ATARI ST version has even longer levels, which is perhaps appropriate, since it only has ten levels. As if that weren't enough, the four different versions from the beginning of this paragraph also use different colours for not only the non-effective squares, but also the bouncing squares, the slowdown squares, the inverted controls squares, the backwards-bouncing squares and even the warp speed squares, where available, use different colours, so you have to re-learn all the colours for some of these versions. Worst of all, the SPECTRUM version is monochrome, so the way to distinguish all the squares from each other is by figuring out their patterns.

Third, which is one of the most annoying things about the game in general, is that the time the game keeps you waiting after you fall down a hole can be anything between one second and almost three seconds of game time, depending on the version. The ATARI ST version lets you off the quickest, while the two original COMMODORE versions keep you down for the longest time. The other four have a nicely balanced 1.5 to 2 seconds of game time, which is a bit hard to tell.

A couple of singularly odd things about the 8-bit ATARI version: for one, jumping is not measured to be similarly optimal as in the other versions, so you need to be more careful with your speed; and the other thing is, that the slowdown squares don't slow you down as much as they're supposed to.

Another couple of singular things about the 16-bit ATARI version: for one, the ball jumps constantly higher than in any of the 8-bit versions. Two, you can actually go backwards. Three, being able to go backwards has made bumping into the purple squares more annoying, since you can fly further back now. Also, if you happen to drop down a hole after getting bumped backwards from a purple square, your ball respawns going backwards, and continues to do so if you're unable to land the ball on a square, which makes you go forward. On later levels, this makes the ST version properly annoying.

The last gameplay thing to make a comparison of, is how easily the ball can fall into a hole. In the C16 original, the ball needs to be over half-way over a hole to be drawn into one, and the AMSTRAD, MSX, and the two ATARI versions follow this fashion - the ST version being perhaps even more lenient with its edge detection. Annoyingly, the C64 and SPECTRUM versions make you fall into holes much easier, and the SPECTRUM version even gets the ball drawn into the middle of the holes automatically.

Although Trailblazer was originally conceived as a linear arcade race-against-time kind of a game, Southern's own update for the C64 really built the basis for all the other ports of the game for a good reason. Allowing the player to practice each level at will and play against another another player is even a bigger part of Trailblazer's charm than the fast and furious 3D gameplay, which was fairly impressive for its time. Like with his earlier Kikstart game, the C16 version acted as a good basis to build on. That said, the original lacks the options and game modes introduced in the C64 version, which makes it not quite as enjoyable. The C64 upgrade is slightly let down by its unoptimized collision detection, but is otherwise the superior version. For the 8-bit ATARI conversion of the C64 game, the writer left a couple of things not quite right, which makes it one of the least playable versions. The AMSTRAD, SPECTRUM and MSX versions are very different to play, mostly thanks to their redesigned levels, but the SPECTRUM version is a bit uncomfortable due to its monochrome graphics and harsh collision detection with the holes. Lastly, the ATARI ST version goes a bit too far back to the game's origins, while the increasingly long, third-time-redesigned levels, and the problem with the purple squares gives it a serious lack of incentive to play.

5. ATARI 400/800



Considering the original release platform was a machine with only 16k RAM, the amount of graphical elements in Trailblazer is understandably limited, but still rather impressive. Because of the way the game is built, there is no real need to do a level-based comparison of screenshot, but rather focus on each platform on their own.

Screenshots from the Commodore 16 version.

In the original C16 game, there is no title screen as such - just a Game Over screen with an endlessly scrolling road with all kinds of bits that you might see in the game. There are a couple of simple messages on both sides of the road between levels, in the start of the game and, of course, when the game is over. The rest of it is just simple checkered road scrolling, and your football-looking device, which casts no shadow. But the scrolling is smooth, and the road can be seen eight squares ahead. The stars in the background don't move, but randomly twinkling, which is nice enough.

Screenshots from the Commodore 64 version.
The C64 version introduces a title screen, which looks like it was supposed to be a loading screen as well - at least, judging by the way they did Kikstart II a bit later on. Additionally, there is a separate menu screen, which uses the top half of the screen as an endless scrolling attract mode, and the bottom half as a combination of high scores and best level times table, and a game mode and level selector. There is also a text scroller in the middle of the screen showing credits and author's greetings and other important messages.

Once you start playing, each of the player screens will feature a similar looking ball that the C16 version has, only with red dots instead of black. The ball also now casts a shadow. Each of the player screens also shows a level name and other new information for the new bonus levels. The player view is squashed a bit, which is only natural to make two screens fit on top of each other, but this makes the last bits further in the distance look a bit muddled. Of course, the game speed is such, that what you see in the distance matters very little. Again, the background stars twinkle, but here, they have been made different sizes.

Screenshots from the Atari 400/800 version.

The ATARI 400/800 version looks close enough to the C64 version, with the biggest differences being in the used colours and the title screen. The level titles are missing, and the background stars are more akin to the ones you see in the C16 original, but all in all, there's nothing particularly displeasing about it.

Screenshots from the Sinclair ZX Spectrum version.
If I wasn't clear enough earlier, why the SPE/MSX/CPC trio is a trio, it is mostly due to the team of people who worked on it, but they also made their mark in a very visual manner. The title screen is completely different from the loading screen, here showing a ball with hands and a struggling look on his face, reaching out for a pole in the middle of the screen after jumping off from a bit of floor into what seems to be the wrong direction. There is also a planet and an alien ship in the background, neither of which appear in the actual game. The game title logo is large, taking roughly a third of the screen, and it is stylized completely differently to the original, with rainbow-coloured lines. A text scroller adorns the bottom of the screen, and the top third of the screen is taken by the info panel, which is completely unnecessary at this point. The pop-up options and high scores window hogs up most of the screen, and is a bit garish in its choice of colouring here.

The in-game graphics in the SPECTRUM version are unfortunately monochrome, which makes recognizing different kinds of squares next to impossible in high speeds. The first few levels a easy enough, with nothing more to focus on than the solid coloured squares being the ones you jump from, and the ones with horizontal lines being the ones that slow you down, but once you get to the levels with areas of reversed controls and everything else in between, the monochrome graphics become truly impossible to bear. Also, while it doesn't really make much difference at this point, all three versions of this trio show only six squares of the road ahead, even though the screen size would certainly allow for more. At least the levels feature different base colours, and some even have different colour for the space background. More interestingly, the background stars are changed from blinking to moving depth-wise. Not very prettily, mind you, but it does add a bit of depth. Finally, the ball has no shadow underneath.

Screenshots from the MSX version.

The MSX version follows the SPECTRUM version in most things: the title screen and the options menu are largely the same, apart from the menu background colour, and the background star animation is here as well. Thankfully, the monochrome graphics have been changed to full multicolour graphics, although the ball is still lacking in shadow. The ball's colouring is again a bit different from the other versions: there are now blue dots on a white background, and it has a clearly black border surrounding it. Even the starry background has many different colours used in the stars. Overall, it's a very pleasing look.

Screenshots from the Amstrad CPC version.
From the CPC/MSX/SPE trio, the AMSTRAD version is the one with the most attention given to make the version look as different as possible from the other 8-bits. The title logo doesn't have the rainbow-coloured lines on it, but instead has two trails behind it. The entire title screen and the info panel have light blue as the base colour, with some red and white here and there. The graphics mode for the title screen and the info panel are different to what the actual in-game graphics mode is, making it look very different.

The way the road you blaze your trail on looks here is, as if it's a never-ending revolving floor. Although the gimmick is unnecessary, it does add some welcome off-the-wall sense to the game. The starry background is similarly colourless as in the SPECTRUM version, but on the whole, it all works well.

Screenshots from the Atari ST version.
The ATARI ST version starts off with the loading screen staying on for enough time to get a voice sample played, before you are taken to the menu screen, after which the loading screen is shown no more at any point. The menu screen here looks completely different to all the other versions, and has two items at the bottom half of the screen, which you can adjust to your liking: the game mode on the left and the three chosen levels for the 3-course test on the right. The top half of the screen is taken by the high scores table and two decorative shots of what the game supposedly looks like on both sides of it.

Considering this is 16-bit hardware with plenty of more memory than on the 8-bits, I found it a bit baffling, that the game is still shown similarly split-screen in single-player mode as it was in the C64 and 8-bit ATARI versions. The view distance is, again, only six squares of the road, even though there is clearly space for more. The starry background has been completely changed to an alternating background with trees and mountains and all sorts of things depending on the level, and for the first time, the ball looks exactly like a football is supposed to look like, although I'm not entirely certain a football is what the ball-looking device was originally designed to be. In the likely case of your not having a friend to play against, the single-player mode makes the bottom half of the screen display a larger, animated version of the redesigned game title logo seated on both sides of the randomly coloured stretch of road, which for once, is somewhere in space.

So, as was common in those days, the 16-bit representation of an 8-bit game focused pretty much entirely on the visual side of it, botching up the entire game while doing so. It is pretty, I have to say, but it doesn't feel right. The original C16 version is the only one to have enough distance in the road to make the game feel comfortable, but then it has nothing else going for it. The C64 version adds plenty of things to it, and the ATARI 400/800 version follows that style far enough. The CPC/MSX/SPE trio has their own style, the AMSTRAD version in particular, but in the end, it all comes down to how well the graphics serve the gameplay.




It's only logical that we start to dig through the music and sounds of Trailblazer from its original C16 version, and there are surprisingly many things to hear in it. The main title tune is a simple three-chord thing with a simple two-channel orchestration, but the beautifully harmonizing melody makes the track very listenable. Starting a game plays a series of ascending notes in four differently pitched groups. Completing a level plays a nice and surprisingly elaborate fanfare, which isn't too long by any means, and puts the simplistic harmonies to good use. It's actually mildly reminiscent of the Candid Camera theme song. When you eventually get a Game Over, the sound for that can be considered as an equivalent of the famous descending "wah, wah, wah, waaaahhhh" that you often hear played with a trombone. As for the C16 sound effects, there are three types of bounces and a spacey shattering noise when you fall down - and that's about it, really.

The C64 version features a new theme tune, which is arguably a more memorable one than the one in the C16 original. This new tune utilises some of the unique characteristics of the 6581 SID chip, so if you're playing the C64 Trailblazer on a newer model, the filters used by the title tune makes it comparatively inaudible. Apart from the level complete fanfare being switched to just a bonus counter wobble, all the other sounds in the C64 version are fairly close to the original in general terms, but they all use the same filters as the main theme, so C64C users will have to turn up the volume.

Again, as we get to the ATARI 400/800 version, there is another new theme tune to be heard, and this one is as cheerful as the previous tunes, but much trickier with plenty of time signature changes. Not that you could call it progressive by any means, just a bit mind-boggling, which to me is always a good sign. Not nearly as memorizable as the two COMMODORE theme tunes, but very good in its own right. There are no other pieces of music in this version, but there are sound effects in all the right places, and do their job just as well as in the previous two versions.

The SPECTRUM version was only made for the 48k machines, so the soundtrack is entirely single-channel beeper based. Again, the title tune is a completely new one, but for the first time, it's a short one, and it made to play as an opening fanfare of sorts, while the text scroller on the title screen is paused. There are not too many sound effects, either, so the entire game is a bit sparse on sounds. That said, all of the sounds along with the short title tune are certainly recognizable.

This is where things get interesting. Both the AMSTRAD and MSX versions feature a slightly sped up version of the C64 theme tune, albeit without percussions, and they both are able to play the music while you play the game. I suppose they came up with this solution after making the SPECTRUM version, and realizing that they don't have all that many sound effects, so instead of adding more sound effects, they gave the players the possibility of listening to just the couple of sparse sound effects, or listen to the theme music while playing. It's a nice option, if not really my personal preference. But this solution is what makes the C64 tune the most recognizable of the lot. Too bad about the relative lack of sound effects.

So, what did they do with the ATARI ST version? The title screen only plays a series of voice samples saying "Trailblazer", which starts off sped up to probably 10x from the original speed, and decreases the speed a few times before it hits the original speed. The menu screen has no sounds at all, which is a bit shocking, but when the game starts, you get to hear a similar rendition of the C64 theme tune as you hear on the AMSTRAD and MSX versions, low on the background but unmutable, and the foreground is taken by the occasional sound effects, which consist of a few different bouncy sounds, an echoed thump when you fall through a hole, and a blippy kind of a sound when you finish a level. All in all, the ST version doesn't really show off its 16-bit capabilities too well, even though the sound effects' quality is certainly a little bit above any of the 8-bit versions.

In the end, the C16 original holds itself surprisingly high among all the other versions, just by having all the sounds applied in the most optimal manner, and having a fairly rich sonic environment. The C64 version definitely sounds better, though, particularly if you're using a breadbox C64 instead of one of the newer models; and the ATARI 400/800 version sounds just about as good in its own way. The really good thing about the AMSTRAD and MSX versions is the ability to have the music on or off during play, according to your tastes, and they both sound just about as good as the C16 version - not as rich in sound effects, but in balance. The ATARI ST version is technically more impressive than the 8-bits, but the voice sample is a bit ridiculous, and the unusually realistic approach to the in-game sound effects don't really serve the game's far-out style. As such, it deserves to share the last spot with the SPECTRUM version, which has the least sounds to offer, but still manages to be more memorable than the ST version.




It took me long enough to get here, but the results are in! To be honest, Trailblazer has been one of the most difficult games to make a comparison of, because of the immense amount of differences between all the official versions. And there's still the unofficials and remakes to be dealt with, so I shall be quick here.

1. COMMODORE 64: Playability 6, Graphics 5, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 14
2. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 5, Graphics 4, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 11
2. MSX: Playability 5, Graphics 4, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 11
3. ATARI 400/800: Playability 2, Graphics 5, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 10
4. COMMODORE 16: Playability 4, Graphics 2, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 8
5. SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM: Playability 3, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 5
5. ATARI ST: Playability 1, Graphics 3, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 5

Well, that turned out to be almost logical. As you know, playability is king, so whatever the mathematically messed up score is, and the accordingly given placing on the list above, follow the Playability score if you want to check out a version previously unknown to you. For all the C16's lack of hardware capabilities, I was pleasantly surprised by the original Trailblazer, and the CPC and MSX versions were rather impressive, as well. Here's a video accompaniment by yours truly, if you can't be bothered to try the versions out by yourself, including footage of some of the unofficial versions, as well.

Now, let's get to the rest of them. I'm sure there might be other versions that I have somehow managed to overlook, but as usual, comments are welcome.



Acorn Electron / BBC Micro:

Sphere of Destiny 1 & 2
Written by Gary Partis, and published by Audiogenic in 1987 and 1989.

Trailblazer - Written by Darren Coles in 2017.

Acorn's two more common 8-bit computers had a few different Trailblazer clones made for it in the latter half of the 80's, but only Gary Partis's two Sphere of Destiny games were successful in any way. The two SoD games are basically built the same way, with the only difference being different levels. What's different about the SoD games, compared to Trailblazer, is the more challenging level designs after the first one, and the fact that you can accelerate your ball into such speeds that you will have trouble seeing what's going on. Not bad, though.

Fast-forward 30 years, and a bloke by the name of Darren Coles released his port of the CPC/SPE/MSX version of Trailblazer for the BBC Micro. Graphically, it's somewhere between the MSX and Spectrum versions, and sound-wise, it has less to offer than even the Spectrum version. But it is rather playable, with some minor collision detection problems, but it's still the closest you can get to the real Trailblazer on an Acorn computer.

Videoton TV Computer: Magic Ball - Written by A Studio in 1989.

The next in this lot is a game I haven't actually been able to run properly yet, but there is a video on YouTube showing the game in action. From the official versions, the closest version to this would be the MSX version, if only visually. The ball seems to control left and right very slowly, and bounces a lot more. The sound effects are just about as good as you get on the ZX Spectrum, but without any title music. The level designs seem to be taken directly from the original Trailblazer, but the different square effects are way off, and there's just so many things about it that feel completely different, so it's only proper that it's not called Trailblazer.

Tatung Einstein: Roverball - Published by Merlin Software in 198x.

Little is known about Roverball, apart from it having been published by Merlin Software, which was the publishing label for B+H Computers, the leading retailer for the Tatung Einstein microcomputers. This Merlin Software is not to be confused with Merlin Software U.K., which are known for games like Blue Moon and Crazy Caveman on the C64. Anyway, Roverball is a barebones kind of a Trailblazer clone, in which you can only move left and right, and do a slighty higher jump than the constant mild bouncing that the ball does. The game starts with a long straight and a couple of easy enough passages, but becomes almost impossible when you reach the point shown in the screenshot here, after you've played the game for less than 30 seconds. Not recommended.

Commodore Amiga:

Jump 'n' Roll - developed by D-Lite and published by Amiga Fun in 1990.

Trailblazer - unofficially converted from Commodore 64 by Vision Beyond in 1992.

RollerBall - written by Harald Müller and published by Intersoft in 1994.

There were three Trailblazer games made for the Amiga in the early 90's, one of which is as straight a conversion of the C64 game as you could wish for. This conversion by Vision Beyond from 1992 even bears the original name, and has all the levels from the C64 version included - and it looks close enough to it, as well. Of course, being an Amiga game from 1992, it was destined to feature some contemporary techno-style music as its soundtrack, and the primary control option was mouse, but all in all, it's miles better than the official ST version.

The other two, Jump 'n' Roll and RollerBall are basically the same game - at least the level design is exactly the same between the two. While Jump 'n' Roll has its gameplay based on the same principles as Trailblazer, RollerBall drops the timer and limited jumps and gives you three lives to waste, and that's it. Both of them are joystick operated, and are a bit slower to control than any official Trailblazer. Jump 'n' Roll is definitely the more recommendable one of the two, if you want something a bit different for your Trailblazer addiction.

PC/Windows: Blazing Trails
Written by Allan Bentham, and published by RetroSpec in 1999.

The first PC remake of Trailblazer that I came to know, and possibly the first one ever made, was RetroSpec's release of Blazing Trails. At the time, Blazing Trails felt more like a cross between I've Got Some Balls and Trailblazer, but a bit too awkward to fit either style properly. Unfortunately, I still do.

The first level takes its design largely from Trailblazer, but everything else is new, and with the 3D graphics and the ability to move backwards, it's more of a maze-racing game with possibilities to jump over platforms, than a straight-forward one with just different coloured squares. In hindsight, Blazing Trails is a more interesting take on the ball-rolling racing genre than I expected, and I wish I had given it a fair chance back when it was originally released. But it's still awkward.

TI-99/4A: Skyway - Written by Rasmus Moustgaard in 2017.

This game draws perhaps as much of its inspiration from the famous DOS game, Skyroads, as it does from Trailblazer, which is why I decided to include it here against my better judgment. Skyway was written as an expansion to a 3D-scrolling demo by Rasmus, and added gameplay elements reminiscent of Trailblazer and Skyroads by including differently coloured squares, which when rolled over, would either give you points, speed you up, slow you down, or have some other such effect. Unlike Trailblazer, though, you have infinite jumps. For the TI-99/4A, it's an impressive game, as Rasmus' games usually are, but it requires 32K RAM and the FinalGROM99 cartridge to work.

Tesla PMD 85: Trailblazer - Written by Libor Lasota in 2018.

And the prize for the least expected platform to be featured on the blog so far goes to the Czechoslovakian Tesla PMD 85 (not to be confused with the car manufacturer), coincidentally with the newest version of Trailblazer so far. The PMD 85 is such an odd machine, that I haven't the faintest clue, how its screen modes work, so I just picked a random colour mode for taking the screenshots. The game itself features many different colour modes as well, so regarding graphics, it's quite unique.

Amazingly, the PMD 85 version plays quite close to the official SPE/MSX/CPC versions, it runs smoothly, and it even has a slightly better collision detection than the Spectrum version. Unfortunately, the game has no sound - at least, I couldn't get the emulator to make any noise with this game - so perhaps it requires some sort of an add-on thing to produce any sounds. Do throw in a comment, if you know any more about this version. Definitely a positive surprise!


So, what else is there to mention? For one, Trailblazer's only official sequel, a C64 exclusive game called Cosmic Causeway is certainly worth checking out - and I did write about it in part 10 of Unique Games, back in 2016. Another thing worth mentioning would be a Trailblazer inspired Windows game called Chromadrome (sequel to Chromentum) by Alpha72 Games, the sequel of which can be found from Steam for 2,99€. It looks like what Trailblazer would have been like if Jeff Minter had been in charge of its graphics.

That's it for this month, hope that was worth the wait! Next month will be dedicated to decidedly less impressive games, so watch out! Thanks for reading, see you later!


  1. I don't know if they constitute a platform you'd make note of, but there were also unofficial ports to the Texas Instruments TI-85 and TI-92 graphing calculators (And, I assume, the TI-83 and TI-85 as well, models sort of infamous for being utterly ubiquitous among American high school students for decades, due to being approved for use on standardized tests). I spent many hours playing it when I was supposed to be doing calculus.

    1. Well, that is definitely interesting, but calculators are a bit too far off from what I can, and am willing to do for the sake of comparisons, no matter how complete I would want them to be. The problem is, I do 99% of the comparisons using emulation, and even with some lesser known computers, it's next to impossible to find information that would even lead to the knowledge of some version existing on, say, a Thomson TO5 or a Sharp X-1. But thanks for the information, it's good to know there's been some high quality gaming going on with calculators as well. All I ever remember seeing on a calculator was a game similar to Nokia's worm game. =D

    2. Yeah, around the mid 90s, enthusiasts discovered that it was possible to trigger a bug in the backup and restore mechanisms for some of the graphing calculators that allowed you to load arbitrary z80 binaries, and a lot of classic games got ported as well as a few interesting novel games