Saturday, March 16, 2024

Games 401-403: Early Anirog Software

Sometimes, Data Driven Gamer's early company retrospectives are the most personally rewarding part of the blogging experience. I get to experience the seldom-played formative products of a culturally significant brand, and see how it would lead to the games we know and love.

Other times, it's a company I'd have otherwise never heard of, whose major products are games I've never had interest in, and the only reason I'm playing them to begin with is to ensure there aren't any gaps in my knowledge.

Such is the case with Anco Software, originally known as Anirog Software, which sounds like a corruption of "Analog" but is named after founders Anil Gupta and Roger Gamon. A major British publisher best known for the Kick Off and Player Manager football series, Anco published over a hundred titles during its 20 year lifespan, making it comparable to big U.S. publishers like Broderbund. But while the name Broderbund evokes the image of numerous computer game classics, Anco evokes none for me. Selecting titles representative of their early output is difficult!

At least, as it appears to be, Anco favored Commodore computers over Sinclair early on. Good, I say - I'd much rather emulate a VIC-20 than a ZX81 again.

Game 401: Cavern Fighter


An utterly dreadful clone of Konami's Scramble. The controls, which use the p/l/;/. cluster to move are uncomfortable and I can't image they're much better on a real PET or VIC-20 keyboard. The space bar, when it works, fires missiles and drops bombs at the same time, but with the game's broken collision detection, either are just as likely to pass through your target as they are to hit and you can't fire again until both of them have left the screen.

At least the game's pretty easy... on the easiest setting. Crank it up and it gets near impossible, though only because the speed increases and the controls don't get any more lenient.

GAB rating: Bad.

Game 402: Pharoah's Tomb


This one seems based on Atari's Adventure, though at least it isn't an outright clone in the same sense that Cavern Fighter is. We need to emulate a 16kb RAM expansion to make it work, which can break other VIC-20 games that don't need it. The ingame instructions tell us that we're here to search for the ancient king's magic triangle, buried deep within his trap-filled tomb. Some creatures lurk inside which can cause harm, eventually but not immediately resulting in death. You can also starve if you take too long.

Controls are still the p/l/;/ cluster.,which still isn't great, but less awful for an adventure-type game. Too bad the movement speed is agonizingly slow. I grab the hammer - I'm not exactly sure what it does, but you can carry more than one thing - and go in.

There's a key here, which I get, and what looks like a door, but it won't open. So I keep going north.

A friendly lizard man walks around here. Well okay, he's not that friendly, as prolonged contact will kill you. But maneuver around him, using the stochastic trees to block his path, and you can leave.

To the right is a dark room.

Walking around will probably get you killed. Better not go here yet - go left instead, which takes you through a filler room with more trees, and then to a little maze.

The "Ad" pickup gets you an ad.

Going left enters another dead-end.


That 4,000 year old apple looks tasty, but the door here doesn't open yet. Good thing the door to the right opens. 

That Space Invader paces left and right, and there doesn't seem to be any way to get through without touching it. Thankfully, you pass right through it, but there's no way to query how much damage you take doing this.

Lest this isn't clear enough, your movement speed is slow, and the controls are sluggish and unresponsive. Getting through this one screen alone takes more than a minute.

Huh, this looks familiar.

Inside the castle is another junction.

Here, both doors will open, but you don't want to go into the room in the upper-left. It fills with sand, burying you. To the right is another dead-end.

The door here doesn't open yet. So we go north instead.

It's a lamp, I think. I grab it, and continue west through these caves, past a room with an easily avoided bat, and into a chamber beyond.

I have no idea what that blue thing is supposed to be, but the door here opens, so I take it. And begin the long, slow walk back to the dark room near the pyramid entrance.

Thanks to the lamp (I think), we can see it's full of holes. And more holes open up as you walk around - if one randomly opens up right underneath your feet, or they open up in a manner that makes it impossible to return to the door, sucks to be you.

I get the shovel and go back. Carefully. The shovel lets me get that... thing from the room with the sand trap, and then I can open the door in the room with the river and cross to the right.

I grab the key here.

Now, do I go into the room up north, or do I go back and see what this key can unlock?

I try the new mystery room first.

Ok, what happens if I grab the '?' pickup?

Of course. I get surrounded by frickin' lasers is what happens. Touching them kills you.

But getting the key and backtracking isn't any better. Not now.

You should have packed a lunch, Birmingham Smith.

I have no idea how to get any farther and I don't care. This adventure sucks.

GAB rating: Bad.

Game 403: Skramble

That disclaimer is rich coming from this game.


We're back to Scramble clones again - seems there were a lot of U.K. Scramble clones called Skramble, but this one is Anirog's, and this time the lead platform is the Commodore 64. At least I think it is - a VIC-20 version was also released the same year, but the C64 version is credited to Darrell Etherington, the author of the original Cavern Fighter.


And it's actually fairly competent! Or at least it seems that way compared to Etherington's last version. It's smooth for a computer game, though not quite arcade smooth. You still fire missiles and drop bombs with the same button, but at least this version is joystick compatible, and the collision detection works fine.

Skramble is not a challenging game - it has no difficulty options, and I beat the initial six-stage loop on my first try and didn't feel like continuing. It's also a nearly 1:1 replica of Scramble - itself not the most challenging arcade game of its day - right down to the stage layouts and the final challenge of bombing a tricky target by the "Anirog" headquarters. Not one iota of gameplay is original here, folks, giving me not much to talk about.

GAB rating: Average.

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