Programming, Graphics and Design (Atari ST, Commodore Amiga)
Graphics and Design (Commodore 64, Sinclair Spectrum, Amstrad CPC464, PC)
How do you develop a game based upon Monty Python’s Flying Circus?
That was the question posed to us in late 1989 when it was confirmed that we were NOT doing a game for Virgin Games based on Judge Dredd (Sales Curve got that little gem) but instead one based on the surreal British TV comedy series of the early 1970s.
Now, the problem with Python is, that it is so full of diverse content and it means so many different things to different people. Everyone has their favourite bit (that simply HAS to be included.) And any conversation about it will, at some point, feature the compulsory word-for-word recitation of one of about a hundred classic sketches. (And, believe me, this was no different in any of the meetings we ever had at the Virgin Offices about the game.)
The early proposals from Virgin’s in-house teams were adventure-like in that you replicated acts from famous sketches. The kind of thing where perhaps, you found a dead parrot, had to take it to a shop where you would be treated to several lines from a famous sketch and then be given a fish licence that you would have to take elsewhere. Other proposals went along the lines of a compendium of many, many mini-games each dedicated to a different famous sketch. Ultimately all the ideas that had been proposed required lots of very specific content to be created for only a few seconds’ worth of gameplay, and, on machines like the Sinclair Spectrum would have required many, many time-consuming loads from cassette tape to break them up sufficiently to fit them into the machine’s memory space.
After spending a whole weekend solidly watching the entire output of the Monty Python team and taking many notes, a solution was proposed. The game was to be a side-scrolling blend of arcade adventure, platform and shoot ’em up games in which Mr D P Gumby (the only character that had been played by all members of the Python team) literally loses his mind and embarks on a quest to retrieve it. And all drawn in a unifying style inspired by Terry Gilliam’s distinctive cartoons.
In order to maintain the feel of the show, many short animated sequences were created to unexpectedly interrupt and divert the course of the game. So, after the player had wandered for several screens through a Gilliamesque landscape pursued by a small walking bush, the game would cut to a brief cartoon informing the player ‘How to recognise different types of trees from quite a long way away.’ Then, Gumby would reappear momentarily to have his head ripped off and transplanted onto the body of a fish and the game would continue from there.
The device of detaching Gumby’s head and glueing it to a variety of bodies gave us the surrealism we needed and put mastering a variety of different control systems at the centre of the game. On the first level, players had to get to grips with ‘fish control’ in which the swimming Gumby (with the body of a large halibut) had to be navigated through a number of pipes and drains. The second, more traditional level saw Gumby reunited with his body navigating a surreal landscape made entirely of body parts. Level three saw Gumby’s head on a chicken’s body, fighting gravity with some ‘Mr Heli’ style blasting, and finally, the fourth level saw Gumby in human form again leaping across platforms inside a giant machine while throwing fish at rather camp soldiers. To finish off, Spam-bonus sub-screens had Gumby’s head bouncing around on a spring with a boot attached to it, collecting, Spam, Eggs, Sausage, Beans and yet more Spam.
Add to that an ‘Argument’ Sketch sub-game at the end of each level, a scoreline that counted backwards from 99999999 (the maddest suggestion of the lot from the guys at Virgin, that although made a mockery of the score seemed to underline the insanity of the game), a ‘Cheeselok’ protection system that required you to identify cheeses to gain access to the game and in excess of 100 individual Python references.
The graphics were a joy to work on – it was a real personal challenge to trying to crack that ‘Gilliam’ style, and not only to copy characters seen in Gilliam’s animated segments of the show but to take beloved characters played by the real-life Pythons and turn them into their computer game counterparts in that same style.
But, to say that this was a tough project would be an understatement. Throughout late 1989 and early 1990, it tested all of us on the team both in-house and at Virgin as we wrestled daily with the concept and how to turn it into a playable game. Full credit must be therefore given to the technical skills and never-ending patience of all on the team at Core who resisted strangling me every time I came back with a list of changes from my many meetings with the guys at Virgin…
ORIGINAL CONCEPT IMAGES
Here are scans of the original concept drawings I made while working out the graphics. The game not only required me to replicate Gilliam’s animated characters but create versions of live action characters and characters only mentioned in song in that style. Also, here are the sketches I made while figuring out how to make a scrolling landscapes for the game.