Although System 3 will always be remembered for The Last Ninja and Putty Squad, Myth: History In The Making should also be considered. It’s a fantastic (if hard) platformer cum adventure that features insane visuals and a (for the time) unique theme. We discover how this fantastic 8-bit game came to be.
By 1988, System 3 Software had been established for six years and was already well-known for games such as the beat-’em-up International Karate and the excellent series of Last Ninja games on Commodore 64. Eager to step up production, owner Mark Cale had already begun overseeing the development of many more projects, mostly in line with his ethos of producing original gaming experiences rather than games based on licensed properties – a trend that was becoming increasingly common.
One such project was Myth: History In The Making, and Mark himself explains to us the initial idea. “I wanted to construct a game using stories that people could identify with, something well-known; so we began researching myths such as the Hydra, Medusa and the Norse legends with the idea of putting them into a game.” The basic format for Myth would ultimately work as follows: after an initial level set in Hades, the player, a contemporary hero summoned through time to do battle with an evil demon, is transported to several different eras including ancient Greece (400 BC), Scandinavia (900 AD) and Egypt (3000 BC). In order to proceed to the present day and a final showdown with the main villain, Daemeron, the levels had to be traversed, puzzles had to be solved and each end of level guardian (a famous mythical creature perverted to evil by Daemeron) had to be defeated.
Work began on Myth in 1988, with development taking just over a year in total for the 8-bit computers. The programmer and graphic artist team of Pete Baron and Bob Stevenson worked on the original Commodore 64 version. “Bob and I had just finished a conversion of Konami’s Salamander,” begins Pete, “and it went down pretty well. So my agent, Jacqui Lyons, hooked us up with System 3 and Mark Cale for its next project.” Pete was handed a document detailing how System 3 imagined Myth that could transpire. “It wasn’t great, truth be told, and largely a sprawling collection of mythological research jammed into an ordinary platform game.”
After plucking up the courage, Pete and Bob approached Mark Cale with their reservations; fortunately, the System 3 chief agreed and listened keenly to the new design offered by them. Pete explains: “We thought they’d gone too in-depth. Our impression was that if the myths were not pretty much common knowledge then they would be too obscure for a lot of players. So we went out and bought a few children’s books, with one title from Penguin I remember being particularly useful for source material. Anything aimed at pre-teens we saw as being full of perfect stuff to put into the game.” The design produced by the programming team was based around key puzzles that required either the aforementioned ubiquitous mythological knowledge or some old-fashioned exploration and experimentation. Each section was to include one or two puzzles with three sections per load and four loads in total. This, mixed in with swordplay, shooting action and platforming, would make up the gameplay for Myth. There was no doubting the team’s ambition.
Over on the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad, coding duties were handled by Creative Reality’s Neil Dodwell, with colleague Dave Dew working on the graphics. “Together with Jas Austin we were working for Martech writing games such as Nemesis The Warlock, Tarzan and Rex,” says Neil, “but we felt we weren’t really earning enough and considered it time for a change. Then one day, someone recommended we talk to this agent.” The agent in question was none other than Jacqui Lyons, and within a few days of meeting Jacqui, Dave and Neil were also on board the Myth project. “System 3 seemed to be a pretty cool company to work for. I remember Mark Cale was driving a Ferrari; I turned up to meetings in my Ford Capri!” laughs Neil. However, even the design document rejigged by Pete Baron and Bob Stevenson failed to excite Dave and Neil. “It was written essentially for the Commodore 64 and didn’t seem to be something we could reproduce for the Spectrum. So we simply decided to interpret it as best we could.”
Despite the technical limitations of the ZX Spectrum, Creative Reality’s experience on the Sinclair machine served them very well when it came to Myth. “Jas [Austin] had tried this technique in Rex [see Retro Gamer 112] where we avoided attribute clash by having a colourful scene that the player went behind rather than in front of and we used the same principle in Myth.” Although the technique had been pioneered in other games such as Virgin’s Dan Dare, it was a combination of this and the superb animation that really caught the eye in the Spectrum version of Myth. “That probably came from me writing a program that allowed Dave to animate as freely as possible and to then compress and sequence the animation into the game,” explains Neil. “We’d also written our own sprite animation tools as it always seemed to help having our own software.” Despite this, Neil still has reservations about the animation. “Although it had a lot of frames and looked great, playing it now feels like we sacrificed playability for visuals a little. Actually, I’m surprised it all managed to fit into the memory.”
C64 coder Pete Baron was also impressed by the job Creative Reality had done on the Spectrum. “They realised very early that our design played to the strengths of the C64, yet what was amazing was that they didn’t then reduce it to the lowest common denominator and make a second-rate game; instead they re-designed it very carefully from the ground up and made a classic game in its own right.” Perhaps the biggest change was the lack of scrolling on the Spectrum version (“There was no way we could do that on the Speccy, so we used a window that moved along the map but overlapped the previous screen,” recalls Neil), and the shift in focus from swordplay to shooting. But there was one big problem common to both games, as Pete Baron tells us: “It was an ambitious game, and Mark was always keen to get product out very quickly.” Time was, ironically, the teams’ greatest enemy. “Consequently we were up against some pretty harsh deadlines and in the end we went over quite significantly. Fortunately, by then it was gone far enough that everyone could see the game was going to be something special.” Nevertheless, the time issue did force the programmers to compromise when it came to the incongruous conclusion to Myth – it’s infamous shoot-’em-up stage…