Elite may have been the BBC Micro game of choice for
The programmer, Doug Anderson, takes up the story. "It was actually an external guy called Nigel Alderton who came to us with a Spectrum program he'd done called Eggy Kong. It had one level and was very much based on Donkey Kong, except you ran around avoiding hens and collecting eggs. [Alderton's account is somewhat different: he claims that his game was in a finished state when Anderson first saw it.] They were meant to be hens but they looked more like ostriches. It developed from there because I was really a BBC programmer at the time. I thought, I'll take his idea and work around it and he actually ended up writing the Spectrum one anyway. We worked on it as a team and there were a few people chipping in ideas."
Anderson had been trying to establish his own games company for two years when Eggy Kong came along. A&F Software was founded in 1981 with his partner Mike Fitzgerald ("We couldn't think of a more imaginative name for the company," admits Anderson) and Acorn Atom titles such as Polecat and Early Warning had failed to put the fledgling company on a secure footing. But the game that would eventually become Chuckie Egg changed all that. Developed in three months from a small one-level demo the game would eventually go on to every 8bit platform and become one of the most cherished titles of its generation - spawning several fan Web sites in the process. For Anderson, the game's popularity is still a mystery. "It did
Although there were only eight screens and a rudimentary goal (get Henhouse Harry to collect all the eggs under a certain time limit) the fact that the game looped around several times gave it a great deal of durability. "We knew we would run into trouble if we had more than eight levels. We thought that was enough, really," explains Anderson. "It looped round and then there were more birds. The second time around the duck came out of the cage, it would dive-bomb you all the time. On the third time the hens walked at double speed and then on the fourth time, if you got that far, you got the fast hens and the duck. You could even go around another time. That gave you about 40 levels altogether. We didn't expect anyone to get that far because the time limit came down, too. There was no end screen, you just kept going and going. We expected people just to play until they got fed up with it, but people kept playing it and scoring millions. We were flabbergasted, really."
Key to the game's success was its super-fast pace (for an 8bit game), its accurate collision detection, and some engaging level design. Anyone who first played Chuckie Egg back in 1983 will attest to its sheer kinetic pace and energy. Jumping from platform to platform was transformed from the usual pedestrian leaps (even Manic Miner was inferior to Chuckie Egg in this respect) to incredibly nimble negotiation of the game's space. Leap from one platform to a moving lift and you just knew the distance and timing required to hit your mark. And avoiding hens by a hair's breadth by leaping onto the middle of a ladder, rather than having to negotiate it from its top or foot, was just one of the nuances that made Chuckie Egg such a tactile experience.
But the humble BBC Micro and Spectrum processors couldn't handle sophisticated physics - it was all a shorthand technique produced by calculating simple properties. "The thing that took me the longest was trying to get the landing on the platforms right," explains Anderson. "Depending on which level you were on, would you fall down or diagonally? The bouncing was interesting. It gave the impression that there were real physical laws in there. There were so many platform games where you fell off the edges of platforms and you just went straight down. But in Chuckie Egg, you went in a proper arc. But it wasn't difficult to do. Just a few days' work. We had problems when you were approaching a couple of platforms at a strange angle and you could end up going through the other side. The collision in there was accurate as well."
Just a few weeks after seeing Eggy Kong for the first time, Anderson had completed his BBC Micro version of Chuckie Egg (Nigel Alderton developed the Spectrum version at the same time) and A&F was ready to put the game into production. "We were self published back then," recalls Anderson. "We had our own little factory unit and we had banks of cassette decks and we did our own duplication which included people sticking labels on everything. It cost about 50p to make the tape, we then sold it for five or six pounds. But there was VAT on top of that. The distributors took a bit. I think we got about 40 per cent in the end of the net price. [Chuckie Egg] never made a huge amount but it was a good steady earner for quite a long time because we kept putting it out on different machines: the Commodore and the Amstrad and the Dragon."
Unfortunately the cult following Chuckie Egg received couldn't keep A&F Software afloat and in 1985 the company went bust. When other development studios were being gobbled up by publishers, A&F struggled on meeting the demands of advertising rates and distribution prices, but to no avail. Chuckie Egg remains its most enduring title, and a supreme example of speed, simple design and a gentle learning curve combining to produce a piece of videogame magic which can never be traced among any number of subroutines and integer arrays. A true Easter classic.