Developments down in the dockland
(CRASH, September 1985)
In an office block in the middle of a windswept plaza in Liverpool's dockland, just across the way from the deserted and sorry-looking offices of Bug Byte, is the home of Odin. Not the big cheese Norse god, but the software house, born of Thor.And the software house which until recently had Mark Butler as a director.
Odin was brought to life by Paul McKenna, the main man behind Thor - the publishing company responsible for such games as Jack and the Beanstalk, Giant's Revenge, and The House That Jack Built. Thor is a publishing company, ratherthan a programming company, concentrating on the marketing and distribution side of software, rather than on writinggames. Towards the end of last year, when the ideas for Nodes of Yesod began to take shape, a new company was formed. Totally separate from Thor, it was set up to produce original software rather than publish it, and a team of programmers was assembled
.Mark Butler was made a director of Odin, having worked as a freelance consultant for Thor - but it wasn't long before the deal set up between Paul McKenna, Mark Butler and Mark's friend Heather Lamont went sour. Mark departed at Paul McKenna's insistence - and Paul is not best pleased with what went on. Something to do with having the Odin telephones disconnected, as a result of Mark's call to BT . . . what an Imagine-ation the lad has! But enough of that.
By February this year, work was well under way on Nodes, and the new company finally got its name, Odin. 'We could see that Nodes was going to be good from day one,' Paul McKenna explained, 'for instance there are 64 frames of animation just for that one character'. And his confidence was justified - Nodes was a CRASH Smash in the August issue. One or two magazines, however, have commented that Nodes of Yesod was a cynical attempt to collect together all the best features of a range of games and package them together in one best-selling game. Paul McKenna is not impressed by this line of thought. 'I refute that. . . sure there are elements of other games in there', he argues, 'but it's rare for something to be totally original nowadays. There's nothing wrong with taking established ideas and implementing them better. It's a wise thing to do, when you think about it'.
We had to agree. Nodes was a worthy Smash, and the work that has gone into the graphics and animation, and the little details like the munching noise made by the mole, add up to a very slick package indeed. And judging by the screens under development for the C64 version of the game, our chums on ZZAP! should be well impressed when it arrives - the same attention has been paid todetails, and full use has been made of the Commodore's musical capabilities. But enough of this C64 digression, back to the Spectrum.
Odin has got together a soundteam of programming talent. Some from Software Projects, some from Imagine - and one fellow from an un-nameablecompany (v. hush hush!). Nodes is being converted, in house, for the Amstrad, C64 and MSX (!) while work is underway on the next release, Robin O' the Wood. The third Odin game, which should see the inside of computer shops during October, is to be called Kimera. We promised to keep quiet about Kimera, but let's say it will be a totally novel computer game. Nuff said.
Robin O' the Wood follows the legend of the famous green-clad folk-hero of Sherwood - the Saxon hero doing his bit against the Norman occupation forces. A sort of English Resistance. Odin's game is set in Sherwood Forest - Robin's home territory - and the evil Sheriff has arr- anged an archery contest with the aim of capturing or killing Robin, thereby ridding himself of a Lincoln Green thorn in his side, once and for all. The prize is the silver 'Shaft of Power', an engraved arrow which is part of the Saxon heritage and is more important to the Saxon people than the crown of their kingdom itself. The Sheriff knows that Robin will have no alternative but to attend the tournament and attempt to win the arrow, and he has filled the forest with Norman soldiers under order to shoot on siaht. Robin has to find his way to the Sheriff's castle, so he can compete in the archery tournament.
Naturally, you play the part of Robin in the game, and have to find your way through the for- est, collecting weapons and killing Normans, as you search for the Sheriff's castle. All is not sweetness and light, down in Sherwood. You don't start the game tooled up with a variety of weapons - they have to be acquired - and apart from little blue marauding Normans out to kill you, there are a number of hazards on your route to the castle. Tread on a hedgehog, for instance, and you are wounded and can't run so fast!
Without giving away too much of the game, the odds are not stacked totally against you . . . if you are injured in a fight with a Norman you will be incapacitated, but you can be healed if you visit the hermit - and a friendly Ent (remember the walking, talking trees in Lord of the Rings?) can be bribed to offer you a little assistance in finding the castle. And of course there is a witch . . . who can be a hindrance, or a help, depending on what you have to offer her. And the traditional Robin role can be fulfilled by beating up the fat purple Bishop, who spends most of his time robbing the poor - duff him over, get his moneybags and give them to the Ent for redistribution to the poor.
When we visited Odin, the game was well under way, and with a bit of gentle arm twisting, we managed to persuade Paul Salmon - the artist working on the screens for the game - to let us take a couple of shots. A great deal of effort went into producing the pictures presented on these pages . . . Jeremy wielded the camera while Graeme and Paul took off their coats, stood on chairs and shielded the TV screen from the rays of Liverpool's setting sun. As can be seen, the effort was worthwhile. A great deal of care has gone into animating the characters in the qame and the routines for fightng are quite cunning - for instance, there's no point in trying to biff a Norman with your quarterstaff if he's across the other side of the screen, so you'll just have to shoot him with your bow and arrow - and if you've got one it'll be used automatically when you attack.
All in all, Robin promises to be an excellent game - look out for the full review in our October issue . . . meanwhile, you could have a go at mapping Nodes of Yesod and entering the Odin competition - you could be among the first people to have a copy of Robin O' the Wood!