Thank you for your detailed description of your thoughts on the Manchester event and the competition. Thank you also for your kinds words about our meeting - it was a great pleasure and honour for me to meet you in person .
I would like to reply to some of your thoughts below. My replies are in green, to distinguish them from your text visibly.
Thanks for your interesting and thoughtful reply. In fact, we're in complete agreement about most things you say – and where we aren't, it boils down to simple personal opinions – but I'll take this opportunity to respond to some of your points.
…And thanks very much for your (many) kind words!
To be honest, I never perceived it as a "real" competition. From my perspective, it was just a bit of fun, really, something to enrich the event with (the main event being the UK premiere of Paolo Santagostino's film "WILLY: 48K About A Legend" and the meeting with Matthew Smith on JSW's 35th anniversary). In that sense, it was not a bad idea, getting the people who were there involved (by voting) and making people aware that there ARE various remakes of the original.
I had expressed my reservations about the vote - before it even took place - on the World of Spectrum forums.
Thanks for that – I hadn't been aware of any of this in advance. With hindsight, I completely agree: it's best to view this as a bit of fun, and take it with a pinch of salt. And it really was an honour to have one of my games chosen as one of the five in the competition; I was really gratified when I got that news from Paolo. I also have to say that I felt very flattered to find a copy of Join the Jet-Set! installed on no fewer than three of the PCs in the big retro-gaming area where people could sit and play old games (both on original hardware and on emulators). None of the other JSW clone games were present there, so whoever set up that area must have liked mine. I've no idea if there was an intentional link with the competition or whether it was just coincidence. Perhaps my game was chosen because it's quite forgiving and easy to play (and I observed several people having a go on it who – unbelievably! – appeared never to have played JSW before!).
Anyway, as one of the five people chosen for the competition, it was presented to me as something to be taken at least reasonably seriously. OK, there was no major prize or consequence of winning, but I did take away the idea that it was intended to be considered seriously, as a way of honouring the anniversary and showing what had followed in terms of third-party development, so I naturally assumed that it would be treated in a even-handed way, and that bias wouldn't be evident. But on the day, there were all the problems we've discussed, and Paolo even went so far as to let the audience know which was his favourite game of the set (thus exerting unfair influence), so I was left feeling a little disappointed by the circumstances.
The problems became apparent to me on the day itself, though – as I really hadn't known what the procedure would be beforehand. All I'd seen was the official PlayExpo publicity and the emails from Paolo; had I read the thread on WoS I'd have been better informed.
This is not entirely true: Of the five games being judged, four were pretty straightforward JSW games that looked much like the original JSW and played in the same way.
Three of the five games were "pretty straightforward JSW games" in the sense that their game engine was not modified. These were: Join The Jet-Set!, Maria's Revenge and Jet-Set Willy (again).
Two games featured heavily-modified game engines. These were: Maria vs. Some Bastards and ZX Willy the Bug Slayer.
I stand corrected.
Certainly, I was aware that some of the other games had had some sort of hacking applied, as they do 'clever things' with the gameplay… but I hadn't appreciated the extent to which Bug Slayer had been enhanced.
I still think my basic points are correct… not least that it's Maria vs Some Bastards that is far and away the most obviously hacked, because so much effort has been put into creating spectacular big, colourful graphics that are simply not possible in the other games. And that, to me, was the single factor that made this game win, because this game had a great deal of visual impact that the others could not have. So that's my basic objection.
Join The Jet-Set! is a great game, Richard - an early classic on a par with the original JSW!
I had a great pleasure of recording it once for RZX Archive, and I relived this pleasure only yesterday, when I took the screenshots of all of the rooms for JSW Central. They can now be viewed on Join The Jet-Set!'s page on JSW Central.
That's a lovely thing to say – thank you! And thank you again for your contributions, too. I'm flattered that you took the trouble to make the RZX (which I've enjoyed watching), and I'm also very happy now to see all those nice screenshot on the game's page at JSW Central. That page is a great resource, in fact.
One small point (to be pedantic!)… looking all that long list of room screenshots, I notice you've actually missed one: the inaccessible "How on earth did you get here ?!" Given the difficulty of taking a screenshot of that room (because, as well as being inaccessible, it kills Willy repeatedly if he does manage to get there, as I recall), you might like to snip the copy of that room out of my own map of the game, which of course is on the maps.speccy.cz site (top right-hand corner).
> That puts it in stark contrast with most (all?) of the other entries, which range from weird and unpredictable to impossible to complete.
I beg to differ! Maria's Revenge, Jet-Set Willy (again) and ZX Willy the Bug Slayer are perfectly completable. RZX recordings of successful walkthroughs of these games have been hosted on RZX Archive for years now. Also, I wouldn't call any of them weird, really. They are very good games, actually.
Well, I stand by this opinion, so we'll just have to agree to disagree here!
I think one has to bear the player's perspective in mind here. You – along with doubtless many of the other fine people who frequent this forum – are an expert on JSW: both an expert player, a game designer yourself, and very knowledgeable about all the patches and hacks etc. that people have done.
I, on the other hand, am more of a mere mortal. ("Die, Mortal"!!!) Notwithstanding my own early contributions to the scene, I must acknowledge that (a) I was never the greatest player of JSW by any means, and ( I was absent from the scene for a good many years – including the early 2000s, when a lot of hacking took place. I remember John Elliott doing his work on JSW 128, which seemed exciting (and I was, again, flattered that he asked to include the rooms from my JTJS as his second set of 64 rooms)… but not long after that 'things happened' and I stopped following developments for a good many years. So I'm only now gradually (and slowly, as time permits) working my way through the new games, taking a look at them and seeing which ones I like etc.
I retain a great fondness for both Manic Miner and JSW, and I expect to continue playing them and being interested in them. But I'm not an especially good player (I'm still challenged by The Warehouse in Manic Miner…!), and I certainly don't have the expertise and extensive knowledge of the scene that some other enthusiasts – yourself included – have. And besides, my perspective on what I like to find in a JSW game may possibly differ from other people here too.
I'm certainly not against the hacks. Had things like diagonal and looping guardians, 'elevator tricks' (rooms with changing exits – I tried to do something along those lines in JSW in Space without hacking the engine), 'toggling doors' and so on been available as features in Paul Rhodes' wonderful editor when I was creating my two games, I'd certainly have used them. But nevertheless, my desire in new JSW scenarios has always been to have interesting new settings for the familiar game that I enjoy, rather than inventing new tricks merely for the sake of being clever or making the game as difficult as possible. To me, the former approach is fun whilst the latter is hard work.
So, as someone with experience of all the clone games, excellent knowledge of what can be achieved in the various versions of the game engine (and with other hacks etc.), and as a doubtless very good player, you're in a good position to appreciate the technicalities and cleverness in many of the new games. I, on the other hand, am an 'OK at best' player, and I just want to play for enjoyment rather than to be ultra-challenged by rooms that seem virtually impossible and by weird tricks that make the gameplay totally unpredictable, or very hard to work out what on earth you're supposed to do.
Of the games in this competition, I can't help but feel that most are pretty player-unfriendly. As noted, the winning game wasn't even completable until you fixed it for the competition (which in itself hardly seems fair, in competition terms!). Beyond that, it's very hard for a JSW player to know what will happen in Maria vs Some Bastards, at least without a great deal of trial and error. JSW players are used to knowing about the limited range of platform types (soft, hard, killer, ramp, conveyor) and being able to tell fairly easily where they can go in a room. In Bastards this isn't possible in the same way because the game is so hacked. You can't tell in advance which parts of the scenery can be navigated and which can't. Combine that with the fact that positioning Willy in certain places will cause various things to happen, totally unpredictably, including teleportation, doors opening, guardians changing etc., and you're left with a game that's very unpredictable, particularly without visual cues to give hints that such special events are going to occur. So as wonderful as Bastards looks, and as clever as it is, I find it an unfriendly game to play. Similar things may be said about JSW (again), which uses all sorts of quirks of the standard engine. Take that awful-looking (bright yellow!) room, "A Close Call": it has a weird rope that swings Willy off the left edge of the screen and onto the right, and vice versa. Fall to the ground on entering the room and instead of dying, the rope picks you up and transports you instantly away from where you were. Try to walk across the floor at the bottom of the screen and the same thing happens. Yet jump off the rope at the objects and you may well fall and die. This is the very definition of "weird and unpredictable"! Later on, the game exploits many other quirks of the JSW engine and is extremely challenging. I'm not saying it isn't cleverly designed – it is! – but it'd be most off-putting to a newcomer to JSW (well, as an old hand, even I find it fairly off-putting!), and I don't consider it a particularly enjoyable or playable example of the genre. It's clever, but it's also too strange and too hard.
So, both of those two games do fall into the "weird and unpredictable" category in my opinion. The other two, I feel, are rather better. I spent a bit of time with Bug-Slayer and concluded that it was interesting. (When I wrote my previous message I'd forgotten how many clever new features were in it.) Although the theme (creepy crawlies!) isn't to my taste, clearly a lot of effort has gone into designing this, and overall I was impressed by it. However, it struck me as being (a) extremely challenging (more so than I find enjoyable) and ( quite non-obvious about what you have to do. The bottom line is that this is a game you really have to work hard at, not one that you can take enjoyment from exploring easily. Again, I suspect that most newcomers would find it unreasonably demanding.
Maria's Revenge is really the only one of the other four games that I find at all enjoyable as a 'normal' player. It has some interesting ideas in it (not least the opening two-screen-tall werewolf from Knight Lore as a museum exhibit). It has to be said that there's a lot of pretty frustrating rooms and opportunities for endless death, so it's quite a challenging and frustrating game. However, I do actually like Maria's Revenge from what I've seen of it so far – there's a lot of good things about it – but I do feel that it concentrates a bit too much on frustrating the player rather than giving them a good time.
So, to summarise… Maria vs Some Bastards is beautiful and clever, but pretty unplayable. Bug-Slayer is clever and high quality, but also very hard and similarly fairly unplayable. JSW (again) is a game in which I found it extremely difficult to make any progress at all. Maria's Revenge… I rather like. I think it's very challenging and full of tricks and traps which are sometimes a little unfair/annoying, but overall it's interesting and nicely designed, and it's accessible to a normal JSW player like me who likes to explore the map. (Exploration, to me, is one of the most enjoyable aspects of a JSW game, yet many of them make it really difficult.) Anyway, Maria's Revenge is the only one of the other games that I'd really consider to be fair competition for Join the Jet-Set!, because not only does it similarly make use of the standard engine, without major hacks or relying on weird quirks, but it also tries to present to the player a coherent setting and a playable game. So, apart from my own game, Maria's Revenge is really the only one that – for me – passes the test of being a game worth playing rather than some kind of exercise.
As I say, these are obviously just personal opinions… but I suspect I'm closer to being a 'normal player' than most of the experts on this forum, and as a normal player I like the games that present me with something interesting and fun rather than an insurmountable obstacle.
It is amazing what you were able to do at 15!, Richard!
Don't you ever feel like designing a new JSW game now?
Thanks! It rather pales in comparison with what Matthew Smith was able to achieve at the same age, but never mind…!
And yes, actually… sometimes I do feel like designing a new JSW game. On the one hand, I'd need to find the time (which is a non-trivial challenge). And on the other, unless I were just to design another standard JSW48 game using the Paul Rhodes editor (as I did for my first two), I'd have to investigate the modern tools and see about getting them working on my Mac – as I find it annoying how everything is so geared towards Windows PCs (I avoid Windows whenever possible). But assuming I can get myself set up with suitable editors in an environment that I find acceptably pleasant to use, and that I can find time… yes, there's certainly a chance that I may create another JSW game. I'd quite like to have a go at one with a larger map than the standard JSW48 engine permits, and that uses new features such as greater flexibility in guardian movement and speed etc.
In your comments, Richard, you refer to the age of the entries more than once.
Speaking in general terms, I would say that the age doesn't have to matter at all.
I take on board what you're saying in this section, but at the same time I don't think we're quite talking about the same thing. Yes, if there were no progress over 34 years, that would be depressing, and yes, each game should be judged on its own merits, without considering other factors.
But, at the same time, if newer games are bound to be better than older ones, why have the competition at all? Why not just declare the newest game to be the winner?
All I was really saying is that, in the context of the competition, my game could be seen as being at a disadvantage because it was the first to be produced, whereas all the others had the benefit of (a) other games showing what could be done and ( access to new routines etc., in addition to whatever original hacking their authors were equipped to do. But nevertheless, as you say, a game is good or not on its own terms, not merely in comparison to others.
I think the most important thing is to recognise that each game is unique and judge it on its merits. And also to recognise that they're all at least potentially worth playing, regardless of their age. (E.g. I don't want my two games to be overlooked/forgotten simply because they're among the earliest examples.) In any case, the game that still gets played the most is JSW itself, and that's the oldest of the lot!
Anyway, thanks for your response – it was good to hear your thoughts. And thanks again for your photography on the day. Issue 200 of Retro Gamer has just come out, and I'm pleased to say that there's an article about the JSW 35th anniversary and a page featuring four JSW fans – one of which is me, using one of the photos you took with my phone!