The Making Of: Rescue
Ste Cork looks back at one of his first Mastertronic-published Spectrum games
ans of the game will know that Rescue is a straight up sci-fi search-and-retrieve
where our hero takes on an infested space station to rescue a high-value scientist and his magnum opus. All you need to do is get both scientist and his experiment back to your ship for takeoff. What makes this so difficult is that you don’t know which, out of eight scientists, is the right one; this is randomly selected at the start of the game. The pesky aliens trying to destroy the place don’t help either.
“It is difficult, and it isn’t.” Ste Cork explains. “Rescue is rather unusual in the way you have to meet the winning criteria. You could, in theory, just take off with one scientist and win the game; or you could have seven and still lose. You don’t know until you commit to pressing takeoff, after adding fuel, too, of course. Then there’s the heart-stopping couple of seconds while the FX are being played for takeoff, before you finally get either the success or fail screen. Certainly, to rescue all eight scientists, if you set that as a goal, is very hard.”
After picking up his first Spectrum in 1984, Ste released his first game Cagara just one year later, through budget label Players. He then went on to complete his second game Wibstars in 1987, through software house A&F. After starting work for Icon Design, Ste began to write the game Colony, this time published by Mastertronic, who he also approached a year later for the release of Rescue.
“[Mastertronic] had some good games out, and a lot of games that were relatively poor. They got better I think once they’d been around for a while and I think by the time I was ready to release Rescue they were a 100 per cent decent house, so I was happy to approach them. They were the first company I went to, in fact.”
In the era of bedroom programmers it wasn’t unusual that one person could end up doing everything involved in a game’s development, though there were times where a little helping hand was needed. In this case, Ste brought in the help of good friend and composer Tony ‘Tiny’ Williams. “Tiny and I are really close; I’ve known him since 1986. He was always the guy I’d go to for audio work. Very easy to work with, good music, good solid code, and he was happy to do work for me on the promise of royalty cuts later.” Also working on Rescue was Mark O’neill. “He was a brilliant artist in the 8-bit days, with that trick of making things look good in single-colour sprites, like the Spectrum was forced to use.”
From a player’s point of view, you’d assume Rescue was hard work to write given its big graphics, sharp fast movements and exquisite detail. “I had a lot of fun writing it”, says Ste, “and to be honest it reused rather a lot of code from Colony. The engine similarities are pretty obvious once you look. That made it an easy game to write; but of course back then you could get away with things like that. The guys that ran Icon Design, Roger Lees and Mike Cohen, were really relaxed about those kinds of things.
I had less hours to write things at home of course after a day’s work in the office, but given that most of the code was already written it wouldn’t have required as much extra doing to it. I didn’t really have a life outside of computers in those days. The classic geek, I suppose.”
If you mention Rescue to certain Spectrum fans, there’s a chance that one of them will quickly say Harrison Ford back to you. Well, take a look at its cover and you may well find out. Some may say that the cover star was a rip off Han Solo lookalike, others say coincidence. “I didn’t even see the cover until I got mailed a freebie copy,” Ste recalls, “I didn’t see the resemblance, but I suppose once it’s pointed out I can just about see it. If I squint a bit.”
Another talking point apart from the gameplay is the loading screen; or indeed the lack of one. You’d think, given the quality of the game itself, it deserved a screen to do it justice. Apparently Mastertronic didn’t. “I assumed they would paint something then slap a loading screen on themselves. In the end they didn’t bother.” Ste explains. “The first I saw of the boring ‘Rescue is loading…’ screen was when I got my free copy. It was too late to do anything by then. If they’d asked me what I wanted for the screen, or even to supply one, I could have got an in-house artist to do something, but they never did.”
After Rescue, Ste went on producing games for the Spectrum over the next few years, before moving on to games for the Amiga, Atari ST and then PC, with the game Overkill being one of his favourites on that format. Ste continues to work in the industry and has many credits in notable games such as X-men: Legends, Quake 4, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance and Call of Duty: Black Ops III.
Speccy fans will argue, though, that nothing beats the simplicity of an 8-bit shoot-‘em-up. Rescue is one that will stay long in the memory for many of fans, not least in Ste’s.
“Rescue had people writing into magazines about it and mapping out the ship. I was chuffed. That was really nice to see for something I’d just put together in my bedroom.”
» [ZX Spectrum] Ste’s game has some impressive visuals and it moves along at a nice pace.
» [ZX Spectrum] Wanted: experienced scientist immunity to bullets is essential. Free boots provided.
» [ZX Spectrum] “My ammo. My beautiful, beautiful ammo. You should haven take me instead.”
» [ZX Spectrum] These aliens are on the hunt, so it’s best to try and avoid them.
» Ste Cork is still in the industry today working on triple-a blockbusters such as Call Of Duty.