The Mak­ing Of: Punch And Judy

Oh we do like to be be­side the sea­side and Punch and Judy recre­ated a tra­di­tional British sum­mer day on the beach, com­plete with a fight at the end. Dean Hick­ing­bot­tom and David Bradley tell us, ‘That’s the way to do it!’

Retro Gamer - - CONTENTS - Words by Paul Drury

The coders be­hind Al­ter­na­tive Soft­ware’s game re­veal the way to do it

Bru­tal scenes of do­mes­tic abuse, graphic de­pic­tions of animal cru­elty and a shock­ing cli­max in­volv­ing beat­ing a baby to death. Punch And Judy re­ally is an ex­am­ple of an Eight­ies ‘videogame nasty’. “It’s not in the spirit of to­day’s so­ci­ety, is it?” ad­mits Dean Hick­ing­bot­tom, artist and code­signer of the game, “but if you go to a Punch And Judy show, that’s what hap­pens. Punch is still throw­ing the baby down­stairs. Ap­par­ently it’s okay in the pup­pet world.”

Re­leased near the end of the 8-bit era, Punch And Judy is an un­likely mix of British sea­side charm and ex­treme vi­o­lence. Play­ing as the smil­ing as­sas­sin Mr Punch, you must wan­der the mean streets of Bridling­ton, col­lect­ing the re­quired num­ber of pieces to erect your pup­pet booth. Then, in a dis­turb­ing ex­am­ple of mod­ern slav­ery, you forcibly re­cruit your fel­low cast mem­bers, in­clud­ing your wife, baby son and pet dog, by beat­ing them with a large trun­cheon be­fore blud­geon­ing them to death on the beach in front of an au­di­ence of trau­ma­tised chil­dren.

“We were as po­lit­i­cally cor­rect as the ac­tual shows them­selves,” laughs David Bradley, fel­low de­signer and coder of the C64 and Am­strad ver­sions. “They are very dark in­deed but it was all tongue in cheek as far as we were con­cerned. It was no Grand Theft Auto!”

Dean and David were not un­ac­cus­tomed to pixel­lated fisticuffs, hav­ing han­dled con­ver­sions of Bangkok Knights and Ur­ban War­rior as Video Images, the games de­vel­op­ment co-op they had set up with friend Dave Col­ley. Af­ter a year or so of con­tract work for pub­lish­ers, the pair de­cided it had taken its ven­ture as far as it could and opted to join Clock­wize, which in­volved mov­ing from Scun­thorpe to Bridling­ton, on the East coast of York­shire.

“De­nis Hickie, one of the di­rec­tors at Clock­wize, ac­tu­ally drove from Bridling­ton to Scun­thorpe to pick us both up,” re­mem­bers Dean. “The com­pany was run out of this for­mer guest house with loads of rooms, so we both ended up liv­ing there and would get up at five min­utes to nine ev­ery morn­ing and stag­ger down­stairs to the ‘of­fice’. It even had a small bar in the cor­ner.”

One of their first projects for their new em­ployer was Punch And Judy, the ti­tle sug­gested by one of the di­rec­tors of Al­ter­na­tive Soft­ware, which would pub­lish the fin­ished game as part of its bud­get range. Their new sur­round­ing pro­vided the back­drop to the ac­tion, with many of the 64 screens based on ac­tual Bridling­ton lo­ca­tions, from a gift shop sell­ing tourist tat, to a fish and chip shop and the fa­mous Joy­land Amuse­ments, once the largest ar­cade in the coun­try.

“If you look at the screen, it’s sup­posed to be a post­card, with the cor­ner turned down,” ex­plains Dean. “If you go to the seafront and walk all the way to the left you can see Flam­bor­ough Head in the dis­tance, with the light­house.”

Part of the charm of the game is how quintessen­tially British it is. You flick be­tween fa­mil­iar sea­side scenes, dodg­ing the pa­trolling po­lice­man and

an un­wanted trip to the cells, and buy­ing strings of sausages from the butch­ers to dis­tract the hun­gry croc­o­dile, an­other rogue cast mem­ber. Even the in-game timer is rep­re­sented by the en­croach­ing tide head­ing ever nearer to the pier head. “We were all in an open plan room with the tar­get 8-bit ma­chines and a PDS de­vel­op­ment sys­tem,” re­calls David. “We had the ba­sic idea and we’d just sit down and start cod­ing, get­ting the ‘game loop’ down, build­ing the nec­es­sary tools to al­low us to map out a world and de­sign sprites and tiles and so on. It felt like a col­lec­tive ef­fort and we all threw ideas in. It was very or­ganic but we didn’t hang about ei­ther.”

The whole game only took a few months from ini­tial draw­ings to some­thing that could be sent to the pub­lish­ers for playtest­ing. Though both ad­mit that pro­duc­ing games for Clock­wize could feel a lit­tle like work­ing on a pro­duc­tion line, they did take their task se­ri­ously and aimed to pro­duce a pol­ished ti­tle with a dis­tinc­tive vis­ual look. We as­sume they mod­elled Mr Punch on Bruce Forsythe for added re­al­ism? “Ah, you mean the chin,” laughs Dean. “Ac­tu­ally, if you look at the ti­tle screen, it’s more or less a copy of a book we bor­rowed from the lo­cal li­brary on the his­tory of Punch and Judy. All the char­ac­ters were in there – the croc­o­dile, the po­lice­man, the dog, Scaramouche… yes, he’s part of the folk­lore!”

The game does in­deed cul­mi­nate in a vi­o­lent fan­dango as Mr Punch skips across the pup­pet booth, but­ton-bash­ing seven shades out of the cast, whilst avoid­ing the long-ish arm of the law. It’s an oddly fren­zied fi­nale to a game with some in­ter­est­ing ideas but which rather plods in the pre­ced­ing ‘col­lect-’em-up’ sec­tions. As a bud­get ti­tle, though, it pro­vides a de­cent chal­lenge and for Dean and David, it has a small if spe­cial place in their hearts as the game that brought them to Bridling­ton. Both still live in the town and Dean ended up mar­ry­ing Teresa Hickie, the boss’s daugh­ter.

They have two chil­dren and just like Punch and Judy, re­main to­gether to this day. “Ex­cept we don’t throw our kids down­stairs,” Dean as­sures us.

» Dean Hick­ing­bot­tom (left), artist and de­signer, and David Bradley (right), code­signer and coder.

» [ZX Spec­trum] A pair of beach bums look unim­pressed at your pup­pet booth.

» [C64] What’s a day by the sea with­out a fish and chip sup­per?

» Dean’s orig­i­nal sketches for Punch And Judy

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