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!’
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