Review: Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story


When I was a kid, I played a DOS game called Revenge of the Mutant Camels. Only once, mind you. I don’t remember how I came across it; presumably some sort of budget CD-ROM, you know, the kind you used to find on the spinner rack in PC World. Ten quid a go, with about a hundred demos and shareware versions, and it’s called something like Plethora of Playing. I didn’t italicise that because it’s not real, but as ever I digress. The point is I played it somehow (hmm, maybe it was on a floppy disc, actually), and I did so at my house on my family computer. This was a game that saw you take control of a camel, a goatman or a “Sonic and Tails” style combination of the two, hopping all over the screen and firing a stream of electric death from the camel in question’s gob, with bizarre enemies (which change every round) all over the screen, a constant stream of power-ups falling from the sky. It was very, very odd indeed, and I loved it. I recall seshing it for a good few hours, marvelling at not only its total insanity but its inarguable playability, too. And then it was gone, Nauties. I don’t know where or how I had it, for that brief, shining period of one day. But I didn’t have it any more. Of course, it stuck with me. Not enough to get into a frenzied search, but enough that when “abandonware” became a thing, I put the effort in to try and download it. But I couldn’t remember its exact name, and even when a lead seemed promising it’d turn out to be different in some way, or feel wrong.

You can probably guess where this is going. Now, with the release of the second in Digital Eclipse’s Gold Master Series - third, if you count unofficial first entry Atari 50 – I can finally play Revenge of the Mutant Camels in the manner to which I was extremely briefly accustomed. Here, it’s the Atari ST version converted to Jaguar, an impressive feat in itself but one which pales in comparison to the royal treatment given to Jeff Minter’s until-now underappreciated oeuvre. You’ve got the now-standard timeline of events, with copious amounts of artwork to examine in ludicrously high definition, along with extensive documentary footage contextualising Mr. Minter’s work and life in a manner that has never been achieved before. I was particularly pleased with the fact that so much of Llamasoft’s “Nature of the Beast” newsletter was present – every page eminently fascinating.

Naturally you’re also getting an enormous number of games, here; 42 in total (where’s my towel?) showcasing eight different systems, including the unreleased Konix Multisystem and my beloved ZX Spectrum amongst others. As with The Making of Karateka, though, the devil is in the details; many of these games are primitive, but given the context which the Gold Master manner of presentation offers, they are all a valuable piece of the thoroughly furry jigsaw that is Jeff Minter’s career. For anyone who dismissed him as a guy who just remakes Tempest over and over again, you’ll be laughing on the other side of your stupid face when you get a load of this lot. It would be pointless to list favourites; this is a deep dive, not a standard compilation. You're getting multiple versions of titles to showcase their differences, their evolution. You're getting Jeff Minter's iconic light synthesisers. There's even a brand new version of Gridrunner here to get obsessed with.

I have no idea what Digital Eclipse are going to do next. Never in a trillion years would I have guessed that such an esoteric part of British gaming history would ever, ever get the kind of love shown to it that has been proffered in this (Gold) masterful piece of software. Whisper it, but I found myself getting a bit emotional when the sheer scope of this project became clear. Of course, I never doubted DE (being an unashamed fanboy thereof), but this is, to my mind, their best work yet – shining a glowing spotlight on someone for whom it is quite frankly overdue. Look, world, it says. You need to know about this. You should care about this person. And I do. And you will too.