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Retrospective: All hail the BBC Micro

Do pay attention. This is very BASIC.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

There's a subset of thirty-something males who rarely get coverage on nostalgia TV, or even get a word in at pub table reminiscences that are routinely hijacked by the Sinclair Spectrum mafia. As such I think it's high time the nice, polite and extremely middle-class boys whose parents bought them a BBC Micro for unspecified educational purposes took a stand.

As a first step, I've taken over the Eurogamer Sunday Retro section for a brief moment of glory. Next steps in (shift) breaking the system include: putting in a copyright claim against popular sofa-provenors DFS for the unsolicited use of our favoured Disc Filing System acronym and starting a campaign demanding that the next role-play sequel Obsidian Entertainment takes under its wing is Granny's Garden II: Nana's Revenge.

As of tomorrow, we will then take over the world in a violent and bloody revolution in order to politely indicate that the BBC was a credible gaming platform. Then, next month, those who stayed loyal to the cause through the Archimedes era will gather in Trafalgar Square with a lifesize replica of Mad Professor Moriarty and throw spanners at political prisoners.

Quite why Repton the lizard wears trousers has never been explained.

Acorn was a wonderful company- and worth a little fuss. This eulogy will be a personal one alighting on three subjects: the Repton series, Exile and Imogen - three games I knew and loved on my BBC Master Compact.

And yes, I'm going to highlight the split in our burgeoning movement - I just said BBC Master Compact! With a three-and-a-half-inch disc! None of your BBC Micro Model B, Master and Electron 5.25-inch floppy trash! So after our revolution we can have a lengthy civil war based around this sole issue - perhaps having stormed EA's Winter Palace and murdered their UK boardroom by stopping their train as they attempt to escape Guildford. Anyway, I digress...


He's got a green face! He looks left and right! The music goes like this! The basics of Repton involved the collection of diamonds - a quest hindered by cascading falling boulders, monsters that hatch out of eggs that had to be crushed by said boulders and (come later Repton iterations) hovering sprite things that track around the edges of your 2D confines and must be directed into traps. If, on paper, it sounds a little Boulder Dash-y that's because that's exactly how it was born: its 15-year-old creator Tim Tyler read a review of BoulderDash in a magazine, and didn't actually play it, but was inspired nonetheless.

Repton, however, is far more of a puzzle game that Boulder Dash. It's the pursuit of various objects around a map through pushing boulders off ledges, finding the level's key to turn all the nearby safes into diamonds or simply choosing which patches of 'grass' (well, that's what I called it when I was eight anyway) to move over so that boulders, monsters and sprites can move freely through them. And, dear sweet Lord, when you were a primary schooler in the 1980s you found those six-legged two-frames-of-animation green-bastard monsters pretty damn scary...

Wild West Repton. That bandit is going to jail, and simultaneously becoming a diamond.

Even more excitingly, by the time Repton 3 rolled around, publisher Superior Software (blessed be its name) pioneered a rather modern trait, by pumping out standalone expansions that took Repton away from his familiar blue walls and blue trousers. Around the World in 40 Screens, for example, took the green-faced diamond obsessive to places like the Wild West (where Sheriff Repton collected burgers, got crushed by Wagon Wheels and was chased by Indians when their wigwams got busted) alongside Africa, the Arctic and Asia - where angry samurai-types would do karate-chops at you should their rickshaw-egg get smashed.

Other re-skins were also available in the forms of Repton Thru Time and The Life of Repton, both of which were sadly better than Repton Infinity, which transported all the action to a floating city and representation of turn-of-the-century American imperialism. No hang on, that's a mix-up. Repton Infinity was just a bit soulless really, and had a rubbish game attached to it where you were a bulldozer who liked fruit.

If you've read all this and still don't get the love for Repton, I will simply direct you to the following YouTube video. This is Repton creator Tim Tyler, and he is about to show you his keyboard. Legend.


Imogen is a game in which a wizard can turn into a lovely cat or a lovely monkey. The lovely monkey can climb ropes. The lovely cat can jump quite far. Meanwhile, the wizard carries objects and kills babies. Sometimes he shoots them with a bow and arrow. If there aren't any innocents around to massacre he'll whip dogs and grow tulips out of the freshly harvested guts of crushed hamsters. He is, in short, a monster.