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Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story

Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story

Written by Joseph Moorer on 3/21/2024 for PS5  
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I said in my review of The Making of Karateka that if this was the start of the Digital Eclipse Gold Master Series, I was ready to get kicked in the face multiple times. I only imagine that Digital Eclipse saw my review, and my review only, and decided to make a second entry. You know how I know this? Because they made the second entry about Llamasoft's Jeff Minter. This means they saw my review of Akka Arrh, and said "Hey. Did you hear Joe doesn't know a thing about Jeff Minter? We should teach him. Especially about the Llamas." Wait...did they say llamas? I thought it was just a weird thing to call company. No no. Jeff Minter is weird. And he IS the company, so the company is weird too. You get all this, maybe more than you want to, in Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story.

This Docu-game hybrid is pretty ambitious. In these titles, you get to learn the ins and outs of a creator, or series, and get to see all the behind-the-scenes footage of the humble beginnings, successes, and failures. The set up is again similar to the Atari 50 collection (still a gem, in my humble opinion). There are four chapters, and each contains video interviews, pictures, articles, and games. Jeff Minter learned how to create games starting in 1977, by borrowing a book from the library on the BASIC programming language. He created his "Magnum Opus" in 1978. That game was called Star Fire, and was loosely based on the Star Wars cockpit fights. 3D3D was then created, which is just you making your way through a maze, in a first person view. This is the first of FORTY THREE games you can play as part of this collection. 

These games are recreated/remastered to their original specs (or as close as the creators can come on modern tech). They are, again, going to look primitive compared to gamers accustomed to seeing the sweat rolling off their characters in 2024, but I think that's the beauty behind these games. To show you how far we've come, and more so, how far Jeff has. From creating that first game in 1977, to STILL creating games now. He just released a remake of Akka Arrh (not part of this collection) in 2023, and it just received it's own VR update. In 40 years of game creation, Jeff has had his ups and downs, and it's all here. All of it. Even the llamas. 

Is there a way to talk about Jeff Minter without talking about Llamas? The answer is no. I said before that Llamasoft isn't just a name, it's a lifestyle. They're everywhere. In his interviews, Jeff is wearing a Llama Christmas sweater. And not just Llamas. Sheep, camels, and goats make their appearances in these games, as well as rats, dogs, and even...lawn mowers? Which could possibly be the first Lawn Mower Simulator, there is a game where you "borrow" the neighbor's lawn mower, and you have to mow your lawn while he chases you down. The weird doesn't stop there.

As someone who can create their own games at home, Jeff Minter took a different approach. He made "Centipede" before he even saw Centipede being played in real life. He based the game off of screen shots, and just decided to make his own. There are major differences from the original game, but, we got "Centipede at home". He also did this with Atari's Empire Strikes Back, which he named Attack of the Mutant Camels. Because, he's Jeff Minter, that's why.

The titles get weirder and weirder. Again, they're all playable. Headbanger's Heaven (1983) is about a guy name Chico, who needs to make it to the other side of the screen to collect a bag of money while hammers rain from the sky. The instructions tell you that he likes to be hit, so getting hit increases your score, but you can't take too many hits, or you lose a life. Then he says "My skull hurts". Jeff Minter, y'all! There's another game called Metagalactic Llamas Battle At The Edge Of Time, which is described as "ANOTHER animal themed shoot em up with a twist". You are a llama on the ground, shooting at incoming spider-like enemies. Your bullets bounce off the walls and ceilings. If they get to the ground, and make it to you, you lose a life. Jeff Minter, y'all!

Early computers and consoles are all represented here. The Sinclair ZX81 and ZX Spectrum, Commodore VIC-20, and 64, Atari's 8-Bit machines, and even the Atari Jaguar (Tempest 2000). All come with their own rewind features, quick load and saves, instruction manuals with controls, and different filters and borders. All of these games are going to be in 4:3, and some even smaller than that if you mess with the screen mode. The stretch to full screen isn't all that bad, like some other compilations. Digital Eclipse always does a bang up job here. Of course, they can't leave you completely hanging without a little razzle dazzle.

Jeff changed his version of Centipede to a game called Grid Runner. Grid Runner is the game that put Jeff on the fast track to llama success. This game is on this compilation 4 times, on 4 different systems. Matrix is it's sequel, and Voidrunner is the third installment. There's even a Super Gridrunner available to play. The star here is the amazing 2023 version of Gridrunner Digital Eclipse has brought to this compilation. While it's based on the Commodore 64 version, this version is hands down the place I spent most of my time. A very close second is Llamatron 2112, which is a shareware version of Robotron 2084. These games are the ones I'll definitely be going back and playing, grabbing those ol' high scores, as Llamasoft games do. 

Another staple of Llamasoft games is that they are DIFFICULT. Jeff wanted a challenge, and if he wanted a challenge, you get that too. There are instruction manuals, with tips and tricks throughout, but some of these games are just downright tough. Difficulty is indicated in the UI by the number of Llamas, 5 llamas on fire being the most difficult, but I feel like some of them deserve more llamas. There is even a game that is not a game at all, called Psychedelia. It's a light synthesizer that you can create by using the controller to accompany music. I took one look at this, as I did some of the other games, and quickly moved on. I thought there would at least be music. There was zero music. Some of these games are way too weird for me. Luckily, there are presets available, if you're into that sort of thing. He loved it though. Called it a personal dream of his, and how he was inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey. There's a whole video about it. 

Most of the games after 1985 are like this too. Mama Llama, I spent 2 minutes on, and was not a fan. The documentary goes on to say I was not alone. Another light synthesizer, Colourspace, also lacks music. I know I'm supposed to provide my own, but I just didn't deem it necessary. Even his 6-in-1 game is avoided. This included Attack of the Mutant Camels 2, and Psychedelia, but also included The Activation of Idris Base, and I couldn't tell you how to play that one if you told me a camel was about to spit in my face. Look up Batalyx. My head hurts now from all the weird sounds and strobes, which thankfully, you can turn off. 

Digital Eclipse does a great job telling the story behind Jeff Minter's longstanding, albeit weird career. Not weird in the sense of being successful. Not even weird on how he went about doing it. Just the games were weird. Maybe even too weird for me. But there's a niche fanbase out there for Jeff, and Llamasoft, and I have to respect it. Again, this series gives a deep enough dive into Jeff Minter's career to keep you interested, and will probably score you a trivia trophy. As far as replay value goes, there's only a few games out of the 40+ that get my attention. That includes you, Tempest 2000.

Though I am so far impressed with these Gold Master Series, this one is ranked 3rd out of 3, if I include the amazing Atari 50. I respect the hell out of Jeff Minter for being THE indie game creator. There are some games missing that may come at a later date, and some that I'll never play again. But I think that's what Jeff wants. Stay weird, Mr. Minter. Stay weird.

Rating: 8 Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Joseph is the resident streamer for Gaming Nexus. He grew up playing video games as early as the Atari 2600. He knows a little about a lot of video games, and loves a challenge. He thinks that fanboys are dumb, and enjoys nothing more than to see rumors get completely shut down. He just wants to play games, and you can watch him continue his journey at Games N Moorer on Youtube, Twitch, Twitter, and Facebook gaming! 

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