At the end of 1992 a number of Amiga magazines previewed Universal Monsters, an isometric puzzler in the grand tradition of Knight Lore. The game was advertised and full reviews even appeared. However, Universal Monsters was not to be released.
aGTW finds out what happened by talking to Gary Bracey, ex-Ocean Development Director, Simon Butler, the games designer and artist and Mike Halsall, the games programmer.
Frank Gasking also gives us an overview of Universal Monsters:
It was unsurprising when Ocean announced yet another film licence, so when manager Gary Bracey requested artist Simon Butler to design an original concept, Simon jumped at the chance! Simon (an ‘Ultimate' fan) began producing a ‘Knightlore' style isometric game, something he always wanted to do. ‘The Inspectre' was born, with a Ghostbuster-type hero ridding a large spooky mansion of various ghosties. "But as with all best laid plans, a spanner comes along and gets thrown into the works!", Simon proclaims.
With the 50th anniversary of Universal Studios looming, Ocean felt they had a nice little earner. The team now had to transform ‘Inspectre' into ‘Universal Monsters'. As a result, the main character became an “Indiana Jones” character; ghosts became ‘Dracula', ‘Wolfman', ‘Frankenstein', ‘The Mummy' and other ghoulish characters.
Impressive artwork was demonstrated by Simon and Martin MacDonald, including well-drawn monsters and isometric backdrops. Mike Halsall was the brains behind the coding, while Barry Leitch performed his first music for Ocean. Universal made work difficult by requesting characters to be lifelike, so sprites and tiles were stretched as a result. Instead of static screens, the game scrolled in 4 directions to cope with larger graphics, which worked brilliantly.
Amiga magazine, ‘The One', released a preview on their cover-disk, showing a good game. However, over-complicated tiles caused a confusing perspective at times, making jumps rather difficult to achieve.
After two years in development, Mike began struggling with the code and eventually threw in the towel with the game 90% complete (later he left for Software Creations). At that same time, Ocean found the franchise had flopped, so ‘Universal Monsters' was canned. “It was a series of bad decisions that turned a simple idea into an unworkable mess!”, Simon recalls. Maybe the original concept would have worked better for Ocean had it been left alone.
Apart from the preview, a beta version (claimed to be the full version) also did the rounds; Is there more to find? The ST version perhaps? Mike Halsall is probably the final hope for those searching, but for now the preview is all that remains…
AS PRINTED IN RETRO GAMER MAGAZINE, USED WITH PERMISSION FROM THE AUTHOR.