The History of Video Games #13: Gaming on the Amstrad CPC 464

Updated: Jun 25


Prince of Persia on the Amstrad CPC 464


In the last article, we looked at the development history, hardware, peripherals and audio-visual prowess of the Amstrad CPC 464. In this, we will investigate the CPC gaming scene.


Games

By the end of its commercial lifetime, the CPC boasted an impressive library of 1776* officially released games. In most respects, the CPC’s officially released games library was similar to the C64’s 2021* and the ZX Spectrum’s 1723* game libraries, since most games were multi-platform.


*NB – these numbers are estimates and different sources give wildly different totals. Secondly, these figures only include officially released games. If unofficial games were included as well the numbers would be considerably higher. If you were to include the unofficial games for the unofficial Spectrum clone computers then one source estimates the Spectrum’s library would increase to a staggering 12,000 titles!

(My 200 + game Steam library seems a little pathetic now.)


Amsoft

One area of gaming which set the CPC apart from the other 8-bit micros were its 1st party titles. Amstrad’s founder Alan Sugar was all too aware that much of the CPC 464’s commercial success would be based on its capabilities as a gaming machine.


He also deduced that the one thing that was guaranteed to kill a new gaming platform was a lack of games to play on it. To ensure this did not happen Sugar created Amsoft, the only 1st party games company for any of the 8-bit home computers.


Most CPC units were ship with the Amsoft 12 Game Promotion Pack which was marketed as being ‘Software over £100 value’. This consisted of three educational or ‘edutainment’ programs, a simple word processor program and eight video games.



The Amsoft 12 Game Promotion Pack


The quality of these games was something of a mixed bag, however, and some left a lot to be desired. Allegedly this was partly due to their various developers only having two weeks to create them. Amstrad delivered prototype CPC 464’s to the various devs and gave them two weeks to get familiar with the system and create the games for it. At the end of the two weeks, Amstrad took the prototypes back again. This presumably was done to meet the CPC 464’s release date.


Amsoft would go on to release many titles after this. Some of these games would be considerably better, and many would feature Amstrad’s mascot character – ‘Roland’.


Roland


Amstrad were forward thinking enough to realise that an easily identifiable mascot would aid brand recognition, and would help to distinguish the CPC from the competing - and already well established - 8-bit micros.


That mascot was Roland, who was apparently named after one of the CPC 464’s developers, Roland Perry. Roland’s appearance would vary greatly across the games he starred in. In Roland in the Caves he is a humanoid flea, in Roland on the Ropes he resembles a budget Indiana Jones, whilst in Roland Goes Square Bashing, he is basically a squished cube with arms, legs and a face.


One of the main reasons for his inconsistent appearance was that some of these games were never intended to be ‘Roland’ games. Several were quite separate games developed in Europe by external developers. Amstrad then re-packaged them as ‘Roland’ games and sold them under the Amsoft brand.


Two excellent examples of this are the aforementioned Roland on the Ropes and Roland in the Caves - both of which featured in the Amsoft 12 pack. They were originally games for the ZX Spectrum called Fred’, and Bugaboo the Flea which were developed by Spanish developers Indescomp. In exchange for obtaining the rights to sell the CPC 464 in Spain Indescomp were required to provide games for the platform. Due to the incredibly tight deadline, they simply ported two of their ZX Spectrum games to the Amstrad and re-titled them, as can plainly be seen in the videos below.



Fred ZX Spectrum


Hi Fred…

Roland on the Ropes Amstrad CPC 464


Hi again Fred… wait, you’re not Fred. I think?



Bugaboo the Flea ZX Spectrum


Anyone got a can of Raid?



Roland in the Caves Amstrad CPC 464


I have seen fleas under a microscope. They are not this cute.



Amsoft Gold

In an attempt to shed the image that Amsoft games were mostly shoddy ports with different names, Amstrad created Amsoft Gold, a banner under which their higher quality games would be sold, games such as Sorcery and Beachhead.



Sorcery Amstrad CPC 464




However, it has been said that quality control began to slip after these releases, resulting in sub-par titles being sold under the Amsoft Gold banner. This undermined public confidence in the brand since there was no longer a discernible difference between the budget Amsoft and premium Amsoft Gold, and Amsoft Gold could no longer be relied upon as a mark of quality. These issues likely hurt sales, and Amsoft ceased its video game publishing activities in 1987.



3rd Party Games

The rest of the CPC 464’s game line up comprised of the usual mix of arcade conversions, ports of previously released ZX Spectrum and C64 games, multi-platform games made specifically for the 8-bit home micros and by the end of the 1980s ports from 16-bit computers such as the Amiga and Atari ST.


As you can probably guess, the quality of these varied greatly. Some were shoddy ports which left a lot to be desired. The CPC version of R-Type is a good example. Allegedly, due to time constraints, its developer had to port the ZX Spectrum version instead of creating a conversion optimised for the Amstrad.



R-Type (Retail) Amstrad CPC 464


The Speccy called, it wants its game back.



On the other hand, some arcade conversions for the Amstrad were the best version available on any of the 8-bit micros. Chase HQ being a particularly fine example.



Chase HQ Amstrad CPC 464


Being the best version didn’t make it any easier, however. It was still punishingly hard.



One game that demonstrates both the CPC’s strengths - and its weaknesses - is Gryzor. If it looks strangely familiar then don’t worry, you are not seeing things. Gryzor was this game’s name on the 8-bit micros, in the PAL regions it was called Probotector and in the NTSC regions, it went by the name Contra.



Gryzor Amstrad CPC


Gryzor-Probotector-Contra. Make your mind up game, three names is greedy.



Gryzor Commodore 64




The CPC version arguably had better graphics than the C64, but it uses a push-scrolling mechanic as opposed to the C64’s smooth true scrolling. This is due to the Amstrad’s hardware scrolling capabilities being less sophisticated than the C64’s.

As such CPC games often suffered from slow and jerky scrolling - the earlier R-Type video demonstrates this well. Some devs decided to forgo traditional scrolling altogether, instead opting to implement push scrolling or flip screen mechanics instead.

If you would like to see gameplay of the main CPC games in chronological order then Amstrad CPC World has a great selection of videos that does just that, links below.


Amstrad CPC - Top 20 games (1984)

Amstrad CPC - Top 20 games (1985)

Amstrad CPC - Top 20 games (1986)

Amstrad CPC - Top 20 games (1987)

Amstrad CPC - Top 20 games (1988)

Amstrad CPC - Top 20 games (1989)

Amstrad CPC - Top 20 games (1990)

Amstrad CPC - Top 20 games (1991)

Amstrad CPC - Top 20 games (1992-1994)



3D Games

The 464 was able to render 3D games more effectively than the C64 due to its faster processor and the fact that the C64’s graphics chip did little to improve performance of 3D games. 3D games using wire frame graphics such as Elite and 3D Starstrike moved at a decent pace due to their relatively low demands on the CPU.


3D Starstrike Amstrad CPC 464




Games that used filled 3D polygons such as Driller still tended to chug somewhat. The computers of this generation were simply not built with 3D gaming in mind.



Driller Amstrad CPC 464


Driller on the CPC featured more colours than the Spectrum version, and faster frame rates than the C64’s, arguably making it the best version of the three.



Magazines and Cover Tapes


As you would expect, a number of magazines centred around the Amstrad CPC sprang up during the 1980s, the longest running of which was Amstrad Action. Similar to its Spectrum and Commodore counterparts, Amstrad Action regularly featured cover tapes containing games, playable demos of up-coming games and various programs.



Amstrad Action magazine special Dizzy edition



Amstrad Action Cover Tape


Legacy


The Amstrad CPC 464 was a late comer to the 8-bit micro scene. Despite this, the CPC was tremendously successful in Europe, and especially so in the nations of Spain, France and Germany. Its total sales of three million units ensured that pretty much all gamers in these countries either owned one or knew someone who did.


Its relatively economical price and the very economical price of its cassette-based games allowed European gamers to experience home gaming, which otherwise may have been prohibitively expensive. Due to being a ‘proper’ computer fans were able to use it to create their own games, a practice that continued well into the 21st Century. The 2012 128K remake of R-Type is a perfect example of this.


R-Type 128K 2012 Amstrad CPC


Now this is much better than the original retail CPC version



The CPC’s popularity dropped off sharply during the early 1990s, as did the popularity of the other 8-bit micros. By this point, the 16-bit home computers had established themselves and the ageing 8-bit hardware simply could not compete. However, it could be argued that it was the success of the 8-bit micros that led to the creation of the 16-bit Amigas and Ataris in the first place.


The 8-bit micros were definitely a product of both their time and their location, for although they dominated the UK and European markets, this success was not mirrored in Japan or the United States. In these regions, an 8-bit console dominated the gaming scene, helped in no small way by its now iconic Italian-American plumber mascot. We will investigate this in the next article.

See you all then.


Do you have any experience with gaming on the Amstrad CPC 464? If so, what are your thoughts on it? Did you play any of the Roland games? What do you think of Roland as a mascot? Did you play any of the games in the Amsoft 12 pack, or any of the later Amsoft titles? If so, what were your thoughts on them?


Now that we are leaving the 8-bit micro era behind, why not share your experiences and memories of gaming during this short-lived and unique period of gaming history? Feel free to share your experiences, both good and bad, in the comments section below.