Updated: Feb 26
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.
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.)
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 shipped 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 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 developers 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’.
Amstrad was forward-thinking enough to realise that an easily identifiable mascot would aid brand recognition. Amstrad would need this 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… Video by ZX Spectrum games
Roland on the Ropes Amstrad CPC 464
Hi again Fred… wait, you’re not Fred. I think?
Video by psyfirefly
Bugaboo the Flea ZX Spectrum
Anyone got a can of Raid?
Video by RZX Archive
Roland in the Caves Amstrad CPC 464
I have seen fleas under a microscope. They are not this cute.
Video by vibgaming
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
Video by Amstrad Maniaque
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. Secondly, 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.