The find of a lifetime...
About two years ago, I was in Wallasey in Merseyside. This is the area that Matthew Smith, author of the classic Spectrum games Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy, grew up in.
I was looking around the shopping centre and checking out second-hand and charity shops. For those of you not in the UK a charity shop sells pretty much anything that is donated to it and the proceeds from the sale go to that particular charity. This mostly means clothes, books, records and sometimes (why I mostly go in) computer games.
The charity shop I went into that day was very grotty. It seemed to be all old clothes and old people. That was until I spotted a box of computer tapes next to the counter. Searching through, it seemed to be quite an old selection. There were a lot of very early Bug-Byte programs, some bearing their first logo. There were games for the BBC Micro, Sinclair ZX81 and even 747 - a flight simulation for the 12k Atom.
I sorted through the box selecting the things I wanted, when towards the bottom was an inlay cover not in its box. I turned it over and it's safe to say it blew my mind. It said Attack of the Mutant Zombie Flesh Eating Chickens From Mars. I immediately recognised it as Matthew Smith's long lost game. I have always been a big fan of his and recalled the cover from the advert I have in Crash magazine (June 1987 edition, page 101 if you want to look it up).
The cover is the size of a two cassette box. The front is the title made up from various characters to illustrate the words (I particularly like the letter K in attack, it's terrified!). The red circle on the top right reads, "A new game from MATTHEW SMITH author of MANIC MINER & JET SET WILLY". The inner facing section has the scenario in text only. The back cover has some more text and new cartoon graphics of the characters. The spine reads "Zappo the Dog" and has the Software Projects logo. When it's folded out the flip side has the scenario in French, German and Spanish.
So trying not to go, Wah-hey! in a public place I searched for the cassette to go with cover. This would be the holy grail of the Spectrum world, the jewel in my collection, the exclusive NO ONE else has.
I couldn't find the cassette. I opened every cassette box in case it was in the wrong box, I examined every loose tape. If a tape had had no label I would have bought that to be sure. I went through that box like I was the Professor of Thoroughness at Thorough University who'd just been given a medal for being thorough. I was thorough.
So I asked the woman behind the counter if there were any more of these games in the shop. She said there weren't. I told her I was looking for a cassette that I'd found the cover for. I gave her the name of the game and my name and number. I said if the tape turned up would she phone me and I'd come and buy it.
Anyway, I paid for the games I'd chosen (six cassettes and one unbelievably rare inlay). The price to me was one shiny pound coin.
She never did phone me. I went back a month later and the box of tapes was gone and nobody remembered anything.
So near yet so far. Still, here on the RETROGAMER fanzine page are three scans of the cover for everyone to see. Enjoy and dream. One day someone will find it and maybe one day someone will find him. Stay tuned.
Now enjoy the gallery...
Issue two of RETROGAMER fanzine has a full profile on Matthew Smith and his games with pictures of the man himself.
RETROGAMER back issues are £1.50 and can be obtained by sending a cheque for £1.50 payable to Keith Ainsworth at 52 Kingfield Road, Orrell Park, Liverpool, L9 3AW, United Kingdom.
Copies of Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy are available to buy here.
Here are the Matthew Smith interviews...
"Matthew Smith, the Miner Designer". Personal Compter Games, March 1984.
"Do you sincerely want to be rich?" Big K, April 1984
"Mersey Byte!". Big K, July 1984
"Matthew Uncaged". Sinclair User, December 1984.
"Show us your Willy!". Your Sinclair, February 1986.
"Code Talk". Sinclair User, July 1987.
Here is a selection of Miner game covers plus a few photos of the man himself.
This document is copyright 1996-2001 Keith Ainsworth
and can be found at http://retrogamer.merseyworld.com/
or the US mirror at... http://www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/Heights/5874/