International Deathchase Day

For one of the greatest games ever made, Mervyn Estcourt's 1983 Spectrum classic Deathchase (often inaccurately called "3D Deathchase") still doesn't get appreciated enough for my liking.

Mr Estcourt isn't a knight of the realm, there's no blue plaque on the wall of the house where he was born, and there isn't even a statue of an armed motorcyclist on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.

In the absence of any such formal commemoration, then, WoSblog has decided that in order to mark the 27th anniversary of the game's release, from this date forward April 2nd shall be International Deathchase Day.

(The date has in fact been chosen arbitrarily, since there seems to be no official indication of precisely when the game actually came out. Judging by the timing of reviews, though, early April seems as good a guess as any. And you can't do it on April 1st or people think it's a gag.)

Naturally, WoSblog is happy to launch the celebrations, and to begin with some exciting announcements for those of you who aren't quite up to speed with current Deathchase news.

Deathchase was only ever officially released on the ZX Spectrum, but jealous eyes recognised its brilliance, and hard-working coders have subsequently ported it to several other formats. (There have also been several PC remakes, but none of them are much cop.)

First off the mark was Richard Wilson's Amstrad CPC conversion, a very faithful translation marred only slightly by the annoying constant tone of your motorbike's engine.

The official page for the CPC port seems to be dead (and mention of the conversion very thin on the internet ground generally), but the DSK file can be downloaded directly from here. Control is by joystick, or keys Z and X to steer, K and M for accelerate and brake, and L to fire.

In 2009, Deathchase was also converted to the Dragon 32 and Tandy Color Computer by James McKay, esteemed author of several other retro-related projects, including the once-market-leading Spectrum 128 emulator X128. It's another very accurate port, albeit with slightly chunkier graphics, and despite the fact that the Dragon/CoCo's comically limited colour palette has resulted in the Night Patrol missions of the game turning into something more akin to Snow Patrol, only better-sounding.

(The game actually calls it Arctic Patrol, but I wanted to make the joke.)

The project homepage complete with game download can be found here. Alternatively, for those quite justifiably scared of the viciously user-hostile horrors of Dragon emulation, WoSblog has compiled an easy-to-use one-stop package here. Unzip to a folder, run XROAR.BAT, then press Ctrl-L to load the snapshot and you're good to go, with a joystick or cursors and Space.

But being naturally contrary, the thing I really wanted to talk about on International Deathchase Day was Storm-Fighters.

I was reminded of Storm-Fighters last week while reviewing the excellent Decimation X, and I fired it up for a bit of a play. I still really like it, but as I downed the waves of TIE fighters and UFOs, I was struck by a thought, and it was this thought here:

"Hey! Storm-Fighters is actually almost exactly the very same game as Deathchase, only viewed from overhead!"

And it is. It's not even hard to spot when you look at it. The ever-thicker field of indestructible asteroids is the forest of trees. The enemy fighters weaving in and out of them (two at a time for most of the game) are the motorbikes, with only the slight tweak of them shooting back at you occasionally. And the UFOs are the tanks and helicopters, passing across the top of the screen in the same manner, harmless in themselves but tempting you into danger as you deviate from your course to try to squeeze a shot through the "trees" at them for the extra-juicy bonus points.

Obviously, the thought also tied in with this week's WoSblog posting of my Families Reunited feature from 2008/9, and it's a pretty striking illustration of the thesis. After all, at first glance there could hardly be any less similarity between a Galaxian-derivative shoot-'em-up and an into-the-screen 3D racing game that more resembles a precursor to Chase HQ.

Yet scratch just the slightest distance beneath the surface, and they're identical twins wearing different-coloured jumpers.

I'm betting there's probably some sort of important lesson there, but I need to go out now for some sherbet pips. Enjoy International Deathchase Day!


6 Responses to “International Deathchase Day”

  1. Ah, Mervyn Estcourt, where are you? Buggered if I know, and I've been trying to track him down for Retro Gamer for over four years now.

  2. A game that truly doesn't get enough love.
    Oh, and thanks for reminding me about the Dragon 32. I had one as a kid, and the psychological scars were just starting to heal…

  3. That Amstrad CPC conversion is actually very good, although I'm not sure about its making the front of the bike red. It makes it look even more like a bell-end when turning.

  4. Irish Al Says:

    Mr Estcourt *is* elusive, isn't he. The only search engine hits for his name are from databases and articles about Deathchase, and posts by people looking for him. I wonder if it was a pseudonym …

  5. It's not a pseudonym, since his family was on the Electoral Roll. However, they moved years ago and there are no current contact details available anywhere. Still, he's not the only one – Greg Holmes is nowhere to be found either.

  6. […] International Deathchase Day […]

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