Third Award: Andrew Broad, for Manic Miner: Neighbours – Allana Truman
This is another retrospective award which I have been meaning to do for some time!
Manic Miner: Neighbours – Allana Truman is a 2004 game for the obsolete but formerly very popular Sinclair ZX Spectrum home computer.
It is a new version of Matthew Smith’s classic 1983 early platform game Manic Miner. In fact, more technically it is a re-definition of the rooms of Manic Miner – the original game is still underneath, but the graphics and level designs have been altered. This means that it is can still be played on original hardware, or (more likely) via an emulator. This is also absolutely fundamental to the nature of Andrew Broad’s practice. He has a special genius for designing extremely challenging and interesting rooms, which can sometimes only be completed by exploiting quirks and glitches of the original game engine – in fact, you are unlikely to get very far with any of his more challenging MM games unless you carefully read the tips and suggestions provided in his extensive README files. The README files also provide context for the level designs and gameplay and form an intrinsic part of the full experience – hints to aid your imagination in building the strange world of Ramsay Street as filtered through Manic Miner and Andrew Broad.
A bit of history for those who aren’t of a certain age (or very geeky): Manic Miner was a hit game at the time (1983), and along with it’s sequel Jet Set Willy has enjoyed a long term fan following due to it’s engaging gameplay, along with the quirky aesthetic and sense of humour. Miner Willy must collect all the items whilst avoiding all sorts of surreal baddies moving on fixed trajectories, including the famous ringing telephones, flapping toilets and swiss army knives along with countless other odd things. Matthew Smith, the creator of Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy also became a bit of a legend. A genuine case of the teenage bedroom coder who hit the big time with his home made game – after his two big hits, he never produced much more, and then cemented his mystique by seemingly disappearing off the face of the earth. Eventually he reappeared about a decade later. He’d been living in a dutch commune, but got deported because he hadn’t kept his papers in order. He now occasionally appears at retro-gaming events but has not really got involved much in the gaming or computing scene again.
In Manic Miner: Neighbours – Allana Truman, Andrew Broad has adapted the twenty rooms of the Manic Miner to fit the narrative of a favourite storyline from the Australian soap opera Neighbors. Instead of Miner Willy the player controls Lance Wilkinson, and the story goes something like this: Nerdy Lance has met a girl (Allana Truman) at a Science Fiction convention, however, before she will agree to be his girlfriend she insists that he complete seven rather amusing labours all themed around her various interests in sci-fi, aliens etc. After the seven labours have been successfully completed there are several other incidents featured from the TV storylines (we get to learn a bit about Allana’s troubled home life). The final plot-arc revolves around Lance and Allana entering into a TV quiz show called Brainbusters in order to try to win the money they need to move to America.
With this award, I wish to also recognise all of Andrew Broad’s work in the field of MM/JSW. It is a remarkable body of work which is enriched throughout by his talent for constructing puzzling and interesting challenges and by his rather idiosyncratic repertoire of pop culture references… David Bowie features quite heavily, as do certain lady tennis players, also Twin Peaks, Tolkein, James Bond etc. Manic Miner: The Buddha of Suburbia is another Andrew Broad game which I like a lot – based on the David Bowie soundtrack album for the BBC TV series rather than on the book by Hanif Kureishi. And I must also mention a completely original creation of his – the 17th century parallel universe art-murderess Kari Krisníková who features in two Jet Set Willy Games. I particular, I like the premise of the second game, Goodnight Luddite, which is set in the distant future, when Selesianity (the worship of Monica Seles) is an established religion. It is set in the Holy Land Monastery of Selesia where the spirit of Kari Krisníková is able to enter people’s dreams and murder them, as in the classic 1980’s horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Discovering the work of Andrew Broad has introduced me to the world of MM/JSW developers and the community which exists there, of which he is (or was) a key figure. Many other creators have also been making interesting work there. I spent quite some time going through the games listed on the World of Spectrum website under the MM & JSW categories, just looking at the game maps and reading the README files, enjoying the often very silly humour and getting a feel for the dialogue between the different authors… building on one another’s stories, ideas and technical innovations and borrowing graphics from one another’s games.
As an aside, I’ve learned since that there is a word for this kind of thing! It’s called a mod-scene – a community of people built around modifying an existing computer game. They exist for a number of popular games (Doom is a good example) and can be very creative. Manic Miner probably represents one of the earliest, with MM and JSW editing tools circulating as early as 1984 – the year which JSW was published!
I get quite misty-eyed and romantic about this kind of retro nerd culture stuff… and then there are the actual games… the beautiful simplicity and rigid clockwork determinism of the static two-dimensional rooms. Pixels big enough to see. Eight colours only, but if your childhood was spent here, then these colours will be imprinted on your mind for life. The snipping scissors, the amoebatrons and the flapping toilets hypnotically shifting in and out of phase as they proceed back and forth steadily on their fixed horizontal or vertical paths. For a certain type of person, the experience can be utterly absorbing… and since the judging criteria of the B. S. Art Prize are entirely subjective, this profound individual experience is more than enough to merit an award.
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I am making attempts to contact Andrew Broad so that I can present the award. If I am unable to do so then the prize money will be invested in funding future awards and the commemorative medal will be kept in the BSAP archive.