Lemmings (video game)
Game cover art
|Genre(s)||Puzzle video game|
|Mode(s)||Single-player, multiplayer (on some systems)|
|Distribution||Floppy disk, CD-ROM, ROM cartridge, cassette tape|
Lemmings is a puzzle-platformer video game originally developed by DMA Design and published by Psygnosis for the Amiga in 1991. The basic objective of the game is to guide a group of humanoid lemmings through a number of obstacles to a designated exit. In order to save the required number of lemmings to win, one must determine how to assign a limited number of eight different skills to specific lemmings that allow the selected lemming to alter the landscape, to affect the behavior of other lemmings, or to clear obstacles in order to create a safe passage for the rest of the lemmings.
Lemmings was one of the best received video games of the early 1990s era. The popularity of the game led to development of its numerous ports to other systems and the creation of several sequels, remakes and spin-offs, as well as inspiring similar games.
Lemmings is divided into a number of levels, grouped into four difficulty categories. Each level includes some or all of the following elements: entrance and exit points (at least one of each per level), destructible landscape elements such as rocks or soil, indestructible elements such as steel plates, and obstacles including chasms, high walls, large drops, pools of water/acid/lava, and booby traps.
The goal is to guide at least a certain percentage of the green-haired, blue-robed lemmings from the entrance to the exit by clearing or creating a safe passage through the landscape for the lemmings to use. Unless assigned a special task, each lemming will walk in one direction ignoring any other lemming in its way (except "Blockers"), falling off any edges and turning around if they hit an obstacle they cannot pass. A lemming can die in a number of ways: falling from a great height, falling into water or lava, disappearing off the top, bottom or side of the level map, being caught in a trap or fire, or being assigned the Bomber skill. Every level has a time limit; if the clock counts down to zero, the level automatically ends.
To successfully complete the level, the player must assign specific skills to certain lemmings. Which skills and how many uses of each are available to the player varies from level to level, and the player must assign the skills carefully in order to successfully guide the lemmings. There are eight skills that can be assigned:
|Climber||Climbs vertical surfaces, falling if it hits an overhang.||Permanent – a lemming assigned this skill will use it when necessary for the rest of the level.|
|Floater||Uses an umbrella as a parachute in order to fall safely from heights. A lemming that has been given both Climber and Floater skills is known as an Athlete.|
|Bomber||Continues whatever it is doing for five seconds (indicated by a countdown timer above the lemming's head) and then explodes, destroying itself and any destructible landscape in close proximity. Surrounding lemmings, traps, etc. are not destroyed.||Cannot be cancelled after assignment. Using this skill destroys the lemming. If the lemming is killed another way or reaches the exit before the timer counts down it will not explode. A Bomber can still be given new skills but timer will continue to count down.|
|Blocker||Stands still with arms outstretched, preventing other lemmings from passing. Any lemming that hits a blocker reverses direction.||Until the landscape under the lemming's feet is destroyed (or the lemming is destroyed by the Bomber skill). Unlike Builder, Basher, Miner or Digger, this skill cannot be cancelled by assigning another skill.|
|Builder||Builds a rising stairway of up to twelve bricks. The last three bricks make a sound when placed, giving the player a warning that it may be time to assign the skill again in order to continue building, or assign the lemming another skill.||Until the lemming runs out of bricks, hits its head on the ceiling, hits an obstacle that stops it from building any further, or is changed to a Blocker, Basher, Miner or Digger.|
|Basher||Digs horizontally.||Until the lemming emerges into the open air, hits indestructible material, falls, is made a Blocker or Builder, or is assigned a different digging skill.|
|Miner||Digs diagonally downwards.|
|Digger||Digs directly downwards.|
While the player is able to pause the game to inspect the level and status of the lemmings, skills can only be assigned in real-time. Lemmings are initially released at a rate predetermined by the level (from 1 to 99). The player can increase the rate as desired to a maximum of 99, and later decrease it down to, but not lower than, the initial rate. The player also has the option to "nuke" all the remaining lemmings on the screen, converting them to Bombers. This option can be used to abort a level when in a no-win situation, remove any Blockers that remain after the remaining lemmings have been rescued, or end a level quickly once the required percentage of saved lemmings has been reached.
The four difficulty groups – "Fun", "Tricky", "Taxing" and "Mayhem" – are used to organize the levels to reflect their overall difficulty. This rating reflects several factors, including the number of obstacles the player has to surpass, the limitation on the number of types of skills available to assign, the time limit, the minimum rate of lemming release, and the percentage of lemmings that must be saved.
The original Lemmings also has 20 two-player levels. This took advantage of the Amiga's ability to support two mice simultaneously, and the Atari's ability to support a mouse and a joystick simultaneously. Each player is presented with their own view of the same map (on a vertically split screen), can only give orders to their own lemmings (green or blue), and had their own base. The goal is to get more lemmings (regardless of colour) into one's own base than the other player. Gameplay cycles through the 20 levels until neither player gets any lemmings home.
The Atari ST also has a two-player mode, one player using the keyboard or the joystick, and the other using the mouse. Two-player levels are also present in the Sega Mega Drive and Super NES versions, along with some levels unique to those versions and produced by their developer Sunsoft (some of these levels were also found in Oh No! More Lemmings with other designs). The multiplayer aspect of Lemmings has been incorporated into the variant Clones which can support up to 16 networked players at once.
Mike Dailly, the first employee of DMA Design and one of the programmers for Lemmings, has provided a detailed history of the development of Lemmings entitled "The Lemmings Story". Dave Jones, founder of DMA Design, also has commented on the development and success of Lemmings.
Originally, the concept of the gameplay results as a quick demonstration of being able to create an animated character in a 8×8 pixel box as part of development for Walker, then envsioned as a sequel to Blood Money. Dailly was able to quickly produce an animated graphic showing his creations moving endlessly, with additional graphical improvements made by Gary Timmons and other members of the DMA Design team to help remove the stiffness in the animation. One member, Russell Kay, observed that "There's a game in that!", and later coined the term "lemmings" for these creations, according to Dailly. Allowing the creatures to move across the landscape was based on a Salamander weapon concept for Blood Money and demonstrated with the animations.
Levels were designed based on a Deluxe Paint interface, which allowed several of the members to design levels, resulting in "hundreds of levels". There were several internal iterations of the levels, each designer challenging the others. Dailly pointed out that Dave Jones "used to try and beat us, and after proudly stabbing a finger at the screen and saying 'There! Beat that!', we'd calmly point out a totally new way of getting around all his traps, and doing it in a much simpler method. 'Oh...', he'd mutter, and scramble off to try and fix it." They also sent internally tested levels to Psygnosis, getting back the results of their testing via fax. While most were solved quickly, Dailly commented that "Every now and again though, the fax would be covered in scribbles with the time and comments crossed out again and again; this is what we were striving for while we were designing the levels, and it gave us all a warm fuzzy feeling inside."
Each of the designers had a somewhat different style in their levels: Dailly's levels often had titles containing clues to what to do (such as "It's Hero Time", suggesting that one lemming had to be separated from the crowd) and generally required the player to perform several actions at once; Gary Timmons's levels were minimalistic, with popular culture references in the titles, and Scott Johnston's (whose mother was the first voice of the lemmings) levels were generally tightly packed. Dailly was also responsible for the "custom" levels based on other Psygnosis and Reflections Interactive Amiga games, such as Shadow of the Beast, Menace, Awesome and Shadow of the Beast II. These "crossover" levels also used music from those games, though in ports these levels have been removed or altered to remove such references. After they developed most of the hard levels, they then created several simple levels either by copying the existing ones or creating new layouts; as Dailly states, "This I believe is where many games fall down today, they do not spend the time making a good learning curve." Timmons is credited with the official drawings of the lemmings, as necessitated by the need of Psygnosis for box cover artwork.
Music was originally created by Brian Johnston (Scott's younger brother), who sampled bits of copyrighted music. This had been common practice, but at that point there was a growing awareness of music copyright. Psygnosis asked Tim Wright to replace the offending tracks, who often used arrangements and reworkings of classical and traditional music to avoid copyright problems. Music tracks in the game include: "Galop Infernal" from Orpheus in the Underworld (the music by Offenbach often used for the can-can), "Rondo alla Turca" from Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 11, "Dance of the Reed Flutes" from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, "Dance of the Little Swans" from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, "Ten Lemmings" (a track that uses melodies from traditional song "Ten Green Bottles"), Chopin's Piano Sonata No. 2, Wagner's "Bridal Chorus" (popularly known as "Here Comes the Bride"), "London Bridge is Falling Down", the English folk tune "Forest Green" (adapted into the hymn "All Beautiful the March of Days"), the carol "O Little Town of Bethlehem" mixed with the melody from the film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain" and "(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?".
The two-player option was inspired by then-present games Populous and Stunt Car Racer. DMA Design initially wanted to use a null-modem connection between two machines to allow competitive play, but ended up using the ability of the Amiga to have two mouse pointer devices usable at the same time and thus created the split-screen mode.
Ports and remakes
The popularity of the game on the Amiga and Atari ST led to its rapid porting to many other platforms, and it is considered to be one of the most widely ported video games of all time. Known commercial ports of the original game include: 3DO; Acorn Archimedes; Amstrad CPC; Apple IIGS and Macintosh; arcade (prototype only); Lynx; Atari 800 XE/XL; Commodore 64, Amiga CD32, and CDTV systems; MS-DOS; FM Towns; Hewlett-Packard HP-48 series; Mobile phone; Nintendo's NES, SNES, Game Boy, and Game Boy Color; OS/2 (demo only); Palm; Philips CD-i; SAM Coupé; Sega Game Gear, Master System and Genesis; Sharp X68000; Sinclair Spectrum; several Texas Instruments calculators; UIQ; Pocket PC and Windows; TurboGrafx-CD and Windows Mobile. While all ports share the same basic characteristics of the game, there are a number of significant differences, generally related to hardware and control restrictions.
In early 2006, Sony released a remake of Lemmings for the PlayStation Portable (PSP) handheld console, developed by Team17. It features all 120 levels from the original game, 36 brand new levels as well as DataPack support (similar to the Extra Track system featured in Wipeout Pure), and a user level editor. Every level in the game is a pre-rendered 3D landscape, although their gameplay is still 2D and remains faithful to the original game. User levels can be constructed from pre-rendered objects and distributed by uploading them to a PlayStation-specific Lemmings online community. The soundtrack also marks the final video game score created by longtime composer Tim Follin after he announced his retirement from the industry in mid-2005. The game was also ported by Rusty Nutz for play on the PlayStation 2 with use of the EyeToy in October 2006. The basic change in the concept is that the player must stretch and use his/her limbs in the recorded picture to aid the lemmings. In 2007, Team17 produced a similar remake of Lemmings for the Sony PlayStation 3 for download through the PlayStation Network. The game has the similar graphical improvements as the PSP title, as well as on-line scoreboards and additional levels developed for high-definition display, but lacks the ability to create and share levels as the PSP version offers.
The original sales for Lemmings on the Amiga topped 55,000 copies on the first day of sales; in comparison, Menace sold 20,000 copies and Blood Money sold 40,000 copies cumulatively. With all the ports included, it has been estimated that over 15 million copies of Lemmings have been sold between 1991 and 2006.
Several gaming magazines of the time of its first releases gave Lemmings very high scores, with only the level of graphics and sound receiving some small amount of criticism. David Sears of Compute!, in his review of Lemmings for the PC, stated that "perhaps Psygnosis has tapped into the human instinct for survival in formulating this perfect blend of puzzle, strategy, and action." Amiga Computing stated that "Lemmings is absolutely brilliant. Psygnosis have managed to produce a game that is not only totally original, but also features the kind of addicting gameplay that will keep the player coming back for more time and time again." A review from the Australian Commodore and Amiga Review (ACAR) stated that "above all, the concept is simple, and the game is a lot of fun." Computer Gaming World stated that "Not since Tetris has this reviewer been so addicted to, or completely fascinated with, a series of challenging puzzles ... follow the crowd and get Lemmings". In 1996, Next Generation declared it "second only to Tetris, the most addictive game of all time." In 2004, readers of Retro Gamer voted Lemmings as the 21st top retro game, with the editors calling it "perhaps Psygnosis’ finest hour and a turning point in the puzzle genre."
Lemmings for the PSP was warmly received, with a 76/100 average rating at Metacritic. According to the review by GameSpot, "Lemmings is a game-design classic that is as compelling now in its newest iteration on the PlayStation Portable as it was 15 years ago." Eurogamer complained that the game was the otherwise bare port of the game to yet another system. The PS2 EyeToy version was also panned by critics, being nothing more than a straight port of the PSP game with the added difficulty of getting the motions correct for the EyeToy, and only received an averaged Metacritic score of 67/100. The PSN version's inability to create levels or play competitively online resulted in the game receiving mediocre reviews, with an averaged Metacritic score of 59/100.
Lemmings has inspired a number of sequels, some which have modified the core gameplay but still involve the use of lemming skills to rescue lemmings:
- Christmas Lemmings (1991-1994) and Oh No! More Lemmings (1991) feature the same gameplay as Lemmings but provide a new set of levels to the player.
- Lemmings 2: The Tribes (1993) introduces 12 different tribes of lemmings (such as Polar Lemmings or ninja-like Shadow Lemmings), each with their own unique skills.
- All New World of Lemmings (1994, known as The Lemmings Chronicles in North America) alters some of the core mechanics of gameplay.
- 3D Lemmings (1995) brought the game into the third dimension with skills to take advantage of the additional dimension.
- Lemmings Revolution (2000) returns to the original's 2D gameplay and core skillset and mechanics, but features 3D graphics as well as some of the mechanics originally introduced by All New World of Lemmings.
Two spin-off games were made with drastically different general gameplay:
- Lemmings Paintball (1996) is an isometric action game where the player takes part in a lemmings paintball match.
- The Adventures of Lomax (1996) is a side-scrolling platformer where the player controls one lemming named Lomax to save other lemmings.
One of the first video game clones of Lemmings was The Humans, released for the Amiga in 1992. General game concepts have been included in the open source Pingus, where the player is required to safely guide penguins across landscapes using a similar array of tools. Other similar games include CLONES and Turtle Trench.
In 2010, it was announced that Lemmings will be ported to the iOS operating system by Mobile 1UP. On June 29, 2010, Mobile 1UP reported that Sony Computer Entertainment Europe had presented them with a cease-and-desist letter, forcing them to halt development of the port. In April 2011, Mobile 1UP has released a re-worked version of the work done in 2010 with a prehistoric setting (new artwork, sfx, music, levels) under the name Caveman, available for the iOS and webOS platforms.
Lemmings has also been called a predecessor of the modern real-time strategy (RTS) video game genre. A 1991 Amiga Power article claimed that Lemmings "was the first major game to introduce the 'indirect-control' concept," an element that is now common in many RTS games. 1UP.com noted that "the biggest difference is that instead of trying to outmaneuver another player's army, you're trying to outwit the level designers' cruel design sensibilities." Lemmings' introduction of RTS elements has been noted by fantasy author Terry Pratchett; in his novel Interesting Times, an army of golems is controlled in a fashion reminiscent of the Lemmings user interface. When readers asked if this was deliberate, Pratchett responded: "Merely because the red army can fight, dig, march and climb and is controlled by little icons? Can't imagine how anyone thought that... Not only did I wipe Lemmings from my hard disk, I overwrote it so's I couldn't get it back."
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