Thalamus Ltd was created in 1986 as an in-house software publishing label of British magazine publisher Newsfield Publications Ltd, to take advantage of their leading position publishing computer game magazines, such as Crash and Zzap!64, during the mid-1980s. Ex-Activision PR Manager Andrew Wright was assigned the position of Company Director and Newsfield staff writer Gary Liddon was appointed Technical Executive. The company was initially based in Canonbury, North London, in an office shared with staff of Newsfield's newly launched lifestyle magazine LM.
Thalamus capitalised on the success of the Commodore 64 gaming scene by releasing their first batch of titles on this platform. Having established numerous contacts within the C64 development scene through the popularity of their Zzap!64 gaming magazine, Thalamus were able to sign up Finnish programmer Stavros Fasoulas to develop their first three titles, Sanxion, Delta and Quedex. Sanxion was the first release to bear the Thalamus name, and it garnered a Sizzler rating from Zzap!64 - this led to accusations of favouritism from rival publications, in particular Commodore User, despite the game deserving the award - it was technically competent, visually attractive, and ran at breakneck speed for its time. Legendary C64 musician Rob Hubbard came on board to provide the music for the first two titles, while Matt Gray provided the music for Quedex. "Thalamusik", the loading tune that accompanied the C64 version of Sanxion proved to be so popular amongst fans that Zzap!64 later included a full synthesised version of Rob Hubbard's classic tune on one of their cover cassettes.
The C64 version of Delta popularised the concept of the Mix-E-Load loading system. Provided as standard on the cassette versions of each game (and as a bonus on the floppy disk versions), the Mix-E-Load system allowed players to remix the loading music of the game, in real time, as the main program loaded in the background. Mix-E-Load was created by Gary Liddon in conjunction with Rob Hubbard and derived from an idea by Nick Pelling, author of well known BBC Micro games Frak! and Firetrack.
The staff changes
During the development of Quedex, Liddon and Wright both left Thalamus, with Wright returning to Activision and Liddon pursuing a career in games programming. Ex-Electric Dreams development manager Paul Cooper was brought on board to head up the company.
Stavros Fasoulas was later recalled to Finland to serve in the National Guard, so for their next release Thalamus turned to upcoming C64 programmer Martin Walker. Having already programmed a number of well-received C64 titles, namely Rupert and the Toymaker's Party, Chameleon and Back to the Future, Martin Walker delivered an innovative puzzle/shooter hybrid named Hunter's Moon. Despite a favourable response from critics and gamers alike, the game didn't sell as well as previous Thalamus titles.
In the second half of 1988, Thalamus returned from a period of relative silence with two new titles. Hawkeye marked the commercial debut of The Boys Without Brains, a Dutch collective who had already made a name for themselves within the C64 demo scene. The game was an above average side-scroller with colourful graphics and an impressive soundtrack from Jeroen Tel. The first Thalamus game to be awarded a Gold Medal by Zzap!64, Armalyte was an impressive shoot-em up in the spirit of R-Type, originally conceived as its own unique identity but publicised as a sequel to Delta.
As the 1980s drew to a close, Thalamus continued to release a strong line-up of C64 games, including the surreal puzzle/shooter Snare, an impressive horizontal scroller, Retrograde, from the Rowlands brothers and Heatseeker, an unusual platform game with an environmental theme by Paul O'Malley. A brief experimentation with the ZX Spectrum format saw conversions of Sanxion and Delta being released, but by this time the Spectrum market was in decline and Thalamus decided to halt development of a number of Spectrum projects. The title Thalamus were most reluctant to cut was The Search for Sharla, an epic exploration game that intended to combine the best elements of Spectrum classics such as Lords of Midnight and Driller.
Final titles and dissolution
Thalamus entered the 1990s with a few more strong C64 titles, including Creatures and Creatures II: Torture Trouble from the Rowlands brothers, which have been lauded by several computer magazines for the strength of their gameplay and graphics on the aging machine. Cartoon-style platformers Summer Camp and Winter Camp were also released. But a multitude of problems began to overcome the company, threatening their demise. In 1991, Newsfield ran into serious financial trouble. Newsfield were forced to halt publication of their popular gaming magazines. Europress stepped in to save the magazines, but they slowly died out over the next year or two as their respective markets dwindled.
Thalamus managed to survive the liquidation of Newsfield, but funds were running low. With 8-bit gaming being superseded by 16-bit gaming, production costs were rising, forcing hundreds of independent publishers, such as Thalamus, to either close down or allow themselves to be consumed by a publishing giant. Thalamus released their final C64 game, Nobby the Aardvark in 1993, but it was too little too late. With their various Amiga projects spiralling out of budget and no further income, Thalamus had no choice but to close down their operations. Eidos Interactive snapped up many Thalamus rights.
List of games
- Sanxion (1986, C64)
- Delta (1987, C64)
- Quedex (1987, C64)
- Hunter's Moon (1987, C64)
- Armalyte (aka Delta 2) (1988, C64)
- Armalyte: Competition Edition (1988, C64)
- Hawkeye (1988, C64)
- Snare (1989, C64)
- Retrograde (1989, C64)
- Sanxion: The Spectrum Remix (1989, Spectrum/Spectrum 128)
- Hawkeye (1989, Amiga)
- Armalyte (1990, Amstrad CPC)
- Q8 Team Ford Rally Simulation (1990, Amstrad CPC)
- Delta Charge (1990, Spectrum)
- Creatures (1990, C64)
- Summer Camp (1990, C64)
- Heatseeker (1990, C64)
- Venom Wing (1990, Amiga)
- Armalyte: The Final Run (1991, Amiga)
- Creatures II: Torture Trouble (1992, C64)
- Winter Camp (1992, C64/Amiga)
- Borobodur (1992, Amiga)
- Nobby the Aardvark (1993, C64)
- Mindroll (1990, Amiga)
- Creatures (1993, Amiga)
- Creatures (1992, Atari St(e) )
- S.U.B. (1993, Amiga/PC)
- Starline (1987, C64)
- Q8 Team Ford Rally Simulation (1990, Spectrum)
- The Search for Sharla (1990, Spectrum, C64, Amiga)
- Creatures (1990, Spectrum)
- Armalyte (1990, Spectrum) - a demo version of one level was released.
- Armalyte II (1990, C64) - this would have also been Delta III and Sanxion IV, as each game was related to the previous one in some respect.
- Bombuzal (1990, Spectrum)
- Delta Patrol (1992, Amiga)
- Arsenal FC (1992, Amiga)
- Beastmaster (1992, Amiga)
- Nobby the Aardvark (1992, Amiga)
- Street Warriors (1993, Amiga)
- Restrictor (1993, Amiga)