Cover art by Roger Dean
|Platform(s)||Amiga, Atari ST, Classic Mac OS|
Brataccas is a video game released in 1986 for the Amiga, Atari ST, and Macintosh, and was the first game published by Psygnosis. It is a science fiction action-adventure game, with role-playing game elements.
Brataccas is believed to be the remains of the much hyped vaporware project Bandersnatch, which was partially developed by Imagine Software. The storied tale of the game’s development led to close press attention in the U.K. computer market.
When Brataccas finally shipped, this attention resulted in considerable coverage in the computer press. It was generally reviewed poorly due to significant control problems, although the graphics were widely praised.
The player controls Kyne, a genetic engineer who has developed technology for creating supermen. The oppressive government of the day desires this research to create a breed of supersoldier, but Kyne refuses to assist.
In retaliation, the government frames him for treason, claiming that he is seeking to sell his work to the underworld. At the same time, the government secretly offers a reward to anyone in the underworld who turns Kyne over to them. With both the forces of law and lawlessness aligned against him, Kyne is forced to flee Earth.
During his escape, Kyne learns that evidence needed to clear his name can be found on the distant asteroid of Brataccas. Brataccas, first of the asteroids to be colonized, is a backwater mining colony with a "wild west" feel of lawlessness and corruption. Kyne has to find the evidence in order to win the game, obtaining it from the in-game characters. The manual gave no indication of who held the evidence, suggesting that everyone was equally corrupt and dangerous to talk to.
Brataccas displays the game world in flip-screen format, with the map divided into rooms that are drawn into the display as the character moved through the habitat. The screens flipped when Kyne passed from room to room, typically through doors. Most movement was horizontal, with automatic elevators providing vertical movement between floors where required. Occasionally, labeled doors in the rear wall or teleportation booths with the appearance of cylindrical shower stalls led the player to different sets of rooms. The term "rooms" is slightly inaccurate, as there were also a small number of outdoor areas displayed using the same system. In order to preserve detail on the character animations, the characters had to be fairly large, making the rooms small in relative terms. They could get quite crowded with even a few characters in them.
The player had a limited amount of interaction with the game world, generally limited to movement, picking up or dropping objects, or talking to non-player characters (NPCs). These NPCs operated under computer control and pursued their own objectives, sometimes even engaging in combat with other NPCs. All the game's characters utilized swords in combat to maintain extended battle in the small rooms, justified in-game as a measure to avoid potential loss of atmosphere to space from stray ranged weapons fire.
Interaction between characters was carried out through dialog bubbles similar to those in comic strips. The player could only respond to other statements, at which point a menu of possible responses appeared. The selections were fairly limited, and the outcomes often seemingly random. Additionally, a number of loudspeakers located in some rooms would announce events like fights breaking out. No attempt was made to "declutter" the balloons, so if more than two characters were talking the screen would often fill with them, rendering most of them unreadable.
The control system was an early example of a gesture-based interface, or as many reviews pointed out, a poor attempt at one. To move, the mouse was moved in the direction the player wanted to walk, or faster if they wanted to run. However, the inaccuracy of the system combined with lag times in the interpretation of the movements often rendered the game almost uncontrollable. One reviewer wrote, "Controlling Kyne reliably ... in a critical situation is nearly impossible."
Interaction with objects was limited to picking them up or dropping them, at which point other characters might interact with them as well. For instance, one could buy information by dropping money, bags of which were scattered around the game world. One annoying gameplay problem was that if Kyne fell from one level to another, he would drop whatever he was holding. If another character was there, they would pick it up.
Brataccas had its origins in Bandersnatch, one of a pair of ambitious "Megagames" planned by Imagine Software. Along with Psyclapse, another proposed Megagame, Bandersnatch was eagerly anticipated by teaser adverts placed in the computer press (see right) throughout 1984.
Bandersnatch was originally intended for release on the 8-bit ZX Spectrum home computer, and would have set a new price point for computer games (£39.95 vs. the standard rates of the time of between £5.95 and £11.95). It was intended that the game would have required a cartridge or dongle to support the demands of the game.
However, before any of the Megagames had been completed, Imagine Software went bankrupt owing to financial mismanagement, with the spectacular demise being shown in a BBC documentary named Commercial Breaks.
A new company called Finchspeed (formed from the remnants of Imagine) acquired the Bandersnatch rights and sold an option on the game to Sinclair Research Ltd. Finchspeed itself folded, but a complete working version was developed for the Sinclair QL. The directors Dave Lawson and Ian Heatherington then formed Psygnosis and the now-complete game (renamed Brataccas) was released on the Atari ST, Amiga and Macintosh.
On the Amiga and Atari ST, the game ran in 4-color, 640 × 200 resolution, a high resolution mode rarely used for games at the time. On the Atari ST, it was one of very few games to support the monochrome 640 × 400 high resolution which required a special monochrome monitor (model SM 124 or SM 144), and it is likely to be the only game which has ever allowed changing the type of monitor during gameplay. The Mac version used unchanged graphics from color versions, and thus ran inside a small, vertically compressed, area in the center of the monitor.
The box cover art for Brataccas was made by fantasy artist Roger Dean, who would provide artwork for many Psygnosis titles. It was later used as the album cover for Uriah Heep's 2001 album Remasters: The Official Anthology.
Long expected, and already the subject of considerable pre-release press, the game received mixed reviews. Reviewers generally liked its sophisticated setting and story and ambitious graphics, but almost all complained about the control system.
Commodore Horizons started its Amiga review by noting that the concept appeared excellent but the early implementation they received was difficult to enjoy. They were highly critical of the mouse controls, noting that even slight movements like re-positioning the mouse on the desk could be interpreted as commands that would have consequences. But they reserved their primary complaints for the manual, and noted that after playing it for some time they still had no idea how to win the game.
Antic's review of the Atari ST version was similar, noting that "The authors say their interface 'implies action,' which means that the game tries to sense what you want to do and will proceed to do it for you. Most of the time for me, it meant running into walls at full speed." They conclude that "for all its impressive graphics and hi-tech, Blade Runner plotline, I really can't say Brataccas is one of my favorites", and "On a scale of 1 to 10 I would have to give it a 5."
Compute! expressed similar concerns, stating "Usually, your character behaves in a predictable fashion, but it can be frustrating to see him run and crash into a wall when you were merely trying to rotate to face a door." Then go on to state that "The only negative factors arise not from the game concept, but from its implementation." They conclude, in a section titled "Unrealized Potential", that the game's primary advance is to demonstrate what sort of games might be expected on the platforms in the future.
A contrary note was offered by Popular Computing Weekly, who called it "very good indeed" and rated it 4 out of 5.
In popular culture
The Black Mirror interactive film Bandersnatch, released in 2018, alludes to Imagine Software and the failed work to produce Bandersnatch. The film starts on 9 July 1984, the date of Imagine's closure, and includes a shot of the cover of Crash reporting on the closure. Within the film, the fictional software company Tuckersoft, which had developed both Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum games, places its financial future on the attempt to produce Bandersnatch, and in some scenarios falls into bankruptcy after the game fails to appear.
- Brataccas info at Psygnosis.org
- The Story so Far - Brataccas manual's short backstory
- Brataccas review by Michael Fleischmann, Antic Vol. 5 No. 2, June 1986. URL accessed 2006-04-17.
- Kean, Roger (December 1984). "The Biggest Commercial Break Of Them All". Crash. Newsfield Publications Ltd. Retrieved 2015-01-01.
- "The Making Of: Bandersnatch". 4 September 2009. Archived from the original on 2 January 2015.
- "Brataccas", Commodore Horizons, March 1986, pp. 36-37
- Charles Brannon, "Brataccas", Compute!, August 1986, p. 62
- Peter Worlock, "Brat is back", Popular Computing Weekly, January 1986, p. 13
- Rowney, Jo-Anne (28 December 2018). "Black Mirror's Bandersnatch game was real - and truth about Jerome F. Davies". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
- Power, Ed (December 28, 2018). "The real Bandersnatch: how a nightmarish ZX Spectrum game broke a UK software giant". The Daily Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235.
- Brataccas at MobyGames
- Brataccas at Hall Of Light
- "The Games That Time Forgot" at TZXVault (includes entry on Bandersnatch)
- Andersen, Paul. "The Fall of Imagine (interview with Roger Kean)". CRASH - The Online Edition - Issue 12. No. 12.</ref>
- Bruce Everiss blog entry about the Imagine "Megagames" including Bandersnatch