Review: Captain Blood

This is a review covering a game from ST/Amiga Format Issue 2 – the August 1988 issue (so actually out in July).

Captain Blood

I’ll start with Captain Blood as I have a little bit of prior experience with it, albeit on an Amiga. Wait, what? But I had an ST, that can’t be right. Well, as a teenager I thought it might be clever to upgrade my 520STFM to 1MB of RAM. Back then this involved soldering. You can guess the rest. This was towards the tail end of the system’s life and I had a bit of pocket money saved up and saw an Amiga going cheap in the local independent computer shop. Picked it up along with a stack of floppies that were being sold individually for £1 with scribbled labels.. wait they had games and stuff on them – what the fuck? Anyway, I digress, I had previously played it on the Amiga so it seemed the most comfortable place to start, though Captain Blood is far from a comfortable game.

I’ll begin with a bit of a background of what the game is, its story and what you’re expected to do, all that scene-setting stuff that helps the poor bastard reading this get a taste of the game. So the story is that the eponymous Captain Blood has programmed a game, and then got sucked into said game in an improbable and very 80s way, and to make matters worse he has 5 clones which he needs to locate in order not to die, spread all over a large galaxy (32768 planets apparently – and forget about memorizing them, they get randomised with each new game) with 14 alien races. To do this he sends a ship to the planet’s surface, navigates a 3d fractal wireframe landscape and eventually talks to an alien if one is present. To do so one must figure out the arcane language in which the aliens speak. Yep, the game has it’s own sodding language. To think that all this ambition fit onto two 720kb floppy disks to be run on a computer with a mere 16-bit processor running at 8MHz packing only 0.5MB of RAM is really quite something – a feat matched only by Damocles rather more detailed single solar system on a single disc or Elite 2’s galaxy.

On firing up the game the first thing that hits you is the music, by Jean Michel Jarre. Sure it’s very computer-gamey, but this is before Xenon 2 Megablast or Speedball 2 – it was quite a remarkable thing at that time. You eventually get to the game start and we even have a speech synthesizer announce something, though it’s not entirely clear what. So, my first job then is to send a ship (an Oorxx in the game’s terms) to land on the planet. Let’s see if I’ve still got the muscle memory for this. It turns out I haven’t – I manage to crash into the canyon when I eventually make it there. Thankfully there seems to be no consequence for doing so though, it merely stops me and I have to figure out how to get going again. I eventually figured out that the mouse buttons controlled speed and I was soon on the move. Eventually I reached my destination and the screen was slowly converted into a proper filled 3D image.

I deliberately captured a screen in the middle of the 10-second process so you can get a picture both of the original wireframe from its moving state and what will eventually materialise.

And as you can see, some alien prick decides he wants a chat. On the top we have the alien, with his planet as backdrop, below on the left what the alien has said (apparently something’s really fucking funny), to the right is whatever I’m going to say, and below is a set of symbols which comprise the game’s language. Oh and that arm – that’s my mouse pointer. When I’m done I click the lips hoping to god I’ve said something that makes some kind of fucking sense. Everything said is rendered by the speech synthesizer in its own unique gibberish. It’s not something I can imagine ever existing today. I am however being afflicted by my mouse pointer wandering all over the fucking shop. I don’t remember this. Off to google – I found https://argnet.fatal-design.com/bluddian.php which informs me that I need a cracked version. Ok let’s get that and try again. Ah that’s much better. Oh ffs I accidentally pressed the destroy planet button instead of the land on planet button.

The screenshot above demonstrates the careless disregard for health and safety from the ship’s designers, as a poor unfortunate yellow planet disintegrates before my eyes. Why the fuck would you put the button to destroy a planet next to the one to land on it? What kind of madman would allow such a thing? I better scarper out of there before my genocide is discovered (or is it really genocide when each planet always seems to have a single alien on it?).

Time to pick a new place to go. You might expect that you’d click somewhere and the lines would align.. nope. You have to drag each bar into position to point to a co-ordinate. 80s user interfaces weren’t always very good.

So off into hyperspace I go, with palette cycling psychadelic shenanigans, in search of new worlds to plunder and destroy. And it crashes. Third time lucky, let’s see if I can actually get somewhere. I’m learning here that I’m going to have to use the emulator snapshots very very regularly. I land, get to see the alien and it’s the same twat I encountered the first time when I had the shakey mouse pointer. Laugh it up shit-head – I might just destroy your planet for fun. Prick is bragging about being a bounty hunter, or perhaps a big bounty on his head. Maybe I should kill him. He doesn’t like me, but knows reproduction 14.. maybe he’s talking about the clone? Or maybe he’s accusing me of being a paedophile. It’s hard to tell. Ah reproduction 14 is on planet Migrax (his species) – ok so maybe he’s talking about clones. But there are only 5. What? A missile is going to kill me.. ooookay. So finally he’s stopped talking. I ask him to help me, he replies that he knows Sinox. Great, but who the fuck is Sinox? He wants to help me. An interesting turnaround but I won’t complain. I finally figure out that you can scroll to get more words. So I ask where reproduction 14 is. He says on this planet and gives the co-ordinate we’re already on. Oookay. Eventually he agrees to teleport to my ship. Not quite sure what that gets me but we’ll see. Let’s hyperspace somewhere and drop him off and see what happens.

And it’s another crash. My patience exhausted for now, I put the game down and conclude that perhaps I should try something a little less buggy. It’s definitely an interesting concept for a game but it’s a little unclear what you’re expected to do – the manual offers some guidance but not quite enough. That was definitely an adventure, and had it perhaps been a little less crash-prone I might have persevered longer. Still, I had fun, destroyed worlds, and met a weird alien. What’s not to like?

Manual is at https://www.bloodianchronicles.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Captain_Blood_1988_Mindscape.pdf for anyone who wants it.

Next up – Sentinel.

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