Remembering… Paradroid 90
Loading droid library…
My first concrete experience with videogames – I’d dabbled witha Sega Master System in my early junior school years – was with Commodore’s Amiga. I believe the family first had an Amiga 500 (later the 500+), and the floppy disk loading screen will be burnt into my retinas until my final days.
The Amiga 500 was Commodore’s home computer, most popular during its lifetime for a range of powerful videogame titles. One of its charms was the amount of games created by individuals, shared via various means, and then networked. A floppy disk from the front of a magazine such as [em]Amiga Format[/em] would provide whole games, or, alternatively, pages of codes might be included that could then be run to build a game from scratch. This, powered by the enthusiasm of youth, completely obsessed me. Simple yet captivating titles were everywhere. Shops had endless amounts of titles with no Internet to guide opinion. It’s hard to comprehend just how many games have forever been lost for this one piece of hardware alone. The power of the floppy disk compels me.
Paradroid 90 was one of those titles that came hidden within a flat 3.5” plastic container, waiting to be awoken and spark my imagination. I’ve since lost memory of when exactly I first loaded the title, or even my age at the time. Our Amiga was then set up on a basic computer desk in the corner of the back room, sharing the surrounding four walls with a tropical fish task and large dining table. It was in good company.
Reminding me of another title of the era, named Arena, I hold my memories of Paradroid 90 dearly, and briefly talked about it with Bryon Atkinson-Jones during a series of industry interviews.
Cast aboard a spaceship containing a multitude of decks filled with both passive and aggressive robotic constructions, you, as an Influence Device, must use both mental and physical fortitude to hack and kill anything you can. No droid is spared. All must be assimilated or assassinated. The hacking of robots is a major part of the game’s story, transporting you to a stripped down circuitry view where the CPU tries to prevent you from taking control. With a number of nodes based upon power, and a clock that soon ticks down, it’s a race of patience and lateral thinking.
The decks themselves are painted in an instantly distinguishable manner. Strong blues, cooked yellows and deep rose pinks decorate the flooring and inhabitants. It’s an unusual choice, but the brilliance of videogames lies not always in their ability to replicate real life, but within their ability to create schemes, ideas and worlds with its own rules. As long as those rules are adhered too, it never feels unnatural. Here, pink flooring panels and custard yellows become appropriate, complementing the unique futuristic concepts, and providing easily recognisable images.
Creator Andrew Braybrook jam packed the title with ideas that would become staples within the first-person shooter genre as it evolved. Doors and walls restricted line of sight, healing stations provided necessary sanctuary but could be destroyed by stray fire, droids exploding caused a damage radius that could take others nearby with it, docking crates could be used for cover and blown apart, and computers contained maps, deck information and successfully assimilated droid profiles. What first appears to be a run of the mill top down shooter soon surprised its audience with many nuances, tactical gameplay and an unforgiving difficulty level.
Your mission is hard. No save points. No checkpoints. No bonfires. No hope. Bump into a security droid without protection and your mechanical innards will be blown down the hallway in a rain of gunfire. Hover too close to droid as it explodes and you’ll be torched in the hail of electrical currents and shrapnel. The screen of static appears, harmonised by a blast of white noise, and it’s back to the welcome screen. Fail to hack a droid when you’re naked as the Influence Device and you’re presented with that same reward. If you’re smart enough to clear a deck the lights dim to signal your victory, however short lived that may be.
Paradroid ’90 is a huge idea from a few dedicated individuals. A completely built ship with multiple desks, computers that can be logged into with library data, including profiles of what droids you’ve encountered, in-game statistics and deck details, as well as hacking, combat and multiple enemy types. Andrew Braybrook and his contributors did a fine job of bringing these ideas into a realistic and playable package. A stone-cold classic, it stays with me nearly twenty years after my time with it.