Superior Software were one of the major software houses in the Acorn market. They were there way back in the early days of the BBC Micro market (and later the Electron) and then when everyone else had given up on the BBC they were still releasing games, although not quite as regularly as before.
Whether you picked up a copy of Acorn User, Micro User, A&B Computing or Electron User you could guarantee that the back page (and often pages inside) would have an advert for a new game from Superior Software.
Many games were released over the years, the most famous being the Repton series. Repton first appeared way back in 1985 and many sequels followed. The final 8 bit release of Repton was Repton Infinity which included a whole game designing suite. Did anyone ever produce any games with it?
Other highlights include the mega game Exile which really pushed the BBC to the limit and was a remarkable game. Sim City, a game which was played using a mouse and a desktop environment was, amazingly, converted to run on 32K BBC.
The now legendary game Elite was repackaged and relaunched by Superior Software and this time it also included an enhanced BBC Master 128K version. A number of the games released by Superior also included these specially enhanced versions including Crazee Rider and Strykers Run.
Long time Acorn magazine readers may remember the game "One Night In Bangkok" which was often mentioned but never appeared. Did it ever exist? Well it would appear that it did exist but it was a only a work in progress which was never finished for various reasons, although one part of it was completed.
In the later years a compilation series was launched called Play It Again Sam. This comprised a collection of four of Superior's full price games on one tape or disc for the price of one game. This represented excellent value for money. The series spanned 18 volumes in total and from Volume 3 onwards not only Superior games were included but games from other software houses and also brand new releases would appear on the compilations.
A number of titles were also release for other formats. Repton 1 and 2 made an appearance as a double pack on the ZX Spectrum. Repton 3 was released on the Commodore 64 and Amstrad in addition to the Acorn machines, as was the boxing game By Fair Means Or Foul. One title, The Legend Of Sinbad, didn't appear on any Acorn format and was released only on the Commodore 64.
When the 8 bit market began to fade, Superior had a brief time within the RISC OS market. In 1987 the game Zarch was launched for the 32bit Archimedes. This was the full version of the demo game Lander included with machines. It was graphically amazing for the time, but was rather difficult to play.
A Personal favourite on RISC OS from Superior was Ego : Repton 4. This was a brand new Repton game, not another set of screens for Repton 3. The aim was similar, collect diamonds, solve puzzles and in Repton 2 collect pieces to make up a jigsaw puzzle, but it was a whole new concept. If you've not played this game it is well worth hunting down.
The Play It Again Sam series had a brief venture on RISC OS but could only manage up to Volume 3 in the 1990's, although ProAction did release a Volume 4 at a later date. These compilations include some rare games including the brilliant Top Banana and the now impossible to find Arcpinball.
Many people, myself included, thought that when Superior Software stopped releasing games for RISC OS that was the end of them but it wasn't so. They are still going today and the man behind it all, Richard Hanson, agreed to answer a few questions about his company, the games and the industry.
How did Superior Software start?
"I decided to start my own software business after I'd written some software that had been published by 'Program Power', who later became 'Micro Power'. Superior Software began in the summer of 1982, and my first business partner was John Dyson; I wrote three of Superior's first four software releases, and John wrote the other one."
What were your favourite games you released?
"The Repton games are my personal favourites."
How and why did the Acornsoft logo appear on your game releases?
"Acorn Computers approached Superior Software and some other software companies in 1986 when Acorn had decided to largely concentrate its activities on hardware rather than software. The Acornsoft label and software were worth obtaining because Acornsoft and Acorn Computers were implicitly associated with the BBC Micro as manufacturers of the computer; and Acornsoft had produced some very good software such as Elite, Revs, and some of their early games. Acorn Computers and Superior Software agreed terms, and inclusion of the Acornsoft logo and branding was an important part of the agreement."
The Play It Again Sam compilations were a big success. How did you decide which games from other companies to use? Was it easy to licence? Did anyone refuse permission?
"The choices were made in terms of popularity of the games and our personal preferences. I think almost all of the other companies were interested; the compilations brought in extra money for the companies without requiring much additional work from them - I can't remember anyone refusing."
Was Star Clash from Gremlin Graphics really ripped off from Elite ? it did look a bit similar.
"If I recall correctly I believe David Braben (who wrote the original version of Elite with Ian Bell) found that some sections of the code were identical, and Gremlin Graphics withdrew the Star Clash game from sale."
I remember in Electron User the constant pressure for games companies to release games on disc for the Electron. Superior Software released some, was the demand there?
"There was some interest, but quite small in comparison to the BBC Micro formats (disks and cassettes) and the main Electron format (cassettes). A difficulty with Electron disc software was that there were four different disk formats (DFS 3.5" and 5.25" disks, and ADFS 3.5" and 5.25" disks) vying for popularity, and each had a significant share of the market, so this meant that four Electron disk versions had to be produced for each release."
What did you think of all the fuss about the adverts for Barbarian?
"I was surprised because similar adverts had already appeared in many of the computer magazines (not just the BBC Micro and Electron magazines), and Acorn User was the only magazine that seemed to have any difficulty. At the end of the day, I think this may have simply resulted from a personal point of view by someone in charge at Acorn User."
Did you have any games which were finished but never released ? Do they still exist?
"A game called Jeremy Goes Jumping* was close to being published, but we decided it wasn't quite strong enough. I don't know if any copies of the game still exist now. It's a sideways-scrolling game, and the main character, Jeremy, flies over buildings in one section of the game. It's atmospheric and unusual!"
If you want to check out Jeremy Goes Jumping then visit the Lost and Found section of the Stairway to Hell website. Note that this doesn't work properly with Netsurf but Oregano2 with scripting on does the job, although it may randomly crash, and the game works fine on !6502em.
How come WH Smiths sold BBC/Electron cassettes of your games but everywhere else the versions were sold separately ?
"At one stage WH Smith's made a policy decision to only stock BBC Micro/Electron cassettes rather than individual BBC Micro and Electron formats."
Did you get a lot of people asking about Zarch on the BBC Micro? (The Acorn User April fool).
"Most people realised, but there were a small number of enquiries. Maybe a reasonable BBC Micro version of Zarch could have been produced, but it would have been considerably simplified in comparison to the Archimedes version."
What do you think of the games industry now, compared with it back in the 1980s ?
"I enjoyed the industry in the 1980s, and I still very much enjoy it now! I think business in general has tended to become more marketing-orientated over the last 20 years, whereas the early computer games business was probably more product-orientated. It can be quite a challenging big-investment business now, although we generally prefer to keep to reasonably small projects at the moment."
Many people probably thought Superior Software were long gone, but you're still here. What are you doing now and what does the future hold for Superior ?
"Superior has been in business continuously since 1982, which must make us one of the longest-running games software businesses. Superior Interactive is mainly concentrating on PC software now, and we currently have PC conversions of Stryker's Run, Codename: Droid, and Quest under development. We're also busily working on new Repton scenarios at the moment for a new release called Repton Spectacular."
Many thanks to Richard Hanson of Superior Interactive for taking the time to answer these questions. If you do have access to a PC and were a BBC Micro games player (or even if you weren't) then I recommend checking out the remakes of these classic games at www.superiorinteractive.com.
For those of you that are interested there is a Superior Interactive email newsletter available, if you subscribe to this newsletter through the special link here then your email address will be entered into a prize draw.