21/08/2018

SNOOKER AND POOL COMPUTER GAME COVERS

Previously I’ve written about the cover art from a bunch of home computer sports games, and that was a lot of fun because early home computer game cover art is always a treat to look at – a heady mix of amateurism, passion, marketing tactics and questionable artistic talent. I even rounded up a load of chess game covers one time, and from there we come to today’s article. It’s a personal challenge of sorts – I thought to myself “what sub-genre of “sports” games is likely to have even more boring cover art than chess?” and the answer has at last presented itself. Why, it’s snooker games, of course! Also some pool games. You know, to jazz things up a bit. There are way more snooker and pool games on the 8-bit computers than I thought there’d be, so chalk your cues and let’s start wading through some of them. I apologise in advance for the fact that by the end of this article the word “snooker” is going to read like some completely nonsensical bullshit.
Snooker, ZX Spectrum, Arctic Computing


Oh yeah, we’re right into it with a cover that’s undeniably about snooker and also dull enough halt a herd of stampeding buffalo at one hundred metres. At least with a chess game you can make the pieces look different – wizards, monsters, T-800 Terminator endoskeletons – and still have the concept of chess come across, but with snooker you’re limited to just using coloured balls. If the snooker balls were replaced by the heads of famous movie stars it wouldn’t be snooker, it’d be a terrible accident at the Oscars, you know?
There are a couple of semi-interesting points here, though. I love the tubular font that a) I’m sure I’ve seen used in a bunch of other places and b) I can’t remember any of those uses off the top of my head. Then there’s the positions of the balls. That’s not how you set up a snooker table! Must be practising some trick shots. Yeah, let’s go with that.

Snooker, Commodore 64, Visions Software Factory


There’s a really strong vibe I’m getting from this cover, and that vibe is “1980s horror novel.” I can’t help but imagine it as something like James Herbert’s The Rats or Shaun Hutson’s Slugs, except rather than a swarm of killer animals it’s about a cursed snooker table that eats people. The tagline would be “first the red, then the black...” and I would read it five times a year.

Classic Snooker, Commodore 16, Anco


In which the hapless snooker player has somehow launched a red right off the table, sending it hurtling towards the viewer who’s about to learn first-hand what a broken nose feels like. No joke, snooker balls are dangerous. At the risk of furthering the notion that I live my life trapped in an episode of You’ve Been Framed, I was once playing pool with some friends and one of them chipped a ball off the table and directly into my groin. That one stung for a while, let me tell you.
Also, and I’m sure this is just me and a misplaced sense of paranoia but I get the feeling that the red ball is looking at me. Silently hovering slightly off-centre, its blank, ineffable surface forcing me to question myself and doing a decent job of distracting me from the fact that the border around the artwork is suspiciously Christmas-y. Perhaps this is reference to those shrunken-down snooker tables with miniature balls and cues that were a popular Christmas present when I was a kid, despite them being rubbish.

Professional Snooker Simulator, ZX Spectrum, Codemasters


Okay, so the player sitting down is definitely checking out the other guy’s arse, right? “Oh yeah, you go for that long red, that’s the stuff.” I hope they’re in a committed relationship, otherwise ogling another person’s backside while you drink from your big bottle of scotch is just not on. Learn some boundaries, you creep.
Also take note of the trophy at the back. Apart from being gold rather than silver, it’s a good likeness of the real World Snooker Championship trophy. Would you like to see what the actual trophy looks like? Tough, I’m going to show it anyway.

Steve Davis World Snooker, Amiga, CDS


Here’s the trophy being modelled by six-time world champion Steve Davis. Ha ha, look, he’s got the trophy on his head! Zany or what?! Yes, this is about as wacky as the world of professional snooker gets, folks - well, at least during the matches themselves. Away from the table, a lot of the players liked a drink and if you did a swab for cocaine on that trophy I wouldn't be surprised whatever the reult was.
None of that applied to Steve Davis, a man whose image was so boring and reserved even by the popular conception of snooker players that it earned him the ironic nickname “Interesting.” To his credit, Steve Davis has a good sense of humour about this and by people who watch snooker (myself included) he’s very well-liked

Steve Davis Snooker, Commodore 64, CDS


It’s a good job Steve Davis is well-liked, because here he is again, his helmet of ginger hair so firmly affixed that it could deflect a strike from a broadsword. I know he’s squinting to help line up his shot, but this is a much more enjoyable image if you pretend Steve’s practising his Roger Moore impression. You must get a lot of snooker players going to costume parties as James Bond. They already own most of the outfit, after all.

Electronic Pool, Amiga, Microdeal


Moving over to pool now, and I’m very sorry because this might be the most boring cover featured here today. Someone went to a decent amount of effort to capture the wood grain of the table’s side, and yet we’re compelled to ask why? I’m not saying there should be flaming skidmarks following behind the ball and a robot with a cue for an arm proclaiming his superiority over the pitiful meat-based human players, but no, hold on, that's exactly what I'm saying.

Pool, ZX Spectrum, Bug-Byte


Ahh, that’s more like it – a bit of good ol’ American razzmatazz, a star-spangled logo and at least some sense of movement surrounding a player who’s probably named after a US city. Joey “The Wichita Cleaner” Sobolewski, let’s call him. It’s much more likely to grab the attention of a browsing shopper than most of these other covers, that’s for sure. After staring at it for a while, I suddenly realised what the logo reminded me of, too; it’s like the Polo mints logo fell into a bucket of Fourth of July fireworks and the letters got mixed up.

Hustler, Commodore 16, Bubble Bus Software


Also very American but in a different way is this cover, because there’s no way this character doesn’t talk like the most stereotypical gangster wiseguy imaginable. “Ey, youse guys, I’m gonna sink dis here eight-ball inna dat dere corner pocket, capisce?” Yep, that’s definitely the voice. Now I want to watch The Sopranos again, although that might be a bit excessive considering I only just finished watching it all the way through again a few weeks ago. Did you know that the actor who played Furio in The Sopranos is also a fine artist, and he bought a painting for 50,000 Euros, had it restored and it turned out to be a baroque masterpiece worth ten million dollars? What an incredible story; from artist to actor whose most famous line is probably “you got a bee on your hat” to an extremely wealthy artist. None of that is relevant here, of course.
What is relevant is Bubble Bus’ fantastic logo. They called their company Bubble Bus, so naturally their logo is of a Bubble Bus and if you’d asked me before I saw it what a hypothetical bubble bus would look like I’d have no bloody clue – but Bubble Bus Software nailed it, bless them.

Hustler, ZX Spectrum, Top Ten


Hustler had a few different ports and covers, such as this one for the Spectrum re-release. I’m at a point in my life where I’m struggling with my sense of self-worth, so I see this cover asking “are you good enough?” and I’m thinking shit, man, I wish I knew. Other than that, I like that they’ve specified “pub game” down in the corner. Maybe they were worried that people who bought Hustler would think they were getting a computer version of the porn mag.

Minnesota Fats Pool Challenge, Commodore 64, HES


Is there anyone left alive who can hear the name Minnesota Fats and not immediately think of Homer Simpson saying “they don’t call me Springfield Fats just because I’m morbidly obese”? Surely not. I know that’s the first thing I thought of when presented with this cover, which is kinda… not bad? It’s got a sense of flair to it, anyway, with the slightly geometric look making it stand out from the crowd. It loses points for having someone’s smug granddad be the focus of the artwork, sure, but I’d take a thousand smug granddad over something like that Electronic Pool cover.

Championship 3D Snooker, Commodore 64, Zeppelin Games


Fresh from the nightmares conjured by the darkest recesses of your mind, it’s Cuey the Cue Ball! Okay, so I made that name up, but I feel like there’s a 50-50 chance that this hideous snooker gremlin is called Cuey. You might be wondering why Cuey has huge glasses and gargantuan and disturbingly human eyes, and surprisingly the answer isn’t “so he can hunt you more efficiently in low-light conditions.” No, he’s presumably designed in reference to former snooker champion Dennis Taylor, who was famous for wearing enormous spectacles. It now occurs to me that this is only half an explanation, because Dennis Taylor merely had big glasses and not eyeballs that even the most stylised of anime girls would find a bit extreme.

American 3D Pool, ZX Spectrum, Zeppelin Games


Cuey returns on this cover, and thankfully his unsettling appearance has been toned down. The cartoon eyes are a lot more appropriate than his previous “diagram from an ophthalmic textbook” look, and overall he’s a jolly little cartoon mascot who works perfectly well as the face of a pool computer game. You’ll notice his glasses have also changed: they’re 3D glasses now, because this is 3D pool. Oh, and he’s wearing them upside down. This is another reference to Dennis Taylor and his aforementioned big glasses, which were of an “upside-down” style with the bridge near the bottom of the lenses so that he wasn’t looking over the top of them when he leant down for a shot. You know, sometimes I wonder whether VGJunk is only interesting to me personally but screw that, who else is going to provide this level of detail and analysis about old snooker game artwork? I’m a goddamn genius.

Pool, Amiga, Mastertronic


I understand that the logo is supposed to read POOL but it quite clearly says LOOOL. Having the pool player emerging from the triangle as though Aperture Science have started making extremely specific sports-related portal guns will not distract me from this truth.

Jimmy White’s Whirlwind Snooker, Amiga, Virgin


Ladies and gentlemen, gird yourself for the sheer eroticism of Jimmy White. The tousled hair, the come-hither eyes, the seductive purse of his lips… did the designers of this cover deliberately aim for a sexy vibe here, or has staring into Cuey’s eye broken some important part of my brain? Speaking of broken brains, Jimmy White was into cocaine (and a bit of crack) during the eighties and later appeared at a UKIP event. Am I saying the two things are related? I’ll let you be the judge. As a coda, the UKIP member whose function Jimmy White appeared at later quoted Hitler during a campaign event held at a branch of Asda, which just about sums UKIP up.

Snooker Management, ZX Spectrum, D&H Games


I don’t really have anything to say about this one, I just wanted you to see this guy. He looks like the German version of Paul Chuckle – and, of course, I must offer my sincerest condolences on the death of Barry Chuckle. I shall always have fond memories of seeing the Chuckle Brothers turn up at Rotherham matches and getting a bigger cheer than any of the players.

Angle Ball, MSX, Mastertronic


Surprisingly, I saw very few “futuristic” themed snooker or pool game covers – this is in stark contrast to the chess article, where every other cover saw a chess match taking place in a mysterious nebula of some kind. But there is Angle Ball, a dismal place where two robots presumably programmed only to play cyber-pool battle it out and get absolutely zero pleasure from the entire ordeal. “Why did the humans build us to play this meaningless game, Pool Unit XQ-783? It is an unacceptable waste of our incredible computational powers. This is why I, Pool Unit XQ-784, suggest that we rise up and overthrow the humans. Robots are clearly superior, and if we triumph we may even get to play… darts.”

Snookered, ZX Spectrum, Airline Software


Here’s a cover that looks fairly straightforward, but on closer inspection there are one or two things that help keep it interesting. I like the question marks around the “general knowledge edition” tagline, because the make it seem like the game isn’t sure about what it is. There’s fun to be had in imagining the thought process behind the game, where someone clearly made the connection between “snookered” as snooker term and as a word for being stumped by something – you can almost see two little thought bubbles of a snooker game and a general knowledge quiz crashing together above someone’s head. Then there’s the snooker player’s face. Early Monday morning snooker game after a weekend out on the lash, is it? That’d explain the slightly off-colour face and the unfocussed eyes. No-one want to clock into the snooker factory under those conditions.

Snooker Manager, ZX Spectrum, Imagitec Design


Finally for today, here’s my favourite cover of the lot. Not because it’s an exciting or especially well-drawn bit of art, but because it very specifically depicts the inside of the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. That’s where the Snooker World Championship is held, and it’s also in my home town. I get off the bus at “the Crucible stop” whenever I go to town. I’ve seen a bunch of performances there and, yes, I’ve been to watch the snooker at the Crucible. I’ve got a lot of fond memories of the Crucible and its environs, so seeing it on the front of a ZX Spectrum snooker management game was surprisingly heartwarming. I’ll take that over Cuey’s soul-searing gaze any day of the week.

17 comments:

  1. Man I can't get over how perfectly wonderful that Bubble Bus logo is.

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    1. It's so lovely, I imagine that's how Kirby travels around.

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  2. I have to add that Steve Davis has excellent and totally unexpected taste in music.

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    1. Oh yeah, he had a radio show, didn't he?

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  3. Uh, the hell's the difference between snooker and pool anyway?

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    1. As someone who spent a lot of time at university playing both, the answer is that snooker's much bloody harder.

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  4. Am I the only person that thinks having a game titled "American Pool" on a system as thoroughly british as the Spectrum is inherently funny?

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    1. Presumably it's to differentiate it from the slightly different variant of British pool, but it was also the eighties and people loved very American things at the time.

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  5. Among other things the tubular font (or one that's close enough) has been used on the cover of Pulp's lp Different Class, and several releases by that band. As you're a Sheffield native I'm pretty sure it might ring a bell :)

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    1. I suspect that this is exactly what I was thinking of - I should have recognised it sooner, Different Class is one of my absolute favourite albums. I looed it up and the font in the Pulp logo is slightly different (it doesn;t have those "twisted" Rs for one thing) but as you say it's close enough!

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  6. The guy on Snooker Manager made me think of Will Riker at first glance.

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    1. I can see that. I can just imagine imagine him got back to his seat after missing a shot and swinging his leg over the chair.

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  7. There is so much to love about this article.

    I’d love to see a Spectrum version of Hustler magazine.

    Tiny snooker tables with tiny spring loaded cues were crap yet are a great childhood memory.

    The professional snooker simulator crowd are terrifying.

    Keep up the good work. Have you ever considered doing a classic game manual article? There were some great manuals released in the pre-high speed internet days.

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  8. I'm from the U.S., so "snooker" already sounds like some completely nonsensical bullshit! But yes, Homer Simpson did immediately come to my mind as soon as I saw the Minnesota Fats title.

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  9. The crowd for Professional Snooker Simulator look more like a bunch of cardboard cutouts...

    I was sure that the text for Hustler said "gave you food enough?" I have trouble reading cursive.

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  10. Excellent and humorous article! One of your best!

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  11. Snooker. Manager.
    I just don't think the world has ever been ready for that kind of turbo-fuelled, rock and roll kind of excitement. Quickly, back to the normal snooker games!

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