I’m sure that when you were a kid, you were just like me – you watched your favourite TV shows and you thought to yourself “wow, one day maybe I can create such wonderful things, just like Greg Dyke, Michael Grade and Adam Crozier!” Well, my friend, that’s exactly what we’re going to do today, with a game that lets the player slip into the shoes of a television executive – it’s Fastback’s 1990 ZX Spectrum director-general-em-up Telly Wise!

You know what’s not telly wise? Using a microwave oven instead of a television. You’re only going to get cookery shows, for one thing.

So, Telly Wise thrusts you into the role of television station director, and it’s up to you to make the tough decisions that will make or break your channel. The first step is to decide which TV channel you want to take control of. There don’t appear to be any differences between them, so I went with Pie TV, because everyone loves pie and I’m hoping this will subliminally influence my potential viewership into watching my programming.

Then you have to choose a presenter. Just one presenter for your entire channel, mind you, so make sure to pick one with the herculean amount of stamina required to front an entire day’s worth of programming, seven days a week. No, I’m kidding, just like the channels themselves there doesn’t seem to be any difference between the presenters, so pick whichever one you’re least repulsed by because you’ll be seeing their face a lot.
From this line-up of grotesques, it’s obvious that Telly Wise isn’t going to be a serious game and it’s taking the route of what you’d (very) loosely describe as “parody.” Specifically, it’s a parody of British TV, so anyone from outside this sceptered isle is very unlikely to recognise most of the “jokes” contained within. For instance, these presenters are parodies of Bob Monkhouse, Bruce Forsyth, Esther Rantzen and Chris Tarrant. If you’re reading this and you’re not British, I’d be very surprised if you knew who any of these people were.
In the end, I plumped for Bruce Forcefield. Not only is his head shaped like a wellington boot, but his hair looks almost exactly like a cartoon pie crust, making him the perfect spokesman for Pie TV.

Now comes the serious business of putting together a televisual line-up that’ll keep you at the top of the ratings. You’ve got £200,000 to spend on programmes, one from each category, and once you buy them you’re stuck with them for an entire year so you’d best make your choices wisely.

You’ll be unsurprised to learn that all the available shows are in the same parodical vein as the hosts – by which I mean they’re not particularly funny, on the whole. For example, the available soap operas are parodies of Neighbours, EastEnders, a combination of Dallas and Dynasty (I guess?) and Crossroads. It makes sense that “Drossroads” would be the cheapest of the bunch as Crossroads was infamous for having almost no production values, but I’ll be purchasing “Neighbores” in an attempt to capture the oft-discussed “lazy students watching daytime TV” market.

The news programmes are definitely the weakest in terms of their parody names. I grant that it’s difficult to makes puns on the names of news programmes, but changing Newsnight to Newsday seems especially lazy when it could have at least been Newsfright, a show where they round up that week’s scare stories from the Daily Mail. News at Ben might feel like a very poor reworking of News at Ten, but that’s only until you imagine News at Ben being a show where each night the newsreader travels to the home of someone called Ben, smashes down their front door and bellows that day’s headlines at them through a megaphone.

There are a couple of decent ones in the game show category, though. Name that Tuna has a pleasing air of absurdity to it, Spankety Spank sounds like an utterly filthy BDSM endurance test and Celebrity Swears? I’m amazed that’s not an actual TV show. I’m sure a gameshow where members of the public have to guess which washed-up soap star or former boy-band member is screaming obscenities at them from behind a curtain would be a huge hit.

Unfortunately I misjudged just how many shows I needed to buy and spent all my money on Neighbores and a bootleg Blackadder called Weakbladder, causing Pie TV to fall into financial ruin before they’d ever aired a single show. It’s entirely my fault for assuming a ZX Spectrum management game would include a “hey, you’re about to go bankrupt” warning. It does not.

I picked my shows again, properly this time, and arrived here at the game’s main menu. This is where you’ll orchestrate your rise to TV domination, or more accurately where you’ll do whatever you can to bring in that sweet advertising revenue. What can you do from this menu? Well, the main thing is to set your schedule with the first option on the list.

You schedule works on a weekly basis, but you only have to set one day’s worth of programming, with eight slots to be filled, starting at 8AM and ending at 10PM. It’s a simply matter of assigning each show to a time slot, and you can place them wherever you like. Want your breakfast show to start at ten PM in order to get a head-start on your rival’s breakfast programming? You can do that. Show your Blackadder knock-off in an inappropriate ten AM time slot? You can do that too. The thing is, I never figured out whether doing that was a good idea or not – it’s certainly not clear whether putting a breakfast show on early in the morning causes it to get higher rating or anything like that. The game’s instructions only offer the very vague “select the best times to show the various types of programme,” with no indication of what those best times might be.
As for the percentages, that’s basically how good your show is. The shining golden star in Pie TV’s 1990 line-up is clearly Neighbores, although this will not last forever.

Here’s each channel’s schedule for the coming week. I tried to place my shows in time-slots that felt mostly appropriate, although I should have probably moved the breakfast show earlier into the day. As for all the numbers, once again I assume that’s how good your show is, or at least how much of the audience it’s going to get compared to the other channels’ offerings. Neighbores is miles ahead of the competition in the 10AM slot and Weakbladder could well bring in plenty of late-night viewers, but all we can do now is hit “Watch TV” and see what happens.

Once you do start watching that week’s TV, I hope you’ve settled down in a comfortable chair and stocked up on food and water, because you’re in for a long wait before you regain any semblance of control. How it works is that for each time slot, your presenter will introduce the show – complete with Bruce Forsyth’s trademark patter in this case, which will again be mystifying to any from outside the UK unless the BBC have secretly been broadcasting old episodes of The Generation Game around the globe.

Halfway through each show an advert will play, often for another ZX Spectrum game. In this case it’s an ad for horse betting simulator Classic Punter, although I’ve got not idea what “be a hunter” is supposed to mean in this situation. Head down to your nearest computer game vendor and shoot them with a bow and arrow made from twigs and vines?

Then the second half of the programme is “shown,” and I should make it clear that you don’t ever actually see any television programmes during this part of the game. All that happens is that the game redraws the screen to show the “genre” icon for that show, it’s not like there’s a little pixellated Rowan Atkinson that appears whenever Weakbladder is on, more’s the pity. No, it’s just the same icons every time and a selection of ads in the middle of each show that very quickly become very repetitive.

The ratings are in, and during the first week Pie TV have fared… not well. Weakbladder did okay, but I felt for sure that Neighbores was going to set the charts alight. I mean, it did, but not for Pie TV. It seems that the other channels can have the same shows as you, which is kinda weird – there are four shows in each category and four channels, so you’d think each channel would have completely different programmes.

Once that’s done and you’re told how much money you made from that week’s advertisers, it’s back to the main menu to repeat the whole process again. That’s almost all there is to Telly Wise – you set your schedule and hope that you’ve put enough of the right programmes in the right place to bring in the advertising money. It’s a very simple set-up, and not an especially engaging one. There are a couple of other things you can do, though.

You can make your own shows! Okay, it’s far less interesting than it sounds, but it does mean you’re not stuck with just the shows you bought at the start of the year. Each show you make is a one-off that can only be shown in the week that you made it, (unlike the other shows which are available every week,) and of course making shows costs money so if you create your own televisual masterpiece every week it’ll usually cost you more money than you make back.
Creating a show is just as bare-bones a procedure as every other aspect of Telly Wise. You pick a genre, and then choose a director, a filming location, a “TV personality” and an actor, all famous names replaces with weak puns. That said, I quite like the idea of Roger Less as Roger Moore’s alternate-universe counterpart. Obviously the better the options you select the more money it costs, so it’s up to you whether you want a Hollywood epic or something that looks like it should appear on ITV3.

I opted for the comedy genre and decided to make Space Bastards, a grim and gritty reboot of Red Dwarf where Lister swears a lot and Rimmer has to eat babies to maintain his hologram projector. People are still into grim and gritty reboots, right?

I guess they are! Space Bastards is number one with a bullet. If only it didn’t cost me so much to produce this masterpiece, I’d show it every week.

Whatever flaws Telly Wise may have, it did allow me to produce a movie called Vampire Vixens, directed by Spielberg and starring Marlon Brando and Terry Wogan. Hang on, that’s actually a terrible thing, because now I and presumably everyone who reads this will be filled with bitter disappointment that such a cinematic masterpiece does not actually exist.
Oh, and if you’re feeling lazy you can also buy an extra programme for the week rather than making one yourself, but where’s the fun in that? Options include “Star Jaws,” which had bloody well better be about a vicious space-faring shark. That one always seems to bring the viewers in, so maybe that’s exactly what it’s about.

The only other thing you have to deal with in Telly Wise is the occasional piece of news that pops up at the end of the week. Sometimes it’s good news, like winning a bunch of money at an awards ceremony. Hurrah! Now Space Bastards can be renewed for a second series!

Sometimes it’s bad news, like Neighbores losing two of its biggest stars and thus reducing its potential ratings. During my time playing Telly Wise, I got this exact message three or four times. Neighbores was once my number one banker, but by the end of the year the Neighbores cast consisted of two extras and a decorative fern and nobody was tuning in to watch that.
I also once got fined for showing swearing before the watershed. I‘m not one hundred percent certain, but that might have been because I bought a bootleg RoboCop and aired it at ten in the morning.

However, during the vast majority of weeks, nothing happens. Okay, that’s two good things about Telly Wise: Vampire Vixens and this screenshot of a deformed simulacrum of Bruce Forsyth saying “everything is cool.”

And so goes Telly Wise, in the same repeating cycle of maybe making or buying a show, setting your schedule and waiting for the ratings report. It’s a shame, because I think there’s a decent concept in here somewhere, but after playing it for a couple of hours I’ve come to the conclusion that Telly Wise just isn’t much fun. There are a few reasons for this. This first is that is it slow. Very, very slow. Giant-tortoise-crawling-through-treacle slow. Put it this way, I spent most of my time playing Telly Wise with the emulator’s speed increased by 500% and it still felt too slow. Part of this is down to the hardware, because it takes a lot of time for the Spectrum to redraw each screen every time a new show or advert comes up. However, when you’re actually watching that week’s TV you’ll quickly be yearning for a way to skip the entire thing and get straight to the results. It’s not like you can do anything once you’ve hit go on that week’s schedule – there’s no way to influence the outcome at that point, so you’re stuck watching the information creep onto the screen with agonising torpor.

Then there’s the general feeling that the game is incomprehensible. I never felt like I had a decent idea of what I was doing, and no sense that my decisions were having much impact one way or the other. I was generally managing to make money, but I still have no idea what determines the ad revenue I’d receive. Some weeks I’d have three or four shows in the top ten but get less money than if I only had one or two success. As for what my overall goal was, I had no idea about that, either. The game’s instructions certainly didn’t tell me, and as far as I can tell you just have to keep going for as long as you can without the grim spectre of bankruptcy kicking you off the airwaves.

In the end, I played as far as the beginning of the second year. It was time to buy that year’s batch of shows, but unfortunately I hadn’t made enough money to afford a full complement of programmes for the coming year and so my game was over. I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t have carried on playing even if I did have enough money to buy all the best programmes and run Space Bastards every week. There’s just not enough to do in Telly Wise to keep it interesting, and so my career as a television executive comes to an end. Now if you’re excuse me, I’m off to find the people responsible for the CGI Peter Cushing in Star Wars: Rogue One to see if they can get Brando and Wogan together and make Vampire Vixens a reality.



Today’s article is a story of killer robots, the mysteries of my childhood and shouting “no, I bloody well didn’t mean “Terminator Genisys” at Google. It’s Probe and Virgin’s 1992 Genesis / Megadrive come-with-me-if-you-want-to-live-em-up The Terminator!

That’s right, it’s a videogame adaptation of the first Terminator movie. I assume I don’t have to explain The Terminator to you, right? Cyborg assassin travels from the future to kill a woman before she can give birth to the future saviour of the human race, Michael Biehn also travels back in time to protect her, Arnold Schwarzenegger becomes one of the biggest stars of the eighties and I just remembered that Bill Paxton has died and how much that sucks. I should watch Frailty again, that was a good Bill Paxton movie. Erm, sorry for the bummer opening there, hopefully the game itself will cheer me up.

I’ve got a bit of history with this game, actually. Way back in the Golden Axe II article – blimey, was that really six years ago? I should get out more – I mentioned the childhood friend who served as my main point of access to the Megadrive. One of the games he had was The Terminator. He also had parents who strictly limited his videogame time to thirty minutes a day, so sometimes we’d play The Terminator, struggle with what I remember as a brutally difficult first stage, not get very far and spend the rest of the day filled with regret that we’d wasted the chance to play Golden Axe II again. Well, today it’s going to be different. I’m going to see the rest of what The Terminator has to offer and put to rest the ghosts of my youth. Then I might play Golden Axe II, just for nostalgia’s sake.

Naturally you play as Kyle Reese, John Connor’s most trusted lieutenant and the man selected to travel back in time. Before you can do that, however, you must make your way across blasted wasteland that now makes up the Earth’s surface, fighting SkyNet’s deadly robots along the way. Here’s one now, a Hunter-Killer tank that Kyle must destroy before he can progress. Of course, Kyle didn’t embark on his mission without arming himself, oh no – he’s got an unlimited supply of… hand grenades? That’s right, hand grenades. They’re kinda slow to use, but by pitching them over-arm towards the Hunter-Killer he will eventually destroy the battle machine. Who would have thought that cricket bowling would turn out to be mankind’s number one survival skill in the post-apocalyptic future?

I say “survival” skill, I made the mistake of getting a little too close to the HK and it ran me over. Kyle Reese: Terminated, also Very Flat. And that’s it, game over, go back to the start of the game. It’s all coming back to me now: one of the reasons we considered The Terminator to be such a difficult game is that you get one life and no continues. That is rough, man. Even Ghosts n’ Goblins gives you a few lives to work with.

The flying Hunter-Killer might look just as dangerous as its land-bound companion, but I think it’s actually easier to get past because Kyle can take the maxim of “fight fire with fire” to a drastic extreme by destroying the robot’s bombs with his own grenades. This gives you a fighting chance of clearing a path through the carpet bombing. Just take it slowly, and you’ll find a way through, because even though it has a supercomputer for a brain the HK isn’t very good at aiming.

The bulk of the first stage takes place in this underground base, which is a shame because it’s rubbish. Vast swarms of Terminators – shirtless, Rambo-looking types – patrol the hallways with their very large guns, constantly surrounding Kyle while he ineffectually lobs grenades at them with all the urgency of a pensioner playing lawn bowls. You make slow, dull progress as you inch through the base, trying to at least eliminate the Terminators in front of you as you gradually creep forwards. There are so many Terminators down here, and they take so long to kill, that avoiding damage is impossible and the game devolves into a frustrating grind in which your success is determined almost totally by luck. If the enemies drop a decent amount of health-refilling bottles, then you might stand a chance. If the random number gods are against you, they’ll drop no health and it’s tough luck, back to the start for you. Oh, and there are certain walls that must be destroyed with timed bombs, of which you have a very limited amount, so if you accidentally drop one in the wrong place then it’s entirely possible to screw yourself.

Then, suddenly everything changes. After blowing up a small robot tank, Kyle finds a gun. With this single change, the first stage of The Terminator immediately flips from being a tedious slog to an absolute cakewalk, a gameplay shift so immediate and total that it’ll make your head spin. The gun lets you attack about five hundred percent faster and its projectiles travel all the way across the screen, allowing you to simply walk forwards and sweep aside any Terminators in your path before they can react. I cannot overemphasise just how vast the difference between the grenades and the assault rifle is. The gun is so good I suspect it was included as propaganda by the NRA.

Despite having the holy and sainted gun on my side, it wasn’t enough to get past the defences that SkyNet have erected to protect their time machine. To infiltrate their inner sanctum, it turns out I have to head back into the base and blow up whatever is powering these defences. I don’t see that being a problem. I’m the Terminator now.

Okay, so there was one slight problem: I got lost. It’s easily done when all the corridors look the same, but eventually I managed to make my way to the installation’s core. That’d be this big machine here, the one that seems to be producing Lucozade. I guess we know what’s in those health-restoring bottles, then. I’ll just leave a time-bomb here and then calmly make my way back to the time machine entrance…

...or I’ll make a mad dash though the stage, trying to remember where the ladder to the surface is as the countdown timer ticks towards my doom. If you were wondering what a Virtual Boy port of this game would look like, well, here you go.

I made it to the time machine. My reward? A lovingly digitised image of Michael Biehn’s naked body. I’ve seen worse cutscenes.

Obviously, Kyle’s first task is to find Sarah Connor so he can protect her. He tries to do this by looking her up in the phone book, which is the part of The Terminator that dates it more than any other. I still haven’t seen Terminator Genisys yet, do they find Sarah Connor by looking for her Twitter account in that one? Kyle also says he’ll need to find a weapon, and I sincerely hope he passes a gun shop before reaching Discount Grenades-R-Us.

Oh, so you did find a weapon, huh? That was quick. And then you shot a policeman. Good job not bringing any attention to yourself, Kyle. Okay, that’s unfair: as soon as I arrived at the beginning of the stage, every single cop in the city was overcome with bloodlust and devoted themselves entirely to murdering Kyle Reese. The LAPD take their public nudity laws very seriously.
Things also get a bit meta with the enormous poster of the Terminator adorning this building. Maybe it’s all part of Kyle’s plan: if he travels to a point in time where he can watch the first Terminator movie, he can then go back in time again and he’ll know exactly what the Terminator is going to do next.

So anyway, stage two is a rather uninspiring run-n-gun battle through the city streets. There’s just not that much to do, honestly. You can climb up to the rooftops and travel that way, but you’ll be attacked by a police helicopter. Or you can hit the streets, where you’ll have to deal with molotov-hurling punks as well as the cops. Swings and roundabouts, really. It all feels a bit bland and empty, but it’s nice to see that the cops and the street punks have put their differences aside. It’s just a shame that the thing that united these disparate groups was wanting me dead.

But I’ve got a gun! A sweet, wonderful shotgun with a hair trigger and infinite ammunition! Except, and I sincerely regret to inform you of this, the gun has a problem. You see, Kyle stores his shotgun under his trenchcoat. This is presumably to avoid attracting attention, despite that horse having not so much “bolted” as “developed warpspeed technology and embarked on a one-horse mission to Neptune.” Now, every time you fire the shotgun, Kyle has to remove it from his coat, and yes, it’s a really nice little animation, what with the fabric flapping and all… but it takes about half a second for him to, ahem, whip his weapon out, thus giving all of your attacks a half-second delay. This is extremely unhelpful in a game like The Terminator, where the enemies spawn endlessly and keep getting back up after you’ve shot them, and it gets worse because every time you move, Kyle puts his gun away. This means you can't move and shoot at the same time, turning this stage from “run-n-gun” to “run, stand still, laboriously remove your gun from your coat, gun, run a couple of paces, stop, repeat.” It’s amazing that such a minor detail could drag the gameplay down so much, but it was a constant source of infuriation while I was playing the rest of the game.

At the end of the stage is the Tech Noir club from the movie, and it looks great. In fact, pretty much all of this game looks great. Sharply detailed backgrounds and sprites, with lots of nice animation flourishes – only a couple of which make the game far less fun to play. Hmm.
Tech Noir, then. It’s where the Terminator and Kyle catch up with Sarah Connor, both in the movie and in this game, and as you can see the Terminator is here already. It’s a fight to the death – no, a fight for the very future of humanity! Except it’s nothing as grand as that implies, because the Terminator doesn’t deal well with stairs. He’s at the top, Kyle’s down below, which means all the Terminator’s bullets fly over Kyles head while our hero blasts the hyper-advanced killing machine in the knees with his shotgun. The Terminator has detailed files, but not on the advantages conferred by holding the high ground, it seems.

With the Terminator momentarily distracted by a) all the shotgun blasts to the knees and b) searching eBay for replacement robot knees, Kyle can whisk Sarah to safety while explaining that she will be the mother of mankind’s saviour. The Terminator is doing a good job of sticking to the plot and action beats of the original movie. It’s doing a less good job of rendering Sarah Connor’s hair, which I cannot see as anything but an Isaac Newton-style wig.

The next stage takes place in the police station. Given how aggressive they were in the previous stage I assume Kyle was brought in in a body bag. There’s a brief scene at the start showing the Terminator driving a car through the station’s reception desk, (as in the movie,) although the developers didn’t bother to include any extra animation so it ends up looking like the desk sergeant calmly sits there as a car flies past him.

The police plays out like a more compressed version of the previous stage, with the only vertical movement being via staircases that take you to the next floor and the same stop-and-go shooting action as before. I do really like this cut-away look, as though the front wall of the police station has been pulled away: it reminds me of all those cut-away “technical manuals” I used to read as a kid. You know what else it reminds me of? Stick with me here – it reminds me of Sega’s classic thieve-em-up Bonanza Bros. It’s a combination of the small rooms and the precise, angular graphics, I think. Oh, and all the cops. Speaking of the Bonanza Bros., if they’re the Bonanza brothers that means their surname is “Bonanza,” right? And their first names are Robo and Mobo. Therefore I submit to you that their full names are Robot Bonanza and Motherboard Bonanza. Do with this information what you will.

I definitely prefer this stage to the last one. It’s got some decent action, even with the shotgun’s delay, and the smaller areas mean you don’t feel quite so swamped by enemies. Plus, there’s the addition of the Terminator himself, wandering through the police station and occasionally getting in your way. You can put him down for a while, but not forever, although he’s suffering from a case of Jason Voorhees-itis and he’d be much more of a threat if he’d chase you at a speed beyond “supermarket browser.”

Having found Sarah and escaped from the police station, the final stage takes place in the factory where the Terminator will meet its eventual end. Well, it will assuming I don’t manage to cock it all up.

It’s just you and the Terminator now. It’s lost all its skin, which actually makes it a bit more difficult to spot against the metal of the factory… but only a little, because it’s bloody relentless, appropriately enough. I’m a little confused about how this stage is supposed to work: I’m fairly sure there’s only one Terminator in the factory with you, but it seems able to teleport around the place at will, repeatedly appearing in front of you as you move forwards. Fortunately it’s even easier to keep at bay than before, because it doesn’t have a gun any more, and as long as you have a quick trigger finger you’ll be able to shoot it fast enough to stop it being a problem.

At some point during the stage – I’m not sure whether it’s tied to your progress or how many times you shoot it – the Terminator’s legs will fall off. That doesn’t slow it down much, mind you. If anything, it becomes faster, what with it being fifty percent lighter now. It’ll still chase you around the stage, dragging itself along the floor and leading to the fairly comical situation where Kyle can daintily prance over the prone murder machine. On the whole, I’d say the Terminator is easy enough to avoid once it’s got no legs.

Sadly, that just makes this death I suffered even more embarrassing. I ran into a dead end while exploring the factory, and the Torsonator managed to pin me in the corner, crushing me against the wall as Kyle’s flinching animation took so long to recover from that I couldn’t jump to safety. Imagine if you were playing this back in the day, on an actual Megadrive, and you managed to get stuck in a corner and killed mere moments from the end of the game, sending you all the way back to the start of the game. That’s how you get a new world record for “longest distance a Megadrive cartridge has been drop-kicked,” that is.

Eventually, I managed to lure what was left of the Terminator into the hydraulic press. Sarah hits the button, the press crushes the Terminator, and it’s game over. It was a real team effort, good job everyone.

Note: Kyle Reese died on his way back to his home planet.
And that’s it for the Megadrive version of The Terminator. After all these years, I’ve finally seen what the rest of the game looks like, and my reaction is, I dunno, a half-hearted shrug? It’s certainly not a bad game, but there are some elements that really drag it down. The ridiculous, randomised difficulty of the pre-gun portion of the first stage and the delay on your shotgun are a pain in the arse, that’s for sure, and only having one life is pretty brutal. On the plus side, it does a good job of sticking to the plot of the movie, and it feels like a Terminator game – saying a licensed game “feels” like its source material is always a vague and unsatisfying way of describing it, but that’s about all I’ve got. The graphics are well above average, and Matt Furniss’ soundtrack is fun too, especially the opening stage’s theme and the surprisingly techno-fied version of the Terminator theme that plays over the end credits. In the middle of all this is the gameplay, a relatively enjoyable if slightly bland variation on the standard action-platformer template. All in all, for me The Terminator falls smack-bang into the vast morass of generic movie tie-in games: not bad enough to be bad, not good enough to good, but merely serviceable. And you know what the irony is? The game’s so short that if we’d had the chance to practise more, we could have completed it in the half-hour of videogaming time my friend was alloted.

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