It is a truth universally acknowledged that hostile aliens in possession of advanced technology and a desire to invade a planet, must be in want of camels. At least, so we are led to believe by the 1983 game Attack of the Mutant Camels.
The game was developed by Llamasoft, released on the Commodore 64 and Atari 8-bit, and written by a designer/programmer named Yak (a pseudonym used by Jeff Minter). According the Llamasoft web page, Minter chose the name, “when hi-score tables on coin-op machines only held three letters, and I settled on Yak because the yak is a scruffy hairy beast – a lot like me ;-). I also have something of the ox nature – I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer but I am patient and stubborn and I will plod along until I get where I want to go no matter how long it takes.”
Aside from video games, Yak had a passion for creating light synthesizers. A tour of the Llamasoft web page provides a detailed look at this work and contains such historical insight as this (regarding his light synth program Psychedelia), “many spliffs were smoked and much Pink Floyd listened to whilst using Psychedelia, and at computer shows we’d always play music whilst I would demonstrate the program to passers by.”
So, it should come as no surprise that the concept behind his games could be a bit…well, bizarre. In Attack of the Mutant Camels, you were defending the earth from giant, genetically engineered camels which shoot lasers out of their mouths (little more than blips on the screen). The camels gained their amazing powers of destruction from aliens.
You controlled a small craft and were tasked with killing the camels before they reached and overran the human base. A small graphic at the top of the screen showed the total number of camels you had to kill, and each camel took multiple shots to defeat. The game was a horizontal scroller and you could move your ship back and forth across the screen to shoot the camels from different angles. After completing a wave of camels, your ship activated its hyperdrive. In this mode, you had to avoid missiles flying at you before reaching the next wave of attack camels. The difficulty increased as the game progressed.
The inspiration for Attack of the Mutant Camels came from the Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back video game. According to Yak, he thought the AT-AT’s looked a bit like camels. The game spawned a sequel, though not a true sequel in the strictest sense of the word. In Revenge of the Mutant Camels, you controlled the mutant camel and a second player (or the computer) could control a goat. Together you battled things like telephone boxes, skiing kangaroos, men on flying toilets, and more.
In 2012, the Smithsonian put together an exhibit called “The Art of Video Games,” describing it as, “one of the first exhibitions to explore the forty-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, with a focus on striking visual effects and the creative use of new technologies.” The exhibit featured playable games (Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers, The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst, and Flower) and visuals from eighty other games from a variety of platforms. For the Commodore 64, the exhibit featured: Jumpman, Pirates!, The Bard’s Tale III: Thief of Fate, and Attack of the Mutant Camels.