Anyone who has spent any amount of time reading or watching science fiction knows that the machines are bound to rise against us. It’s just a matter of time. From Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey to James Cameron’s The Terminator, the idea of killer machines has long been a trope of the genre, exploring the dangers inherent in a world that steadily grows more dependent on technology. Paradroid, a top down shoot ‘em up game for the Commodore 64 added another brilliant chapter to cannon of literature, film and video games devoted to the idea.
Released in 1985, the game was designed by Andrew Braybrook (creator of Gribbly’s Day Out and others). The game told the story of a fleet of Robo-Freighters on their way to the Beta-Ceti system. Along the way, the robots on board the ships were turned against the human crew. Your mission is to control droid 001, the Influence Device, and use him to destroy the other bots.
There are 24 different types of droid that players face, each represented by a three digit number that corresponds to their power. The bot classes are: Influence (your character), Disposa, Servant, Messenger, Maintenance, Crew, Sentinel, Battle, Security, and the 999 Command Cyborg. You can destroy the bots by shooting, ramming, or controlling them, but as an 001 type bot your power is limited. Your laser and shield help, but not much. The best method for defeating your enemies is to take control of them.
Controlling a bot is accomplished by entering the transfer mode and then ramming into the enemy bot in question. This sends the player into a competition with the hostile bot which requires you to collect blocks through a system of circuit diagrams and logic gates. The enemy bot is engaged in the same task. If both bots end with an equal number of blocks, the competition is a tie and starts again. If you collect fewer than the enemy, the bot you are controlling is destroyed. If it happens to be the Influence Device, the game is over. Once you take over a bot, the previously controlled bot is destroyed.
Each of the eight freighters consists of multiple floors which must be completely cleared of hostile bots. Clear all freighters, and you don’t exactly win. Instead, you begin the game again with the difficulty increased.
As the game was being developed, Andrew Braybrook kept a public diary of the process in the magazine Zzap! 64. The first entry was released in July of 1985 and promised, “a special series of features covering in detail the way a computer game is developed. We shall be following its programming, production and promotion actually through the eyes of the people concerned.” The first piece provided a short intro by Braybrook, followed by his earliest diary entries for the game. Among the entries we see:
“Wednesday, May 1: Design form on which to lay out my robot data detailing which sprites make the picture and other bits and pieces. Feed it into Easyscript and run off a few copies. Feel pleased because it’s cheaper than photocopies.”
“Friday, May 3: Horrible. I’m going to have to change all the graphics. Bleaaahh!”
“Thursday, May 9: Design a new robot. It comes out looking like Kenny Everett with short legs. Ponder – do robots have beards?”
“Tuesday, May 14: More frustration. About to test program when one of data files disappears from disk. Inspect. Machine tells me there are 667 blocks out of a possible 664 on disk. Decide this is not logical. Wonder how Dr Spock would cope.”
The journal provides a fascinating and humorous look into the creation of a C64 classic.
The game was well received at its release, earning high critical praise. It also proved to have remarkable longevity, with gamers still singing its praises decades after it debuted. Most importantly, it provides this vital reminder: The machines are not our friends. Given enough time, they’ll destroy us all.