3D Pool (Firebird)

3D Pool (Firebird)


3D Pool was a bit of a departure for its designer and programmer, Nick Pelling, who began his coding career writing arcade games for the Acorn Atom and publishing them on his own label, Aardvark Software in the very early 1980s.

Nick’s most successful game (and the last one that he published himself) was a platform game for the BBC and Electron featuring a yo-yo throwing caveman, called Frak! which was written under his usual pseudonym Orlando M. Pilchard (simply referred to at the time as ‘Orlando’).

This success took Nick to System 3 and then Activision (via their Electric Dreams label), where he wrote a handful of conversions for the Commodore 64, and it was around this time that Nick saw the Sega coin-op Afterburner for the first time. The game’s attract mode featured a 2d grid of 3d balls morphing between various patterns, and Nick decided to write a BBC demo to reproduce the same effect.

The demo was written in BBC Basic with an assembler sprite-plotting routine, and Nick showed it to friend Jon Hare (aka Jops) who had worked at System 3 and who had recently set up Sensible Software (whose first ever commercial release was Galax-i-birds for Firebird Silver). Jon suggested that Nick should write a full game using the same 3D technique, and that sparked an idea that Nick had had in the back of his mind for sometime.

A number of Nick’s friends became almost invincible pool players after a few pints, and the idea of marrying a pool game with the 3D demo resulted in the birth of 3D Pool. Through a number of business contacts the game ended up at Firebird, where the project was managed by Colin Fuidge.

Nick wrote the BBC version first, then moved on to the C64 (another 6502 machine), with Colin Fuidge farming the Z80 conversions to Jeff Caulder (aka ‘Jeff’), covering the Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and MSX. Nick then moved on to write the ST version, his first 16-bit title. The learning curve was moderately hard, but the version Nick produced was of a very high standard. The 3D pool table in the 16-bit versions consisted of 104 polygons and the hardest part was getting the balls to look round and making the pockets the right size and appear in perspective. Once completed, the ST 68000 code was ported over to the Commodore Amiga. Nick then wrote an Acorn Electron version to accompany the BBC original.

In total, it took Nick just over twelve months to write his versions of the game. He also produced an Archimedes demo to prove to himself and to TelecomSoft that it was possible. Rainbird had already published a series of Magnetic Scrolls adventures for the Archimedes, so TelecomSoft was already receptive to publishing games on that platform.

However, as development was hurtling towards a conclusion, British Telecom announced that TelecomSoft was up for sale. The chain of events that lead up to MicroProse taking over inevitably had an effect on the release of the game. The official tie-in with the then European Pool Champion, ‘Maltese’ Joe Barbara was removed from all packaging, although strangely his name remained in the game code itself, and he got a brief mention in the bullet points on the back of the inlay.

MicroProse commissioned Designer Software in the US to convert and Americanise the game for the IBM PC version, renaming it Sharkey’s 3D Pool, changing some of the computer controlled player’s names (e.g. Flash Harry became Harry Flash!), adding a 9-ball tournament option and making various other visual enhancements.

Years later, Nick took his original 3D Pool code and re-worked it into '3D Pocket Pool' game for the Gameboy Colour handheld console, published by Virgin Games in 2000.

Press Launch

Before MicroProse emerged as the new owners, a press launch was organised for the game at a pool hall near to the Angel, Islington (North London) in February/March 1989.

TelecomSoft staff got to play real Pool against each other and attending computer press journalists, before Nick Pelling and Maltese Joe Barbara arrived to play a game. Obviously Maltese Joe won, but Nick put up a good fight!

Acorn issues

I've not been able to confirm if the Acorn Archimedes version was published. It was definitely written as I remember playing it on our Archie in the Testing Room, but that could have just been the technical 'demo' that Nick produced. It was also surprising that MicroProse went ahead and published the BBC version of 3D Pool, as by the late 1980s that format was commercially dead.

There were a few technical issues with the BBC release though. Despite stating it would run on an Acorn Electron (the BBC's baby brother micro), it didn't actually work on that machine, possibly due to the copy protection (see below).

There was a problem with the copy protection routines added to the BBC version by MicroProse just before publication. The protection meant that the game wouldn't run on an expanded Model B, Model B+ or Master series micro. The workaround was to force the value of PAGE to &1900 before the player loaded the game. Many thanks to David Stacey for this snippet of information!


1 thought on “3D Pool (Firebird)

  1. Grunaki

    I had 3D pool for the ST and Sharkey’s Pool for the PC (which – not having a PC of my own at the time – I used to play on the library computers in College, and which got me yelled at by the techies a couple of times as well!).. I didn’t actually think they were the same game until I saw this article.

    I wasn’t such a big fan of the ST version, and then Archer Maclean’s Pool came out for it (Using the ‘Jimmy White’s Whirlwind Snooker’ engine) and that was really the definitive ST/Amiga pool game, so I didn’t play this much after that.

    I found Sharkey’s Pool a lot more playable though (even though the graphics were lower rez,the game played better) and to be honest I mostly played it in 2D mode. I also liked that you could play 9-Ball and there was another rotation mode with 50 target balls on the table which was also fun.


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