The Acrobat was a 16-bit enhancement on the original comics-based adventure system that Simon Price and Mike Lewis had created for Red Hawk and Kwah! (both published by Melbourne House).
The plot concerned an Acrobat called Alek who performed in a cosmic circus. The eponymous Acrobat was in the ring when the circus was attacked. Alek was captured and thrown into gaol with a clown. On closer inspection, the player soon discovered that the clown was really an android, and by dismantling it they could use some of the components to blow the lock and escape from the cell.
The game contained a fair amount of political intrigue and eventually lead the player to encounter a resistance movement. Computer terminals could also be accessed to give extra information to the player as they moved through the game.
The adventure engine behind the game was The Biro - a system developed by Trevor Toms (formerly of the Ramjam Corporation, who had developed Valkyrie 17 and The Terrors of Trantoss, amongst others). Trevor and Mike Lewis enhanced the system for a variety of other PC products, including The Hound of Shadow for Electronic Arts.
The basic concept of The Acrobat game was that the player was reading and creating a comic book as they played. The screen was broken into comic book panels, with new panels being added to the page as the player performed an action. The player could click on the pictures within the panels and a pop-up menu of icons would appear, listing the actions that could be performed on the chosen object.
For example, if they had clicked on a door, the list of possible actions would include opening it and examining it. If the player had selected a person, then the options would have allowed them to talk to them, hit them, etc. Some objects could also be picked up. Right-clicking the mouse would produce a general menu for movement and other commands.
As with all of Mike's previous games, the graphics were drawn by Carl Cropley. A large number of individual graphical elements were provided that Mike then combined into scenes using his own proprietary graphics editor. Each scene consisted of linked lists of images that were then rendered from the back forwards. This meant that elements could be altered or moved around within a scene just by moving their position within the linked list.
When the player clicked on something within a scene, the program compared the mouse position with the image positions, starting from highest level and moving backwards through the list (to determine what had been selected). The game engine could also render the panels at different scales, resizing the graphics to three different viewing distances.
When the player talked to other characters in the game, the view switched to a 'talking heads' screen with the main character on the left and the other character on the right. The player could then type in text and the other player would respond.
The comic book feel was further embellished by giving the player the ability to look back at pages created previously. If the player suddenly thought what did that character say earlier?, they could go back a few pages and the panels would be redrawn exactly as they had been when they were first rendered.
The PC version of The Acrobat supported a number of PC video modes, including VGA, EGA, CGA, IBM PC Jr and good old Hercules! The game engine basically dithered the graphics to cope with the different modes. An Atari ST development version was also produced, and work was started on the Amiga version sometime after Firebird and Rainbird were sold to Microprose. Soon after, Microprose evaluated the game and decided to cancel it.
Download an unfinished MS-DOS version of The Acrobat and see it for yourself!
Mike's last game
The Acrobat turned out to be Mike's last coded game. Having also had another recent game unpublished (Halo Jones for Piranha, who went out of business in 1988), Mike decided to call it a day and moved into Hotel software and then contract work.