Druid (Firebird)

Druid (Firebird)

Memories

Druid was a collaborative effort between teenagers Andrew Bailey and Dene Carter. Andrew was responsible for coding Firebird Gold’s first ever release, Demons of Topaz for the C64. Dene attended the same school as Andrew, and was coding his own Spectrum game in compiled basic called Rockman, which was published by Mastertronic in 1985.

Impressed with what Dene had created, Andrew suggested that the two of them work together on a new C64 title. Dene’s father acted as their agent, and the two of them began designing the game that eventually became Druid.

Dene’s main inspiration for Druid was an advert published in White Dwarf magazine for reusable dungeon floor tiles for table-top role playing games from a company called Torchlight. The advert featured a picture of the tiles laid out to form a rudimentary dungeon floorplan.

A more blatant inspiration came from a Vic20 game called The Tomb of Drewan, which was published by Audiogenic in 1982. The game showed a top down view of a dungeon, with a stickman to control and chests to plunder for treasure. The game also had a basic elemental magic system, something that Dene was extremely interested in all its forms – both as a real-world and fictional mechanism for creating change.

Gauntlet also had a small part to play in how Druid turned out, regarding the design of the walls. Since graphics weren’t Andrew Bailey’s speciality, the Druid prototype game didn’t allow things to go behind the walls. Dene wanted to keep a slight tilt to the game world’s display, and seeing Gauntlet mid-way through the development solved the problem. They were also inspired by the multiplayer idea. They wanted to keep the eponymous Druid character as the key focal point in the game, so a secondary player was introduced and made into the near-indestructible accomplice called the Golem.

The Golem was something that Dene had originally read about in a book called Make your own monster, and he thought it would be the perfect companion for the Wizardly Druid. The Golem turned out to be the first test monster that they implemented into the game. They wandered around the map, waiting for the spawned Golem’s to hunt them down using Andrew’s A.I. code. The scenario became so tense that for a while they seriously considered scrapping the whole Druid scenario and basing the game on the movie Alien instead!

The whole game came together in just a few short months over the school Summer holiday thanks to Andrew’s blisteringly fast programming. Andrew’s contacts at Firebird helped get the game signed up, with the C64 version the first to be released followed by conversions to the Spectrum and the Amstrad CPC following shortly behind. Andrew created a joystick-port-to-joystick-port cable to transfer all the graphical data over to another computer, together with the other code to get it to work on the new platform. As a result, the Spectrum version was completed in a couple of weeks after Andrew learned Z80 and coded the game in record time! The CPC conversion was handled by Paul Hutchinson, and a rare Firebird excursion on the Atari 8-bit was handled by John Croudy.

When it was released, it was unavoidably compared to Gauntlet. A number of games were released around the same time that were all similar, including Dandy from Electric Dreams, as well as the official conversion from U.S. Gold. Despite the glut, Druid earned some solid and sometimes enthusiastic reviews from the press. The game did well enough to warrant a sequel, entitled Enlightenment: Druid II.

Atari did try and threaten legal action against a number of publishers who created games similar to Gauntlet, and so Dene produced a folder that contained copies of all their original designs, inspirations, and so on. This included the advert from White Dwarf magazine. Neither Dene, Andrew or Firebird heard from Atari again after the proof was submitted.

Some versions of Druid were harder to play than others. The game design had the monsters spawning from thin air, making the game pretty tricky and keeping the player on the move all the time. However, the CPC and Atari 8-bit versions seemed a little easier to play. It was noticable in these versions that some spawned monsters disappeared again without intervention from the player, whilst the Spectrum version in particular was relentless in its pursuit of the Druid!

The game was also a little fussy over how the player lined the Druid up when accessing the chests or when attempting to unlock doors into new dungeon areas. If you were just a pixel out either side, then the game simply wouldn’t let you get into that chest or unlock that door, and that could sometimes be very frustrating when you’re low on health and trying to out run the pursuing monsters!

16-bit version

After the sale of TelecomSoft to MicroProse in 1989, a curious and familiar looking title was published by Millenium in 1990. Called Warlock the Avenger, it was released for the Commodore 64, Atari ST and Commodore Amiga.

The copy on the back of the box revealed that this was none other than the concluding (third) part of the Druid saga! The C64 version was pretty much the same as the original Druid but with new level designs and some new graphics – but otherwise it was the same. The 16-bit versions even contained a bonus on the same disk – 16-bit conversions of the original Druid game.

Dene Carter had been asked by Millenium’s Tony Beckwith (who had been at Firebird when both Druid games were originally published) to design some new levels for the game and he duly obliged, with some help from Andrew Bailey. The work-in-progress title for Warlock was Druid – Darker Depths.

 

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