Gold and Silver Linings
Firebird Gold didn’t start with Elite though. The label was launched with the Commodore 64 platformer Demons of Topaz by Andrew Bailey, who had also written Headache for the Firebird Silver budget range. The Sinclair Spectrum got Buggy Blast from future Rainbird publisher Paul Hibbard and musician David Lowe. Both games retailed at £5.95.
The next ‘Gold’ release from Firebird raised the bar a few more notches, but also split opinion within TelecomSoft. James Leavey in particular was left perplexed by what Gyron was really all about. At its heart, ‘Gyron’ was a 3D maze game with giant roaming spheres and deadly towers. It was technically exceptional and looked head and shoulders above most other Spectrum games at the time.
Firebird threw a large amount of marketing behind Gyron, including an in-box competition to win a Porsche 924 LUX sports car (or cash equivalent), a self-running ‘demonstrator’ cassette to run in shops and a big advertising push. Firebird also amended their original ‘Firefly’ advert and pushed it out again with a new look in an attempt to entice more fresh talent to the company.
Having helped get TelecomSoft up and running, James Leavey moved back into mainstream BT to work as a PR manager in the Networks Trunk Services division. Meanwhile, Herbert was impressed with ‘Gyron’ developer Torus, and offered them the Sinclair Spectrum and Amstrad CPC conversions of ‘Elite’. These versions were enormously successful (despite issues with the infamous Lenslok anti-piracy device and bugs in the CPC version) and they helped elevate TelecomSoft’s reputation throughout Europe along with the Commodore 64 version. However, Europe wasn’t the extent of their ambition.
Ian Bell was asked to write an Apple II version of Elite to help TelecomSoft’s push into the US, via Firebird Licensees Inc.
The money that ‘Elite’ brought to TelecomSoft was significant and it attracted others only too eager to help them spend it. Magazine publisher EMAP decided to tout Beyond Software to TelecomSoft, who were interested as the label was thought to fit in nicely with the current portfolio. Beyond were publishers of Mike Singleton’s epic wargame ‘The Lords of Midnight’ and many other titles.
Around the same time, Liverpool-based Odin Computer Graphics Ltd signed an exclusive 12 month worldwide marketing and distribution deal with TelecomSoft.
Firebird Gold became a major part of the business, but the Silver budget range was also performing well. The £2.50 RRP was reduced to £1.99 a year after launch and now included re-releasing other publisher’s titles alongside new budget games like the classic ‘Thrust’, Twinky Goes Hiking, and Sensible Software’s debut, Galax-i-birds.
When Firebird Gold moved from £5.95 to a higher price-point, another new label was introduced. The Firebird ‘Super Silver’ range had an RRP of £3.95 and was considered to be a premium budget label. It was launched on Monday, 4th November 1985 and included a ‘Thunderbirds’ game based on Gerry Anderson’s TV puppet series, Shahid Ahmad’s isometric adventure Chimera, Willow Pattern Adventure from Mr Micro and ‘Chickin Chase’ from French developer Jawx.
Firebird Super Silver ultimately proved short lived, and many of the titles reappeared less than a year later on the cheaper £1.99 range. The label is probably best remembered for the fragile white clam style plastic cases that broke far too easily.
Another sub-label that came and went was ‘Firebird Hot’ which was looked after by Joss Ellis and Herbert Wright. They came up with the name simply because they felt Fire and Hot were a natural fit, and they also both liked curry! Retailing at £7.95, a small handful of games were released including Costa Capers, Gerry the Germ (Goes Body Poppin’), Runestone, The Comet Game, Vectron and Rasputin.