Morpheus was designed and coded by Andrew Braybrook. Steve Turner wrote the sound effects and music, and John Cumming contributed some additional graphics.
Morpheus was published in early 1988 for the Commodore 64 on disk and cassette. The disk version allowed the player to save their high-scores, thus allowing them to continue from the highest level (Aither) they had reached the last time the highscore was saved.
Morpheus had all of the usual Andrew Braybrook touches – the metallic style graphics, the ships, the starfields etc. but it was actually a lot more involved than his previous arcade games (Gribbly’s Day Out, Paradroid, Uridium and Alleykat – all published by Hewson). This is probably why (once it was signed to TelecomSoft), the game was published under the Rainbird label rather than Firebird. It was pitched as the thinking man’s arcade shoot ’em up, and it needed a 48 page manual to explain the nuances of the game design!
The game’s development was covered by a regular ‘diary’ in Newsfield’s Zzap! 64 magazine, as well as an informative article in Newsfields fledgling first issue of The Games Machine in 1987.
Work on Morpheus began immediately after Andrew had completed Uridium Plus and a few NTSC C64 conversions of Alleykat and the original Uridium. Simulating a scrolling screen using a three-layered starfield was one element that was definitely going to be included in the new game, as was a raster split and 32 sprites on screen at once (the C64 had a hardware limit of 8)!
Andrew also decided to use polar vectors to plot the spaceships’ movements on screen, mainly to avoid the unnatural looking moves that result from standard X and Y vector calculations.
Andrew Braybrook tried to create an entire Universe inside the C64, with events happening beyond the player’s location. The enemy aliens also had more intelligence behind their actions than before. For example, wounded aliens might retreat and mutate to survive (an idea Andrew got from watching an Horizon documentary on TV), or alternatively they might shoot more rapidly to protect themselves.
Whilst those A.I. emulating tactics are commonplace in games today, you have to remember the miniscule amount of memory that games were squeezed into back then. Enemy ships in most shoot ’em ups of the period used to follow set patterns, hardly reacting to the player’s actions at all.
The game was named Morpheus after Andrew found the entry for Morpheus – God of Dreams in a dictionary.
Morpheus was also the centre of a court case between Hewson and TelecomSoft in the last quarter of 1987. Gratgold believed that Hewson were on the verge of going under, and since they hadn’t signed a contract for the development of either Magnetron or Morpheus, they took both titles to TelecomSoft, where former Hewson Marketing Manager Debbie Sillitoe was working.
Things then become a little murky. Although no contract had been signed, Hewson were in possession of early versions of Morpheus (and Magnetron) during the development phase, so corporate BT insisted that an injunction be put on Hewson to prevent them from publishing those versions, even though Hewson had no intention (and hadn't even considered it a possibility) of doing such a thing.
Legally things then became complex, with the legal proceedings delaying publication for over six months until early 1988, when it was all amicably settled out of court. Sadly, the delay was quite costly because by then, 8-bit game sales were declining rapidly.
Despite the interesting plot, the more involved gameplay, and the usual slick presentation, Morpheus didn't sell in vast quantities. It's a massive shame, and not many programmers put as much thought and attention to detail in their games as Andrew Braybrook (and Graftgold in general) did.