Whirligig (Firebird)

Whirligig (Firebird)


Whirligig was designed by Mike Singleton and developed for the ST & Amiga by Dave Gautrey, George Williamson and Alan Jardine at Maelstrom, Mike’s Wallasey-based games company near Liverpool. The game was originally created with the 8-bit ZX Spectrum in mind. Mike devised the graphics routines on the Spectrum before deciding it would work even better as a 16-bit title. The idea behind the game was all based on mathematical equations, hence the inclusion of perfect solids, Eigens (as in Eigenvalues or Eigenvectors) and so on.

Technically, Whirligig didn’t actually employ proper ‘realtime’ light sourced solid 3D. It employed a trick where sprites were generated for the different orientations of each 3D object – spaceships, stargates, depots and so on – after the level was loaded. That technique explains the relatively long wait between loading the next level and the player being able to start playing.

Within TelecomSoft, the game was much derided. It was called ‘Girlywig’ by one particularly uncharitable member of the Development Department, and the name stuck. The gameplay was basic, and it was far too easy for the player to accidentally blow up their own ship by launching a missile which then immediately homed back in on the ship that fired it! That probably explains why the player was given twelve ships to play with…

Playing the game using a mouse was a pain, mostly thanks to alien ships appearing with very little warning and the game’s insistence on only being able to safely use a stargate by flying into it in a straight line. Any other angle and you would collide with the damn thing.

It’s fair to say that time has not been kind to Whirligig. It is still a frustrating game to play. The PC version – only released in the US under the alternative title of ‘Space Cutter +’ was a little better thanks to a few ‘enhancements’ to the game, including on-screen (and audible speech with the right soundcard) alerts regarding the direction of the stargates, depots and approaching aliens. Keyboard control and a control panel that was on-screen permanently and didn’t obscure the view of the play-field also improved things, but it was too little and far too late to save the game from disappearing into obscurity.

Other versions

Programmer Chris Pink developed ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and a Commodore 64 version (with Mike Lyons), but they were never finished and were ultimately not required.

The game was called 'Space Cutter Plus' for its release on the Rainbird label in the US. Presumably they felt that nobody would buy a game called 'Whirligig' but then not many people in Europe did either!


What do you think?