Game spotlight – ‘Skramble!’ (Vic 20)

24 05 2006
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1982 Terminal Software

Back in 1989, I picked up my first computer… a Commodore Vic 20, packed with a load of games (all on tape) which gave me one of the best birthdays I ever had. There’s something about this machine (and which i’ll write about someday) which brings me back to dig out certain games, Skramble! (1982 Terminal) is one of them.

Start of the game.

This is an unofficial arcade conversion of “SCramble”, which sadly I had never played at the time. My first experience of the game was through this very title, which was on an old battered tape with no inlay/instructions.

Most games on the Vic 20 which were rather outstanding required 3k, 8k, 16 and even 32k RAM expansions, but Skramble! passed on this and ran purely on an unexpanded Vic 20. Looking at the game, it is quite an amazing feat to see this conversion pulled off in 3.5k of memory.

I recently got in touch with the game’s author, Reg Stevens (Listed as R.W Stevens in his games), and he had the following to say…

“Skramble! was probably my finest moment, although Super Gridder on C64 was probably at least as addictive. The amazing thing about that VIC20 Skramble! was that it was entirely hand assembled.

I wrote it in machine language, but had no assembler or machine language monitor- so I converted the instruction codes into numbers (using the data book for a 6502 CPU) and ‘poked’ them into memory from Basic! It was only the second thing I ever wrote, the first being “Line Up 4″ (Connect 4 for a computer, written purely for fun at Christmas, 1982/3?).”

Scramble (Arcade)

For those unfamiliar with the Scramble arcade game, the game involves you flying a ship over various terrain, avoiding rockets, fireballs and cave monsters. All you have to defend yourself is the ability to drop bombs and use laser cannons to fend off enemy attack. You have a limited fuel load, so you must pick up fuel pods on the ground by destroying them (rather bizzarely) to keep your levels up. You get several lifes, compared to just one in this Vic 20 conversion. In Skramble, because you only have one fire button to use, both the bombs and laser cannon fire is done together.

You start off flying over open terrain, avoiding rockets and destroying enough fuel to keep yourself going. Once past this checkpoint, you then enter a cave terrain featuring a rather bizzare spider-like creature which attempts to stop you in your path. The cave is hard to navigate, and parts will need to be destroyed for you to squeeze through safely.

If you have survived past this stage, you are then back in the open, this time being attacked by an onslaught of fireballs which stream across the screen. Whilst avoiding the barrage, you must ensure that you continue to catch as many fuel pods as possible.

Another harder cave terrain follows this, with more of the same, but with even tighter gaps. Finally you encounter a city scape, featuring rather tight gaps to squeeze through on the screen, and even more annoying rockets firing into your path. After some more tight gaps to get through, you then encounter the large rocket you must destroy to complete the game.

Later in the cave level (Skramble)

Although a very simple concept, the game has a good lastability aspect, making you want to have that one more go and progress that little bit further each time. It’s simple enough to get into, and very playable at the same time.

Graphically the game is crisp and clear, nothing spectacular but functional enough. It doesn’t match the colour scheme/design of the arcade game and goes into its own design direction, so its not a pure conversion. It scrolls at about a character a time, so its not fully smooth.. but not jerky to affect the gameplay. Sound is typical Vic 20, with some tinny laser sounds and large chunky explosion noises.

This unofficial conversion was previously released by Rabbit Software, but Reg took the game and reworked it again for Terminal, bringing enhancements to the graphics. Overall the Terminal Software version is much superior, even though it seems fairly close…

“The Rabbit version you mentioned was really the Mark 1 Skramble!, the Terminal version had some improvements. It was also sold in the US by a company called MicroDigital – they licensed a lot of my stuff from Terminal.

Skramble was also pirated, with thinly veiled changed graphics, by another UK company and markets as “Flight from Isram” or something like that- I’ve forgotten exactly; probably a good thing.”

Apart from some of the obvious downgrade in graphic and sound quality, the game essentially has all the ingredients of the original game. It’s a bit annoying only having one life, especially as the game gets very very tough towards the end. But, if you can get over the flaws then you’ll find a very playable conversion.

What happened after Skramble for Reg?…

“By the time I graduated on to the C64, I had every software development tool available- receiving stuff free of charge from Commodore. I went on to the Amiga and wrote stuff for that too, but by then the part-time home hacker bubble had burst and I never pursued publishing again- because I had a proper job too!

Terminal went on, but under a new name with its own in-house group of programmers. I lost contact with those guys several years back and I’m sure they folded about 1990/91. I was very saddened when Commodore finally bit the dust.”

Although brief in the world of games programming, Reg certainly created a title which IMO was a fantastic version of Scramble, and which wasted many hours of my childhood. All of those hours are fond memories of course :)

If you have a Vic 20 emulator, go check it out and see what you think…



2 responses

26 10 2006
Leif Arne Pedersen

Do you know where I can find the Terminal version of skramble for vic-20? I have Rabbit soft’s version but that was not how I rememberd it. I was almoust 100% sure that the ground was black and here I finaly see a picture of the game I use to play.
I even coded my own version of the rabbit skramble for windows but now I want to play the real thing. Can you help me with this?
If you want to have a look at my win skramble I will be happy to send you a copy.

26 10 2006

Hi Leif, I haven’t got a TAP image of the game handy at the moment – as my PC was rebooted since I did the article. However, if you post a request on under their Vic 20 section in the forum… a guy called Mat Allen should be able to dig it out for you. He is currently collating the GBVic 20 collection, and has the TAP image.

If not – email me again at somepoint, and I will dig out the CD with it on when I get chance.

15 03 2010
Mike Taylor Your comment is awaiting moderation

I remember this game very fondly, not just because it was fun to play but also because it was the gateway to my selling my own games, Magic Mirror and Nosferatu, to Terminal. See if interested.

I met Reg at a Terminal conference up in Manchester. I remember him being a generous and gracious man as well as (obviously) an excellent programmer. Albeit with misguided ideas about border colours :-)

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