The comp.sys.sinclair Crap Games Competition 2021 - 25th edition!



I may have a doctorate, but it's in Chemistry, not English. I may have written a 44,000-word PhD thesis, and several enormous travelogues of visits to Iceland, the Isle of Man and more European metal festivals than you've had hot dinners, but when it comes to writing reviews of products and services that are reliable and objective, and which other people may need to read to establish "is this any good?", then on that front I am catastrophically terrible.

This is, of course, a Crap Games Competition, so you'd think that barely matters. But Digital Prawn, the host of the 2008 CSSCGC, at least tried to define a baseline as to what was acceptable and what wasn't:
"There's a fine line between crap games, and utter rubbish. Games that are just rubbish, rather than exquisitely crap will not score as highly. Likewise, games that are actually good and in no way crap will not score as highly as truly crap games."
I will draw the line between "crap" (i.e. acceptable) and "utter rubbish" (i.e. a complete waste of my time) this way:

"If I was the editor of Sinclair Programs in 1983, would I publish this listing in my magazine?"

Type-in listings were type-ins because, for the most part, they were never going be viable as commercial sales, but would still provide some modicum of entertainment for those who bought the magazine and typed them in (after getting shot of all the errors). "Crap Games", I see as the modern equivalent of these type-ins, and that's what I'm after for this competition, on a variety of machines even wider than what was available in 1983. For the QL, for instance, change the year above to 1985, and the magazine to something like ZX Computing or Popular Computing Weekly, and then ask the same question. Note also that the CSSCGC was formed as a tribute, of sorts, to the legendarily terrible Cassette 50, and two of its titles had previously been published as type-ins: Frogger, a.k.a. Spectrum Cross, taken from Your Computer, and Dragon's Gold, converted from a listing for both ZX80 and ZX81 in ZX Computing.

I will be "reviewing", for want of a better word, all the games myself - unless there are submissions which I can see from the start are utter detritus and for which I have compiled a team of less-than-willing guest reviewers. Karen Bigley has a 20-year-long record in taking offence at absolutely everything that she and her local church group consider to be not "wholesome", and spends all her spare time complaining to the Daily Mail and the BBC's Points of View. Kyle McCluskey is a typical Vice-reading millennial who never stops denouncing the most innocuous aspects of life as "problematic", opens his mouth wider than the Grand Canyon when presented with a Nintendo Switch, and is such a ridiculous stereotype that he even writes with an affected lisp. And then there's Callum Reynolds, a barely-literate idiot who spends most of his time smoking weed; he also owns a Commodore 16 and a Minus/60. Need I say more?

Showcasing this website's original purpose as a fansite for the 16-bit versions of Rick Dangerous, I am going to base my review system around that. I will be awarding scores based on three factors: effort, attainment and demerits. I realise that this is just going to be purely subjective waffle, but when major events from Japanese drift-racing to Robot Wars to Olympic figure skating are judged this way, who are you to argue? Anyway, if you're all ready...

"South America, 1945. Rick Dangerous crash lands his plane over the Amazon while searching for the lost Goolu tribe. But, by a terrible twist of fate, he lands in the middle of a bunch of wild Goolus. Can Rick escape these angry Amazonian antagonists?"

Games will be awarded one to ten Ricks for effort. The absolute, barest minimum that would be worth one Rick is something like Exploding Border, six tiny lines of BASIC that (somehow!) managed to get published in the July 1983 issue of Sinclair Programs. Even 1K ZX81 programs are worth more than this as there has to be some extra effort put in to make sure the program will run on the unexpanded machine! The full ten Ricks, on the other hand, is something that I'd judge to have taken weeks to program, debug, test, debug again, test again and be as polished and professionally-presented as this competition deserves, maybe even more so - even if the game itself is rubbish! For the Spectrum, details such as loading screens, custom character sets and releasing on multiple formats (i.e. tape, disc, microdrive) add nothing to game play but do require extra effort, and this will be credited - as will taking on Challenges, submitting entries for rarer machines (really, anything other than the big two) and creating mock-up tape (or disc) inlays with full instructions.

There will then be the further award of one to ten masks for attainment. In short, "how much of a game is it and how much do I like playing it?" Exploding Border, as above, is not a game at all; the bare minimum for one mask would probably be A Question of Sport from the aborted 2017 CSSCGC, which was literally a (i.e. one) question about sport, which was always the same every time, and was embellished with some unnecessary graphics and a "shuffling questions" routine, which didn't actually do anything. Ten masks are pretty much unobtainable; such a score is reserved for the Spectrum's most revered games of all time, i.e. classics such as Quazatron and R-Type, alongside modern wonders such as Castlevania: Spectral Edition and The Sword of Ianna. These would also score a very healthy number of Ricks.

But beware! For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. I will be awarding demerit points in the form of Goolus, Rick's nemeses in South America. For Digital Prawn's description of "utter rubbish", explained far above, here read "unnecessarily annoying", or worse still, "deliberately antagonistic". The idea here is to score no Goolus at all, and here are the spike-filled pitfalls that should be avoided. Take the controls, for instance: Q/A/O/P and Z/X/K/M are good, the cursor keys less so, but U/D/L/R or a completely random combination of keys is stupid and deserves a Goolu or two. A vast multitude of control keys such as in The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is also likely to be frowned on. Poor spelling, grammar and attention to the end of a line (so that words spill over onto the next line) are hallmarks of crap games of yore, and I'll let it go provided there aren't too many errors. An obvious reference to deliberately-mangled English (you know, Zero Wing or Polandball) that's amusing will pass with no trouble, but if it's obnoxious (say, it resembles the notorious My Immortal, or is written in mid-2000s text-message gobbledegook), then expect Goolus on the scorecard. Similarly obnoxious colour schemes, unnecessarily flashing parts of the screen that have been put there to deliberately antagonise my senses, are also likely to be hit with Goolus. But by far the worst offence will be to submit a game that is broken or confusing to the point of unplayability. Plenty of games in the World of Spectrum Bottom 100 (still visible via WOS Classic) would be prime CSSCGC fodder these days and would score one or two Ricks and/or masks at best, but the two games generally considered to be the worst of all time are so miserably flawed that they deserve Goolus, despite being released commercially. These are Kosmik Pirate, an unfathomable mess of flashing messages, and Sqij!, which needed to be broken into to take the Caps Lock off before it could be used in any way (as you all know). NOTE: In the final score, one Goolu cancels out one Rick, thus compromising your effort - and a game that has as many (or more) Goolus than masks will not be considered for the Mucho Generoso Prize. You have been warned!

There is an extra award, for which Rick had to get all the way through South America and onto his next quest...

"Egypt, sometime later. Rick heads for the Pyramids at the request of London. He is to recover the Jewel of Ankhel that has been stolen by fanatics who threaten to smash it, if a ransom is not paid. Can Rick save the gem, or will he just get a broken Ankhel?"

The Jewel of Ankhel will be awarded to any game which has gone far above and beyond the call of duty for a crap games competition, provided it doesn't qualify for any demerits, and regardless of how it performs as a game. For instance, LD-Snake is the most pared-back adaptation of Snake you'll ever see outside of the ZX80, but it's written in machine code and only uses LD instructions, nothing else - not an ADD or a PUSH or a DJNZ anywhere. And then, there's Chromatrons Attack - which relies on colour-bleed from an RF signal to the TV to make its title screen and graphics (realistically) visible. It's damn near useless on an emulator, but plug in a real Spectrum the old-school way (i.e. not with one of those new-fangled RGB cables) and a very basic race-and-chase game is revealed. In both cases, there's not much actual game there, but the way it's achieved is worth giving an extra-special mention, beyond a high number of Ricks.

At the end of the competition, the "winner" - i.e. the "most crap game" - will have the lowest number of masks for attainment, but the highest number of Ricks for effort that achieved that result, after deduction of Goolus. In short, maximum effort for minimum reward, but with nothing that makes me want to throw a brick at the screen. Hence, two masks and six Ricks will be "more crap" than three masks and seven Ricks. If there is a tie for the Mucho Generoso Prize, the lowest number of Goolus before deductions will win - i.e. for two three-mask games, six Ricks will prevail over seven Ricks and one Goolu, hence the prize will go to a lower-effort game, but which didn't annoy me as much. (Does this all make any sense?) All this is assuming that the Jewel of Ankhel has not been awarded to any game; if it is, the "winner" will be selected from those games that achieved it, and if there's only one, then that's the "winner" by default. I'm not going to expect another Chromatrons Attack!, though, so concentrate on maximising your Ricks, minimising your masks, and avoid Goolus altogether!

The "loser" - i.e. the "least crap game" - is the one with the highest total of Ricks and masks, after deduction of Goolus. So this time around, it's maximum effort and maximum attainment - and under these conditions I will consider it an honour for the "loser" to host the 2022 CSSCGC. This is what I was trying to do deliberately with Corona Capers, with the specific intention of becoming this year's host. Again, if there is a tie for the "loser", the one without the Goolus will prevail.

If there is still a tie for the "winner" or "loser", I will most likely consult with some former CSSCGC hosts and we will decide amongst ourselves. Either that or I'll go to the pub, drink myself silly and then pick a winner at random...