“It had never been done before on a system using the Z80 processor"
December 8, 2018 1:01 PM   Subscribe

Joystick: The Untold Story of Ottawa's Coke-Fueled 1980s Video Game Industry. "Quest for Tires would become the first cartridge video game produced in Canada, and was a hit, winning 'Game Of The Year' from Video Game Update magazine who said 'B.C.’s Quest for Tires isn’t so much a computer game as it is an interactive cartoon'. Hailed as a game that is not another 'shoot the aliens and save the world scenario', and had 'first rate' animation." posted by mandolin conspiracy (25 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I totally played Quest For Tires on the C=64 back in the day. It was a lot of fun, and very different from a lot of other video games. I hadn't thought about it in literally decades, so thanks for the post that's a blast from the past!
posted by hippybear at 1:07 PM on December 8, 2018 [6 favorites]

The internet archive's emulation project allows you to play Quest for Tires in your browser.
posted by toxic at 1:10 PM on December 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

Amazing to see the persistence of the concept through canabalt and the chrome offline dinosaur game.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:13 PM on December 8, 2018

I thought it was British Columbia's Quest for Tires. That it features Canadian Tire Money.
posted by parmanparman at 1:16 PM on December 8, 2018 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I hung around a lot of guys porting games in the mid-late 80's, and yeah, Coke-Fueled is appropriate.
posted by mikelieman at 1:25 PM on December 8, 2018

The is amazing. Ottawa was so close to being a real tech powerhouse so many times but time after time it never happened.
posted by GuyZero at 2:07 PM on December 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Wow, I haven't thought about this game in ages! And now I can remember it like it was yesterday. Awesome!
posted by jenjenc at 2:09 PM on December 8, 2018

“What made Quest for Tires special,” Bate recalled, was the horizontal scrolling. “It had never been done before on a system using the Z80 processor, which was the CPU at the heart of the ColecoVision.

It wasn't the Z80 per se, but the Coleco's TMS9918A video processor unit, which didn't share RAM with the CPU. Instead, the CPU talked to it via a slow 8-bit I/O port, and mostly during the vertical blank period. So scrolling the entire screen could be pretty slow.

And since everything has to be done in 8x8 tiles, scrolling in smaller increments requires that you keep multiple copies of the tile pattern at different offsets. This is probably what BC uses for the parallax effect, i.e. the slowly scrolling mountains in the background. It even looks like the game switches to a coarser scrolling rate when the scene gets more complex, like when the trees appear.

Cocaine is a helluva drug.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:33 PM on December 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

I have definitely played this game, must have been on my dad's Apple 2 clone. Had no idea it came from Ottawa!
posted by rodlymight at 4:58 PM on December 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

I remember playing this as the 8-bit era was coming to a close in the late '80s. I'd just bought a Commodore 64C package deal from some company that had a full-page ad in the back of ComputerShopper. It was a huge deal: The first computer I ever bought for myself after limping along for years on a VIC-20 I got after I told my parents "I want a Commodore for Christmas" without specifying the model ("We got lucky, son! It was only $75!")

Buying it blew my savings, so I had it all set up and able to do nothing for a week, out there in the middle of Yellowstone National Park, where I was working for the summer.

Next paycheck, I drove up to Bozeman and found a computer store. This game was available as part of some collection I was able to buy for $10. It came packaged with a C64 port of the old Super Star Trek game (with graphics instead of just ASCII) and some other shareware-quality stuff. Looking back, I'm not sure if it was even a legal copy, or just something someone was able to pirate, package, and sell to small shops. Anyhow, the game was years old at that point. I remembered it from ads in Compute! Gazette, so $10 felt like a steal for what seemed like a "AAA title" for Commodore 64s.

It was fun! I ran back up to Bozeman a few more times that summer to buy used copies of Seven Cities of Gold, M.U.L.E., and a few other EA titles as cash allowed, so BC fell out of rotation pretty quickly.

That C64 got me through a couple of years of college (PaperClip III for all my term papers) before I switched to clones, causing me to miss the Amiga era (until I picked up a cheap A500 at Fort Bragg years after Commodore had folded, so I could write short stories when I wasn't using my WebTV to show everyone in the barracks Mr. T Ate My Balls or work on my GeoCities site).

I really miss my box of 5.25" floppies loaded with cracked C64 games: Silent Service, Leaderboard Golf, Impossible Mission, the Apshai games (do they count as Roguelikes?), Winter Games, World Games, Red Storm Rising, Archon, Instant Music, etc. etc.

I remember it as a fun, exuberant era: Personal computers were something you could do possibly anything on, not something everyone does everything on.

Sometimes I pause and look at the hardware I have in my house: A Linux server, my daily driver MacBook Pro, the Chromebook I was given as part of a training promotion, the iPad, my iPhone; the barely x86-era iMac and MacBook Air I haven't gotten around to dragging to FreeGeek, my son's Chromebook and Alienware gaming laptop ... I've just been taking personal computing technology for granted for over 20 years now. The 8-bit era was when just having any computer at all felt pretty special to me ... something to pause and look at for a moment because it was amazing it even existed.
posted by mph at 6:50 PM on December 8, 2018 [12 favorites]

Quest for Tires dates back to before the B.C. comic strip (which it's based on) went all right-wing Christian. It doesn't really hold up super well, I think. A bit better is its lesser-known sequel, Grog's Revenge, which is must more of an exploratory game. Each level takes place on the sides of a mountain. Thor's still got his wheel, but instead of participating in a linear obstacle course akin to its forebearer Smurf Rescue, you sailed along pathways and caves. Scattered throughout the paths and caves are claims (the currency of B.C.'s world) you have to collect, for there's a toll to pay for the bridge to the next mountain. On the pathways you can travel freely, but lose a tire if you fall off or hit a rock. Caves are autoscrolling, and additionally a lot harder to navigate because you can only see a limited space ahead of you.

The true difficulty, however, comes from two things. First, the paths and caves form a complex maze that could be quite treacherous, especially when you add going around to other sides of the mountain to it and possibly multiple peaks. There is a map/radar of the outside of your current area in the corner of the screen, but it doesn't show where the caves go, you can only find that out from experimentation and laborious mapping; further, I don't remember the game having a pause function, and it seemed at the time I played it that the cave exists were not always consistent, that sometimes a cave's exit was chosen from a number of possibilities. That made making a consistent map of the game very frustrating.

The second problem was Grog himself, who in the strip was like a caveman's caveman, basically a ball of hair with a face, arms and legs. Grog could only say one word ("Grog!"). Grog also showed on the radar/map and if he was on the same path as you the game made this terrifying alert noise, getting louder the closer he got. Grog only traveled around the outside of the mountain, never taking caves, but could bound up and down to different paths.
Besides obstacles, Grog was your only opponent, but he was a dire one. If Grog caught you along one of the mountain paths, he utter his trademark word, scaring you clean off the mountain, and ending your game, regardless of lives left.

I remember getting quite far into the game, but never finishing it. I wonder if there's any longplays on YouTube....
posted by JHarris at 9:42 PM on December 8, 2018 [5 favorites]

They snorted cocaine? Did you hear about the cocaine?Interesting enough story but the COCAINE was completely tangential.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:54 AM on December 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

This was one of the few games 13 year-old me got for his C64. It was brutally hard and to be honest, this was a triumph of misplaced marketing. It was ‘Tony Hart’s’ BC’s Quest for Tires, and as a creative young Brit, I assumed it was the UK Tony Hart, who had nothing to do with this, the character, or newspaper cartoons whatsoever. I remember it adding to the overall faint sense of confusion brought about by the mis-spelling of ‘tyres’.

Anyway, thanks for the post and making it possible to finally see the end of the game. (and as for the C64 port - wasn’t Software Projects the UK company who gave us Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy? I should read the linked articles…)
posted by davemee at 2:17 AM on December 9, 2018

Johnny Hart, not Tony Hart. I can’t believe it’s taken me >30 years to notice that. Why did no-one stop me?!?

At least my Hart was in the right place.
posted by davemee at 2:29 AM on December 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

One of my university friends had a Coleco-Vision in the mid-'90s and had a copy of the sequel, which was an incredibly frustrating game because Grog would just pop up, seemingly randomly, yell "GROG!" and that would be the end of you.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:11 AM on December 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Card Cheat, see my comment above. Grog's appearances aren't random, but he's at a specific spot on the map chasing you. (I seem to remember, some boards, there may be more than one Grog?) His appearance is terrifying though. I was just watching a bit of a C64 playthrough of that game, man that brought back a lot of bad memories.
posted by JHarris at 4:51 AM on December 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

I definitely played this on my Apple ][c, and it was most definitely pirated. I remember whenever the little caveman guy would hit an obstacle, he would yell "Zot!", which was perplexing to my 7-year-old brain. I could tell it was supposed to be an expletive, but I'd never heard it from either of my foul-mouthed parents, so I couldn't tell if it was in a foreign language or what. Actually, now I'm super curious -- was this something people said up in Canada? Was it something from the comic strip? Or was it just something the software developers made up? In an alternate universe could "Zot!" have been the next "d'oh!"?

NABU itself will last only until 1985, its innovative network streaming model far too advanced for consumers to grasp at the time.

Aw man, that had to hurt. Like, could you imagine being one of the few consumers to actually buy into this thing? Getting to experience what was essentially the World Wide Web for like two years, only to have it shut down, and not experiencing anything similar for the next 10 years?
posted by panama joe at 5:57 AM on December 9, 2018

Ottawa was so close to being a real tech powerhouse so many times but time after time it never happened

Yeah - hmm, lets see - Northern Telecom, Corel (remember when they had one of the first user-friendly Linux distros?), QNX (at one point, rumour had it that it runs the "SkyTrain" ), Cognos, Shopify (currently doing well - pretty sure they are providing the backend for the bulk of Canadian cannabis online sales) - I am sure there were a ton more.
posted by jkaczor at 6:12 AM on December 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

and not experiencing anything similar for the next 10 years?

Well - while "perhaps" not quite as innovative, during the 80's there was Compuserve, AOL and dial-up BBS's. There was even a "store & forward" email and newsgroup like system (FidoNet).

Heck - there was also "datapac" - but, I could never find any interesting nodes no matter how much digging I did... Probably (as per the article), primarily for business use.
posted by jkaczor at 7:48 AM on December 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

The is amazing. Ottawa was so close to being a real tech powerhouse so many times but time after time it never happened.
posted by GuyZero at 5:07 PM on December 8

I was in Ottawa this week for work and had a taxi driver who was still carrying a torch for Nortel.
posted by ZaphodB at 11:29 AM on December 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I was in Ottawa this week for work and had a taxi driver who was still carrying a torch for Nortel.

Dude must be older than I am even.... geez. I was a co-op at both Nortel and Corel and back then people called it "Silicon Valley North" with absolutely no trace of irony. Shopify is probably the best that a Canadian company can hope for - successful but not transformative.

And poor QNX, dead at the hands of Blackberry.
posted by GuyZero at 4:28 PM on December 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Other Ottawa tech also rans: Gandalf (remember those blue modems?), Lumonics, Mitel, JDS Uniphase.
posted by storybored at 10:16 PM on December 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Hey I worked at a Newbridge subsidiary out of university, I know those names!

Mitel wasn't a total loser, it got sold for $2B earlier this year. Terry Matthews ain't doing too badly.
posted by GuyZero at 8:16 AM on December 10, 2018

Also, Corel founder Michael Cowpland's wife, Marlen, had her own TV show, "Celebrity Pets". Surprised that it didn't put Ottawa on the map.
posted by GuyZero at 8:20 AM on December 10, 2018

Also, Corel founder Michael Cowpland's wife, Marlen, had her own TV show, "Celebrity Pets". Surprised that it didn't put Ottawa on the map.

Hah. I'm almost 100% sure Frank did a sendup of this at some point way back when.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:47 AM on December 10, 2018

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