Display from the credits of the Mindscape computer game, published in 1991 for the Amiga and Atari ST.

The Quest 1.3: Ditchling Beacon Visit

By Keith McDonald

Five go to Ditchling Beacon, by David Learner. A visit to computer game developers Mindscape.

David Learner in The Quest, the official Knightmare fanzine. Volume 1, Issue 3.

And there we all were - Astrid and Trudi, their mum, Chris from Mindscape and me. Chris had organised a terrific picnic lunch and we sat munching right on the top of Ditchling Beacon, the South Downs spreading down to our right and the sheep purring contentedly on what must have been the hottest day of the year so far.

"I didn't know sheep had dogs," said Astrid, as gobbets of scotch egg left her chin and were swallowed up by the lush grass.

"Sorry?" said Chris, and we all turned to where Astrid was pointing at a sign on the stile in front of us. Sure enough there it was in plain English:

SHEEP. Please ensure that your dog is on a lead.

We met at Victoria Station, the gallant winner of TQ2's Mindscape Competition, her twin sister and mum, and I. First surprise was that I was joining them on the trip to Mindscape's HQ in deepest Sussex.

"You don't look like Pickle," observed Trudi. I produced a spare pointed ear I happened to have brought with me, and she was almost convinced. The journey down to Haywards Heath gave me an excellent chance to find out a bit about our nine- year-old winner. An excellent swimmer, having won so many medals I was surprised she wasn't weighed down in the water, it turned out Astrid absolutely hated Maths. I commiserated with her. Two cats called Dusty and George. "Although sometimes George is called Scratchy," said Astrid.

I imagined it something to do with the blue Persian's scratchy fur - it had more to do with the fact that if you tried to get near George he had a tendency to rip your throat out.

"But I don't like dogs," Astrid went on. "They're too dangerous!"

Both Astrid and Trudi had been glued to Knightmare since the beginning back in 1987, and were falling over themselves to tell me their favourite bits over the last five series. An exhaustive list which ended with a bloodthirsty, "I hope we're going to see the circular saws again in the next series." I was relieved that we'd arrived at our destination...

We were whisked to Burgess Hill by Steve in the company's ever-so-nippy Lancia and plonked on the turf outside the Mindscape building. It was huge. Up to the office of the Software Development Manager, Phil Harrison, who is nine foot tall if he's an inch and whose handshake started from the other side of the room, for a run-down of what we could expect to see. "I'll go and get Mike," said Phil, getting up slowly to avoid any low flying aeroplanes, "and he'll show you around. Then lunch and a chance to see Brighton in the afternoon!"

While we waited for Mike, I noticed the hand grenade on Phil's desk. Attached to the pin was a little flag with the number 1 on it and above the grenade was a reassuring notice: "Complaints Dept. - please take a number." I considered Phil was probably going places...

The tour was fascinating. In the Mindscape HQ they do everything, from programming the game to creating a master to labelling the disks, and from packaging the completed computer games to overseeing the artwork on the boxes. Most interesting to Astrid and Trudi was the development section, where a brand new game - so new it hasn't even got a title yet - was being put through its paces. Joypad in hand Astrid proved that you don't necessarily need maths to zap baddies when you see them in the car in front of you, and enemy transportation littered the highway for the local vultures to sort out.

At this point Phil returned to say that lunch was ready, or at least he would have done if he hadn't been stopped dead in his tracks by the sight of Astrid determinedly pumping away at her joypad.

"Do you realise," he said in the hush of the development section, "that you are the first person in the world outside this building to try this game?"

Astrid probably didn't care, and went on zapping. "I'd buy it," she said later, though graciously.

After lunch on the Beacon and driving straight past the Mr. Whippy van - was I the only one who'd wanted an ice-cream? - we headed into Brighton to see at first hand the glamour and sheer theatricality of the Prince Regent's Pavilion and to catch a few zeds in the Lancia. By now we were all exhausted. On to the train for Victoria, and off to our various homes.

"Jamie won't believe I've met you," said Astrid. Jamie turned out to be a friend of the twins.

I got out my trusty reporter's pad and scrawled a note to Jamie. It said, "Jamie - now do you believe it?", and I signed it Pickle the Elf, and of course Astrid had an ear as proof!

"Say hello to Treguard," said Trudi, as the little group merged into the rush-hour mayhem on Victoria Station. Each was clutching a goody bag from Mindscape, crammed with posters and hats and shirts, and soon the twin black carrier bags had disappeared into the melee.

The day had been a cracker. The girls had a fine time, and I know I did. I'll remember my day with them, and their courtesy, and their charm for quite some time to come. Who needs Maths?

Board Game? Not So Tame!

TQ's intrepid raving reporter Ossian Hawkes is 12 years old and a Knightmare devotee. Against impossible odds (his parents might have discovered he'd snitched the biscuit tin) he and his life-long buddy Adam Westwood settled down at the dead of night - well, half past three - to play the Knightmare board game and report back to us. It was tough, but they came back alive, bloodied but undamaged, to file this report.

Box cover of Knightmare Board Game from MB (small).

The game gets ten out of ten for layout. The board itself is colourful and eye-catching, although it's not that easy to distinguish one brown from the other. Brown, that is. The questions and riddles (all of them real Knightmare ones) were excellent, except that some of the riddles were too hard. Mind you, Adam said that and he lost... After playing three or four games, though, we would have run out of riddles, so maybe it would be a good idea if they printed some more riddle books.

Pickle is a pooka, of course, and on the board the pooka is an enemy, so that needs sorting out. And they spelt Treguard's name incorrectly - not on the box, but on the chance cards... Also one character from the game's second level is not featured on the card inserted in the box!

We gave it 6 out of 10 for easiness. It certainly shouldn't be any more difficult! Our game took us 2 and a half hours to complete, which is a bit too long, although we did play it without any breaks at all, so it must have been exciting!

Overall the game gets 9 out of 10. It's a good idea to include details of the Club with the game, so that all your friends can join! We thought it was going to be around £15, so at £13.95 it's good value! And I won, of course.

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