Llamatron "READ ME" file


"Llamatron" was a Robotron-esque action game released for the Atari ST, and later the Amiga, in 1991 as Llamasoft's first foray into shareware. (A PC version showed up later, but it wasn't written by Jeff and it just wasn't the same without a digital joystick.) The "READ ME" file that came with "Llamatron," parts of which are included here with permission, is a window into the Minter philosophy. That mysterious note down at the bottom is about the Atari Panther, the unreleased predecessor to the Jaguar.

You may be wondering why you have the latest Llama release either for free or the price of a PD disk. Loads of reasons. Loads. Call the cops.

Allow Yak to explain:

Llamasoft has been around since 1982. This makes us just about the longest surviving software house ever {okay except Microdeal, hey you guys, I know, well done, glad you are still around and hey! don't sue me, I just play this here keyboard} and we have a pretty good perspective on the industry of video game production and the way it has evolved.

This is how it was:

In the very early days, there was a very close relationship between the originators of games and those who played them. You would go along to (say) the Vic Centre, there would be a bunch of games, you play them and buy the ones you like. Funky. Bad games didn't sell, good ones did.

Then, as with anything which becomes popular, the Men In Suits moved in. They saw some programmers getting rich selling to the people, so they decided to move in. "Let us help these poor programmers", they sez. "We can sell these games to the people. Let the programmers get back to their assemblers and not have to worry about duplicating tapes and filling their living rooms with huge piles of stock".

And so the Men In Suits came, and placed their full-page airbrushed artwork adverts in all the mags, and the programmers went back to their assemblers and for a while they were happy. The Men In Suits were happy too, because they got to take a cut, and soon some of them were driving Porsches.

The Men In Suits looked out upon the market, and they were sorely dismayed at the diversity of the products. "This is not efficient", they thought. "How can we best use this market? How can it be made to serve us well?" And they created film licences and arcade conversions. They burned the midnight oil, murmuring incantations over their calculators and their mobile 'phones, and eventually they came up with the Formulas. "Loads of graphics!", they told the programmers. "Loads of music! Arnie Schwarzenegger in it! No need to design a new game - just change the graphics in these few basic designs and put a picture of Indiana Jones on the box! You'll never have to think again!"

The programmers went back to their assemblers. The Men In Suits handed them pieces of paper upon which were written the exact specifications for the games. The programmers had to pay their mortgages, so they coded and were employed. The Men In Suits laughed, and took a bigger cut, and moulded the market to make themselves an even bigger pile. Soon, some of them were driving Ferraris and getting pissed at industry dinners.

This is how it is:

All video games are designed for a theoretical entity known as Darren. Darren is a spotty 14-year-old male who doesn't get on that well with people, so he spends all his time in his bedroom playing games on his computer. Darren is easily impressed by graphics and music, and he doesn't really want to learn anything really tricky - as long as it has Ninja Hampsters in and works with a Kempston, that's OK. Somehow he can persuade his Dad to fork out 25 quid once every few weeks for the latest version of R-Type with different graphics on his Amiga, don't ask me how. Either that or he waits and hits up his mate Wayne for a pirate version in a couple of weeks' time.

Consequently, it has become much harder for programmers to retain their creative integrity and earn a living too. It is virtually impossible for a small independant developer to get games out to the people without first hooking in to one of the larger companies for distribution and advertising, and those larger companies tend to want stuff that's very normal, spaceship-and-alien stuff, no llamas please and not too weird.

However, with popular disk-based machines, the idea of Public Domain programs has really come into its own. PD libraries give access to a large amount of free software. PD is usually sub-commercial stuff, often good utilities but without the 'polish' of commercial versions.

It would be nice to use the existing PD libraries to distribute software to anyone who is interested, and make a bit of money too - and that is where Shareware comes in.

The principle of Shareware is simple. The game is distributed by the PD libraries, by uploading onto BBSes and giving copies away. Users can get a complete version of the game just for the price of the media, and then take it home and play it. If the user likes the game, he sends the author a Shareware fee. Usually, the author will send back a few goodies (as an incentive to register) and, if enough people send in the dosh to make it worthwhile, he may do more Shareware stuff.

Naturally you don't have to pay anything if you don't like the game. Of course a lot of people might like the game and decide not to pay, but if too many people do that then nobody will ever bother doing any decent Shareware at all, and it's back to Darren's 25 quid games. So, it's down to the users - if they're honest, then programmers will be more inclined to work hard on Shareware releases.

The idea of Shareware is very idealistic, perhaps impracticably so, but the advantages over the conventional videogame market are so enormous that I thought it had to be tried, at least once. The response from this experiment will determine whether or not Llamasoft release any more shareware.

This game is based on an old Williams arcade game by the same dude who wrote Defender. The game - Robotron - was a big hit in the early Eighties, and an official sequel - Smash TV - was an arcade hit last year. Llamatron takes the Robotron idea and distorts it in a Yakly fashion, adding loads of new stuff and plenty of furry beasties in the Llamasoft style. We could have flogged it as a pretty good budget game via conventional means, but Yak decided to try it as shareware 'coz he liked the idea so much.

Here's the deal. You play Llamatron and check out the hook. If it gets you (and I reckon it will if you like mayhem), then send us a fiver and, as a reward for being so honest, we will send you an ace poster of our gun-toting llama, a newsletter, and a complete copy of Andes Attack, originally released in 1988 to considerable critical acclaim. Two games for a fiver - can't be bad. And if the response is good, there will be more Shareware. And better.

We're asking a Shareware fee of five pounds for Llamatron, and you should send your lolly to: LLAMASOFT, 49 Mount Pleasant, Tadley, Hants RG26 6BN, U.K. Do let us know what you think of the game and the principle of Shareware in general, too.

-- Y a K 10/04/1991

{YAK is now engaged on a new project. YAK has signed heavy non disclosure agreements graven in Norse runes on ancient parchment in virgins' blood just this last Full Moon, so he can't say anything, but he does look at the black monolith connected to his ST (via a mere earthly ribbon cable! how wild that such a mundane construct of metal and plastic should be the conduit for such awesome power!) and is inspired to pass on this message from David Bowman:

[Something wonderful is going to happen]

Watch the skies - and DON'T buy a S*per F*micom!}


Back to the Jeff Minter interview