Mention the name Matthew Smith (no, not the new Easter Island-headed Doctor Who actor!) around certain people, i.e. those of a thirty something, geeky persuasion, and you may see a nostalgic twinkle in their eye. Either that or you’ll see the early onset of cataracts, but I digress. You see, Matthew Smith gave us the gaming icon that was Miner Willy.
“Who iz dat?” I hear those born in the nineties and beyond, all not cry out in unison, mainly due to the steep decline of music education in schools. He’s only one of the most influential platform game characters of all time! You can forget your Mario’s, Sonic’s and Crash Bandicoot’s, without Miner Willy and his unfortunate moniker; they would all still be but silicon infused dreams in the heads of their socially inept creators.
This declaration is something of a lie actually, as Mario actually pre-dates Miner Willy by a couple of years (see 1981’s Donkey Kong), but as for Sonic and Crash, it rings truer than a Town Crier on Sodium Thiopental. Just imagine if you will, his cries for a moment, “Oh yay, oh yay, here ye, I’m a loud, fat, red faced git with a candle lit shrine to the late Sir Harry Secombe in my basement and a penchant for wearing women’s lingerie!”
Miner Willy, of course, appeared in the game MANIC MINER, which was released on the Spectrum in 1983, the year of Roland Rat hosting TVAM, Return of the Jedi with it’s midgets in bear costumes and of course Kajagoogoo. It featured twenty distinctly different levels of platforming fun, which was totally unheard of back then, along with some of the craziest enemies ever, including, animated toilets, clockwork monsters, mutant telephones and a Donkey Kong look-alike called Susan Boyle (or at least it should have been).
Now lets move onto the graphics. Today they look like a cross between Teletext and an photosensitive epilepsy sufferer’s fevered dream, but at the time they were truly impressive and featured none of the colour clash that most Spectrum titles suffered from. The graphics were also matched in quality by the catchy music (In the Hall of the Mountain King by Edward Greig) which was something of a rarity in those days as most games on the Speccy were limited to just an intro tune and then what sounded like a Bleep Test for the game proper.
Lastly the gameplay deserves special mention, as this is why the game is so fondly remembered by gamers and B.O. ridden nerds throughout the land. Every move you made in Manic Miner had to be timed to perfection, as you had to know exactly when to jump over the enemies heads, whilst making sure you weren’t leaping into certain death e.g. Another enemy or a hazard such as stalactites, spikes, poisoned thorn bushes or the noxious fart clouds which emanate from Leona Lewis’ mouth. Well maybe not that last one.
Now, for the interesting bit (yes I can see you executive types yawning as you read this at home, in a Doctors waiting room, pub or the boudoir of a ‘Private Dancer called Candice’). As I’ve mentioned before Matthew Smith coded the game, but what I didn’t mention is what happened to him after he had finished creating it’s sequel, JET SET WILLY (which I assure you had nothing to do with flying penises/Richard Branson) and the subsequently canned threequel, THE MEGA TREE (I can’t think of anything remotely smutty involving trees).
Matt Smith was only a teenager when he created his magnum opus and therefore spent all the money he accrued from it on women, drink, and motorbikes until there was nothing left. He then seemingly dropped off the face of the earth for ten years. During this time he was rumoured to have lived in a Dutch Commune (true), sold fish (false) and has even been said to have made numerous calls on Radio phone ins (103 FM?). When he reappeared from his self-imposed exile, he was gladly welcomed back by the gaming fraternity, even though he now resembled a scruffy, bug eyed version of his former self, with a somewhat ‘manic’ temperament. So what became of Manic Miner? He became part of Matthew Smith’s psyche it seems.