[We continue our ‘How To Cause A Complete Controversy’ feature where we look back at the computer and video games that have caused outrage and controversy. This time, we, fittingly, look at the game that inspired this feature’s title and caused a lot of fuss in the letter’s pages of Amstrad Action ...]
Anyone who has seen Adrian Edmondson in the madcap comedy television shows The Young Ones, Filthy Rich and Catflap, or Bottom will know exactly what they’re in for when playing How To Be A Complete Bastard. The game, which was developed by Sentient Software and published by Virgin Games in 1987, is based on the book of the same name. The player takes control of Ade, who has gate crashed a party, and is tasked with getting rid of all the other guests. This is achieved by being obnoxious, violent and carrying out pranks. These bastardly actions light up letters from of the phrase ‘Complete Bastard’ at the bottom of the screen. When all sixteen letters are lit and the guests have gone then the game is won.
The game is viewed using ‘Bastavision’, which means that the screen is split into two views: the top screen is the main window (Ade moves around according to the joystick movements) and the bottom window can be set to view from any independent angle — basically a 3D environment using 2D viewpoints. There are four onscreen scales, which vary according to your actions: the drunkometer (mirrors the amount of alcohol Ade has had to drink), the weeeometer (increased by drinking), the fartometer (increases according to the amount of food Ade eats), and the smellometer (should be kept as high as possible too). Ade can save up fart power to let off a real ripper (take care near naked flames, though).
To carry out pranks, the player can move Ade around the various rooms searching through coats, bins, shelves, drawers, cupboards and anything else that can be interacted with. Once Ade has an object at hand he can then choose from a variety of options. For instance, Ade can take the super glue from the garage (is it a garage?), go to the bathroom and glue the toilet seat. Or he can pick a sheet up from one of the bedrooms and go round doing ghost impressions at any of the guests.
Admittedly, the graphics aren’t great and the sound is pretty non-existent, but it’s the wacky senseless gameplay that is most pleasing about the game. The sense of open play gives the game great appeal as you can go anywhere within the house (upstairs, downstairs, the garden) at anytime, carry out any prank at any time — there are no limitations to the gameplay.
The game itself passed many gamers by completely and no one really batted an eyelid when it was released in 1987. The quite harsh reviews undeniably helped to the low sales (4/10 in Commodore User and 33% in Zzap!64) — both harsh in this author’s opinion. It wasn’t until May 1991 when the game gained notoriety and caused outrage across the UK: two of the leading 8-bit magazines, Your Sinclair and Amstrad Action, included the full playable game on their respective covertapes.
Interestingly, it was only Amstrad Action that had received any complaints. Either the CPC community were made up of higher morals or the Speccy magazine did not publicise any complaints made. The July 1991 issue of Amstrad Action contained a ‘How To Be A Complete Controversy’ section in the letters pages. Although the editor, Rod Lawton, pointed out that there were many letters and phone calls on the subject, he, quite rightly, printed just two of them, as an example of the readers’ opinions on the game.
A young ten year old boy began his letter with “disgusting” when referring to the May covertape and was sure that “1,000 young Amstrad users up and down the country” would immediately want “to know what a B****** is.” Another reader letter chosen for the section was puzzled by the chosen game for the covertape, because he was sure it would be agreed “that the words ‘bastard’ and ‘fart’ are not yet accepted in this country as standard forms of expression among civilised people.”
In his reply to the letters, Rod stated that “Amstrad Action is not… a magazine devoted to children,” and that “AA is a magazine for all ages,” and that given the choice again, they would “think very seriously about the content of future covertapes.” Rod also recalled one telephone call from an irate mother, who “professed to be otherwise happy with the covertape, including the Predator II demo. This game consists, basically, of going round killing everything you see. This was apparently a fine occupation for a ten year old! It’s worrying to thing that children are thought to be more at risk from the lampooning of bodily functions than the ritualised slaughter of human beings.” The irrationality of controversy and censorship, eh? But did AA learn their lesson with the covertapes? Well, no, but that’s another story for another time.