Category Archives: Bubble Bus Software

Stephen Crow’s Classic ZX Spectrum Games

Game designer Stephen J. Crow made some seminal games for the ZX Spectrum, starting with Laser Snaker in 1983 and Factory Breakout in 1984 for Poppy Soft.

Crow then produced two smash hit classics for Bubble Bus Software with Wizard’s Lair and Starquake, both released in the same year, 1985. He then went on to create Firelord and program Zynaps for Hewson in subsequent years.

This five-year burst of creativity, from 1983 to 1987, showed a young designer quickly becoming confident of his coding and graphical skills and gradually improving his game design craft from game to game.

It could be argued that Wizard’s Lair is a clone of Ultimate‘s classic Atic Atac – and in some respects that is true – but what Crow did was actually unheard of… He actually improved on Atic Atac with Wizard’s Lair… Maybe not in terms of overall gameplay, because Atic Atac is Ultimate‘s best game, but he did manage to cram more interesting features and special effects into his version of the overhead/room shooter than Ultimate did in theirs, and the gameplay was different enough to be unique. The ammo system in Wizard’s Lair is a bit frustrating, true. And the game is quite difficult to make headway in too. Crow, though, was working out some clever game design skills and inadvertently breaking new ground as he went with Wizard’s Lair.

Arguably Steve Crow‘s ‘magnum opus’ was Starquake, published by Bubble Bus Software in 1985. Controlling a cute walking head, waddling around a maze of colourful caverns, Starquake was given a unique twist with Crow‘s unusual take on platforming and shooting. Starquake also got more interesting the deeper you went into the game, and with its teleport and core puzzle game mechanic was graphically very interesting and varied too. At least for a 48K Spectrum game… Starquake is easy to play, but tough to beat. Like all of Crow‘s games.

Firelord, published by Hewson in 1986, proved to be Crow‘s last full game as programmer and auteur designer of a ZX Spectrum game. Beautiful graphics, combined with subtle, clever gameplay, with a maze/shooting element. A lot of people didn’t get it, but Crow still managed to show his prowess at Spectrum game design.

Special mention must go to SC‘s programming and graphical contributions to Hewson‘s hit scrolling shooter, Zynaps, the following year.

From 1986 through to 1988 Crow also worked on a number of conversions for Hewson and Graftgold. Pretty much all ZX Spectrum conversions of games from other systems, like Uridium, Netherworld and Eliminator. Finally Crow created the graphics for Probe Software‘s tank shooter Heavy Metal in 1990, then moved on to pastures new.

LISTS: as created by The King of Grabs, in chronological order:

Laser Snaker (1983)
Factory Breakout (1984)
Wizard’s Lair (1985)
Starquake (1985)
Firelord (1986)
Zynaps (1987)

Starquake even made it to the Atari ST in 1988 via Mandarin Software.

Wizard's Lair ZX Spectrum 58

Starquake, ZX Spectrum

Arguably game designer Steve Crow‘s finest hour, Starquake is a brilliant platform action game first released through Bubble Bus Software in 1985.

It features an endearing lead character called BLOB (Bio-Logically Operated Being) who can run, fire lasers, use hovering platforms, drop temporary platforms beneath himself to gain height, and can pick up items (up to four at once) to use teleport booths and other interactive locations. One thing he cannot do, though, is jump, which makes the game somewhat strategic in terms of getting around.

The aim of the game is to repair the unstable core of the planet he has landed on, within a set time limit, and to do that BLOB must find remnants of the core left behind by the planet’s previous inhabitants and return them to the core itself.

Graphically and sonically Starquake is a marvellous creation. Back in 1985 it wowed gamers, and even now it still has the power to do the very same.

Starquake is well worth a play if you can find a copy!


Wizard’s Lair, ZX Spectrum

Steve Crow‘s colourful and fun Wizard’s Lair is clearly a tribute to the brilliant Ultimate Play The Game title Atic Atac. It has the same overhead viewpoint, similar gameplay and graphics and sound effects.

That said: Wizard’s Lair is different enough – and good enough – to stand on its own, and not be written off as a mere clone of dubious value. Whether it is better than Atic Atac, or not, is another question entirely. I would say not, because (IMHO) Atic Atac is the best game Ultimate ever made.

Regardless, Wizard’s Lair is still fun to play now. Playing as Pothole Pete, the aim is to explore and survive (not easy) as many rooms as possible in order to find four pieces of The Golden Lion, in order to make good your escape.

Unlike Atic Atac, you don’t have infinite weaponry in this game, and have to collect power-ups to keep shooting. There are rivers that cut-off access to certain areas, meaning: you have to find access to them in other ways, and there are also Magic Lifts which transport you to different floors and levels. Wizard’s Lair is definitely more of a challenge than Atic Atac and is rightly considered a ZX Spectrum classic.

Wizard’s Lair was first released by Bubble Bus Software in 1985 and it is the game that firmly put designer Steve Crow on the map. “Which map?” you ask. Why, The Great Video Game Designers Of All Time Map, of course!

More: Wizard’s Lair on World of Spectrum