Game Over - Lemmings

Uploaded by RetroAhoy on 16.12.2011

Hello, this is RetroAhoy - and this is Game Over.
In this episode we're taking a look at Lemmings: a cutesy puzzler with a suicidal twist.
It was published in 1991 by Psygnosis, known at the time for their distinctive owl-themed
logo and well-polished games - one notable example being the graphically impressive Shadow
of The Beast, with its gorgeous parallax scrolling and impressively sampled music soundtrack.
In 1988, Psygnosis signed new Dundee-based studio DMA Design, who initially produced
side-scrolling shooters such as Menace and Blood Money - both received well, and generally
praised by critics. Their next title was to be a little different.
Freelance artist Scott Johnson was in the process of designing small, 16-by-16 pixel
infantry sprites for a sequel to Blood Money - but DMA cofounder Mike Dailly insisted that
8 pixels was all that was needed to convey character - and within the space of one lunch
hour, had put together a sample animation, with what would prove to be the basis for
the Lemmings character design. In the words of DMA employee Russell Kay,
'there's a game in that!'
Lemmings turned out to be a rather good game, in fact - clever use of small sprites aside,
it truly was a well-designed puzzle game. Rather than directly controlling the lemmings,
they meander about of their own volition - quite happily stumbling off ledges and into traps,
and otherwise finding their doom as per the suicidal myth associated with the rodent since
Disney's 'White Wilderness'. Dropping in from a trapdoor at a controllable
rate, it was your goal to guide the horde into an exit, located elsewhere in the level
- by use of abilities which you could grant to an individual lemming by simply clicking
on them. Climbers ascend vertical surfaces, floaters
can descend any height safely, bombers explode, blockers turn walkers away, builders assemble
bridges, bashers tear horizontally through surfaces, miners diagonally down, and diggers
produce vertical shafts. Each ability is limited, and the harder the
level's difficulty - the scarcer the supply. Later levels were notable for being fiendishly
difficult, the game becoming more dependent on pixel-perfect positioning and exact timing.
The difficulty curve was such that any level of player could have fun, however - with levels
divided into Fun, Tricky, Taxing - or Mayhem difficulty.
Some levels were used more than once, with a variety of factors to increase difficulty
- sometimes you would be forced to use bombers to break through walls instead of bashers,
or you'd need to save a larger proportion of the lemmings within a stricter time limit.
The levels themselves were largely destructable, with a few unbreakable portions - steel blocks,
typically - reserved for enforcing a certain puzzle route.
The game also included a 2-player mode, with splitscreen and alternate palette set for
player 2's lemmings. These games typically degenerated into frantic
squabbles - not to save one's own lemmings, but instead to destroy your opponents with
underhanded schemes. Also of note is the music by Tim Wright, also
known as 'CoLD SToRAGE' - jaunty retellings of classic songs, including 'She'll Be Coming
Round The Mountain', and 'How Much Is That Doggie In The Window'.
There were also a few special levels, featuring graphics and music from Psygnosis' earlier
games - such as Shadow of The Beast, Awesome, and Menace.
Success was determined by how many lemmings you were able to rescue - the minimum amount
required set by the level parameters. Sometimes you'd have to rescue every last
soul, but every so often the puzzles sould require a few lemmings to sacrifice themselves
for the greater good. The game wouldn't end until all lemmings were
accounted for - so should you lose a few too many, expend necessary abilities prematurely,
or otherwise run into a dead-end - there was always the nuclear option.
Double clicking the 'nuke' icon would bring about inevitable doom for any lemming still
remaining on the playfield - with an ominous timer appearing above their heads, marking
their imminent demise. Nuking a particularly dense horde of lemmings
made for quite the impressive fireworks display!
Lemmings reviewed fantastically; rave reviews across magazines, and the game went on to
be a smash hit - being ported to over 30 different platforms and selling 15 million copies to
date. Naturally, there were expansions and sequels
- late 1991 saw the release of 'Oh No! More Lemmings', an expansion pack featuring new
level types, music - and even more fiendish challenges, including a sped-up 'Super Lemming'
stage. Christmas Lemmings was similar, with a festive
theme - the lemmings dressed as Santa. The first true sequel was Lemmings 2: The
Tribes, introducing 12 varieties of Lemmings, and over 60 abilities in an epic journey to
reunite a broken talisman. Lemmings 3, or The All New World Of Lemmings,
focussed on 3 tribes featured in the previous game - the Shadow, Classic and Egyptian lemmings,
and saw abilities change to pick-ups distributed across the level.
Unlike its predecessors, the third sequel wasn't received as well as the others, and
marked DMA's last Lemmings title, as they subsequently sold the rights to Psygnosis.
3d lemmings saw the transition to the third dimension in 1995, as with the last of its
line, Lemmings Revolution in the year 2000, with its familiar puzzle mechanics wrapped
around a 3 dimensional column. There were a couple of spin-offs, too - deviating
from the familiar puzzle format. Lemmings Paintball was a fusion of traditional
lemmings gameplay with something resembling a non-lethal Cannon Fodder, with your goal
being the collection of flags strewn across a level.
The Adventures of Lomax on the PS1 was another, taking a radically different tack as a lush
2d platformer. Psygnosis were acquired in 1993 by Sony, and
would eventually merge with their parent company in 1999, forming SCE Studio Liverpool, who
persist to this day. They're best known for the futuristic racer
Wipeout, and its subsequent sequels and remakes. DMA Design went their own way after Psygnosis
were acquired by Sony, and instead worked with Nintendo on titles such as Body Harvest,
but it was their subsequent title that would earn their current reputation: Grand Theft
Now known as Rockstar North, DMA Design have gone onto great things, a far cry from the
well-polished puzzler that marks their first major success.
Lemmings has had influence that few other games can match, with its effect clearly visible
in puzzle games even today - such as Clones, with a central mechanic that should be familiar
to anyone who has played Lemmings. Games that have such an effect on the industry
are few and far between - long a paradigm in the gaming press for 'originality', it
is truly a game that broke the mould - and remains as fresh today.
From a simple concept, the game blossomed into a pioneering puzzler - and paired with
a high degree of polish, it's little wonder these hapless green-haired rodents found an
enduring success.
This has been Lemmings, and this is Game Over. Thanks for watching - and be sure to join
me next time, when I'll be covering leather-clad bike-'em-up: Road Rash.