Charlie Chan In The Wock Factory

By Anon

Originally published in EUG #66

Free To A Good Home

If you're involved in collecting Acorn Electron gear, and you're brave/foolish enough to put your details on the internet, you can expect your fair share of contacts with people who have whole houses full of stuff by Acorn Computers. As the Acorn Cybervillage shows, many people don't even want any money for it; just that it goes to a "good home". These hoarders are invariably men, and you can actually hear the relieved sighs of their long-suffering partners as you load up your car with what they have considered junk for the last decade or so. There is usually no catch to getting all of this BBC and Elk stuff for free except that you are required to take it all: monitors, plinths, huge 12" disc drives, cobwebs, smoking motherboards, the lot.

In a story that has been repeated over countless years now, just recently Dave E jetted off to Rickmansworth and returned home with a Beeb and around seventeen boxes of 5.25" discs for the BBC Micro, just on the 'off chance' there would be some Elk goodies in there. This culminated in nothing more nor less than the discovery of the long lost Electron game Money Matters by Triple R Education. After this initial excitement, the discs were duly sorted into categories of:

  1. too dusty to be placed in any drive ever
  2. The Micro User and Acorn User discs,
  3. educational programs in Mode 7, and
  4. pirated games collections.

A Game Appears

Amongst this final category one disc stood out because it featured a label proclaiming Smarty Berty, known to be a type-in from the magazine Computer & Video Games (which appeared in EUG #61), and the intriguing title Charlie Chan Visits The Wock Factory. This we discovered to be a Mode 5 fully-Electron compatible platform game, in BASIC, which posed something of an enigma to label.

Borrowing nothing from the Roald Dahl book Charlie & The Chocolate Factory apart from the contrived and suitably intriguing title, the game's premise is simple. You are Charlie Chan, who needs to collect a wok (yes, wok, not wock!) from each of fifteen screens to complete the game. Various nasties patrol the various levels, typically three, of each screen, moving in set patterns. Contact with them is fatal.

Been Here Before

You may think this all sounds rather familiar to Woks by Artic Computing. However, that title was a cumbersome, lumbering, unplayable jaunt whereas, despite being in BASIC, Chan has more in common with the rather nice Mineshaft from Durell. It's not nearly as polished of course, but we would be very surprised if its author was not attempting something of a clone of that title.

This is due in some part to the layout of the screens. Mode 5 is used in both, with a character start bottom left and a ‘door' bottom right, but which does not open until the wok has been collected. (In Mineshaft you need to collect five coals.) In Chan, in the background we've got Kraftwerk, while in Mineshaft we've got "On, on the rising sun". In each, you control the little man with the Z and X keys and press SHIFT to jump. And in each you have the option to practise any level, by simply tapping SPACE to ‘scroll' onto the next one.

Easy As Pie

You'll find, as Chan is one of the games featured on this issue's companion disc, that the game also plays to some extent like Eggs, recently unearthed from the 1985 Book of Games by C&VG. This, along with it being accompanied by Smarty Berty, leads us to believe the game originally hails from an issue of this magazine we have yet to find. It's not a particularly absorbing game, as avoiding the nasties is easy, and being able to skip any level renders it rather unchallenging. The sprites are combinations of 8 x 8 characters, although some attempt has been made to spruce them up by using combinations of colours. We also found that, on one occasion, the game crashed when the wok was collected (although that bug has not reared its ugly head since).


The spelling mistakes, bugs and BASIC look means that we are currently convinced that Chan is a type-in - but for one peculiarity. Listing the loader file $.CHAN1 reveals the REM message "You'll just have to do without the loading screen, won't you?", and one line has been deleted. This seems to indicate that there was at one point a loading screen and, to our knowledge, not a single type-in includes a loading screen. If the screen has been taken out, in order to fit the game onto a DFS disc with a limited catalogue, at some juncture in the past, then it may be that Chan is in fact a professional title. As our review of Munchman this issue shows, there have been some truly atrocious professional releases.

For now, we hope you enjoy the game and we will continue to search for its source in any new acquisitions over the coming years...

Dave E, EUG #66