Product: The Sicksoft Collection
Publisher: BBC PD
Compatibility: BBC B/B+/Master 128
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #71

The Sicksoft Collection is the most famous BBC PD disc of all time. It's a sort of Pythonesque "and now for something completely different" collection, showcasing the early talents of those persons who went on to produce quite seminal works for the Beeb. It has such bizarre inclusions as 'play Adolf Hitler and headbutt falling bombs out of the sky' (Nutter) and the Yossa Demo, which is a British cultural homage to the old show Boys From The Blackstuff. It also has Daniel Pugh's very first music demo, in which we can certainly discern the 'funky yuletide' themes that were to develop in later years. It also has the first demo from Bobrowski PD.

The programming is irreverent - the 'game' Sex Invaders a perfect example of this mishmash. It's a disc where some contributors let their imagination run riot. You get dancing skeletons (Bones), Benny Hill bouncing heads (Day And Night), banjo-playing gremlins with frogs on their heads (Foggy Mountain High) and comic book jazz (Crowbar). There's also a fair few fillers on it, mostly in the form of music demos for the Acorn Electron. The disc originally came out in the early Eighties and a few of my schoolyard friends had it. The Sex Invaders game even caused something of a stir due to its, erm, 'controversial' content.

The majority of the sillier programs come from the mind of Mike Williams, who did in fact go on to write eminently sensible programs for Blue Ribbon and the leading 8bit mags of the era (He probably left them off his programming CV at the time!). Bones is his best known animation and features two skeletons composed of 8x8 CHR$ definitions body-popping, fighting and jumping up and down. It's rendered in black and white and, whilst there's nothing much to it, it is strange enough to be very watchable. Bones 2 - Day And Night attempts to double up on the action by giving us three skeletons, a colourful background and some machine code effects (Bones is all done in BASIC). This second demo seems more laboured and less fun than the first but is still interesting nonetheless.

Foggy Mountain High and The Crowbar Demo are two colour-switching demos done in Mode 2 utilising all sixteen colours of the target machine. By flipping the palette, both of these demos 'animate' whilst playing musical riffs. Foggy Mountain High features two gremlins dancing in the moonlight. It's done extremely well and I have no idea how the programmer managed to plan it out so that the colours were positioned in such a way to give the illusion of movement without ever overrunning their boundaries. Foggy Mountain High is a two-'frame' animation but very colourful; The Crowbar Demo is four-'frame' but runs in just two colours. The techniques used however are the same in both. These are, apart from some of the openers to EUG, the only colour-switching animations available for the BBC/Electron.

Nutter is the type of game that is quint-essentially Public Domain - no-one is ever going to admit that they like the idea of playing Hitler and bouncing around their screen 'nutting' bombs out of the sky, still less would anyone want to find the game in a wholesome book of type-ins. However, stick it on a disc called Sicksoft and it suddenly becomes a guilty pleasure. A bonus is that this is a simple, but actually quite good, game too - it runs in Mode 4 at a reasonable speed with good collision detection. Hitler does in fact look like Hitler and the whole concept is so stupid as to be rather entertaining.

So we come, quite literally, to Sex Invaders - the only game for the BBC/Electron with sex in the title. The idea of this game is to shoot down a row of slowly descending naked women with ejaculate. You must hit them when they have spread their legs open and you need to take out lower women to reach the ones at the top. If you shoot them all down (which is really not difficult!) then you win the game and get to enter your name on the "Best Bonkers" high score table. There's absolutely no level of difficulty to this game at all - whether you get 'WELL DONE' or 'GAME OVER' it starts over just the same. Mind you, it's perhaps a mercy that there's only one level - it's so infantile to play that after about a second you'll start to wonder whether or not your life is moving in the right direction.

Yossa Demo follows the adventures of 'Yossa', presumably the Karl Pilkington of the 1980s. Like Bones it's a curiousity item, a monochrome animation. It's probably better left to be discovered than for me to attempt to describe it. Suffice it to say that, from the strange dole queue opener onwards, you'll wonder where this one is going...

Now this disc would probably be a pretty worthwhile look even if you just got these strange demos. What you also get, as I mentioned earlier, are quite a few 'sneak-peeks', almost like trailers for other collections that are out there in PD World. Daniel Pugh's A Christmas Music Selection is the first composition that he put together - yes, his very first demo before he went on to make such seminal works as The Pet Shop Boys' Please: The BBC Micro Version, and Hydroxide's Love The Clouds. M. Bobrowski, of Bobrowski PD, presents a collection of Chopin, Mozart, Offenbach, Rossini and Strauss one-channel compositions, again not available anywhere else. And we also have A. Warrington's The Warrington Collection, a collection of four-channel compositions for the BBC Micro.

The Warrington Collection is a bit of a difficult one to classify. It would appear that Mr. Warrington originally wrote these music demos as a one-file suite with a menu allowing you to choose to hear Golden Brown, Thriller, Cuckoo Waltz, Bach-4, Sweet Dreams, Moby Dick, Freebird, Newsong, Stairway To Heaven or Yesterday. However, over time, his suite was hacked up so that the file for each individual song was removed and published as a standalone music demo. You will find all of these demos elsewhere therefore, but on Sicksoft you get the original version as he intended it.

Finally we have the Drum Machine Demo, an interesting idea that simply cycles through 32 bars on channel 0 (the noise channel) allowing you to place drums, cymbals and other percussion instruments on various timers. This wouldn't be out of place as a type-in and the name of whoever wrote it is not given.

There are three more Acorn Electron music demos present on this disc: Blow The Man Down, Mash Theme and Moonlight Sonata. They have no graphics and simply play the piece on one channel. These are dull. Nuff said.

I think The Sicksoft Collection, in 1984, was somewhat ahead of its time. String the demos together and ok, it might not be Dreamscape or Retribution X, but it would be a very good forerunner. I particularly like the randomness of Mike Williams' programs and the extra demos that actually kind of feel like DVD trailers for wholly different discs. If you haven't already seen the demos and games on it, then they are definitely worth a download.