Product: Retribution X
Publisher: The Yorkshire Boys
Compatibility: BBC B/B+/Master 128
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #70

The demo scene sprang up quite late in the BBC and Electron's lifetime and there aren't a great number of them available. There are many more BBC demos than Electron ones, and no Electron ones that don't also run on the BBC. But there had been, until this year, one notable hole in the library of BBC demos - Retribution X by the erstwhile Yorkshire Boys. At the time their PR machine was in overdrive; not only was the demo featured in Acorn Computing, a 'demo' of the demo was actually produced (somewhat irritatingly for editorial purposes called Retribution X Demo!) which gave any remaining Beebsters an elbow in the ribs as to what goodies lay in store.

Wait a minute, did you just say Acorn Computing? Yes, that's right. Retribution X arrived so late on the BBC scene that even The Micro User had shut up shop (or at least changed its name) by its release! Let me also clarify again as well before we get into the review proper that there are two different products 'out there' - Retribution X and the Retribution X Demo. This is a review of Retribution X, the big whizzbang megademo that... well, let me not get ahead of myself.

The Yorkshire Boys originally built up something of a name for themselves on the demo circuit in the early Nineties with a string of sampled sound demos. Films like The Terminator and Robocop were quite big at the time with their audience of geeks, who were happily running around mimicking Schwarzenegger's "I'll Be Back" and Weller's "Serve The Public Trust"; I suppose hearing their little computer do the same was somewhat orgasmic to them at the time. Personally I preferred the four-channel music demos of Dan Pugh and BeebTec to The Yorkshire Boys' work. Whilst the boys had the impressive (and obligatory!) Mode 7 works of art adorning their samples, it always seemed to me a bit too easy to sample a voice and call it a demo.

Now the Retribution X Demo showcased another side to The Yorkshire Boys' talents - there were screengrabs showing pictures in Modes 1, 4 and 5 and some rather natty looking machine code scroll demos. All of which, however, were overwritten with text announcing that the full Retribution X was on the way and could be ordered directly from them for £5.00.

Retribution X therefore is not strictly Public Domain; it is actually a professional release, albeit one that contains a multitude of demonstrations. And how! The disc itself - on the double-sided DFS format - is so packed that there are just a few bytes to spare. And does it live up the hype?

Well, after a few seconds of loading, a voice booms "Welcome!" and a full screen presentation complete with parallax stars, fades, glowing characters, interrupt-driven music and scrolling menu system burst onto your screen. It is breathtaking and easily one of the most impressive feats of programming I've ever seen. As you scroll through the demos on offer - Instructions, Vector Ball and Mazola Scrolla are the first three - the text doesn't just scroll, it actually fades into the background away from you. The menu is undoubtedly a demo in its own right and what's even better is that it remembers the last demo you ran, so every time you come back to it, you know exactly which demo you just ran and which is the next one in the logical sequence.

I will come back to the instructions and firstly introduce the first demo - Vector Ball. This begins with a detuned television set slowly tuning in to a picture of some mountains whilst playing a sampled riff of birds singing. Graphics aside, this deceives you into thinking it's just another sample demo and, after listening to it until it starts to repeat itself, you tap the space bar to continue. Whereupon, the whole screen explodes into colour and, to the strains of a bouncy little version of The Pet Shop Boys' "I Want A Lover", a scrolling foreground much like that of the Sphere Of Destiny games appears. At the base of the screen you have a scrolly message and in the middle of the screen, a number of balls dance in complex and gentle formations. By manipulating keys which the message goes on to describe to you, you can change many aspects of this demo. The music is on interrupt and never slows or seems to react negatively to anything else you choose to do.

There is a demarcation between the demos with a large number of them being similar to Mazola Scrolla that comes next. Basically, The Reflex, Starfield, Razor's Edge, Hotwire and Wobbler are all big scrolling demos. They each have a twist, in that, say Razor's Edge has two waving strings of light at its top and bottom and Starfield has a scrolling message set in front of four parallax scrolling stars. Hotwire has a haunting sample playing in the background and Wobbler has text somewhat displaced as you journey across the bits that make up each letter. There aren't a lot of scrolly message demos out there (apart from the Lars Osterballe ones available in the BBC PD library) and these are some of the most impressive I have seen!

Next we've got The Aquarium Demo, a nice relaxing graphical demo with no sound which is basically a computerised aquarium where you have one big fish and lots of little fish swimming around, blowing bubbles. It's done in Mode 1 which means it's all in a very nice hi resolution. Another animated demo is Madonna which follows it, which is a sampled animation of the popstar with a small scrolling message. It's difficult to tell exactly how many frames there are; there looks to be about twenty or so done in Mode 5 so again it's technically astounding that they can all be held in less than 32K.

The Matchbox demo is a strange little beastie, a sort of set of miniatured logos from all of the boys' previous demos (Mix Mania, Mix Mania II, etc) which constantly explode and reconstitute whilst in a small 'matchbox' size sprite which bounces around the screen. At the same time an other-worldly sample beats out a very quiet string of notes.

There's a strange demo called It's Fluffy which features the prickly character from the Superior/Acornsoft game Exile and an old Acorn User digitised screen of Bugs Bunny. Fluffy bounces around the screen and you can make him fire a 'fluffy bullet' by hitting the space bar, gradually punching holes in the screen. Again, this is all set to interrupt-driven music. Merlin's Mirror also features a digitised animation sequence which I believe comes from one of the old Acorn User discs, showing a man in black and white puffing on a cigarette.

There's also the Logo demo, the Globe demo and Noodle's Dream, which feature respectively a spinning TYB logo, a spinning planet earth and a little colourful character waking up one morning. There's nothing really to each of these except some nice machine code animation but they are welcome inclusions nonetheless.

Finally there are the Credits, which are again, a superb little demo in themselves and done in the style of the end credits of a movie, interspersed with dedications, pictures and a smattering of fun.

Which brings me nicely back to the Instructions and Competition items; light-hearted screens of text featuring some humorous testimonials as to how amazing The Yorkshire Boys are. It is evident from them, and of course from the marketing of the disc, that the boys were well aware that they had created an all-time classic collection. I also forgot to mention before that when you BREAK out of many of the demos, a sampled voice announces 'Bye Bye Everyone' before the Brrrr-Beep of the CLI is brought back.

Oh, and if you're still not sold yet, there's an intriguing little Easter Egg at the very end of the menu. A game called Spaceman Sid which is a four-way blast-'em-up in Mode 2 at a maximum level of difficulty (I can't get further than level three!). To get to it you are asked "WHAT IS THE PASSWORD?", to which the correct answer is WHAT. ("What" is the password, geddit? No? Oh well...)

It is hard to believe you are experiencing all of this on a standard little 32K BBC, it seems more like something you would find on a machine with at least double the amount of memory! However, and without detracting in any way from the fact that this is the best collection of demos I have ever seen, I should add just a few observations.

Firstly, if you are an avid BBC demo follower and by this I mean someone seriously addicted to the demos in the BBC PD library section of this site, then you can't help but notice that almost all of the four channel music included has been swiped from elsewhere. Most of it was written by Daniel Pugh - so I had heard it before. Granted, not on interrupt nor combined with all the flashy effects The Yorkshire Boys have created. But nonetheless it was familiar and this, just in itself, was a little disappointing.

Secondly, some of the demos seem to be space fillers. Globe I had seen before, acredited to different authors, likewise the Bugs Bunny screen and the Merlin's Mirror animation. Do these really qualify as 'new' demos in their own right? I'm not too sure.

These two reservations aside however, Retribution X is a joy to behold. It was presumably the only 'megademo' of its type and, having been released in 1992, it has taken almost two decades for it to be rediscovered and archived. Alas, it does not work at all on the Electron - but it seemed such an important discovery that I am sure you will all be booting up your BBC emulators to view it at the earliest opportunity!