Amazing Paperboy Delivers!
The arcade version of Paperboy took Atari 2 years to develop and was released in 1984. The game featured a unique control method, with handlebars to steer the main character as he caused havoc while delivering the odd newspaper. The game was very popular and ended up being converted to all the main computer systems back in the 1980s by Elite Systems.
In terms of gameplay mechanics, the game must surely rank as one of the most ridiculous ever devised. If you think about what is actually happening in the game, almost everything in it is absolutely crazy.
Let's begin with the title screen. The headline reads "Amazing Paperboy Delivers". Is it really so amazing that a paperboy on a bicycle delivers newspapers? Apart from people that delivered newspapers on foot, what else is there? I don't recall too many roller skating paperboys or people delivering them by car. Maybe "Amazing" is aÂ pseudonym for "Retarded", as in "Retarded paperboy cannot throw a newspaper backwards" or "Retarded paperboy cannot work out how to a bicycle around in a circle when missing a delivery".
As for the other headline about vandalism, the residents of this town and the police force are clearly the most stupid people on the planet, and there is evidence all through the game showing that, yes indeed, they are absolute idiots. The first brain-surgeon candidate is the burglar who wants to steal a TV:
His plan involves breaking into a house in the middle of the day where there is absolutely no cover while dressed up in a burglar costume. He has scoped out a suitable house, choosing one with the garage door wide open and a dog that attacks people. Rather than enter the premises via the completely empty garage, he is trying to force open the window right behind the dog and in plain view of the entire neighbourhood. He does not appear to have a getaway vehicle or any kind of bag for his haul, and when hit with a single newspaper, collapses dead on the ground.
The burglar has not figured out that the residents of this town are unlikely to have anything worth stealing, as they spend most of their savings on repainting their houses daily, swapping joinery and replacing signs and door mats. The Monday newspaper delivery at #120 Easy St shows a Sun subscriber living in a yellow house:
If you fail to deliver a newspaper (or vandalise the property) on Monday, you will find the house has had a makeover (or more aptly, a makeunder) when you swing by on Tuesday:
The owner goes to extreme lengths, repainting the entire property, replacing the tiled roof, all the joinery, replanted the garden and has purchased a new "Get Lost" doormat plus a "Keep Out!" sign. But the madness doesn't stop there. If you successfully deliver all your newspapers on Tuesday, you may find that the owner has had a change of heart, resubscribed to the Sun newspaper and repainted and refitted his house back to how it looked on Monday!
It's obvious that the owners of the properties are a tight-knit bunch, and they must gossip regularly with each other. This collection of village idiots consistently fail to follow the most obvious of clues with regards to the damage that appears around the same time as the daily newspaper delivery:
The property at 105 Easy St has had all their windows smashed in as well as their door damaged, there are newspaper sized holes in the windows, newspapers scattered inside and outside the property despite the owner not being a subscriber. Who could possibly have done this? If you have a perfect delivery run, the owner will talk to the rest of the street and decide the newspaper is delivered so reliably that he will subscribe to it, in spite of having 10 newspapers delivered to his house for free. And of course he will repair the entire property, repaint, re-roof etc.
The newspaper publisher is clearly as brain-dead as the rest of the town, as Easy St starts out with a total of 10 paying customers, yet 6 bundles of 10 papers are dropped off along the road, approximately one bundle for every 3 houses.
It must not have occurred to anybody that it would be more sensible for the delivery vehicle to drop the correct number of newspapers off at the paperboy's house, rather than drive up and down every road on his route dropping off parcels of 10? Even when the paperboy gets down to a single customer, the publisher continues to deliver 60 newspapers per day.
Then again, the residents must be a trustworthy lot, as they subscribe to the newspaper despite the delivery vehicle dumping the newspapers in parcels of 10 right outside their properties much earlier in the day.
The entire town is full of drivers that can't make up their mind whether they are going out for the day or staying in their driveways. Vehicles reverse out of the driveway, then without warning suddenly drive forward, only to suddenly reverse again ad nauseum:
Then again, when the entire town is surrounded by identically dressed loonies having "hangbags at 50 paces" fisticuffs while drunk bums stagger down the street, what do you expect?
The Amiga is a reasonably faithful version of the arcade, featuring a large PAL display (compared to the tiny Atari ST version) but features some jerky scrolling. Just like the arcade, this menace-on-a-bike can happily destroy half the neighbourhood with no repercussions, but he cannot ride his bike up the curb.
The curb limitation is very frustrating when you accidentally veer onto the road and cannot turn back. The idea that the paperboy has not yet learned to do a simple jump is absolute nonsense when you consider that he has to complete a stunt bonus track at the end of each street!
Then again, there must be some alien force present in Easy St, as the paperboy cannot move more than about 2 feet onto the road. Would it really have been so hard to make him randomly run over by a car if he ventured too far to the right?
The properties on the 16 bit versions all exhibit the same strange behaviour. They all have a house number on a hanging wooden post, and only the people that subscribe to the newspaper have an actual letterbox!
The Amiga version of Paperboy introduces some other crazy things into the game. Someone at the local council ought to be sacked for granting this idiot a permit to build a gate in the middle of the footpath:
One of the town contractors must have been on the take to buy such a quantity of long and dangerous stormwater grates. Rather than having the cross beams horizontally, they opted for the much more dangerous and rare vertical grates so the entire wheel of the bicycle can fall into them:
The same contractor was probably responsible for the budget gravestones. A single hit from a newspaper completely destroys the top of them on the Amiga:
The locals seem intent on leaving old style boomboxes littered around the place. This one property features two both outside in the garden:
Atari ST Version
The Atari ST version was the lead 16-bit version, with Elite converting the game to the Amiga at a later stage. The ST has it's usual NTSC display size of 320x200 and two panels on the right and underneath to reduce the amount of work the CPU had to do to render the screen. The panels combined take up 36% of the screen, and even then the game scrolls much jerkier than the Amiga version.
The gameplay itself seems to be identical to the Amiga, and features lawnmowers that seem to operate by themselves (most of the time attempting to mow concrete paths) as well as tyres moving in ultra-realistic square patterns.
The C64 version is a bit of a mixed bag. Undoubtedly the best thing about it is Mark Cooksey's music which is superb, especially the high score track. The gameplay is pretty good, but let down by the ropey collision detection. The graphics are rather strange, as the artist chose blue and black as the fixed colours for the sprites which gives everything a bizarre (and ugly) look. The paperboy sprite uses brown as it's variable colour, so you end up with a really ugly main character. The graphics for the scenery are pretty good, but once again the palette leaves a lot to be desired. To give each day a distinctive look, one colour is changed per level. On Monday yellow is used, which changes to white on Tuesday. Black is introduced on Wednesday, and by then the graphics have morphed from pretty good to utterly dreadful. Near the end of the week there is a brown and black combination which looks hideous!
The forced palette change for each day of the week makes the houses change colour even if the delivery was successful:
The same house on Tuesday after a successful Monday delivery now shows a white house:
If you failed to deliver the newspaper on Monday, the house has been knocked down and replaced with a completely different building, and even though the owner has cancelled their subscription, a parcel of newspapers is now dropped on the footpath directly outside the property:
There are some strange characters in the C64 version too, such as this guy that appears to dress up in a full size blue dog costume:
I really cannot understand why the buildings had to completely change depending on your success. Surely the houses could have been designed so that the tiles for the letterbox could be placed onto the houses if they were subscribers, and leave it at that? The C64 version swaps in 2 different tilesets, one for the main game and a different one for the stunt track at the end of the level. Several of the tiles overlap both in sets so that the change is hidden. More than 32kb of memory is used to keep the uncompressed tilemap of the houses!
So what's on the board, Miss Ford?
This whole rant has been a bit tongue-in-cheek, and the game has something that makes you want to fire it up every now and then for some quick mayhem. It's just that almost everything about it is completely crazy! Almost every object in the game seems to be just dumped onto the street without any kind of thought about making it relate to the gameplay.
You score more points for throwing a newspaper into the letterbox than getting it to land at the front door of the house. In many American movies, the owner hears their newspaper hit the front door and is happy to retrieve it from the doorstep. Yet the scoring works the opposite way.
Wheelbarrows are just dumped on the footpath and stay there all week. That would be a perfect excuse for someone to come out with a spade that you had to avoid. Instead you have random guys with jackhammers operating on grass. Lawn mowers and tyres magically moving by themselves. Cars that instantly stop when a newspaper hits them.
It's hard to imagine what on earth the designers were thinking when they came up with the gameplay, as it could have been much more fun with a bit more thought while removing some of the annoyances.
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