The Lemmings Family & Agatha Christie’s Death On The Nile (STBs)

HiScore TV // December 2003 – November 2004

Towards the end of 2003 I decided to return to games development, and joined HiScore TV as Creative Director. Back then, HiScore worked on games for set-top boxes (or STBs) – hence the company’s ‘TV’ suffix – and the team was small: just a handful of full-time producers and designers managing external coders, artists and musicians hired on an as-needed basis.

The first project I worked on was The Lemmings Family, based on Psygnosis’ classic series of action puzzlers. The original games were mouse controlled and demanded a level of response and precision impossible to replicate on a spongy TV remote, so the game was totally reworked from the ground up to make it suitable for STB play.

Out went the dozens of tiny lemmings to be replaced by four ‘adult’ and four ‘junior’ lemmings. By pushing left/right on the remote the player selected an adult lemming (junior lemmings were – much like real children – unruly and impossible to control), and by pushing up/down the player selected a skill and assigned it to the lemming with a press of ‘OK’.

Although a pretty substantial retooling, it all worked suprisingly well; the game captured much of the original series’ charm and the 20 levels offered some enjoyably ingenious puzzling fun. Unfortunately, the game was arguably too complex for the average ultra-casual STB gamer meaning that, despite moderate success, plans for level expansion packs were shelved.

Around this time I also worked on the ‘official’ Agatha Christie’s Death On The Nile STB game. The project was already well into development when I joined, and took the form of a simple yet engaging graphic adventure – the player assumed the role of Hercule Poirot, exploring the book’s locations and interrogating its characters in the hunt for a murderer.

It was all coming together nicely… until, as the game neared release, the coder realised he’d made some fundamental errors in the game engine design that meant it would work fine on a dev kit but not on a home STB – and worse, there was no way to fix the problem.

Sadly, the game had to be scrapped… and shortly after, HiScore hired an in-house technical director to avoid the same problem ever happening again!

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The player could only give orders to adult Lemmings, not the younglings.