Everyone says that your school days are the happiest of your life, although from experience I can tell you that it didn’t feel that way at the time. For a start, all the other kids had Amigas and Atari STs, and all I had was a lowly Spectrum. Attribute clash, rubber keys and loading from tape are all a big deal in playground squabbles.
One thing the Speccy had in its favour though was fun and innovative games. The graphical limitations meant that programmers were obliged to put more effort in to the game play and squeezing the most out of meagre resources, and this resulted in some truly monumental games.
One such title was Skool Daze, coded by husband-and-wife team David and Helen Reidy. Helen had a background in education, while David was the engineer and came up with some of the more ‘extra-curricular’ activities in the game. They recruited family friend Keith Warrington to work on the graphics, a task he apparently handled using graph and tracing paper.
Sadly, I didn’t own the game when I was at school, such was the difficulty in getting hold of such things in the pre-www era. However, as an adult, I can see both its originality and influence as one of the earliest sandbox games, where you are dropped into a world with a vague objective and left to get on with things, like the later Elite, Syndicate or GTA.
Playing The Game
You play the part of Eric, a pupil who needs to obtain his report card from the staff room safe by performing various tasks around the school. There are plenty of non-player characters playing the roles of teachers and pupils – some named (such as the infamous Mr Wacker) and the rest anonymous. A nice feature is the ability to rename these characters before the game starts, so you can play with your own favourite (or most hated) school personalities. The teachers will give you lines if they catch you doing anything untoward (which is quite often) and the game ends if you get to 10,000 lines. Other pupils will help or hinder you, sometimes on purpose, and sometimes by accident. Don’t stand to close to a teacher if someone has just fired a slingshot at him!
Once the school bell goes, you can pretty much wander round and do what you like – firing your slingshot, hitting your mates or just exploring the school. It can get a bit monotonous after a while though, so it’s tempting to actually try completing the game, which is no mean feat. A walkthough on YouTube shows that it can take as long as 40 minutes to get your report and pass the school year – a long time to be pressing ye olde rubber keys!
The characters – especially the teachers – are wonderfully drawn and animated, and the whole map looks amazing. It must have been an effort to cram it all in and still make the game playable. What’s even more astounding is how well it runs, even with a dozen or more characters on the screen at a time, and it even scrolls! You do truly feel you’re in a school, surrounded by all that chaos.
The end of the game is a bit of an anticlimax, and once you have completed it, there’s not much to go back for. Presumably, these criticisms at the time prompted the new features in the sequel, adding longevity and a bit more replay value.
In addition to the groundbreaking game play there’s a rather natty demo mode, which almost acts like a screensaver, and allowing you to get a feel of the school before playing.
The only real let down of the game is the sound – little more than a screeching bell. However, with such wonderful aesthetics, this can be forgiven. You can always put some Madness on in the background.
Reliving your Skool Daze
Nowadays, the original ROM is available on World Of Spectrum, as is the sequel (which included a love interest, more projectiles and a caretaker). Numerous remakes and homages have appeared down the years, including an iOS app by Jonathan Needle and there is an official remake from Alternative on the way (as of writing).
- Klass Of ’99
- iOS version by Jonathan Needle
- I Hate Skool
- Official Remake by Alternative Software
Its modern popularity – demonstrated by the plethora of remakes and fan sites – underlines both the quality of the idea and its execution, and both it and its sequel rightly take their place in the upper echelons of Speccy folklore.