We’re all familiar with the most played Christmas song from last year. It’s been echoing around our houses, pubs and nightclubs for over 30 years. Do They Know It’s Christmas was written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure as a reaction to the mid 80’s famine in Ethiopia. Recorded by Band Aid, the single was released in December 1984 and stayed at the number 1 slot for several weeks. It sold a million copies in it’s first week and was the biggest selling single of all time until Elton John blew us out with his windy candle. Whilst Western government’s were sitting on their arses deciding whether to help or not, within a year of it’s release, Band Aid had raised £8 million for the Ethiopian cause.
What’s less known is Soft Aid. Soft Aid was the videogame industry’s reaction to the crisis, instigated and released by Quicksilva’s Rod Cousens in late ’85, it’s aim was to support the Ethipoian cause from a software point of view. Released on tape for both the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64, the tape was a compilation of games for each computer, with the Band Aid single also recorded onto side 1. This was probably the first time that software had been used to support a charity and the artwork by video game cover artist David Rowe featured a rather poignant image of a stark desert, blue sky and humblingly thin character sitting to the right. It was also one of the first compilations made up of previously released games, other than Telstar’s Select 1.
Various software houses donated games for the compilation, including Quicksilva themselves with Ant Attack for the Speccy and Fred for the C64. There were also some cross platform games including Elite’s Jet Set Willy beater Kokotoni Wilf and US Gold’s platformer Gilligans’s Gold. Costs were kept to a bare minimum for the package, and software houses even began queuing up to get their games on the single tape, which led to further compilations down the road, such as “Off the Hook”.
Soft Aid sold for a very reasonable £4.99, equating to about 50p per game, and this led to the tape becoming a best seller almost instantly. It stayed at the top of software charts for 4 months and continued to appear in top 10 charts well into 1986, leading to raised funds of over £350,000! Not bad for an emerging industry!
The compilations differed for each format, with the Speccy version arguably the best, but then there were many more games available for Sinclair’s workhorse in the UK At this time. Let’s take a look at the games…
BeamRider – A budget shoot ’em up from 1984
China Miner – a ridiculously hard platformer
Falcon Patrol – which is a defender clone with jet fighters
Flak – an early smup with good graphics and effects
Fred – basically Indiana Jones, with a more common name and no licence
Gilligan’s Gold – a collecting game which was pretty darn hard
Gumshoe – a clone of possibly my favourite 80s game, Elevator action
Gyropod – was a variation on the space shoot’em up formula
Kokotoni Wilf – Jet set Willy with wings
and… Star Trader – which was heavily based around the legendary Elite
Whilst Spectrum owners could get their hands on…
3D Tank Duel – Realtime games made it’s name with this Battlezone clone
Ant Attack – was Sandy White’s famous game featuring massive, deadly ants, and one of the first isometric games
Gilligan’s Gold – was actually a C64 port and was pretty similar
Horace goes Skiing – Hungry Horace! One of my favourite video game characters!
Jack & the Beanstalk – Trial and error, more error than trial if I’m honest
Kokotoni Wilf – Jet set Willy with wings
The Pyramid – Made by Fantasy was simple, gunning fun
Sorcery – action, adventure and fast pace!
Spellbound – a Q*bert clone!
and.. Starbike – Similar to Lunar jetman and a pretty good game!
The compilation idea itself went on to start a new niche in the software industry of re-packaging old games into bargain collections, and the charity format itself would later be the idea behind compilations such as KidsPlay and even the current HumbleBundle!
If you remember any of these games, drop a comment below and let’s reminisce about charity and gaming, like it was 1985.