Friday, 17 October 2014

Killed Until Dead (Accolade/US Gold, 1986)

Developed by Artech Digital Productions, Inc. for the Commodore 64: Deadly Design by Michael Bate and Rick Banks; Killer Code by MaryLou O'Rourke; Sinister Sound by Paul Butler; Gothic Graphics by Scott Fiander and Grant Campbell

Converted for the Apple ][ by Distinctive Software Inc., and released in 1987 through Accolade: Killed Code by Allan Johanson; Gothic Graphics by John Boechler

Converted for ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC by Canvas, and released through U.S. Gold in 1987: Killer Code and Sinister Sound by James Cornelius Bowman; Gothic Graphics by Dawn Drake, Simon Butler and Steve Cain

Released in the USA by Accolade and in Europe by US Gold.



Our horror themed month's first entry with no straight connection to any movie comes from Accolade. My good friend Bob from Sweden introduced me to this game almost 10 years ago, so this entry is again inspired from his influence on my retro gaming knowledge - thanks, buddy. Of course, one could argue that this particular game has little to do with horror, and more to do with mystery and sleuthing, and one would be perfectly correct there. But doesn't the idea of death itself have something to do with Hallowe'en?

At Lemon64, the game has so far reached a very respectable score of 8.6 with 33 votes, while at World of Spectrum, their conversion is not far behind, having a nicely rounded 8.00 with 17 votes. The only source for ratings I could find for the Amstrad and Apple versions, which was MobyGames, only had one vote for each version, both of which were a full 5 out of 5. Surely, it's impossible to take just one vote seriously, but it might give you an idea that the results might not be too bad after all.


In KUD, you take on the role of the World's Greatest Detective, mr. Hercule Holmes, who must face the ultimate challenge: to discover the Murderer, before the vile act has even been committed. All of the game's action takes place at the Gargoyle Hotel, where the world's Five Greatest Murder Mystery
writers are gathered for an interminate time, and plan to turn their fictional plots into real-life murder and mayhem. So, from the word go, we can see that this game doesn't take itself too seriously, which is an admirable feature in any game - particularly when the subject matter is bound to be otherwise so utterly macabre.

MobyGames lists this game as a detective/mystery adventure in 1st person perspective, while Lemon64 says it's a "miscellaneous" type of an adventure game. It has to be said, that the game is played in a very unique sort of way, and really the closest points of reference I can think of here are Hacker and Oil Imperium, or Football Manager 3. In other words, references are useless in this case. Killed Until Dead is basically a menu-driven graphical text adventure of sorts, which plays in a timed environment. You need to speak with people, search through their rooms when they're not there, perform surveillance with security cameras around the hotel and thus collect enough clues to determine who will commit the crime, how, where, and even why. The game ends when you decide to accuse someone, so you'd better be sure you are sure about your clues. There are no action sequences as such, but the game does have four different sets of mysteries in different difficulty levels, and the higher difficulty you choose, the more you need to do things and time your actions with care and speed.

With the proper mindset and enough time on your hands, this game can be seriously consuming and addicting, but for adventure fans, I cannot recommend it highly enough to try it out. It might not be everyone's thing, but I suspect the experience quality might have something to do with the version you happen to grab. So, let's move on to have a look at how the game loads.



This game is a multi-loader, so either way - cassette or disk - you're going to have to wait for the game to load quite often. Naturally, the easiest way out is to go with a disk version, if available. Unfortunately, it seems as if the Spectrum users have to settle for cassette, unless you're completely okay with playing on an emulator, in which case you can use an SLT file (a snapshot file containing all multi-loader level data files) and play without needing to worry about changing cassette sides. But it's not quite as bad as it looks like. Just for the heck of it, let's take a look at the amount of data on all the cassette versions.
Commodore 64 tape loading instructions screen.

AMSTRAD CPC: 35 minutes 3 seconds (4 cassette sides)
COMMODORE 64: 14 minutes 25 seconds (2 cassette sides)
ZX SPECTRUM: 28 minutes 16 seconds (2 cassette sides)

Now, this looks pretty drastic, and I will say that it is so for a couple of good reasons, but more on that a bit later on. I can't say for sure, because I just couldn't bother to check the times for this one, but I suspect the quickest disk loader is on the APPLE ][ version, followed by the AMSTRAD. The C64 version is a bit on the slow side, but it doesn't really make it much less enjoyable. Besides, if you're a seasoned C64 user, chances are you have some sort of fast loader cartridge to ease your pain, and those who follow the scene more closely will know that there are quicker options around.



Killed Until Dead is very much an icon/menu-driven sleuthing game, so the controls should be rather obvious and similar for all versions, which they are. It's the loading and calculation times and the speed of the controls that makes all the difference here. Depending on the quality of your little grey cells, the speed of the game might have its advantages and disadvantages.

When you start the game, you are given an option to attend the Hercule Holmes School of Sleuthdom, which runs you through the gameplay mechanics via certain cues, much like every modern game does at the beginning. If you decide to skip the interactive demonstration, you will be taken to the mystery selection menu. First, you will get to choose a difficulty level, each containing a different number of different cases to solve. The easiest, "Elementary, my dear Watson" level includes 7 cases, "Murder, Medium Rare" level and "Cases for the Cunning" level both contain 5 cases, and the hardest level, "Super Sleuth" contains only four.

Since it would be ridiculous to compare every single case between all the versions, I have chosen to focus my comparison on a single randomly chosen mystery: "Blackmail" from "Murder, Medium Rare". As far as I'm able to tell, all the versions play completely similarly, where all the clues and questionings are concerned. Only in very minor game mechanics do any of them have any actual difference, such as having to wait for a while in some screens before being able to exit or move on, and taking different amounts of time in certain animations and sound cues to pass. Well okay, perhaps the APPLE ][ version handles a bit more sluggishly than the rest, which can be a bit cumbersome, but I'm not sure if it's a problem with the emulation or is that the way the game handles on a real Apple, so I can't be entirely certain if it's any worse really. I'd say everybody's pretty much on the same level in terms of playability. So, the only thing left for me is to describe how the game actually plays.

First, you will get an anonymous phone call, which suggests you to check your files on all the five suspects. So, after having dealt with the phone, you can choose to either go through all the files, or go straight to the case, which starts at surveillance.

Surveillance consists of two things: snooping around in the suspects' rooms and monitoring conversations around the Gargoyle Hotel. First, you need to break into as many personal rooms as you can, to find information on meetings and other useful things. Break-ins always feature a quiz question, which you must answer correctly before you are allowed into the room. If you fail at breaking in at first, you can reset the quiz guard by going away for a while and trying again. Once you've found out some schedules for meetings, you can either make the surveillance cameras record the meetings or monitor each meeting manually. On later levels, though, this will become really busy and messy, so you will have to use the recorder at some point.

Once you have gathered enough information on surveillance, you can start calling the five suspects and ask them questions about the murderer, the victim, the murder weapon and the crime scene, but to get to ask about these things, you need to pass a test - mention something questionable that you found from each person's private rooms. When you manage to get a panic reaction from any of the suspects, you know you're on to something. When playing on the easy level, you can trust all the highlighted info, but on the later levels, you will be given conflicting information more and more the harder the level is. So, you will really need to put your little grey cells to work here. Finally, when you feel you have gathered enough solid evidence and information, you can accuse one of the five occupants, although you can do that even before gathering any evidence. Frankly, I think this particular aspect of this game is a bit silly and doesn't make much sense - feels like it was forgotten to check in the final bugtests before the game was released (even Argus Press's "The Detective Game" from the same year requires you to have enough clues before you can accuse anyone). Whether you get it right or wrong, the case will be closed for that particular attempt, but the ending scene played will be the one according to your success.

Truly, the biggest thing that matters regarding playability in this game is, surprisingly, the format of media. The C64, AMSTRAD and APPLE ][ versions of the game need to load information every time you do something majorly different, such as go through all the surveillance bits or phone calls. For that reason alone, you should go for the disk release, since it allows you to go through different sequences back and forth in any order. Of course, the APPLE version only exists on a disk version anyway. What is more notable in the C64 tape version, though, is the amount of cases to solve, which is only 11 compared to the disk version's 21. I don't know if this is the case with the AMSTRAD version, since I couldn't get any of the tape image files to work on any of my emulators, but the SPECTRUM version has them all on the tape, which is a respectable feat. Even more impressive is that all the cases load up in one big bunch of data - no need to load any of the sequences separately. This does have its effect on some of the non-gameplay type aspects in the game, but I do have to say, the SPECTRUM version plays absolutely fantastically, once the chosen case has been loaded in.

So, I'm not entirely sure if this is the right way to go with this, but as the loading mechanics have so much effect on the way you experience the game, I will have to give the scores regardingly. Also, I will base my score given to the APPLE version by its assumed control sluggishness factor. And finally, I cannot take into account a format that is unusable on a real computer, so the SPECTRUM score will be based on the tape version.

1. C64 / CPC - disk versions
2. SPECTRUM tape
3. APPLE disk
4. C64 / CPC - tape versions



We have one of our graphically heaviest games so far on our hands here, so be patient, as things are about to get a bit difficult, and you might need to click on many of the compiled pictures to see anything properly, because the Blogspot pages have been constructed in such a way as to make it difficult to format the articles in any sensible manner with big graphics. Anyway, since the game originally had no actual loading screen apart from the C64's disheartening tape loading instructions screen, we need to start from the opening sequence.

Title sequences, from top to bottom: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Apple ][, ZX Spectrum.

As you might have sometimes seen it written around the internet, the game's "alternative" full title is supposedly "Killed Until Dead - Murder At Midnight", which is derived from the plotline's final three words in the credits screen. I have never seen it on any of the original covers of the game, nor in any of the advertisements, so it must be someone's wild imagination to include it as part of the title. Well, to be fair, "Murder At Midnight" is basically what happens every time in the game if you don't succeed in your mission, and the words are featured in such a way on the credits screen as to make it look like a bigger part of it than it really is.

But let's get to the actual matter at hand, shall we? The title screen is animated on the C64 and the APPLE versions to match with the thunderstorm, and the "Murder At Midnight" screens look the most alike on those two as well, at least in terms of atmosphere. The colouring is different in all cases, on all screens, and you can also get a good view of the game's chosen default font on the "Story So Far" screen. Already, we are here getting some sort of idea what to expect of the graphical comparison.

Different views of your sleuthing home office.
From day to night with occasional extra graphics: Commodore 64 (top row) and Apple ][ (middle row).
Phone ringing screens for Amstrad CPC (bottom left) and ZX Spectrum (bottom right) - red flashing borders.

Here we have a collage of variations of the main desk screen. Some of the expectations from earlier are now fulfilled with the amount of graphical details that can be found in each version. The C64 and APPLE versions here triumph over the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions in having a full time of day cycle from noon to midnight, featuring four differently coloured skies and some surprise animations featured later in the day. The other two pictures show the red border flashing effect that is displayed when the phone is ringing on the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions. I think the object shapes and perspectives have been made to look the most natural on the APPLE version, but I like the colouring most on the AMSTRAD and C64, even if both are entirely different.

Folders for the suspect files, from left to right:
Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Apple ][, ZX Spectrum.

Still at the main desk, let's take a look at your files folder. It's not very graphical, but wrong colours can make it surprisingly difficult to read. The worst one of the lot here is the AMSTRAD version, followed by the C64's black-against-red files. The other two are very clear, and still both very different.

Examples of a suspect file (Mike Stammer), from left to right:
Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Apple ][, ZX Spectrum.

To cut down on the graphic heaviness of this section, here's a comparison of just Mike Stammer's file instead of all five of the suspects. All the faces will be shown further down. Now, it could be argued that the C64 and APPLE versions again share a trait of having a full-screen background colour, even if on the Apple it's black instead of dark cyan. (And I have to apologize again for the quality of the pictures, making some of the graphics not very representative of reality, but my tools suck.) Still, I can safely say that the C64 version has the best drawn and best coloured mugshots of all the suspects. The APPLE version follows the original quite faithfully, while the other two give the characters some slightly different characteristics, such as the beard on Stammer's face on the AMSTRAD. I do like the SPECTRUM version's font the best, though.

Surveillance room's main menu, from left to right:
Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Apple ][, ZX Spectrum.

This bit turned out to be interesting. Even though the SPECTRUM usually shines with more detailed graphics, it's the APPLE version that wins out in details and showing that much more thought has been put into this version, compared to the other three. All the equipment looks properly complex like they are supposed to, and even the actual monitoring control screen benefits from having a slightly more crude-looking interface. All the shapes still look the best on SPECTRUM, but all in all, the APPLE version appears to its advantage here. The other two aren't bad either, but feel like the graphicians haven't specialized in this stuff.

All the game's rooms, as viewed through the surveillance cameras.
Top left: Apple ][. Top right: Commodore 64. Bottom left: Amstrad CPC. Bottom right: ZX Spectrum.

As you see from the picture before the above, the surveillance base features a small surveillance screen. Here, you see all the rooms ordered alphabetically for all four versions, which are more precisely Agatha's, Claudia's, Foyer, Hall, Library, Mike's, Patio, Peter's and Sydney's. Again, the amount of details and the picture perspective are the most life-like and impressive on the APPLE, even if at the same time it happens to be the messiest of the lot. On the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD cameras, the perspective is a bit awkward, and the colouring is often a bit strange. The C64 surveillance pictures fall somewhere in between, being neither completely in perspective or completely straight - in fact, it's a bit skewed, which makes it even worse in that sense, but the colours save a lot. To be fair, none of these screens are too bad, considering the space given for each screen, and in any case, you won't be focusing on much else than whether or not someone is in their rooms.

Failed break-in screens, from left to right:
Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Apple ][, ZX Spectrum.

There are two ways to fail at breaking in the suspects' rooms: failing to answer the quiz correctly and if someone happens to be in the room. When there is someone in the room, the peephole slides open and you will see a pair of eyes looking back at you. When you fail to answer the quiz correctly, a hotel guard steps in and settles himself in front of the door, effectively blocking your way in for the next 10 minutes or so. All the guards wear a differently coloured uniform, and the AMSTRAD guard is even wearing sunglasses. He also wears no mustache, unlike all the other guards. The SPECTRUM guard looks a bit Japanese, and has a thinner mustache than the more French-looking guard on the C64 and APPLE versions.

Successful break-in screens (Sydney's room), from left to right:
Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Apple ][, ZX Spectrum.

As we have already seen all the monitored rooms in the Gargoyle, there's only really need to see one successful break-in, so let's see how the door opens to Sydney's room, because he's got the sense to have some Duke Ellington on the stereo. Besides, I don't want to give too many clues away here.

Setting up the surveillance recorders, from left to right:
Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Apple ][, ZX Spectrum.

Even though all the versions of the surveillance monitor recorder work the same way, the highlight colours are different, and should probably be mentioned, even if it's a really minor thing. Most notably, the APPLE version's recorder doesn't have SET switches, but instead ON/OFF switches, which in a way is more logical, but inconsistent with the others. The AMSTRAD's recording system is slightly buggy in that when you set up the recorder to record a room with an apostrophe, the yellow highlight will stay on the genetive after you have set it up, until you change it to something else. It's a minor quip, but still notable, since it is always there. Otherwise, I think the C64 and SPECTRUM recorder systems have the clearest look due to the fonts and colours in use.

Basic phone call screens, from left to right:
Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Apple ][, ZX Spectrum.

When you decide to give someone a call, or someone calls you, you will get a torn up screen like this, featuring the other speaker on the left and the room on the right. Naturally, your speech options are at the bottom half of the screen. The suspect overlay looks properly cartoonishly stylised on the C64 and APPLE versions - once again - and the other two versions have a more awkward blocky separating line.

Comparison of all the facial expressions during phone conversations.
Top left: Commodore 64. Top right: Apple ][. Bottom left: Amstrad CPC. Bottom right: ZX Spectrum.
And here are all the facial expressions of all your suspects from all the versions. Since all the faces are animated in all the versions, I couldn't bother to pick out every single frame, but you should get the basic idea from here. If not, you could always load up the game yourself to see what they really look like. I'm of two minds in this case: the C64 version is clearly of the highest quality from the lot, having the most colour in the characters themselves, and the pictures are multicolour hi-res - what more could you possibly want? Well, the APPLE version has the most variations in background colours, so that's something. Of course, you could also take a traditional comic book method and draw everything in black and white, as the SPECTRUM version does, but I think I prefer the original in this case.

Bad ending sequences, from left to right:
Commodore 64, Apple ][, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum.

If you fail in your mission, a bad sort of an ending sequence will play. In other words, the said murder at midnight will likely be one with you as the victim. All the end-of-game death sequences are a bit different. The original fades gradually to black after being shot, and here surprisingly the AMSTRAD version is the only one to follow suit. The other two have a different sort of a discentigrating effect, with some blood added for a nice effect on the SPECTRUM.

Since the epilogue screens contain information that I would rather not show to you so you can sleuth your way through the case properly by yourself, I will not show them here. Besides, it would serve little purpose, since they are featured on a similar computer screen as you see in the "Story So Far" screen and elsewhere.

When considering a game with a subject matter of this kind, atmosphere is the key word when you're trying to determine, which one has the most suitable graphics. I was surprised to find that the APPLE version is the closest to what I would want from this sort of game, had it not so very messy graphics in general. The bonus animations and the change of light after 5 o'clock give it that much more atmosphere than what is on the two Canvas conversions. However, the C64 original has all this as well as clarity in graphics, even if some small details are not quite up to scratch. Finally, I will have to let the two Canvas conversions share the spot, because both have a similar amount of deficiencies in colour and animation, even if they are a bit different.

2. APPLE ][



Mirroring the increasingly famous words of the best-known canine novelist in the world, the original C64 game starts with a dark and stormy night. This stormy sequence has only been translated to the APPLE, and the other two only have the stormy picture as a loading screen. Even on the APPLE, the storm sounds a bit low quality and tinny - not my kind of a storm really.

As KUD is less of an action game, and more of a slow puzzle/adventure, it is only logical that it should have a good amount of music as a soundtrack. Thankfully, all the versions have some. All the five suspects have their own theme song: Sydney's song is the theme from Dragnet, Stammer's song is the Peter Gunn Theme, Flimsey's song is the Funeral March of the Marionette by Charles Gounod (also famous for being the title tune for Alfred Hitchcock Presents), Agatha's tune is a variation of the Beatles' "When I'm Sixty-Four" (well isn't that cute), and Claudia has her own jazzy sort of a tune which sounds more feminine than all the other tunes in a way. The only other sound that all the versions of KUD share is the telephone ringing - and even that is different in all versions.

The differences regarding the main tunes are interesting here. The original C64 version uses lots of octave-based effects in the songs, giving less room for harmony, but the instrumentation is very expressive and varied. Contrary to this, the AMSTRAD version gives a more harmonic presentation of the songs, but with less expression and a more one-sided instrumentation. Strangely, the APPLE and SPECTRUM versions share a very similar quality in sound, as the songs are played in single tone, but the one utilised sound is a wavy sort of a trumpet-like beep. Too bad the SPECTRUM's tunes are quite flawed in execution: Claudia's theme is in a minor key and wrong rhythm, Agatha's theme makes a modulation in the middle that is not supposed to be there, and the Hitchcock tune starts with a wrong note.

As if that weren't enough, there are some other, very singular differences in all the versions. The C64 version starts off with a variation on the Pink Panther Theme in the title sequence after you have proceeded from the actual title screen onwards, and a similarly slow swing-jazz drum pattern is played constantly in the background in the game, so you'll never have a quiet moment. When you fail in your mission by reaching midnight, the clock will strike its gong 12 times in the original, while the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions play the Westminster Quarters sets 4 and 5 (the first two sets from the third quarter). The APPLE version doesn't even play any notes, it just waits until the clock strikes 12:15 as it goes to on the C64, and then the bad ending is triggered. And finally, the AMSTRAD version doesn't have any kind of a gunshot sound at the end, while the other three all have a different sort of a gunshot sound.

There are some other sounds on the C64 version that I know exist, but haven't been able to find them in any other context than by listening through the extracted SID file. It is an interesting lot, which I some day hope to find, and it only goes to show how much of stuff there was planned for the game, but not necessarily used. Overall, I think it's obvious how far above the original is from the rest here, but also, how capable any of the machines are with the hardware available. The game code, as well as all the graphics take so much of memory that you would always need to make compromises, whatever the platform. And whatever the reason for it, the results remain obvious.

3. APPLE ][



This will not help the lack of balance in the comparison winning statistics, but at this point, I don't really care. All that matters for me is, is the game even nearly as good as the original on any other machine? Well, in a word, yes. So close to being as good, in fact, that I'm inclined to think that whichever machine of these four you happen to own at this day and age, you should consider yourselves lucky to be able to buy this game for it. The enjoyability of Killed Until Dead has mostly to do with the format of your choice - disk or tape. Even then, the Spectrum version is rather impressive for being as playable as it is, so it's all good.
U.S. Gold cover art from the Spectrum version.

Here are the final mathematical results:

1. COMMODORE 64 (disk):
Playability 4, Graphics 3, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 11
2. AMSTRAD CPC (disk):
Playability 4, Graphics 1, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 8
2. COMMODORE 64 (tape):
Playability 1, Graphics 3, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 8
3. APPLE ][ (disk):
Playability 2, Graphics 2, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 6
4. ZX SPECTRUM (tape):
Playability 3, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 4
4. AMSTRAD CPC (tape):
Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 4

It's a bit of a mess, but truthfully, it's not nearly as bad as it looks, so the bottom line again is: don't trust mathematics, people! Really, I'd rather play the Spectrum version from tape than, for example, the Apple version, or even the C64 tape version. But maybe that's just me. Why not try them all out by yourselves and decide. Killed Until Dead is well worth the try, and for my money, easily the best old-school sleuthing game.

That's it for now, hope you enjoyed it!
Comments, corrections and suggestions are welcome as ever!


  1. I played the Spectrum version of the game extensively and absolutely loved it. I even went through all the different cases! I believe the only "nag" of the game is the multi-load system, but apart from that KUD is a deep and absorbing title besides being quite original. I wrote a review for the website, which you can read here (use Google translate if you can't understand Italian - results might be funny somehow but at least you'll have a general impression of my points):

    Overall, I believe that taking all factors into account, a score of 4 is too low. I'd rather give 2 for graphics and 2 for sounds, which bring the total to a more acceptable 6 - although I personally love the game so much I would not rate it less than 8 overall; I believe the total is always much more than the sum of the single parts, and this is a shining example of that :-D

    With such a lousy score of 4, someone who never played the game on the Spectrum (or Amstrad tape for that matter) would be wrongly assuming that KUD is an absolute stinker on that platform. Mathematics are not to be trusted indeed - so why bothering with them then? :-)

    1. My point exactly. ;-) Thanks for the comment again, Alessandro.

      I guess I need to remind people every two months or so, that the basis on which I give any of the scores is not each versions' worth on its own, and while I do think the Spectrum performs quite acceptably, from an almost entirely musical point of view, the Spectrum version is much more off than the other versions. The sounds themselves are just as good as on the Apple version - this is why it didn't score as well as the Apple version in that regard. I think I explained it well enough above, but you must have missed it. The graphics in the Spectrum version... well, again, you must have missed it, but there's so much more stuff to be seen on the Apple version than there is on the Spectrum, which earns it the higher score.

      Again, the overall scores are a very rough guideline of my thoughts to people who don't like to read, which is why I tend to usually remind people of not trusting the mathematics. :-P But yes, Killed Until Dead is definitely worth more than its total sum of parts, and it's a very recommendable game. :-)