Title: Daley Thompson's Decathlon
Developer: Ocean Software (Paul Owens , Christian F. Urquhart)
Publisher: Ocean Software
Date Published: 1984
Platforms: ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, BBC Micro
Age Rating: N/A

Daley Thompson's Decathlon is an athletics simulation in a similar vein to 1983's Track & Field arcade game by Konami and Decathlon by David Crane (a.k.a. The Activision Decathlon). It was created to capitalise on the success of those games, which in turn had been created to capitalise on the popularity of athletics at the time (sparked by the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire, and the highly publicised 1984 Olympic Games).

The game is controlled with three keys (or joystick actions): left foot, right foot, and action (jump or throw depending on the event). As with the games mentioned above, the input method involves alternately hitting the left foot and right foot keys as quickly as possible, the quicker a consecutive sequence of left and right presses is entered, the faster the player runs. Games with this control method were often refered to as 'joystick wagglers'. (The system has remained a favourite with developers throughout the ages, cropping up in titles as varied as Viz: The Computer Game, Sydney 2000 and the Mario Party games.)

All ten of the decathlon events are represented in the game: 100 Metres, Long Jump, Shot Putt, High Jump, 400 Metres, 110m Hurdles, Pole Vault, Discus, Javelin and 1500 Metres. Because there was not enough memory to store the all the events at once, the game is a 'multiloader': the player(s) play through the first five events (day one) and then are prompted to start the tape to load in the remaining five events (day two). For each event you must achieve a minimum qualifying distance or time (getting three attempts in the non-running events), and failure to qualify costs you one of three lives. A successful performance in a given event makes your athlete raise his arms in delight, and elicits a cheering (ZX Spectrum version: hissing) response from the crowd. A failure makes your athlete scratch his head in frustrated disgust.

The 100m and 400m are the most basic events. You simply have to bash away at the left and right keys to keep your speed as high as possible as your smoothly-animated little athlete guy runs from left to right on a scrolling track with crowds passing by in parallax in the background. The 110m hurdles adds, well, hurdles, which have to be cleared by tapping the action button at the correct moment, while still waggling furiously. The 1500 metres thankfully does not involve five or six minutes of sustained button bashing- instead you simply have to press one button to accelerate and one to slow down. An element of strategy is introduced by the inclusion of an energy (stamina) bar, which is depleted more rapidly the faster you run, and is slowly replenished if you run a lot slower than full tilt. If all your stamina is depleted you are forced to retire from the race.

Long Jump and High Jump are presented from the same side-on view as the running events, and in both cases centre on the timing of your jump (jump too late or early and score a foul), with the speed that you run at the point of launch determining how high or far you go. Pole Vault is treated similarly, although the angle at which the pole hits the ground has an effect on whether you can successfully clear the bar. (This event is particularly infuriating as you ideally need to start lowering the pole before the crossbars come onto the screen.)

For the throwing events, the shot-putt and javelin are both treated very similarly, with the running speed being the major factor in how far they go. The angle of the javelin can be controlled by the duration that the action button is held down for, although this is usually only a split second making fine-tuning difficult if not impossible. The discus event is handled quite differently however- the pit/cage/launching area is depicted from a bird's eye view, with the athlete, arms akimbo, being spun around with the left and right keys. The throw button must be pressed at the exact right moment or the discus will be launched fruitlessly into a wall. Managing to throw the discus the right way cuts to a zoomed-out view of the field, showing the discus travelling through the air and hitting the ground. (Humourously, a foul shot still makes your athlete do his 'head scratching' routine from the side-on events, making him appear to fall over in the pit.)

It has frequently been pointed out that in the ZX Spectrum version, the player controlled athlete is white where as Daley Thompson is in fact, black. (This is meant, at least I hope so, as a joke- the sprite you control isn't just white-skinned, he's completely white due to the limited way in which the Spectrum handles colours.) Logically, the player character is not supposed to be Daley Thompson himself. He doesn't even have a moustache.

The game was a significant commercial success for Ocean (as a result being included on the They Sold A Million compilation). The game spawned two semi-sequels, Daley Thompson's Supertest in 1985, and Daley Thompson's Olympic Challenge in 1988 (which was also released on the 16-bit formats).

When we were school kids, my brother and I were co-owners of a new Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48K, with four-bit colour, tinny sound through a little speaker, and a little rubber keyboard.

Many summer's days were spent in the living room with the curtains drawn, the windows open, and the spectrum plugged into the TV. A year or two too young for the birds and the bees, we played games like the one where you steered a bee from flower to flower, dodging birds, getting heavier and less manoeuvrable the more nectar you collected. We played Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy. We played AtticAtac, Knightlore, Sabre Wulf and Alien-8 in lurid colour. We played Stonkers and Pentetrator, The Way of the Exploding Fist, Chuckie Egg and Airwolf, The Hobbit and The Lords of Midnight, and Harrier Flight Simulator.

This all came about via a trading network at school. When someone got a new game, as they came on audio cassette, he would make copies and trade them. This being an analogue system, the generation of the copies was important, since copies too far removed from the original would not work. Aside from hoarders who refused to trade on equal terms, and the occasional scuffles and "my computer's better than your computer" arguments with the commodore VIC-20-owning crowd, we spectrum kids were doing all right.

For the game Jetpac, we worked out that there was no penalty and lots of benefit to your little spaceman firing continuously, so we ended up weighting down that key with a paperweight balanced on a rhombus-shaped ashtray. That little grey plastic key was never the same again.

One afternoon we got hold of the latest game, the much-anticipated Daley Thompson's Decathlon. Oh the hours of fun that we were going to have! However, within a few minutes we realised that the gameplay consisted of this, and this only: how many times could you press a particular key in a given period of time. Delicate steering, split-second timing, puzzle-solving, figuring out a route to avoid all the deathtraps on the screen, working out how to stop Thorin sitting down and singing about gold? Forget it, all this game wanted to know is how fast you could make like a frantic wanker, jerking your arm up and down like an onanist in convulsions.

Take away the fancy picture of a man trundling along the screen, his legs flapping and his body immobile, and I could almost have coded it back then. Despite not having paid money for the game, we still felt cheated. It was total crap, and very soon discarded.

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