There’s a part of me that inwardly grins whenever I see the latest big video game release condemned as a ‘broken, unplayable mess’ by the internet masses. The last notable title to garner such derision was Sega’s Aliens: Colonial Marines, which I purchased a few months ago for £1.99 from a popular high street retailer. Far from a ‘broken, unplayable mess’, I found Colonial Marines to be an enjoyable, if flawed, effort. Not perfect by any means, but good for a modicum of xenomorphic blasting fun.
Coincidentally, for the same money, you could have obtained a brand-spanking new copy of Sqij! back in the summer of 1987, a time when budget games were part of the slow death march of the 8-bit videogames market in the UK. Sqij! was released by a company called The Power House, which had begun life a year earlier as Alpha-Omega, the budget offspring of publisher and developer CRL Group. The ZX Spectrum version of Sqij! is renowned as one of the worst games ever; due to a bug, it couldn’t actually be played at all – surely the very definition of a broken, unplayable mess. Yet the story of Sqij! doesn’t begin on the Spectrum, but on its great rival, the Commodore 64 and a 12-year old by the name of Jason Kendall.
“I’d learned BASIC on a Commodore PET at my school,” says Kendall. “I talked my mum and dad into getting me a VIC-20 and started learning 6502 assembly language. When the C64 launched, I got one and wrote Sqij! – my first attempt at a game.” The young coder despatched several demo cassettes to mainly budget games companies, and Alpha-Omega were soon in touch. “I was 13 when I sold it to them, and the cassette inlay had a photo of me in it! It got me the princely sum of £300.”