I already talked how much video game preservation is important to me when I was talking about The Making of Karateka, the first volume in Digital Eclipse's Gold Master Series, a format of interactive documentaries about videogames and their stories. Having old games playable on modern systems is really important, but having the context of their creation (and also the wisdom and knowledge from who made them) helps me to look into those titles in a different way, specially when they didn't aged that well.

As I didn't had played Karateka before going into its museum, the announcement of Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story, Gold Master Series' second chapter, was the first time I ever heard Jeff Minter's name. Although I played a lot of old PC games in my childhood, I started my journey on the early years of Windows — "Commodore 64" was a name with no meaning in my head for years. But, fortunately, going into an exhibition without knowing nothing about it creates even more possibilites of being surprised and inspired.

Authentic in its purest form

If the past Digital Eclipse title was based on telling the story of a single game from start to finish, Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story focus more in creating a profile of Jeff Minter, a British game maker that is the founder, programmer, designer and the soul of Llamasoft, a indie software house that created some of the most experimental games you could find for 8-bit computers in the 80s. From his love for llamas (and other ruminants) to his never-ending quest for innovation, it's impossible not to be amazed by his games.

Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story

Content-wise, there's way less videos and documents than I expected in the four "chapters" of Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story. No game is really explored in too much depth, and they are most cited in groups representing both Jeff's and the industry's state year by year. Some specific stories are told in more detail — like the drama between Minter and reviewers that hated Mama Llama, or how shareware and the community saved Llamasoft in the 90s — but the goal of the content is more to give context to the games than the opposite.

Some of them got me surprised by how cool is to have access to those things in a collection like this. For example, looking into full quality scans of Steinar Lund's original arts for Llamasoft covers is so impressive! They are an incredible surrealist mix of animals and colors, and a delight to see. And probably my favorite non-game bit in the collection, I loved reading all available issues of Nature of the Beast, an actual, physical, mail-sent newsletter that Minter wrote back in the 80s to get in touch with the Llamasoft community. It so amazing to see how he was close to his fans the same way we do nowadays with Discord servers or Patreon campaigns.

Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story

And, to be fair, the contrast of the young Jeff Minter that was writing about his games month after month and the more older (and wiser) Jeff Minter we see in the video interviews also shows how much he learned, by doing the things the way he wanted. As a young game designer myself, it's really inspiring to see someone with a legacy so great, that impacted so many people, created from his own force of innovating and doing something different and unique.

Looking into the Llama Library

If this collection has way less documents to read and videos to watch, at least they have a LOT to play — and, to be fair, playing is the only way to try to understand some of Minter's ideas sometimes. Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story contains 42 games in its library, spanning through eight different platforms and almost two decades of history. Because of this ratio, you'll be using way more of your time with the title playing games instead of reading or watching videos.

Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story

Not every game is a hit for me, of course. Sometimes you got a game like Iridis Alpha or Sheep in Space and even after 30 minutes I couldn't understand what is going on; but in the context of a museum, it's just like finding an installation that doesn't click with you. In a lot of the titles I could understand the concept of it, but it felt too ahead of its time and too complex for the limitations the Commodores or the Ataris had. I would love to see a lot of those concepts reimagined for modern systems.

That said, some of the games were just... really good? Of course, they are mostly 20-years-old shooting games, but when Minter's design and coding was the right spot, great experiencies emerged. Metagalactic Llamas Battle at the Edge of Time (yes, this is the name) have a really cool geometric puzzle in how you can shoot. Llamatron: 2112 was a frenetic and completely crazy experience that I would love to see rethinked as a bullet heaven. Even the light synthesizers like Psychedelia were fun to toy with.

Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story

In some of the Llamasoft's biggest successes, you can also see how a concept evolved through the years and how each platform brought new elements to the mix. Gridrunner was one of my favorite Minter games and every port has a different vibe. In the VIC-20 it felt too much frenetic, but the Atari ST version was more slow and methodic. The best version though is Gridrunner Remastered, created by Digital Eclipse to this collection, just showing how much incredible some of those concepts can be outside the limits of yesterday.

It's sad though that the gaming library stops in 1994, with the amazing Tempest 2000 for the Atari Jaguar, truly one of Minter's masterpieces. Maybe for licensing reasons, emulation problems or just design impossibilities — a lot of Llamasoft recent work are virtual reality games — but I would love to see how Jeff would understand the modern scene of game design and adapt his own style on it.

Building a different type of narrative than the previous chapter of the Gold Master Series, Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story shows how wide and amazing gaming history can be. Learning more about Jeff Minter's work wasn't just inspiring for me as a designer, but just presented to me cool concepts and mechanics that were lost forgotten to a big part of the gaming community nowadays. If you like shoot'em'ups, or just want to know more about a crazy British dude that makes games about llamas, the exhibition is already open and you don't want to miss it.

The team behind this game sent me a press key so I could play it and write my review. Thanks for the trust!