The game

Historical Context

In August 1983, a game that would mark a turning point in the history of computer programs was released in United Kingdom: Ant Attack. It was developed by Sandy White and distributed by Quicksilva. What made this game so special was the use of isometric perspective to render its scenario, a city, that the player could walk around being either a boy or a girl. It is true the first game to employ an isometric perspective was Zaxxon (Sega, 1982). However, its freedom of action is incomparable to Mr. White's game.

Zaxxon (Sega, 1982)
Zaxxon (Sega, 1982)

If you are a newbie, a screenshot of the game might make you think that the game offers no attractive features. Nevertheless we should learn to appreciate originality and use of new techniques in software development (or in any other area). After all, those million polygons and colors used in Age of Empires saga, for instance, come from this game. The biggest attractive in a game is its addictivity: if it can grab your attention or not.

Ant Attack (Quicksilva, 1983)
Ant Attack (Quicksilva, 1983)

Now, let's center ourselves around Christmas of 1984. Ashby Computers & Graphics (A.C.G.), better known as Ultimate, after the hits achieved with titles as Jet Pac or Sabre Wulf, surprises the computer industry with a production that was, and still is, a revolutionary zenith: Knight Lore. Ultimate introduced the famous Filmation technique used to develop this game. Filmation renders scenarios making use of the isometric perspective while allowing a freedom of manipulation of the objects present in the rooms never seen before.

Knight Lore (A.C.G., 1984)
Knight Lore (A.C.G., 1984)

A.C.G. introduced Filmation II system in Nightshade. It could be considered more an evolution of the technique applied in Ant Attack than from its predecessor Filmation. Filmation II used the isometric perspective focusing on the hero moving through a great map. Nevertheless it didn't have the impact of its predecessor.

A lot of games used Ultimate technique, among them the object of these pages: Head over Heels. It appeared in 1987 and was released by Ocean Software. Ocean was the most powerful company about video game development and distribution in Europe. Head over Heels programmer, Jon Ritman, had already got great successes with games like Match Day or Batman, but this title would rise him to the definitive idolatry of many fans.

Head over Heels follows the line of Batman but includes a remarkable difference: the control of two symbiotic characters; sometimes separate, sometimes together. This characteristic really adds addiction points to the game. Bernie Drummond's graphics surpass remarkably those of Batman─each room being taken care until the last detail. The sound and music were responsibility of Guy Stephens.

Head over Heels is undoubtedly a masterpiece and the culmination of using isometric perspective in videogames structured in rooms. On the other side, evolution of Filmation II, we have that wonder developed by Francisco Menéndez and Juan Delcán named La abadía del crímen, i.e. The Abbey of Crime.

Ritman used a technique of modular programming to develop the game, that is to say, he structured it in different parts of the program such as keyboard control, screen display, and so on. This allowed game conversion to numerous systems (you can see all these versions here). In addition he took maximum advantage of the memory. For example, the map (more than 300 rooms) has 5 KB in size only.

Head over Heels

You control two characters, each one with his own and completely different skills. Head is feetless, and he has to crawl, quite slowly. However, he has a sort of wings under his arms that allow him to perform big jumps and glide. On the other way, Heels has a very discreet jump and doesn’t glide (he has no arms), but he has huge feet that make him to move at a great speed. When they join, the new character acquires the abilities of both of them. Besides, Head can use a horn to shoot doughnuts to his enemies in order to paralyze them. Heels can use a handbag to store an object while not exiting the screen.

Carátula del juego
Game cover

The game begins with the two characters imprisoned in Blacktooth Castle dungeons, far one from the other and without their items. The first aim is to escape and find both the horn and the handbag. After that, they must go on to reach the market that surrounds the castle. There, Head and Heels will be able to rejoin and go to the base that is in Blacktooth Moon. In that base it's placed the Empire Teletransport Engine, that can be used to travel to any of the four subjugated planets: Egyptus, Penitentiary, Safari and Book World.

The final aim is to find and recover five lost crowns. There is one in each of the outer planets, and the fifth one is in the very Blacktooth itself. Once achieved, Head and Heels will have to find the way to return to his native planet, Freedom.

Key Objects

The strangest animal in the known universe! This fish likes to be eaten! There have been cases of it jumping onto plates! But there is more: when you eat one, its prodigious memory remembers everything about you. Its memory is so good that if you die at some later date, you will be reincarnated at the very place you ate the fish, and you will even have the taste still in your mouth! How a fish can remember anything when its been eaten has never been successfully explained. You must be very careful to check that the fish is alive and wriggling as dead fish decompose very quickly and it rapidly turns so poisonous that a single lick can kill.
The cute toy bunnies magically enhance your powers. The status display at the bottom of the screen will keep you informed as to which powers are temporarily enhanced. If Head and Heels are connected when they pick up a Life or Iron pill they will both get the enhanced power. There are four types: Two extra lives (gold rabbit). Iron Pills to make you invulnerable (silver rabbit). Jump higher bunny (bronze rabbit). This only works on Heels. Go faster bunny (bronze rabbit). This only works on slow moving Head.
Tray of six doughnuts are few and far between so don't waste shots. Only Head may pick up doughnuts. The number of remaining doughnuts will be displayed over the doughnut icon at the bottom left of the screen.
Find a crown and start a revolution. At the beginning of each game a screen showing all five planets with a crown above each will be displayed. As each crown is collected this screen will be shown again with the appropriate crowns in full colour.
Standing on a teleport will activate its mechanism, this will sound a warning siren. Pressing the jump key will cause you to teleport. Not all teleports are two way, some are linked in a chain.
Jumping from a spring will give extra height to your jump.
Simply push the switch to switch things off and on! Switching a deadly monster off will stop him moving but he will still be deadly to touch.
The rollers on the conveyor simply push you along it. If you wish to go the opposite direction you have to jump along.
These are a very strange type of beast, they are incredibly sleepy, in fact they never wake up and it is quite normal for them to sleep for their entire lives. They are often used as tables and even used as building bricks. They are a native of Freedom and for many thousands of years Head and his ancestors have been mistaking them for Heels and causing so much trouble to the poor old hush puppies they they evolved a defence mechanism, they somehow learned to teleport themselves away. Nobody knows where they go but the instant they see any of Head's race they disappear and won't return until they are sure the coast is clear.
The guardian blocks the door to the throne room in Blacktooth castle, he is very dangerous and he doesn't like doughnuts. Only a true hero may pass the guardian.

Hits and Tips

Here are a few tips so that you don't get frustrated in your first few games:

  • Beginners should aim to escape from Blacktooth and get back to Freedom initially. Only the very skilled can hope to liberate a planet or two.
  • When you first get Head and Heels in the same location, practice placing. Head on top of Heels and joining them together accurately with the swop key. Both of their icons will light up when they are successfully joined.
  • Make sure Head learns to climb ladders, this is an essential skill.
  • Both Heels's bag and Head's hooter must be collected at the initial stages for there to be any chance of completing the game.
  • If Head and Heels are in the same room, extra jumping height may be obtained by on jumping off the other's back.
  • Find a safe spot and get used to how far Head and Heels may move over the edge of a brick before they fall, this will enable you to make the longest jumps.
  • Learn the difference in distance and control between Head's jumps and Heels's jumps.
  • Make a map or get one from a web site.
  • Do not waste doughnuts, they are not easy to find.
  • Do not get confused, only Heels may carry anything and only Head may fire.
  • If you can't understand a room, try exiting and entering again, watching carefully for any movement in the room as you enter.