Voltmace Database Box Shooting Gallery Box Interton VC-4000 Console Different Carts & Boxes Voltmace Database Console Voltmace Database Inside View Voltmace Database Box & Contents Database Circus Case & Cartridge Database Air Sea Battle Cartridge Database Air Sea Battle Screen Image Database Maze Cartridge Database Maze Screen Image1 Database Maze Screen Image2 Database Horse Racing Cartridge Database Horse Racing Screen Database Circus Box Database Circus Screen Database Four In A Row Box Database Alien Invasion CartridgeDatabase Earth Invasion Screen Database Leap Frog Screen Database Crazy Crab Cartridge Database Crazy Crab Screen Norwich Retro Gamers on YouTube Norwich Retro Gamers on YouTube Norwich Retro Gamers on YouTube

DATABASE : RESURRECTION

I'm sure if I asked many of my fellow retro gamers whether they had heard of the Voltmace Database, they would shake their heads and ask 'the Voltmace what?'. To many, the name Voltmace would be related to joysticks that were designed for various 8-bit computers such as the BBC and Dragon. But most may not know that they also released a games console in the early 80's.

It was this strange cream and orange machine that brought gaming to our household back in 1982. I can’t remember exactly why my parents decided to purchase this machine, but I have a suspicion that it may have been related to the fact that my mother worked in a chip shop at the Kingfisher in Walcott and it was cheaper to buy a games console than keep supplying me and my brothers with change for the arcade machines.

Of course there was one small setback; we had to use it on the small black & white Ferguson television in the kitchen. But it didn't matter, we could now play games whenever we wanted to. In fact if I remember rightly, we even managed to get father to have a few goes on it.

We had two games for the console, Earth Invasion and Shooting Gallery. Earth Invasion was a straight Space Invaders clone and Shooting Gallery involved controlling a little chap at the bottom of the screen, who had to shoot various animals and birds as they moved across the screen at different speeds (with the ones moving faster giving more points). These games kept the family amused for hours, although I did still yearn for the excitement of the Astro Blaster game back in the Kingfisher's arcade.

So as you can tell, this console holds a special place in my heart, but I’m sure you’d rather know all about it’s history and games. I have to admit that I had to do some research on the web to discover the console's history.

HISTORY REVISITED

The Voltmace Database has a rather complicated history but the original design spec can be traced back to a standard created by Radofin back in 1976. The ‘1292 Advanced Programmable Video System’ was then licensed to other companies by Radofin. This created a group of machines from manufacturers such as Hanimex, Grandstand, Prinztronic, and Acetronic. There were other sub-groups of consoles based on this ‘spec’, including the Interton VC-4000, the Television Computer System (Rowtron), and the Database.

Although different groups were all based on the same spec (the main circuit boards in the groups differed slightly), the games would not fit into consoles from different groups. So for example a Database cartridge would not fit into an Acetronic console (although there were adaptors created that allowed some to work on other groups of consoles). Some games even used the same packaging (using a sticker to cover the original manufacturers name with their own).

Voltmace entered into the videogame market in the late 70’s, when it sold early machines by the British company Teleng. This came to an end when the parent company of Teleng decided to stop production of their consoles in the UK. Fast forward a couple of years to 1980, when Voltmace entered into an agreement with Videomaster (part of Waddingtons – of board game fame) to market their Database console. Previously the console had been produced in Hong Kong, but after a successful year of marketing the Database, Voltmace had the opportunity to buy the rights and start production of it themselves.

And so in June 1981, with all the necessary components in place at their factory in Baldock, Voltmace started to manufacture the Voltmace Database. Unfortunately a new generation of machines from companies such as Atari, Coleco, and Intellivision where entering the market and the Database faded out of the market within a couple of years of it’s UK production. Although I have been unable to find any information as to how many consoles were sold in the UK, I assume it was quite low. Unfortunately the original machines from Hong Kong were notoriously unreliable, and even though this was addressed when manufacturing was switched to the UK, I suspect many have not survived. I seem to remember our console expired within a couple of years (although to be fair it did get a lot of use!).

TECH SPEC

Central Processor : Signetics 2650AN running at 4.43 Mhz

Co-Processor : Signetics 2636N (audio / video / input-output) running at 3.58 Mhz

Memory : Co-Processor addresses 32kb in 8kb banks. 43 bytes data memory

Graphics : 4 single colour sprites (1 can be 8 colours). 8 colours available

Sound : Single channel beeper from TV speaker

Controller : 2 x 12 button with twin-axis analogue stick (removable overlays)

Games : Removable ROM cartridge. At least 29 titles available (more with adapter)

TV out and power (external psu) are wired directly into back of the console (as are the controllers). The console has four buttons (reset game, select game, start game, power on/off).

Please note that the above specifications have been researched from several sources and may not be completely accurate.

THE GAMES

There must have been at least 29 games designed for the Database (I have Crazy Crab which is number 29). As mentioned earlier, Radofin's console standard covered many different manufacturers but as they were basically the same spec, the games were very similar. Each game had a number and it is interesting to see that the Database is slightly out of sync with the normal sequence. For example Horse Racing is cartridge 11 but the standard number for the other groups was 12. Maze was 10, but Supermaze (the same game I assume) was 11 for the other groups. I have also noticed that where-as the original Videomaster cartridges tended to match (or at least were close to) the games in the other groups, the Voltmace-produced games (higher numbered cartridges) were completely different.

Although there was already a certain amount of games written for the console from the early Videomaster days, Voltmace had some wrote in-house. There was only one programmer working on these games, Derek Andrews. He also designed an expansion cartridge which connected to the Sinclair ZX81 and allowed owners to design games that could be sent to the memory on the cartridge and run on the console. This was a unique device but unfortunately only a few were ever sold.

The games came in black plastic cases (not unlike the ones used by Beta and VHS tapes in the past). Most (all?) games included a set of overlays that would replace the default set on the controllers. These would indicate which of the 12 buttons were used for that particular game. I have a small collection of cartridges for the Database, so below I have put together a little summary of each game. If anybody would like to contribute with others then please feel free to email me (see the Contact Us link at the bottom of the page).

The game shots below were taken directly from my little colour portable TV. Although the quality isn't great (especially in the full size images) at least it proves they are from a real console and not an emulator!

No. 1 - AIR SEA BATTLE

What starts off as a rather bland and uninteresting shooting game does turn into more fun as you cycle through the different game types available. The first set of games give you control of a warship at the top of the screen that can move left and right. In the depths of the ocean below move the enemy submarines and your task is to drop 15 depth charges and try to hit as many subs as you can. To make life more difficult, you have to avoid the mines that move above the submarines and will explode the charge if hit. Additional games of this type present smaller submarines, depth charges that can be controlled (left and right) to help guide them towards the subs, and a mix of guided charges and little subs.

In the two player version, both players are on the screen at once and have to try to get the best score with their 15 charges. This can be fun when both players go for the same sub. In the guided version it can get very fraught as one player can 'steal' the others sub by suddenly veering their depth charge across the screen and into the path of a sub that the other player was about to get.

Moving onto the next game type, you are now controlling an aircraft flying from the right to the left of the screen. You can't control the plane itself but you can time the dropping of your bombs to try and hit the single submarine that moves in the opposite direction below. Again, this is quite bland as it is just a matter of timing to hit the sub every time. Additional games in this section change to allow control of the bomb (as in the previous games).

The final game type gets more interesting as you now control a (pink?) submarine at the bottom of the screen. A myriad of different objects move across the screen (at different speeds and in both directions), including submarines, ships, helicopters, and planes. The first game option has you only able to fire the missile straight up but with so much moving around it isn't too hard to hit something. Further options allow for guided missiles (left and right control only). The most interesting option allows the missile to reach the top of the screen before returning back to earth but you can only take out targets as it returns back down.

No. 10 - MAZE

Maze reminds me of the type of puzzles that I did in the puzzle books that my parents gave to me as a kid. It is nothing move than a game of guiding your 'box' from the left side of the screen to the right, plotting a path through one of several mazes that the game randomly selects (pressing Start Game repeatedly also cycles through them). A line at the bottom centre of the screen slowly extends to show you how much time is left. If the line unravels it's squiggly pattern fully, it's game over. There is not much chance of running out on the initial mazes, but thankfully things get more challenging.

The second type of game starts with a full grid of boxes. You must discover the path yourself by moving around in all four directions. As you find the path it allows you to move further. Eventually the full path is found and you reach the exit. Although it is relatively easy to find the correct path, it is possible to find yourself in a dead end and then have to retrace your steps until you find another path. With the line unravelling it can become frantic.

The third type of game presents a blank screen. As you move your box, the walls become visible and gaps appear when you are able to move in another direction. It plays similar to the second game type, with the chance of finding dead ends in the same way.

Now things start to get interesting. The fourth game type starts like the first, with a basic maze but as you move around the maze changes!! As you continue to move along the new path, it changes again, about every 10 seconds. This adds a very clever spin on the game and it is very easy to find yourself boxed in, waiting for the maze to change again so you can continue.

The fifth and final game type is also the hardest. Although the maze is the basic type that is used in the first game type, you soon realise that you are not alone in this maze. Across the screen on the left is a rather hyperactive white box and as you plot a course through the maze, it (rather erratically) plots a course for you. With a bit of luck it may go down a dead end and allow safe passage for you to the exit. Unfortunately I can only guess as I have never reached the exit. In the few instances that I have managed to evade the evil square, the timer has ran out.

Each game type also includes a two player mode, allowing both players to traverse the same maze. It soon becomes a mad dash to see which player can get to the exit before the timer line disappears and it's Game Over.

No. 11 - HORSE RACING

I really admire the riders in this game. No matter how many jumps you miss they never fall off, and even the horse only stumbles a little. So here we have it, not so much a horse racing game, but more a horse jumping game. The single aim in this game is to successfully complete as many jumps as possible in the time allowed. Every jump earns points so timing the jump just right is really important. As I learnt early on, you need to give your horse a little warning before you jump. If you leave it to you are right in front of the jump, as I tried to do, then your horse will stubbornly run straight through the jump and stumble.

Additional game types increase the height and the width of jumps, meaning that hitting the jump button will need to be perfect to make it and get the points. Of course, there are also the normal selection of two player versions as well.

But there is another set of games as you cycled through the selections. The second half of game types present the action much more closely. Not only does this make for a more challenging game (as you can only see a limited amount of the screen ahead) but it also looks better as everything is much bigger.

Later game types increase the challenge by speeding up the approaching jumps and giving only a split second to hit the button and make the jump. So grab a friend and go head to head on the faster level to see who has the best reactions (beer optional). Not a bad little game, if a little repetitive.

One thing I did want to mention is that for an old game the animation of the galloping horse was quite good.

No. 12 - CIRCUS

I would like to make it clear right from the start that this game seems pretty much unplayable (to me at least). It may be no coincidence that Exidy released an arcade game back in 1977 called Circus. Their game was identical to this version and used a 'rotary control'. You control the little chap (clown) on the see-saw which can be moved left and right. The idea is to position him near his colleague who patiently stands on the ledge above. A press of the fire button and the second clown throws himself from the ledge and (hopefully) lands on the empty side of the see-saw to propel his friend high into the air. At the top of the screen there are groups of coloured squares (balloons actually) which need to be burst by the daring duo as they fly through the air.

It's quite a fun idea but I had a real problem lining up the see-saw with the guy that was about to come down. Most of the time they would just hit the ground as the see-saw was sent whizzing across the screen. And here lies my problem. As the game appears to be designed for a rotary control, the poor Voltmace joystick just can't deal with the movement. Even the smallest amount of movement is projected as a sudden jolt which normally sends the see-saw right across the screen (and far away from the unhappy clown as he descends).

In the two player game each player controls one of the clowns so I suppose letting your opponents clowns hit the ground could be revenge (even if you didn't actually mean it). When it works it is actually good fun but the frustration of continuously sending the little guys into a world of pain is just too much for me to take.

Maybe Splat! would have been a better name.

No. 14 - FOUR IN A ROW

I have fond memories of playing 'Connect 4' as a kid. One of us got it for Christmas and it was played non-stop all day. And this is the videogame equivalent, so the fun returns. I guess I don't really need to explain the idea behind this. Either one player against the computer (or two players for more fun) get to drop coloured squares down onto a grid and the first one to get 'four in a row' wins. I played against the computer and found that it put up a pretty challenging contest (if fact it took me four attempts before I beat it).

Pure and simple gaming fun for all the family. And of course, you don't have to worry about losing any of the plastic coloured discs or have your opponent open the bottom of the grid and let all the discs drop out when they are losing (which my brothers used to do).

No. 16 - EARTH INVASION

It could only be Space Invaders (Tm) and a pretty good version as well. For me, getting this game for our Voltmace console was the point that the arcade had entered our home. I couldn't even guess how many times I must have the played Earth Invasion but I am pretty sure it runs into the thousands. Ironically it was this game that probably caused the demise of our humble little(?) console.

It's all here, the bases, the rows of relentless aliens dancing across the screen, and even the ufo at the top of the screen. The sound is as good as can be expected from the console and adds to the experience.

Additional game types introduce something that never appeared in the original, guided missiles. Although these are quite useful for taking out the little monsters from a safe place on the edge of the screen there is a price to pay for this power. Unlike in the normal game where you can shoot and move, when you fire a guided missile you are stuck in place until it reaches it's destination. This can be very dangerous if an invader moves above you while you are still 'frozen'.

If I had one criticism of the game, it would be that the invaders seem to reach the bottom much faster than in the original. But then again it just makes the game more challenging.

Although the Voltmace version was titled 'Earth Invasion', there is also a version called 'Alien Invasion'. This is labelled with the same gold stickers used by Voltmace (rather than the silver used by Videomaster) but does not list either of the manufacturers on the label. If anybody has any information about this anomaly I would love to hear about it (use the Contact Us link at the bottom of the page).

No. 25 - LEAP FROG

So would anybody like to guess which well known arcade game this is based on? Indeed, this is a rather good version of Frogger. Unlike all the other games I have in my collection, this actually has a title screen and attract mode. It might seem like a small addition but it gives the game a sheen of professionalism that others titles lack.

This is one of the titles programmed by Derek Andrews (Crunch is the other one). These titles are unique in that they were designed exclusively for the Database (rather than being versions that were released for other consoles in the Interton family).

This is a very competent version of Frogger but my only gripe would be that when jumping onto the turtles, you die if you jump between the two. I was always used to getting away with jumping between the two so was caught out a few times. But that is really a minor issue and doesn't detract from the fact that this is a great game for the Database. In fact I loaded up Konami's version in Mame and was surprised how well Leapfrog compares.

No. 26 - CRAZY CRAB

It's like Pacman but it isn't... Okay, that may not make sense but Crazy Crab does remind me of Namco's seminal classic as you play it. This is truly a bizarre game and I would really have liked to have the instructions to understand what the various characters in this game are. I would strongly advise anybody who is interested in this game to click on the image to the left so that the full screen version can be seen.

The player controls what looks a little like a jellyfish (or maybe Octopus) - this is the white object in the top left of the image. You start at the bottom centre of the screen, just below the box which contains your lives (in this case I still have 5). Arranged to the left and right of the centre of the screen are four boxes. These are where the crabs start (I assume they are the Crazy Crabs!!). There are also four green plants (seaweed?) which when eaten turn the player green and then is able to catch and eat the crabs. This is similar to the 'power pills' in Pacman and only last for a short while.

The aim of the game (apart from avoiding the crabby crabs) is to collect (eat) the yellow 'worms' (okay so I'm struggling to name these things). As soon as one worm is gobbled, another appears in the maze. And that is pretty much it really.

Like Pacman, each crab has a personality. The red one (I shall call him Victor) is the mean one. He appears first and the sole aim in his little head is to find you and nip you to death. The speed that this little fella chases you around the maze is frightening. On the other hand, the purple one (he is called Rupert) is much more relaxed. He is always the last to leave his little box and doesn't seem to be too interested in giving you any trouble. In fact there is more chance of you running into him than the other way around. The two other crabs are of average intelligence, although the yellow one (Fred to his colleagues) does tend to be quite nasty over time. Of course if you get in a tight spot you can use the side exits to make your escape.

Further game types cause more worms to appear on the screen and the final types (see the second picture to the left) do away with the maze and turns more into a Robotron-like game. It is worth knowing that although each piece of seaweed can be nibbled on three times before disappearing, once it has gone it doesn't return during the game. So use it sparingly.

This is another great game for the Database and I think it might be exclusive as I can't see any record of a similar game being released on the other consoles. The sound in this game is particularly good and the increasing tone and speed does make for a tense atmosphere. Especially when Victor is bearing down on you and all the seaweed has been eaten.

Update - although I have mentioned that this is unique, I have noticed that there is a very similar game written for the 'cloned' machines called 'Spiders Web' (cartridge number 22). This game has the same screen layout and presumably the same game-play, although the characters are different.

FURTHER INFORMATION

I would like to mention the other web sites which I used to confirm details in this article. Anybody interested in the Database console should check these out as well.

BINARY DINOSAURS - Excellent UK web site created by Adrian Graham. Good pictures and information from Derek Andrews.

OLD-COMPUTERS.COM - Great resource, especially check out their photographs from the Voltmace factory in Baldock. Amazing.

OBSCURE-PIXELS - Direct link to their page that lists all 'clone' games plus the two Database only ones. Includes screen images.


Article by Gary, August 2007 (updated and reformatted in October 2010).