Tuesday, December 19, 2006

this game is the biz

I love simulation games. I also have something of a soft spot for the ZX Spectrum. So imagine how late I stayed up when I discovered 'The Biz - The ultimate game for the frustrated or budding rock star'. Let's just say I stayed up extremely late, and leave it at that.

The game was written in 1984 by musician Chris Sievey, (whose alter-ego just so happens to be Frank Sidebottom) frontman of 80's band 'The Freshies'. Personally, I'd never heard of them, but with songs like "If you really love me, buy me a shirt" and "I'm in love with the girl on the Virgin Manchester Megastore checkout desk" I'm pretty sure they can't be all that bad.

Your goal, obviously, is to become the greatest band in the UK, and make it to the top of the charts. You will notice the cassette inlay above says that the first person to do so will win the chance to 'record and appear on stage with Chris Sievey'. I desperately want to be that person.

So away I go. After careful consideration, I decide to name my band 'Meanderpede'. We are on the dole, living in a Leeds squat. Our musical direction is 'screamo'. I phone my agent and he offers me a gig at the local disco, for which we will get paid £14. This doesn't seem like a bad offer, so I accept. He offers us another gig, but it's at a scout hut in Swindon, so we turn it down in favour of a much needed rehearsal. And so it goes on for the next few (virtual) weeks as we desperately try to earn enough money to get into the recording studio. It's a rocky road. The lead guitarist gets sacked, we crash our van and the band regularly spend hefty chunks of our hard-earned cash on haircuts. But eventually we are getting somewhere. We hire a manager and the money starts trickling in.

Off to the studio we go, where we record our first single - an electro version of the theme from 'Crimewatch'. I am absolutely confident that this will take us straight to the top. A few weeks later we optimistically have 10,000 copies pressed. Our manager gets us a spot on a local radio station, and we put a few posters up around town. The single storms into the charts at number 186. Three weeks later our manager gets us a spot on Razmatazz on Tyne Tees, but it's too little, too late. The very same week, our single 'stiffs' and we are left with 8838 unsold copies. Our manager is clearly a useless bastard, so we pay a lawyer £4000 to absolve us of our contractual obligations.

It's around this time that I realise there's no way of saving the game, and I'm not about to abandon it now, not after I've just spent £1400 on clothes and a dry ice machine to increase our stage presence, no way. So I settle down for the long haul.

To cut a long story short, we never made it to number one. The best I managed was number 34 with the single 'Peggy Babcock', which even had a video to go with it. We were on standby for Top of the Pops, appeared on the cover of 'The Face', recorded a Peel Session and even made an appearance on Cheggers plays Pop - surely the highlight of our career. But then, alas, I made the mistake of accepting drugs off a groupie, which inevitably led to a heroin addiction that saw the band spiral into obscurity - we were dropped by our label and some of the band became suicidal. So I went to bed, and that was the end of Meanderpede.

I haven't been able to find out whether anybody actually claimed the no.1 prize. But I did read in an interview that even Chris Sievey himself never made it into the top 10, and he wrote the game. Surprisingly, this hasn't put me off in the slightest. I declare this the greatest Spectrum game since Skool Daze, and that's really saying something.

But don't just take my word for it! Get on over to World of Spectrum where you can play an online JavaScript emulation to your heart's content. Be warned though, it's rather addictive. And if you get on Top of the Pops, do let me know.

UPDATE: On New Year's Eve I was gleefully informed by Monsieur Axl Schmaxl that he had managed to storm his way up the chart to the lofty heights of number four. NUMBER 4!

Of course, I didn't believe him at first, but he'd anticipated my envious doubting by taking a photo to prove it. So feast your eyes on HUMAN SHIELD and their number 4 hit 'nascardeath'. As you can see, he had to be quick taking the photo because Darth Vader was sneaking up on him from behind.


  1. in the voice of jack nicholson from batman, "where does she get those wonderful toys?"

  2. That game is so frighteningly like real life.
    There goes my Christmas holidays … No sleep 'til I get on Cheggers …

  3. it was all going so well until the 13 week mark. i'd had a john peel session, a smash hits cover and an interview in jamming magazine BUT THEN my band said they werent happy playing indiepop and we had to change direction to electronic. we lost all our fans and our tightness, and then.. our drummer left to join foals! gah.

  4. damn you snipson, this is more addictive than myspace..

    ..i got up to week 41, just about to get a record deal, and my computer shut internet explorer down..noooo....

  5. yes, but is it more addictive than meowmery?

  6. Ahhhh.
    I love the noise they make, too.

  7. i just got dropped from factory records after they rejected the songs we recorded for our debut album, even though i'd had two top 40 singles! i had no choice but to press 0, commit suicide and go to bed.

    i didn't even take any of the groupies' drugs!

  8. I used to love this game. I bought it when it came out in the mid-80's. My opinion is that it's not possible to get to number 1: I made it to number 2 several times. The hardest part is getting a balance between song quality, visual appeal and popularity.

    When you're really popular,you get offered massively-paid gigs which you can't afford to turn down otherwise your popularity decreases and the record company drop you. Play the gigs, however, and your song quality suffers which means - the record company drop you.

    It is possible to get into the BASIC listing if you're playing it on the Spectrum and adjust the values of certain variables though which can keep you going longer...

  9. I'm sure I remember getting to number one...or maybe I cheated! I spent so many hours playing this game that it's all a bit hazy now. Did you know someone has written a remake for PC at http://www.mallorn.demon.co.uk/thebiz/

  10. I'm the sad spotty, specky kid that did.

    I played this game obsessively. Lost jobs, lovers etc. When I finally achieved a number 1 (For my beautiful reconstruction of 'Old macDonald's farm (a political reworking)' a congratulatory screen came up with an address and special code to send for my prize.

    Alas, I was not the first. I got two number ones in one career. That was the best I did. It's down to getting your vid shown on Wilson's world or Riverside that gets you there.

    Oh and the glitchy bit. If you enter the chart between 40 and 36 you won't get TOTP and you automatically stiff!

  11. I have to know - what was the special prize??

  12. i won the biz!!! i even got a screen grab. I called the song arse

  13. I rmemeber playing this along with my brother, we played it for months, and finally did get a number one. My brother sent off for the prize, but our hopes were dashed when we received a letter back saying that the prize(appearing in stage with Chris Sievey) had been claimed some time earlier, but well done for making it to number one!!!!

    At least we did get a reply I suppose...

  14. I once got to Number 2 with a song called "The Song" which I took as a hint when calling our Manager. Great game, RIP Chris