Translated from the original Spanish article by Jesús Martinez del Vas.
Retro Gamer (Spain) Issue 34 Sept. 2020

In 1985, the Durell label surprised users with a spectacular program called Saboteur. Infiltration and martial arts went hand in hand, proposing an exciting challenge with huge graphics and oppressive atmosphere. Behind it was the hand of Clive Townsend, who decades later returns with his famous saga.

• Death Pit did not fulfill the aspirations of Clive or his boss Robert White, but it was the first step towards the brilliant Saboteur!
• Clive disguised as a ninja, although we don't think he looks exactly scary.
• Clive fighting in the 80s against a kunoichi named Karen, armed with a sword.
• In saboteur you could opt for stealth, but sometimes the fight was inevitable.

• Our infiltration task in Saboteur required taking two subway trains to reach the target.
• Saboteur 2 was bigger, more ambitious, but it failed to surpass the original.
• Don't kill dogs!
Despite being an action game with (sometimes) lethal fighting, the author encourages in the instructions of the first Saboteur not to kill and to try to use other types of tactics. It is perfectly possible to sneak past a guard without them noticing our presence. Of course, the time will come when it is not possible to pass peacefully through the rooms of the enemy base and it will be necessary to use throwing weapons such as bricks or shurikens, or a good flying kick. But beware, our score (in the form of a reward in dollars) will not increase substantially for the act of killing, as the author clarifies: "They will not pay you for hurting the dogs, and little for killing guards. But you can make up for it by planting the bomb and escaping with the disk". If it is not clear to you that eliminating dogs is undesirable, later on the same thing will be addressed: "Dogs will bite your ankles and drain you of energy. You can jump over them, or if you are very bad, you can kill them". So it's up to you to be a reputed ninja who knows how to infiltrate while respecting animals... or to be a 'bad ninja'.

• If in Saboteur we fled by helicopter, in Saboteur 2 we will use a brand new motorcycle to lose ourselves in the night darkness.
• Maps like the one published by Micromania magazine were indispensable to reach the helicopter savior on the roof.

• Ninja Carnage is a point-n-click adventure that Clive is collaborating on.
• Clive has never hidden that the Spectrum and its graphics hold a prominent place in his heart.
• Will the next Saboteur step be a 3D engine? Everything points to it, although it will take time to see it.

• Clive is collaborating on the documentary The 8-Bit Wars, creating images with a ZX flavor.
• The return of Saboteur is SiO, a multi-level adventure with spectacular retro graphic filters.
• In SiO there is action but also a lot of mapping to investigate. It will be time to use pencil and paper, as in the old days.
Experts in infiltration
Many have been the characters that have taken over from the unforgettable ninja of Saboteur. Who is your favorite infiltration expert?
Solid Snake
Created by Hideo Kojima in 1987, Solid Snake trained on MSX as a Foxhound agent, traveling to South Africa to investigate a weapon called Metal Gear. Be careful, because Snake's boss, Big Boss, is not just wheat... MSX2 released its sequel in 1990.
Sam Fisher
The protagonist of the Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell saga, he is a former NSA agent who is an expert in the fight against terrorism and with an unparalleled ability to enter enemy facilities without being detected. It debuted by Ubi Soft in 2002 for all platforms of the time (Windows, PS2, Xbox or Gamecube).
Agent 47
Created in 2000 by the Danish group IO Interactive, Agent 47 is a ruthless assassin capable of entering the most diverse places thanks to his skill with disguise. Not only that: their games invite us to murder in the most varied and creative ways possible. All charisma!


Robert James Durell White could hardly have imagined himself in the early 1980s abandoning his profession as an art teacher and financial control of works to develop video games on an Oric. But the fact is that, bored with his profession, he moved to Taunton with his wife and not only dedicated himself to experimenting with computers, but he launched into recruiting local programmers to found his own software company: Durell. Of that first batch of collaborators, two stand out: Ronald Jeffs (who gave the Oric-1 the Harrier Attack and the first Scuba Dive, the famous diving game) and the star programmer Mike Richardson, who had left school prematurely and worked in a aerosols factory after completing a training course as a chemist. By 1984 Mike had already paved the way for the company with a number of hits such as his adaptations to Spectrum of Harrier Attack and Scuba Dive, and the excellent Combat Lynx.

One such promising young man from Taunton was Clive Townsend, who got into computer science when one of his friends from school (Steven Hodge, he still remembers his name) bought a ZX81. They began a feverish activity typing in BASIC magazine listings and gutting their internal logic. They always had some 'bug' that they conveniently fixed to gain practice programming. It was a computer with possibilities but very limited, and when the ZX Spectrum appeared on the market, he seized one without hesitation to create his own BASIC games. "I took some to a local store," Clive recalls, "to see if I could sell them, and they told me about a local publisher named Durell. I visited them and the boss, Robert, told me that he liked my graphics but suggested that I learn assembler to make the game faster. After spending my school holidays learning Machine Code, he offered me a job to write Death Pit for the Spectrum". Robert was a programmer and understood the technical and creative process behind a game. He avoided pressuring Clive with dates and gave him the necessary confidence. Death Pit was never finished and never had the quality of other company titles, but it served as a springboard for him to launch into a new project.

Finding inspiration for his next game wasn't too difficult, given his fondness for ninja movies and his fondness for Jackie Chan and James Bond movies. "When I started making games it was inevitable that I would have a martial arts expert on a Bond-style story. I had a vague idea for a story called Ninja Darkness, but I hadn't completely planned it out...". At the same time, Clive began to practice those same martial arts and discovered Ninjutsu, which combined all those facets that he adored. He practiced with his friend Miguel Peña (of Spanish mother) such picturesque disciplines as "arrow cutting" (dodging arrows that someone fires at you, or catching them on the fly) that caused him more than one scolding from his parents. He came to practice with a Bujinkan Ninjutsu group, and his famous anecdote is that he took part in the training of Princess Anne's children as a gymnastics teacher.

It was not surprising that the first step towards his new program was the design of his protagonist ninja, a huge sprite that moved in an endless room with an 8x8 pixel scroll, in which he applied his still nascent Machine Code. "Robert was pleased with those huge sprites, but he was concerned about scrolling. He suggested reprogramming it to make it flip-screen, which solved the speed problem. Since I was no longer redrawing the entire screen, I was able to reserve a 'dirty buffer' that located the screen bits that needed updating. By redrawing only these fragments, the game ran with an acceptable frame-rate." It was then that Saboteur began to be a reality, and after a year collaborating with Durell, he ended up receiving an offer to work there full time, leaving school permanently. As Clive himself repeats: "It was too good an offer to pass up."


had a tortuous development due to lack of means. "I did the programming on a real Spectrum. I would load my source and assembler code from tape, assemble the code, save the object code to tape, and then I had to load all my code snippets, and game data, and graphics, from another tape to test everything. It was such a slow process that it took me a whole year to make the game. For Saboteur 2 I did most of the work on a desktop Apricot, and loaded the data onto a Spectrum. A much more efficient work process!". The result was worth it: the game became one of Durell's greatest hits with its careful history of sabotage and spies. The protagonist ninja could fulfill his mission in many different ways, which affected his score: he could bypass enemies, confront them, descend into the depths of the enemy base through tunnels (and even trams) or directly escape in a helicopter located on the roof. But the desirable thing was to dare with the great challenge: recover the diskette hidden in one of its almost 120 screens, and blow up the entire installation using an explosive. Reaching the helicopter is thus an operation against the clock, but completing the game on maximum difficulty is extremely satisfying. Two years before Metal Gear stormed computers, Saboteur was the first example of a sneak-em-up on Sinclair's computer, and it would be safe to say that it inaugurated an entire genre. "There are people who say it was the first, but I doubt that they've heard of the game in Japan, so I cannot claim that honor! Saboteur 4 will have more similarities with the Metal Gear series." Saboteur 4? Did we mention a fourth part? Let's go step by step...

It was inevitable that Clive began to think about a continuation, which was created with the motto of "more and better". The initial idea was to start another mission starring the same ninja, in a huge environment of almost 700 screens. As the development of Saboteur 2: Avenging Angel progressed, the protagonist became a female agent, "a risky decision in those days, years before Tomb Raider successfully led the female characters". He resumed the concept of 'missions with increasing complexity', with various objectives such as activating missiles or escaping, this time using a motorcycle. At high levels of difficulty it was necessary to find a series of perforated 'paper tape' ribbons to activate the missiles, forcing us to go through large sections of the base. He repeated the excellent animation (especially that of the pumas taking over from the dogs in the first part), and added a very appreciable music for the 128K. However, the game suffered from some slowness and repetition, lacking true innovation, not being able to reproduce the success of the first installment. The idea of an eventual Saboteur 3 then became a long-frustrated goal. Demos with an isometric structure were considered as the initial idea, and the project was redone up to five times, going through all kinds of stages in its design. From isometry he jumped to an approach of static screens designed for PC, to later recover the traditional scroll, and ending in a 3D engine that was never completed. Durell had already abandoned all activity related to video games in 1987, and Saboteur 3 became the eternal unfinished project waiting for its opportunity.

Clive never gave up his job as a programmer, testing developments on portable consoles and mobile platforms, until he took up the universe of his favorite ninja with his company Incognito and with SimFabric. "I've been working on Saboteur remakes for a long time for different platforms," Clive reflects, "but working alone means that things take time, and I never had the means to get the game complete. It had an isometric version for the Spectrum, a 2D version for PC with static and scrolling screens, a 3D software version for PC... I made a 2D remake in xcode for iPhone, and reprogrammed it using Marmalade, and then Java. Every time a platform became obsolete, it had to start over." It was at this point that Unity and the new Nintendo Switch crossed his path. He created his own programming language, EzCode, rewrote the game, and used Unityscript to achieve cross-platform compatibility. "Nintendo recently decided that it would only accept C games, not Unityscript. But luckily I was able to teach EzCode about C, and all the games worked magically. The new versions of Saboteur 1 and 2 are larger than the originals, with new music and levels, and even retro graphic styles to add more variety. Since 1987, when Saboteur 2 came out, I have been asked lots of questions - such as why the hang glider was yellow. The remakes answer these questions!" To launch the versions on Nintendo Switch, he had the support of SimFabric. "In 2018 I was lucky enough to be invited to Pixel Heaven in Poland. There I met Emil Leszczynski from SimFabric, who published games for Nintendo Switch, Steam, Xbox, and PS4. Since I was making my games using Unity I thought it would be very easy for them to publish them, but unfortunately it took longer than planned because people like Nintendo have a lot of strict rules and very slow testing processes. We also translated the games into a multitude of languages, which took a long time."


But most surprising of all is the appearance of a totally new game, Saboteur SiO, which has landed on all the platforms mentioned. A new chapter of ninja action that opens on a unique date, June 9, 1987, after the protagonist suffered a radioactive accident, and that runs through scenarios as varied as modern skyscrapers full of gangsters, temples in Mexico, or the Louvre itself. "The story in SiO runs parallel to the events of Saboteur 2, so it is set in 1987. Part of the events of Saboteur 6 - 6! Because Clive has a whole saga in mind - will involve the protagonists sending a weapon back in time, to help the SiO ninja in the Mayan temple… Also, June 9 is my birthday".

The first thing that catches the attention of the game is its marked retro aesthetic, with the possibility of enjoying the graphic style of the ZX Spectrum, the Amstrad CPC... even the Game Boy with a very successful filter! "I really enjoyed working on the Game Boy Color. With hardware scrolling, palettes and interrupts, I could use a lot of graphical tricks. And I met Gerry Anderson while working on Thunderbirds, which was an added bonus. I was tempted to add a Game Boy Color mode, but then I discovered a nice technique to generate Game Boy mono graphics from my Spectrum graphics. So yeah, it's my favorite mode 'technically' speaking, but visually I'm still a 'Speccy man' at heart."

The retro approach is not only limited to aesthetics: the control and scroll recall the classic Saboteurs (for good and bad) and its first phase, in the caves of a mine, invite you to focus on it from the beginning as if you were in the 80s: arming yourselves with a pencil and paper to make a map. In a clear nod to Metroid, our ninja will be immersed in an underground maze to search for samples of a strange radioactive mineral, forcing us to explore the deepest levels. A situation not very different from what we will see a few levels later: a Mayan labyrinth full of traps and enemies, with statues to activate in search of the radioactive substance that will keep our molecular coherence safe. "I love drawing Spectrum graphics, so I usually start from there. But the main reason for creating this game with a retro aesthetic is to be able to do it all by myself. That being said, I had invaluable help for the more 'modern' retro graphics from Ricardo Oyón Rodríguez, a highly talented bitmap artist. And I've never been very good at writing music, so I've needed help with that field as well. Luckily I've gotten some retro music from amazing musicians like Sean Fountain, Geovarius, Zoltar Dreamusic, and Jeroen Tel. If you're going to spend many months listening to the same thing, you need to pick something you really like!"

Of all the history behind SiO, curiously, not much is mentioned in the instructions, which are limited to a surprising statement: "This is not the game you were waiting for." A declaration of intent that has to do with the fact that the Saboteur universe is much larger, and that the true third still awaits its moment. "The original design for Saboteur 3 evolved into a complex 3D game. I can't do it alone so the plan is to work with SimFabric who will develop it based on my design. It seemed more logical to name it Saboteur 4, to give them more time to finish it. So I have to create a third part, on the one hand to keep myself busy and on the other to introduce some of the characters that we will meet in Saboteur 5. SiO is a completely new game, but with ties and connections to the Saboteur universe. And hopefully I can still create a spin-off game, Alby, to run on a real Spectrum. If time allows it!".

In Saboteur 4 we will meet the diabolical criminal mind behind the events of Saboteur 1 and 2, and his immediate plans for domination. Hacking terminals will be an essential mechanic, to access Viridis corporate information and unlock new parts of the game, which will link to the storyboards that Clive has already prepared for Saboteur 5, 6 and 7. In these future installments, new mechanics and villains await us In the purest 007 style. An immediate game, Saboteur Zero, is directly mentioned in SiO's instructions. "I've been asked about the origins of the group of ninjas in the saga," says Clive, "so I'm working on a prequel called, unsurprisingly, Saboteur Zero. The protagonist is the ninja from the first game, but in a new and lavish mission. It will have flashbacks to first training missions, where you will learn more about the complete team. It's a side-scrolling game with retro graphics, similar to the first versions I made of Saboteur 3 in the 90's. And its subtitle is Ninja Darkness, so we've completed the circle. It should keep me busy until the great 3D Saboteur is ready!" And they are not the only recent activities of the programmer. "I've been helping someone with a ZX Spectrum project called Ninja Carnage, a point-and-click mini-adventure. I offered to help him with the English translation of the CPC version, and just for fun I made a Spectrum version of the title screen. I ended up doing the graphics for the whole game and programming the main routines in assembler! I've also been doing Spectrum-style graphics for Andy Remic's new documentary, The 8-Bit Wars. And I'm still trying to find time to work on Saboteur Zero..."

Hopefully in the near future we will see this feverish creative activity crystallize around Saboteur. For now, we will be warming up, revisiting its classics thanks to the Nintendo Switch, and scrutinizing the secrets of Saboteur SiO. Its 80s flavor cannot be denied!