This article was published in issue 4 of Komoda & Amiga Plus.
Who would have thought, that it has been 25 years since we met these funny green-hair creatures on the screens of our Amiga computers.
Let’s start with the question: What are the Lemmings about? The aim of the game is to bring to the exit a group of titled Lemmings – small creatures dressed up in blue uniforms and wearing green (and bouncy) forelocks. Player’s task is to command these small creatures and to bring them safely to the exit. Lemmings as you would expect from them, do not really know what they are doing and where they are going, so when they hit an obstacle, they turn on their heel and move into opposite direction. So our task is to direct them and tell them what to do. The game is divided into separate levels and on each level the way to the exit is full of various obstacles. The player’s task is to assign Lemmings one respective task/skill from the list of available ones for each level. For example, you can tell a Lemming to start digging through the wall, climb, or build the bridge (you can even sacrifice a creature and blow it up in the air). Of course – the further we go into the forest, the harder it gets, the number of available skills become limited or partially disabled, the obstacles are more and more difficult, or player may have less time to bring Lemmings into the safety. As you can see, the principles of the game are quite simple and they probably made this series so popular.
Let’s walk down the memory lane. The first game in the series Lemmings was created by Scotland based studio called “DMADesigns” (yes! The same ones that created the GTA series in 1999) and published by Psygnosis in 1991 on Amiga and AtariST computers. The game was written by two developers: David Jones and Mike Dailly. Both gents came up with the idea of the game in August 1989, when the first of them experimented with simple animations in Deluxe Paint software while working on a game called Walker (awesome game btw). It turned out that he created a puppet animation that could be looped infinitely – seeing this animation, one of the DMA Design employees said: “It is a great game material”. Immediately after that, the guys in the studio came up with the game title – Lemmings. That’s how the simple idea led to the birth of Lemmings. One The Lemmings Story an interesting read about history of Lemmimgs, one of the devs said that, working on the game was super fun and that level creation was one these things he remembers very well. As all levels were created with the software with the user interface similar to the one from Deluxe Paint program, all employees in the studio could create their own levels as majority of them had some working knowledge of the software. This resulted in never-ending competition between the members of the studio to create more and more difficult levels, and to invent newer and more efficient ways to finish each level. That’s the beauty of the game – each level could be finished in several different ways. That’s how the long life of the series started. Oh no! More Lemmings.
From 1991 until 2005 the franchise grew into 9 different titles. Some less, the other more popular. Of course, as you can imagine the very first game became the most popular of the series. Next Generation magazine rated it as eighth of the best games of all time, “Amstrad Action” gave the game one of the highest ratings in the history of the magazine. Last but not least, in 2004 “Retro Gamer” listed Lemmings on the 21 place on their rating of the best games of all time. The popularity of the game can also be seen in the fact that it has sold a circulation of 15 million copies, that’s the enormous amount for a game from the early 90’s!
The series continued all the principles of the very first title in the sequel called Lemmings 2: The Tribes, which was quite well received, but never gained such popularity as the first game. In the year 1994-1995 on the Amigas with AGA chipsets we could play All New World of Lemmings game (in America the games has been released under the name The Lemmings Chronicles), the game held all the basics of the predecessors, but it was last in the series that kept the gameplay unchanged. After this game, the series began to depart from initial ideas and mechanics, changing the type of game to more arcade (as it happened in Lemmings Paintball), or moving into very popular 3D environment thatwas super popular back in the days (Lemmings 3D).
The truth is that none of the sequels could match the popularity of the very first Lemmings and its direct expansions. This refers to the Oh, no! More Lemmings and Holiday Lemmings, which, despite the fact that were advertised as expansions for the first game, has been sold as stand alone products. Unfortunately, over the time series began to lose on its popularity, and more and more bizarre variations of the game started to appear, for example Lemmings Revolution. In 2005, the beloved small green-haired creatures had one more chance to get resurrected with the reboot of the series for Sony PSP handheld console. Unfortunately, since the well received PSP launch of the game, nothing new was released under the Lemmings brand. Luckily, fans never forgot about Lemmings! From time to time they organize some parades and gatherings, during which they walk on the streets disguised as Lemmings. Moreover, the authorities of the city of Dundee in Scotland, the home city of the developers, have build a monument to honour the creators, giving lemmings the eternal glory. Although I’m sure that fans of the series do not need sculptures and statues to look at those green-hair lads with nostalgia.