Psytronik Software is an independant software label that was set up in 1993 by Jason Mackenzie. It was formed when C64 programming GENIUS Jon Wells was looking for a way to release his conversion of the Speccy budget game Sceptre of Baghdad. Jason approached Jon with an offer to release the game for him and ‘Psytronik Software’ was born.
The name ‘Psytronik’ is a play on two of Jasons Software Houses Psygnosis & Mastertronic. Psygnosis because of the lavish packaging that came with their games and Mastertronic because of the value for money of their games oh and he cheekily changed the last ‘c’ to a ‘k’ as either a nod to his own nickname, Kenz. At around the same time Jason and Swedish SEUCK legend Alf Yngve got chatting and Alf offered to produce artwork for the Psytronik and then went on to publish the Alf’s twin game pack Archetype + COPS III through Psytronik and another compilation of Alf Yngve games (The Shoot ‘Em Up Destruction Set) in 1994.
Staying the Course.
Sadly, sales were disappointing for the initial Psytronik releases and Jason was not happy with the quality of the packaging (photocopied inlays) plus some ideas did not work out like when Archetype + COPS III were released, these two games became part of a SupportWare scheme where people got the games for free and were asked to send a donation to the programmer if they liked them. Unfortunately, it would appear people liked the games but not the donating part – so that was the end of that and he decided to call it a day after the release of SEUDS.
Now flash-forward to 2008 … Jon Wells was working on another C64 game – a conversion of the Firebird software adventure game ‘The Wild Bunch’. Jason approached Jon with an offer to create the tape inlay and at the same time used the inlay template to produce a brand new full colour glossy tape inlay for Sceptre of Baghdad using modern Photoshop techniques. He showed this to a few people and they were so impressed they urged him to re-release Sceptre with the new artwork – which he did. It was this that spurred Jason on to produce new artwork for all the original Psytronik releases and at the same time was offered he was offered new C64 titles to publish as well (Sub Hunter etc.) Psytronik was Reborn things really took off after that and now have around 45 titles available on various different formats including C16, Vic-20, PC, Speccy and even iOS.
Back in 2012 we interviewed Jason, here is a small snippet, you can read an updated 2018 interview HERE in full.
How do you find all the time to run all your retro interests?
With great difficulty! It’s incredibly hard running Psytronik & Binary Zone in my limited spare time – while trying to have some sort of social life at the same time. The main problem I have is that I have a normal job in the ‘real world’ from Monday to Friday, which saps all my energy during the week so that only leaves the weekends for retro shenanigans .. But by the time I’ve recovered from the effects of any inadvertent Friday-night alcohol absorption and processed orders that have come through the BZ store the weekend is usually over which leaves little time for developing new Psytronik releases or working on new podcasts etc. But hey, I do me best!
Whats your favourite retro homebrew title?
Knight ‘n’ Grail for the Commodore 64. The game itself is a real belter – with a great story, awesome graphics, huge map to explore, boss battles and cool soundtracks – and it has a neat twist to the storyline. It’s also one of very few ‘MetroidVania’ available for the C64. The packaging also turned out really well – I was heavily inspired by the Ultimate – Play The Game packaging for that one.
How long does all this process take you?
Too long! Like I said earlier, I don’t have much spare time so it can take weeks or even months for a Psytronik release to finally come together. The same goes for my podcasts – although this is partly my own fault as I’m a bit of perfectionist when it comes to editing so it can take hours just to splice a few channels of audio together.
The Very First Game.
Here’s where it all started. Sceptre of Baghdad went through many changes before arriving at the final Psytronik version. Earlier versions of the game featured a main sprite based on the original Speccy character but was replaced with a more spritel ‘Prince of Persia-esque’ main character.
The game featured sumptuous presentation including a cool disk menu that began with an amusing intro where a small Caliph sprite swooshed across the screen on his flying carpet to reveal the intro text. He then gets clobbered by a huge fist and you are treated to some sampled cackling laughter. As well as the disk intro the game contains an intro story sequence and a separate animated end sequence (awarded 10/10 on the Game Endings site – thanks Vinny!) The game itself contains a simply superb atmospheric soundtrack from FeekZoid.
The top 10 Psytronik releases.
1 – Mayhem In Monsterland.
Mayhem didn’t enjoy living in Monsterland; it was always cold, it was always windy, and it rained every Sunday. It was clearly no place for a cute baby dinosaur. However, rumour has it that Monsterland has not always been such an unpleasant place to live. The sun used to shine onto green fields with luscious vegetation and scenic mountains… until an apprentice magic dinosaur had too much cactus juice and decided to practice a few of his master’s spells. the next morning, when all the monsters awoke, Monsterland had been transformed into a very dark and unhappy place. Mayhem wants to change Monsterland back, but has no magic powers to do this, so he enlists the help of his friend Theo Saurus, the dinosaur responsible for Monsterland’s ghastly state. Theo lives below Monsterland in a hidden cave to avoid the wrath of the monsters – here he waits for Mayhem to collect magic dust. With this in his possession, he flies across Monsterland sprinkling the magic dust in order to transform it back to a happy place.
However, because Theo is only a trainee, his magic doesn’t always work as well as he’d like it to. Some of the magic dust that he spreads over Monsterland is a little excessive, and clumps together to form magic stars. This magic could be dangerous in the wrong hands, so Mayhem must collect any magic stars he finds to prevent any further disasters.
2 – Steel Ranger Collector’s Edition Box Set
As humanity is forced to expand beyond Earth, they come into contact with a hostile machine intelligence born from their own creations. By initially using military shipments thought to be lost, it has mined other planets for resources and built a vast offensive fleet. Now mankind is stranded in a desperate war, with safety nowhere to be found.
United Military patrol ship “Scourge” led by commander Archer Hess picks up an unusual transmission sent from a barren planet – Ones & Zeroes forming an Omega symbol. Though possibly a trap, the ship is cleared to investigate. Its crew is equipped with self-charging “Ranger” armour suits, designed for combat against overwhelming enemies in any environment.
3 – Hessian
Take the role of Kim, a low-level security guard at a Throne Group science complex, during the worst night shift of her life!
This involves the Group’s inventions spiraling out of control thanks to the megalomaniacal visions of the head scientist Norman Throne, ad-hoc life-saving nanomechanical surgical procedures that grant Kim superior strength and recovery capability, but also the constant dependence on battery power, relentless combat against enemies both robotic and human, and an impending apocalypse
4 – Pains ‘n’ Aches Collector’s Edition Box Set.
The Archmage was given the grail as payment from the Knight for helping him on his quest to free his beloved from a curse. The Archmage had plans to rule the kingdom but these were thwarted by the titans! In a cruel twist of the fate the partner of the Archmage was enchanted using the same spell that cursed the beloved partner of the Knight. She was transformed into a hideous monster so the Archmage fled. Many years later the Archmage heard rumours of a pendant that could reverse the spell … But in order to embark on this quest the Archmage would need to take on human form … And so it begins!
5 – Maze Of The Mummy
Featuring 15 Pyramids to explore (255 playable levels in total!) there’s plenty of adventuring fun to be in your quest for treasure!
Use your wits and cunning to outwit the dreaded MUMMY lurking in his maze as you attempt to find 15 pieces of treasure. Avoid the deadly SCORPIONS that patrol the rooms and search for keys that unlock more sections of the Pyramid. Untold treasures await you if you are brave enough to enter – THE MAZE OF THE MUMMY!
6 – Barnsley Badger
Meet Barnsley, a lazy, good for nothing badger whose addiction to gambling has got him into all sorts of trouble. One night in his local boozer he overhears a conversation. A gold coin was discovered in the nearby graveyard, a coin carved with the head of the fabled ruler Tutanbodger on one side. If Barnsley can find the lost treasure of Tutanbodger it would solve all his money problems. A great journey awaits – as long as he doesn’t fall asleep on the way!
7 – Creatures 2
Clyde Radcliffe is back and his desperate mission is to save his nine kids from the clutches of their torture-happy kidnappers – the demented Demons! Can he prevent them from mashing, frying, chainsawing and melting his beloved Fuzzikins?
The original was wacky, zany, cruel and fun – this is mad, bad, frenetic and seriously over the top!
8 – Knight ‘n’ Grail
In an instant we were separated, the flash of light struck the tree. Our tree. She flew headlong a few hundred yards, landing on a flat stone. I tumbled into high grass. The shadow moved towards my beloved one and soon consumed her. Another flash appeared. This time the brightness blinded me totally but I could imagine the scene in front of me. I’ve heard the story so many times. Now it was finally happening. The curse was upon us.
I swore I’d help her shed her serpentine skin and return her to her natural form, no matter what. I turned to the archmage and humbly asked to be able to wield a sword and wear armour. The price for his aid would be the very same item that I was now about to risk my life to obtain. The vessel of restoration.
Iron clad and with death in my grip I ventured into the dark to find the goblet of gold.
9 – Planet Golf
In 1971 the Apollo 14 landed two men safely on the moon.
Commander Alan Shepard spent more than 9 hours collecting lunar artifacts and performing several scientific experiments. And playing golf.
36940 years have passed since that day. Mankind has long colonized the entire solar system and space tourism is now a reality. Specially designed suits allow men to withstand the extreme conditions of open space and walk unharmed on other planets’ surfaces. And play golf.
10 – Soulless
A powerful warrior King, tired of constant battle and the smell of blood declares peace on the land he rules … But his generals crave war and plan to overthrow the King. Enlisting the help of an evil wizard the King is cursed using unholy magic. His human body is twisted and deformed into a beastly form, his human soul is stolen! Locked away in a tomb the cursed King is all but forgotten while an unending war rages on for a thousand years … Until one day a great quake shakes the land and smashes the wall of the Tomb holding the beast. Now he is FREE and is determined to reclaim his human soul and once again bring peace to the land.
As previously mentioned Jason’s vision was to merge the ethos of both Mastertronic and Psygnosis and wow has he done that, take a moment and look at the quality of these game boxes. Remember this is not a huge Software house, its for all intense purposes a one man band but Jason will be quick to tell you he could not do this without so many people that have helped over the years.
Then there’s the adverts, again the time and effort in producing these is mind boggling, this is one of the best software houses around today catering for those of us who won’t let the old systems die. Jason should be very proud of what he has achieved. Kudos from RVG.
A HUGE thank you to Jason for helping put this article together.
Retro head and key holder of RVG.