When I was a nipper I played a Commodore 64 game called Vampire. The object was to explore a Gothic castle looking for various vampire-hunting tools before tracking down Dracula’s coffin and finally slaying the fiendish count, a confrontation represented in somewhat opaque terms by the hero floating around firing white beams at spiky balls and a big red heart against a plain black background. Pretty straightforward stuff. But there was one thing I could never figure out: exactly what the main character was supposed to be.
Seriously, what is that thing? Skeleton? Astronaut? Grey?
The game’s cover art depicts him as a knight in armour, chasing after a vampire who, at first glance, looks like some kind of flasher:
But even as a kid I knew full well that cover artists from that era were often relying on guesswork as to what the in-game graphics were suppsoed to be. The identity of Vampire‘s protagonist remained a lingering mystery to me.
I recently found out that Vampire was actually a sequel to an earlier game called Phantomas. The game was created in Spain, where it was known as Phantomas 2. Digging a bit, I found this image, which appears to come from the loading screen of the Spanish release:
Well, I can’t say I’m any clearer on exactly what the game’s protagonist is, but I at least know what he’s meant to look like: some sort of froglike precursor to MediEvil‘s Sir Daniel Fortesque. But lo and behold, take a look at how he appeared in the game itself:
This is what the main character of Vampire looked like in the original Spanish version. A head with a pair of feet. And yes, he looked like that in the original Phantomas, too.
The plot thickens: this Spanish interview with the character’s creator says that he’s meant to be a thief (presumably, that’s a burglar’s eyemask he’s wearing, rather than a pair of horn-rimmed glasses). Which would indicate that he’s based ultimately on this guy:
The nondescript skeleton-astronaut-grey from that game I played in my childhood was, it would seem, none other than the most dastardly villain of French crime fiction.
Fantomas represented as a disembodied head versus Dracula represented as floating spiky balls. Never had I suspected that Vampire on the Commodore 64 held such psychedelic metafictional depths.
(Incidentally, when I sat down to write this post, it was originally going to be an analysis of horror iconography in early video games. It… mutated a little along the way.)