Roland In Time: The first game I never played

Roland In Time is a blatant Doctor Who ripoff, but I strongly suspect that it might also have a rather unique claim to fame.

My recent ponderings on a couple of Amstrad classics (Fairlight and Saboteur! respectively) has me thinking about those early gaming years of mine. I’d played a few arcade games earlier on, had a few friends with machines such as the VIC20 or Apple II, but the Amstrad CPC 6128 that we had was my first opportunity for some at-home gaming.

Except that (and I’d forgotten this up until recently) the first game I ever saw on the Amstrad CPC 6128… wasn’t actually playable.

One of the very weird things (amongst a plethora of odd design choices, including that green monitor, non-standard floppy discs and an ever-evolving line of machines with slightly different memory or branding) was that, on the same disc (if I recall correctly) as the CP/M operating system was the tantalising prospect of a game called Roland In Time. I was a big Doctor Who fan at the time (so some things have remained constant, then), so this sounded ideal.

It also sounded, well, rather familiar when you loaded it. Check out this intro theme. Remind you of anything particular?

Not quite the first Doctor Who computer game, what with that BBC Micro game that I’ve still never played (but stared endlessly at in the 20th anniversary magazine).

Doesn’t seem like I was missing much, looking back.

Roland In Time has cheeky copyright infringement written all over it. Given Amstrad wasn’t exactly small fry in the UK, I’ve no idea how they got away with it. Maybe the Doctor’s real name is, in fact, Roland?

(Fun trivia factoid: Roland is named for Roland Perry, one of the lead Amstrad designers, so unless he’s the Doctor, probably not.)

So, imagine the excitement of young Alex, faced with what was seemingly an actual Doctor Who game (even if it was, in fact, a shabby Doctor Who ripoff by way of Manic Miner).

Go on, imagine it.

Now, the cruel bit.

The version of Roland in Time that shipped with with the CPC 6128 was only a non-interactive demo. Not a full game, but instead a rolling demo that showed off the full intro sequence and just a few still shots of the game’s many single flick screen levels. Nothing at all playable in any way.

Some onscreen elements in Roland in Time will collapse, others are collectible, and yet others will instantly kill you if you touch them in any way. The only way to find out was to risk it. This was how we rolled back then. But apparently Dark Souls is hard?
Some onscreen elements in Roland in Time will collapse, others are collectible, and yet others will instantly kill you if you touch them in any way. The only way to find out was to risk it. This was how we rolled back then. But apparently Dark Souls is hard?

Now, imagine the disappointment written all over young Alex’s face 🙁

Naturally, I still loaded it up from time to time, because, well, that music.

It’s not for its copyright-infringing status that Roland in Time deserves some credit, however. After all, by 1984, there were countless Space Invaders, Pac-Man and Donkey Kong clones, to name just a few heavily infringed upon titles. Roland In Time was itself more than a little (ahem) “inspired” by games such as Manic Miner, anyway.

Here’s where I suspect Roland In Time might have unique status.

It’s (probably) not the first demo ever, but given that even shareware was in its infancy at the time, it’s possibly the first bundled demo of a game given with every computer of its type given away.

Yes, there were game bundles with computers after that time,including some truly cracking Amiga bundles, for example, but a mandatory bundled, Alex-annoying demo of a game? Roland may have been ahead of his time there. If you know different, feel free to comment below.


Then again, who am I to question a computer so ably advertised by French crocodiles?

I never did buy a copy of Roland In Time, and in fact I can’t even recall ever seeing a copy for sale.

Roland was (for better or worse) the effective Amstrad “mascot” character, although his appearance was anything but consistent throughout games. Every once in a while I’d see a copy of Roland On The Ropes, but never Roland In Time and its equally copyright-bending cover.

These days, if I wanted to play it, I guess I’d have to emulate the whole affair, as it doesn’t (even now) appear to be all that common a find amongst the usual retro games sellers, and Amsoft itself hasn’t existed since the late 80s. Untangling the rights for who might actually own all that Amsoft software would, I think, be an exercise in futility, and then negotiating those Doctor Who rights would tip the whole exercise over the edge.

Roland In Time was very even-handed in terms of whose intellectual properties it respected.
Absolutely nobody’s.

Retro recollections are just random musings on retro subjects, usually whatever I’m playing at the moment.

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