Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones’ Bandersnatch has been out for a little over a month now - and as with all Black Mirror episodes, it’s caused quite a stir. The feature-length spin-off has received an incredible amount of hype and accolades already. Yet, it’s not just the directing, cinematography and acting that’s gotten plaudits from Bandersnatch reviews - but rather the duo’s attention to detail and past connections with pop culture.

While the show’s novel isn’t specifically related to an actual book, the same can’t be said for the game. Few people know the real-life story and connection with the Liverpool-based software developer Imagine Software, their revolutionary Bandersnatch game, their financial collapse, and the subsequent release of ‘Brataccas’.

This game evolved from Imagine's Bandersnatch and was released by Psygnosis in 1985.

Ready for yet more Black Mirror trivia?

Imagine Software – Liverpool Gamers set for Greatness

A little under 40 years ago in 1982, three developers - Mark Butler, David Lawson and Eugene Evans - founded Imagine Software in the musical heart of the United Kingdom: Liverpool. The trio had previously worked at Bug-Byte developers, gaining knowledge and skill which showed within their early Imagine releases:

Arcadia (a fixed-axis space shooter)

Zzoom (a humanitarian-tinged combat flight simulator)

Alchemist (an action-adventure wizarding title).

Their relative success soon grew, and they became a much-recognised company that appeared intent on artificially increasing the hype around their own games. In 1984, the company started releasing teaser ads in some of the biggest gaming magazines around, racking up bills estimated to be upwards of £60,000 – adjusted to around £200,000 today. The advertisements were for two soon to be released games: Psyclapse and Bandersnatch.

Teaser adverts for Bandersnatch which appeared in many computer game magazines around 1984

Bandersnatch Game Hype Reached New Levels

As these teasers were released to the public, increasing the interest around Bandersnatch, the developers were slowly increasing its complexity and thereby the amount of computer memory needed to play it. It was being developed for the ZX Spectrum console, which already had some classic titles available.

However, Imagine was trying to go where no one had before, so the memory capacity of 48kb was proving too small. This led to a new concept called the ‘mega-game’. The idea behind this was simple: the game would be bundled in with a memory expansion pack for the console, boosting its limit by 128kb to reach 176kb overall.

This memory expansion bundle meant the gaming package would have to be sold at around £40, which was about seven times the £6 average game price in 1984. However, Imagine thought they had good reason to create these mega-games as Bandersnatch was pushing the boundaries of what was considered possible at the time. If successful, it would truly be revolutionary.

The Collapse and the Second Chance

Unfortunately, the financial burdens of production caught up with Imagine, and the outfit basically collapsed. They ended up in the High Court in July 1984 after Personal Computer Games magazine sued them for unpaid advertising fees of £10,000.

Two of the founding members - Butler and Lawson - along with their financial adviser, Ian Hetherington, set up a new company: Finchspeed. This company did not do so well, due in no small part to the animosity toward them from the gaming community - and they also eventually went under.

But two years later, Hetherington and Lawson released their own game ‘Brataccas’ under another new company called Psygnosis. This creation had all the hallmark features of the Bandersnatch game and is considered to be its ultimate realisation – finally, all that potential had found its way to market. Psygnosis was eventually snapped up by Sony and continued to release games until the PlayStation powerhouse closed Psygnosis down in 2012.

Fast-forward to 2018, and this entire story had made its way into the hands of Brooker and Jones. As ever, they turned it into gold.

A walkthrough of the ZX Spectrum game by RZX Archive.

Play Brataccas & ZX Spectrum Games Today

So, how about giving the Bandersnatch inspired Brataccas game a go yourself?

Well, you’ll need to download either an Amiga, Atari ST or Original Macintosh emulator, as Brataccas was too far in time to feature on the ZX Spectrum (download SpecEmu, Spectaculator and SPIN for Windows).

However, that doesn’t mean the Spectrum is completely devoid of point. It still rocks some pretty retro games, with these classics available:

Elite - a space-trading mission. Start at the bottom and rocket your way to the top by building an unstoppable ship. These days, it’s all about Star Wars, Star Trek and others - but Elite was the pick of the bunch back in 1984.

Football Manager - sports/business simulation. Back before the Football Manager series got so advanced that Premier League clubs actually started to use its scouting system, there was the old-school ZX spectrum version. Very grassroots.

Manic Miner - a platform adventure. Manic Miner broke new ground with colour swapping and continuing music, setting the scene perfectly for Sonic the Hedgehog to come Spin Dashing onto the scene a few years later.

Monte Carlo Casino - a classic casino simulator. Practise well-known games like roulette, blackjack and the fruit machine with virtual money. Today, you can play casino games online without the need for a console. See more on this here.

Tetris - we don’t really need to give an explanation for this one!

Who knew Bandersnatch would have such influence!