THE COVENANT - 14 July 2005 - Hieronymous Goodchild & Rapius Amin


723 words, 6 files, 432kb

Before the term ‘Covenant' became synonymous with Bungie's ‘Halo' franchise, a long time before this, it was the title of a little known game. In June 1984, the once mighty and now modest Amstrad company released the CPC 464. Despite ‘CPC' being an acronym for ‘Colour Personal Computer', it was also available with a green screen. Software was loaded from cassette tapes and the future was best represented by the film ‘War Games' (which has been successfully realised by Introversion Software's excellent game, 'Defcon'). The hardware was blistering; a Zilog Z80 processor running at 3.7MHz with 64k of RAM. It was several years before I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a CPC 6128, with twice as much memory, a colour screen and even an integrated 3" disc drive.

The 1980s was a time when a single person could create a game; not just any game, but something that was truly impressive and memorable. Such was the case with ‘The Covenant', written by Paul Hutchinson and published by PSS for the Spectrum and Amstrad platforms in 1985. A sequel to the even more obscure ‘Xavior' (named after the protagonist of both games) which was only released for the Spectrum, it even had a storyline which stirred the imagination. A strange fact of 80s games was their insistence on some sort of storyline, despite lacking much beyond the pictures and text on the cassette packaging to convey it.

Xavior's place in the universe was that of the last surviving member of a long dead people, who had mutated beyond recognition and gone to live in caves beneath the surface. If Xavior could recover all the fragments of the Covenant, the eponymous sacred text which carried the entire cultural record of the lost civilization, the mutations could be reversed and the people cured. The game was divided into 64 caverns consisting of four rooms for a total of 256 rooms. Each cavern was populated by a new type of mutant; gameplay consisted of piloting Xavior's orb in search of an anaesthetic (a different one for each mutant/cavern), then stunning and collecting all the mutants. A key could then be collected which in turn unlocked an artifact and 1/64 th of the covenant was retrieved, adding to a giant 8x8 jigsaw that could be viewed on the status/pause screen. Simple stuff, except for the mutants being dangerous to the touch; exposure caused energy loss and the sequential death of Xavior's three hearts and his eventual demise. Energy could be replenished by visiting one of the rejuvenating points scattered throughout the game.

What's important to realise is that this game, in no uncertain terms, is like many other 80s classics; impossible. The difficulty of the game increases fairly rapidly so that eventually one is depending on luck more than judgement, but as the game somehow gives off an illusion of being possible. Even using an emulator 20 years later where one can pause and save the game at will it can still be challenging and some sections must be attempted again and again, waiting for the random placement of the mutants upon entering a room to be favourable. Death is a frequent occurrence.

When I decided to finally complete the game two decades on I found myself both vindicated (the game was impossible) and dismayed. In porting this masterpiece from the Spectrum to the Amstrad, mistakes had been made. The Amstrad version is presented in mode 0, which is 160x200 pixels with 16 colours; the original Spectrum version is presented at the higher 256x192 resolution with fewer colours. Unfortunately, little redesigning of the rooms occurred (or there was at least insufficient testing), leading to some rooms that are impossible because certain areas cannot be reached due to the distortion caused by the change in screen ration from 4/3 to 4/5. Unperturbed by this I completed the Spectrum version (which was a dreadful chore as it is uglier, the gameplay is unpleasantly harder and the sound effects are abysmal, though the Spectrum version did have a horrific speech emulator plug-in to keep me amused). I then took the completed covenant image, colour corrected it to pure Amstrad, added scanlines, then excised and resized the relevant sections into the original Amstrad image. The Covenant is complete.


Aegrya presents you with an archive of relevant files.

The complete Covenant, never before seen for the Amstrad, in original resolution and 1024x768 for wallpaper:


All 64 mutants

All 18 collectible objects (6 anaesthetics, 6 keys, 6 artifacts)

Amstrad emulator (Caprice32) and The Covenant ROM bundled here.

  Bookmark and Share