Heart of Yesod: A Game That Wasn't

Eldritch The Cat team circa 1990.
Left to right, Dave Collins, Mark McCubbin, Stefan Walker, Marc Wilding, and Steve Wetherill.
Photo courtesy of Marc Wilding.

Back in 2015, Frank Gasking approached me about doing a piece on the "game that wasn't", Heart of Yesod, for what would become his excellent book, The Games That Weren't. This is a somewhat meta post then, a making-of-the-not-making-of, as I share with you Frank's Q&A that was used in his preparation for the piece in his book. I've also included a transcription of the original pitch document that accompanied the tech demo that I created for Heart of Yesod, along with scans (courtesy of Colin Grunes) of the dot-matrix printed originals.

Heart of Yesod was to be a 1989 16-bit follow-up to Nodes of Yesod and Heartland. Sadly, it went no further than a tech demo and pitch doc. Read on for Frank's Q&A!

Frank Gasking Q&A, March 2015

Frank: So what inspired you and Colin to come back to the Yesod theme for a 3rd title?

Steve: After leaving Denton Designs (which is where Colin and I ended up after Odin), I formed Eldritch the Cat with Marc Wilding. Although we hung out from time to time, Colin wasn't really involved with Eldritch, so we didn't work together for a year or so. I really wanted to do something on the 16-bit platforms to showcase Colin's art, and that's how the idea of Heart of Yesod came about.

Frank: Would it be fair to say that the storyline was heavily inspired by Mr. Benn and The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe?

Steve: Yes, 52 Festive Road and all that.

Frank: Was Paul McKenna approached at the time for permission to use the “Yesod” name/concept?

Steve: No, I lost touch with Paul for about 20 years after Odin!

Frank: After publishers were seemingly put off by the “Yesod” connection, was there any consideration to changing the story and turning it into something else before the cancellation?

Steve: We felt that the Heartland/Yesod ties were an important aspect of the game and we never talked about rewriting the back story. With 20/20 hindsight that would have been easy, but for whatever reason, we just dropped it.

Frank: Was anyone else (such as Marc Wilding) involved in the game in any way, or was it just yourself and Colin?

Steve: Eldritch the Cat was formed by Marc and myself, and this was done under the auspices of Eldritch, so Marc was definitely involved. I think I did the code for the "tech demo" however.

Frank: How long approximately would you say was spent on producing the story and initial prototype?

Steve: Probably a few weeks, on and off. There was the tech demo, art from Colin plus storyline development.

Frank: Would the game have just been a vertically scrolling platformer, or would there have been other varieties of game style as you progressed?

Steve: It was envisioned as a vertical scroller. I think Nebulus was doing well at the time, though our game did not play similarly. In fact, the current day Doodle Jump would probably be closer.

Frank: It’s detailed that there were 4 levels in total. Were the themes of these levels decided at all before the cancellation of the project?

Steve: I'm sure we had planned that out to some extent (we had a design doc that was shown to a number of publishers including Gremlin Graphics, Millenium, Mirrorsoft, and EA), but I don't really recall the details.

Frank: And Charlie would have had a new costume for every one of the 4 levels played? Can you recall what they would have been? I assume after the Space Suit, it would have been a suit with a top hat and maybe a suit of armor? (reading between the lines of the story).

Steve: Yes, you've got the idea. Seems like a natural fit, no? :)

Frank: What types of enemies would Charlie have had to encounter? We assume that Hilda would make an appearance at some point?

Steve: I wanted to tie in the Yesod world with the Heartland world, so the enemies would have been 16-bit evolutions of things seen in those games.

Frank: It may have been too early in the day, but what other distinctive features were planned for the game? Teleporting doors? Lifts?

Steve: Certainly moving platforms, wrap-around (left-right) gameplay, etc.

Frank: Would the costumes have given Charlie any special powers of any sort? Such as the ability to jump higher, move faster, etc?

Steve: Yes, the idea of taking on the characteristics of the costume being worn.

Frank: There were suggestions in the Edge write-up that there would be references to Manic Miner and Heartland - can you recall what references there were plans to include?

Steve: I think Manic Miner only in the sense of a nod and a wink. Maybe some sly references here and there, perhaps to the Starship Enterprise in JSW2, and some of the other real-life-based locations that were added to that game such as Holt Road, that sort of thing.

Frank: With the regeneration of the Yesod games via Odin and Uztek Games in 2010, was there any consideration to resurrect Heart of Yesod as well?

Steve: You never know! I have various ideas, too many for me to tackle. I've been prototyping something using the old-school, high contrast, and pixelly art from games like Nodes, with smooth movement, scrolling, and physics. It has a very unique look, but it is not something I've had much time to work on.

Frank: Just something I’m hoping to conclude with, is the chance of finding anything of the early prototype. Is there any remote chance that there is a stray disk somewhere in your’s or Colin’s attic, waiting to be preserved? Or is what little existed of the game now gone forever?

Steve: There's very little chance indeed of that, unfortunately.

Heart of Yesod pitch document, 1989

Note: I have taken the liberty of fixing up various grammatical and spelling errors (spellcheck tech was not very good in 1989!), though the English spelling has been preserved; otherwise, this is basically what accompanied our tech demo when we pitched this to various UK publishers in 1989. The original scanned documents can be seen below.

An outline for a video game, tentatively entitled 'Heart of Yesod' for the Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, and IBM PC and compatibles. The text and graphics contained herein are copyright (c) 1989 Eldritch The Cat.

Produced by:

ELDRITCH THE CAT
4 CROMPTON DRIVE
LIVERPOOL
ENGLAND

Text: Steve Wetherill

All Eldritch The Cat games are dedicated to Eldritch the cat: gone but not forgotten.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system. or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the express permission of Eldritch The Cat.

Heart of Yesod

The right honourable Charlemagne Fotheringham-Grunes sat in a deck chair on the patio of his mansion, 'Asgard House'. He was sipping his third pina colada, which had been brought him by his trusty manservant, Hilda when it happened: Hilda, who had been walking or up to the house, stopped in his tracks, paused, then burst into flames, a human fireball incandescing with a million different colours. Then, equally as suddenly, the fireball extinguished itself, and there stood the most beautiful woman 'Astro' (as Charles was known to his friends) had ever seen, on this planet or any other.

The beautiful creature surveyed Charlie, her ice-blue eyes burning into him as he sat there flabbergasted. Then she spoke:

"Hello, Earthling!"

Now Charles was even more amazed, for far from the silken voice which he might have expected to utter from that perfectly formed mouth, this creature spoke in the manner of a Yorkshire miner in deep, guttural tones.

"Dun't jus' sit theer, tha's got wuk t'do, tha knows," quoth she.

Luckily for Charlie, this was only a dream, of the kind one has after eating blue cheese for supper. Had it not been a dream, the consequences for Mankind could have been drastic: it is almost unthinkable that such a beautiful name as Hilda could be applied to a person as drab as Charlie's manservant: war would have been a certainty.

Astro did have work to do, however. He was an adventurer by trade, and his job took him to many exotic locations. This tale concerns the sequence of events that occurred after Charlie inherited an old oaken wardrobe, left to him by his old uncle Willy, who had himself been a bit of an adventurer in his day. Uncle Willy had been killed by a cave-in in the vast subterranean 'key' mines beneath Surbiton. Charles was at a loss as to what to do with the old wardrobe and had decided to store it in the roomy attic of his mansion.

Hilda had supervised the removal of the wardrobe to the attic and had informed Charles that the task had been completed. That evening, Astro decided to go and take a closer look at the wardrobe. As he made his way up the spiral staircase which led to the attic, Charles froze in his tracks. Noises were coming from behind the locked attic door, and through the gap beneath it shone tiny shafts of light in myriad colours.

"That bloody useless Hilda has left the television set switched on in the loft again!' thought Charlie to himself. Why Hilda kept a TV set in the loft Charles didn't exactly know, but he suspected it might be something to do with the pile of video cassettes Hilda kept locked away in his room, with titles like 'Wild Vixen' and and 'Horny Birds'. Hilda, Charles reflected, was a keen nature lover. Gingerly unlocking the door, Charles twisted the old brass doorknob and began to cautiously enter the room. 

There were no strange sounds to be heard now nor were there any eldritch lights. Just blackness.

Charles reached for the cord which hung from the ceiling in the corner nearest the door and pulled, fully expecting the lights to come on

FLASH!

The room had certainly become illuminated, though not by the solitary, shadeless electric light bulb which was suspended from the centre of the room. Charles gaped stupidly at the old oaken wardrobe. The wardrobe doors were wide open, and from within shone a beam of brilliant white light. The adventurer felt an irresistible compulsion to approach the glowing object and without his volition, his legs began to walk. He walked across the attic and stopped directly in front of the open wardrobe doors, staring into the dazzling light from within. As Charlie stared into the light, he thought he could make out glimmering images of people: there was what might have been an astronaut; someone in a top hat; a knight in shining armour perhaps; and others, most of which he could not identify. It was the wardrobe, he thought. If he entered the wardrobe he would find the answer: he must enter the wardrobe.

Without further deliberation, Charlie Fotheringham-Grunes took one step, two steps, and vanished from the vision of anyone who might have been watching from the attic. As did the wardrobe.

Indeed Charles and the wardrobe had vanished from the vision of someone, and Hilda cursed under his breath as he left the attic, locking the door behind him. Hilda had suffered for ten long years as Charlie's manservant, ever since the elders from the parallel plane of existence whence he came (and who incidentally, did not fully grasp the naming conventions of our plane) had sent him to our world on a quest to find the gateway into the land of Yesod; now he had been thwarted at the last. If only he had made the connection: the elders of his world had told him to look for War Drobe, for which he had searched in vain. Hilda swore to himself that he would find that cursed 'Astro Charlie' and that when he did, he would exact his revenge in as painful a way as he could devise.

Assuming his natural form, that of two-headed, winged arch-demon, Hilda called hp a bunch of his demon buddies using his interplanar communications equipment (for which the TV set in the loft acted as a booster) and set out to hunt for Charlie.

Charlie, on the other hand, had problems of his own. He was standing in what looked like a costume supplies shop. There were outfits of various descriptions on hangers all around the room, but there did not seem to be any sign of the wardrobe, which Charlie assumed must have brought him here. Then, as if by magic, a wizard appeared before him. He could tell this person was a wizard by the nature of his arrival in the room, and by his clothes: a long blue pointed hat decorated with stars and moons, matching cloak, and what could only have been a magic wand, held skillfully in his left hand. The wizard handed Charlie a map.

"Charlemagne Fotheringham-Grunes," boomed the wizard,  "take this map and guard it well!"

"You have been caught up in matters which do not concern you; there is but one chance for you to return to your own world!"

"The map I have given to you shows the locations where the wardrobe which transported you here is next due to materialise. It is the nature of the wardrobe to change the appearance of those who use it. I must tell you Charles Fotheringham-Grunes, that you are now inside the wardrobe. You must pick an outfit of clothes then leave the wardrobe. You must then seek out the wardrobe in the place where you find yourself, and you must repeat this cycle no less than four times."

"Beware, Charlie, for you are about to journey into the world of Yesod, and you will visit the very Heart of Yesod before you are through."

"I can offer no further help, except to say that the one you know as Hilda is, in fact, a two-headed, winged arch-demon, and he has sworn to kill you"
 
"Good luck!"

At this, the wizard vanished, and Charlie was left quite alone. He hadn't understood everything the wizard had said to him, but he figured that his best bet would be to do as the wizard had said. Picking out a natty spacesuit that had caught his eye, Charlie headed for the twin doors which he had just noticed at the far end of the room...

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