Have You Played… Captain Blood?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

If Commander Blood is one of the most bizarre experiences one could ever have in PC gaming, its predecessor Captain Blood is definitely one of the most obtuse. But you’ll love every minute of it.

There are no Muppets to be found here, or even techno to dance in your chair to. There are bizarre menus, alien interactions, and fractal landscapes comprising a tale surrounding one Bob Morlock, who you might recall from the Commander Blood synopsis. Same guy.

Morlock takes on the name “Captain Blood” as he finds himself stuck in the spaceship of a game he actually created. After he’s accidentally cloned 30 times, Blood sets off on an 800-year quest to disintegrate every single clone in the universe, or die trying.

Through the UPCOM system, a slew of picture icons that allow you to communicate with the aliens you meet along the way, you’ve got to earn the trust of the locals on each planet and eventually find your clones and take them out before you wither away.

Every aspect of this game looks and feels as alien and indecipherable as you’d imagine the rest of the universe might, and for that reason it remains one of my favorite games of all time. It must be experienced, whether you try the PC version or one of its many ports.

From this site

33 Comments

  1. disconnect says:

    “UPCOM system”? What’s UPCOM?

    • Emeraude says:

      The communication system in the game.

      You have an ideographic, icon-based system that allows you to translate roughly what you want to say in a form that is understandable by all the alien races which all have their own language.

      See all those icons in the lower menu ? That’s the UPCOM system .

      • Jackablade says:

        I suspect the correct response might be:
        “Not bad, Com. What’s up with you”

        • Emeraude says:

          No, the correct answering always discussing the UPCOM and its glorious icons!

          LOOK AT THEM!

  2. Emeraude says:

    One of my favorite games of all time, and one of the reasons I studied linguistics. That game had a huge influence on my life. Finishing that game with friends, with o guidance… that felt crazy. *That* felt like an achievement.

    There’s been nothing quite like it, and it kinda kills me. So many designs traits for which I love the game would be immediately labeled as bad and given the axe without a second thought nowadays.

    Can’t even say it’s a game of its time – though obviously it would be true on some respects – so different it is from mostly everything else.

    I don’t know that I would recommend it, but yeah, but it’s a major game for me. Something I think every designer should at least experience once.

    • Pravin Lal's Nuclear Arsenal says:

      I never played Captain Blood, but I recently heard Tom “Gunpoint” Francis mention a game called Tribal and Error in a podcast. It’s still in development and the basic idea might appeal to you: as far as I understand, you’re a robot sent amongst cavemen who can only communicate through pictograms. You then have to infer what those pictograms mean and build a language from the ground up to interact with them. Check it out, it might scratch that linguistics itch of yours!

    • malkav11 says:

      You might find The Gostak (link to ifdb.tads.org) interesting. I believe there are a few other interactive fiction titles that play with similar ideas.

      • Phasma Felis says:

        Oh my god, The Gostak was so much fun.

        I recommend playing it with a friend, which I realize sounds super weird for a text adventure, but it works for a lot of them–one person “drives” and reads out text as necessary, the other collaborates on actions. Works great for road trips and other situations where one person is physically occupied. (We did a fair bit of play while my buddy was painting his living room.)

        Anyway, the point is that if you play The Gostak with a friend, then by the end of it you’ll both speak rudimentary Gostakian and can drive your friends crazy. “Hey, wanna rask some leilage?” “Yeah, I could leil.”

  3. Emeraude says:

    And obligatory Jean Michel Jarre soundtrack mention: link to youtube.com

  4. MrAgmoore says:

    Well… you managed to figure out the story line, which is further than I got. I was born in 1975 and would have been 13 when the game was released. I had an Amstrad CPC 6128 ( with a built in floppy-drive – woo ).

    Based on magazine reviews, I convinced my friend to buy it for his Commodore 64. Kiran… I’m sorry. It was a monumentally shitty and over hyped game. Magazines were getting some serious kickback money for padded reviews ( back room blow jobs… a truck load of cocaine or something… ).

    You can read my Youtube comments ( I’m Andrew Moore ):

    Games from my childhood: Captain Blood

    • April March says:

      I greatly doubt even the entire gaming industry of 1988, pooling their resources together, could acquire a truckload of cocaine.

      Blowjobs, now…

    • Bent Wooden Spoon says:

      From John’s text:

      it remains one of my favorite games of all time

      Also some love in the comments. Perhaps it’s less that it was “a monumentally shitty and over hyped game” reviewed well by press that were “…getting some serious kickback money for padded reviews”, and more that you and your mate just didn’t enjoy it?

  5. MrAgmoore says:

    If you are a fan of Captain Blood, you might enjoy this article:

    “Games nobody talks about anymore: Captain Blood”

    Den of Geek

    Ryan Lambie
    1 Aug 2015

    link to denofgeek.com

  6. Zenicetus says:

    I remember this one, oh yes. I don’t think I finished it, but it left an impression. It was the first computer game I ever played that was just completely out of the box weird, like it had been designed by an actual alien intelligence.

    Aside from the language interface thing, it also had the first wireframe “landing on a planet” sequences I’d ever seen, which was amazing at the time.

  7. Jackablade says:

    I hauled the sequel Commander Blood out of a bargain bin having no idea what it was. I played it for a while and still had no idea what it was.

  8. Kefren says:

    Lovely. I often used the Amiga’s planet landing bits as a prelude to playing a game of Aliens on my C64, chaining them together into one session. Great music and atmosphere. More of an experience than a game. All those planets rotating, each slightly different; random jumping round the map, always hoping to find the endgame or a new race (I never found anything when doing random jumps). This is the game where you could just nuke a planet if the aliens annoyed you, even though it made the game unwinnable.

  9. April March says:

    Is it available for purchase or barely legal aquisition anywhere?

    • LionsPhil says:

      Some quick searching seems to indicate that the Amiga (and I suspect Atari ST) releases are available as crackscene floppy images. Combine them with the emulator of your choice.

      Given the era, probably a better experience than the DOS version, plus savestates are always nice.

    • Emeraude says:

      The team behind the game has (had?)been trying to launch some sequel of sort for some time now. They made the original freely available on their blog:

      link to captainbloodlegacy.blogspot.fr

      In french, just check the “BloodSteemReady.zip” link.

      • spectone says:

        In french, just check the “BloodSteemReady.zip” link.
        Steem is an older emulator for the Atari ST which means it is the ST version emulated. You could probably use the disk image in another emulator such as Hatari if you wanted.

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      Or you can try sleeping with an 18 year old and a copy should appear on your HDD within 3 business days.

  10. LTK says:

    I haven’t, but it gives me an idea for a game where you have to murder all your clones, who are also all trying to murder each other. Only which one is the original doesn’t matter; if the clone you control dies, you just move on to a different clone, until there are none left.

    • poliovaccine says:

      That sounds like an awesome game…

    • Emeraude says:

      I’m reminded of Omikron/The Nomad Soul’s transmigration system, and another whose name eludes me for now who was more strictly about clones that did something similar.

    • Premium User Badge

      Addie says:

      Crusader Kings II? Not that they’re clones, but I always seem to be planning to bump off my brothers and half my children within about ten minutes of starting a game…

  11. thekelvingreen says:

    Indeed I have played Captain Blood, and I enjoyed it although, like many, I had no idea what to do.

    Since the release of No Man’s Sky I’ve been thinking about both Captain Blood and Novagen’s Mercenary series, as it seems to borrow from both.

  12. remka says:

    I played this game on an Amstrad CPC in the 80’s I think.
    Sounded all epic and mysterious at the time, especially since so much was left to imagination. Never managed to land my ship though, so I stopped playing quite quicky.
    No Internet at the time to look for walktroughs…

    Anyway, I do remember it after all these years.

  13. Premium User Badge

    john_silence says:

    I did! I must have been what, nine?

    Trying to communicate with the inscrutable aliens was very frustrating; but sometimes you made a little way, managed something resembling an exchange. It was often hard even finding one to talk to. I didn’t even know I was supposed to hunt down any clone. I was too taken by the difficult linguistics challenge and weird, zippy, unpredictable exploration.

    • Yglorba says:

      Like a lot of games at the time, important parts of the plot were in the manual (I think it was seen as a form of copy-protection, even.) The bit about how your goal is to hunt down your clones (to cure yourself of a degenerative disease IIRC) is in there.

      It’s a really weird game. You begin the game with a spaceship capable of blowing up any planet in the game at the push of a button.

  14. Arganoid says:

    Can I plug the Captain Blood webpage I wrote in 1997? It has a link to the Atari ST version of the game, which is the definitive version (none of the other versions have the ‘proper’ alien language sounds)
    ARGanoid’s Captain Blood Worship page