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Fan or not, Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story is an absolute must-have if you’re interested in gaming history

Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story screenshot
Image: Digital Eclipse

Jeff Minter’s a legendary name in British video game development. Even if you don’t know any of the games he’s made under his Llamasoft company banner, there’s a very good chance you’ve heard of him. And there’s a good reason: since the early 80s, just as video games were beginning to break their way into homes, Jeff has been there, creating groundbreaking games and making his mark on the industry. And Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story documents all of it in a fantastic interactive documentary.

This isn’t the first “game” of its type. It’s in fact the second in a “Gold Master” series being published by Digital Eclipse, following up last year’s The Making of Karateka. We’ve seen the interactive documentary elsewhere, too, with the likes of the excellent Atari 50. Like the others, Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story combines text, videos, games, concept art and other bits of media to tell a unique and utterly engaging story about Jeff and the rise of Llamasoft. It’s compelling, and this is absolutely the best way to display it.

Perusing Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story sees you moving along timelines, interspersed with game art, videos, doodles from Jeff and a whole lot more. You’ll learn about the home computers — we’re predating consoles, here — of the time along with various other snippets pertinent to the time, be it an image of a computer trade show or something relating to politics. Many “nodes” of the timeline have additional information attached to them, with an extra vertical line coming down from it. It’s like a big family tree of everything Llamasoft.

Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story screenshot
Image: Digital Eclipse

Of course, you can jump in and out, whizz through, and just look at the stuff that interests you. But ultimately, it’s all worth feasting your eyes upon. The videos are very well made, with Jeff being a focal point, of course, but also interview snippets from other game journalists, developers and industry figures who know Jeff. But many of the documents, and written quotes from Jeff, are well worth your time, too. There are screenshots of Jeff’s sixth-form college notes: scribbles about Pink Floyd next to lines of notes about BASIC programming. There are hand-drawn game instructions to some of his earliest projects. And even notes on the importance of a good cup of tea.

There’s actually a touching story here, too, for those who aren’t already familiar with Jeff Minter’s history. He began making games at college, after seeing someone programming a game into a Commodore PET. After an early partnership went wrong, Llamasoft became an undertaking between Jeff and his parents — and for over 10 years his parents’ house acted as the official Llamasoft studio. They even had an extension built to contain everything related to the company. That’s true dedication.

Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story screenshot
Image: Digital Eclipse

There are more than 40 Llamasoft games to play here and while they offer a neat look into Llamasoft’s history, we wouldn’t necessarily call them the main feature. Many of them are too old to be truly enjoyed, but it’s great to see where video game development — and Jeff’s unique spin on creating game worlds — started. Perhaps the stand-out inclusion in the game is a remastered version of Llamasoft’s classic Commodore 64 title Gridrunner, with this being the only place you can currently play it.

Our only criticism about the experience? The later years of Llamasoft — the more modern times covering games like Tempest 4000 and last year’s Akka Arrh are mere footnotes. This is very much a focus on the early history, the 1970s and 80s, and while that’s not a bad thing in itself, we’d have liked to know more detail about the company as it is today.

Obviously, you’re going to get more out of Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story if you’re already a fan of Jeff — a Llamasoftie, if you will. But there’s so much to be gained here even if you’re not even slightly familiar with his work. This is a timeless and important look back at the humble beginnings of game development, presented in a gorgeous manner. Digital Eclipse has done an incredible job of putting this together, and we can’t wait to see what the Gold Master series has in store for us next.

Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story is available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch and PC.

Editor in chief // Kim's been into video games since playing Dizzy on her brother's Commodore 64 as a nipper. She'll give just about anything a go, but she's got a particular soft spot for indie adventures. If she's not gaming, she'll be building Lego, reading a thriller, watching something spooky or... asleep. She does love to sleep.