In 1992 Epic MegaGames threw their hat into the lucrative platforming ring with Jill of the Jungle, now fondly remembered alongside the likes of Duke Nukem and Commander Keen as a fine slice of platform history. Three years later, a mildly raunchy spiritual successor to Jill called Vinyl Goddess From Mars was developed by a company that no one had ever heard of, and no one would ever hear of again.
In their early days, Epic MegaGames were predominately a production company, usually opting to back the development of games from third party studios, although company founder Tim Sweeney was responsible for much of the early in house development. Between 1992 and 1995 newcomers Six Pound Sledge Studios were hired to work on Jill of the Jungle II (not to be confused with Episode 2 of Jill of the Jungle), with publishing and development support from Epic. But sometime before mid 1994, Epic dropped support of Jill II, claiming that the game was not up to their standards. Instead, they turned their focus towards Arjan Brusse’s Jazz Jackrabbit, but Six Pound Sledge weren’t deterred.
It didn’t take long for Jill II to find a new home, but Six Pound Sledge had to travel further north to Ontario, Canada, where Union Logic Software Publishing agreed to back the game. Exactly what happened during this transitional period is hazy, but one would assume that while Epic no longer supported Jill II, they retained legal control over the name and image. So Jill needed a new name, and a new face, and that face was Vinyl, the mildly erotic B-Movie Goddess from Mars. In 1995, Vinyl Goddess From Mars was released via the Shareware distribution system.
Evidently, Six Pound Sledge had changed the game just enough to make it theirs, as the similarities between Vinly and Jill were obvious. Gameplay and level design were almost impossible to tell apart from Jill, to the point where some parts in Vinyl were structurally identical to Jill. But Vinyl had the edge in its beautiful (for the time), VGA graphics, which brought the lush jungle environments to life, making for some dazzling eye candy. The general colour palette of the game was very bright and vibrant, whether you were traversing the Aztec like jungle ruins, or going deep underground exploring temples filled with traps.
While it played as a standard platformer, Six Pound Sledged mixed things up by setting the game on an unknown planet, providing just enough justification to introduce strange alien enemies and a skimpy costume for the protagonist. How did they pull it off? Let the game’s introduction explain:
“In the year 200 billion a small ship races across the galaxy taking The Vinyl Goddess From Mars to the esteemed intergalactic B-Movie convention. In mid transit, a meteor shower strikes without warning and the ship is engulfed in a sea of rocks and debris. Badly damaged by the cosmic storm, the ship careens off course. Desperately, The Vinyl Goddess twists knobs and pulls levers to regain control. The best that she can hope for is to eject and let the ship crash land on the strange planet below. It’s up to you to help the lovely goddess find and repair her ship and collect all of her belongings before it’s too late to reach the convention.”
The B-Movie plot gave Six Pound Sledge a relative amount of freedom to add basically whatever they wanted to the game. Strangely enough, it worked. Enemies varied from your typical fire breathing dumplings and goo blasting eyeballs, to burning skeletons and living missile launchers. Thrown into the mix were your classic moving platforms and booby traps, all of which worked thanks to the so-bad-it’s good plotline. As no human had ever been caught in a cosmic storm at the time, anyone who bought Vinyl couldn’t question the legitimacy of the story. If anything, it was cool to learn that humans had finally set up a colony on Mars that was ruled by B-Movie stars. Someone, somewhere was finally living the dream.
But where Vinyl really set itself apart was in its tongue in cheek sexualisation of the lead character. At the time, sex in games was still a rather taboo topic (not everyone thought Leisure Suit Larry was funny), yet Six Pound Sledge embraced it with open arms, and open wallets. Vinly wasn’t just a VGA era creation, she was modelled on an actual person, the illustrious winner of 1993 ‘Miss Nude Universe’ Debra Dare. The developers and publishers wanted to push the sex angle so strongly, they hired Dare to pose as Vinyl and render her in VGA graphics, to create one of the best title screens ever seen in the history of video games.
A whole year before Lara Croft would grace consoles, Vinyl was running around in a tight, red vinyl outfit and knee high boots, neither of which left much to the imagination. The game was dripping with tongue in cheek sexual innuendos, such as the tastefully titled hot plasma injector and thrust coil recompensator which had broken off the ship during the crash. The cornerstone to the tower of childish sleaze was the special mail in offer from Union Logic. If you enjoyed the shareware version, but didn’t quite think the additional levels were worth the $29.95 asking price, Union Logic would send you a pinup of Dare dressed as Vinyl.
While other devs were fronting their games with burly men or jumping animals, Union Logic were not so silently winking at all the fourteen year old gamers, offering a playable pinup. Needless to say, the game wasn’t that child friendly. It wasn’t an adult game as such, but for pubescent teens, Vinyl provided something to drool over that wouldn’t get you in trouble from mum and dad. It might not have looked like much, but this was before the days of the internet after all.
Sadly, Vinyl was released during the decline of the 2D platformer, with most developers focussing their efforts on shiny new 3D games ala Mario, or 2.5D platformers like Bug! The game seemed to be the death knell for most who worked on it, including the two developers, Jason Struck and Mark Lewis, who faded into obscurity. Six Pound Sledge ceased to exist after Vinyl was complete, and Union Logic went on to publish just one more game before their apparent demise, the first person space shooter Radix: Into the Void, also released in 1995.
Vinyl didn’t come close to putting a dent in the industry’s history, and won’t be remembered for anything more than the game that desperately tried to inject awkward sex into the declining 2D platformer. It’s links to Jill of the Jungle still give it an important place among the pages of history, revealing why the hugely popular platformer never existed beyond a single incarnation. Today Vinyl Goddess from Mars exists as abandonware, with no one explicitly claiming ownership over the scantily clad goddess, and her hot plasma injector.