North and South – coming up on 30

In the early ’80s, the microcomputer business in France was on the rise, the software market was primarily dominated by English software titles, a challenge when many people, at the time, weren’t able to read or fully understand English. To cater to the French and francophone public, small local software companies started to emerge. One of those said companies was established by Bruno Bonnell, a French businessman, who started his career working on the Thomson 9000, one of the earliest French-produced personal computers, and Christophe Sapet, who had a strong interest in the personal computer market and believed that selling software would be a very viable business.
Bonnell and Sapet had earlier written a book on the BASIC programming language – and with $10.000 in earnings they discussed how the money should be invested, over dinner the decision was made to start a software company, they were joined by Thomas Schmider – The year was 1983 and Infogrames was a reality.
Infogrames would start out by selling programming products but soon found their way into the gaming world with clones of popular arcade hits of the early ’80s. Also, American Sci-fi movies lay the ground for a few games, Troff, based on the movie Tron and I.L. L’intrus inspired by Alien.
Throughout the mid-’80s Infogrames would struggle to find financial backing but continued to release products for the personal computer market. In 1988 they had their first major hit with the release of Tintin on the Moon, a sidescrolling action game loosely based on the plot of the Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon comics from Belgian cartoonist Hergé, the game was released for the majority of personal computers and ported to IBM/PC by Probe Entertainment in 1989. Tintin on the Moon kickstarted a very creative and productive time for Infogrames. Their 1989 title North and South would become Infogrames next big hit – a title, like Tintin, based on a Belgian comic.

Tintin on the Moon, sealed, for the Commodore Amiga, released in 1988.

North and South
Belgian artist Louis Salverius and writer Raoul Cauvin created Les Tuniques Bleues, The Bluecoats, as a comic strip, first published in the weekly Franco-Belgian comics magazine Spirou Magazine in 1968. Two years later in 1970, the first album of the series was published by Dupuis. The bluecoat refers to the Union army during the American Civil War. The comics follow main characters Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch two colorful and clashing opposites. Les Tuniques Bleues lay the inspiration for Infogrames’ next game, North and South, a combined strategy and arcade game that played out through the American Civil War, giving the player the opportunity to play either as the Union or as the Yankees.
The game’s main interface is a strategic map that gives an overview of your (and your opponents) conquered territories and troops. A train passes through the states each month, stopping at railroad stations, leaving you money which can be traded in for new troops – the more states you control the bigger the payout. By moving your troops to new states you have the ability to expand your territory, if your opponent is not present in the state you’re moving to, you gracefully overtake it – unless there’s a railroad station then the game switches to a side-scrolling arcade game, in the fashion of earlier Infogrames titles – If a state is occupied by your opponent the game switches to a tactical arcade game where you control your different units, using each special ability to your advance.
The game could be fairly short when playing against the computer but the two-player option was really where the game excelled.

The original European release, sealed, for the Commodore Amiga, released in 1989

North and South is filled with comical situations and gags, people who played it will fondly remember (even if they haven’t played it for 30 years) how the photographer in the main menu would tickle up when clicking on his behind, same thing with the squeaky parody on the national anthems when changing language. North and South was released for the Amiga and Atari ST in 1989 and utilized both platforms excellent graphics and sound capabilities. Later the game was ported to an array of European micros and for the IBM/PC.

Data East USA would become a licensee and get the publishing rights in North America.
Above the North American Data East IBM/PC release and a sealed Commodore 64/128 release, both released in 1989

I still to this day see North and South, with its colorful graphics and cartoonish style and animation, as a computerized homage to the traditional cartoon strips – The original music and sound by Charles Callet, works in perfect conjunction and sounds absolutely awesome on the Commodore Amiga – even the IBM/PC version with PC-speaker sounds pretty good.

While doing my research, I was nothing but astounded by the sheer number of views North and South gameplay videos on Youtube had, so much that I simply couldn’t resist noting it here – North and South was “just” a small, European (and Francophile), cute’n’casual game, created 30 years ago, by at the time a fairly small French developer.
The gameplay video of the original Amiga version watched the most has well over 550.000 views, that’s over a 12 year period but quite the testament nonetheless.
I really love the game, then as now, but I honestly didn’t have the slightest idea that so many people still have an interest in it today.

World of Longplays

North and South was also released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1990, and have since seen a few remakes, latest for iOS and Android. Infogrames, of course, rocketed to the hall of computer game fame in the nineties with the chilling but fabulous Alone in the Dark series – But that’s a story for another day.

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