Q-Bits from my personal collection – Rescue Squad

Welcome to another Quick Bits article. A few months ago I wrote a small article on John Kutcher and his excellent Space Taxi. While I quickly touched on his first and much lesser-known game, Rescue Squad, I thought it should have its own post with more pictures and a gameplay video.

During high school, in 1980, 13-year-old John Kutcher found his calling when he was introduced to the school’s TRS-80 computers. Logic and programming seemed natural and the technically minded Kutcher vigorously dived into Assembly Language. The low-level programming language intended to communicate directly with the computer’s hardware was required for the fast-paced and complex concepts of well-known games he tried replicating. While the TRS-80 was an excellent machine, the initial model was released in 1977, and gaming-wise never gained the traction of the Apple II. In 1979 competition stiffened when Atari introduced its own line of 8-bit home computers with the Atari 400 and 800, both machines primarily targeting the games market. A new era in computing, where dedicated hardware allowed for high-quality graphics and sound, was born.

In 1982, at the Consumer Electronic Show, Commodore unveiled the Commodore 64. With its low price tag, powerful performance, gaming support, and programming potential the machine was hailed as the next big thing in personal computing and soon caught the attention of Kutcher. With money borrowed from his granddad, he was able to acquire a Commodore 64. On his own, he learned the machine’s ins and outs, an endeavor that soon turned into a three-part game, loosely simulating the job of an ambulance driver rescuing people from fires. As the development evolved it became apparent that it was as good and professionally done as many of the products on the shelves at the local computer stores.
With the likelihood of earning a few royalties, Kutcher would be able to pay back his granddad and maybe even put a few dollars in his own pockets. When the game neared completion he started looking around for a possible publisher.

In a time before the World Wide Web, and Google searches, the phone book played a vital part in getting access to information. Phone books not only listed phone numbers but also acted as a marketing place where local business could advertise their services. In the Baltimore local phone book, Kutcher found an entry from Ed Zaron‘s MUSE Software, a company that had seen much success publishing Silas Warner‘s groundbreaking Castle Wolfenstein a few years earlier. Kutcher contacted MUSE and presented his ambulance rescue driver game, Rescue Squad. Zaron saw potential and a publishing contract was agreed upon. Warner, who had incorporated some of the earliest digitized sound effects into home computer games, added sound and music to make the game a more complete experience.

17-year-old Kutcher was about to graduate from high school when his Rescue Squad was published for the Commodore 64 in the summer of 1983. While being Kutcher’s first commercially released game and only selling moderately, it received the Best Game of the Year award from one of the established computer game magazines and prompted interest from MUSE for Kutcher to create a second game.

John Kutcher’s first commercially released game, Rescue Squad, published by MUSE Software for the Commodore 64 in 1983

Rescue Squad consisted of three different mini-games, loosely simulating the job of an ambulance driver rescuing people from fires. While the games were simple, Rescue Squad received the Best Game of the Year award from one of the established computer game magazines

Sources: Wikipedia, Scene World Interview with John Kutcher, GAMES Magazine Dec. 1984

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