Lemmings creator on hunt for rare versions of Dundee-born video game

He inspired the Dundee-made video game that saw players try to guide gangs of self-destructing rodents to safety.

Now Mike Dailly is on a return mission to save the Lemmings.

Developed by DMA Design, which was originally based on Dundee’s Perth Road, the iconic puzzle-platformer was launched for the Amiga on Valentine’s Day in 1991.

The game sold 55,000 copies in its first day.

It kept selling.

What delighted and infuriated those who played were how the creatures you had to keep safe would blindly walk to their doom.

Soon word-of-mouth took Lemmings global.

It would go on to sell an estimated 20 million copies worldwide for a number of other platforms.

Mike believes there could be 88 versions in total of Lemmings.

He is trying to collect them all.

Mike said: “When I started, I thought it might be nice to try to get a ‘complete’ collection.

“I didn’t realize there were quite so many.

“It’s currently taking up most of my bookcase!”

Mike’s collection started small but is ongoing.

The inspiration behind the game famously came from a simple animated 8×8 character sprite, created as part of the development for another DMA game, Walker.

Mike created an animation showing the tiny creatures walking endlessly across the screen.

With a little input and polish from Gary Timmons and other members of the team, they made the tiny sprites move far more fluidly.

Mike’s collection started small before he decided to turn it into a much bigger undertaking.

That’s brought his own challenges as he tries to complete his collection.

“I’ve recently gotten one of the really hard ones to find, like the Commodore 64 Tape version, but the Japanese Sharp x68000, FM Towns, and the UK Sam Coupe versions are by far the hardest to find now,” he said.

“It’s not a case of them going for too much, but more that they never appear.

“They’re extremely rare.”

The Lemmings game featured distinctive anthropomorphized lemmings designed by Dailly.

Despite first appearing on the Amiga, versions have now been made for lots of different systems, including the modern-day PS3, PSP and Nintendo DS.

Mike’s influence can still be seen in the very fabric of the game.

Levels were designed on a Deluxe Paint interface, which allowed the creators to design several levels each.

This resulted in hundreds of levels, which each had a different design due to the different designers.

A screen-grab from the popular 90s puzzle game.
A screen-grab from the popular ’90s puzzle game.

Mike’s levels were defined by their titles.

These often contained clues about what to do.

Levels such as “It’s Hero Time”, suggesting that one lemming had to be separated from the crowd, were attributed to him.

Lemmings game challenging to complete

The popularity of Lemmings led to the creation of sequels, remakes and spin-offs, such as Oh No! More Lemmings, Christmas Lemmings and Lemmings Two: The Tribes.

Mike said the fact there are several different versions of the game is what has also made his collection so challenging to complete.

He explains: “I currently have about 62 different versions, and am trying to source about 12 more.

“It really is amazing how many skews there were, but sometimes they appeared to just change the box.

“The Amiga has about eight different versions, for example, with three being the same except for the box.”

A stamp of Lemmings, which is part of a set of stamps released by the Royal Mail of classic video games.  PA Picture.
A stamp of Lemmings, which is part of a set of stamps released by the Royal Mail of classic video games. PA Picture.

Does Mike think he’ll manage to complete his mission?

That might prove tricky, as he believes there will still be some versions of Lemmings out there that even he doesn’t know about.

But he’s not about to give up anytime soon.

He said: “The 88 versions I’ve got, or am hoping to get, are just the ones I know about.

“But there will still be some I’ve no idea about.

“Perhaps a French version on Nintendo format or something similar.

“I’m just collecting the original Lemmings, not any sequels or data disks, though I do include later versions – like the PlayStation Portable (PSP), if it uses the original levels.”

Russell Kay and Mike Dailly, right, stand next to their creation.

Mike was just 14 and a pupil at St John’s High School when, in 1984, he was coerced by a friend to attend the Kingsway Amateur Computer Club.

That was a chance occurrence he reckons went on to “change his life forever”.

Life and times

DMA Design was founded in Dundee in 1987 by David Jones.

David hired former classmates (including Mike) to initially produce shooter games.

After the release of Lemmings in 1991, it turned its attention to platform games.

The now-defunct Dundee-firm became Rockstar Studios in March 2002, when it was being integrated into Rockstar Games.

It was then renamed to Rockstar North in May 2002.

Rockstar North went on to create another multi-million-selling title, Grand Theft Auto, which Mike designed the original prototype for.

The GTA series of games are still being produced today.

Most recently, Mike worked as a lead software developer for YoYo games, alongside his old DMA Design colleagues.

Lemmings cover art.
Lemmings cover art.

With versions of Lemmings being released on new generations of hardware, it continues to be enjoyed by players of all ages everywhere.

Lemmings was one of six games featured in a stamp series issued by the Royal Mail in 2020 to pay tribute to the UK’s early video game industry.

The interest in Lemmings was sparked again due to a feature-length documentary that was released to celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2021.

Many retrospective reviews have cited it as one of the greatest games of all time.

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[Lemmings creator on hunt for rare versions of Dundee-born video game]

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