Crapshoot: Rockstar, the game that turned sex, drugs, and rock & roll into a management sim

From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about rolling the dice to bring random obscure games back into the light. This week, are you ready to rock? I said ARE YOU READY TO ROCK?! Oh, OK. I'll come back later. Sorry to have disturbed you.

You've got to admire confidence, I suppose. Rockstar, no relation to either the makers of Grand Theft Auto or games with actual music in them, describes itself like this: "THOSE MESMERISING NEW AGE HYPNOTISTS WIZARD GAMES PROUDLY, NO EXTRAVAGANTLY PRESENT FOR YOUR AMUSEMENT AND AMAZEMENT, BEWILDERMENT AND CONFUSION, THEIR LATEST PSYCHADELIC EXTRAVAGANZA: ROCKSTAR!"

Well, one out of four ain't bad, I guess.

"Welcome to the wonderful world of WIZARD games," continues the title screen. "You have never seen anything like this before! We don't waste your money on fancy packaging and glossy advertising... we won't insult your intelligence with childish graphic challenges.... we just write unique games that you will become addicted to, where nothing is ever the same twice! You are now entering the world of your own imagination, where nothing can be taken for granted..... SO BEWARE!!"

I'm pretty sure my imagination can beat 'be a struggling British rockstar', to be honest. It was only the other week that I wondered aloud to myself whether blood bank employees occasionally get to suit up in protective gear and have the most epic water balloon fights ever. Still, the credits are definitely crazy. Coding was apparently done by a Sleepy Cat Summer, with someone called Lord B Dog on special effects detail. How special can an effect be when it's entirely done in ASCII? You may be surprised to learn that the answer is 'not very special at all, even back in 1989.

Still, I'm sure a game advised by such gaming luminaries as Furry Crab, Pink, Celtic Ray, Guitar Bob and the Schmeelie Man can live up to its own hype. Let's fire it up!

Uh, not particularly, no.

Well, that's it for this week, folks! See you next time, and—

Sigh. Fine.

Rockstar is a time management game at heart, one that encourages you to live the anarchic world of a rock and roll legend by very carefully spending the most precious resource of all—life. Also money. In fact, mostly money, because that buys both happiness and occasionally drugs.

Every great artist needs a name. So do you. I opted to go a little post-modern by calling my band "Boring John". Then, worried that I might be underselling things a bit, I spelled it "BORING JOHN" to add a little excitement to things. My rockstar pamphlets will explain that for anyone who's unclear on the concept, along with providing helpful tips on recycling. Every little bit helps, right? I'm basically Sting.

As far as assets go, starting out, I have, as the game puts it, "a few hundred quid". Wonderfully specific there. My musical rivals include a new single from a band called Smoker's Cough called simply "Knickers", The Giant Panda's "Doom and Gloom", Royal Highness' "Makes You Sick" and The Axe Victims' "Cautious". These are all completely plausible sounding hits.

Speaking of hits, I sit down to write some songs, when my best friend offers me some cocaine. Within the context of the game, it would seem rude to refuse. In real life of course, you should never accept this kind of offer. Smack that cheap shit right out of his hand and tell him to go get something worth sticking up your nose. Like Sinex. Always worth keeping around this time of year in case your pipes get bunged. I'll add that to my pamphlets so that everyone can stock up before the shops close.

Every turn in Rockstar lasts a week, which may sound a long time, but is pretty short compared to, say, having a game of Draw Something any time after the week or so that anybody liked it. Your options are simple enough. Laze around. Write songs and practice. Gig. Record a single or album. Have a holiday. Visit the doctor. Consult your analyst. Unwind in a sanitorium. The tactical options are almost endless.

Since I have a bit of cash to hand, I opt to record a single. Despite not having any music, any fans, any money, or being entirely sure which way round a guitar goes, my manager Dodgy Sam also manages to get BORING JOHN a session on a World Network TV rock show. And people say breaking into this industry is hard. Opportunity isn't knocking, it's got me on speed dial. To celebrate, my drummer offers everyone a new type of heroin. I hope she's like Catwoman. Dodgy Sam immediately comes back to say that I'm also going to be in this year's Eurovideo competition, and my percussionist recommends I take marijuanna. Cheered by success, I accept his sage council without even correcting his spelling.


Eurovideo doesn't go so well, but I'm immmediately offered a place on another TV show, and some LSD. This offers the necessary mental fuel to create a single that is described by the game as "unbelievably dreadful", and by Dodgy Sam as "adequate". Asked for a name, I call it "Punching the Pope" in the hope of stirring up a little controversy, and go check my funds. After all this hard work, my "few hundred quid" is now "a few hundred quid." Can't help but hope that's not what my accountant says when I call him.

While Punching the Pope has only just hit the market, it seems like a good idea to capitalise on it before stocks run out of bonfire supplies by making a video. Dodgy Sam suggests two video directors: One Hand Fred, who is "best avoided" and Tricky James, who is "Pretty Dodgy". Figuring that at least "Pretty Dodgy" can work both ways, I give him a shot. It works out. His fussiness prolongs the shoot, but speaks to a certain inner professionalism. "You think Tricky James is encouragingly stimulating," says the game. Maybe this will prove the break he needs to get into film direction, and in a few decades' time, he could be at the head of a major James Bond film. I hope so. Unless that movie is destined to be Die Another Day, in which case I hope he falls off a cliff.

I check my funds. "You have a few hundred quid."

This is easy. Why isn't everyone a rockstar?

Oh, right. At some point you're expected to play music. I have Dodgy Sam set up some gigs in local pubs, which he has no problem doing. As Punching the Pope hits the shelves, BORING JOHN heads back to the streets to bask in the joy of success. Which goes like this—quoting directly:

Monday's gig: nobody turns up

Tuesday's gig: nobody turns up

Wednesday's gig: nobody turns up

Thursday's gig: nobody turns up. The groupies in your bed last night say they have AIDS!!!

Friday's gig: fairly cold response least I have groupies, right?

Checking my popularity, it turns out that being on more TV shows than David Mitchell hasn't won me any fans. In fact, feedback says that everyone in the local area, the UK, and Europe hates me, though I do have some fans in America. Possibly, ironic ones. Worse, the "few hundred quid" I used to have is now simply "a few quid". That's probably much less! Certainly, it's not enough to do another record.

"You want a regular supply of amphetamines," says the game. "Yeah, well, you want graphics," I tell it, and pout for a while. This seems to work. Somehow, Punching the Pope gets the world's attention and I'm offered a recording contract worth £39,000. That's like, MANY hundred quid! Dodgy Sam says I'm worth much more. I politely inform Dodgy Sam that his opinion is as relevant as herpes in a fruit fly.

With this backing, Punching the Pope goes from mild blasphemy to worldwide indignation. The video is officially Bad, but the reviews are Positive, and it goes to number 53 in the charts in the UK and 98 in America. To celebrate, I take some heroin, crash, and am rushed to hospital. "You abhor the hospital," says the game. "You ignore the nurses: they are not sexy enough." Still, the treatment goes well, so I think the lesson is clear—taking drugs is essentially harmless. Hurray for drugs!

Now armed with a full record company, it's time to find out what 'going platinum' means, and then try to make it happen for Punching the Pope. I invest some of my money into making an album, which I decide should be a rock romance opera called My Sofa Has Chlamydia. The sound engineer spends most of the time bitching, before finishing the project with the polite farewell "I will be chuffed to see the back of you f&*%ers," because even in a game that encourages you to take all the drugs, swearing would be fucking disgraceful. Unfortunately, not only does the album sound terrible, the record company refuses to distribute it. I still have "a few THOUSAND quid" though, so it's all good.

And it's all thanks to drugs! Delicious, tasty drugs!

A holiday seems in order, to recharge the old batteries. With my money, I can take a trip to Sunny Britain, Froggieland, The Mediterranean, Africa, India or Paradise Island. I opt for two weeks in the latter. "Lots of sex to be had in Paradise Island," says the game. This cheers you up!"

Yeah. But the hotel mini-golf was probably terrible.

Back in Sunny Britain, I set to work on a new album, when this message pops up.

I just love the way it says "orgy". Nothing says "our programmer was a millionth as cool as he—and it is a he—really wants to be" quite like that. It's a similar story if you go to the drugs menu, which lists your current habits and has the option "More drugs please."

Well, why not? More drugs please!

"There is a lot of drugtaking at the party..." warns the game. Or possibly boasts. Honestly, I'm not entirely sure, but it does seem an adorable way to describe a night at an "orgy".

The new album is a complete disaster, possibly down to the fact that we're in Year 1, Week 32, and I've practiced playing music exactly twice. "The final master sounds bloody dreadful," grumbles Rockstar. "Dodgy Sam says it is mediochre," it adds, but I try to take that as a positive thing. After all, he could have called it ultra-vilent. For a name, I decide it's probably a good idea to appeal to the universe's only arbiter of taste, and subsequently call it "I Love You, Random Number Generator!" or RNG for short.

To raise some funds, it's time to go gigging. The choice is either playing in local clubs for no purpose, or borrowing some money from the record company in the hopes of stepping things up a notch. The record company lends £61,000, to be repaid in 34 weeks. How nice. They also release a track from I Love You RNG! as a single without asking. Bastards! Parasites! I will have vengeance in blood!

Checking my popularity, I see my biggest fan-base is in America, on the grounds that I actually have a couple of fans in America. That's where the tour will be then...

Monday's gig: nobody turns up

Tuesday's gig: nobody turns up

Wednesday's gig: good applause for most numbers

Thursday's gig: nobody turns up

Friday's gig: nobody turns up

Not great. Overall though, still an improvement on the last time. The amount of money spent makes it clear I'm never, ever going to be able to repay the record company loan, so I decide to spend a ton of it on taking a "Carribean" cruise. This at least helps dampen the frustration of critics hating my album, but loving the single the record company released with their executive meddling bullshit. Yaaaaaargh! I hate those guys! What do they know about music anyway?

On return, I find the message "Dodgy Sam says he can get you the support to The Bottoms on their 5 week tour of large halls in Europe." I accept, and am described by critics as "adequate".

Oh yeah, and arrested for possession of heroin in one seriously busy Saturday.

Turns out that when you're a rockstar, heroin's just a class "Eh" drug. Hurrah! "I LOVE YOU, RNG!" also magically rises to number 49 in the charts, proving that fate can indeed be sucked up to even when you yourself suck. Finally, success beckons, and I'm almost positive I haven't forgotten anything!

Turns out that even before Napster, making music didn't exactly earn a fortune. I head back to the record company to get a loan to repay the original £61,000 loan. They offer me £295,000. I graciously accept, and am immediately hospitalised, then sedated after sexually assaulting a nurse, apparently. Still, nobody seems to care, and I subsequently pull exactly the same scam without the downtime.

Seriously, this rockstar business is easy. Finally, I think I've cracked it: sex, drugs and rock and roll. I am the king of the goddamn world, with a record company that reliably offers to give me interest free loans to repay my last interest free loans, only occasionally stepping in to release a single without asking, and refuse to let me make a record with the word 'Arse' in its name. Which is odd when there are bands out there with names like "Dog Piss" and "John the Rapist", and a group called "The Big Bums" is at number 31 in the singles chart with "Chocolate Surprise."

Just saying, Rockstar. Just saying.

Still, who cares? Let the sticks and arrows of outrageous fortune land where they may—at the risk of sounding arrogant, I am the greatest person who ever lived. Nothing can stop me now!