The game which kickstarted Scotland’s videogames industry reaches its third decade, with 20 Million sales and counting
It’s true. Lemmings, the first videogame from Scotland to achieve huge international success, was released on February 14th 1991.
Designed and developed by the legendary DMA Design in Dundee, Lemmings was the company’s first global megasmash (which was an official unit of measurement in 1991). Hand-carved by a small team of developers working above a restaurant on Perth Road in central Dundee, the game challenged players to guide as many suicidally-inclined tiny mammals as they could, safely through a perilous landscape which offered numerous opportunities for sudden, gratuitous and instant death.
Players had to use the skills of different lemmings – builders, blockers, floaters, etc. to overcome obstacles and guide as many of their slice (collective term – citation needed) to the exit.
Initially released on the Amiga, the game’s simple, intuitive gameplay was a hit and Lemmings went on to be ported to dozens of other platforms including the Atari ST, Sinclair Spectrum, PC, Commodore 64, Master System, NES, and SNES. It also made an appearance on many of the more obscure systems available at the time, such as the 3DO, Acorn Archimedes, CDTV, TurboGrafx-16, Philips CD-i and Sharp X68000.
Lemmings was one of the most popular and well-received video games of the early nineties. It was the second highest-rated title ever reviewed by Amstrad Action magazine , and in 1996 Next Generation placed it at number eight in it’s all time best games roundup. Lemmings is estimated to have sold around 20 million copies between its various ports. Many retrospective reviews place the game in their own lists of the greatest games of all time.
Who’d have guessed that a fun little animation would go on to make something so enduring, and have such a deep impression on so many? I still get messages from people who tell me about how they played as a family, either with kids, or as kids with their parents – or even grandparents. It’s still one of the few generational crossing games released. I’m deeply proud of the work we did, and the joy we brought to so many.Mike Dailly – Developer, Lemmings
The inspiration behind the game famously came from a simple animated 8×8 character sprite, created by Mike Dailly as part of 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. Programmer Russell Kay, suggested “There’s a game in that!” and (according to Wikipedia) later coined the term “lemmings” for them.
We never imagined that a bunch of geeks from Bonnie Dundee could make a game loved by many and still remembered fondly 30 years later. Certainly not this geekRussell Kay – Developer, Lemmings
Where Are They Now?
The game was published by Psygnosis, the Liverpool-based studio which published many of DMA’s earlier titles (including Blood Money and Menace). The Lemmings IP remained with Psygnosis, which became part of Sony Computer Entertainment in 1993, leaving Lemmings a Sony property. Sony has released a number of Lemmings games over the years, from a complete remake for the PlayStation 2 in 2006 (developed by Team 17), through to a mobile version in 2018.
Despite the game no longer being made in the city, Dundee retains a great deal of fondness and respect for the game which helped to secure its reputation as a global gaming pioneer. The city boasts it’s own slice of Lemmings, with a trio of bronze sculptures, created by local artist Alyson Conway, who are scaling the wall at the top of Seabraes, home to many of the city’s most successful games studios, and only a stones throw from their original birthplace.
For the game’s 20th anniversary, a plaque commemorating the genesis of the game was unveiled at DMA’s original studio location at the foot of Perth Road. While the pub next door, the Nether Inn, features yet more Lemmings, climbing, blocking, floating and buildng their way across the walls.
In 2020, Lemmings was featured on a first class stamp in a collection of classic UK videogames, alongside titles including Elite, Populous, Worms and Micro Machines.
If you’re interested in more background on the game’s creation, the Wikipedia entry is extensive and comprehensive. There’s also an excellent retrospective of the development and evolution of the game from Mike Dailly, which he delivered at the 2019 Game Developers Conference.
We’ll also recommend the amazing DMA Design history website, from Steve Hammond, another one of the original team, who’s documenting the history of the company and the games it created. We’ll also leave Steve with the last word:
Happy birthday Lemmings.