Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Gaming in the 80's:We Must Perform A Quirkafleeg

But Daaaaad, we whined, its got educational games that will help with our homework.

They literally bought it.

But which of the powerhouses of home computing to choose from in 1984? The Amiga was still a time away, VIC-20 was old hat and the Amstrad? Who has ever bought anything from Amstrad - looked dreadful. How SirAlan made his fortune is beyond me.

The Blur & Oasis of 80's home gaming were the ZX Spectrum and the Commodore 64. The ZX Spectrun or "Speccy" was simpler, cheaper, with more basic graphics and a cheap looking but beguiling rubber keyboard - clearly Oasis. Commodore 64's, or C64, more stylish, expensive, sophisticated pixel intensity and sound - those southern softies, Blur.

I realise you may have other opinions on which Britpop bands represent 80's home computers so feel free to play along at home.

Me - I went for the C64 - as if the blinking cursor above didn't make that clear. It just looked more lake a computer that you saw in films than the Speccy. I was 11 years old and this was the future in my very own room. Naturally i wasn't allowed to use the family telly to play as my dad had heard that the images from the games could be permanently burnt into the cathode ray tube. A bloke down the pub had said this was true.
  It makes me smile when people complain about slow load times of games/apps on their i-pads, phones and games systems. C64 games were on tapes, the loading screen was a epilepsy inducing rainbow of colour and at every pause you would hold your breath in case the load failed. Sometimes you would let the tape run til the end not realising it had crashed. If the game was a multi-part load the odds were shortened further and hours of hard work was lost. Save points? Prrrrrppphhhhh!!!

Later we got a disk drive but those big floppy things (missis) were equally as unreliable. Yet it taught a whole generation how to interact with computers, technology and not trust the bastards one little bit. Turn your back and they'll let you down. 

Boots The Chemist was my game retailer of choice. I used to scour the budget range collection - Mastertronic - (red label for C64 / yellow label for Speccy) - for exciting new titles for no more that £2.99.

I'm sure that if you were of a similar age you had your favourites - 'Elite' obviously, 1942, Ghost n Goblins, Gauntlet, Bubble Bobble and other versions of popular arcade games.  

'Impossible Mission' was one of the most addictive around - you had to search rooms defended by robots for key-codes to defeat the brilliantly named Professor 
Elvin Atombender. It was the sound effects that made it - the bloodcurdling scream as you plummeted to your death or the fizzy buzz as a robot eviscerated yo' ass sent shivers up the spine.

I must have spent the
summer of 1984 playing Jet Set Willy - no thats not a euphemism - and it seemed time well spent. trying to remember the pixel perfect jumps that otherwise meant a death plunge, it was nail biting stuff. ZZAP 64! magazine printed a map of Willy's mansion so you could plan your game. I never clean up all the items and got to go to bed. Only many years later did I discover that it was impossible to finish. A programming fuck up meant that several items were impossible to get without a bug fix. I felt cheated.

In those endless summer holidays when the world was free of paedophiles and the streets were alive to the sound of tennis ball against window we had time to build dens, torture ants with a  magnifying glass, snogging the girl down the road AND spend days playing computer games.

The EPYX stable would help us out with their popular 'Games' series of Olympic sports - Summer and Winter titles obviously but then "California\Summer Games" with BMX biking, skateboarding and "Hacky-sacking" as the disciplines. The sleeve had a glossary of terms that were supposedly alien to a British audience - "dude" "gnarly" "cool" "far out". My friends and I would each pick a country to represent with the good ol' USSR \ USA cold war being fought out over our inability to make a pixelated horse jump over even one bloody fence. 

Like any youth craze that hoovers the money from adults via their kids whether it be by pocket money or paper rounds the "tie in game" was a must for a summer blockbuster. Sly Stallone's "Rambo II: First Blood" might have been held responsible by the Daily Mail for the Hungerford massacre but he was turned into an blocky little killing machine for kids by the Vic II graphics chip capable of generating 16 colours although never at the same time.

The one I enjoyed above all others was the simple but effective 'Ghostbusters' where you ran your own Ghostbusters franchise. Success would lead to more money and better equipment.
Capturing ghosts, stopping the Marshmallow Man from stomping all over town and finally crossing the streams to defeat Zuul. And of course that infectious theme song was there in all its midi glory

Unsurprisingly those master media manipulators of the age behind chart busting pop act Frankie Goes To Hollywood produced a game that even at that tender age I could tell was pretentious as hell and totally confusing. And so Paul Morley's work has remained to me to this very day. 

I found the cassette that came with the game the other day - it contains a live version of 'Relax' that I suspect may not be live at all but a studio creation with dubbed on audience sounds.

That said the 100% Bernard Matthews special that was Paul McCartney's 1980's vanity film project 'Give My Regards To Broad Street' (once seen - never understood - never seen again) got a game. All I recall about it was driving round a 2D London map in a VW Beetle (gerrit?) and it crashing a lot - the game not the car. 
'No More Lonely Nights' is still a cracking tune though - great single mix.

Pitstop II - F1 racing with pit-stops bought a bit of tactics and planning into thrashing your friends on the track with tyre wear and fuel levels coming into play. I recall a birthday party being turned over to a racing championship with a 4-pack of Mars Bars as a prize. Twenty seven years old I was etc

Head Over Heels was a truly innovative title. Full of fiendish problem solving the titular pair began divided by a wall and had to circumnavigate 
many room and puzzles until they were reunited before performing tasks that the other was unable to do. Head could jump high whereas Heels could fit under small gaps. A strange and imaginative play.  

Which was the greatest C64 game of them all? For me it was a bizarre, very odd and downright bonkers games called 'Wizball'Stretching the C64's CPU to its limits it featured a wizard in a large smiling testicle like ball collecting colours to transform the black and white scenery he was living in. He was aided by a black cat (in his own satellite who caught the large droplets of colour as they fell from defeated alien creatures and ships. Addictive, endlessly replayable and hypnotoc its one of the few I've revisited in recent years via a C64 emulator to play again. It still rocks!

If you fancy a trip back to those days then I recommend:

lemon64 for info, reviews and all that good stuff
C64.com to download games, get an emulator

for plenty of games I have yet to mention - Dizzy, Thing On A Spring, Spyhunter, Manic Mansion, The Last Ninja. Lode Runner, Boulderdash, defender Of the Crown, Spindizzy and Paradroid.

Gaming lasts forever but not so 8/16bit machines. I never moved on to an Amiga and soon the PC was within reach with its Castle Wolfenstein with not so blocky graphics. 

These days I occasionally devote huge chunks of time to gaming - usually over Xmas when the world stops. Yet as sophisticated as Skyrims or GTA is there are no more addictive than Paperboy.

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