Day 113 - U.S. Gold

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , ,


The north-east of England was invaded by the might of the United States of America last week, as they dragged us into a more civilised world with the opening of a massive Krispy Kreme doughnut and coffee shop.


Mmmm... delicious, glazed, doughnutty goodness!
Oh, what?  You thought this post would be about games?  Sorry!  Well, I'll see if I can squeeze some in while I'm here...

When you think about U.S. Gold, you think of a meganormous American company shipping their exotic foreign wares to a grateful British gaming public.  In truth, it wasn't exactly like that.  True, they did produce or publish some amazing stuff, but they also put out more than their fair share of dross, particularly in the early days.

Interestingly, several of their better games, particularly in later years, were programmed by British coders.  One of my favourite U.S. Gold games was Archer MacLean's Dropzone.  That wasn't always the case...

These are the things that will be killing you now.
I first played Dropzone at a mate's house.  I didn't particularly want to, after I'd seen him play it.  Clearly, it was a Defender variant... and I hated Defender, on the grounds that I was rubbish at it.  Still, I gave Dropzone a go... and I was rubbish at that, as well.  It was soul-destroyingly difficult.  Not to worry, I didn't need to play it any more, I had plenty of other games to be getting on with and it wasn't like I owned it or anything.

Then, one fateful day, I was walking around Newcastle with ten pounds to burn.  There was no question in my mind that it would be spent on a game (or some games)... the only question was which game?

I'm so busy, my head is spinning...
It was then that I saw a compilation on the shop shelf... U.S. Gold's Arcade Hall of Fame.  It looked amazing.  Spy Hunter... Tapper... Up 'N' Down... Aztec Challenge... Blue Max.  I'd played all of them before, and the only one I didn't love was Blue Max.  Better still, I didn't own any of them.  It was a must-buy for £9.99.

I had a great time when I got home, loading them up one at a time for an evening of cracking entertainment.  Spy Hunter, Tapper and Up 'N' Down were all excellent arcade conversions.  Aztec Challenge was great fun with excellent music (although if you've ever tried to play it on a black and white telly, you'll know that there's a problem that effectively renders you blind on one of the levels).

It's the end of the world as we know it.
Blue Max was the last game I went to load, because I hadn't much liked it when I played it and so wasn't really bothered about it.  I hit Shift and Run/Stop, pressed Play on tape and started reading the instructions.  I missed the "FOUND" message, but looked up when I heard the familiar screech of the Novaload... whereupon I was dismayed to see the word DROPZONE in the middle of the grey screen.

I didn't even know how this could be.  I mean, I knew I wasn't exactly excited by the prospect of Blue Max, but Dropzone wasn't even supposed to be in this compilation!  Why would they replace Blue Max with that, of all games?  Damn them!

I played it a few times, and only broke the 10,000 barrier once or twice.  It was so hard and I hated it.  I vowed never to play it again.

Some things never change...
But over time I kept reading about how it was a modern classic, and one of the best games ever, and how everyone loved it.  As someone who considered myself a pretty decent gamer, I figured I owed it to myself, and the game, to give it one more shot.

Slowly, with intense concentration, I began to improve.  I reached 20,000, then 30,000... and I found myself enjoying the game.  With the computer on the floor, my left foot on the Commodore key for my invisibility cloak and my right foot on the space bar for the smart bomb, I had a set-up which was comfortable and saw me making decent progress.  And I saw the game for what it really was... an incredibly challenging shoot 'em up which ranked up there with the very best.


Foot, meet face.
I think my high score on Dropzone was about 153,000.  That's not amazing by any stretch, but it's not bad and it shows that I made a more than reasonable effort at learning the game.  I still enjoy it to this day... it's probably Archer MacLean's best game, although the superb International Karate runs it close.  It would be great if I could get a few quotes from Archer in my book, and it goes without saying I'll be including him and his games regardless.

Day 99 - Set myself a Task

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , , ,


I'm sure you've noticed my posting has slowed down of late.  There are a few reasons for that.  Real-world stuff has reared its ugly head again, with me having to get my eldest prepared for going back to school this coming week... he's at a new school, and it's ridiculous how much stuff I've had to buy.  I sense another eBay purge in my near future...

Another reason is one I've been both hoping for and dreading at the same time.  I've got through to the next stage of both the jobs I applied for recently, one of which means I have to have an interview.  I've never liked interviews, and it's been fifteen years since I had one.  So I have to prepare really thoroughly for this one.  It's quite important, so I might well be less evident here until it's out of the way.


Pew! Pew! Shoot the little saucer things from your giant Gyro thing!
With that being said, I have to have the odd respite from all that, and this is where games come in to save the day, yet again.  I delved into the depths of my mind, and pulled out the name of one of the more charming software houses, and one who really only existed in the early-ish days of the 8-bit computers... Taskset.

One of my mates had a few of their games before I even owned my Commodore 64 and they were quite distinctive and fun to play, although not many of them would stand out as classics.  They were colourful, with very big, mostly chunky graphics, and an immediately recognisable music style.

Some of their games could only have come from the minds of the British.  Take Bozo's Night Out, for example.  The object of the game was to get Bozo home after an epic night on the lash.  This, of course, is much easier said than done.


Yep, this has all the makings of a good night out.
Bozo is a chunky-looking bloke... and not in a good way.  This doesn't help when he's staggering about after a skinful.  Nor does the fact Bozo has many obstacles to overcome in his quest to sleep it off.  As if avoiding cops, skinheads and, ummm, naked women (?) wasn't bad enough, attempting to take a shortcut through the park sees Bozo bumping into all kinds of horrors.

It's mental stuff, and not all that good in the cold light of day, but back in the day it was entertaining stuff.

Another Taskset game that you wouldn't get from any other nation was Seaside Special.  Borne from the legacy of the seaside postcard but imbued with a British sense of satire, the game saw you trawling a beach for radioactive seaweed, with which you then trooped off to 10 Downing Street to lob at the sackless political residents.



Even Tebbit would be crapping himself at the sight of that stripey loon!
To be fair, it sounds a lot better than it actually was.  Every aspect of the game was simplistic, but again, it was a bit of a laugh to play back in the day... for a while, at least.

All this does make it sound as though Taskset were a bit of a novelty company, who were only there to make up the software numbers at the beginning of the 8-bit revolution.  There were, however, two stone-cold classics in the Taskset lineup... Super Pipeline, and its sequel, Super Pipeline II.

The object of both games is to guide your plumber and his mates around a series of pipes, keeping them open so that the water (or whatever liquid it is) can flow into the barrels at the end.  This sounds easy, but as you would expect, there are a number of obstacles which attempt to make things run far from smoothly...


You know, this would be a lot easier if they built a pipe
that went straight to the barrel.
Rogue tools will make holes in the pipes, and these will need to be fixed.  That's where your mates come in... they're skilled at pipe fixing.  While they're at work, you have to fend off anything that might drag them from the pipes.  And I do mean anything... besides the roving tools, insects and lobsters wander about, and they will drag you and your pals from the pipes at every opportunity.

The Super Pipeline games are frantic, cartoony and great fun to play.  They were unquestionably the jewels in the Taskset crown, and kept me amused for many a long while.  It's a shame that the company died out as things were really taking off with computer and video games... Andy Walker was their key man, maybe I'll get to hear some of his and their story in weeks to come.

Day 93 - the objects of my affection

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , , , , ,


One of the great things about the British is our love for the absurd.  We can take anything, no matter how ridiculous, and fashion it into something not just acceptable, but ground-breaking.  Take Monty Python's Flying Circus, for example.  A lot of their comedy sketches were bizarre, and a fair number of them didn't work in hindsight, but they were embraced the world over and are still revered today.  British computer games used to be like that.

If you consider today's multi-mega-million dollar industry, it's all about the lowest common denominator.  Make a product that ticks all the boxes for the masses, and it's a go.  It's much trickier to get backing if you have a brand-new, off-the-wall idea.  That's probably why indie games are having such a resurgence.


Attack of the Mutant Camels... on my iPhone.
Pity the controls are rubbish (not Jeff Minter's fault!).
If British games in the Eighties had to go through the same sort of committee approval as they do now, then we wouldn't have had much to choose from.  It's fair to say that a decent number of them were quite mental.  With talented, often maverick individuals holed up in their bedrooms or tiny offices with little to reference other than arcade games, any subject was fair game, and nobody thought anything of it.

This was great, and led to some incredibly imaginative, unique games.  And in the grand spirit of Monty Python, some of the adversaries we had to contend with, or some of the protagonists we played as, were about as unlikely as you can get.  I thought I'd look at a few.


Even if you've never watched Monty Python, this might look familiar...
Miner Willy was one of the first true gaming icons.  Playing as a miner isn't necessarily that odd... it's just another human character.  But Matthew Smith put the poor fella in some real nightmare scenarios.

Both Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy are legendary names in the world of gaming.  And although at their core they are simple platform games, each is blessed with the twisted heart of an evil genius.  The games, that is... I'm not saying that Matthew Smith is evil, although I will level the charge of genius at him.


I need a wee, but I think I'd be better off holding it in...
When Willy starts exploring the abandoned mine in Manic Miner, it doesn't seem that odd... OK, so finding penguins in a long-lost cavern underneath London is a bit mental, but you can run with that.  It's when you find yourself having to leap over animated toilets, their lids flapping wildly and angrily, that you realise something darker is at work here.  Vicious telephones only serve to compound the bizarre nature of the dangers at hand.

That darkness was expanded upon with the sequel, Jet Set Willy.  Doing what all good sequels should, it increased the size and scope of the game massively, and threw far more off-the-wall enemies and situations your way.  Forced by your maid to tidy up your mansion after an epic party if you want to sleep it off, you find there's far more to this abode than meets the eye.


What in the name of all things Holy is that thing?  And why is it in my house?
Chainsaws, spinning razor blades, secateurs and ice creams are all out to get you this time, but that's only the half of it.  Nightmare visions await, with mad chefs, dancing rabbits and scary floating heads which will freak you out, and if they don't, well, there's always the room that turns you into a flying pig...

It's heady stuff, to be honest.  The design, whether intentional or accidental, is such that you're compelled to keep playing after yet another irritating death.  And, as with many games of this type, you want to keep exploring so you can see what's around the next corner.  It's a template that was followed for quite a while, until platform games grew up a bit and started being either cartoony or a bit more realistic.  For a couple of years, though, they were gloriously... manic.


Something tells me that alcohol wasn't the only thing ingested at this party...
Another gaming legend that refused to bow to the norm, whatever the norm may have been back then, is Jeff Minter.  You might have gathered as much from the moment you saw his company was called Llamasoft, although strictly speaking, maybe it should be called Ungulatesoft, as no hooved animal is left unloved by the Yak.  Attacks by mutant camels, deep-space sheep and. erm, lawnmowing are just some of the unconventional situations you'll find in his games.

Possibly his finest example of beast/object cross-pollination, though, is Ancipital.  Playing the role of Cippy, an anthropomorphic goat-like creature from an unnamed planet far away, wasn't enough, as far as Jeff Minter was concerned.


A 'No Smoking' sign on a cigarette break? Is that ironic, or not?
You found yourself trapped in a 100-room complex where you were asaulted by all kinds of common-or-garden earthly objects.  Apples, boots, hammers, spanners, hamsters, floppy disks... all these and more roam the complex, looking to bring an end to the invading critters.  Better still, you returned fire with a range of equally mundane yet appropriate objects, almost antidotes in fact, such as bananas, washers and cassette tapes.

Ancipital is an excellent game, and provides a ton of entertainment even today.  I'm of the opinion that it would make a superb iOS game... let's hope that Jeff Minter has similar thoughts.

David and Richard Darling formed Codemasters, who are now renowned for producing some of the fastest and flashiest current-gen racing games.  But they didn't start out like that.  They started out as an 8-bit budget game label, selling games with the word Simulator in the title for £1.99 a pop.  That was relatively successful for them, but things really took off when they published a series of games which put you in control of... an egg.


Like a whirlpool, it never ends...
Dizzy was its name, and it had arms and legs, and a big smiley face.  It jumped and flipped and rolled its way around a variety of landscapes, searching for the correct items to use in the correct places.  More of an arcade adventure than a platform game, it had been done before, but thanks to Andrew and Philip Oliver's eggy vision, Dizzy really popularised the genre and gave it legs, so to speak.  Six sequels were testament to the egg's popularity, and even today, people clamour for a new game.  I doubt that a game starring an egg would get greenlit today, even at Codemasters, although with the way the iPhone market is going these days, who knows?

Who remembers Fat Worm Blows A Sparky?  No, it wasn't Ron Jeremy's first gay porn film.  It's actually an ingenious game where you controlled a worm that was stuck inside your ZX Spectrum.  The object of the game was to collect fifty items called Spindles, then find a disk drive and clone yourself.  Unfortunately, roaming around inside the Speccy were Creepers and Crawlers, and if these bugs managed to pounce on Fat Worm then eventually he would perish.  His only defence was to fire Sparkies at the bugs.


Hope there aren't any seagulls inside this Spectrum...
You what?  If you pitched that now, you'd be laughed out of the room.  And yet, back in November 1986, CRASH gave it a massive 95% score.  It really was quite an achievement for its day.  Of course, this wouldn't be the last time worms would play an integral part in a game...

There were many others, of course.  Monty on the Run featured a mole versus a whole host of marauding household objects.  Fox Fights Back saw you playing as a gun-toting fox, defending himself against the likes of cycling beagles, mad squirrel bombers and egg-chucking chickens.


To progress, you must get past the flying clock and roaming teapot.  Naturally.
Even an early game like Casey Jones, a clone of Moon Patrol, Britished the whole thing up by putting you in a train rather than a moon buggy, and had you attacked by flying burgers, Horaces going skiing, and rogue Melbourne Houses (did the author have a game rejected by them or something?  Maybe I'll get to ask!).


We all love a bit of Horace. There's something not quite right about this, though.
This led to many early computer games feeling slightly amateurish, but that's because they were.  They were also very endearing, with a charm that was lost when games became soldier versus soldier, space marine versus space marine.  And while there's no arguing that current mega-budget games are polished to the nth degree, finely-honed, slick and ultra-professional, you can't help but wish that someone would throw in a daft gun that fired bananas, or something.


The quick brown fox can't outrun the lazy dog on a bike.
That's why he's carrying a shotgun.
I think a large part of the reason household objects played such a part in early games was the 'one man band' factor.  It's quite likely that a number of programmers in the early days could make a game, but were not graphic artists, and so used characters that you would see in every day life and which were easy to draw.  As games, and the process of making them, grew more sophisticated, you saw dedicated graphic artists producing stunning works of art and some great sprites and characters.

This was an important step in the evolution of video games... they would never be quite the same again.  It's something I'm planning to talk about in the book to a degree, with comments from programmers and dedicated graphic artists hopefully providing some interesting insight.  It'll certainly be interesting to me... I'm absolutely terrible at drawing!

Day 85 - here's an idea

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , ,


You know me by now, I'm all about sharing thoughts and ideas for this thing.  I've had a couple lately, but bear in mind that even at 85 days in, these are still the very early stages and anything I dream up might not necessarily happen.

One of my ideas has stemmed from digging through some of my old stuff.  In there, I found a book: Kerrang!" Direktory of Heavy Metal: The Indispensable Guide to Rock Warriors and Headbangin' Heroes.

Yes, that's the whole title.  That's not what I'm taking from it, though.  The book is an A-Z of heavy metal groups, from the late Sixties up until the book's publication in the early Nineties.  Now, I'm not going to cover a timescale like that.  But I was already planning around doing this in some kind of A-Z format... this got me thinking a bit deeper.


Hands up if you had the faintest idea what you were doing when you played this?
Who am I to decide who our Gods were?  I've got a big list of people to include, sure.  But is it big enough?  I'm considering having entries for a much higher number of people.  Even if it's just a name and what they worked on, and maybe a personal recommendation as to what you should try from their works, I think it might be worthwhile.  Much of the point of books like this is having your memory jogged by something you might have otherwise forgotten, and saying "Ohhh yeah!" with a smile.

Naturally, there will be plenty of large entries with lots of text and quotes.  That's always been the plan, and it remains so.  But this is something interesting to mull over in the coming weeks.

This idea throws up another possibility for consideration: if I do make this a much bigger A-Z-style project, do I also make it more international?  I really, really want to cover the British programmers that don't get the mentions they deserve in these kinds of publications.  Don't get me wrong there, my focus on them will not shift or diminish one little bit.  But the other programmers were our Gods, too.  You think back to the classic Accolade titles, for instance, or Interplay's RPGs.  We loved them, so should they go in?

Much like a famous American from the past, my mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.  In other words, I've got a lot to think about.  And it's all great.  I'm really enjoying myself doing this.

Day 84 - Everybody's working for the weekend

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , ,


I had a day off yesterday.  Not from work... no, I still had to go trailing there and back.  No, it was a day off from the book and the blog.  I was home by about 7:15, and I could have done something on it, but I just fancied having a little rest.

Instead, I switched on my recently-neglected XBox 360.  I really haven't given it much time at all lately, and there were a couple of XBLA games I fancied checking out from their poorly-titled Summer of Arcade.  The first game I tried was Deadlight.

Standing here is all well and good, but what the hell do I do now?
If you haven't heard of Deadlight, it's the latest in a seemingly endless stream of zombie games.  You don't need me to tell you that the market is on the verge of hitting the saturation point when it comes to games featuring zombies.  If they're just in there because "OMG ZOMBIES!" then it's a bit wearing.  But if it's a good game and the setting is used well, then we can always take another one.

Deadlight is a good game.  You know what it reminded me of, just a little bit?  Flashback.  I think the animation is the main reason for that, but the game itself is a side-scrolling platform game where you have to solve puzzles while avoiding the zombie outbreak, all the while searching for your family and safety.  I haven't played all that much of it yet, but what I have played was enjoyable and it's presented really well.

The other game I tried was Dust: An Elysian Tail.  This game is also a side-scroller, but it's very different from Deadlight.  It's a fast-action beat 'em up with RPG overtones, levelling up, items to collect and a shady merchant, apparently on his holidays from Resident Evil 4, who you can buy useful items from.  It's got some beautiful graphics, although a few of the monsters are a touch dull.  But that's being a bit harsh and nitpicky.

The whirling Dust Storm attack is great, but it makes for crap screenshots.
You play as a trinity of sorts... you control Dust, the main character, but your sword is alive and talks, and there's an odd flying thing called Fidget who accompanies you with her terrible voice acting.  In fact, I reckon the voice actor was also responsible for the voices in Trouble Witches Neo.  That's not a bad thing... those voices were so bad they were good, and this is heading in that direction too.  It doesn't detract from the game at all, and I'm looking forward to playing it some more.

So there you have it... what I did on my day off.  Well, you have to keep it current sometimes.  And in doing so, it's good to see that in these days of first-person 3D ultra-realistic games there's still plenty of room for classic side-scrolling action.  A good game is a good game, simple as that.

Day 81 - Paul is in the living room

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , ,


You know, sometimes when I'm writing these things and I have my titles at the top there, I feel like I'm in the Big Brother house, with all that "Day 36", "Day 81" stuff.  It probably doesn't help me much when trying to promote this thing, either.  But I think it's important I do that, because keeping track of the time it takes to do this is good for spurring me on and making sure this doesn't drag on until the end of time.

I haven't got much that's game-related to write about today, as it happens.  I was absent yesterday... I was out with the lads, in a pub, taking part in a Fantasy Football auction.  It was great fun, and I think I picked a good team.  Fingers crossed I can win a bit of cash.

Right, England, your time has come!
It actually got me thinking about football games again.  There are some absolute classics that I've already written pieces on... the Match Day games, Football Manager... but there's another one that was also important in shaping one of today's classics, and it's one that maybe not so many people have played.  That game is Track Suit Manager.

I just fancied a game of that today, especially as there was a round of international matches taking place this evening.  So I loaded it up, installed myself as England manager, and I was away.

Hmmm... Butterworth or Hardyman?  The agony of choice!
The good memories came back, and as soon as you get into a game you see the one innovation it brought to the table that remains to this day.  That innovation is the commentary. As the match progresses, rather than showing you the action, it's described to you through text. It feels a bit like you're listening to the match, and the sense of tension that's built is palpable.

It was also quite a laugh to take my pick of the cream of England's players... who could resist the stout defensive qualities of Mel Sterland or the midfield guile of Glynn Snodin?  There are 100 players to pick from for your squad, or you can choose another country altogether if you so wish.

It's easy, this management lark.
The challenge of leading your country to World Cup success is always irresistible, but it does take time, so I'm just a little way into the campaign.  But the hook, as always, is very strong, because of the innovative (for the time) commentary.  It's easy to see why it was taken on by the Championship Manager series (and now into the Sports Interactive Football Manager games)... it's simply because it works so well.

I doubt I'll be able to track down its author, but it would make a nice companion to Football Manager, as the two games between them are responsible for the management games we know, love and are completely addicted to today.  How many hours did you lose to them?

Day 79 - get up in the morning shooting them dead, sir...

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , , , ,


... so that our race can beeee saved.

Wooooah-ohhhhhh,

Armalyte.

Yes, today's post is about one of the finest Commodore shoot 'em ups ever.  It's another game I bought the first chance I got... no waiting for the second-hand shop this time.  There was always a special kind of excitement when you bought a new full-price game.  You'd spend the bus journey home poring over the instructions, maybe letting your mate have a look at the inlay while you familiarised yourself with the game before you'd even played it.  It's not the same now, with demos and YouTube videos available well before the games are released.  I think we've lost a little bit of the air of anticipation.

Just once, I'd love to see one of those walkers fall off the ceiling.
Now, if you followed my other blog, A Gamer Forever Voyaging, then you might feel a bit cheated here, as a lot of this post is lifted from the piece I wrote about this game over there, back in February 2011.  So if you've read it before, you might feel a little nostalgic.  Hey, I've used brand new screen shots, what more do you want?

If you haven' t read it before, then you still might feel nostalgic as you think back to the time when you loaded up this ZZAP! 64 Gold Medal winner and had your mind blown.  Armalyte was grander in scope and ambition than probably any 8-bit computer shmup had previously shown, and was lapped up by any fans of arcade blasters with half a brain.

I'm blue, bah-dn-bee, bah-dn-bouw.
The plot of Armalyte is... oh, who cares? Something or other that loosely ties it in with Delta... apparently, it seemed like a good idea to market this as a sequel to that game, as if this wasn't good enough to stand on its own.  As it happens, it's more than good enough, and certainly doesn't need the Delta II subtitle it was lumbered with.

Armalyte is a game that takes every other shoot 'em up on the Commodore 64, and ramps up all their best bits by a few notches. It starts in classic Nemesis/Gradius fashion, with your ship flying from left to right as waves of enemies barrel toward you, intent on your destruction. The power-up system is different, though... rather than collecting pods left behind by the destruction of enemy formations, as in Konami's classic, weapons pods are found floating in space, and you activate them by blasting them.

For some reason I fancy a trip to Red Lobster now.
Shooting the floating pods repeatedly switches them through a cycle that includes increased forward fire, rear fire and vertical fire, among others. And if that's not enough for you, there are three huge laser weapons you can switch between that are very satisfying to unleash. Oh, and you start the game with a drone ship which replicates your firepower, which is just as well, given everything you have to attempt to cope with...

There are a few things that elevate Armalyte beyond the bog-standard shooter. The first thing you're likely to notice is the number of opposing ships that you have to deal with. The attack waves come thick and fast, with each containing a good number of enemies. They're relentless, and they're difficult to deal with as they whip about at an often alarming rate. It's overwhelming at first, and you'll find yourself crushed into space dust far more often than you'd like.

What's that? The last one wasn't a boss? This is the boss? Ohhh, damn...
Then there are the levels themselves. Every one is huge and you'll often be praying for the relative safety of empty space, as you'll frequently find yourself with just a small gap to squeeze through, which mightn't be so bad if it wasn't for the alien attack ships waiting on the other side...

There's quite a bit of variety to the levels, which is highly commendable. OK, so the game loads each level separately, but I can think of plenty of multiload games that didn't try so hard. The levels change in colour as you move through them, and each has its own style, giving the game a massive sense of scale.

Ha! Eat laser death, you giant, flying pincer thing.
Should you negotiate the countless minions and treacherous landscapes, you'll find that each level has its own gigantic boss to overcome. These are actually probably the weakest points of Armalyte. They're not bad, don't get me wrong... they're just a teensy bit too similar to each other. It's always been pretty difficult to come up with good enemy boss ships, it seems, and for all they look impressive, especially when they take it upon themselves to fly across the screen at you, I can't help but feel they could have been better somehow. But that's as much a constraint of the horizontally-scrolling shoot 'em up as anything else.  And I'm not a game designer, so it's all very well for me to say that when I almost certainly couldn't dream up anything to even match them.  I'll just shut up now.

This lot almost make The Red Arrows look dull!
Armalyte is a wonder of the 8-bit era. It came at a time when people thought they could no longer be surprised or impressed by a Commodore 64 game, and were proven wrong in slack-jawed amazement. It was easily Thalamus' most impressive release to date from a technical standpoint, and fully deserving of its Gold Medal, and any other honours that may have been thrown its way. It's good enough to make me want to play again now that I've finished writing about it... the sign of a top-notch game if ever there was one.

You can bet it'll have a place in the book, probably with nice big screenshots too.  Hopefully there'll be some accompanying words from the lads behind it as well.  It's no accident that it's consistently in "Best of C64" lists... it's one of the crowning glories of its time.

Day 78 - like throwing three pickled onions into a thimble

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , , ,


I wasn't sure what I'd be doing today... yesterday's blowout had left me a little bereft of ideas.  But then the sad news came through that legendary Geordie darts commentator Sid Waddell had sadly passed away, and I knew what I had to do... 180!

Darts is a hard sport to do in video game form, especially when you're only using a keyboard or joystick as a controller.  Not only that, but as Julian Rignall said back in 1986, a board and a packet of cheapo darts hardly costs more than yer average computer game, so why buy a game when you could play the real thing?

Still, many tried, and most failed, until Binary Design came along with their budget title 180.

That pub carpet is very authentic.
One of the problems with early computer darts games was that they lacked fun.  Darts is essentially a pub game, played with mates for a laugh.  Although it helps to be decent at arithmetic, it's not purely a game of number crunching.  And this is one of the areas where the Binary Design gang got it right.

If you ever watched darts on the telly in the Eighties, and you must have at some point, you'll know that it was a sport played by oversized men wearing ridiculous shirts.  180 positively celebrated this fact, with some ludicrous opponents for you to battle.  Who could ever forget the lack of subtlety of Big Belly Bill, or the strategic nous of Tactical Ted?

Ste Pickford's disembodied hand isn't just an underdog, it's an underpuppy!
The C64 and Spectrum games are basically the same, but they do play a little differently.  The aim is the same... beat a series of opponents over a number of legs from 501 down.  The control method is the same... control Ste Pickford's disembodied hand as it wobbles across the board, making sure you line it up with where you want to throw your dart, and then trying to let go at the right time.  What is noticeable is that in the C64 game, the dart pretty much goes where you release it, whereas in the Spectrum version it flies up a bit.  So if you alternate between the two games, you have a bit of an adjustment to make.

Look at the state of him.  The flash ones are always easiest to take out.
Chances are you played one version or the other, though, and so you wouldn't have encountered this.  What you would have encountered is a fun time, taking on progressively more difficult opponents in your quest to be the best arrer chucker on the planet.  It might have been a quid more than the average budget game, but it was well worth it, especially if you had a human opponent.

There's only one word for 180... magic darts!  RIP Sid, you gave the game a voice like no other.

Day 77 - a sporting chance

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Right, now that I've finished with all that tedious job application stuff, I can finally get back to the business of playing games.  I've missed that in this last week!  Today, I decided that I'd treat myself to a sporting extravaganza, which ties in nicely with the last weekend of the Olympics.  I thought I'd play sports games or events that are featured in the Olympics.  I decided not to necessarily focus on any one person or any aspect of the book... purely writing about what I've played, instead.

Although there were arcade conversions of classic multi-event sports games on the 8-bit systems, there were a surprising amount of original games based on sports, too.  Many of them were quite successful, meaning that when we weren't out kicking a ball around in fields or the streets, we had plenty of athletic activity to keep us busy in front of the TV screens.  I probably can't cover everything in detail, but hopefully you'll enjoy this look at our computerised world of sport.


What's an Olympic Games without an opening ceremony?
The first multi-event game I ever played in my own home was Activision's Decathlon, on the Atari 2600/VCS.  It was a good job the Atari joystick was a sturdy effort, because this legendary game would have broken a lesser stick in no time at all.  The amount of waggling required was phenomenal, and I'm certain that our generation had the biggest biceps of any era of teenagers as a result of this and arcade games like Track and Field.

Once computers became more commonplace, we were treated to more sports games than we could ever have imagined.  I remember the time I went to a friend's house and found he had Daley Thompson's Decathlon for his Spectrum.  We must have practically battered those rubber keys into submission that afternoon.  Featuring the ten traditional decathlon events, it used the usual waggling control method to build up power, helping you to run faster, jump further and be more awesome.


Not showing the greatest technique, there.
You were (somewhat generously) given three lives to help you through the game, although technically you should have been allowed to play every event, regardless of score.  Although it would be surpassed by later titles, it became a legend in its own right and was a great starting point for the computer multi-event sports game.

The first game I played of this type on the Commodore 64 was the much less-well-known Brian Jacks' Superstar Challenge.  If you're anywhere around my age, you'll remember Superstars... it  was a TV show featuring top sportsmen and women of the era competing against each other in a number of sporting disciplines.  You'll probably have three main memories of it... the theme tune, Kevin Keegan falling off his bike and getting gravel rash, and judoka Brian Jacks destroying all opponents.  He was simply awesome.


This would be a strange sight in the Olympics!
Because of this, although perhaps a few years too late, he was immortalised in computer game form.  This game proved to be more interesting that you might have expected though, being more of a cross between Track and Field, the Superstars TV show and Summer Games.  Along with more traditional events such as canoeing and cycling (which make it eligible for inclusion in an Olympic feature!), it featured some unusual and even unique events to tackle, such as squat thrust and the boar shoot.  These proved to be enough to hold your interest, and the control methods were a bit more thoughtful, not relying on pure waggling but incorporating timing and rhythm.  This variation was enough to make Brian Jacks' Superstar Challenge a worthwhile addition to the collection.

Speaking of Brian Jacks, he came to renown as a judo expert, and his sport was represented on the 8-bits by Martech's Uchi Mata.  This was another game I owned, having bought it at a second-hand shop after reading the enthusiastic review in ZZAP! 64.  Now, judo is not like karate or boxing, or any other fighting, really.  You don't punch, and you don't really kick.  Instead, you throw.  You might think that this would be difficult to get across in a computer game, but Uchi Mata handled it surprisingly well.


Early series of Strictly Come Dancing lacked pizzaz.
Incorporating a grip meter and a graphic representation of the players' stances, it took a lot of effort to score points.  You had to really work hard to get the measure of your opponent.  Satisfyingly, counter-moves could be pulled off pretty successfully once you had the hang of the game, meaning that bouts could last for quite some time, although that proved to be just as exhausting as joystick waggling!  The transition didn't carry across well to the Spectrum, but the C64 version was a nice change of pace.

Tennis is now an Olympic sport, for better or worse, and it's been served by video games since the year dot.  Of course, everyone is aware of Pong, and who didn't have some kind of variant console in their homes?  Again, it was Activision to the rescue on the Atari, with their Tennis providing epic battles in households across the land and the world.


Look everyone!  Tim's winning!
There were loads of tennis games on home computers, though.  I wasn't going to play them all, so I concentrated on one that I had strong memories of... Psion's Spectrum classic, Match Point.  As is usually the case with Spectrum games, I played it at a friend's house, and I distinctly remember getting thrashed as I just stood there, swinging the racket wildly.  If you held the 'hit' button down, your player would just constantly swing away.  It looked silly, and it didn't help your game at all!  Once you got the hang of it, though, you could get into some lengthy rallies.  It was fun, but it seemed a bit slower than I remembered when I played it again.

Heading back down the "obscure Olympic sports that you wouldn't expect to play on a computer" road, the next game I played was one that, again, I owned courtesy of the local second-hand shop... Gremlin's Water Polo.


Pah.  There's even an action replay to confirm how rubbish you are.
On the other hand, why shouldn't it be a computer game?  If you can have football, you can have water polo.  They're both team sports where you have to put a ball into a goal, after all.  I quite enjoyed it when I bought it, although playing it now proved a tricky proposition.  I might have accidentally set the computer opposition a bit high, because I was trounced.  No Gold Medal for me!

Now, I know you probably won't believe me here, on any counts, but there was actually a sailing game available.  Well, there were a few as it happens, but the most prominent was Sailing by Activision... and I owned it!  Yes, really.  It was another four quid special from my favourite second-hand shop.  I must have spent so much pocket money at that place!


Shouldn't this game have been released by Ocean?
Part simulation and part racing game, it took a different tack on the racing genre (ho-ho!) and proved to be surprisingly absorbing.  It was difficult to get into, and the lack of variety meant I didn't play it for months, but it made a nice change from racing cars.  I might have liked it more if I had any kind of sea legs...

One of the most popular Olympic events is boxing.  In parallel to that, we've always loved a good scrap on our computers.  I don't think there are any Olympic boxing games, so I've played the one that was always my favourite... Barry McGuigan World Championship Boxing.


'Ave some of that, Ramirez.
Despite the fact that a side on view is quite restrictive for boxing, Barry McGuigan's did an awful lot right.  It gave you the chance to construct a boxer (although options were limited), and then either work your way up from the bottom or start as a contender.  I like taking the hard road, so I always started from the bottom.

You always have a choice of opponents, and once you've picked your fight, you can allocate the amount of time you spend training using various methods.  This determines your abilities in the ring, such as strength and endurance.


And it's a sweet left from Morrison...
I always enjoyed the flow of fights in this game, with a genuine momentum being built when you started to get on top, and the rising volume of the crowd noise (which seems sadly missing on the Spectrum version) added hugely to the atmosphere.  I never did get to be champion, but I always had an excellent time with this game.

One of the more intriguing Olympic events is table tennis.  The players get so pumped up and the games are really intense.  The games can make for some spectacular viewing... you can't quite believe some of the shots those players can pull off!

Table tennis is represented here by Konami's Ping-Pong, a conversion of the obscure arcade game of the same name.  I've played the arcade version before, and it's not a bad little game.  I'd never played a home conversion though, so I played Spectrum and C64 versions.  I have to say, the Commodore version looks and sounds a lot like the arcade version... I was pretty impressed.  As for gameplay, well, I was rubbish at both.  It's not exactly a top-drawer game, but it's a fun way to pass half an hour or so.


There's no body here.  What?
I've been surprised, in recent Games, to find that BMX is included as an Olympic sport.  I think most things can get in nowadays... when will darts be given its rightful place, I wonder?  Still, it gave me the opportunity to play a number of games from my younger days, all in the name of sporting greatness.

A couple of games get a mention here, from opposite ends of the quality spectrum.  One of my favourite budget games was Richard Darling's BMX Simulator.  A variation on the Super Sprint genre, this game gave you a number of BMX tracks to race around, either against a computer opponent or a friend.  The tracks were well-designed, and looked really nice, with ramps and raised bends all being effective obstacles which could help or hinder.  It was well worth the £1.99 asking price.


I'm doing about as well as the Team GB racers here.
Less successful was Richard's brother David Darling's BMX Trials.  Also a budget game, I received it on Christmas Day, the day I got my Commodore 64.  Frankly, it was appalling, not that it stopped him from going on to much bigger things.  It gave you a number of events to complete, such as racing, wheelies, etc.  It just played really badly and wasn't any fun!


"FOUL" is right...
Finally, and more in keeping with the mayhem of Olympic racing, I owned a game called BMX Kidz.  Again, it was a budget game, but this time it saw you racing against a decent number of computer-controlled opponents.  Tracks had a variety of jumps that you could (and had to, in fact) pull stunts off, and there were pick-ups along the way to boost your skillz.  It was pretty entertaining stuff, although a little bit annoying when you lost because you had to do well in the race and do enough stunts or you were out.  Nice title tune, too!


Go! Go! G-G-G-Go!
Of course, multi-event games are more in keeping with the Olympics, and that's how I'll finish this piece.  Hyper Sports was always one of my favourite arcade games.  I'd play it in arcades, taxi offices... wherever I could find it.  I was pretty good at it, too.  So I was very happy that it was released for the home computers.


Oh toss, I've failed.
Naturally, I owned the Commodore 64 version, and a very good version it was, too.  It was missing the pole vault, but that wasn't that big a deal, and worth the trade-off to get it in a single load.  It had the now-legendary version of the Chariots of Fire theme music, and the events were pretty faithful representations of the arcade game, so I was really happy with it, and it gave my Zipstik a real workout.


I expect the American coach might have something to say about this.
Spectrum owners were also well catered for.  Their version was also missing the pole vault, but it was also very playable and great fun.  Having played it myself now for this piece, I reckon it's pretty much on a par with the C64 game, with its skeet shooting having a slightly better feel but the C64 long horse being a better representation.  I think we all did well out of this one.

But the daddy, or daddies of the multi-event games were Epyx' classic Games series.  I'm not kidding, I couldn't believe my eyes the first time I saw Summer Games II.  The animation in the triple jump was astonishing.  The games themselves were stunning, with intelligent control methods linked to very enjoyable events.  There weren't too many mis-steps in these games.


A bit of over-rotation early in the dive.  That'll cost him.
The original Summer Games is something I didn't play for a long time.  Coming after I'd played Summer Games II, it lost some of its "wow" factor.  Nonetheless, it featured a number of very impressive events that were fun to play.  I expect that it blew a lot of minds upon release.  Personal favourites for me were diving, rowing, pole vault and skeet shooting.

Good though it was, it was improved upon to a massive degree for Summer Games II.  Right from the opening triple jump event, you're hooked by the presentation, graphical brilliance and sheer playability.  Being a triple jumper at school, I loved this event, and would play it over and over, attempting to get further and further.  I never got tired of it, even when I'd more or less maxed out the distance.


Good form there.  A good attempt is on the way.
Some of the other events were equally stunning.  The high jump and javelin throw featured the same stunning animation and clever controls, making them a joy to play.  The other events were varied and brilliant, making sure that Summer Games II is a game that has stayed in memories for a long, long time.

I've missed many games out of this, of course.  Epyx released a number of other Games which featured all kinds of varied events.  There's Track and Field and loads of games inspired by it, along with alternative Olympic-style games.  I could have sat here for a week and not finished, if I'd wanted.  You have to draw the line somewhere, and here it is.  Hopefully there are some happy memories for everyone in here... I've played about fifty Olympic events, and had a great time putting it together.

Day 76 - that's Great, Sister!

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , , , ,


Right, then.  It's been a tough few days... I have a promotion opportunity at work and I've had to drop everything fun to concentrate on that.  It's meant writing and editing and proof-reading and re-writing, etc., etc...  But it's submitted now, and I've taken some online tests this evening that I also had to complete, so I can forget about that for a few weeks until I hear the outcome.

That means I can get back to writing and editing and proof-reading and re-writing, etc., etc... but for fun, this time!

If you've followed me for any length of time, either here, in my other blog A Gamer Forever Voyaging, or on various message boards, you might know I'm quite a big advocate of Kickstarter.  There have been some fantastic video games projects on there, and all the ones I've been interested in have obtained funding, so far.

There's another one up there now... it's called Project Giana.

Hey, you can run on top of those bricks above the level! What a great idea!
There are those amongst you for whom this will strike an immediate chord.  Yes, it's a new version of a game that only just managed to see the light of day... Great Giana Sisters.

If you haven't heard of it before, then you can probably guess from the name that it's based on Super Mario Bros.  So much so, in fact, that Nintendo's legal team had it yanked from the shelves after less than a week on sale, the swines!  I managed to get a copy, though, being at the computer shop the day it was released.  And I really enjoyed the game.

The differences between levels are like night and day.
It really is a lot like Super Mario Bros.  The level design, enemy design and game design are all pretty close to Nintendo's classic, even to the point of there being secret bonus rooms and warps.  For computer owners with no chance of an official port, it was a pretty damn good substitute... for those that managed to get hold of it.

Its undignified removal from the shops means that copies have always been hard to come by, making them pretty valuable.  Pity, then, that my parents chucked mine out, along with all my other Commodore stuff, when I moved out.  Gaaahhhhh!!!

Mmmm, hope that was done in butter.
That's not a problem in this day and age, where emulators are preserving the classics (and the not-so-classics) for posterity.  You can just load up your system of choice and be transported back in time in an instant.  Doesn't make up for the loss of a potentially valuable item, but at least the game itself is there.

I'm interested to see how this new version turns out (if it does, in fact, turn out).  It's being produced by people from the original team, with Chris Huelsbeck contributing on the music front. He's been busy lately, and still is, having just had a successful Kickstarter project of his own come to a conclusion.  He's working on an epic multi-disc box set of the Turrican soundtrack, which I'm happy to say I'll be getting when it's finished.  I'm hoping to talk to Chris a little for this book, if he has the time.  And although its creator, Armin Gessert, is sadly no longer with us, there will be a place for him in this book too.

Day 71 - those cats were fast as lightning

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , ,


Evening.  I've been watching the Olympics, and if there's any spectacle that's more thrilling than the men's 100 metres final, then I'd like you to tell me about it.


I've always loved athletics, right from when I was good at the triple jump as a schoolboy.  So I take a keen interest in the big games, and even in smaller meets.  It's all good stuff, watching people pushing themselves to the absolute limits of human achievement.


How does that tie in with today's title?  It doesn't, really.  It's a very tenuous link, coming from Usain Bolt's name and speed.  But I suddenly remembered the time I was loading stuff onto my Commodore 64 from a C90 cassette, when I came across something called Kung Fu Fighting.


Dig those guys, rockin' it out!
I loaded it up, expecting a bit of International Karate-style action.  Imagine my surprise, then, when the first few bars of the "classic" Carl Douglas song blared out of my TV's speakers.  I'd never heard or known of anything like this.  Although I got even more of a surprise when I loaded up something called Girls They Want To Have Fun, expecting something similar...


It made me think, though, of the demo scene back then.  It was something I remained more or less oblivious to, my only exposure being irregular pages devoted to demos in ZZAP! 64.  And yet, some of the industry's most talented programmers started with demos.  Many of them stayed in that scene.


I'll be digging a bit deeper into the demo scene in the next few months, looking at games those programmers worked on and hopefully getting in touch with a few of them.  It could make for an interesting alternative to some of the more standard viewpoints.

Day 70 - chalk one up for the little guys!

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , ,


As I write this, mega-documentary From Bedrooms To Billions is on the verge of achieving its funding goal, and therefore being completed.  This is great news for all retro gaming fans, as I'm sure it will be a very interesting watch.


Where does that leave me?  Hopefully, exactly where I was before.  I'm under no illusion that I have a difficult task ahead of me, and with that project being at full steam ahead, I'm conscious that it may cause me a few problems.  For instance, it's possible that people are involved with that project and may not want anything to do with a "rival" project.


See, I know you. I know you want to read about this just as much as the big names.
That's fair enough.  When I set out on this venture, I was well aware that it would be impossible to get everyone I wanted.  Even some of the big names are likely to remain elusive.  However, I think that my book will be different enough that it will still be worthwhile.


For example, From Bedrooms To Billions is focusing on a longer timeline than I am.  Sure, I'll expand in either direction if needs be (or should I say, if it's relevant), but I'm focusing more firmly on the programmers from the 8-bit computer era.  I'm not going to be looking at the PS1, or the SNES... in fact, I'll probably only be touching on the Amiga and Atari ST.


This looks like it's happening. Should be a good watch.
Also, From Bedrooms seems to be looking at the video games business.  I'm not.  I'm concentrating squarely on the programmers and their games.  If I get the odd story about things that happened within companies then that's great, but I want to talk to the people who made the games about the games they made, along with stuff like how they got into programming.


So I reckon the differences between the two projects are easily enough to make mine more than worth pressing ahead with.  If I can get hold of them, you'll see lots of names in my book that you won't find in most others, if any.  I want to talk to the person who made that great-but-obscure game.  I want to talk to the person that made a career of creating games that were good, solid entertainment but that may not been in the public eye.  Who made Bounder on the Commodore 64?  Who made Turbo Esprit on the Spectrum?  I know, and you know, but do they ever get the recognition they deserve?


This is where the lesser-known names will get to shine.  This is where we will hear the stories of the unsung heroes.  They were all our Gods - that status is not merely reserved for the big names within the industry.

Day 69 - sex sells

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , , , , ,


Those naughty computer game artists.  Faced with the challenge of selling games to an adolescent market with no internet access, they often had to dream up imaginative advertising campaigns which resorted to the basest of measures - SEX!


I'm not necessarily talking about the games themselves, although you would find the occasional scantily-clad sprite or dodgy digitised strip poker game.  No, I'm thinking more specifically about poster and game-box artwork.


Rawr!  That's what she's saying, not me...
There were two variations on saucy game art: hired models, or fantasy artwork.  The hired models tended to be Page 3 girls of the time, dressed loosely (cough) around an in-game character or the game's theme.  Classic examples included Martech's Vixen campaign, and of course, the never to be forgotten Barbarian games from Palace software.


Here's the original artwork for Game Over.
And this is how it looked after complaints..
From the realms of fantasy art, well, there were many.  The most infamous was, without doubt, Imagine's box and poster art for Game Over.
This one pushed so hard at the boundary that later versions saw the art airbrushed into a "safer" version, or a strategically-placed screenshot saving the sci-fi maiden's blushes.


 This "tactic" obviously worked, with average games getting more press than they otherwise might have, and Vixen managing to get on the cover of Your Sinclair, even though the game wasn't all that good.  The Barbarian games deserved praise for actually being good games, though; I'm sure they would have sold a ton regardless.


Wolf and Maria have never looked so... digital.
There then came the challenge for the computer artists to make loading screens out of this cover art.  Some of these worked better than others.  I suppose it depended on the quality of the artist as to how well the pictures translated.



I'll probably talk about loading screens and game graphics later.  I'll want to go into more detail, because these people were also our Gods, and I intend to feature them in the book, too.  Naturally, that gives me the excuse to add lots of great artwork, and everybody loves that classic 8-bit art.  I'll be interested to hear what it was like for artists working on games, how much input they had and any horror stories they may have had regarding graphics.  I think it'll be a valuable addition to the book... do you agree?

Day 68 - guns, guns, guns!

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , ,


When you play through the catalogue of 8-bit games (and it's a massive catalogue), it's evident that there were a lot of games that involve shooting people.  Whether it was arcade conversions like Commando or Operation Wolf, original titles like Airborne Ranger or Los Angeles SWAT, or games based on movie licenses like Platoon or Robocop, we just loved mowing down enemy scum!


And nobody seemed to have a problem with that.


I realise that there wasn't the graphic realism that we have today.  I refuse to let me 11-year old play Call of Duty or Fallout 3 or anything like them, much to his disgust.  All his friends do, he whines.  And it's true, they do.  But he's not.  I'm afraid that's the cost of having a games-savvy dad.


Death, in all its gory glory!
But when I think about it, I must have blown away thousands of people in 8-bit form.  Does it make me hypocritical to refuse him access to these games?


I don't think that it is.  It's a far cry from Who Dares Wins II to Battlefield 1942.  There's a big difference between seeing someone's blown-out eye flying up the road in super-slo-mo and seeing a dead sprite disappear.  So if the lad wants to play 8-bit games or arcade games from the Eighties, I'll let him.  I played them when I was about his age, so I can't really have any objections, even if the aims are technically the same.  The other stuff... that can wait.

Day 67 - happy birthday, dear C64... happy birthday to you!

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Ahh, if only this had been three days earlier.  Or I had started my blog three days later.  One of those.  Anyway, in August 1982, the Commodore 64 was released unto the world, and so began a decade-plus of top-notch home computer entertainment.


It was Christmas 1985 that saw me enter the world of home computing, when my parents got me a Commodore 64 as my present.  So I was hardly an early adopter.  I'd used one at friends' houses before then... probably starting around the summer of 1985.  Other computers I'd been able to use through friends included the ZX Spectrum (16K and 48K), Commodore Plus 4 and ZX81.  But the C64 was the one that really captured my heart and has remained my favourite to this day.


Fortunately, I'm an open-minded and level-headed individual, and I'm able to see the good points and bad points of all the systems I've used over the years.  If that wasn't the case, I would have no right starting a project like this.  But for today's purpose, on its 30th birthday (or around, technically), I will indulge my Commodore leanings, if you don't mind.


Mmmm... beigey goodness.
The first time I ever had an experience with the Commodore 64, it was as a tease.  I was walking through the housing estate where I lived, when a mate of mine popped his head out of some kid's window and told me to "listen to this".  He then turned up the volume on the telly to full blast, at which point I heard the music from Master of the Lamps blasting out.


I was floored.  I'm not sure why... I'd heard some great tunes on the Atari VCS/2600.  But that had been some time before then, and I was used to the Spectrum's less accomplished sounds by this time.  To hear this stunning music blasting out of a computer was a revelation.


It made me want one of these machines.  Which was a bit of a problem... I'd already agreed with a mate that I would get my parents to buy his Spectrum from him, for me, for Christmas.  Why was he selling his Spectrum?  He was getting a Commodore 64...


That's my dad on the left. Yeah, he's always been cool.
I was somewhat amazed, then, when my dad sat me down to talk about this Spectrum and asked me "wouldn't you rather have a Commodore 64?".  I'd considered it to be out of our financial range, but I presume he must have asked around before committing to any monetary outlay.  Naturally, I said, "Yes".


Christmas Day that year was a great one.  It didn't matter that I had a black and white telly.  It didn't matter that I only had a handful of games.  It didn't even matter that some of them were dreadful.  I spent all day glued to that telly, playing and loading and loading and playing and then re-loading and playing some more.  That chunky beige power pack was as hot as the sun by the end of the day, and I was as happy as... I dunno.  A sandboy?  Larry?  What makes them so happy, anyway?


My software library on that day consisted of: Fight Night (great fun), BMX Trials (dreadful), Booty (very disappointing after playing the great Spectrum version), The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 (well, I'd read the book so it was OK) and educational stuff like The Very First and the Commodore Music Maker.  An inauspicious start, but it kept me going until I could beg, steal, borrow or buy more.


Yeah, alright, I've used that one before.
In the short term that collection grew very rapidly, whether by the purchase of budget games or compilations like Yak's Progress and Off The Hook, or by receiving cassettes filled with copied games.  Yes, back then we were very happy to have as many games to play as possible, without even realising what the consequences might be.


I'd buy games wherever possible, though.  To help me in that regard, there were some great computer magazines out there with reviews of all the latest games.  I'd go into John Menzies or RS McColl and stand there for ages, comparing the reviews in the likes of Commodore User or Computer & Video Games.  But the only magazine I really took notice of was ZZAP! 64.


If you took all the computer magazines that were available then and laid them end to end, you'd just have to pick them all up again.  But if you were in the know, then the one you would pick up first would be ZZAP! 64.  Maverick in every way, there was something special about it that the others just didn't have.  Whether it was the great cover art, the reviewing staff that was made up of gamers rather than journalists, the ratings system (percentages always just sounded better) or the cool awards given to good games, it was a refreshing read when compared to those that were run by (seemingly) old men.


The first issue I ever bought. I didn't own a C64, I just loved the mag!
A big contributing factor to that was the way it gave the reviewers personalities, with each having a series of drawn heads accompanying their comments... you could see at a glance how they felt about a game, before you even got down to reading their opinions.  You grew to trust them, to gravitate towards certain reviewers, to want to be like them!  In fact, I applied for a Staff Writer's job at the age of sixteen... I was (rightly) turned down...


Some of my greatest gaming achievements and memories come from that era.  I completed Monty on the Run without cheating on a black and white telly... something I'm still proud of today.  I completed the cassette version of The Bard's Tale... it took me thirteen months, but I did it, dammit.


I have so many memories from that time.


I remember buying Barbarian II: The Dungeon of Drax and Bon Jovi's New Jersey album on the same day, and playing them both at the same time when I got home.  I remember spending my youngest brother's birthday money on Bounder when he wanted The Eidolon.


Ahh, Bounder. Where is Christian P. Shrigley now? No, seriously... I've tried to contact him with no luck.
I remember holding a cassette recorder up to the TV to record my favourite tunes.


I remember standing outside The Computer Shop in Newcastle, watching and listening to the whole of the opening of Parallax.


I remember dragging my computer, tape deck, power pack and games down the stairs to play on the colour telly when my parents were out, and then having to drag the whole lot back up the stairs again.


I remember laughing my head off at the traps in Cliff Hanger, at the beat 'em up antics in Street Hassle, at my mate gunning grannies across the entire screen in Death Wish III.


I remember the shock when I loaded Impossible Mission and Professor Elvin Atombender shouted his immortal words at me.  And then his robots did, indeed, destroy me (the devious bastards).


I remember being stunned by every single one of Epyx' Games series.  I remember laughing at friends who had bought Quickshot II joysticks, only to see them break within days.


I seem to remember we called this the "Quickshot Poo".
I remember the amazement the time I transferred from a 001 to a 999 in Paradroid.


I remember buying a disk drive, far too late, and being enthralled by the wonder of Wasteland.


I remember that the Commodore 64 was responsible for a number of important things in my life, too.


It was responsible for turning the lad I sat next to in German into my best friend (well, it was either that or the time I slapped my head in anger at a bald-headed German teacher who'd had a go at me).


It was responsible for the re-kindling of my friendship with someone I'd stupidly fallen out with (I remember being asked if I could go down there with some games as he'd just got a C64... when I got there he had Crazy Comets! Fuck!).


It was probably responsible for distancing me from my brother... he had no interest and just called me "Spacey Boy".


It was responsible for my school grades declining.  Who wanted to study when there were games to play?


It was responsible for some of the best times of my life, and I'll never forget that.  Happy 30th Birthday, Commodore 64.

Day 60 - round and round

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , ,


I've just sent off another e-mail of questions to a willing participant.  How willing they will remain after they get the e-mail is another thing.  I try to keep them short as I don't like to take too much of anyone's time, but it's really difficult to cover a career with one or two questions, and even if I only ask one question per game, it soon mounts up.

So, my next tasks are; formulate follow-up e-mails to some of the replies I've received, and send out some new e-mails to potential participants.  I've had indications that people are more than willing to participate, which is great, so they're next on the list.


I know it seems like I'm going round in circles, which is probably because I am.  Such is the nature of a project like this.  You have a round of searching for people, and then a round of asking if they'd like to contribute.  Then, for the ones that accept, you have to formulate your e-mail full of questions.  I have a number of stock questions, and then I have to tailor the rest of the questions individually.


Once they've gone, there's the waiting.  That's when I tend to play that person's games, taking screenshots and writing notes.  And when the answers arrive, I piece everything together in a rough format, ready for the day when I can put them together more professionally.


Are you impressed with how organised I sound?  It's not quite as smooth as that, I must admit, but I'm a little bit surprised at myself.  If I was this organised at my day job, I'd probably be a lot better off!


It's all good fun, though, and I'm enjoying the whole process.  Once I've got about ten sets of replies I'm going to start patching things together a bit more, to see how it might look.  That's also when I'll start to think about naming names... no point in jumping the gun there!

Day 59 - I want you to tell all your friends about me.

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , ,


I had a bad stomach yesterday, so I missed a day.  It's bound to happen occasionally... I think I did pretty well to make 57 days in a row!  But rest assured, missing days will not be a regular occurrence, so keep following and promoting in places of interest if you like what I'm doing.


I've been on a bit of a Batman kick today.  It's nothing to do with The Dark Knight Rises, and instead is everything to do with the questions I've been preparing for someone.  And also because the games are really good!


I'm NOT passing door!  Let me in!
I've played a lot of the Batman games over time... the Spectrum's original isometric 3D game; Batman: The Caped Crusader; Batman: The Movie; and up to the more recent Arkham Asylum (haven't played Arkham City yet, though).  It seems as though it's impossible to make a bad game based on Batman!


He's a great character for games, though.  You want fighting?  You've got fighting.  You want vehicles?  You've got vehicles.  You want gadgets?  You've got gadgets!  You can even throw in a bit of detective work to pad it out or add to the storyline.  Really, if you were to design a games character from scratch, you'd be hard-pressed to come up with one that's better than Batman.


I must admit that my favourite Batman game back in the day was the Amiga version of Batman: The Movie, for one particular reason: its stunning Batmobile level.


Where does he get those wonderful toys?
It's still great fun today.  Like a sort of superhero version of Chase HQ, it sees you pelting along through the streets of Gotham City at breathtaking speed.  Of course, with Gotham being an American city, it's laid out in blocks, which means that there's no way of taking corners at any sort of speed.  This would make any kind of pursuit somewhat pointless.


Luckily, the Batmobile is equipped with a Batrope which you can fling at traffic light poles.  If your aim is true, it connects with a satisfying "ding" and propels the Batmobile around the corner and into the adjoining street!  It's a fantastic game mechanic which was thrilling back in 1989 and still brings a big smile to the face today.


The rest of the game is pretty great, too.  It's always good to be Bat... you should fire up Batman: The Movie at your earliest opportunity.

Day 57 - variety is the spice of life

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , ,


I love having a trawl through the different GameBase directories, looking for something I might have forgotten about in my quest to document our Eighties gaming Gods.  Today, I was looking for something with a bit of variety, something that would tie in loosely with the number 57 (57 varieties - geddit?), when I came across possibly the ultimate 8-bit multi-mini-game extravaganza - Lazy Jones.


It's amazing what you find out when you're doing research.  All this time, from 1985 until now, I thought that David Whittaker was "merely" a musician/programmer of computer music.  Now I find out that he wrote some computer games, too... and that one of them was Lazy Jones.


If I want to get anywhere in this game, I'm going to need some elevator action...
Naturally, he wrote the music for the game, too... and there's a lot of it!  Twenty-one tunes in all, although they're more like jingles than tunes in a lot of cases (and some of them may sound a bit familiar...).  Still, they make for a good soundtrack, and in one case, a good hit single!  One of the tunes was remixed by an outfit called Kernkraft 400, and this tune, called Zombie Nation, is now globally renowned.  See, we always knew SID music was the best!


That Lazy Jones is such a H.E.R.O.
Lazy Jones was a novel little idea, which plonked you into the shoes of a lazy janitor who just couldn't be bothered to do his job.  Instead, he went into the different rooms of the hotel where he was caretaker, and frittered his day away playing video games.  Sounds like my kind of guy!


There were fourteen games to play, all based on other well-known games of the time.  Some of them were great fun, others... well, they went on a bit.  But as a package, it made for a pretty good time.  I wonder what I'd use for a screenshot if it ends up in the book?

Day 56 - e-Bay-gum - that's a Shock

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , , , ,


Remember my plans, earlier in the piece?  Where I said I was going to sell some stuff on eBay to raise the money to buy some Adobe software for this book?  It was a good plan... until I got hit with hundreds of pounds' worth of unexpected (non-book related) expenses this month.  Now I just have to sell that stuff to stay afloat!  Bah.


Oh well, if anyone's interested in any gaming-related tat, I'll have it up on eBay by tomorrow night, having spent most of my free time day taking pictures for that purpose.  There'll even be other assorted stuff too.  Bah, again.


All is not lost, though.  I said I wouldn't need a crowdfunding website until much nearer the end date.  That remains true... I need to pull together as much content as possible before I start to format it.  But that prospect became much easier earlier in the week, with the announcement that Kickstarter will open in the UK this autumn.


I'm selling this.  Yes, really.
I know it's maligned in some quarters, but for genuine projects it's a great way to help to get them off the ground.  And if the time should ever come where I need to raise money for printing, software or trips around the country for interviews (hopefully not, for that one!), then Kickstarter is the most high-profile and successful of these websites.  Having it available for UK residents can only be a good thing for anyone working independently on a creative project, I think.


I fancied playing something a bit obscure today, so I trawled the depths of my mind for something really weird.  And what I came up with was Shockway Rider.


I remember buying this from the second-hand bookshop on the market, for four pounds.  I knew it had been pretty well reviewed, and in those days it was commonplace that I'd pop in there on a weekend and see what new games had been traded in.  Yes folks, the pre-owned games market has been thriving for more than twenty-five years.


Bradley Wiggins was starting to rue that puncture.
It was pretty much impossible to know what to expect from the game, but it turned out to be as simple as it looked.  You had to ride along moving pathways to get to your destination, but this was made difficult by gangs of muggers who would leap at you at every opportunity.  To defend yourself, you could hop off the pathway and pick up piles of bricks, which you could throw at the muggers.  A fast-moving brick can stop anything in its tracks.


It's completely mad and a lot of fun, if a bit on the repetitive side.  There's a really nice Rob Hubbard tune, too, on the C64 version.  It was published by Faster Than Light, who also released the vertically-scrolling shooter Lightforce.  Unfortunately, I've got no idea who programmed those games!  I know who was responsible for the Speccy versions, and they're already on my list of "must-haves".  But sadly, the C64 versions may be forever shrouded in anonymity...

Day 52 - words on a page

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Well, I had two e-books from Gordon Houghton to give away, and I had two entries.  Everybody wins!  So, Steve Johansson and dai_bonehead... if you're reading, e-mail me at the address at the side of this page, and I'll e-mail you your ebook (Steve wins Another World and dai wins Game Boy).  Congratulations, and thanks for your support.  Enjoy the books, and let me know what you think!


It would have been more fun if there had been more interest... oh well, if you missed out, check out Gordon's books on Smashwords.  He's a good bloke and a fine wordsmith, as you will know if you read ZZAP! 64.  I recommend starting at the beginning with The Dinner Party or maybe The Apprentice.  Read!  It's good for you!


Bah.  At least I've got some awesome Rob Hubbard music to listen to.
Back in the day, there were games that involved a lot of reading, too... text adventures.  Now, I struggled with text adventures, I have to be honest.  They required a specific type of logic, one that my brain doesn't seem to reason with at all well.  That doesn't mean I didn't try a few... Mastertronic's Kentilla and Melbourne House's The Hobbit were two that I particularly remember.


Of course, the Grand Masters of the text adventure were Infocom.  I didn't have a disk drive for years, so I never tried any of their games at the time.  Which makes writing about them a bit difficult.  On the other hand, as they were based in America, I don't have to!  But we had our own giants of the adventure world here in the UK, and they were Level 9 Computing.


Level 9 released a decent amount of accessible adventure games, which originally featured reasonably simplistic graphics, but this meant that many of their games could be released on cassette.  I'm sure that several of you, much like me, received a Commodore 64 pack at Christmas which contained a cassette version of their Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 game.  I actually gave that one a fair crack; having read the book, I thought I might stand a chance of finishing it, or at least copping off with Pandora.  I did neither.


I would have had a picture of The Pawn here, but I couldn't get it to work.
Later, there came a company called Magnetic Scrolls, who released more ambitious titles which intended to take on Infocom at their own game and featured some stunning graphics.  Their games were generally regarded as superior to Level 9's but there were a lot fewer of them.  Both companies filled a niche in the UK market quite nicely.


I've been mulling over whether or not to include any of these games or their programmers... but why not?  Just because they weren't my Gods, doesn't mean they weren't Gods for many people out there.  And because of that, and the specialist nature of their work, they're deserving of a space, don't you agree?