Day 168 - in loving memory

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,


Seven years ago today, we lost my youngest brother, Jamie.  He was only 26 years old, which is no age at all.  November 10th will always be tinged with sadness, naturally, but we prefer to be more celebratory and remember all the great times.  As he was a real character, there were plenty of them!

For the purposes of the blog, I'm playing some of the Commodore 64 games that I associate with him.  Although he was only born in 1979, he loved computer games from an early age and was soon able to pick up my second Zipstik and get stuck in alongside me.  This was great, because my other brother, Steven, wasn't that much of a games fan.  So it gave me someone to game with when I wasn't with a mate.  To be fair, most of his gaming was done on the Sega Megadrive and Saturn, but we did have some fun with the C64, even if it was on the wane by the time he was interested.

Rock 'N' Wrestle

After the mighty Way of the Exploding Fist, hopes were high among magazine reviewers that the next fighting game from Melbourne House (Fighting Warrior didn't count, did it?) would be amazing.  But they seemed disappointed, with reviews being less than stellar.  I, too, was disappointed... I'd hoped it would be brilliant fun, and the reviewers seemed to be saying it was nothing of the kind.  But then I played it...


That's going to cause a bit of a headache.
It's fair to say that Rock 'N' Wrestle is not an amazing game... but it CAN be brilliant fun!  It certainly has its flaws, but back then, they barely seemed to matter.  The wrestlers were all the same sprite but in different costumes, which didn't impress the magazines.  But to us, with a bit of imagination, they were all wildly different!  Did anyone really want to play as the dodgy moustachioed leather boy, though?

The game had digitized speech... but it was terrible!  If you managed to pin your opponent, the referee would shout out the count, something like this: "KHAAAA!  KHOOOO!  KHREEEE!"  And yet, we loved that!  We'd even shout it out when we were play-fighting!

For all its lack of polish, though, Rock 'N' Wrestle had a lot going for it in terms of gameplay, mainly in its use of the joystick.  There were a variety of moves available, depending on your position in the ring.  When both wrestlers were standing, you could kick, chop or grab.  If you grabbed, you could swing your opponent round, headbutt them, lift them or do a backbreaker.  If you lifted them, you could do a number of moves, including the vicious piledriver.  You could even climb up the turnbuckles, if you wanted.


Woah!  Woooooah!  WOOOOAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!
Even then, there were flaws.  You could batter your opponent senseless, taking away all their energy, but if you got careless they could still beat you!  This annoyed in the single-player game, but it was a real leveller in two-player games, and on more than one occasion I would get cocky and toy with my brother, only for him to grab me, throw me and pin me for the ultimate humiliation!


The Willow Pattern Adventure

This was the first game Jamie ever bought with his own money.  I suspect it was the oversized and different packaging that appealed... it probably looked like you were getting a lot for your money, what with Willow Pattern (as it said on the box) being a budget game.


I want that huge diamond, but I don't fancy scrapping with that fat lad to get it!
He played it a lot.  It was probably a good game for a young un to play and enjoy.  It's quite simplistic, as were many similar games of the time.  The object is to roam around the palace gardens in an attempt to find your way in, then make off with your love, the Princess, whilst avoiding her father.  Naturally this isn't easy, with the palace guards proving a formidable enemy.

It always used to annoy me when I found my way blocked by a guard and I had no sword.  It took me ages to realise that if you could lure a guard into throwing his sword and then get out of its way, the sword would drop to the ground and you could pick it up.  Once armed with that knowledge I could progress fairly well, and games lasted a decent length of time.


The path to true love never does run smooth!
Willow Pattern was never a great game, but this was a popular genre in its time, and this was a pretty classic example of an early budget game.    It appealed to me until games got more sophisticated, but Jamie really loved it, so it will always be a special game for me.


Bounder

I will, to some degree, feel bad about Bounder until my dying day.  Why, you may ask?  It was a great game, after all.  Well, here's the thing...

It was Jamie's birthday, and he'd been given some money as a present.  I was going into Newcastle that weekend, and he asked if I would buy him a game with his birthday money.  Naturally, I told him I would... after all, I would stand to benefit from this, too.

And so it was that I was entrusted with his ten pounds, and the task of returning home with... The Eidolon.


It's always nice to know you have fans...
I was quite excited about that.  After all, it had received a massive Gold Medal from ZZAP! 64, and it looked amazing.  The prospect of fighting those giant dragons was very appealing indeed.

And yet, when I stood in WH Smiths with the game box in my hand, something didn't feel right.  I'd been looking at all the games, and for some reason I'd found myself drawn towards a game called Bounder.  It was a much more unassuming package, coming in a box which was half the size of The Eidolon's case, and with much less flashy artwork.

It had, though, also received a Gold Medal from ZZAP! 64.  What's more, it had a second game on the other side of the tape!  Surely that would be a better use of his birthday money?  With that rational thinking, I went against my brother's wishes and bought him Bounder with his birthday money.  I made my way home, and handed it over.

It was probably half an hour before he stopped crying.


Not as many questions as I faced when I came home with the wrong game...
To be fair, he was only seven years old.  Even after explaining the "two games for the price of one" aspect, he wasn't remotely appeased.  He wanted the game with the dragons.  I don't think he ever got to play it.

Personally, I loved Bounder right from the off.  What a horrible shit.  He grew to enjoy it, but I don't think he ever really got over the fact that it wasn't The Eidolon.  And I don't think either of us played Metabolis, the "B-side", to any degree.  Oh well, you live and learn.  I've never done that with anyone's money again.

From these early beginnings, Jamie went on to be quite a gamer.  I'd always considered myself good at games, but he would routinely thrash me.  On the Megadrive, we played the very first FIFA International Soccer on Christmas Day.  It was a tense, well-fought battle, which remained goalless until the last kick of the game, whereupon he scored with a screamer from outside the box.  On the Saturn, I would cane the brilliant Sega Rally, only to be crestfallen on my returns home from work to find my high-score table filled with his initials.

Jamie died as a result of epilepsy, a condition that can be tied to video games.  We'll never know if games triggered his attacks, or if it was just one of those things, but his is a very sad loss that may have been avoidable.  To that end, I intend to dedicate this book to him when it's finished, and I'm also giving serious consideration as to what might be involved in donating part of any proceeds to an epilepsy charity.  It's certainly something I've started looking into.

This post in memory of Jamie Neil Morrison: March 2nd 1979 - November 10th 2005.

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 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.