After a conversation over a few beers with a friend of mine at the weekend, my mind took a stumble down memory lane and I started trying to piece together my gaming history. I say ‘trying’ because at 28 years young I feel I am a by product of a technological, drug and drinks explosion which has left me with an attention span shorter than an Afghan war hero, the vision of a telescope from a Christmas cracker and the memory of a speak and spell.
Getting this down in words will hopefully help me along, when collecting memories, my mind works at the pace of a colour blind litter picker, who has been told to only collect, ‘the blue ones’. So bare with me…
November 27th 1983, 8:45am, I was brought into this world kicking and screaming like a disgruntled Jeremy Kyle guest. Little did I know, I was, at the time, going to be growing up through a new age of home computer entertainment.
When I had stopped crying for weeks at a time, eating a diet of Robocop food and relieving my bowls where I ever I chose. My old man introduced me to the 6th member of the family, the Commodore Vic-20.
For those of you who don’t remember the Vic-20, which was released in 1981, just think of it as the 64’s dumb brother. To be fair to the beige machine, it did sell over 800,000 units within two years, later reaching the 1 million mark, making the Vic-20 one of the best selling Personal computers of the time. It came with 5 KB of RAM, but 1.5 KB was used by the system for various things, like the video display.
To put that into perspective, it had less power than a Glade plug in.
The VIC-20 was originally meant to be called Vixen, but this name was inappropriate in Germany, Commodore’s second most important market, because it sounds like ‘wichsen,’ a German language colloquial word for “masturbate”. ‘Insert generic joystick innuendo here’
I’m not the most knowledgeable when it comes to what makes up a computers organs so I’m not going to pretend. The important thing is, I started playing games on this machine and spent an unhealthy amount of time in front of games such as Donkey Kong, Frogger, Gorf and Choplifter to name a few.
If the dull, loud, monotone noises made by this thing didn’t scare you as a child, the games certainly would.
Choplifter, for example was an incredibly accurate simulation of a real war, comprising of many poor rescue attempts and lots of collateral damage. You can butter it up any way you like but the black and green images of death are still branded onto my mind, like the first time you see your old man in the swimming pool changing rooms, wearing nothing more than the locker key bracelet.
You control a helicopter on a one man mission to save a entire city of hapless refugees being bombed to Holy hell by the creations of man. On the plus side your dinky helicopter is able to carry around twenty or more passengers at a time who all appear to be roughly the same size as your chopper.
For many hours I probably saved a great many people, avoided the enemy and saved the day (which usually comprised of psychedelic colours and a manic fanfare of music from a cheese dream)
Computer game programmers often create their games to allow the player to choose directions to take, moral decisions and so forth. Similar to when early man learnt to club animals to death for protein, with a solid object. I soon learned that I could choose my own direction in the game, that I wasn’t bound by the main outline of the story or the artwork on the front of the box.
My inquisitive nature as a small boy soon found me with the front of the chopper, nose to the ground, using the blades as a kind of ‘lawn mower of death’, solving my problem of time consuming rescue attempts, while I laughed like a drain at the small pixilated body parts fly all across the land.
And thus began my journey in Computer games.
As a lad, growing up with TV shows such as Knight Rider, Street Hawk, Airwolf and The A-Team or Animated series like Transformers, Thundercats and M.A.S.K Computer games were a way of touching a little bit of that action your hero’s come across on a weekly basis. When you look back at titles like Contra (1987) for example it’s hard to imagine now why you were so drawn into the games world, as most of it was poorly animated game versions of fantasy popup books from your local library, albeit incredibly twisted, horrifying fantasy versions, where thirty foot monsters with nine heads fire at you with rockets and tentacles and balls of fire from all directions…IN SPACE!
Strange to look back also at the images that I often went to bed with after insane amounts of sugar enhanced squash and biscuits. Combine this with sleep deprivation from a young age and in a few years you’re looking at possible ADHD, OCD, OMFG, ABCDE or whatever they choose to call ‘a bit odd’ nowadays.
Games not only have had a history of being shoved into the corner as ‘geeky’ but also as a bit sad. As far as I’m concerned there are countless amounts of reasonably intelligent adults out there who would swat any kind of idea that computer games are a window to the imagination, a way of using the brain at dazzling speed while conducting complex brain functions and calculation, when they’d quite happily spent hours on end, playing chess.
Chess, a game where by you move a selection inanimate objects on a board of black and white squares, pretending you are making strategic war moves, taking serious amounts of time in-between moves to either intimidate your opponent or see who falls asleep first. When was the last time you saw someone move a small castle tower on the battlefield? I mean the bloody thing is the same size as the horse for a start.
This leads me on to mention my second ever games machine, the Nintendo NES (Nintendo entertainment system). I remember the first time I managed to experience the new and awesome 8bit power that this exotic Japanese lunch box held.
I went to visit my best friend one Christmas to find that Santa had his Japanese elves create him the NES, the thing that amazed me first was the look of the damn thing. I was used to having a huge keyboard for one, the Vic-20’s keyboard seem to be modeled on a speed bump. Not to mention the huge power pack and tape deck.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was never going to look back at the sun bleached casing of the Vic-20 or the piss poor games that were released for it, because Nintendo had lit the blue touch paper on subject of games.
Unbeknown to me in 1983 the worlds gamers were amidst the ‘North American video game console crash’. It did effect the gaming community worldwide for a time, which had built itself around titles in the 70’S such as Pacman, Donkey Kong and Space invaders. In short, video games and consoles were being knocked together like there was no tomorrow along with games which made you wish there was no tomorrow.
Consoles included the Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Bally Astrocade, ColecoVision, Emerson Arcadia 2001, Magnavox Odyssey, Mattel Intellivision and everybody’s favorite the Fairchild Channel F System II.
So, back to the NES. The Japanese had picked up the ball and ran with it. It was the birth of so many genre’s of games and titles that carry on today.
My first experience of the NES was with the Super Mario game that was bundled with the console. At first glimpse it seemed like something similar to what I played on the Vic-20. But then you quickly come to realise in the Nintendo world you have more than 5 colours and music that doesn’t sound like a cheap keyboard with half cooked batteries.
It was also another step towards the 3D dimension where you ran in front of and behind objects in Mario’s world, which had me spooked at first because i spent at least ten minutes running towards a picket fence, then running away again assuming it was in my way.
I imagine the word around the Nintendo design headquarters was that they were after a platformer that would be unique and different to the current competition.
Different is a word for it I guess. For those of you who haven’t heard exactly what Mario’s world involves (Because you are either Amish or you died in the 70’s) here is a brief analysis.
Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Mario, apparently lived his childhood in a town surrounded by a forest. It is written that he loved to explore, especially the forest, upon which he found a cave. After much deliberation he wandered into the cave and the rest is history. If his games are anything to go by Mr Miyamoto experienced some especially odd happenings on his trips into the forest and into his favourite cave.
Taking the elements from the game Super Mario world on the NES, I’ll explain.
Mario and his brother Luigi are Italian, plumbers by trade. But they exist in a world that makes as much sense as the game Simon to an Alzheimer’s sufferer.
The world is the ‘Mushroom kingdom’ and Mario’s best mate is a mushroom, called Toad, obviously. Their friend Toad, will sometime lend a hand on their quest to save the Princess, which of course is a gorgeous blonde piece in a pink dress. The bad guy? King Koopa. King Koopa is a dragon/turtle/lunatic who unfortunately exists in the Mushroom Kingdom setting up all sorts of things that kill, everywhere.
Because of this, the Mushroom Kingdom isn’t a pleasant experience for Mario and Luigi at the best of times, more like a really nasty acid trip. Its’ full of violent turtles, mushrooms, huge flying bullets and swinging pendulums of fiery death. But Mario and Luigi keep on smiling and jumping…in their luminous red and green dungarees…collecting huge gold coins and colour changing mushrooms. Which make them, taller.
So in brief, it’s weird but for some strange reason it became one of the biggest selling games of all time.
And that concludes part of my time wasted/spent whatever you want to call it, on video games.
Coming next in Part 2:- The 90’s gaming titans go head to head. Still loads of squash involved, biscuits and retina damage!