As with anyone who has a real interest in video games, I have dabbled in my fair share of PC gaming as well as the much loved console environment. As much as consoles make gaming easy and fun, the PC offers the gamer an entire universe of weird and wonderful games that would never be seen on a mainstream piece of hardware. If you want to farm crops in real time, it’s got your back. Want operate a train for nine hours straight? Fill your boots, or if you just want to run around naked in the game of your choice, you could probably do that too.
Half Life was a big deal for me when I first booted that up on my ‘Dad’s’ new computer. Not only did it shit all over any console in terms of its graphics engine but the story was so well crafted for an FPS game you really felt like you’d accomplished something more than a huge pile of bodies.
You play as Gordon ‘Butterfingers’ Freeman, an unlucky scientist who almost destroys humanity due to his cack-handedness. On this particular day you enter Black Mesa for another day at the office, put on your overalls and go to run a few tests, in what looks like a huge microwave oven. Gordon is helping move some equipment around the test area but at one point appears to trip and pushes a trolley into the beam of energy…queue random strange events, portals, and aliens, which then leads to Gordon having to attack extra-terrestrials with a crowbar and eventually warp through space and time to rain fire on natives in another dimension. It’s no wonder the game become one of the best loved PC titles ever made.
As a teen I could never afford a monster spec machine myself, so had to rely on making my dad aware of just how important graphics were if I was to efficiently carry out manslaughter in a first person perspective. The seemingly endless argument still continues on the subject of violent video games and their apparent effects on young people’s minds, but from memory the righteous PC gamers have had it easy. Men and women in game developing studios around the globe have spent many hundreds of hours meticulously creating a virtual world for gamers of all ages to explore, in which they maim or kill terrestrial and extra-terrestrial beings with all manner of weaponry. The adults here are not to blame as they are no longer children, although the video game they created is. The sad thing is that while these ‘responsible’ adults are arguing the toss over console games that I consider to be satire and often plain comical. If your son or daughter has been using your electricity, sitting on your furniture, playing a game which you bought with your money which is for adults only, then that is YOUR choice, not theirs.
Some of the games created by independent programmers back in the late 90’s on the PC would make Grand Theft Auto look like Sesame Street. I remember trying to get hold of one game on the PC which was based in a crude virtual American suburb created using photos, which were then turned into sprites for you to kill at your leisure. From memory you could tie people up, gag them and then use a Stanley knife to draw things on them. I think you could also put a bag over their head and hit them with a hammer. I’m sure this game appeared in a games magazine before being banned but no one talks about the small fry, only the ones that sell, which makes you think. Doesn’t it?
James Bond is a clear example of how on screen simulated sex and violence, when produced and distributed by the right people, will never receive a mention when news of a human between the ages of twelve and eighteen decides he wants to end the lives of a number of people.
In fact most actors who have play the quintessential British lunatic in a tux receive knight hoods, from the British Monarchy. Roger Moore, made famous by globetrotting, karate chopping people and getting Russian girls to eat his dick as a top secret agent, is herald as a social icon. Roger nowadays attends all manner of parties and award ceremonies for depicting a man who drives weaponised vehicles, fucks foreign women and shoots numerous people on screen for around 120 minutes. Not only did Roger serve in the British army but he became a captain at one point and If I’m not mistaken you don’t become captain because you can polish your shoes to a mirror finish.
Before I left home and spent all my hard-earned on games consoles, my time with PC’s was spent well, titles like Soldier of Fortune 2 was another reason to upgrade your machine. An FPS with a multitude of hit locations, enter and exit wounds, realistic sounds and weapons plus a great online community required some decent hardware. The game was so violent in parts that It was banned in several countries and in terms of gore, it has perhaps never been matched in any titles since.
It wasn’t just highly rated for its graphic content, the online community was dedicated, servers were packed with all kinds of different gangs and clans. My best friend managed to gain entry to a group whose rules were simple. They were a ninja clan who never used guns, only knives, if you managed to kill every gang member once in a session with throwing knives only, you would be eligible for entry.
But it wasn’t all guns, gore and ammo. As a fan of aviation I did spend a lot of time playing flight sims. I bought a Thrustmaster multi axis joystick with throttle and yaw controls and bought some budget titles to get flying. The A10 Thunderbolt was one of my favourite planes for the simple fact it is essentially a flying cannon. America for all their enthusiasm for things bad for the world, have produced some of the greatest marvels in the engineering world and the A10 is just fascinating.
The ‘cannon’ or GUA-8 Avenger, is not something you’d want to be on the receiving end of. Typically mounted to a battleship, American aerospace manufacturer Fairchild-Republic thought it would be an excellent idea to build a plane around it. The gun is a 30mm hydraulically driven seven-barrel Gatling-type cannon, it’s 19ft long and weighs around two tons. It fires anti everything rounds which are made of an aluminium shell with a depleted uranium core. This makes it not all too hard to tell who has been up to no good on an international scale, when a country fires projectiles at you made from the by-product of nuclear weapons manufacture.
At an air show that I attended around five years ago, I met an American pilot of the flying tank who let me in on some lesser known facts; You can’t fire the weapon very long for two reasons, one, the gun would melt and two, the fire power of the weapon slows the aircraft down so much so that you have be careful it doesn’t fall out of the sky.
The game in question was A10 Cuba!. I remember buying the game in a pack of other flight sims made by Activision. The difference between the console flight games and sims on the PC is that you could plug in all sorts of peripherals to further the simulation experience. The cockpit is pretty daunting when you first load up the game, I think it took me about fifteen minutes of studying the booklet and controls to figure out how to start the plane and take off. Once in the air you are told to head towards a destination shown on the map or radar, presumably where you would annihilate a target. I can’t remember if I got there or not, most of the time was spent looking at the controls, while the aircrafts engines fade to be replaced with alarms and beeping noises. I got pretty good at emergency landings in residential areas though.
Activision made a number of hit titles on the PC at the time, that didn’t help me out when it came to homework. The mid to late nineties was a memorable time on the PC platform, one of my all-time favourites was Activisions Interstate 76.
I bought the game during a sale when many titles of the same age we price slashed as the next generation emerged. The front box art was big, bold and original. It stood out from the crowd and to be honest it still does. As games fall more and more into line with hugely commercial movie blockbusters and TV, box art has become a generic, tick all the aesthetics boxes, clichéd mess. Interstate 76 is a solid cult classic, at the time I had no idea just how influential the game would be until a little while later.
The game could be said to have taken inspiration from Carmageddon, Mad Max and Twisted Metal but in reality there was a wealth of original content loosely based around familiar scenes from retro movies and video games. I used to play Interstate with the Thrustmaster, it actually worked pretty well. The forward movement of the joystick was used for throttle and back was obviously for braking, this was perfect for cruising at speed around the large landscapes in the game. Using the controls on top, I could look around the cockpit of the car, fire the multitude of weapons using the triggers and enjoy a wide, controlled range of steering.
The game is based around the gas guzzling 70’s but in an alternate reality where the oil crisis was very much prolonged and the world became even more dangerous as a result. Using armoured, weaponised vehicles (much like international terrorist James Bond), gangs formed to try and take control of the precious black gold. Any car fan was suitably catered for as many vehicles from the time period were at your disposal to modify with armour and weapons.
Quite cleverly the main protagonist is told early on that he should never get out of his car, in the event something bad happens. You could only play from the vehicle perspective, whilst the cut scenes were the only time you’d see characters, you couldn’t blame them really, this was already an impressive environment, so to have free roam out of the vehicle would be pushing it. The large simple polygons of the game environment and characters worked exceptionally with the art work, producing a very distinctive feel and look. To add to this the script was pretty engaging too, whilst roaming and I mean roaming because the game world was large enough that you got to enjoy the rumble of your V8 and the rolling hills and peaks that surrounded you in the deserts of the USA.
The games soundtrack was also a little bit special as it had been perfectly crafted for the game by Arion Salazar, who later formed the group Third Eye Blind. An excellent keyboardist by the name of Tom Coster and Bryan Mantia who had previously played with Primus and Guns and Roses. It had an authentic 70’s feel to it and so it was a great accompaniment to the games missions. You cruised the desert being fed information by Taurus. Taurus isn’t his real name, it’s what people call him. He lived as a poet in New England with a wife and daughter, who were killed by criminals. He helps Groove to adjust to being a vigilante, guiding him along his quest. His poetry could be sampled by pressing the ‘C’ key while in driving mode.
If you’ve never played the game you might not be bowled over simply by reading Taurus’s poems. But in the game, when you’re rolling on the black top, somewhere alone in the desert, Greg Eagle’s voice settled your mind as you embarked on another dangerous mission against the autovillians, or creepers as they were known.
In the next couple of years, the internet became fast enough for a little online gaming, depending on your location I guess. I remember struggling to get connected at first but eventually worked out some bugs to play Interstate online. The only memory I had of this was appearing in the game environment in my standard car and a dragster (not a car included in the original game) fired some kind of tomahawk missile at my car which blew it to smithereens. I was out of my depth, I had no idea about modding at this time or add ons, I spectated for a bit but decided this wasn’t my time, especially with a dial up connection I was going to have my ass handed to me.
I could go on and on about PC gaming during this time, there were a great many titles and the detail of which just wasn’t matched on the consoles. When I moved out of my parents place at twenty one years of age, I lost touch completely with PC gaming as I could never afford a rig. It’s only now, almost a decade later that I have been able to purchase my first powerful PC. I now have access to every game since gaming began, a super-fast internet connection and a salary. Multiplayer games are common place and so I now find myself downloading retro games and watch my computer laugh it’s circuits off as it tries to slow itself down to play these almost three dimensional games.
If you have enjoyed this part of the gaming history, why not make a suggestion for a particular game, platform or era that you’ve enjoyed and I’ll let you know my views.
CLICK HERE FOR PART 15!
This part of my gaming history, the transition from PSX to PS2 will no doubt have to be spread over two parts. The PlayStation was and still is one of the most popular gaming systems ever made and I did enjoy my time with it. I will try to cram as much as I can into these two parts but I imagine it’ll be like trying to fit my fist in my ear.
Moving out from the home of the humans that spawn you is definitely one of the most exciting, character building although altogether frightening experiences you’ll ever face whether they love you or hate you. Within the first year of moving out I became the owner of two lizards, hosted African dancehall parties (complete with Africans), I was threatened with a bread knife at a house party and I almost drowned at Glastonbury.
The building was a three storey apartment block attached to a large furniture shop, so as their opening times were 9-5pm weekdays, we could blast out music all through the night if we wanted to. I lived with a recently acquired male friend and my girlfriend at the time. When we had become acquainted with the neighbours downstairs, we occasionally had open door ‘block parties’ with a sound system in each flat playing different styles of music, where guests could come and go as they please. The third flat was occupied by a young professional couple, I say professional because I’d see them leave the flat shouting at each other wearing suits. We never really spoke because I don’t do shouting and so we never discussed invitations.
This level of fun and mayhem can and will eventually attract the wrong type of people for a party and I remember several times having to ‘hold the fort’ against druggies, chavs and occasionally the police. At one particular gathering, music was at full chat and amongst the carnage, a lone chav (A mentally challenged youth in sports gear) managed to infiltrate the defences and for whatever reason headed straight for the kitchen and picked out a breadknife of all things. If you enter a house party with the intention to grab a knife from the drawer, why the breadknife? In hindsight when you think of the weaponry usually housed in the drawers of a kitchen, surely the most stabby type blade would be better than a serrated option, then again maybe he had the intention to saw someone like a loaf of bread but I doubt it.
Uninterested in making sandwiches for us, the youth starts waving it at guests in a threatening manner. Too drunk to consider any kind of attack based on any of my martial arts experience, I opted for plan B. Plan B consisted of 6ft 3 inches of man mountain called Jim. Jim was as soft as Dads who shop at Waitrose but he looked rather like Vinnie Jones. I felt like I was asking the older brother I never had for some assistance, tugging at his T-shirt and pointing in the direction of the problem. After I briefed him on the situation he stomped down the corridor with me closely following behind sipping a can of lager, eager to witness Jim confront the twat with a breadknife. He walked in and immediately grabbed the guy by the back of the neck, removed said knife with his free hand and literally dragged him by the collar, down the stairs to the front door and shooed him outside like a beggar found in Harrods.
My flat mate, who for privacy reasons we’ll call Jay, is an avid reader. The kind of guy who has read and experienced so much in his existence that his mind was full of fuck. That’s the trouble with reading, if you fill your head too much with fantasy stories throughout time, you end up over thinking most things and blurring the lines between reality and the book world. I could be wrong, it could be the drugs or the drink, or both but I guess the same could be said for video games…if you’ve ever experienced gaming whilst on mushrooms for example, you’ll understand it’s not all that strange to hide in a cardboard box playing Metal Gear Solid for 15 minutes, musing to yourself about existence in a box within a box within a box…
It was in the year 2000 that I decided as TV had officially died (Due to the disappearance of Knight Rider, A-Team, TMNT, Air Wolf, Transformers, Jayce & the wheeled warriors…the list goes on) I would disconnect the aerial from the light box and forget about TV all together. And I was right to do so (Over 10 years and counting) as I am part of the ever decreasing percentage of the population who are the able bodied, sound minded individuals choosing to no longer pay for mind wank television full of insecure jazz handed, ex drama school nonces, interspersed with advertisements about how inferior your hair looks and what you can’t afford at the moment. Sure, I use the modern catch up programs to enjoy some recorded broadcasts but if I see advertisements now It only builds contempt for the society I live in.
Being an Sony fan boy meant that on the release of the PS2 in the year 2000 I was keen to get my hands on it. Gamers were looking for another vision of the future from Sony and for console fans we weren’t disappointed. Boasting now a 64bit CPU clocked at around 300Mhz, it was DVD/CD with SCART, RGB output and with a range of larger storage capacities as the games grew larger. To show off the raw power of this new vertical standing home console, Sony wheeled out more Tekken, Gran Turismo and Metal Gear Solid which did nothing but impress the fans. Controller wise, the ergonomically near perfect pad of the PS1 had been superseded by an even more comfortable device, the Dual Shock 2.
On release Sony could have issued the statement ‘Don’t bring a fart to shit fight’ as the console could have funded a small war in the first couple of days. In the market place the SEGA Dreamcast was pummelled in terms of figures even though there was never a bad word said about SEGA’s swan song, which did offer a varied selection of titles, internet connection and an array of peripherals.
My limited time playing a Dreamcast introduced me to some brilliant titles including the eye watering Marvel VS Capcom, the gore fest that was House of the Dead and the awesomely strange Shenmue.
Set in the 80’s in a Yakuza area of Japan, Shenmue was the story of Ryo Hazuki. Ryo’s father is killed in the first five minutes of the game and from what I remember I had to then stay with a bloke who occasionally gave me pocket money. Your aim was to then explore the outside world for clues to your father’s death. After investigating the town for over an hour I was beaten and mugged trying to help someone out and had to go home for a Coca Cola and a sit down. I didn’t play the game an awful lot as you can tell from my muddled description but from what I remember the game had a very humble appearance and a satisfying flow to the gameplay. The concepts and content have remained a much praised part of video game history.
By 2002 the Sony PS2 had steamrolled the competition and it wasn’t all about specs. It may not have been the most powerful on paper but it’s adaptability and versatility propelled sales to a monumental scale. I had brief encounters with the competition up until that time, such as the much loved Nintendo GameCube, the Dreamcast and eventually the Microsoft X’tremly large box. On a side note. By 31st March 2012 the PS2 has sold an estimated 155 million units worldwide, in all the colours of the rainbow, with the support of pretty much every game developer under the sun.
Still some of my best loved titles were released on the PS2 and the continuation of certain titles ensured I stayed loyal. Ace Combat was a particularly challenging game early on but the basic control system and in flight physics made it one of the best flight games seen on a console to date. Gran Turismo still retained a top spot for most PS2 owners game stacks and for those who took interest, Tourist Trophy as a motorcycle racing sim was not a disappointment but sadly has not seen a sequel on next gen. New titles like Armoured core was another welcome addition to the roster, a well-crafted Japanese robot shooter is always going to draw the crowds, although the often complex menu systems and gameplay intimidated less experienced pad grabbers.
Racing games came out in force on the PS2, there are far too many titles to mention but it was planes, trains and automobiles for the most part and sometimes obscure racers from developers you’d never heard of and for good reason, as usually controlling said vehicles was much like steering an F1 car on a frozen lake. In fact most genres were tried and tested on the PlayStation, perhaps because of this huge proving ground it’s the reason why we’ve now thinned out the crap and retained some of the best concepts until the present. If you look through the list of PS2 releases on Wikipedia you’ll find more than a few titles you can’t pronounce yet alone recognise.
Like on Facebook and stay tuned for much more on the PS2 and maybe some more irrelevant ramblings from yours truly.
It has to be said that the late 90s was pretty epic all round for a guy at my age. I was soon to be leaving school, I was also soon to become a legal adult…which meant nothing really apart from the fact that everything I had been doing illegally was soon to be legal and therefore ok in the eyes of the law. We hadn’t had much more controversy over video games since the 16bit era, people had come to realise that video games were now emulating real and fantasy world violence but it was to be Grand Theft Auto that stood apart from the rest of the crowd with a big blood stained knife in one hand and a sign in the other that said “Look at me!!”. Looking back at the first installment of GTA makes you really question what all the fuss was about (No offense guys!). It really goes to show how little the media scum and civilian do-gooders have going on in their lives, when a small, pixelated world of top down criminal activity can become a focal point of a society.
Ultimately what you take from a game like GTA is the most important part. Was it that you took someone’s life during a robbery and then were abruptly run over by over zealous local authority? Or do you now think that yes, selling cocaine on the streets, although lucrative, is in fact living your life on a knife edge between becoming Scarface or a shit stabber behind bars.
The minority who complained about the game were often the ones who have never played it and it was the fine upstanding role model, Max Clifford who got the controversy ball rolling. Your background and circumstances obviously play a big part in your early development, not some crooked graphical representation of a city from the view of a pigeon. Before shoddy looking violent video games, the previous generation had been subjected to beautifully composed and well animated cartoons. Young people witnessed a man with a passion for spinach, solve all of his day to day tribulations with simple brutality. Punching and kicking anything that stood in his way, often all for the love of a gawky looking woman. I don’t remember the public outcry to ban Popeye, core values and morals in life are something you may or may not follow depending on your wiring and upbringing. If you are influenced enough by video games to commit heinous acts, the games aren’t the problem. Boredom is a scary thing, never let humans, adults or children, become bored, it leads to awful things…I believe computer games combat this.
I remember entering Curry’s in 1998, which for those of you who do not reside in the UK, it is in fact an electrical store, not a food outlet. GTA had just hit the shelves and I went in to shoplift…I mean purchase the game. I had read the reviews, scanned the screenshots and so, I was looking forward to playing the game as it sounded like a riot. For whatever reason though this game received an 18 rating and because of this, the young man behind the counter couldn’t serve me. Saddened by my inability to crack on and sell virtual crack, I politely asked my Dad if he would go in and buy it for me. My Dad had spent many an hour sat with me, hand drawing the maps of DOOM for me as we ran around level after level mercilessly gunning down anything sprite that moved…he knows it’s just a game and he doesn’t give a flying fuck what you do in a game as long as you’re not stupid enough to carry out ‘missions’ in real life. You join to army to kill legally, and carry out missions all in the name of drugs and or resources. I’m far too lazy for that kind of thing and that’s why I play video games.
If Wipeout and Gran Turismo raised the bar for technical and content excellence in a racing game. GTA took RPG/Action/shooter/driver, to a whole new level. Real stereo audio tracks boomed over sounds of a bustling city, as you joy ride to victory doing favours for local drug dealers and pimps. Originally penciled to be a simple cops vs robbers chase game, the small team of programmers and enthusiasts pooled ideas from their favourite films and TV shows to come up with a totally original idea. The big cheeses funding the operation didn’t want it, at times the programmers couldn’t meet the concepts, It was almost canned at every corner but for some reason, it was destined to be brought to life and beamed into our brains to turn us into violent drug pushing thugs.
The PS1 was now on fire (not literally due to becoming violent) with so much great content, Sony were an unstoppable force at this point. GTA along with other great titles secured PS1’s place as top dog.
After well over fifty hours playtime I can’t say I was any closer to stealing my neighbours car and going on a knife rampage, I had a teenage temperament already, which meant I was naturally either hot, cold or horny or all of the above. Drugs had come long before GTA ever did to. I remember it like yesterday (going against any so called ‘reports’ of cannabis leading to memory loss) my friend and I stood under his porch in the back garden, listening to the heavy rain on the plastic corrugated roof, hunched over trying to ignore the cold. He produced from his coat pocket what I saw him roll earlier and said “Try it, it’s like cigarettes only different’.
Different indeed, I don’t think we stopped laughing for three hours, laughed at the rain, laughed at each other and laughed some more. We went back upstairs and stuck on the Playstation and a beautiful friendship came to being. I didn’t realise at the time that this was illegal, I guess people can only have fun as long as there is a limit to it, enforced by government.
I was no stranger to physical violence either with over seven years of traditional Karate behind me, long before GTA being released. Karate is an age old Japanese method of practicing how to effectively use ones foot to make an opponent’s eyes pop out of their ears. You enter a room full of strangers and quite often you’ll find yourself punching and kicking each other, occasionally being whipped by a teachers belt if and when you made mistakes. Had I used these techniques in anger? Not really, but I had been able to defend myself once or twice, usually resulting with me trying to put someone’s foot up their own ass.
I’ve seen monks from Asia smash pots on their heads and take kicks to the groin from a man twice their size…those bald fella’s haven’t even got a TV so whatever influences them to practice the arts of inflicting pain is anyone’s guess. I’d say boredom.
Smoking plants and playing video games was now what happened between school and eating. It could not have come at a better time as titles that have earned their place in the video game hall of fame, were released within two years of each other. Who can forget the four player split screen romp that was 007 Golden Eye on the N64, running around as Nick Nac while your friend fruitlessly attempts to karate chop you to death with Jaws had me in tears of laughter, not to mention the hilarious animation. Resident Evil 2 stoned was another level of frightening too, with curtains drawn, walking around as a cop who can only move like a cheap educational robot, HI-FI turned up to 11 and the lights off, it certainly tested your nerves.
For me this was a highlight in my gaming history so far. The days when I’d sit with a mate in my school uniform for hours until it was time for me to go, I could take the game home if they let me borrow it and the disc contained the full game.
I still had my Megadrive, I don’t recall when I sold the old girl but I do remember on the odd occasion, slamming in a cartridge for one final blast on California Games, Streets of Rage or James Pond. The sounds, the gameplay and the pad brought on feelings on nostalgia even at such a young age. When I play these games now on emulators, it’s never the same, similar to the thoughts of child hood, it reminds me of how easy going things were back then when compared to the ever maddening, shameless, money grabbing, product placing, non supportive, underhanded, identity stealing, slutty industry it is today.
There are just too many games to mention here, the step into the 3D polygon world of Sony’s powerhouse was only the beginning, but for a lot of us, we were playing reinvented titles of the originals. The Strike games continued with Soviet and Nuclear Strike. We had Micromachines V3 which surprised many as it was just as additive and frustrating as the original. Mortal Kombat was given more content and fighters with the Trilogy, with strong competition in the genre from 3D titles like Tekken and Soul Blade, there were no complaints. The PlayStation, was the first video game console to ship 100 million units, 9 years and 6 months after its initial launch. Gaming was becoming seen as a worthwhile past time and not just the hobby of spotty kids with high scores and corduroy trousers.
In the year 2000, we were going to see what would become the bestselling home console of all time, the aptly named, Playstation 2. It was also the year I left home, had my first house mate and so, the battles continued.
Firstly, for anyone who has been enjoying these entries about my gaming history, I’d like to apologise for the lack of posts since part 8. Life moves pretty fast when you get older, either that or Alzheimer’s is creeping in steadily and actually I have no idea how much I’m not doing.
If you aren’t really that old yet, i.e. you are cruising through life at around 18 years old, eating packet pasta, walking around in flip flops and scarfs, studying for a job that appeared yesterday….
It might be difficult to envisage how this feels or works, using the power of the metaphor, I’ll try and explain this to you.
Imagine for a moment you have a small wicker basket, this represents your life, you can hold this basket in one hand…in said wicker basket are a number of small rubber bouncy balls, of various sizes. Each ball represents certain aspects of your life and their size is determined by the importance of each aspect. This could include, goals, aspirations, hopes, dreams, caring for your dog, browsing mortal-mikey, looking after yourself, learning a new language, remembering important birthdays, passing that exam, revision for said exam…you get the idea. What I’m trying to convey here that your small wicker basket is in no way large enough to easily contain all of these bouncy balls but you will do your best to stack them, which sometimes believe it or not, actually works. Albeit for a brief, insignificant amount of time.
Then imagine that the world around you is a gypsy fun house, you know, the funny looking, rickety old wooden ‘house’ you find at the fair, containing all manner of dangerous mechanisms and illusions that have you falling over yourself, bumping into things, whilst being bombarded with strobe lights, loud horns and blasts of compressed air.
Life in adulthood is like trying to navigate through one of these, whilst being followed by several large doormen (or bouncers), holding on to your little wicker basket of balls as you do. The doorman all have names too, in this case we’ll call them, debt, work and time. Anytime you knock one of these bouncy balls out of the basket due to the mayhem that occurs around you, you’ll desperately scramble around on the floor, using your only free hand, as the three of them give you a little shove here and there to move you along, which invariably means you’ll lose sight of one or two of the balls, sometimes for a moment, sometimes forever. If God were to play any part in this analogy, he would be the fat bearded chap sitting in the dirty, food stained ticket booth. Granted, to enter life (or the ‘fun house’ as he’d like to call it) it doesn’t cost fuck all, but your journey through it is going to be all on show for the omnipresent spectator to cackle at.
If reincarnation does actually exist, which I believe is probably much like a character select screen, just ask if you can enter spectator mode yourself and kick back with a beer and a selection of your favourite snacks.
The PlayStation was the last console I mentioned in my gaming history. I must admit I had only briefly mentioned just how ground breaking everything was when it came to the PSX. The control pad was very impressive for a start. It really felt like a another leap forward in the ergonomics theory and the way that the designers now connected with gamers. Control pads of the past were built as if every child had hands shaped like Lego which required no real dexterity to play.
The Sony PlayStation controller was built at the perfect size and shape for human hands and the button layout was perfect for present and future games. The construction was solid and each button was sat perfectly in the plastic casing, all rubber mounted to the circuit board which gave the buttons a nice consistent feel with minimal travel. This could only be found on an original Sony built controller, all third party copies creaked and cracked like pensioner with no heating at Christmas.
Coming from a long history of controllers with buttons labelled A,B,C,X,Y,Z meant that at first it was a little confusing with Sony’s new approach to button configuration. Square, X, Circle and Triangle replaced the familiar layout from the SNES and added to this were four shoulder buttons. L1, L2, R1 and R2. Developers wasted no time and threw us all in the deep end, new titles sprang up every five minutes and with that, new button configurations and patterns had to be learned, which meant at first some games were like baptising a cat.
Sony’s design became the preferred method of play globally, from that time, right up until the introduction of the first Xbox.
The ability to save games also became much easier on the console with the introduction of Sony’s memory cards, which from my hazy memory, had 8Mb storage, which in today’s world is about 3 digital photographs. Games data could be taken from your home to a friend’s place who could quickly and easily copy data from your card to theirs with Sony’s front end system. Being that it was also a CD Rom drive meant that users could pop in a music CD and play tunes through your setup, which could be controlled entirely by the control pad, all backed by mad 3D rendered psychedelic visuals that would have given your dad an acid flashback. The beginnings of a home console becoming a multimedia platform were taking shape and it felt good that the functionality was for there for us.
With more power obviously meant more exciting titles. The PlayStation will forever be remembered for bringing us a new plethora of fighting games and of course light gun games. Games from the arcades were coming to the home once again with titles like Lethal Enforcers, Time Crisis and Point Blank.
Light gun games were pretty poor on the 8-Bit systems, with few exceptions. Both Sega and Nintendo had their own light gun systems on the Megadrive and the SNES which only really served as a novelty in my opinion. The initial expense of the ‘Menacer’ on the Megadrive system was pretty steep and the games pack that came with the gun were short lived titles.
Turn off the lights, turn up the sound and sit back with your best mate with a copy of Lethal Enforcers on the PS1 and you were in for some wholesome criminal killing. So the graphics weren’t exactly show stopping but the real gun sound effects, real digitised characters on photographed backgrounds had appeal. Sure, every time you pull the trigger the screen flashed bright white, which happened several thousand times a minute and no doubt induced many seizures in bedrooms around the globe, but perhaps the danger element added to the excitement.
We certainly got a bang for our buck with Die Hard Trilogy. Looking back at the game now it’s hard to imagine why we were so excited, as most of the game, by todays standards, looked like it was constructed by primary school children locked in a dark room full of computers, with a basic knowledge of programming and the Die Hard films being played on big screens 24 hours a day.
The gameplay was a completely different story, there were three different game types, and if I’m honest, the gameplay and sound certainly was impressive at the time. Each Die hard had a different style of play which up until that point hadn’t really been seen before and since then hasn’t been replicated. Die Hard was set in the skyscraper and in this section of the game you ran around as John McLane in a third person perspective and gunned down anyone who stands between you and the hostages. There wasn’t much in the way of strategy in this chapter, John ran with his gun constantly at arm’s length, in his vest and simply shot things until they stopped moving. It was the little things added to the game that entertained, John would occasionally say one liners when you shot enemies or picked up health and ammo. A majority of the surrounding furniture of the game was destructible too, such as windows, table objects, roof tiles etc. The bigger the weapon, the more damage, and it isn’t long before you get into the flow and have enemies bouncing off the office walls using well placed grenades.
Die Hard 2 was set in the airport obviously and this is where you could use the light gun. The game controlled your character through the scenes and just allowed you to shoot. The characters in Die Hard Trilogy at first looked a little awkward, but soon it was evident that quite a lot of work had gone into them. There were some early examples of ‘ragdoll’ physics here in a 3D environment, this also meant that enemies and civilians didn’t always take exactly the same path with every play through.
Die Hard Trilogy was produced by Probe entertainment here in the UK, which could account for the crude German accents that appear throughout the game and could also account for the call to ban the game in Germany. This was one of the first times I had seen photos rendered onto polygons, if you looked closely, on some of the characters had the faces of the development team. Although the game was extremely buggy at times, the subtle comedic effect of the sounds and the mayhem that could be unleashed with the light and grenades meant that a lot of homework was never done.
Finally Die Hard with Vengeance was again completely different in terms of game play due to the fact it was purely driving. You start out in the yellow New York taxi and acquire several missions along the way which require you to drive other vehicles. This was undoubtedly the least realistic of the three games but was often the most fun. The missions usually involved simply ramming the shit out of the target vehicle or ramming a dustbin containing a bomb, but instead of crashing and immobilising the enemy car or getting out and disarming the bomb, targets would explode like a small nuke with no regard for civilians.
Even changing into a new vehicle for a mission required you to smash into it, creating yet another explosion as you drive off. Polygon civilians would run for their lives as you sped through the city, if you mounted the pavement GTA style, the screen would be splattered with blood making the wipers work.
Thats it for this part, I promise in 2013 I’ll be keeping up a reasonable pace with this series, right up until present day.
Happy new year!
It was bank holiday Monday last week and so that meant wind and rain here, in the UK. A good friend of mine insisted we go to the local Racecourse (a place where small people smack horses and race them around a track) to see a stunt show.
The poster was defiantly eye catching, anyone from my generation knows how cool a Monster truck is from when we first caught a glimpse of American motor sport on SKY television back in the 80’s.
Obviously I was keen to see a real monster truck again, in a nation full of people obsessed with football and running…a fire breathing, 1000+ horse power, car crushing truck is hard to come by and even then you’re promptly disappointed due to our health and safety regulations requiring a noise reduction, no jumps that are too high and the crowd must be half a mile away wearing fire proof suits and ear plugs.
Quoted as ‘The greatest show on wheels’ I stuck on my all weather gear and met my friend at the show. The gravelly, uneven tarmac car park was the ‘arena’, surrounded by metal temporary fencing and the stunt crews caravans and trucks. The wind was blustery and unpredictable, the cold, biting, and the rain was the familiar British drizzle which is much like being stroked by a wet piece of ham. The commentator did his best throughout the show to rally some enthusiasm but trying to bring British spectators to clap and cheer in these conditions is like trying to teach a dog Spanish, whilst wearing a bacon jacket.
Before the big finale involving the monster truck trundling around the car park, crushing three already mangled vehicles, you were witness to the ‘greatest show on wheels’…a Ford Mondeo estate was one of the first highlights to perform a stunt. It was more of a crash really, with a set of ramps positioned in front of a smashed car that stood vertically. The exhausted Ford reached the ramps at about 30mph and pretty much fell into the target car, all topped off with some pyro effect which I suspect was a shotgun shell rigged onto a make-shift fuse. Watch a clip of the spectacle here…
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, simply because without standing outside in the cold and rain, watching people hurl themselves at burning wood strapped the front of a clapped out Ford…you can experience all sorts of dangerous looking activities from the comfort of your own warm, dry home.
After the plethora of 2D fighting games and the new breed of racing dynamics, came the next generation of shooters.
Now for anyone unfamiliar with what is now the biggest selling gaming genre right now, it’s quite simple to explain. FPS games or ‘First person shooters’ involve you looking through the eyes of the character, pointing a weapon at things. Boys and girls the world over had enjoyed playing bubble popping, coin collecting, secret finding, spinning jumping, colourfully musical delights but the games we enjoy more than anything else involves running around virtual worlds, brandishing anything that can wound, maim or kill.
My first experience of this new age of shooter was sat with an older friend of mine, who had acquired a copy of Wolfenstien on the PC. Looking through the first person perspective literally gave me Goosebumps, I didn’t even know what a Nazi was at the time. When I finally witnessed the showdown between my friend and an 8ft Hitler in a robotic suit with mini guns as arms, I was terrified and also quite surprised when later I came to know him in school as the evil German guy who wanted anyone who wore a star badge to die in an oven.
I had to get myself some of this terrifying action, thankfully at the time my old man required a PC for his personal use. With a little bit of my input we had a gaming rig for doing his word processing…handy for when you need to play Doom.
Doom was similar to Wolfenstien in many ways. The controls were simple, you could not look up or down, there was no jump, you simply looked at what you wanted to kill, select the appropriate weapon and shoot it until it stops moving. Doom was an instant classic, it is another game where references have been used in film, music and books since its creation.
Both Wolfenstien and Doom were created by ID software who had no problem in letting people share the games freely and this has resulted in the franchise having a long and prosperous life. There have been changes made to both games over the years, such as gore content, obvious references to shooting Germans in the face and having maps shaped like Swastikas.
In late 1995, Doom was estimated to be installed on more computers worldwide than Microsoft’s new operating system Windows 95, the ‘Doom style’ clones since the release have been relentless and a truck load of these games were complete pap.
It set the standard for the genre by including great game play, crazy satanic art work, totally immersive sound and hard hitting weapons. There is little more satisfying than the boom, click, click, of the pump action shotgun as a monster gargled it’s last breath.
The fantasy element in recent years has been seen less and less and replaced with total realism of combat, it can often feel like you’re training yourself mentally for some weird military recruitment frenzy in the near future where you have to fight the entire middle east with your five best friends. Typically all of the Doom style games from the past were based around the complete iraddication of everything in the level but as time progressed, so did the programming and the (Artificial Intelligence) AI. This opened up new opportunities for games designers to improve combat but it wasn’t without it’s turkeys.
You can pick up a copy of one of the many attempts at creating a ‘next gen’ shooter with basic AI in any PC retailer in a bargain basket, the consoles have also seen their fair share. It’s the simplest things, from how an enemy is alerted to your presence or how accurate they can be with a weapon. Games are so advanced now that a programmed AI can’t detect you through some foliage or in darkend corners…young gamers today never had to endure sniping levels were an enemy could spot you half a mile away hiding behind a bush and shoot you between the eyes with a pistol. Neither have they been pinned down by a dozen enemies who can shoot a single pologon of your character as you cautiously peek around a corner in a vain attempt to ambush them.
Not all games were as bloody and gore ridden as Doom, some games rolling out of the shops at this time were as dark as the Care Bears…the simplicity of gaming can always be sought out if need be, which is why I find the arguments against gaming / violence ridiculous.
There is something strangely satisfying and relaxing about dispatching hundreds monsters with a sawn off shotgun, if I could think of one game responsible for some anger issues as a kid, it would have been Code Masters, Micro machines.
Based on the tiny over priced toy vehicles, you raced from a top down perspective against the computer, or your friends around a race track. Friendships were pushed to their limits as your opponents were able to bump you off the track to meet certain doom, sometimes accidently, often intentionally.
Being constrained to a top down view and a single screen, did limit how much you could win or lose by, as the camera could only zoom out so much. Tracks were set in garages, gardens, kitchen tables, pool tables and bathrooms, each presenting their own dangers like moving platforms, sweets, holes in the ground and puddles. Circuits could be mastered by remembering every single object, turn and jump of the track, as it raced towards you from any direction but more often than not you are simple flying blind, knocking into things, occasionally shouting something vulgar at the TV.
The experts indeed have it all wrong. I would literally have to take myself outside and go play with some matches for awhile in the garden, all because of certain levels I was trying to complete, with curtains drawn and strict instructions to my mum that she better have a good excuse to enter my room.
In a similar vein, Disney’s Aladdin was a beautifully crafted film, with a star studded voice over cast and slick animation, it should have a place in anyone’s collection if you like that sort of thing. So in 1993 when a game was released on the Megadrive, my parents bought me the game as a birthday present as I enjoyed the film so much. The game played rather well, so well in fact it was pretty addictive and so I spent a few hours jumping around, throwing apples at beggars and slashing enemies with a scimitar. As platformers go Aladdin was good fun, with a dose of Disney’s very own humour and animation thrown in for good measure.
I was keen to complete the game as it was so good, to do this however you had to endure a level so infuriating, at one point I think I almost considered putting the cartridge in the gap between the edge of a door and the hinge to crush it into pieces. With no capacity to save the game you had to get this right and you quickly learnt that either these game developers are fucking with you, or they are just horrible people.
The flying carpet level begins with Aladdin flying through a cave slowly, you have a few seconds or less to figure out all of the controls because the carpet is speeding up and you need to avoid rocks. Behind you is a wave of lava in case you weren’t panicked enough. As a platformer your perspective was limited on a twenty something inch television, in reality, to avoid the obstacles and the tidal wave of molten lava, you had to rely on your psychic abilities or pure luck. With a finite amount of lives and a fair number of levels left to get through in the game, getting this right took patience and good memory skill. One technique used to complete this level was the use of the start, or pause button. Used continuously you could gauge how much you need to move up or down on the carpet, this required the concentration of a bomb disposal expert with Parkinson’s and a pillow to bite in case you fucked this up too.
I do apologise that every time I mention in a previous ‘Gaming history’ post, that I’m going to talk about a certain game, more often than not, I don’t. There is a lot of games to get through and hopefully I’ll get to mention the best ones.
Having a look through my cupboards a few weeks ago, I discovered an old friend, the 1985 Nintendo Zapper.
This particular item was bundled in with Super Mario world and Duck Hunt when i received the NES console one Christmas. Mario is something I’ve already covered in my gaming history but I haven’t mentioned Duck Hunt.
The game was as basic as they come, you, the player, must use the Nintendo zapper to shoot and kill ducks. It’s not so much of a hunt as there is no real tracking or baiting involved. Your only companion is a giggling dog, who jumps into the bushes and ducks fly out from the undergrowth, to meet their lead filled demise.
For those who found the game rather too graphic there was a ‘Type B’ game where by you shot at imaginary clay pigeons but I much preferred the flapping panic of the ducks, right before I gave them all three rounds. This always annoyed me, having three rounds for two ducks but then again the game was about accuracy and not a Doom style murder spree.
Instead of throwing out the piece of history, I decided to mount it in my bedroom. You could do this with most peripherals, so hopefully this might inspire you to waste an afternoon doing something.
First you’ll need to choose a theme. My idea was to paint the frame with the similar grey colour that Nintendo used for the console…luckily for me, primer grey was cheap and I didn’t even have to lacquer it. You’ll need a ‘3D’ frame deep enough for your item, looking back now I should have taken some more measurements (I’ll get to that later).
Once you have the original frame sanded down and cleaned, it’s ready for spraying.
I recommend hanging the item up or putting on a surface you don’t mind ruining.
Next you’ll want some sort of backing for your item. I wanted a very deep black effect so decided to buy some material to stick to inside board of the frame.
With the mounting position figured out, I decided it would be best to minimise the weight, so it would actually stay on the back board. Interesting to see where the magic happens…
I did stick the material down onto the board using doubled sided tape, if you don’t do this it’ll hang off the material and you’re gonna have a bad day.
The finishing touch was the Nintendo fabric patch, nowadays you can get a patch of almost anything so it can be a nice addition to the final thing you’re making.
A retro looking snap…
And the finished result mounted on my wall.