This post is taking a bit of a detour from my gaming history as I’d like to mention something we, as gamers have had to face throughout the days spent tackling these virtual marvels. They are, glitches. I think they deserve a mention during this retrospective journey, as without them, games would never have the character or quirks we remember so fondly.
Whether it was the new uncharted polygon worlds of Sony or the copious amounts of cannabis consumed during the evolution of the Playstation but my new found skill in gaming was the ability to glitch any given title into oblivion. More often than not, I’d pop over to a friend’s house and pick up a controller to play their latest purchase. In the first five minutes I’d made the character or vehicle bend time and space and appear in a geographic location unknown to the game itself, ruining the apparent game environment, whilst making a noise like a dog trapped in a burning bin.
Just in the past month my friend, who writes for a an online technology magazine, handed me a brand new powerful smartphone from Motorola. As I flicked through the phone, he explained to me that the phone has a Pentium chip, has incredible RAM specs and so on. He fired up the new Batman game on the android system, quickly briefed me on the controls and off I went, to attempt to save Gotham City. I was impressed by the frame rate and the controls, perhaps now we’ve achieved a ‘oneness’ with this software programming stuff, this just looks too slick to fuck up.
The first two bad guys in this sandbox environment met their doom by means of the bat belt, I think I used the “Bat’arang” on the one guy and simply punched the other henchman to death, Bruce Wayne style.
So I decided it was time for a little exploring. Using the cape for the first time I launched Bat Wayne from a tall building, swooping down to meet two unsuspecting thugs on the street below. Unfortunately the Bat met an untimely fate when I strayed off course slightly and panicked, only to witness the caped crusader disappear through the bricks of a roof top Gotham city outbuilding, which was about 10x10ft square. I tried and tried to recreate the same graphic anomaly but failed miserably. It was quite depressing really, watching batman running and jumping wildly inside this small brick tomb, bumping into the four walls…thinking about it, there isn’t much batman could do in this instance. I used every conceivable means to escape and used every gadget the game provided, but in the end, Bruce man is just a lonely bloke in a gimp suit with ears and can’t kick or punch his way out of bricks and mortar.
Glitches have come a long way since the early days of polygon technology, now with simulated earth, wind, fire and water elements at developers disposal, all manner of madness can happen to your character or vehicle that previously had never been dreamed of. I believe with someone like me at the front line of games testing a lot of these issues could have been resolved a long time ago.
Helpful glitches have also appeared throughout games history, whether It be a crafty glitch that allows you to kill an end level boss without being killed, or an inventory glitch that gives you endless money or ammo. My most recent glitch discovery would have been whilst attempting to play the clumsy, unsatisfying Dark Souls, in which you, the victim, fumble around a grimy old ruin with a broken knife, frequently being destroyed by an array of crazed enemies. You often end up looking like a pensioner being kicked to death by chavs on PCP.
Upon meeting the first boss, which happens to be an over-sized, over animated ‘Asylum troll’, I quickly discovered a weakness using my experience of these kinds of situations and positioned myself at the rear of the monster, trying to learn it’s repetitive movements, with a large kitchen knife in hand. After regularly meeting an untimely fate previously to booby traps and awkward controls, I laughed manically as I repeatedly stabbed the fat troll in the arse until I killed it to death.
Flashback was a much loved title for me on the Sega Megadrive. It solidifies my argument that my generation have had it hard when faced with other big responsibilities in life, like washing or school. My parents were forever arguing the toss about how I should do my homework because back in their day, the cain was used as punishment for not putting in the hard labour. As well as physical punishment for not learning your sixty four times table, they’d recall games they used to play. Games like, roll the wheel with a stick, throw rocks at trains and hop scotch.
How is there any expectation for children to learn a government based education today? When I was a kid, of course I had homework, but I also had a powerful games console in my bedroom which could throw me into a situation in seconds whereby I play the role of a slick, agile motherfucker in a tan brown leather jacket, pale blue jeans, in a pair of Nikes, wielding a large handgun…IN SPACE. Choosing to spend time playing Flashback or writing an essay on how long it takes for water to erode rocks. I chose Nikes, handguns and space aliens, every. fucking. time.
Delphine software, who are sadly no longer with us, released Flashback in 1992 and the following was huge. In a nutshell, you play Conrad B. Hart, who wakes up on a distant alien jungle planet ‘Titan’. You wake up with no memory of what happened but soon discover it wasn’t the result of a good night out but instead, you erased your own memory. Conrad previously recorded his memory on a Holocube because you work for the Galaxia Bureau of Investigation, and during one of Conrad’s investigations he discovered a plot to destroy the earth by shape shifting aliens that have disguised themselves as government officials.
After the first three hours or so on the game, I became unbelievably stuck and had to read through many magazines before stumbling upon a way to progress. By running away from a door, then quickly turning to run the other way holding down A, Conrad magically runs through the door into the next scene. This was pretty uncommon for a glitch to actually help you out, if you ever found a door or wall you could pass into in a game, you should expect the worst.
Look out for my top five gaming intro’s of all time, coming soon. I’ll explain more about one of my favourite games ‘Flashback’ and discuss how a masterpiece is made.
If you aren’t familiar with the term ‘glitch’ or not sure of the effects caused by glitches, take a look at this short video.
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!
Picture the scene…
you’re an imperial born man, gone rouge, after escaping death because a fire breathing dragon interrupted your public execution for crimes you did not commit. After fleeing with a bloke who shows you the way out, you’re free to explore a huge landscape full of myth and magic, barbarians and thieves, trying to understand the motives of the people and fight for your survival.
You’ve just spent the last 53 minutes dispatching ancient Nord un-dead in a huge burial tomb, armed with a battle axe in one hand and a banded iron shield in the other…your companion, Jenessa…a dark Elf woman with a sexy British accent, who lives out her life as a mercenary for anyone with enough coin. You find her drinking in a pub on her own in a pleasant town, she doesn’t speak much but her huge great sword does the talking, carving the un-dead into pieces as they break free from their restless death to attack you. You emerge from the caves exhausted and over cumbered with riches you stole from the dead, who you just killed, again. As you make your way to the nearest village with thoughts of a belly full of mead and a good night sleep, you spot a lonely chicken on the outskirts of the settlement. With the newly learned spell you found inside the caves, you are too eager to wait for a more opportune moment and test it out on the poultry target.
The chicken bursts into flames as Jenessa watches on with the same blank expression she carries whilst driving forged steel into the foreheads of unlucky foe’s. At this moment you realise your mistake, you’ve just spent an hour in that dark tomb without auto save on and there’s no option to turn back time. The guards of the village of which you’ve destroyed a chicken, come for you but they aren’t here for a bribe this time…instead they attack you with no mercy for the crimes you’ve committed, in the confusion you have no choice but to reply with your axe and new found magic.
Jenessa, ever the quick thinker, attacks with you, with no regard for the lives of many in the village…she uses her god given magic to resurrect the chicken. In the flurry of blades and fire you catch a glimpse of what has become of your actions, as the chicken jumps furiously at the innocent people of this once quiet place, pecking at them like a crazed woodpecker. The orchestral battle music finally fades out and you’re left to look on at the smouldering remains of villagers and guards with only blood on your hands as your mercenary and new feathered recruit look at you for the next orders.
If you’re unsure what this is about, I’m talking about the latest RPG from Bethesda studios, Elder scrolls, Skyrim.
I learnt a valuable lesson that day, auto save is priceless with the kind of memory I have and that in modern games, you have to be mindful of your actions.
So far I’ve spent a solid 90+ hours in Skyrim and if you think the above sounds like a crazy tale, you should watch me attacking a bandit camp, dressed in a blacksmith apron, with only a wood cutters axe, magically enchanted to electrocute people as it strikes.
Often games in the old school category are usually based around the most simple of story lines, to save tricky programming with limited technology.
Take one of my all time favourite games on any platform, Streets of Rage.
Streets of Rage, or ‘Bare knuckle’ as it was known outside of the UK, was a scrolling beat’em up that I probably spent too much time playing. The story involved a gang of hero’s who sought to stop the evil Mr.x controlling the city and letting it spiral into chaos. Conveniently this meant civilians didn’t venture out onto the streets at night, leaving only thugs and lunatics to roam freely, a programmers dream.
The second instalment of this series was my favourite, combining a great original old school dance soundtrack with smooth graphics and slick game play. You choose anyone of the four playable characters and then begin your journey through 8 stages of smacking punks, surviving on apples and whole chickens.
The main dude and ‘leader’ of the gang was Axel, not to be confused with the automotive component or the loud fella from Guns and Roses. He wore a pair of light blue denim jeans, some cool trainers and a vest, topped off with a typically 80’s headband. He was quick, nimble and his wide variety of moves made him a favourite. Axel could be found in all 3 versions of Streets of Rage, he led the gang through the story, offering a backhand to anyone who crossed him.
Skate was a very different character to your usual band of muscle men and women, as he was a child. Obviously brought up tough enough, he fights alongside the other three characters in search for his dad Adam from the first game, who was kidnapped by Mr.x. His name, I’m guessing, comes from the fact he wears roller skates all of the time which in a fighting situation seems like a pretty daft idea but it does allow him to pull off some moves involving a flying kick utilising the underside of the skates and a special move which was a break dancing move flailing his legs at the enemy. Not one of my favourite characters to play with as when faced with a boss who was usually several times the size of the kid, it was near on impossible to avoid being murdered.
Blaze was the female of the bunch, armed with stiletto heels and martial arts, enemies were met with speed and technique reminiscent of Street Fighters, Chun Li. Teamed up with one of the stronger males in the gang you and a friend could plough through enemies like a tractor through a crowd at a Justin Beiber concert.
Perhaps not as well remembered as Haggard from Final Fight, Max acted less like a street fighter and more like a bull in hall of mirrors. If you ever got into a spot of bother as one of the other three characters Max could wade in, pick up the nearest punk and throw his sorry looking Mohawk through the pavement. Whilst it was always satisfying to complete the game with Axel or another less powerful character, it was a great stress reliever to enter the streets as Max and throw criminals around for an hour finally meeting Mr.x and putting that gun up his fucking arse.
A lot of time and effort went into this series, if you compared it to other side scrolling beat’em ups of the time, they usually fell short in terms of level design, music and character content. One example of this was that some characters, due to their size, could not swing or throw certain objects as they were too big, or the clever fight system in which you could use each other to ‘double team’ opponents.
The control system was superb, combining techniques from the popular 2D fighters from the likes of Street Fighter and Fatal Fury, extra grappling moves were included to make the street fighting more realistic and varied.
I think I hold the game in high regard still as it contains many of the aspects of game play and visuals that made this era of gaming what it was.
It was all about simple straight forward action at this time, it didn’t matter that it was wildly inaccurate and always with a slightly biased view of the states. So it was always nice when something completely new and completely original was found in the shops.
At around the same time as the SOR games were released, EA, or Electronic Arts, published a game that would shift gaming into a higher gear and set new levels of innovation once again with the Strike series.
Desert Strike: Return to The Gulf, was essentially chop lifter in 3D. A quote from Wikipedia…
The lead designer, Mike Posehn, had no video game experience prior to developing Desert Strike. Inspired by Choplifter, he aimed to create a nonlinear game with smoothly animated vehicles. Posehn, a PhD in Mechanical Engineering, developed a camera system with momentum to mimic realistic helicopter movements. Three-dimensional (3D) modeling was used to generate the vehicle sprites, which were later touched up on the pixel level with color.
This was a near perfect game in my opinion and still, with its innovative game play and physics, it can still be enjoyable today.
Set in the Gulf not so long after America had what it needed, you’re sent into one of the world’s most dangerous environments, in a single helicopter, to irradiate some lunatic with a huge moustache and a beret, much like the late Saddam Hussein. You were fed information and locations through a tactical menu and you went about your day saving prisoners of war, blowing up all of the bad guys whilst picking up fuel and ammunition as you did so.
Critics obviously had a field day with this title, claiming it was a little insensitive so soon after our governments had sent our young men and women out there with shoddy weapons and a slim chance of survival.
Looking back I don’t see how it was so offensive, you got to fly a single helicopter with a control pad around in a virtual desert land for thirty quid, completing tasks and usually surviving the ordeal. I thought they’d have more of an issue with several billions of dollars wasted, lots of dead brown people and a cushy re-armament plan for one mad Arab but then again we wouldn’t have the idea for the game without that.
In fact, every single game ever created on a computer is a just a poor graphical representation of something that has ACTUALLY already happened, whether it was yesterday, last month or several centuries ago. With the only exceptions being the very weird and surreal games like TOKI on the Mega Drive, where you roam around a fantasy land as an ape with a huge head, spitting at enemies and attacking a submarine with a chimps face on it.
Games magazines (Because this was before the internet, kids) gave Desert strike 90% and above in reviews. It was just so playable, innovative and fun. The visuals in the game were inspired by Mike Posehn’s love for matchbox vehicles as a kid, so he wanted to make the game seem like it was just a bunch of war toys going at it, instead of the serious simulator type game you’d find on the PC’s or home computers.
Due to its success the Strike franchise lived and produced not one but four more games, each with its own unique theme. The exceptionally well crafted physics model and camera movements were evolved each time and the non-linear mission elements that made the game so great, were kept.
When Soviet Strike came out on the Playstation in the first generation of CD consoles, we were not only witness to a new and improved polygon engine but slick video cut scenes with real actors and sets, in high quality sound.
The final installment was released for eager Strike fans in 1997 as ‘Nuclear Strike’ and although it wasn’t as popular as the older titles it was still very much a well presented game. Once you had dealt with the last mission, the credits rolled before a short cut scene involving a computer animated Mech robot was seen, as a taste of what was to come. Sadly for whatever reason, this was never the Strike game it could have been and instead was released as Future cop: LAPD, which was about as much fun as throwing stones down a drain.
I leave you with this, for anyone who never experienced Strike games.