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.
Putting together this top five compilation has been harder than Jimmy Saville in a school for the blind. Today’s video games begin much like a big Hollywood blockbuster, with running commentary from the main protagonist, several people being strangled and shot, all mixed to a track from this week’s electronic Beethoven. The new game worlds and game engines enable developers to go full Michael Bay and deafen you with cinematic bass, whilst blinding you with strobe effects.
In the past however, there was a time where a more humble approach was taken to video game intros, where original ideas and artistic personalisation were showcased, to convey the right message and immerse the player, given the constraints on hardware and software. They left more to the imagination and in someway become more like reading a novel, unlike modern titles which are much like watching a movie in a cinema, pressing a button when you wish the main character to perform something.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been roaming my shoddy memory banks of the hundreds of titles I’ve played and completed, to make a list of my personal top five game intros and why.
Almost six years after I played my first Strike game on the Megadrive, Soviet Strike, the fourth installment was released on the brand new 32bit PlayStation.
If you never played the series, you’ve missed one of the greatest series of games ever to appear on computer. In 1992 Electronic Arts released Desert Strike, Return to the Gulf. A controversial title that became a talking point for using recent real world war situations to create a game. But Mike Posehn, lead designer, pulled this off perfectly with new slick gameplay mechanics, with visually pleasing graphics and a new era of SFX.
“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) modelling was used to generate the vehicle sprites, which were later touched up on the pixel level with color.”
When the most inspiring video game era began in the late nineties, everyone was eager to lay eyes on the new tech and the next generation of titles. Soviet Strike was one title I would have eaten through a crowd of people to get. It did not disappoint. Utilising more space on CD ROM, the intro video to this game set the new pace, and this was sprinting. The audio and visuals were ramped up to real footage, whilst graphics were used to create a very futuristic look and feel.
Stop the war before it happens
When Grand Theft Auto appeared as a 2D bird’s eye view driving based, one man crime spree, I was impressed by Rockstars new ideas for the free roaming elements and wasn’t overly fussed that graphically it was lacking in parts. What really made GTA stand out from the crowd was the attention to detail, the influential soundtrack and solid sound effects. The media however, saw it another way. It was to be sat on the naughty step in the middle of yet another media shit storm, backed by bored middle aged keyboard warriors, who demonised the game because crime isn’t for fun, it’s only for real life. If anything, GTA taught young people that if you kick someone out of their car and drive at triple figures in the wrong direction, when you collide with another vehicle, it should explode.
You would have hoped that they learned from the game Carmageddon, that it didn’t spawn a generation of boys and girls who enjoy mounting the pavements ploughing through dozens of innocent people. Nevertheless, GTA made its mark in more ways than one. In 2001 when it was announced Rockstar had developed a 3D GTA for the Playstation, I would have broken the law to get my hands on a copy. If I could have grown a beard at the time, I would have emerged from my bedroom looking like Bin Laden.
I mentioned my love for this game in part 10 of my gaming history. Flashback was pretty incredible for the time, with ultra-realistic character movements, an original story line and setting. From the beginning you know you are participating in a great piece of work. The SEGA Megadrive by today’s standards is about as powerful as a musical birthday card, so anything visually impressive meant that a lot of hard work and dedication went into the making of the game.
The intro wastes no time getting going and shortly after the very cool Delphine Software logo appears accompanied by some moody synths, you’re thrown into the action. The main character, so it seems, is being chased, by who we don’t know but you do see lasers weapons, you do see this guy escape on a flying motorbike in space, when sadly he is shot down by his pursuers and left for dead. If that isn’t enough to keep the pad in your hand, then nothing is.
The main menu appears, again with an unforgettable intro track, you then begin your journey as Conrad B Hart, a lone man on a mission to retrace his steps before he purposely erased his memory. It’s blade runner, terminator and total recall all rolled into one, that’s like eating only the marshmallow pieces from Lucky Charms.
If you had access to a PC capable of playing Half Life when it came out and didn’t, you should have been dragged outside and trampled by the North Korean army. The Valve Corporation combined everything you’d ever enjoyed about first person shooters and squashed it all into one disc, it gained a cult following and for good reason. Quite simply one of the best concepts and game designs to date along with it’s equally satisfying sequel. To top it off, one of the most memorable intro’s into a game.It was ground breaking in all areas, graphics, sound and gameplay, the sense of immersion was incredible once you stepped off the train at Black Mesa.
In a nutshell Gordon Freeman, the main character, saves the world with a crowbar. It’s a little hard to explain the full plot here but there’s a lot more to it than bludgeoning things. Black Mesa is the facility where you work and well, your normal working day is about to get very not normal.
I must admit, i hadn’t played any other Fallout before No3 and that was probably partly to do with my obsession with motorbikes and no funding for a PC from the bank of mum and dad anymore. A good friend of mine explained Fallout 3 and it sounded like a fantasy come true, in post apocalyptic landscape, you emerge as a lone wanderer with no real objective only that to explore the land. The intro was voiced by Ron Perlman and your father is non other than Liam Neeson. For anyone who played Fallout will know how it felt when you first stepped out of that vault and into the sun. I think at the time i was wearing a vault jumpsuit and a welders mask for protection. Stoned off my tree I took the long walk into the wastelands, peeking over rocks, armed with only an air rifle and a police baton i found on a corpse. Over two hundred hours well spent.
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!