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!
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.