My early gamer years (Part 1)
If you turn back the clock about 30 years, you would find a younger version of me, happily tucked away trying to learn the art of BASIC and Machine code in order to find out more about the computer that I was sitting at. I actually started my life with computers with the Spectrum ZX80 but progressed within a year or so onto the Commodore 64 that my older brother and I shared. Games back then were seriously hard, I remember only ever completing a few of them but most took a great deal of skill and practice to learn the mechanics. There were no such things as tutorials; no YouTube that you could go to and find out how someone else got past a certain section. You had to buy games magazine to learn about cheat codes that were put into games on purpose to help play-testers.
You tend to get two batches of people when you start to talk about nostalgic computers, you get the Commodore people and the Spectrum people. It’s quite rare that you will find a BBC enthusiast (they do exist but are like rare Pokemon) and then there was the Amstrad (super rare). The Commodore 64 was very affordable for its time and games used to come on tape. Loading them was a test of patience, there were disk drives available but at the time they were too expensive and believe me disks sped things up exponentially.
I’ve recently been reliving a few of the games that I used to love on the C64 and remembering just how punishing they could be. If you have never played any of these I would advise you to give them a go but to do so you’re going to need an emulator. I use Vice which is available for Mac, Windows, Linux and even Android. It is probably the best C64 emulator that I have ever tried.
Games you may have heard of
Exploding Fist 1 & 2
Karate games were all the rage back in the 1980’s. You had so many coin-op conversions like Yie Ar Kung Fu, Karate Champ, and Kung Fu Master to name a few. But for me, it was the home computer exclusives like IK+ and the two aforementioned titles. The Way of the Exploding Fist put a perfect Karate game together with the first one being a straight up battle similar to Karate Champ. You score a full point for a direct hit and half a point if you only clip your opponent. The first player to get to two full points was the winner. A Karate game is pointless without being able to play it against a friend and the two player game worked very well. The second iteration of the game took a bit of a different turn, it was more of an adventure style game where you walked through a large castle picking up scrolls that you could activate via shrines to increase your health. It was something radically different for the time and may have been the beginning of something more.
I loved the original Elite. I played it avidly on the BBC with its awesome analogue joystick but because I owned a C64 this turned into my main platform for it. I remember spending hours learning good trading routes, finding amazing profit in illegal goods meanwhile dodging the cops. The amazing feeling when I finally had enough money to get hold of the best lasers in the game (Military grade) and take them out Bounty hunting. I have no idea how many hours I put into the game, but I can assure you it was a lot. I spent hours trying to save a few bucks by flying to the sun to scoop more fuel, being able to handle some time in Witch space fighting the Thargoids and picking up their smaller ships for a profit. Not to mention working my way slowly towards that elusive Elite status, which I’m pretty sure I never actually reached. I still have yet to play Elite Dangerous even though I was a very early crowd funder. David Braben is still one of my favourite developers of all time and I support him in as many things as I can; old school loyalty I call it. As for Elite Dangerous… well I have heard different things from different people, but I get the feeling I may not enjoy it as much as the original because they now have a complete 6-way directional flight, which I think will seriously mess with my brain. I have some reservations about playing a game that takes me several days just to learn the basics.
Ghost & Goblins
Originally a coin-op, this game was probably the one that made me very, very angry. Unfair is just not the right word for this game, as somehow it was so very playable. If you think the Binding of Isaac is hard, have a go at Ghosts and Goblins and then its sequel Ghouls and Ghosts. I am sure that you will find yourself swearing more than normal, but something inside you will enjoy the challenge. You play a knight who is defending the land from an undead takeover, you do this by throwing whatever weapon you have equipped at them starting with lances. How the knight carries so many lances, or just exactly how he throws is a mystery, but this bending of the rules of physics was common during the early days of gaming. When you get hit somehow you lose all of your armour and you spend the next few minutes running around in your underwear still throwing lances. As hilarious as it is seeing the knight in his skivvies, it becomes less hilarious when you learn the next time you get hit you’re dead. So cruel… I am reminded of something my mother used to say to me; If you get hit by a car make sure you have clean underwear on. I guess this also applies if a knight is looking to face hoards of the undead.
Two games you probably have never heard of
I haven’t mentioned my love for Jeff Minter, which you can trace right back to my early gaming days. During this time Jeff produced Attack Of The Mutant Camels and in 1983 he released Hover Bovver. You may think that the game is visually idiotic and stupid… and you would be right, it is! However, to this day it’s still one of my favourite games. Your character just wants to mow his lawn and in doing so, he borrows his neighbour’s lawn mower without permission and that is where it all goes wrong. It’s a simple premise, mow all the grass, stay off the flowers, simple. Meanwhile, you’re trying to dodge the angry neighbour who wants his mower back, the gardener (if you ran over any flowers) and even your own dog who hates the sound of the lawnmower. I’m sorry to say, but if those gameplay mechanics alone do not make you want to play this game, then there is something wrong with you.
Sensible Software was a name to be reckoned with in these days. Wizball was probably one of the first games that I ever played in co-op with my buddy Dean. You play a wizard who is trying to restore colour to the world, which you do by shooting enemies to pick up power-ups and collecting the colour droplets to fill the cauldrons. When you first play Wizball it’s super hard because of the initial movement mechanic, but you soon learn that very minimal input is a much better strategy. In co-op mode a joystick plugged into the second port gets to control the cat which is used to collect the coloured droplets, which makes the game a lot simpler, but is a really good implementation of cooperative play. When you have collected enough droplets of the right colour, you go through a brief bonus zone and then you’re returned to the level, which is then painted in the colour.
I could happily talk about my C64 for hours, it stuck around for a really long time but was eventually replaced by the next generation. If you would like to have some more in-depth articles on these old games then let us know. Finally, 16-bit personal computing had hit the UK and it was semi-affordable, but it was then replaced by the Commodore Amiga; we shall save that story for another time. Do you have any fond memories of your early computer games experience? Tell us what games give you that special nostalgic feeling and what you think has changed between then and now. Let us know in the comments section or of course over on Facebook & Twitter