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An Old Git Looks Back at Gaming

old git gaming titleI couldn’t help it.  I was stood at the self-service checkout in Asda.  Two sales assistants were, as is their wont, stood around having a chat, blithely ignoring the howls of frustration from customers and the “sorry I didn’t recognise that item” mantra from the ‘fast lane’ tills.

“What’s this Pokémon Go thing then?”

“It’s a new keep fit app for kids…….”

It was at this point I cracked.  Letting out a wolf-like howl I ran screaming from the building scattering shoppers, grubby faced kids, and obese twenty-somethings on mobility scooters, like so much confetti.

Really?  A keep fit app?  For fecks sake.  Tell that to the bozos who have walked over cliffs, under cars, and into rivers chasing a cartoon character on their ironically named ‘smart’ phone. You may have guessed I’m not a fan of this new craze, though hats off to the millionaire who conjured up this madness.  I’ll go further.  I’m not a fan of gaming.

old git looks back at tech pokemon hunter

Which makes it all the more surprising that I’ve been asked to write an article about… gaming.  Though it does kind of make sense.

When they last wheeled me out to contribute to the blog, An Old Git Looks Back at Tech, the article was a great success thanks to the brilliant feedback and comments from all the other old gits out there.  To say this was a shock to the Ebuyer hierarchy is an understatement.  “You mean people over 50 can use a computer?”

Of course, I haven’t always disliked gaming.  In fact, the more I think about it the more I realise, back in the day, I really enjoyed it.  Back when men were men and games were something you did to relax and weren’t a lifestyle choice.

It all started with…

Flight Simulatorold git gaming flight simualtor

This (very) Basic game made by Psion for the Sinclair ZX81, and released in 1982, was my introduction to computer gaming.  The graphics were of course, minimal.  A stylised view of the pilot’s instrumentation and a view of the horizon.  But, when you came into land, the runway did appear in full perspective.

I have to confess I was rubbish at the game and was a worse pilot than Ted Striker.  I crashed and burned at just about every attempt.

Looking at the screenshot younger gamers will be shaking their heads in bemusement but Flight Simulator was an incredible piece of programming.  Remember the guys at Psion coded this game for a machine with just 1KB of memory and less processing power than a house brick.

 

Spectrum Gamingold git tech spectrum

Talk to any old codger who is a cricket fan and they will tell you the golden era of the sport was pre 1920.  In computer gaming the golden era is, in my opinion, the Sinclair Spectrum decade.

Computer gaming really came of age with the birth of Sir Clive’s baby. Five million computers sold between 1982 and 1992 only tells half the story. With its rubber keyboard and 16KB of RAM (48KB in the upgraded model), the Spectrum was a trailblazer.  It wasn’t alone in the marketplace and had to fight off attempted coups from rival computers such as the Commodore 64, Dragon 32, Acorn, and BBC.

All had their good points, the Commodore’s keyboard was brilliant, but they were ultimately blown away by the Spectrum and the massive amount of games available for it.

There were some ground breaking games though I do recall spending an inordinate amount of time playing cricket simulations.  Test Match & Cricket Captain amongst them. Everyone else found them incredibly tedious.  Which probably says a lot about me to be fair.

old git tech FM

But, the most popular sports sim was Football Manager.  Not to be confused with the incredible game available today (that started off as Championship manager in 1992), the original Football Manager was published by Addictive Games. It’s fair to say players of the 2016 version would experience a bit of a culture shock if they saw the original game.  But it was no less addictive and, for the time, was way out on its own as a sports sim.  My favourite part of the game was the match highlights with the stick like footballers and oversized electronic scoreboard.  Great stuff.

Other games I remember with fondness, and there are so many, include Manic Miner and Back to Skool.

The graphics on Manic Miner were mental and the designers weren’t shy of using a bit of colour.  One of many platform games around in the early eighties, but surely the only one to feature poisonous pansies, I have to admit I never finished the damn thing.

I never did get to see miner Willy walking off into the sunset.  He did, however, reappear in Jet Set Willy, though his mine had being swapped for a mansion.  Another cool game but not quite as good as the original.

Back to Skool was completely different.  A sequel to Skool Daze it was a colourful, brash, anarchical adventure that allowed the hero, Eric, to steal bikes, run riot with a catapult, and torture teachers as he (or you the gamer) tried to sneak a forged school report into the headmasters safe.

Pushing the Envelopeold git gaming 4 games

There were some innovative and hugely talented designers & programmers turning out computer games back then with Ocean and Firebird two of the best. Between them they were responsible for some games which I’m sure many old gits will remember with affection including Chase HQ, Rainbow Islands, Rebel Star, and RoboCop.

Another favourite was Daley Thompsons Decathlon.  This game was responsible for many young men developing wrist problems (behave yourselves) as they hammered on the sponge like Spectrum keys trying to propel Daley to more gold medal glory.

Gaming Down t’Pub

Despite the pull of the Spectrum much of my gaming in the eighties took place in the local with a succession of arcade games made by the likes of Konami and Namco.

It had all kicked off though in 1978 with Space Invaders.  I suppose it was this game which first really captured the public’s imagination, and I can’t think there were many people who didn’t have a go at stopping the relentless tide of crab like aliens.

Apparently the game was based on Breakout, another favourite of mine, which was in part developed by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniack of Apple fame.  All of which just goes to show how the memory can play tricks.  I would have sworn blind that Space Invaders appeared before Breakout.

old git tech space invaders

Other arcade classics quickly followed in the shape of Asteroids (1979) and Pac-Man (1980) though, to my mind, the best of the new games was Track & Field which was later shamelessly ripped off by Daly Thompson’s Decathlon for the Spectrum.

The arcade version had gamers smashing buttons like crazy to propel the strange looking athletes up the track or over a jump.  It was ridiculously fun to play, especially after a few bevvies, though the constant clacking of the buttons must have been annoying as hell for everyone else sat in the bar.

My other public house favourite was Pole Position, a Formula 1 racing game by Namco.  It was the first to feature a gearstick alongside the steering wheel while some versions also had pedals. The aim was to complete a qualifying lap within a time limit and, if successful, compete against 7 CPU controlled cars in the championship race.

old git tech arcade games namco konami

Like all successful arcade games ,Pole Position was later released as a personal computer and console game including versions for the Spectrum, Commodore 64 (I think), and Atari.  In the 1990s it made a successful comeback on both PlayStation and Nintendo.

All of which leads me nicely onto the subject of console gaming.

 

From Pong to PlayStationold git tech pong atari

Although the first consoles had been invented in the sixties (not that I was aware of it) it wasn’t until the mid-seventies that a console was released which could be hooked up to a television.

The Atari was the first popular console and Pong became a massive success as players attempted to smash a white blob with a stick.  Harder and more addictive than it sounds, Pong was revolutionary.

If Atari and Pong were the first they were soon joined by a plethora of imitators, some pretty rubbish, as other manufacturers rushed to catch up.  Fast forward into the eighties and the console gaming industry had really taken off with Nintendo and Saga the main players.

old git tech sega vs nintendo

Naturally enough, the consoles were getting more powerful and the games better as technology advanced.  1983 was a seminal year with Nintendo launching NES which, with the help of a funny looking plumber called Mario, completely crushed every other console including Sega’s new Master System.old git tech nes

Sega bounced back with the Mega Drive as the nineties came round.  I can remember spending hours on the thing with the kids playing wholesome family games such as Streets of Rage, The Revenge of Shinobi, and Golden Axe. To be fair we also played NBA Jam, Sonic, and Lion King, but it was the Ninja axe wielding dragon ridding dwarfs which held most attraction.

Of course, the Mega Drive’s days were numbered and the inexorable rise of the PlayStation and Xbox soon saw the trusty Sega consigned to the loft.  Which is a pity as it had a certain charm to it.

old git tech ps1

We were strictly a PlayStation family with that cheeky purple dragon Spyro a big favourite along with Crash Bandicoot.  The dark Resident Evil was also popular although I did go back to my gaming roots with Brian Lara’s Cricket. Apart from the brief Wii fad the two monoliths, PlayStation and Xbox in their various guises, have ruled ever since and the processing power of the consoles along with the games they produce were, and still are, amazing.

…But, I have to admit, since my flirtation with PlayStation 1 it has all passed me by.  I’ve been aware, of course, of the amazing advances made in gaming.  You can even play online against gamers around the world.  Who would have thought that when they were playing Pong back in the seventies?

esports stadium

Another thing which would have been unthinkable is the rise of eSports.  People are not only competing against each other, they are getting paid megabucks to do so.  Being an eSports person is now a credible career choice.

You can watch the big tournaments live complete with commentators.  Unbelievable.  Baffling.  Annoying.  Get a proper job.

I also have to confess to another annoyance with modern games.  The graphics are just too good. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen what I thought was a trailer for a movie I would like to see only to discover it’s actually an advert for a game.

We’ve Come Full Circle

Back to Pokémon and why I dislike modern games. This from the official website: Pokémon are creatures of all shapes and sizes who live in the wild or alongside humans. For the most part, Pokémon do not speak except to utter their names.

Let’s pause here…  They ain’t real.  Get a grip people.

They have been turning up all over the place.  In police stations, offices, and even churches.  I did read one quote, from a sadly deluded vicar, along the lines of, “They (Pokémon hunters) are welcome in the church.  Hopefully it will open their eyes to other things.”  No. It won’t.

old git games pikachu

Sorry Rev, the numpties playing this game don’t even have their eyes on the road when they walk across a motorway hot on the heels of the damn things. They certainly won’t find God unless he is a colourful cartoon character from the Land of the Rising Sun.

So, maybe it isn’t the games themselves I have a problem with.  It’s the people who play them.  Or rather, live them.   We didn’t have this back in the day, probably because the games were so crap, but, nevertheless, it’s gone too far.

old git gaming feature

…By the way.  If I’ve forgotten anything or got something wrong in this article; what can I say?  As the greyness increases, the memory dims.  But thanks for reading and let me know your best gaming memories and the games you spent way too much time playing and remember to take a look at my last ramble into technology.old git tech title

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Craig Ellyard

Token old guy in the office and lifelong Hull City fan with all the psychological issues that brings. To relax I enjoy walking my two Labradors, as well as running and cycling.

32 comments

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  1. H 10 September, 2016 at 10:16

    Chequred Flag and the use of a roll of sticky tape to simulate the steering wheel. I never did manage to win a race without using the automatic gearbox, but as it would be another 7 years before I passed my own driving test I just enjoyed the rush. Nice to see Chuckie Egg on Dave’s Go 8 bit the other night. I’m sure I would have beaten both of those numpties!

  2. Patti Francis-Wilson 10 September, 2016 at 10:20

    Glad to find your blog sir, I am qualified – as I believe to, comment and to enjoy – I am 81 this year and therefore a fully paid up “little old lady” – gaming – er well no actualy fond of any work which involves a 4.mm hook and a ball of DK
    I think your blog made a very funny read

  3. Peter 10 September, 2016 at 12:45

    The notable omission from your post was any mention of the BBC B computer, and the games which were available for it. If my memory serves me right it preceded any of the computers that you do mention.
    Although it was rather more expensive, and mainly used in schools there were some good games available for it.

  4. John 10 September, 2016 at 22:15

    I’m with Peter as I had a BBC B in a past age. The one game that eclipsed all others was Elite. If anyone knows how to get Frontier (Elite’s successor) running on Windows 10, please let me know!

  5. Anonymous 11 September, 2016 at 07:36

    The BBC never made a computer. The Acorn Proton was adopted and endorsed by the BBC and became the BBC micro.
    Also, it’s quite easy to see on the packaging next to the game that the Psion flight simulator need the 16K expansion pack for the ZX81.

  6. Anonymous 30 September, 2016 at 18:42

    >> Also, it’s quite easy to see on the packaging next to the game that the Psion flight simulator need the 16K expansion pack for the ZX81.<<

    The expansion pack you had to run with a bottle of milk out of the fridge on top of it to stop it overheating in fact.

  7. Anonymous 15 October, 2016 at 09:46

    I started with a timex? Z80 ,the spectrum was a great leap forward and unlike today you could with half a braincell actually program it to do something or rather start to do something then halt then you would have to wait a month for the magazine to come out so you could look for the addendum highlighting the typo that caused the problem.
    Had my first “real” pc in 1989 a 3? Year old ibm xt then there was no looking back ,must admit 16 million colours is far better than a green screen or unbelievably expensive 8? Colour one

  8. Anonymous 15 October, 2016 at 10:35

    My first was a TRS80. Real keyboard and dedicated monitor,
    Sadly no clour.
    Who could forget the Douglas Adams adventure series.
    No graphics; all text; fiendish puzzles.
    These still can be made to run under Windows 10.
    Now that really is games longevity

  9. Anonymous 15 October, 2016 at 10:59

    Ah, the days of peek and poke and endless hours typing meaningless code from computer mags into my C64

  10. Bob 15 October, 2016 at 12:57

    Don’t forget the “full graphics” games on disks for Commodore 64/128 like Time and Magik, Lancelot, Heroes of the Lance. Total Eclipse, Night Raider etc. and those (how many attempts to load??) tapes of Kong, Frogger, Jammin’, Super Pipeline and my personal favourites Alice in Videoland and Twin Kingdom Valley.
    (Guess who raided the attic).

  11. paul 15 October, 2016 at 13:06

    RE:I’m with Peter as I had a BBC B in a past age. The one game that eclipsed all others was Elite. If anyone knows how to get Frontier (Elite’s successor) running on Windows 10, please let me know!

    look here http://twhtly.net/22482

  12. Eddie 15 October, 2016 at 15:24

    What about the Saga Saturn and the Nintendo N64.? I loved plying Dead or Alive Fighting Game on the Saturn.
    I Remember the Nintendo 64 cost a whopping £450 when firs released.

  13. Jonathan 15 October, 2016 at 16:19

    what about Hitchhik – hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy, I played on an Amstrad PCW9512. No pictures but bafflingly appeared to understand words, still seems clever today, and very funny.

  14. Another old git 15 October, 2016 at 18:30

    What about some of Oceans finest for the C64 – Raid Over Moscow, Beach Head 1 & 2 ???

    Ahh happy days…………..

  15. Steve B 16 October, 2016 at 02:28

    Trying to resist the urge to comment here but… Does anyone remember “3D Monster Maze” One of the original 3D Simulators that ran on the ZX81, Great Fun. I remember numerous trips back to the shop with a faulty cassette, holding my breath during the “Loading” phase, only to then find it was another cassette from a bad batch. Upgraded through the Ranks to a BBC with its ZIF Socket., i remember recording software which was broadcast on the radio. Think i may go and dust off the BBC and see if it turns on with that memorable dual bleep, but getting it to work on my telly may prove interesting….. Thanks for the memory trip, I find myself operating on 1k these days….

  16. Dave M. 16 October, 2016 at 04:35

    One of my favourite games that hasn’t been mentioned, an all time classic !! Lemmings and all its Versions !! Yippee!!, those little devils with their bouncy hair and catchy tunes, kept me up many a late night. What about the amazing Commodore Amiga wow.
    Ahh those were the days.

  17. Dave 16 October, 2016 at 10:20

    @John – I know that your comment related to Frontier Elite, but if your computer is up to it you could take a look at Elite: Dangerous also. Like you, I played Elite in the ’80s, and it’s amazing to see what Mr. Braben and Co. have done with the idea that was in the original game.

  18. Jamie T 16 October, 2016 at 12:03

    My fond memories of gaming are of two games on the rubber keyed ZX Spectrum 48k. I’ve never had any consoles as I’ve always been a keyboard and mouse man.
    The two games are Pippo. A simple game where you have to advance to the next level by changing the colour tiles of the floor to a required colour by simply bouncing across them. This was made increasingly difficult with holes in the floor which you could fall down and other creatures changing the tiles back again. A fantastic game although incredibly frustrating. What did not help is that we were playing it on a black and white television.
    The second fond memory was of a game called Uridium. A sideways scrolling space shooter where you had to clear waves of space ships flying past and also destroy ships and other targets on the floor. There were towers which your ship could crash into and other defences all trying to stop you.
    I ended up getting so involved in the game as a kid the I ended up leaning over on the joystick trying to flip the ship over.
    I think I must have broken four Quick shot Joysticks playing that game. Every time one of the rubber suckers on the bottom of the joystick “popped” off the table, my father would then give me a slap across the back of the head.

    Ahh, fond memories…

  19. Gray 22 October, 2016 at 10:50

    What? No mention of CBS Colcovision? My grandmother used to work for them so we got one for xmas – I remember it had controllers that felt like they should be mini steering wheels. And is nobody going to mention the MSX craze in the mid-80’s either – every electric company brought out a version of the first cross platform code although Toshiba’s was the only one people really remember? I used to save up for weeks to buy a cassette for the thing then an afternoon waiting for it to load or sometimes convincing my mum to type up the code from that months magazine whilst on the promise I go to bed on time knowing that I’d wake in the morning to a new game or to be honest, a day of bug fixing (on one occasion spending most of the day to find a misplaced comma). Its sadly all too easy these days with stuff like Unity. Don’t get me wrong, I love Unity but it does lose some of the old magic of getting a lump of plastic to do something interactive using Basic.

  20. Paul Winter 22 October, 2016 at 11:11

    MK14, UK101, Nascom Z80….Ooerr!
    You had to build them before you could use them, games were machine code, either keyed in or loaded from a rudimentary cassette tape interface….them were the heady days of home computing!
    Pre your TRS80’s, Commodore PET’s, Apple II’s…..

    Gonna stop now, I might be showing my age 🙂

  21. Ray 22 October, 2016 at 11:55

    My first computer was the Spectrum. Our family loved playing Scrabble on it but could never understand why it didn’t accept the word FEZ. The Spectrum sat on the carpet in front of the TV and if anyone walked too close the program would crash and have to be reloaded. Often the program would load for several minutes and then crash in the final moments. I also bought the Microdrive for it. This sped up loading by a bit (when it worked). The Spectrum introduced me to BASIC which was great for learning how to make the computer do pointless things. From there I eventually moved on to Visual Basic and was able to write programs myself. So the Spectrum was a great learning aid and not just a games machine. Most kids nowadays never seem to investigate the inner workings of the computer although I have to say that my 10 year old granddaughter is now getting lessons at Junior School on how to program simple games.

  22. Æthelred 22 October, 2016 at 12:05

    Completely missed the Amiga…. Arguably the first true gaming PC, and definitely the forerunner for Windows/MAC OS style working/gaming environments.

  23. Anonymous 22 October, 2016 at 13:04

    What about the Toshiba MSX running microsoft expanded basic version 1.0? They had a rom cartridge expansion slot and I remember playing nemesis until ungodly hours

  24. Anonymous 23 October, 2016 at 10:55

    I remember playing Annals of Rome on the Amstrad 6128
    I even remember waking up, flat on my back, with the game still running, waiting for my next instruction. LOL

    My gaming home computer of all time,before they sank into the void, was the Amiga1200
    2MB.base memory,expandable
    Thought it was great being expanded to 18MB and 1 GB HDD for around £100, plus travel costs to a workshop behind the old Wembley Stadium. (I live in the West Country, so it was not cheap,either).

    I only had one console though,in the form of Amiga 32. The first 32bit console gaming machine with an upgrade path to keyboard,hard drive etc.

    Finally ,when Amiga became a niche market for those trying to hold on to a dying market, I left the boat and turned to Windows 3.1
    Bought all the games I could for it, that I had had on the Amiga.

    Now I am running “Windoze” 10, with all the problems it brings.
    But I enjoy internet gaming.

    As for Pokemon…I did not “get it” the first time round and I don’t have the app anywhere near my Smartpfone.

    Hmm…mobile phones…now there’s a whole new can of worms…
    Maybe you should write an article,in similar vain.
    For me they are an annoying necessity.
    My Smartphone is too tech for me,beyond text,calls and the odd game of slot machines, lol

    see you next time

  25. bob 13 December, 2016 at 21:34

    Zx80 and 81 were pre-bbc..think pre-acorn electron. .5k of ram unless you got the 16k ram pack. 3d monster maze was fantastic. Most of the games back then have echos today. 3d monster maze was like the original wolfenstein, rebelstar and rebelstar raiders became x-com. Good days being the pirate king at school with a dual tape deck.

  26. Flyingdoc 23 June, 2017 at 08:56

    As many I started with the ZX81 and then progressed through many of the machines mentioned above. However one that has not been mentioned was the TATUNG einstein – the first computer I had that had a 3″ floppy disk drive rather than a cassette tape.

  27. Neil B. 23 June, 2017 at 11:05

    I played my first computer game in the office of a bank we went to on a school trip in 1973. It was Golf, the teletype printed a hole “O” and you had to type in your guess for the column number, at which the printer put an X at your guess.
    I got a hole-in-one first time.

    Over the years, I reckon computer games have wasted about 5 years of my life, nearly got me sacked as I couldn’t do the job right, and nearly lost me my girlfriend, now my long-suffering wife, bless her, as they made me late home from work every evening.

    I had a Jupiter Ace.

    “Sometimes it falls to a generation to be great, you can be that generation” – Nelson Mandela.
    “Tough luck, my generation was the great one, you lot are just users of what we made.” – me.

  28. Clive Waller 29 July, 2017 at 09:42

    Yes, Paul Winter – maybe all computers should be supplied as a printed circuit board and bags of components, then design and build a case and power supply!

    How many people learned about computing with a BRITISH personal computer?

    One day I’ll get my Nascom 1 running again and play Lolly Pop Lady. If the disk drives still work run CP/M and stop worrying about viruses….

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