I 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.
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…
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.
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.
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 Envelope
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.
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.
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 PlayStation
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
…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.