By: Elmo; Guest Blogger
I was born in 1979, in the armpit of North Wales, a million miles from nowhere. Star Wars had come out two years before I was born and there didn’t seem that much to do, but ultimately gaming would come to almost define my life, so come with me dear reader as I take you on my gaming journey,
My first gaming-related memory was when my dad brought a strange machine that he’d borrowed from some bloke off the pub into the house, however I wasn’t allowed to touch it, as it had wood panelling on it, and was therefore, like the Welsh dresser that held my Mum’s collection of Chokin plates, strictly a Grown Up thing. I don’t even remember my dad hooking it up to the TV, and so I wasn’t allowed to sample the wonders of gaming until I went to my cousin’s house and was given a go on a more plasticy Atari console, the game was The Empire Strikes back, and I was a bit confused as I hadn’t seen the film at that point… I was told that one coloured square, was my ship and I had to take down some other coloured squares which were walking robot things. I was rubbish, and so my cousin didn’t let me play very much. I also found out that most Atari games seemed to be about one coloured square taking down other coloured squares on different coloured backgrounds, gaming, didn’t seem to be that appealing to a 4 year old me…. And that’s the blog. Hope you enjoyed it and….
No, that’s not it, because you see, my love of gaming would start in an unexpected place. I fell in love with gaming at school. Let me explain, back in the 80’s the BBC invented a computer that found it’s way into every British school – It was called the BBC Micro. It had a grown up looking black and red keyboard, software came on big floppy disks, which were actually floppy…and big. Loading these games up was like some ancient ritual where you’d have to hold down the break button, and then the shift button, then you’d let go of the shift button and then let go of the break button. I don’t know why it was THESE two buttons, and why you didn’t have a start button or something, but once you knew the Secret, you felt like you’d be let into some ancient archaic art, passed down through the centuries… and so my first true taste of gaming were Edutainment titles, maths games, and also games based on BBC educational programmes. One of my most fondly remembered ones was the game based on the “Look and Read” TV series – Geordie Racer. “Geordie Racer” was like a prequel and pilot for Byker Grove, and introduced kids to the exotic city of Newcastle via the adventures of Spuggy, his sister who liked marathon running, some ancient serpent called Sal, with sub plots about pigeon racing, diamond thieves and eating “stotties”. Geordie Racer was obviously a cinematic masterpiece, but the game based on the experience was enthralling to seven year old me. The ending was a maths based quest against this weird eldritch abomination, and I never finished it, yet I very much had caught the bug. They should remake Geordie racer. Cheryl Cole can eat stotties.
It was a couple of years later when I got to play my first honest to god game though with zero educational value. My school had upgraded its computer to a machine straight from the future – the Acorn Archimedes. While the BBC B was big and clunky the Acorn was white and had this new fangled thing called a mouse attached to it…and if you were good in class you’d get to have a go on it. Some people liked to draw pictures on it, but not me…I still remember clicking on this weird icon of a triangle and the word “Lander” underneath, and what I saw next. Blew. My. Mind. In a world of wireframe arcade games and crudely drawn pixel art, Lander was a 3D game. You “controlled” a ship, the left mouse button would control your engines, and moving the mouse would tilt your craft. If you so much as breathed on anything, your ship would explode into a million confetti sized pieces, but that was sort of ok, because the right mouse button would spit out a pixel of white hot death destroying anything in front of you in the process (mostly trees). Lander looked like it had been beamed in from the Starship Enterprise hundreds of years in the future. Lander also seemingly had no purpose. Shooting your gun lost you points, the only thing that would gain points was shooting trees and eventually your fuel would run out, and when it did, you fell helplessly to earth. It was brutal, and felt SO cool. I used to imagine I was like that kid from Flight of the Navigator, only instead of flying over America’s Midwest, dancing to the Beach Boys, I was rocking out to Kylie, flying over the murky brown Irish sea, shooting random trees, I never got frustrated, but then what I learned quickly was that retro games were like a P.E Teacher berating you for being too scared to climb a rope as it was character building and fun, and then then you leapt on the rope you found it was covered in tar, feathers, olive oil and excrement, with a pit containing crocodiles and sharks underneath, and then the P.E Teacher would set the rope on fire….and…the ship crashes and explodes into a million confetti pieces. Again.
I had a secret theory that if I could complete Lander, then perhaps I’d be invited to drive a ship and blow up trees in real life, like an Amazon rainforest version of The Last Starfighter, with Sarah Jessica-Parker with a pink streak in her hair by my side. I was a very confused child. However…I never found the end of Lander or its purpose, until…this morning.
You see thanks to the internet I found that Lander had no purpose. It was a demo for a game that people came to call Zarch or Virus and it was later released on the Amiga. Thanks to my friends here at PRG, I fired up my Superior console, loaded Virus up, 35 years after I had last launched the ship I tapped on the mouse button, shot into the air, and was blasted out of the sky by a UFO seconds later into a million confetti pieces without killing a single tree. Every time I tried. For about an hour. Isn’t retro gaming great?
In the next part….
Gaming comes home, because to make an omelette, you might have to break a few eggs.