In the last decade, a seemingly wonderful transition has occurred. We no longer need to go to shops to bring home boxes filled with manuals, keyboard overlays and booklets advertising ‘coming Spring 82!’. As much as part of me wishes for those days to return somehow, it’s an important change and it needed to be made. The move to digital is well underway and it doesn’t seem like anything can stop it.
But what of those days of yesteryear? More importantly, where did the games come from? The ideas behind these video games come from people’s imaginations, naturally. While those out there of a religious bent might make pilgrimages to the important place of faith, perhaps the most discerning, dedicated or clinically insane of those video game lovers may wish to follow in their footsteps.
Perhaps the first, and most commonly trodden ‘pilgrimage’ is that of to Kyoto. Nearly everyone knows Nintendo and what they represent. While, perhaps for the more serious gamer, Nintendo has come to be a little stale and predictable, there will always be a place in most gamer’s hearts for this Japanese company.
For those who are maybe a bit older, or just followed a different video game path, the old Commodore HQ would be a perfect place to pay your respects. Sadly, Commodore hasn’t existed since the mid 90s and the site is no longer video game related. If I ever visit her, I will leave a 3½ inch disk with a read write error on the grounds and think of the better days. The address is 1200 Wilson Drive, West Chester, Pennsylvania and is now a place where they film cooking advertisements. Oh, how the great have fallen!
GSC Gameworld, sadly no longer exists. The creators of the Cossacks and (more famously) the STALKER series were based in Kiev from 1995 to 2011. What I enjoyed about these games were that they used their own country as the setting. Cossacks had a campaign of 17th century Kiev trying to win independence from Poland and Russia. Stalker created an incredibly fleshed out world based on a decaying post Soviet landscape with amazing creatures, atmosphere and even politics. GSC proved to the world that Eastern European developers can make some of the best games available. They are missed. Disappointingly, I couldn’t find the address for their old office, so instead I recommend visiting the crumbling reactor of Chernobyl, around which the game is based. Safe and easy I’m sure.
If you’re in the area of Kiev, maybe head over to Stockholm and visit Paradox Interactive and Paradox Development Studio. I know they aren’t really nearby, but Paradox have done much to keep hardcore PC strategy gaming alive. Although difficult to get to grips with, the Europa Universalis series has taken historical gaming to new heights, however it is probably with Crusader Kings 2 that they have won my heart. Running a dynasty through assassination, good breeding and blinding your prisoners? What more could you want? I’ve spent at least 3,000 hours playing your games, you wonderful Swedes.
There are countless other minor places to visit, many are companies still in business. Rockstar North (makers of GTA) have their HQ in the middle of Edinburgh, but perhaps you could head further north in Scotland to Dundee. Before the 2000s, Rockstar were called DMA Design and were well known for their breakout game, Lemmings. Pay a visit to Dundee, wear a green wig, climb up a building and get arrested.
A real pilgrimage for all video gamers would be to the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, New York. It is here, that the very first electronic video displayed game was created. William “Willy” A. Higinbotham, a nuclear scientist who’d worked in the Manhattan Project, designed a game in a few weeks for an exhibition. The game, Tennis for two, was a big hit then and at the following year’s visitor’s day. However the game was packed up and forgotten about for over 20 years. It simulated drag, velocity and the angle of the ball when hit. It is a more complicated game than Pong, despite being 20 years older. Tennis for Two is the birth of video games.
Higinbotham’s contribution to the video games industry was recognised in the 80s when Magnavox tried to patent ‘video games’. A lawyer working for Nintendo discovered Higinbotham’s contribution to video games while researching the case. Before his death Higinbotham wished that he be remembered for his work on Nuclear Non Proliferation, rather than an almost accidental contribution to videogames. Truly a person who had their priorities right!
Pinball arcades were once havens for criminals. Never a family friendly environment, it would always be a place controlled by the young, whether for good or evil. The arcade was not to last forever though. The glory days of pinball were in the 70s and to put it simply, it transitioned into the mostly electronic arcade games of the 80s.
It was the late 70s through to the early 80s where you could take a date to the arcade! However, I’m not going to talk about the viability of finding or taking dates (or narcotics) to the arcade. What I am going to talk about some Swedish magicians and their pinball revelation.
By the 90s, pinball machines were old hat. Although they still had their place in any self respecting arcade, they were definitely not the main attraction. Home computers and consoles were definitely eating into the traditional arcade markets, but pinball machines were not as easy to port over to computer.
Although pinball games had been made for consoles and computers before 1992, Pinball Dreams specifically set out to emulate real world pinball machines. No magic teleporting balls or exploding bumpers, this was sim pinball.
Swedish developer Digital Illusions would go on to create three more fantastic pinball games; Pinball Fantasies, Pinball Illusions and Slam-Tilt. This is ten years before they became in charge of the Battlefield franchise. Truly they are one of the gaming world’s enduring legends.
Pinball Dreams is one of my formative Amiga memories. The game loads to a crescendo and the title screen shows a fantastic looking pinball table. I asked my friend ‘Is that what the game looks like?’.
‘It looks better than that’ was his terse reply. From that point, I knew I was going to play something special.
Pinball Dreams has four tables, each with their own ups and downs. The best of the four was ‘Steel Wheel’ a western themed table about building a railway. The other tables, in descending order of quality were about a haunted house (Nightmare), a rocket ship mission (Ignition) and a rock band (Beat Box).
Pinball Dreams quickly became one of my favourite games, although I was never very good at it. The super high scores by some players would always elude me.
Its sequel (speedily purchase by my mum) was even better. Pinball Fantasies had much in common with its predecessor by also having four tables. Two of them were really good (Partyland and Stones and Bones) and the other two were not so good (Speed Devils and Billion Dollar Gameshow).
Two sequels followed, which sadly weren’t compatible with my now venerable Amiga 500. Pinball Illusions and Slam-Tilt were both made for the superior Amiga 1200.
These were games I always came back to, no matter what advances were made in video game tech, or how many years later it was. A quick few games of Pinball is the perfect way to wind down a video game playing evening. Or morning.
The youth have time and energy, but no money.
The adults have energy and money, but no time.
The elderly have money and time, but no energy.
It’s a profound statement, but even when it comes to video games I find it to be true. When I was a small video game playing boy, I would pore over magazines and just WANT. My parents wouldn’t buy me anything (well not everything) I wanted (which means I appreciate money as an adult), so I was often limited to demo disks and whatever I could borrow from my uncle.
I’m not going to lament about missed opportunities to play games I have wanted since childhood and it isn’t a lack of interest that has prevented me from playing them now, but rather a lack of time. So many other games have come out in the intervening years, that there simply hasn’t been enough hours in the day to revisit them all.
One of my most desired Amiga games, was Guardian. Released for the Commodore CD32, this game was half StarFox and half Defender. Defender is a 1980 game, which
involves your spaceship destroying various enemies that are trying to abduct your planet’s citizens. Guardian uses StarFox style polygon 3D graphics but allows for full 360° movement.
I would always gaze at magazines longingly with their screenshots of Guardian, knowing that I’d likely never own it. The CD32 was very hard to find in Australia, and deep down I knew that it wouldn’t be worth getting one. Now I could hop on an emulator, or even spend a few hundred dollars on the real thing, but I haven’t yet. Maybe I will now though.
Another game that eluded my grasp is Lemmings 2: The Tribes. Yes, I never played the sequel to one of those all time greats. I had Lemmings when it was new and fresh. Lemmings 2 came out well after I had played the original and I was interested in more. However video games were more expensive back then and Dad wasn’t able to shell out 2% of his salary on a single new Amiga game… (Mum had no problem doing this with Pinball Fantasies).
Lemmings 2 took the idea of the original Lemmings (guiding suicidal green haired muppet men to safety), expanding on it enough to make it deserving of a sequel. The original Lemmings are joined by eleven new versions or tribes. Each of these tribes have abilities that relate to their tribe. The Beach Lemmings, for example, can use a hang glider to cross gaps. Canoes offer them the chance to cross water, which was always fatal in the original Lemmings. Egyptian Lemmings can fill gaps with cement, a nod to their Pyramid building abilities… Strange.
From the few videos I have looked at when I chose these two games as my missed games, they both look and sound fantastic. The music of Lemmings, has always been a highlight and the gameplay is just as compelling and tricky now as it was in 1993.
Ancient history is one of my stronger subjects and the study of times long past is fascinating to me. For video game ‘ancient’ history, the end of this period would be ushered in with the release of the behemoth that was Commodore’s ‘64’.
As any retro game fan/computer historian will tell you, the Commodore 64 broke ground when it came to having a computer in the home affordable for everyone. Roughly, the C64 was about ⅕ the price of the contemporary Apple Mac, it was able to do colour and was sold with video game peripherals. Its affordability, capabilities and eventually huge software range would make the C64 the first true mass market computer. It was a very important piece of hardware, as the video game industry had crashed in the USA back in 1983. The C64 filled the gap, by providing a mix of games and office applications. A household could feel that they were buying more than some video console fad.
My experiences with the Commodore 64 ran well into the 1990s and I often found myself wanting to use this older machine, and not my much newer Amiga 500. Perhaps it was an early wish to be more ‘retro’ on my part, but I remember being slightly disappointed when Dad told me he’d decided to get an Amiga over the older Commodore. As you, dear reader, would be aware, this was not a choice either of us regretted.
So it was that my C64 playing would be limited to at my cousin’s, and at a school friend’s house. All in all, I think I’ve spent less than 20 hours playing on a C64, which is not very much at all! Sadly, about 10% of that time would be consumed with waiting for games to load. Yeah, it’s slow.
Two fantastic games I remember were Platoon and Impossible Mission. They had in common a very high level of difficulty! Although Platoon was released on the Amiga, as was the Impossible Mission 2, the C64’s version had a special charm. The step from C64 to Amiga is similar to that of the NES to SNES. The crisp chiptune sounds were generally traded in for a higher quality but still rudimentary set of digital effects. It’s hard to explain, but although the Amiga and SNES are technically far superior, the result is often less lovable.
Pit Stop 2 was also fantastic, although I always blew out my tires and only rarely could I beat my cousin. I have mentioned this before, but the Epyx games on the C64 had some fantastic covers, some of the best of all time in my opinion.
I may end up buying a C64 in the mid term because I feel like I missed out on this formative part of video game playing history. I had better make sure to get a disk drive version or the loading times will have me pulling my hair out!
I stumbled on to this old TV show last week and found it a fascinating insight. Yesterday’s world of computing is the focus of this blog as you would be aware, and these episodes of Computer Chronicles are a goldmine for a nostalgia buff.
I would have loved this TV show to be on air in Australia at the time. It ran from 1981 until 2002 and in its half hour, covered all computer topics from video games, software development as well as the big personalities in the computing world. I was always very uninformed as a computer loving child. I never had the chance to run my video editing business and end up a millionaire by 14.
I always knew that my Amiga 500 was special, but I like it when old TV tells me I was right.
Buying a video toaster seems like a good idea… even today!
One of the stranger games I’ve had the pleasure to play, is the enigmatic Captain Blood. Purchased by my Dad sometime in 1989-90, it was a part of an unusual compilation. The Precious Metal box had three other games, Arkanoid 2, Crazy Cars and Xenon.
Arkanoid 2 was fun but never awarded you extra lives so it was next to impossible to finish. Xenon has dorky music and sfx, but is more fun than its slicker sequel by a long way. Crazy Cars is a complete waste of time and is one of the dullest video game racers in history. Thankfully Captain Blood was a real oddball and a great game.
The premise alone is fantastic stuff.
You play as Bob Morlock, a fictional computer game programmer, known in the ‘biz’ as Captain Blood. He had just finished creating a new science fiction game, when (as always happens in the 80s) he got sucked into it.
Morlock was especially unfortunate, because the process of implanting him in the game world cloned him 30 times. It is now your job as the player to take control of Bob ‘Captain Blood’ Morlock and find these clones. Prior to the player starting the game, Morlock has absorbed twenty five of his clones over a period of 800 years, but he will soon lose all of his remaining humanity and be trapped in the game world. You have around three hours of game time to absorb the final five.
The game is mostly controlled with one of the best mouse cursors of all time, Morlock’s almost robotic grey hand. You guide this hand around his biological space ship, the Ark, to fly around the galactic map. Put Simply, Morlock needs to find out where these last clones are by asking the locals. Rarely in video games have such an array of fantastical aliens been present. However even more impressive is how you chat to them.
Captain Blood has its own language system. All the aliens speak their own languages which isn’t
English (or French in the case of this game’s developers). Their words are translated into different symbols, representing a concept, noun, emotion etc. You need to respond to them in such a way that they give you the information you need. Using the 150 or so symbols, you will be teleporting people and transporting them to new planets, destroying planets and hopefully finding out where to go next!
Probably the only downer of the game is that most of the planets are uninhabited and there is almost only one way to properly finish the game. The flying sections when you’re scouting planets for aliens are all very similar, but well animated and run very smoothly. Also the H.R. Geiger influenced visuals are a great inclusion and definitely enhance the game’s feel.
I always had difficulty knowing what the game wanted from me, and I never finished it as a result. I did understand what to do eventually, but I think it had taken a year or two of on and off playing and there were bigger and better things to play by then.
I was recently outbid on this game in an eBay auction. People are still ready to pay $40+ for this!
She sits at the top of the high places above the city. She is restless and determined. She girds her loins with strength. Her feet stay not in her house. She moves in every direction and into every corner. Her evolutions are wonderful, her spirit untiring. How comely are her footsteps as she moves diagonally, one step after another, from square to square!
-12th century Spanish Hebrew text,
This game has been with me my whole game playing life, likely one of the first games we got from my uncle upon purchasing an Amiga. I mean, Chess is one of the oldest games, so why not make it one of the first you own on your new computer box?
The BC AI was always difficult to beat (more on that later) and it could be relied upon for a challenge. Since I am an only child, this was very important! What set BC apart from other Chess games was its animation.
When moving a piece, they walk around like people. No bases, no sliding along the board, just straight walking. Pawns are little Squires, Knights are literally armoured knights and so forth. The most interesting piece in an aesthetic sense is the Rook. Rather than simply use a moving tower, the developers decided it should become a hulking rock monster, resembling a golem. Many Pawns have met their doom at the hands of this monster.
This brings me to BC’s crowning achievement, the combat. When a piece is taken a brief (sometimes not) animation takes place, representing the combat. Rooks smash, Knights slice and Bishops can often show their crafty side with a ninja like display with their crosier. The King, in the rare occasions when they take a piece, show a variety of tricks, from a box of magic powder to a 16th century style pistol.
Fittingly, it is the queen who is the most entertaining. A powerful sorceress, she shoots fireballs and can shrink her opponents to a more manageable size. It is also hinted that the queen is a dragon. What a twist!
However, I feel this game provided a great disservice. By making some of funniest and cleverest animations for when pieces are taken, Battle Chess made the game more about setting up moves, eg Pawn takes Queen. and not playing and learning the real game of chess. Maybe I am just bad at looking more than one move ahead.
To make sense of the title, Battle Chess was one of the earliest games that Silicone and Synapse went to work on, making a version for windows and the Commodore 64. They would later call themselves Blizzard.
“You’ve got to listen to me. Elementary chaos theory tells us that all robots will eventually turn against their masters and run amok in an orgy of blood and kicking and the biting with the metal teeth and the hurting and shoving.”
-Dr. John Frink
It seems the old (?) doc was right about this one. In the future, the robots have rebelled. Fortunately for humanity, they aren’t in a popular tourist destination, but in remote mines and military bases throughout our solar system. Earth is safe, but these bases need to be cleansed and we are the only man… man enough to do it.
After a mission briefing, which hilariously includes your own sarcastic thoughts to what the corporate overlords are asking, it is straight to the action. Piloting your craft, you navigate the mines, destroying the infected and/or rebellious robots and rescuing the mine workers who have been imprisoned. I don’t know why these insane robots would bother imprisoning people. Maybe they are ransoming them for precious lug nuts? It isn’t really explained. Needless to say, the robots need destroying.
Each mine or base follows a sequence of finding the blue key, then the yellow key (which was behind the locked blue door), then the red key (which was behind the locked yellow door). The red door will lead to a section of the mine with a power generator which needs to be destroyed. It will take a while to destroy, even with powerful weapons, but it can’t move. It has to rely on its own modest (but constant) firepower and any remaining robots. When it is destroyed, the most intense part of Descent begins.
By destroying the reactor/power generator, the level will start shaking and begin to
explode around you, giving you forty seconds to escape. For some unknown reason the entrance door is sealed behind you so that cannot be used as a way out. Sealed emergency exits are encountered (hopefully) during your search for the reactor. They can’t be used for an early escape, but they do open when the base is about to blow. These are your only way out.
When it was new, what set Descent apart from most games of the day was its presentation. Unlike Doom, which was only a year old, Descent has the player flying around the world in an actual 3D environment. I’m not going to look up the terminology, but Doom used tricks to make the environments look like they had ups and downs. You could never walk under a platform, or over the top of anything, such were the limitations at the time.
Descent was only 14 months after Doom and already a major technical improvement had been made. Traveling over and under different areas not only made the level design far more complex than in Doom, it also gave the robots so many extra ways to come at you. Believe me, angry robots are just as scary as a Baron of Hell.
Descent was one of the early PC games that I really wanted but I was still making do with my aged (yet beloved) Amiga. I had a few friends who owned the Shareware version (those were the days) which runs for about 3-4 hours (a good game length in 2014). I was very happy that I could pay a few dollars just last week and grab a copy of this fantastic game and its sequel.
I’m up to the 11th level and there are 30… it’s already so very hard
Wish me luck!
It is a scary place.
I’m saying ‘is’ because I am currently walking a group of fine fellows through it. These ‘fellows’ (men or women) have decided to strike out as heroes and make their names known. On their way to riches and renown, they’ll be assaulted by bandits, solve mysteries and recover holy relics. Why else would they do this though? I mentioned heroics and bankroll, but there is a third, even more important reason.
In 1992, Microprose, the masters of depth and realism, intended Darklands to be a simulation of high adventure in fifteenth century Germany. However, the Germany you’re in is not real, but what people at the time believed. You’ll not only fight bandits, but gargoyles. The mysteries you solve are why the mine goblins aren’t letting the miners do their job anymore and the holy relics you recover are magical.
Darklands is controlled in many ways, the most common being a map screen. Similarities to 1998’s Baldur’s Gate are many, but with the travel mechanics reversed. Baldur’s Gate, which came six years after Darklands, has your heroes being directed manually through towns, where as the map view is almost a menu with no freedom to go anywhere, apart from the preset locations. Darklands has the town interaction menu driven, greatly speeding up the process of getting around. In the outside mode it allows full control over where the player can take his adventurers. It is this quick, menu driven interaction in towns that allows Darklands to still be playable and slick so later.
Comparisons to Baldur’s Gate come again with the combat, which is in real time. Pausing the game lets you assess the situation and assign different tasks to your characters. Strategy and planning generally flies out the window about ten seconds after any fighting begins, particularly since you are outnumbered in almost every encounter. Generally, combat is a few seconds of throwing potions and spears, shooting arrows, or firing early handguns and then your opponents will close with mêlée weapons.
I mentioned God earlier for good reason. Religion is key of almost every part of Darklands. All characters that are in your team are practicing Catholics. There is no doubt in their hearts and minds who the one true god is. However, because this is set in a semi-fantasy world, praying to St. Clotilde will really improve your abilities in healing wounds for a few days and St. Christopher means your horses travel faster than ever before. In a time when even those who thought the Catholic Church was corrupt and failing, there were few who didn’t believe in a god, miracles and the power of prayer.
Perhaps more important than god is that other religion, money. Medieval Germany has three coins, pfennigs, groschen and florins,
which are roughly equal to our old pennies, shillings and pounds. Money is hard to come by and you’ll initially be shocked at how expensive anything good is (which I was). Do a few missions for the right people though, and you’ll be showered with riches. I daresay thirty florins is more money than most people would have ever seen in their life, and if you kill a robber baron for the Medici, you will receive that big money.
There is so much to cover in this game. The character generation is in-depth and fun, allowing a large variety of specialists. Whoever you decide to create, make sure everyone is strong and tough. Everyone will need to be able to stand toe to toe with soldiers, wolves or other horrors. Someone needs to be able to make potions and
another needs to be able to heal. Speaking Latin, reading and writing as well as using swords are important skills. Your characters can take a few weeks off from adventuring and earn money as smiths, clerks or even physicians!
This is a very ambitious game, where dealing with heresy is as serious and real as Sauron’s influence in Lord of the Rings. Do you help the merchants getting attacked by bandits or do you hide and let them be robbed and killed? Will you visit the university in Leipzig for training in Alchemy or will you plunder an ancient tomb to recover a lost family heirloom?
I have played Darklands for two long periods never stuck with it long enough to finish it. I did get close once. I am certain that even if I were to finish it a dozen times, I’d never have seen everything in it.
Darklands is vast, slick and twenty-two years old. It’s still a hell of a game.
The Master System was the only serious challenge to Nintendo’s dominance from the mid ‘80s onwards. Due to Nintendo neglecting Europe/UK and Australasia (PAL regions, my friends) the Master System was able to defeat or at least achieve parity with the all-conquering NES. However, in North America and Japan, children would be beaten up and left for dead if they were found to have a Master System.
I owned neither an NES or Master System (now unfortunately abbreviated to SMS), but I did borrow a Master System in the early nineties. I think the friend who lent it to me even offered it, since he had the superior Mega Drive. Even though this console was obsolete by five or six years, I was very excited to try it out.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World was of course included, since this game comes built in to the console. It was an enjoyable game, as was Shinobi, although both I found to be very difficult. I’m sure there were other games that I borrowed, but the most important game that I played was Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap.
Wonder Boy III is a side scrolling, open world, role playing adventure game. You control Wonder Boy through his adventure by killing monsters, collecting money and upgrading your gear, the usual RPG tropes. The twist in this game begins with the prologue. Wonder Boy easily defeats the game’s first boss, Mecha Dragon, but Wonder Boy is cursed and transforms into a lizard! The journey to become human (or Hu-Man heh) again is on a grand scale, especially considering the limits of the Master System.
Each dragon that is defeated (at the end of a castle or other grand structure) allows you to change into a new form. Lizard, Mouse, Piranha, Lion and Bird. All with different abilities, they allow (or block) progress to certain parts of the world. After changing form, you can go back and change your form at will, allowing a return to otherwise restricted areas.
In scope, the game seems small and quaint but is actually a large world that will take completionist first time players around ten to fifteen hours to complete.
The colours, controls and sounds of this game all combine to create a wonderful experience. In my opinion this is the apex of the 8-bit era. Although it was greatly appreciated at the time, I feel that Wonder Boy III is underappreciated by most retro gamer enthusiasts.
If I ever try to do an all time top ten, this one gets in there. Somewhere below Total Annihilation, but above Dead Space.
Play this classic