It was a magazine that made me feel part of a larger world. Without it I’d have felt like one of about 3 Amiga users in the world.
It’s also a wonderful piece of computer history. Imagine a time when the CDTV was set to take on the world and arcade perfect conversations were appearing on the Amiga every month.
Both issues represent a very busy time for the Amiga. The issues are July and October of 1991 and have 24 and 17 full price game reviews.
I had one of the coverdisk demos, Exile long before getting hold of the magazine. An open world space adventure, it featured a little space man searching caves for items and being chased by annoying green birds and murderous white ones. To this day I have never attempted the full game, maybe I should do this now?
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.
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.
There are moments in our lives that will always stick in our heads. For the nostalgic gamer, there is certainly one, but more likely many, of these defining moments. It’s almost impossible to look back at these within the context of the time they were set (crushing amounts of homework, primary school blues) but sometimes it’s fine to put on the rose coloured glasses.
I’ve mentioned many times, that before leaving high school and working, I didn’t have much money to spend on precious video games. Birthdays and Christmases may have resulted in a few new games here and there, but it was a rare occasion that I’d come into anything like a ‘haul’. That was where my near legendary uncle became involved.
It was 1993 and my uncle had upgraded his Amiga set up. I believe he’d got an Amiga 2000 (a sophisticated business machine compared to my A500) and a new monitor. The Monitor would have been 15” (small now but huge for the time) and I remember it had a lot of blurring and a bad refresh rate. Still, it was very impressive!
With me in this visit to my uncle’s was my longest-serving friend, Chooie aka Ryan. The drive through the city was filled with anticipation as I showed Chooie the games my uncle had in the new Amiga Power. Generally games took months to come out in Australia compared to the US/UK, as well as being much more expensive. It was a rare feeling for once to be on the cutting edge.
The bounty I brought home that night was akin to De Gama’s return from India. My uncle didn’t often have time for games, but always made sure I didn’t deplete his vast collection. For the life of me, I can’t remember what I borrowed that night, but I want to think Eye of the Beholder 2 was one of them. A game that would terrify me for many, many months.
Visits to my uncle’s would continue for many years (and still do on occasion), but as far as classic Amiga Memories go, the anticipation of that night is unrivaled.
A couple of years ago, I posted a most amusing find on this blog; a piece of my childhood being auctioned off at a ridiculous premium. What I failed to do then was speak about this terrific game and my experiences with it.
Recent events have also led me to acquire a copy of Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday for the Mega Drive, a version I have been very curious about for close to twenty years, but I digress!
Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday was a complete triumph in SSI, TSR and all those concerned. It adapted a futuristic role playing setting (based loosely on the TV show and novels of the same name) into a traditional Gold Box Dungeons and Dragons rule set.
Besides the setting, there were two important changes between the Buck Rogers series and the older Forgotten Realms games. The player’s character ‘pieces’ were no longer customisable, but instead were picked from a selection of 40-50 preset designs. This might seem restricting, but the results were far more impressive. There was enough variation to make a great looking crew. Some of them even had headbands! Treasures of the Savage Frontier came out two years later and had far poorer looking icons.
The most important change in this game is the inclusion of class specific skills. Ten years later Third Edition D&D rules would introduce skills, but Buck Rogers would use this very well in 1990. Skills ranged from Rocket Piloting and Zero G training, to First Aid and Leadership.
The game features some idiosyncratic character classes, really capturing the comic book future. Rocket Jocks are your party leaders, rocket pilots and second tier fighters. Generally good with a firearm, it is best to not have them in the front lines.
Engineers keep your ship running, as well as being important in laying explosives as well as programming things. Rogues are the same as they are in regular D&D, except they bypass security doors/cameras as well as cut people when they aren’t looking. Medics, weakest of all, are vital as healing in Buck Rogers isn’t as simple as drinking a potion or sleeping for weeks inside a dungeon.
Apart from Terrans, playable races in the game are based on genetically modified humans. Venusians, Mercurians and Martians are all slightly modified or have simply changed over the hundreds of years living in and around their respective planets. More interesting are the Desert Runners (half beast men/women who inhabit the deserts of Mars) and Tinkers (half chimp mini people who are great engineers and medics, because of their dexterity and diminutive size).
The game gives you (after a few introductory missions) a whole solar system to explore, a multitude of secondary missions (all of which should be taken) and a great cast of characters. Buck Rogers himself makes an appearance. I have many good memories of this game back at the end of primary school, particularly how long it took Chooie and I to beat the second part of the game. No GameFAQS in 1992!
I saw this game, a year or so after playing the Amiga version, on a Mega Drive in a shopping center. It looked so different! Rather than static pieces moving across the game board, the characters animated when they walked, and the map view was isometric! This fascination stuck with me until last month, when a happy series of accidents happened and I managed to acquire a copy! When I get my Mega Drive up and running, I’ll report back!