Category Archives: Arcade

Podcast 22: Crazy Taxi (#100)

Format: Dreamcast Genre: Racing, Arcade, Sandbox Released: 1999 Developer: Hitmaker

Here at 101 Video Game Towers we often enjoy games that somehow turn mundane activities into fun adventures. Yes, you may have a good time being a space fighter pilot, or the heroic saviour of a post apocalyptic wasteland, or even a low-level gangster in the 1980s clubbing someone round the head with a baseball bat, but it can also be just as satisfying walking a dog, fishing or running a railway business.

Despite this fine pedigree there must have been some consternation when, during a meeting at Hitmaker HQ, the Big Boss pointed with his fat cigar at a lowly, nervous looking  programmer and demanded he make a game that recreates the thrills and spills of driving a taxi.

The advertising was very subtle.

Still, they don’t call Hitmaker ‘Hitmaker’ for nothing. They know how to make hits. In case you haven’t noticed it’s literally their name. Hitmaker… a maker of hits. If they didn’t know how to make hits their name would look stupid and boastful. Which it certainly isn’t. Though they did change it a couple of years ago to Sega AM3 which suggests they tired of putting so much pressure on themselves and instead became extremely early risers.

Anyway, all it took to turn mini-cabbing into a successful game was to add a bit of *pause* ‘Crazy’ (raise eyebrow when reading the word ‘Crazy’).

A taxi flying into the air? How crazy.

Welcome to the 22nd 101 Video Games Podcast! Listen as Ian and Lewis discuss Crazy Taxi on the Dreamcast, the disappearance of Tower Records, how pretty much anyone can’t help but like Offspring while playing this game even if they don’t usually, what a British version of the game would be like and once again reminisce about wasting time at university.

So, as someone with some kind of throat problem once said, ‘Hey, Hey, Hey its time for Crazy Taxi!’

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Podcast 22 Crazy Taxi

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In many ways Gena is Ian's perfect woman - beautiful, cool and, most importantly, she can drive.

Ian & Lewis

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Filed under 1999, Arcade, Dreamcast, Hitmaker, Podcast, Racing, Sandbox Game

#9: Chase HQ

Format:Amstrad CPC Genre: Arcade Released: 1989 Developer:Taito/Ocean
DISCLAIMER: All the references to Robert Maxwell and the impact he may or may not have had on the fortunes of a particular computer games retailer below are based on half remembered conversations and hearsay. Apologies if they are not exactly accurate. Though seeing as he robbed pensioners I can’t see anyone complaining.

Chase HQ was my first arcade love. It’s the first arcade game I can actually remember, well, remembering. I knew the name, I would actively seek it out in the various horrible, dingy, seaside arcades I forced my family to take me to as a kid.* It was colourful, it was noisy, you got to drive a car, bash into another car, and a man leaned out of the window and fired a gun. Brilliant. Simple, effective arcade action. I did whatever Nancy told me to do. I still probably would.

So it was only natural I would want my very own version to play at home. As Lewis has already touched on here there was a time when everyone was obsessed with something being ‘arcade perfect’. The dream held by every school boy was that they could play an exact replica of the game they played at the arcade in the comfort of their own bedroom, away from the frightening puffa-jacketed older boys who might beat them up or intimidate them by standing right behind them and watching them play.

Of course it all seems so quaint now, bloated as we are on fancy graphics and plasma tellys. Why, the arcade itself now struggles to compete with home consoles, relying on ever more elaborate and expensive gimmicks to try and get people to fritter their pound coins away as they once did with their 20ps. Ahhhh, ’twas a different time.

At the time my brother and I were proud owners of an Amstrad CPC6128k (with disc drive, and I’m sure it was spelt disc not disk back then). Now the Amstrad CPC version of Chase HQ was never going to be arcade perfect. Even at 10 years old I knew that. While the arcade version looked like this:

Arcade goodness

Arcade goodness

The Amstrad CPC version looked like this:

Amstrad... okayness

Amstrad... okayness

Didn’t matter though. I was well used to such differences and had lowered my expectations accordingly, I just wanted the chance to play Chase HQ at home. Is that really so much to ask?

I found a mail order company in an Amstrad magazine selling Chase HQ at a very reasonable price. I can’t remember how much now, something like £5, but it was cheap. I saved up the odd 20 pence and 50 pence given to me by grandparents and aunts and uncles until I had enough. I got my mum to write a cheque for me, posted my order and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And after about 2 months my parents tired of me asking if Chase HQ had arrived every time I got home from school. My dad called the company, it seemed they had gone bust. I wasn’t going to ever get the game. They had though, in a thoughtful parting gesture, cashed my mum’s cheque, effectively stealing from a 10 year old.

Now this is were Robert Maxwell gets involved. At least I think he does. I’m sure I remember my Dad saying the company had gone bust partly because one of Maxwell’s companies, I presume Mirrorsoft but again I don’t know, owed them a huge amount of money. So, in a roundabout way, Robert Maxwell stole Chase HQ away from me. How did he sleep at night? Maybe that was the final guilty nail when he was on that boat…

Though now I think about it (and having done a little bit of research on the internet – I checked wikipedia) that doesn’t seem that likely. Still, I like to blame him, he did enough crooked things that adding another seems fair enough.

I never got Chase HQ. Very soon after that incident it became increasingly difficult to find places selling Amstrad CPC games, certainly older ones. It seemed I just wasn’t meant to play it at home. In fact after that experience I stopped playing it in the arcade. The game had been soiled in some way.

So, how did Chase HQ make my life slightly better? Well, it taught me to be wary of ads in the backs of magazines – an important lesson to learn whatever your age.

Ian

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Filed under 1989, Amstrad CPC, Arcade, Ocean, Racing

#8: Centipede

Format: Atari 2600 Genre: Shoot ’em up Released: 1982 Developer: Atari

The Atari 2600 Junior was my first games console (the ‘Junior’ was the later version without the fancy wood panelling – that’s right kids, games consoles used to be made out of wood). It was a hand-me-down from my uncle sometime in the late 80s – he’d upgraded to an Amiga I recall – and I inherited half a dozen games along with the console itself. One of these games (and the best one by miles) was Centipede.

atari-2600-junior

The quality of the games I had for the Atari 2600 varied wildly. If you were to trawl through the multivarious retro-gaming websites on the web, you could be mistaken for thinking that the 80s was some sort of Golden Era for video games, with bedroom coders churning out mini masterpieces almost weekly. This was obviously not the case. Yes, there were some truly excellent games produced in this period, but there was also a helluva lot of practically unplayable tosh. I believe – and feel free to argue with me on this one if you like – that games nowadays are generally of a much higher standard than they’ve ever been before, partly due to higher production budgets (and therefore an added impetus to succeed on the part of the developers and publishers – produce a poor, badly selling game and you could lose millions) and partly due to higher levels of complexity, which means that games require more involvement on the part of the player. Back in the old days, games tended to be one-trick ponies, consisting of a single concept that was repeated endlessly (think of Asteroids: move ship, shoot asteroids, repeat). The upshot of this is that if the central concept was weak, then the entire game was flawed.

realsports_boxing1

One such flawed game was Realsports Boxing. I remember playing it with my sister quite a bit because it was the only two player game I had, but boy was it bad. It basically amounted to mashing the punch button as fast as you could until your opponent fell over – and that was about it.

centipede_screenshot_1

Centipede, on the other hand, despite it’s relatively simplistic graphics, managed to cram in some surprising complexity. Not only did you have to shoot the centipede as it raced down the screen towards you, you were also faced with several other types of baddie with various tricks up their various sleeves. The scorpion, for instance, would skitter about the screen poisoning mushrooms, and if the centipede touched any of these poisoned mushrooms it would head straight for you.  Likewise, the flea would drop extra mushrooms across the screen, meaning that the centipede would be more likely to rebound off them and head closer towards you. All this meant that you were constantly trying to prioritise among shooting the centipede, the baddies and the mushrooms, making for some frantic play sessions.

centipede_box_front4

One thing that always frustrated me about games back in the 80s (and indeed the 90s) was the huge discrepancy between the picture you got on the front of the game box and the actual game itself. I mean, look at the box above and then look at this:

centipede_screenshot_22

It’s a call to the Advertising Standards Agency just waiting to happen.

Of course, there’s something to be said about the way these simpler graphics encouraged you to use more imagination to fill in the blanks – and indeed, the manual for Centipede was a hotbed of artistic licence:

“You’re trapped in the perilous Enchanted Forest. Dark, dangerous mushrooms push up through the forest floor, snaring you on every side. Threatening thumps and evil buzzings fill the air. Something slippery flashes through the mushrooms, moving in on you. Suddenly, glaring eyes and quivering antennae jump right out at you! It’s the Centipede — and it’s attacking!” (from http://www.atari.com)

I think that’s what really appeals to me about this game. Although an excellent game in its own right, it reminds me of a simpler time: a time when joysticks only had one button and when games didn’t take up whole evenings of your life just to get through the tutorial. Was it a better time for games? Arguable. But it will certainly be fondly remembered.

Lewis

atari-joystick

PS.  I know they’re iconic, but those Atari joysticks were really rubbish, weren’t they? The rubber had a habit of drawing out hand sweat in a way that I’ve never since encountered in a gaming peripheral…

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Filed under 1982, Arcade, Atari, Atari 2600

#5: Horace Goes Skiing

Format: Spectrum Genre: Arcade Released: 1982 Developer: Psion Software

Horace Goes Skiing is [drum roll please!!!] the first game I ever remember playing. I must have been about four or five, so I reckon it was 1984 when I took my first sip from the honeyed cup that is computer gaming. Or should that be poisoned chalice? What would life have been like if my Dad had never bought that Spectrum? Would I have become interested in sport rather than video games? Would I have grown up to be a famous athlete?

Probably not.

Anyway, looking back at Horace Goes Skiing now it’s amazing to think just how simple games used to be.  The game was basically in two parts: in the first part, Horace had to cross a busy road (a la Frogger) to get to the ski rental shop, and the second part featured Horace skiing down a mountain with his newly rented skis. And that’s it. When Horace gets to the bottom it all starts again, but this time with slightly more traffic and more gates to ski through.

It’s this simplicity that is part of the game’s charm, but it’s also its undoing. By today’s standards, it’s a wafer-thin idea for a game, and playing it recently (there’s an excellent emulator (in Spanish) here: http://computeremuzone.com/ficha.php?id=710&l=en) I was surprised how enormously dull it becomes after a very short while.

Back in the day though, my sister and I could play it for hours at a time – although, admittedly, most of those hours were spent waiting for the games to load. A lot of people look back fondly on the whole Spectrum loading thing, but even at the time I thought it was tediously rubbish. It generally amounted to staring at a screen of black and white fizz for around ten minutes, accompanied by a high-pitched sound somewhere along the lines of ‘WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE GRGRGRGRGRGRGRGR WHEEEEEEEEE NNNNNNNNNNNNGGGGGGGGGG’, only for the game to crash as soon as you started playing. Some people tell me that they enjoyed the protracted loading times because it contributed to a heightened sense of anticipation. I say these people should get out more.

The major flaw with Horace Goes Skiing, in my opinion, was that the Frogger-style game was incredibly difficult (at least for a five-year-old with under-developed motor skills), so my lasting memory of the game is one of seemingly unending frustration (as I tried to reach the skiing bit), followed by a brief seconds of elation (reaching the skiing bit), immediately followed by crushing disappointment (skiing into a tree and dying). Oh Horace, you cheeky little life metaphor!

Lewis

Images from http://www.worldofspectrum.org/

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Filed under 1982, Arcade, Psion, Spectrum

#4: Gunfighter

Format: Philips Videopac G7000 (Magnavox Odyessy²) Genre: Arcade Released: 1979 Developer: Philips (programmed by Ed Averett)

My first post and I’m in trouble. You see I wanted my first contribution to this blog to be about the first computer game I ever played. It would thematically make sense while also giving me some kind of focus so I would actually sit down and write a post. Why, maybe my last post could be about the last computer game I played? Yeah, that would be great! Well, presumably the last game I played up until that point, though perhaps by the time I finally finish the last post I would of finally grown out of playing computer games. Surely I’ve got become an adult soon, right?

Unfortunately I can’t remember the first game I ever played. You see, video games and me, we go way back. Four years before I was born ‘Pong’ had paddled its way into living rooms, pubs and chip shops across the world. I don’t ever remember a time before video games, I don’t remember being sat down and the concept explained to me. They were always there, like television, dogs, cars and parents. Do you remember the first dog you saw? The first television programme you watched? Well that’s the problem I have with computer games. They’ve been part of my life in someway for so long its hard to remember the specifics.

Which thinking about it might make this blog quite hard to do. Thank God Lewis is there to do most of the work.

So instead I’ve decided to write about what I guess to be one of the first games I ever played, and certainly the first to introduce me that sweetest of gaming emotions – beating a younger sibling in the two-player mode…

At some point in the early 80s my parents aquired a Philips Videopac G7000, also know as Magnavox Odyessy². The world’s first computer games console was of course 1972’s Magnavox Odyessy (I say of course though I only found this out when googling the Videopac). I say aquired as I really can’t imagine my parents actually buying a Videopac off their own backs. I have a vague memory that an uncle may of given it to us when his kids no longer wanted it. That or my Dad got it from a man in the pub.

The Videopac

The Philips Videopac G7000

Whatever, I don’t remember it arriving, it just seemed to always be there. It was kept in a big plastic bag on top of a wardrobe and whenever my brother or I wanted to play it we had to ask my Dad to get it down and set it up on the TV. Consequently we didn’t play on it that often and it was always a bit of a treat when we did. Kids these days with their Nintendo stations and their xwees, they don’t know they’re born, etc.

We had several games, but I only remember two – Laser War, a kind of space meteor type game (I may blog about it one day) and Gunfighter.

Gunfighter!

Gunfighter!

With Gunfighter you took control of, unsurprisingly, a Gunfighter in the old wild west. Each player was represented by about twelve sprites, with a couple of sprites representing the mandatory cowboy hat. You moved about the screen, firing your one sprite gun at your opponent and the one sprite bullet would drift across the screen, usually missing the other cowboy and bouncing off… things – not quite sure what they were, stones? Cacti?

Hot Cowboy on Cowboy action

Hot Cowboy on Cowboy action

It was simple, slow and would no doubt be incredibly boring if I played it now, but back then it was a little bit of magic. I still remember the sounds, the way the screen would change colour when someone was hit, the feel and click of the joystick.

This game was the first multiplayer game I ever played. I mostly played against my brother, who I remember often beating. Though seeing as I’m three and a half years older than him that’s not so impressive – my hand to eye coordination was a little bit more developed… That didn’t stop me lording it over him, showing off and generally being a horrible, boastful, little git. I played against my Dad as well. More often than not he won but I used sometimes beat him. I think it was the first thing that I beat my Dad at (lets brush over the fact that he was probably letting me win to be nice). Probably my earliest memories of beating anyone at anything – of victory – are of Gunfighter. I was a true twelve sprite cowboy.

My dominance of Gunfighter couldn’t last forever of course. My brother soon got the hang of it and started beating me, rubbing my nose in his every victory just as I had done to him. I seem to remember that led to sulking and lots of ‘Not playing anymore’ on my part.

So Gunfighter taught me that what comes around goes around – to be a gracious winner as there’s every chance that next time I’ll be the loser. To this day I try to follow this creed, especially as more often than not I tend to be on the losing side when playing games. Especially if I’m playing Lew.

Ian

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Filed under 1979, Arcade, Multiplayer, Philips, Philips Videopac G7000