Category Archives: 1982

#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