Category Archives: 1984

#81: Elite

Format: BBC Micro Genre: Space Combat Simulator Released: 1984 Developer: David Braben/Ian Bell

Our criteria for including games on this list have always been fairly relaxed – the sole thing we insist on is that the game must have made our lives slightly better in some way. In light of this tradition, I’m going to talk about a game that made my life slightly better DESPITE THE FACT THAT I’VE NEVER PLAYED IT.

Of course, Ian has already pushed the boundaries of legitimacy by including a game that he only ever saw advertised in a pub toilet, so perhaps writing about a game I’ve never played won’t boggle your astonishment glands all that much. Although I’m sure the die-hard video game fans among you will be rolling your eyes and shaking your head in disbelief at the fact that I haven’t sampled the delights of a game that’s been variously described as a “milestone in gaming history” (Ian Livingstone, Eidos) and “the first great example of British innovation in video gaming” (Michael Moran, Times Online).

Many’s the time that I’ve thought about scouring t’interweb for some sort of Elite emulator and finally basking in the glory of one of gaming’s great triumphs. But every time I’m about to do it, I’m held back by one incapaciting thought: “What if I think it’s shit?”

I mean, what if I find the game unendurably simple and dull? Surely, in the intervening 26 years since Elite‘s release, the gaming juggernaut has rumbled so far down the highway of progress that I could never hope to be as enthralled or impressed by this seminal game as BBC Micro owners were when it was first unleashed upon the world. Yes, it was one of the first 3D games (if not the first ever 3D game), but that’s not really enough to impress nowadays. I mean, nowdays we can play games by leaping up and down in front of the telly and acting like a tit (you can tell I’ve yet to be won over by Kinect).

But still, Elite has made my life better by the very fact that it exists at all. I’m glad to know that there once existed a race of British bedroom coders who performed astonishing feats of coding inbetween their university studies (the entire 3D world of Elite was made to fit into 22k of memory – about the size of a short email). I’m ecstatic to know that Elite pushed the boundaries of gaming and directly led to open-ended games like Sim City and Grand Theft Auto. I’m positively thrilled that noted historian Benjamin Woolley saw fit to include Elite in his BBC4 programme Games Britannia, thereby placing this humble BBC Micro classic in a direct lineage that began with Medieval dice games.

I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t really need to play Elite to appreciate it – and in fact playing it might actually make me appreciate it less. But I still love hearing about how it altered the perception of computer games forever, showing the world that there was more to games than simple ‘three lives and you’re dead’ arcade shooters.

Elite, we salute you.

And perhaps if David Braben ever gets round to releasing Elite 4, I might actually play it.

Lewis

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Filed under 1984, BBC Micro, David Braben, Ian Bell, Space Combat Simulator

#28: 1942

Format: Coin-Op Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up Released: 1984 Developer: Capcom

Every time we went to holiday parks or the seaside when I was a kid, I would beg to be taken to the arcade. I think at first my mum thought I had a gambling problem, but in actual fact I didn’t pay the slightest bit of attention to the fruit machines  – I only had eyes for all those wonderful arcade games.

Although having said that I’ve always quite liked those machines with the sliding racks of 10 pence pieces – does that still count as gambling?

1942-arcade-cabinet

Anyway, going to the arcade was a real treat when I was young. There was a huge gap between the quality of games in the arcade and the quality of games for home systems, so seeing the latest coin-ops was like taking a glimpse into the future. It’s completely different now of course – if anything, home systems are actually slightly ahead of most arcade machines, and most arcades are completely dominated by the same old shooting and driving games. Add to that the fact that the cost of console games has come down while the cost of arcade credits has gone up (or at least stayed the same), and there suddenly seems to be little point in visiting the arcade anymore.

Still, back in the eighties it was all different, because a trip to the arcade meant you could play something mind-bogglingly amazing… like Out Run, Double Dragon, Shinobi, Chase HQ or 1942.

1942_screenshot

I always made a beeline straight for the 1942 cabinet whenever I went into an arcade. The other games I mentioned are all excellent in their own right, but for some reason I was totally hooked on this shoot ’em up.

I don’t even know what it is that I like about it so much – maybe it’s the simplicity, or maybe it’s the well-balanced gameplay. It’s a hard game, but it’s never unfair, so every time you die you know you could do better next time if you just moved that little bit quicker, or tapped the loop-the-loop (evade) button a tiny bit faster. The risk/reward ratio is just right as well – diving for the power ups is always worth it, even if it might end in a fiery death (and the loss of a 20p credit).

1942_screenshot-2

Having said that, it looks incredibly dated now. The graphics could be generously described as ‘dull’… I mean, just look at it – you spend most of the game staring at what looks like stippled blue wallpaper flecked with bits of green snot. Also, there’s hardly any variation in the enemies  – some planes are red instead of green (whoo) and sometimes a slightly bigger plane turns up (although these planes are usually green as well). Understandably, the gameplay gets pretty repetitive quite quickly. Also, the music was pretty damn awful, even by the standards of the time (just listen to the video below to see what I mean).

1942_screenshot-3

I haven’t played the original in years, but I found a remake (1942: Joint Strike) on Xbox Live Arcade that looked promising. It has the same repetitive gamplay but it’s still somehow compelling: I think this game – in all its forms – must generate some kind of Pavlovian response deep in the cerebellum that keeps your trigger finger twitching long after your conscious brain has entirely disengaged.

1942 – a flawed classic. But I’d still happily bypass all the Time Crisis and House of the Dead cabinets to play on it if I saw it in an arcade now. Especially if it still cost 20p.

Lewis

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Filed under 1984, Capcom, Coin-Op, Shoot 'Em Up