Tag Archives: Entertainment

#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

Advertisements

7 Comments

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

#6: Ridge Racer

Format: Playstation Genre: Racing Released: 1995 Developer: Namco

There was a time back in the late 80s and early 90s when you just couldn’t escape the phrase ‘arcade perfect’ in computer game magazines. Or rather, endless moaning about how ‘arcade imperfect’ most console games actually were. Basically, there was a substantial gulf between the version of, for example, Street Fighter II you played in the arcade and the slightly-tatty-round-the-edges version you bought for your Sega Megadrive, and the release of any arcade conversion would always be greeted with frenzied playground speculation as to whether it was ‘arcade perfect’ or not. The arcade version of a game was the zenith of graphic perfection that all home versions aspired to reach, yet always fell short.

However, all that was to change with the release of the Sony Playstation and one of the first examples of a ‘pixel-perfect’ arcade conversion: Ridge Racer.

ridge-racer-box1

It wasn’t actually ‘arcade perfect’ of course – the frame rate was a little slower and, most notably of all, you didn’t get a full size Euros Roadster to sit in (a la the ‘Full Scale’ arcade version, which could be found in the London Trocadero once upon a time) – but it was hugely impressive nonetheless.

ridge-racer-full-scale

I remember setting up my brand new Playstation on the big TV in the living room and being utterly blown away by how good this game looked. It’s no exaggeration to say that this game, along with the Sony Playstation, was at the  forefront of a total revolution in gaming. One minute we were all happily playing our 2D platform games, and the next minute we were in the midst of a new 3D age. I doubt we’ll see another such big jump in terms of graphical power for many years to come – until they get around to making truly 3D games anyway.

ridge-racer-screenshot1

The game wasn’t without its flaws: cars often clipped through each other, and there was some truly horrendous pop-up. Most heinous of all, there was a paltry one track on offer – admittedly, it could be played in various configurations, but still, one track is a slim offering by any standards. Having said that, I was happily enthralled in that one track for months on end, and I can’t think of many games that have as compelling a ‘just one more go’ factor as this one.

A large part of what made this game so compelling was the soundtrack – the music was excellent, and the game-show-host-style commentator was not to be missed (bear in mind that actually having speech in a game was almost unheard of before the rise of CD-based consoles).

“Alright everyone, one minute to go, are you ready? The engine’s now locked and ready to go, are you all set?”

Indeed sir I am.

Lewis

4 Comments

Filed under 1995, Namco, Playstation, Racing

#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/

Leave a comment

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

2 Comments

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

#3: Street Fighter II

Format: Super NES Genre: Fighting Released: 1992  Developer: Capcom

An obvious choice for this list maybe, but Street Fighter II had an undeniable impact when it was released, both on the games industry as a whole and on an impressionable young lad named Lewis, who’d just received a brand new Super NES for Christmas.

This is the US box - the UK version was spangly gold.

I remember that Christmas really well – I’d asked for a SNES for Christmas, but it was by far the most expensive Christmas present I’d ever received (it cost a whopping £150). Because of this, I wasn’t expecting to receive any games with it (except for Super Mario World of course, which came in the box), so imagine my surprise and delight when I found a brand new copy of the console game of the moment – Street Fighter II – nestling under the Christmas tree alongside a SNES-shaped box. My grin stretched until Easter.

Go Eddie!!!

I remember excitedly setting up my brand new console, only momentarily delayed by the search for a plug. It’s bizarre to think now that console manufacturers used to ship consoles without plugs – how tight is that? I remember when my sister got her NES – my parents didn’t realise that it didn’t come with a plug, so my dad ended up taking the plug off the food mixer instead. The congealed blob of cake mix on top of the plug casing stood as a testament to this fact, along with the dangerously exposed wiring.

Anyway, one of the reasons I was so impressed upon receiving SFII on that morning was that the game was so outrageously expensive – it cost £65 when it was released. Yes, that’s right, SIXTY-FIVE POUNDS!!!!!! Unbelievable. The manufacturers blamed the expense on a specially manufactured 16 megabit cart, but I’m sure that can’t be the whole story. £65 was, and still is, an exceptionally large amount of money to part with for a game, and it’s got me thinking about how the cost of gaming has gone down in general.

Back at the dawn of gaming, games were pretty cheap – cassette tapes were only a few pounds each – but as the consoles took over from the home computers, prices skyrocketed. Most NES games cost between £40 and £45, but some cost even more – Star Wars, for example, cost £50 and Maniac Mansion came in at a massive £55. The trend continued on the Super NES, with most games being released at around £45.

Of course, most games nowadays are still released at between £40 and £50, but a savvy consumer certainly wouldn’t pay that – you can buy most new games with around a £10 discount online, an option that wasn’t available back in 1992. Plus when you take inflation into account, the real price of games has actually fallen. Most importantly, there’s now a huge secondhand market for games that simply didn’t exist in the early nineties – Nintendo for one was vehemently opposed to the idea of its games being sold secondhand, and it was some time before the secondhand gaming market really took off. Taking all this into account, you can understand my joy at receiving SFII on that magical Christmas morning – at £65, it would have taken me literally months to save up for it.

It’s interesting that, while games have come down in price, consoles seem to have gotten more and more expensive. £150 for a SNES was expensive at the time, but it was nothing compared to paying £300 for the Playstation or, more recently, £425 for a PS3. I guess that you can’t really compare a PS3 to a SNES though: consoles are inherently more complicated these days, more like integrated entertainment systems or mid-range PCs than games machines.

Come on Zangief!!!

I realise I haven’t really said much about SFII in this post, but there’s little I can add to the countless columns of text that have been filled by this game already. All I will say is that it was, and still is, one of the best two player games ever made, and it’s a tribute to its brilliance that the design of 2D fighting games has changed little since its release.

Having said that, there’s nothing quite as frustrating as practising for hours, diligently learning all the special moves for all the characters, then being beaten by your little sister when she just mashes all the buttons together at once. Especially if she’s playing as Zangief.

Lewis

3 Comments

Filed under 1992, Capcom, Fighting, Super NES

#2: Phantasy Star Online

Format:Dreamcast Genre:RPG Released: 2001 Developer: Sonic Team (Sega)

I obviously play a lot of video games (I can’t think of too many other people I know who have a blog dedicated to reminiscing about old games), but there aren’t that many games I would say I’ve been truly addicted to. Phantasy Star Online, however, is one of them.

I must have been addicted to it – how else can you explain the fact that I spent nigh on 80 hours hacking and slashing through repetitive enemies, all for the dubious glory of occasionally finding a ‘rare’ weapon – which was usually the same as the normal weapons, albeit with slightly higher numbers attached to it. Let’s face it, PSO has got to be one of the thinnest RPGs out there – no extravagant plot lines, no branching skill trees, no complicated levelling system, no option to do anything but hack, slash, hack, slash, ad inifinitum.

Ah, those Sega-blue skies...

But it was brilliant, and perhaps its simplicity was the reason why. It was the first MMORPG for consoles, and as such it was designed for the masses. Compare it to something like EverQuest or Ultima, the PC equivalents at the time, and you can see what a breath of fresh air it is: with no fiddly navigation through reams of meaningless menus it was an RPG that anyone could pick up and play. What’s more, it looked fantastic (and, in my opinion, still does today). For a start it was set in space, which makes a change to the usual parade of orc-filled dungeons and castles, and the whole thing was awash in classic Sega-blue skies and crisp green meadows. Lovely.

I have three stand-out memories of PSO. The first is the (almost) brilliant translation system, the idea being that anything you typed in was instantly translated into the other users’ language. I remember the first time I went online and ended up hanging around with some Spanish guys – I thought it was absolutely amazing that I could be having a conversation with someone who spoke a different language and who lived hundreds of miles away… It was at that point that I first glimpsed what Sega was attempting to create – an online community of Dreamcast gamers, unseparated by language or country. Of course, it wasn’t perfect – I remember having some amusingly unintelligible conversations with a few Japanese gamers (although whether or not that was because I’d just got back from a night out in the pub is open to debate), but overall it worked pretty well, and the implications were huge. I suppose the technology has now been surpassed to some extent by headsets, but it’s a shame that the translation ability has been lost.

There were millions of these gits all over the place - and they just kept coming. Well, respawning.

The second memory is the worm-type boss thing on the second level – which took FORTY-FIVE MINUTES TO KILL. No joke. I suspect that it took so long because my character wasn’t sufficiently levelled-up to fight the boss at the time, but even so it ranks as one of the most simultaneously intense and frustrating gaming moments of my life (punctuated by shouts of disapproval from my house mates, who had wandered into the lounge to watch The Simpsons and were instead treated to watching me club a giant slug to death).

The worm boss thingy

My third memory isn’t so rosy. PSO was notoriously easy to hack, and this caused several problems when playing online. I remember one bizarre episode where another player ‘lost’ a weapon and accused me of stealing it. Of course, I’d done nothing of the sort, and I’ve no idea what happened to said weapon, but he didn’t believe me and soon the situation escalated to the point where I was surrounded by several players who were threatening to ‘wipe the save game from my memory card’ (I’m not even sure if that’s possible, but after all the other dodgy hacks I saw in PSO it wouldn’t surprise me if it was). It was a pretty nasty episode – it felt a bit like I was being mugged. However, unlike a real mugging, the problem was easily solved by simply switching off the console. If only real life was that simple.

It was partly because of several incidents like that and partly because of the repetition that I eventually stopped playing the game, but Phantasy Star certainly ranks up there as not only one of my favourite gaming experiences but also a game that was way ahead of its time.

Lewis

4 Comments

Filed under 2001, Dreamcast, MMORPG, RPG, Sega

#1: Stunt Car Racer

Format: Amiga Genre: Racing Released: 1989 Developer: MicroStyle

Bizarrely, the inaugural post on this blog is for a racing game. Bizarre because generally I don’t actually like racing games that much; yet, when I think about it, the two or three that I’ve really enjoyed (Ridge Racer, Burnout 3, Gran Turismo) probably rank up there as some of my favourite game experiences, and Stunt Car Racer certainly deserves a special mention.

Most racing games before the mid-nineties were pretty rubbish. It was only with the 3D revolution that racing games really reached their full potential – before that it was all stripey grey race tracks and simplistic leftright leftright holddownthebutton gameplay (try playing a game like Lotus Challenge now and I guarantee the nostalgia won’t last beyond a couple of pixellated crash barriers). However, Stunt Car Racer WAS in 3D at a time when perhaps only a handful of games were, and what’s more it used the 3D space in a way that few games have, before or since.

The raison d’etre of Stunt Car Racer is the tracks – glorious, insane, rollercoaster-like tracks that leave you gripping the joystick for dear life as you hurtle through the air after burning up impossible ramps, then gritting your teeth as you plummet back down, engine still racing, the screen cartwheeling as you miss the track by inches and smash into the dirt below with a bone-shattering crunch. At a time when racing meant dodging in and out of identical 2D cars, Stunt Car Racer did vertical – and how. There was even a loop-the-loop…

The key thing about all this vertical fun was the ever-present sense of danger – there were no barriers to any of the tracks, so you always felt that just one small slip of the wrist could send you hurtling into the abyss, costing you valuable time as your stricken vehicle is winched back onto the track and, more importantly, causing potentially race-ending damage to your car. Above all, it was the intense adrenalin rush this caused that is my stand-out memory of the game; that and the excellent two player mode (only available over a link cable, but more than worth the considerable hassle of stringing together several wires and tellies).

I sold my Amiga recently (sacrilege I know), but I booted up Stunt Car for one last go before I carted the whole lot off to Mr Ebay. It’s lost none of it’s charm: sure, the graphics are basic (even for the time) and there’s only one other car on the track at any one time (believe it or not, that blocky red thing in the screenshot is a car), but it still retains an impressive sense of speed and danger as you hurtle round those suicide bends.

The creator of the game, Geoff Crammond (dubbed ‘Sir’ by Amiga Power), later went on to create the seminal Formula One Grand Prix series on the Amiga, but I’ll always remember him for this classic game. Nice one Sir Geoff.

Lewis

15 Comments

Filed under 1989, Amiga, MicroStyle, Racing