Sunday, August 16, 2015

On to the Amstrad

The Amstrad CPC 464 when It finally arrived felt like a breath of fresh air.  First impressions were helped immensely by the color monitor.  This showed the Amstrad's 16 colors off well and was very sharp when compared to the TV hook ups we had all been used to.

Another home computer with a great built in real keyboard.  Also the tape loader was built in so no more messing with volume sliders to get a game to load.  It was the first of the popular home computers to incorporate a tape drive.  Eventually of course even the poor old Speccy had a real keyboard and built in tape.  The built in tape meant for much more reliable tape loading than before with speed loaders soon developing similar to how they had for the Commodore 64's datacassette.  Even with the later speed loaders the 64k of memory would still take a while to fill up and average game loading times actually increased. 

Of course we didnt know much better then as tape loading the games was standard practive.  There were some great games on the Amstrad CPC 464that were well worth the wait. 

Looking back  the games I remember most fondly were the Roland branded ones.  Roland in the Caves is one such game played a lot but these days looks a little basic on an emulator.  Its worth a mention for the amount of giggles it gave us group of teenage boys as he climbed up and down the rope.  If you don't know what I mean then go play it on an emulator you will soon see the immature humor.  One game that still looks and plays well for an early Amstrad game is Roland in Time.  I played this recently on an emulator and its a very playable game.  Also of note are the great text based adventures from Interceptor such as Forest at Worlds End.  Worth forgetting though while were on text adventures is the
Lord of the Rings game.  My memory might be failing but I seem to remember it taking 15 minutes to load and when you died you had to load it again.  Imagine the kids of today having to go through that!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Dragon 32, Pengo and Star Wars

Of course most of us around 1983 couldn't afford the BBC Micros that we had been playing in school.  Fom the cheaper end of the spectrum the Sinclair Spectrum, and was defiantly the most popular one with people we knew back then.
For me though Christmas brought a cream colored box with the name Dragon 32.  The computer came packaged with one cartridge and what we thought at first were two broken joysticks.  The joysticks turned out the be designed that way with Dragon deciding to ignore the established arcade and Atari joystick system by including non centering analog sticks.  While these were great if your wanted to draw swirls on the screen as demonstrated by that "type in" you and your mate spent the last 6 hours typing up.  The main problem is they didnt center themselves after being moved which made games like Frogger or Qbert very difficult to play if you had played them anywhere else.
Microdeal loading screen

This brings me on to the cartridge that came with the computer - yep - Frogger.  I remember being amazed that the game loaded almost instantly having only ever experienced tape loading and a few times floppy disk on the BBC.  Pop the cartridge in, turn on and there it was.  Marvelous, never having had an Atari 2600 this was new to me!  The colorful loading screen of Microdeal is replaced by a good arcade version of Frogger ruined by weird joysticks. 

While this game I remember for how colorful it looked every other memory of this computer is games colored either green or orange thanks to the strange color set the decided to use.
Cuthbert Goes Digging
An example of this is Cuthbert Goes Digging, this is obviously a pretty straight forward Space Panic clone meaning i spent a lot of time with this game as an already confirmed Space Panic addict...  but still my remaining memory of it is the washed out green/yellow colors.  That said don't think my memories of the dragon are all bad.  It had a great real keyboard while everyone else was bashing away at their "dead flesh" style specrum keyboards.  That meant i quickly learnt to type and with the help of the "programming the dragon" book i learnt dragon basic.  I remember getting a block graphics man moving around the screen controlled by the joystick but then getting frustrated by the fact you couldnt print text very easily on a graphics mode screen. 

It wasn't all about home computers just yet though as down the arcade we had two games hooking us totally.  The first was Pengo.  A simple game where you slide blocks of ice in straight lines to squash the nasties.  Sounds simple and it would be if it wasn't for devious level design bringing in a puzzle element which makes fr an addictive game.  The other is the 3d vector graphics star wars game.  This game i loved at the time, the simple wire frame graphics and grainy speech samples seemed to capture the final scenes of Star Wars perfectly.  I know one of those long forgotten arcades that actually still has one of these - converted to run on new coins and getting a bit glitchy but its still going.  Always worth a go if passing...
Star Wars (Arcade)


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Daredevil Dennis and Frak on the BBC Micro

It’s safe to say that by the time we get to 1982 there had been a big shift in gaming from the arcades to the home.  While most of us had Sinclair Spectrum or maybe even a Commodore VIC 20 at home schools thanks to a government scheme had BBC Micro computers.   It was on the BBC that the next two games to hook us were found.

The first of these was the graphically simple Daredevil Dennis.  No fancy side scrolling with this game just a block graphics rendition of a motor bike and later a speed boat that you control as it zooms across the screen requiring you to hit space at perfectly timed intervals the jump or otherwise avoid the obstacles.  First few attempts at this game could result in the player losing all their lives in a matter of seconds before they even have a chance to get their bearings.  But play it enough and it surprising how good you can get at it.  This simplicity of game play can result in some very addictive games as quite well demonstrated these days by the mobile games industry.

Within a couple of years the BBC was also blessed with the great looking Frak.  Frak was a colourful (at the time) side scrolling platform game where you controlled Trogg the caveman through the sometimes fiendishly difficult levels.  On your way you had to avoid the deadly Scrubblys and Hooters.  A great game that made me want a BBC just for that!  You can keep your Elite…Frak was THE game for the BBC.
Frak is also interesting for its early copy protection on the game.  If that protection failed the game would just play the music from the TV show Captain Pugwash on an endless loop – Captain Pugwash being a Pirate.  Of course like all copy protection it was at best a bit flaky and many legitimate users got to hear this music as well.  Frak also made it in a cut down version (much like Elite) to the Electron and eventually the Commodore 64
Sadly for most of us, due to its high cost (nearly £400 for a BBC Master) we would never have the chance to own one at home.  Thankfully this was the boom time for home computing and there were alternatives popping up almost monthly it seemed…

Friday, May 24, 2013

Defender & Scramble

Defender came out in 1980.  Famously it was the first arcade style game produced by the pinball machine makers 'Williams".  It was a hugely popular sideways scroller that looked years ahead of its time when released due to its fast smooth scrolling.  Game play is simple enough defend you astronauts from being abducted by the aliens by wiping them out first.  Take too long and the said aliens start to carry your men up and away requiring you to shoot the alien (not the astronaut!) and then swoop in to catch the falling dude.  Sounds simple now but this was a game that would have your heart rate soaring until it got too much for you and you had to press the hyperspace button.  As with asteroids a few years earlier the hyperspace button needed an element of luck as you had no control over where you would reappeer. 

Defender ruled as the king of sideways scrolling games until the following year when Konami released Scramble.  This game sees you 'Jet' fly across the continuously scrolling landscape while waves of aliens come at you and missiles are fired from the ground.  later levels there is an incredibly difficult meteor shower to navigate that I never managed to get past.  To make matters worse you had limited fuel which needed to be replenished by bombing the fuel tanks on the ground.  More experienced players soon developed the skill of hugging the ground and mashing the bomb and missile button as fast as possible.  Thus avoiding a lot of the dangers.  These new features brought a new depth to simple shooter type games.


Gorf came next with the ability to drain us of even more money by letting you insert a second coin yo get 3 more lives.  yes 6 whole lives at the start of the game.  With the first screen being an updated version of the space invaders theme you quickly realize that Gorf has an odd firing system.  Shoot too quick and the firing missile will disappear and be replaced with your new one.  This means that in those moments of panic you could find yourself shooting so fast at an approaching alien that you cant hit it.  Very frustrating until you get the hang of it and settle into that slow Gorf mode shooting rhythm.  Before I mention the remaining levels, Gorf must get a mention for the best so far speech in a game.  With it even laughing at you in a mocking way as it says "baaaad luuuuck spaaace caaptaain" when you died.  The seconds level 'laser attack' was a favorite if only for the laser sound effects and having to dodge quickly out of the way from the 1 pixel lines coming at you.  After that you get a Galaxians clone before the hypnotic Space Warp level which owes its inspiration to the Pheonix level.  From here its the final level with you trying to shoot out the reactor of the massive Flag Ship.  Destroy the ship and its back to the start and a harder level before the inevitable "Some galactic defender you are, Space Colonel".  Great game and some great synthesized speech for 1981.

Thursday, January 31, 2013


Pacman would be the next game I remember playing a lot.  And I mean A LOT.  We were treated to two versions round our way the upright version was the first and I remember playing this a lot in a local garage of an evening until someone managed to snap off the joystick which left us unable to chase any ghosts.  Thankfully as one of our groups parents owned a local bar we were allowed in there and would spend all day on the table top version they had in there.  Such a great game that has been made and remade for so many different platforms over the years it of course needs no explanation.  But even with all the super and turbo type conversions that appeared on everything ever since you just still cant beat the original.  The sound and the cheeky little graphic interludes when you finish a level top off this addictive game perfectly.  Talking of the sound the music and effects from this game a recognizable even today with the young kids.  The sound effects and music have been popping up in various corners of the media ever since its release.  I mean there is even a dance version of the theme music or two out there!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Crazy Climber

By the time our little group back then had discovered Crazy Climber in a nearby cafe we were well an truly hooked on the video games and bunking off school and spending hours going round pressing the coin eject button of every machine.  You'd be surprised how well this payed off back then.  Crazy climber was the first game I saw to use two joysticks.  The idea being to walk them alternatively up and down to simulate the guys arms climbing up the outside of a building.

Sounds simple and it would be too but the damn residents start shutting their windows and dropping plant pots on you.  To add to your mysery birds start to drop the largest bird poo's on you that you will have ever seen and eventually you get pianos coming at you.  Its a simple yet massivly infuriating game that had us rocking the whole cabinet and a frienzied attemt to get past a narrow bit before we got a piano on the head.  This was of course much the the cafe owners disgust.  Not enough disgust as to actually chuck us out though.  Looking back we were banging money into machine like crazy.  We were ALL guilty of stealing money to shove in this machine but we were kids and somethings are more important..  Great game all in all and something I recently revisited on the PS3 with MAME and a the two joystick duel-shock controler and its still very playable.