Wednesday, 9 September 2009

My First Games

I thought I'd start my classic gaming blog with an entry about how I got into video games. So, here goes. Hmmm... direct and to the point - that's not like me!

I was born in 1978. At the time, people around the world were playing Space Invaders in the arcades and their Atari VCSs at home. Meanwhile, I was filling my nappies. As I got older, grew out of nappies and learned to talk and walk, I began becoming more aware of the world around me, as is the tradionally accepted behaviour of a young human being. Although I obviously didn't understand much about the goings-on of the world, at some point I became aware of computers. Of course, in the early-eighties, computers were just about coming into their own. The first time I ever saw a computer in the flesh was when I started primary school in 1983. My school was lucky enough to own a computer. They also had a special computer desk with wheels, on which the computer lived. Most of the time, it lingered in the corner of the assembly hall with a cover over it. At first, I thought it never got used. You see, I lived in a little village in the middle of nowhere where anything even approaching futuristic was distrusted. It was likely that the Local Education Authority had forced the computer onto the school to meet some computer literacy target but the school itself chose not to attempt to switch it on for fear that it may develop a mind of its own and take the teachers hostage. Instead, it simply lived in its corner of the assembly room under cover. It was probably also surrounded by barbed wire fences, landmines and alarms with signs covering it saying, "Thou shalt not use this machine of evil."

However, on one memorable day, the barbed wire was cut, the landmines were, er, debombed, the alarms were switched off and the computer was freed from its corner and wheeled into our classroom. The cover was lifted from it to unveil a fine specimen of a BBC Micro in all its glory. Model A or Model B, I don't know. To be honest, I didn't even know that the computer I was gawping at was a BBC Micro. It was only in later years that the realisation of what this marvel machine actually was dawned on me. Anyway, the computer was plugged in, switched on and a huge disc was slotted into its huge disc drive slot. Within seconds, the computer displayed what would become the very first game I ever played. It was quite simply a screen of about 6 blue boxes. You had to choose a box which would then be cleared to reveal a vehicle behind it (something like a car, lorry, bike, tractor or train). You then had to choose another box. If the item revealed under the second box matched the first item, you'd got a pair. Oh yes, it was a primitive version of a matching pairs game, or that Concentration quiz show with the bloke with the big chin. And I had the opportunity to play this game (with a partner of course - back then you weren't allowed to have any less then two people at a computer at any one time). From what I remember, the game lasted about ten seconds, and then we had to let somebody else play it. And that was it. Once everybody else had had a go, the computer was unplugged, the cover replaced, and it was wheeled back into its corner. There was no Granny's Garden to entertain/educate/brainwash us or anything like that at my school. I think the BBC Micro made another appearance in our classroom at a later date, and again we had the opportunity to play the matching cards game for ten seconds before it went back to its corner. In later years at primary school, as computers became more trusted, each classroom had its own RM Nimbus and we were allowed to use them at least once a week. But, we're flying ahead here. This is meant to be an entry about how I got into video games, not my recollection of computers at school.

So, while my school possessed, but didn't really use, a BBC Micro, some of my friends had a range of other technological marvels. There was Jon, who had just about every gizmo and gadget going. He had a Pong clone thingy, with little metal switches that allowed you to play variants of Pong. Amongst the variants were Football Pong, Tennis Pong (which is probably just Pong) and Hockey Pong, which was basically Football Pong with less paddles. I think we played on this for, oooh, it must have been minutes. The thing is, even then, Pong was old. And it wasn't particularly exciting. We were aware of the existence of games such as Pac Man and Space Invaders, even though we hadn't had the opportunity to play them, but being able to play a version of Pong didn't really compensate. Jon also had one of those handheld game thingies that you put to your eyes and looked through it with the controls on the top/side of it. I seem to remember having a go of it on one of those school days when you could take your toys into school and being amazed by it. It was sooooooo futuristic.

I had another friend (popular, wasn't I?) who actually had his very own computer. From what I remember, it was some kind of Amstrad. Going over to his house after school was a treat. I got to play proper computer games! Okay, so you had to have some kind of IT degree to work out how to get them to load, and it would take what seemed like an hour for it to do so, but once it had loaded, I was in some kind of gaming heaven. To be honest, I can't remember much of what I played on it. One game I recall was a bit like a cross between Pitfall! and Hunchback. I'm sure it involved swinging from ropes and attempting to get across a river by jumping on things. It was one of those games that I became instantly addicted to and had to play each time I visited. And it's bugged me for years what it was called.

I think the next step of my introduction into video games came around October 1985. My parents had bought a holiday home in North Wales, and it just so happened that the camp site had an amusement arcade. While being taken on a tour of the site in August of that year, the arcade was one of the things I noticed above anything else. Now this was your typical mid-eighties arcade - dark, dingy, dirty and smokey. October was just about the end of the season, so when we visited our shiny new chalet for the first time during that month, I discovered that just about everything on the camp site was shut - including the amusement arcade. However, the ever-thoughtful management of the site did allow for some end-of-season gaming to be had. Just outside the arcade, they positioned a small number of video games. These were Pac-Land, Phoenix, Moon Patrol and the aforementioned Hunchback. They became the first arcade games I ever played. I was particularly fond of Pac-Land, and as it would turn out, platform games in general. Phoenix is a game I'd completely forgotten about until I recently rediscovered it on a Taito compilation for the PlayStation 2. Moon Patrol is a game that I recalled, but couldn't think of its name until I had a look around for Mame roms and found it. I suppose out of the four games, Hunchback was the one I was least keen on. I gave it a go not too long ago but gave up after finding it too hard!

Anyhow, my weekend away in North Wales was an education. It confirmed my love of video games, and seeing as Christmas was just around the corner, more than likely caused me to request a computer from Santa. And that Christmas, my request was granted. I became the proud owner of a (drumroll here)....... Acorn Electron. Oh yes! I had my very own computer. At the time, I didn't know of the limitations of its technology, and that it would be impossible for it to be able to reproduce the games I'd been playing in the arcade. Regardless, I fell in love with the cream-coloured machine, playing games such as Snapper, Boxer, Starship Command and, um, Sphinx Adventure, over my Christmas holiday. From then on, I began building up my games for the Electron and would later take in the sights and sounds of other systems. My video gaming journey had begun - a journey that I am still on to this very day.

In a later entry, I'll talk some more about the Acorn Electron and my memories of it and its games. Until then, I'm off to find my Electron.

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