At least to begin with I will be covering games that I played back in the day when I was both more naÃ¯ve and more easily impressed by what games makers had to offer.
Reading books, graphic novels, radio shows and of course our close friend the idiot box/ TV have all played their part in shaping many a creative mind’s fuel. But computer games also have played their role. In many ways I think they provide personal development beyond just the creative sphere. They encourage persistence, patience, flexibility, lateral thinking, memory and the application of past techniques to current problems. Much like we couldn’t imagine a visit to a department store without someone bombarding you with free samples and promotion hi-jinks, I think the past few generations can’t imagine life without desktops, the net and the various games that have grown over the years.
To focus in on my nostalgic “Point of View”, I first got hooked on computer game mojo back in the late 1980s. Yes, all the way back in the last century and last millennium. How different were those times. For starters mobile phones had yet to frustrate and amuse us in equal quantities. So the first mechanical love of my life.. ahem.. mechanical buddy I mean was a humble Atari with barely any memory or hard disc space. This baby was relying on the source of data info to come from the rasping floppy disc drive. Many a happy few minutes was spent loading things up. And even longer in the case of formatting from one disc to another. Although nowadays such a deliberate process would mean pulling your hair out, actually it ended up being part of the charm. The machine was close enough to state-of-the-art and all its power was harnessed by the user to provide some virtual thrills and spills. Although I was not and still am not a patient type, for some reason I made an exception for my captivating box – a steady rival to the Amiga on the market. It really had me hooked.
Back at this stage I was more inclined to use a joystick than a keyboard or mouse and for a very young soul this was just ideal. Just the three basic things to push and prod and voila: I was on my way to hours of addictive frustration that the games produced.
Sound on these machines was … kind of limited, not that it mattered at the time. A speaker for the computer with about as much range as a xylophone were what made you aware of an important development in any given game, or the backing music for a linking ‘scene’. So yeah, soundcards were not even being a glimmer in the eye of my old man, too much of a luxury at this point. For some reason individual games are all a bit of a blur except for one title — ‘Arcanoid’ — which I will cover a bit later on this autumn. But never mind that it was all somewhat homogenous bright colours and beep-beep-beeping, I was being encouraged to divide my cherished hours of playtime in yet more ways than ever before. That Atari was easily the centre of attention in my home for a good stretch, even such that I stole the kitchen TV so I could play the games that were in colour.
But the games which really caught my imagination were when all hell broke loose and the old man was able to bring the household into a big bold Renaissance period. Suddenly, the mighty ‘VTech 486’ computer reared its head. Suddenly floppy discs weren’t the only dish of the day. CD ROM was in town, and it all seemed so fresh and new despite compact discs having been on the music market for well over a decade. As for the computer and processor itself, well it was light-years ahead of the still mainstream ‘186’s and ‘286’s but many more light-years behind the various incarnations of Pentiums to come. For what it had to do though it was more than enough, and the complexity of the games it housed was astounding.
The seminal LucasArts game ‘Monkey Island 2 — LeChuck’s Revenge’ was the first separate game I remember Dad getting for me for the VTech. Another early title which I got to play on the new computer was a certain curiosity called ‘Return to Zork’. ‘Zork’ will be our first stop on the nostalgia train ride, as I think something flawed will be a better focus for me than a cosy favourite like ‘Monkey’.
When we were upgrading the VTech to CD ROM capability we had a bonus pack of games for this hardware. There was Sierra’s ‘Space Quest IV’ and ‘King’s Quest V’, as well as LucasArts’ ‘Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe’. Out of these collected games only the Luftwaffe one quickly gathered dust. Somehow playing a simulator like game didn’t appeal to 9 year old me. So I won’t cover that one, but all the others will receive due care and attention here on Sick Chirpse.
Well for now I will end my overview of those days of innocence and wonder sitting at a desk whiling away my hours of freedom from the hard labours of primary school. But never fear, I will return with the Zork Review, and another chapter of the overview will inevitably ensue afterwards.