Don’t ask me what ‘sweat’ means in the context of a teenage gamer but that is what my daughter and her online buddies call me. I guess it’s because i’m over 17 or something. Sweat or not, I consider the generation that I am from as one of the first universally computer literate generations. We were pretty much the first generation to have access to mass produced computers and gaming machines and as archaic as they were in the 80’s, that has held us in good stead over the years. I’m no gaming expert by any stretch of the imagination but I can hold my own with most genres, whether we’re talking first person shooters or football management sims.
It all started with a ZX Spectrum 48k with the rubber keys. My brother still has it in his loft and he uses it every now and then. My first experience of writing code was using my Spectrum. Very basic stuff but a fun learning experience but the real thrill was my world opening up to gaming!
The process of loading up a game was part of the experience but It could be the cause for some anxiety as well. You needed a cassette player that you connected the device to. You typed a command and then pressed play on the cassette player. The sound has stayed with me to this day enhanced by the uncertainty of whether it would load or not. Sometimes you needed to adjust the volume to get it to load. It would only take a couple of minutes maximum and you were, hopefully, ready to play.
The ability was really limited in the graphics department and that meant that the emphasis on gaming, at the time, had to be pure playability. Games were short and very hard but ultra addictive. Horace Goes Skiing was one of my first gaming addictions. A small rip off of Frogger where you had to get Horace to cross the busy road to hire a set of skis and then go back across the insanely busy road to ski down the mountain. This is some of the worst business logic I’ve ever heard of for a ski hire shop!! Skiing down the mountain was a pretty dangerous affair too. Trees everywhere, I would not recommend skiing here btw! You tried to stay inside the slalom flags and tried not to break your skis or Horace! Then, you get to do it all again.
There were lots of arcade video game conversions too. For instance the legend that is Pacman but also Outrun, Gauntlet, Space Harrier, After Burner, Arkanoid, Kung Fu Master, Star Wars and lots, lots more. They weren’t always a success, in fact some of them were pretty damn awful but they were available.
Football games were exciting to play but never really recreated the same feeling that I got playing my beloved game for real. Match Day was probably my favourite and most played football game. It was slow and very basic but the playability was decent so you just got on with it.
But it was with the non graphic based stuff that really captured my imagination. Let's start with Footballer of the Year.
This is actually a bit of both action and simulation. You are a young professional footballer trying to make your way in the game and in life too. You make decisions that have consequences in both facets of your life for good or bad. For instance, you could go to the casino and lose all of your cash and then not have enough money to buy the goal cards (goal opportunities) to have success. The action was in the form of goal opportunities that you manually controlled. The aim was to be successful, work your way up the leagues, earn loads of money and ultimately become footballer of the year. As a side task I always tried to get my favourite team Bristol Rovers into the top division. Not an easy task, I can tell you. I was totally addicted to this game and it has always bogled me why there hasn’t been a modern version of this game as a stand alone. Fifa do an inbuilt type of career but it’s not the same. I’m sure there is a business opportunity there somewhere.
Football Manager. Being introduced to this management sim was equal to being introduced to crack cocaine! There is clearly something about my make up and psyche that is in tune with this type of game. Football manager for the spectrum was basic but all the ingredients were there to hook me, player management, financial management, tactics, player transfers and promotion/relegation. The icing on the cake was being able to take control of Bristol Rovers and finally bring the team success! Success that, unfortunately, has come far too infrequently in real life.
My last selection from the ‘Speccy’ as I affectionately called it, is in my top 3, so I will leave it until later.
What did happen some years later was a crowd funding opportunity that I spotted from a twitter recommendation of Simon Sugar’s, son of Alan Sugar (The Apprentice). It was by a startup company that has links to the original Sinclair company. Their proposal on Indiegogo crowdfunding site was to build a mini version of the Spectrum as a handheld plug into the TV type console, called Vega.
The unit was the controller. They were asking for cash up front from a thousand people to get the idea up and running. I took the leap of faith and handed over my cash and sure enough, they came up with a batch of 1000 units for the crowdfunders with production in place for more to sell in the open market. Being one of the first thousand my name appears on the boot up screen of the machine which I am quite proud of. The Vega was a success and they have continued to develop the idea. Funnily enough, the games are as hard as I remember them! Haha.
My friend had a Commodore 64. They were for posh people or so was my perception as a kid at the time. Only 16k more computational power than the Speccy but the massive (lol) 16k made a difference. The games were similar if not the same but there was a little extra detail and colour with the C64 that made it look classier. I remember playing Kung Fu Master and thinking that my version looked shite!!
See for yourself!
My partner in Speccy crime; and someone that shared my love of a certain text adventure game that I haven’t mentioned yet, Daniel, had a Sega Master system as well as a Spectrum.
We would play it on the odd occasion that we weren’t on the Speccy. It was definitely a different type of gaming experience. More visual, more action, massively better graphics and sound. Dan got fed up with it and inexplicably decided to sell it. This coincided with my mum and dad needing a christmas gift idea for my younger brother Shaun @theunderbaker A match made in heaven! We played on that thing until we wore it out. One of my top 3 choices is from the master system console and again, I will leave that until later.
Games like Super Tennis, Vigilante, After Burner and loads of mini games, including a built in snail maze game. Our favourites were Super Monaco GP and Rocky.
Rocky was a boxing game (Duh!) where you had to train and fight in three matches v Apollo Creed in the first bout, Clubber Lang in the second and Ivan Drago in the third. Just Like The Movies. SM GP was, for it’s time, quite a good looking F1 game and the controls were good.
Then Sonic and the Sega MegaDrive took over in 91. Wow, what a jump.
The Megadrive came with Sonic the Hedgehog and that game remained the most innovative, slick and playable game in the Megadrive’s lifetime. So much fun.
Other games of note were Ecco the Dolphin, Flashback and, of course, the rise of Fifa and Madden which are two American football/football game franchises that are going strong today.
Two of my best buddy’s at the time went in different gaming directions. One had an Atari ST and the other had an Amiga 500. Both were lots more powerful than the Spectrum and Commodore 64 but were never going to compete with the console revolution. Personally, I preferred the Amiga with games like Sensible Soccer, Striker, Zool and the epic 12 floppy disk Escape from Monkey Island.
PC’s then became a thing. Wildly expensive and not particularly great for gaming but improving and developing fast. My addiction was just about to be fed once more.
Championship Manager was built for a PC. It’s got a vast database of information that a console or some earlier devices struggled to handle. The PC handled it with aplomb and OMG the game had progressed so much since the days of Football Manager on the Spectrum. The detail is terrifying when you first embark on your managerialship. It’s a time consuming game but very rewarding. Back in the days before marriage and being a father, I could lose whole days just playing half a season. Life eventually caught up with me and my addiction to CM had to be controlled!! Lol. I stopped playing around the CM 01/02 time.
Actually, I had a break from gaming around the time that Jaime was born. We were just too damn busy to think about anything else. My best bud Geoff had a Sony Playstation so I dabbled with him every now and then. He then purchased the Playstation 2 when it came out and gave me the PS1. I used that for a bit and then decided to go for an X Box when it came out. Need for Speed, EA PGA Tour Golf and Halo were the stand out games from that console for me.
The Nintendo Wii was next up. My first Nintendo experience. This genius little idea combined gaming with actually getting off of your ass and exercising. It’s a cracking bit of kit and we had a huge amount of fun using it. The built in stuff and the Wii sports were excellent but the notable game from my time on the Wii was SuperMario Kart. Legendary!
I have since entered the Playstation world and bought first a Ps3 and now a Ps4. True story, I was one of the first people to receive their pre ordered Ps4’s on a midnight release in Bahrain. Actually, Jayne queued for me because I had just had an operation to repair my snapped ACL. Thanks lovely wife! :)
The Ps3 was responsible for introducing me to the world of online gaming. I never bothered online gaming with the XBox. I quickly hooked up with my buddy Geoff and we played the 1st person shooter Battlefield together.
That’s pretty much been my game of choice on the Playstation although Madden and Fifa still get a look in every now and then.
So that is my gaming history. It was cool going through my memory banks thinking of some good times (some frustrating too). But!! We have a job to do. My top 3 all time games; not an easy challenge, coming up.
Let’s do this in chronological order.
Another class A drug in the form of a computer game! It is a text adventure based on the Dungeons and Dragons role playing game. I was a big fan of D&D back in school and this was a very addictive version that I could play on my own anytime I wanted.
If you have not experienced a role playing game before, they are very immersive and take a lot of your time and energy. You create a character with numerical values for all your physical and mental attributes. Normally you go on adventures in search of treasure or to rescue a damsel in distress and along the way you face lots of fight or flight decisions.
One of the reasons for my fondness of this particular game was because I used to share the experience with my buddy Dan. We would use our imaginations to elevate the game beyond anything that even the developers were intending, I’m sure. It was fun and I was of the age where it was a little magical too. Dan passed away at 21 years of age and it was a big shock and extremely sad. I still imagine us sat at his desk playing DM, trying to find the Vorpal Blade and kill the Asmodeus. RIP Ozzy
Alex Kid in Miracle World
Sega Master System
Alex Kid was a chain of games but this one in particular grabbed mine and my brother’s attention. It was super hard but very visual and playable. It’s a platform game with lots of different levels and lots of tricky puzzles to solve.
The story is that the evil villain, Janken the Great, has overthrown King Thunder and taken over the kingdom of Radaxian, kidnapping the prince and princes as well. Alex, who is newly trained in the martial arts and has a ‘Super Punch’, hears the news and sets off to rescue the prince and princess, defeat Janken and save the kingdom.
There are 17 levels with differing terrain from sea to mountains. He runs, swims, rides a bike, even flies a helicopter. You have to defeat three henchmen using rock, paper, scissors, as well as some pesky creatures, like the Octopus, along the way. In small chunks this is very doable but here’s the catch, one hit and you start again! Wow. You could be having the game of your life and then 20 minutes in, you make one little mistake and it’s back to the beginning you go kidd!
Me and my brother played this game constantly trying to complete it but never managing it. Our dad even got into it for a rare gaming experience. Any time I hear the music it brings a smile to my face. I have just found out that my brother went back to it a few years later and finished it.
Championship Manager 01/02
Football has been my passion ever since I could walk and probably before that. It was the focus of my life pretty much up until my mid twenties. The opportunity to have a go at football management on the PC was just too tempting. I always wanted to be a player first and foremost, so anything player related came first like Footballer of the Year but my love of the details of football came through and footy management simulations took over because the immersion and realism was closer. Every time.
The genre had been improving throughout time and across all the developing platforms. Like I mentioned before, the Spectrum started it all off but as the devices gained in storage and speed, so the game increased in detail and size. The player databases became vast and the individual players had around 30 attributes, some are hidden. The countries with detailed players and clubs increased and you even had a chance to manage in different countries.
From the late eighties through the whole of the nineties the progression of the game was immense. I finally stopped playing around the mid 2000’s where I didn’t have the time to play anymore. I also noticed that the game had crossed over at some point to become so detailed and demanding that it lost some of it’s fun and playability. The pinnacle of that balance between realism and playability was 01/02 and is widely accepted in footy sim circles to be true. It is a detailed game and the realism is there, with the help of a little imagination, but anyone could just boot this game up and start playing.
When you first take over a club you have your work cut out for sure. You have to get your head around all facets of running a football club. The main tasks are: sorting out your staff, assistant manager, coaches, scouts and physios, set a training plan, usually by position, so goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and forwards, assess your playing staff, decide who are going to be your main players and who will be the backups, look at the current contracts and clauses for all staff but especially the players, sell/buy players as required, decide whether to control the reserves (second string team) or whether to assign the assistant manager to those duties, Decide on the formation and tactics for game day, look at the finances and try to plan long term, send your scouts out to the four corners of the globe to try to find talent! Then when all that is done, manage all of your playing staff with kid gloves because you don’t want your star players throwing a paddy and asking for a transfer or refusing to sign a new deal and walking away for free. Man, I hate it when that happens!
I used to get so immersed in the game that the lines get blurred between fiction and reality. I remember having a conversation with a mate, talking about a team and I was talking about a certain player. He looked confused and said that the player I was talking about had never played for that team! Whoops! It happened on CM 01/02 and my brain made it real.
I have an addictive nature. It’s in me and I have been aware of it since I was pretty young. Luckily it doesn’t manifest itself in anything too harmful like alcohol or drugs. It just comes out in other ways. Championship Manager is one of those ways. So imagine my surprise when after all these years I notice an online article in a local newspaper suggesting things to do in ‘lockdown’ and saying that CM 01/02 is now free to download and comes with updated players and clubs for the 2019/2020 season. Yes!! I am 17 seasons in and Bristol Rovers are the best team in the world as is their god given right!!
Yep, I’m addicted again. :)
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