Atari 65XE (Probably)

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My first ever home computer -and thus gaming system –  was an 8 bit Atari that came with a separate cassette drive. It appears that Atari weren’t exactly shy when it came to releasing 8 bit hardware, so finding the exact model I owned wasn’t easy. As far I tell, mine was either the 65 or 130XE, with what was probably the XC12 tape recorder.

This would have been back in the mid to late 80’s, so you’ll have to forgive my very sketchy memory. From an operating point of view…well, I highly doubt I’d be able to work one if you put it in front of me today. I remember the cassette loading counter played an important roll, as you needed to manually start and stop the loading at the correct counts. Also the noise it made loading; a high pitched screeching sound which was kind of freaky, kind of annoying and yet strangely iconic.

It’s the games, unsurprisingly, that I remember most vividly and these are the ones that stand out:

Up, Up and Away

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In my mind, I credit this game with being the first I ever played on my very own home system. It was a side scroller that had you piloting a hot air balloon, whilst trying to avoid all manner of dangerous situations. Kids throwing stones, kites, lightning bolts and even bird poo could all down your overly fragile hot air balloon. Tricky yet addictive, this game played very well on the system.

Savage Pond

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It’s probably the uniqueness of Savage Pond that makes it stand out. You play as a tadpole that swims in perpetual motion around the confines of a little pond. You goal is to collect certain stuff, whilst avoiding other stuff. I seem to recall the process of finding out which stuff was good and which stuff was bad was very trial and error. Eventually I became pretty good at the game, but working out the mechanics always felt like the true achievement.

Feud

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The reason I remember this game is because, try as I may, I had no idea how to play it. It seemed to be a kind of RPG/Adventure game, where you explored the map and collected things, but the actual goal always alluded me. The frustration of my incomprehension makes me thankful of the Google generation we now live in.

Panther

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This was a vertical scrolling shooter with a twist: it wasn’t vertical. It was actually diagonal scrolling and had a key feature that made it stand out; along with strafing left and right, you also had control of altitude. This was used to fly over obstacles, but more importantly, to land to pick to survivors. Fast, frantic and awesome music were what made this game great.

Ghostbusters

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Another game that I didn’t fully understand how to play, although not to the same level as Feud. I think the game sticks in my memory because of its slick presentation and, of course, the Ghostbusters theme tune.

Airstrike II

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This is one of my favourite games of the generation and, truth be told, there isn’t really anything special about it. It’s a horizontal scrolling shooter, where you fly a ship through the levels, whist avoiding the walls and shooting the baddies. It’s kind of like an early R-type, but with less focus on frantic shooting and more emphasis on precision ship manoeuvring. If you manage to make it all the way to the end, the level actually loops round on itself.

Conclusion

Gaming was a cruder, more raw experience back then. From getting a game to even load, to trying to work out what you needed to do, gaming could be very hit and miss. It may have been due to my age, it may have been some poor game design, or it may just be that I didn’t read the instructions, but in my opinion, the simple but addictive games were the best. Kids today don’t know they’re born.

 

With Great Power

During the whole *whispers* gamer gate fiasco, a point was raised that I found quite interesting. It was a kind of back-handed assurance that games journalists weren’t corrupt, because for that to be possible, they’d need to have power in the first place. The suggestion being that games journalism is basically an irrelevant part of the industry. Don’t worry, I’m not about to rake up that whole *whispers* gamer game shower of shit again, I’m just interested in that particular point: Does games journalism matter?

You could try looking at it with a degree of objectivity. I done did some hard hitting investigative journalizms (some real CSI shit), and created the following table of COD, which had some fishy findings:

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After doing the journalizms, creating the journalizms and analysing the journalizms, it’s clear that sales figures do not directly correlate with review scores. Gamers don’t seem to be heeding the advice of the journalists right? Well no, it’s not that simple as there are a million and one different factors in play here and actually, if you contextualise the list a bit, it looks as if review scores could be impacting on the sales.

However, I’m not really all that interested in the matter from an objective point of view anyway. I’m more interested on a personal level. Does games journalism matter to me, does it have any power over me and how much impact does it have? Are those key strokes influencing where I’m putting my pounds? Can they even change my ideals!?

Apart from maybe that last one, I think the answer to all those questions is yes, but it’s certainly changed over the years. When I started gaming, back in the 80’s, magazines were, by far, the core provider of gaming news and opinion. As the stacks of magazines in my garage can attest, this trend continued well into the late 90s. Back then, if I knew about a game, it was because I’d read about it in a magazine or a friend had read about it in a magazine and talked to me about it. Journalism had profound power.

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Today, I think the landscape has changed a little. Games and gaming have come far, pushing themselves into the forefront of entertainment. The internet also happened, and off the back of that, social media. The portal into the gaming world is no longer relegated to a couple of shelves in the local W H Smiths. Where these core gaming publications used to once drive the bus, they now feel far more like passengers coming along for the ride; albeit the OAP’s, with their fresh bus passes and a keen understanding of the route.

Between increased advertising, increased flow of information and the ease of self publishing, I no longer need to seek out games media – it’s all around me and core games journalism has been diluted in the flood. It’s still an important part of the puzzle, but it’s now a lot harder to identify the role it played in the games I eventually decide to pick up.

In today’s world it feels like the largest factor influencing my decisions is that of my peer group, powered by my addition to social media. Shared screens shots, comments of endorsement, the feeling of missing out. These all seem to be the catalysts of future purchases. I’m sure games journalism still had a part to play in that somewhere along the line, just now it’s done more via proxy.

One thing I am sure of, games journalism is here to stay and I’ll always appreciate the opinion of a well written article. Also, even though I rarely buy them any-more, the humble gaming magazine will always have a special place in my heart.

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Pon de Replay

This latest gaming generation certainly hasn’t shied away from a remaster and, as much as I’m not adversed to it, it has made me contemplate which games could be remastered in a more profound way than a simple cross-gen spit ‘n’ polish. I’m thinking more than a remaster, but not really a reboot or a sequel. I’m thinking… retrofit editions? Something that would be genuinely exciting if it was announced. Here are some “Retrofit Editions TM” I’d like to see happen:

Road Rash Retrofitted Edition

The trouble with sequels is, often they’ll try to expand on the previous games in meaningful ways but just end up messing up the original chemistry that made the game great. This would be my biggest fear if there was ever a new Road Rash game. They’d take the IP and shit all over it, making it some open world “Burnout Paradise on bikes” monstrosity. Road Rash doesn’t need that. All it needs is retrofitting with todays technology.

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It would require the same breakneck speeds, along the same line-of-sight obscuring twisty, hilly roads that throw certain death at you every few seconds; just this time, it would all be rendered in detailed 3D.  It’s critical that the game retains that feeling of 1 part skill, 2 parts luck, as you career round a blind corner, hit a log in the road and perform a 15ft air over an on coming car.

For retrofitted improvements, I’d focus on online leader-boards, racing against mates and the ability to customise your rider/bike to really make it your own. The only area I think some creative liberties could afford to be taken are around the presentation of the main mode. In its original form it’s completely lacking in any type narrative. That’s not to say it needs some elaborate tale shoe horned into the game (that would be horrific), but a few simple cut-scenes to contextualise the events and give some fanfare to beating it wouldn’t go amiss. It could also serve to give your rivals some character, which I don’t think would damage the game.

Mutant League Football Retrofitted Edition

The fact that Madden gets a sequel spat out every year, whereas this game was never revisited, seems like a crime to me. Growing up on the cricket pitches of Surrey, it’s natural that the appeal (and rules) of NHL somewhat eluded me. However, Mutant League Football brilliantly bridged this gap by injecting fun into the sport. It’s basically a re-skinned Madden, with mutants, monsters, skeletons and aliens making up the teams. It’s easy to use interface made it really playable, even if you’re new to the sport. In fact; what I know about NFL, I learnt from Mutant League Football! They amped up the violence and added a touch of comedy good measure. Basically all the cornerstones of a great game.

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For a retrofit edition, the graphics would simply need to be brought up to todays standards, with glorious 3D models and brutal animations to showcase the violence. The core gameplay would remain exactly the same. To give the game more substance, the inclusion of a proper league and tournaments, with player transfers and basically everything you take for granted in a modern sports game. Throw in online features, so you can laugh manically as you tackle your best mate into a land mine and watch their receiver explode into pieces. Top stuff.

Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge Remastered Edition

Rather than a retrofit, Crimson Skies, being comparatively modern and feature packed, would simply benefit from a remaster, albeit one that is done from the ground up. A revisioning if you like, or a recreation (at this point I’m just spouting “re” words). Take the original game as a template and rebuild (turns out I’m not done yet) it, utilising todays processing power to renovate the levels, animations and special effects.

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If you wanted to, you could probably get away with pushing out the level size a little, up the level of enemies on screen and work in a option for a co-op campaign as well. However, you wouldn’t want to risk too many changes to this under-appreciated master piece of a game, other than polishing it to the extreme and letting it plug a hole in the games market.

Sid Meier’s Pirates! Retrofitted Edition

Released in the late 80’s and ported to just about every device going since, Sid Meier’s Pirates has arguably been in a constant state of remastering and actually had a remake in the mid 2000’s as well. Despite this, I still think it’s a game that could massively benefit from a retrofitting overhaul, without desecrating the original vision.

See Sid Meier’s Pirates was an ambitious, yet hugely successful attempt at creating a life of a Pirate simulator. The only thing that really limited it was the technology at the time. I see no reason why it can’t be rebuild and refurbished, kind of like an Elite Dangerous of the high seas.

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My vision of a retrofitted Pirates would start from the off, allowing you to pick not just a name and nationality, but allowing you to tailor every aspect of your charter from sex and build, through to hair style and eye colour. Although many of the core mechanics would remain, I’d turn the towns and ports into fully realised three dimensional locations that can be explored on foot. You’d need to physically seek out the towns traders, taverns and Governors. Then, when you buy up property and land, you’d be able to actually see the fruits of your labour.

I’d retain the map style approach to sailing the world, but switch to updated, more action driven naval battles. Think Assassins Creed Black Flag, but retaining Pirates tactical elements of wind direction and ammo types. NPC interactions and romance options could be fully modernised with much more focus on dialogue, although it would be good to include a fan service to the cheesy dancing mini game.

Expanded political options, smarter AI handling trade prices, more action driven events like battling storms, added variety to end game scenarios; basically building upon the solid foundation of a proven game.

Stop Living in the past

The list of games which would be much more interesting to remaster/retrofit/revive than recent offerings is vast. Destruction Derby, Blast Corps, Rogue Squadron, Body Harvest, the list goes on. However, there is an certainly an element of nostalgia at play here and also the question about leaving certain classics alone. Shouldn’t gems like Goldeneye and Shenmue be consigned to gamings hall of fame and allowed to age gracefully? My answer to that comes down to weather or not the title has anything to truly offer modern gaming.

If the game offered unique qualities that are lacking in the market today and if you can better the original, then yes; but if you’re just milking a legacy, then have more respect. And please…for the love of hedgehogs…leave Sonic the fuck alone.