10 PRINT “…
I was born in 1979, so when I first got an Atari VCS in the mid eighties, I was pretty blown away. Now I had never seen or heard of this thing, I had no idea what it was or what it was for – I’ve a sneaky suspicion my dad bought it for me as a way of giving this video game fad a crack himself. For whatever reason, it didn’t light his fire, but I was loving it. I’ve fond memories of jumping over craters and shooting aliens in Moon Patrol, and swinging from vines and stabbing crocs in Jungle Hunt. I played Pac-Man for the first time on that Atari, not in the arcades, and I remember some classics like Empire Strikes Back, and Pitfall… Eventually, time wore on and the joystick wore out (although bizarrely I remember using the rubber joystick casing to fashion the barrel of a replica Uzi I made once. Reading too much Punisher as a small child before Dad banned me from buying it – I may have to make him read Preacher….), but it became time for a new phase of video gaming – the home computer!
I was a dedicated C64 lad myself, lording it up over my playground friends who only had crappy Spectrums with their crappy empty graphics, or Amstrads with green screens. I fondly remember playing Kick-Start, and Skool-Daze, and Forbidden Forest, and god-knows what else. I remember get quite fiercely addicted to World Class Leaderboard, in spite of my utter hatred of golf, and my mate Geraint and I took part in a C64 snooker game final that would have blown the roof of the Crucible it was nail bitingly close. I’d read Zzap 64 religiously, and input POKES and listings and what-have-you. I was quite into my gaming at this point, even learning a bit of BASIC and writing my own silly programs. But my programming never progressed beyond that (although one time I made a kick-ass sword sprite, and made it swoosh around the screen! Wow!), and as my C64 gave up the ghost I ploughed headlong into the 16 Bit age…
Commodore fan-boy that I was, it had to be the Amiga! None of this Atari ST shite for me… (Is that the plaintive cry of my VCS from the attic, as I abandon my loyalty to my first hardware company…? Naaah.) So I used the Amiga, but not for a lot of games – not as many as the C64 at least. This is down to two reasons. Firstly, I had DeluxePaint. This was my first intro to digital creations, and looking back, I can see the earliest inklings of my digital colouring on that program. It was no PhotoShop, but in its day, DeluxePaint was an impressive bit of kit. I also used it for some small animations as well (mainly car crashes and explosions and stuff… so macabre!). I’d revisit the animation side of things years later in college… The second reason the Amiga games didn’t get much of a look in was because soon after I had the Amiga I ended up getting a Mega Drive too, and that pretty much satisfied my gaming needs.
At this point in my early teens I’d made that declaration that most people my age had – their video-game allegiance! I’d thrown my hat into Sega’s ring big time, and much classroom debate was entered into with the Nintendo fans amongst my schoolmates. Coming from the piss-poor South Wales Valleys, the Neo-Geo side of the arguments inevitably failed to materialise… So I played the Sonic games to death. Road Rash was conquered. EA Hockey and NHLPA 93 were duly mastered. My weird obsession with video game golf continued as PGA Tour Golf II ate up my free time. I wowed to the gorgeous animation and storytelling in Flashback. My friends and I wiped each other out furiously in Bomberman (and there was nothing funnier than watching a total Bomberman noob suicide bomb themselves into oblivion within the opening seconds of round one…). Sega fans rejoiced over the release of Street Fighter II (and my wallet wept as I forked out for two six-button joypads… stop smirking SNES owners!!!!!) and I tore up the splendid (but now ludicrously dated looking) tracks in Virtua Racing.
I was so much of a Sega zealot I wrote into the magazines, I bought Sonic and Knuckles and plugged every cartridge I could find into it, I even bought a 32X add-on for it…. I stand by it though. The 32X version of Virtua Racing was glorious, Virtua Fighter played like an utter dream, and Stellar Assault was an epic space blaster that allowed you to blow up vast enemy ships and fly through the explosions, X-Wing styleee! I loved that machine.
But time went on, and the 16-Bit era gave way to the Saturn, and despite having some good titles, I wasn’t too impressed. The Playstation had some amazing looking games, but I found myself starting to play games less and less. My brothers had Playstations, and I dabbled in Ridge Racer, and the occasional blast on FIFA or Resident Evil, but my heart was no longer in it. The gaming fires were significantly rekindled for a time by the multiplayer Goldeneye 007 on the N64 – my mates and I didn’t just master that game. We were fucking GOD-LIKE. We’d have sleepovers and shoot each other in the face with rocket grenades until the wee hours, planting proximity mines at the respawn points, dashing for the Golden-Gun, playing as Oddjob and punching people in the groin, and occasionally shooting people there too…. It was legendary. The StarFox multiplayer campaign also enraptured us, and we all took shots at blasting ourselves from the cannon in Pilotwings.
And finally for me, I reached my zenith. The point for me where gaming would stop, never to be bettered. The game that truly satisfied me as a gamer. Mario 64. I’d never played a Mario game properly before, but this was just… amazing. The playability, the learning curve, the sheer fun… It made a Nintendo fan of me. But after Mario 64 nothing else quite enraptured me.
My brothers were into their Playstation 2’s and 3’s (which I never could get into) and my brother Steven gave me his old Gamecube. Out in America I owned a Gamecube briefly, and enjoyed Super Mario Sunshine, but I barely played it. Likewise Banjo Kazooie, and Diddy Kong Racing… my gaming thrill had dwindled. I was pleased to have the console off him, and I enjoyed playing Crazy Taxi on it, but I never spent that much time on it. I had drifted quite strongly into the realm of casual gamer. Along the way I had discovered emulation, and I enjoyed playing loads of SNES games that I was far too elitist to try when I was a dumb teenager. The SNES and the Mega-Drive were both great machines, with a great catalogue of games. I’m glad I can see that now!
My wife grabbed me a N64 with Goldeneye 007 and Mario 64 for my 29th birthday, and as undeniably great as Goldeneye was, I never enjoyed it as much as when I did when it was me and my mates huddled around a tiny bedroom screen, shooting the crap out of each other and playing ‘winner-stays-on’. The game hadn’t changed, but I had. Mario was a little different. That was always a solo event, and I still enjoyed dipping into Mario 64, but that was just it – dipping. I was casual playing the game but enjoying the memories of levels later in the game I could no longer spend time getting to.
We ended up buying a Wii as well, mainly because they’re fun at parties, and I can play my Crazy Taxi on the Gamecube architecture within it, and I can also play Mario 64 from the Virtual Console. But it rarely gets played now if I’m honest. I pick up Retro Gamer now and again for a good read of like-minded gaming souls who still celebrate the past glories. But I look back at myself and know that my hardcore gaming days are gone, and it makes me a little sad. I really enjoyed those times. I’ll never forget them. The games were fun, and still are (indeed, they always will be), but it was the bonding experience with my friends that really mattered, no matter how much we virtually killed each other.
I still have that Mega Drive. It’s in the attic, very dusty, now missing the broken 32X, and a broken power cable. I may fix it one day, for kicks. And from time to time I’ll fire up Sonic 2 on my Mac Emulator, and a smile will creep on my face as I run headlong through the Emerald Hill Zone, leaping over spikes and grabbing those rings, getting that idiot Tails killed behind me, and beating the snot out of Robotnik at the end…
20 GOTO 10