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A Retro Retrospective (part 1)

Posted by Bazaboy On February - 22 - 2010

My life as a gamer.

 
The following piece is a fond look back at some of the games I remember playing and in some cases enjoying over the now many years of my life. In some cases I will be writing about the games after having played them again, when I can find them online, in an effort to bring back some fond memories and, in some cases, get aggravated by them all over again.

 
Trying to decide where to start with this was something else entirely. I thought about putting games in the order of my favourites, but I found sorting them into that order was pretty difficult. Sure, I had some clear favorites and some were clearly not. But putting them all into that order was too much to think about and so I have decided to do this chronologically, using the year the games were released in.

 
At first when I was remembering games that I would want to include in the following article, I had initially around four or five titles in mind. But to jog my memory, I used everyone’s favorite information finding tool, Google. From there I found lists of games, the more of which I read, the more my own personal list grew and grew, until I found myself having to shorten it again to make the article a bit more manageable.

 
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My life as a gamer began way back in 1981 when I was only 7 years old. Back then, when we wanted something more expensive for Christmas, my brother and I were expected to share a gift, which in general was never a problem. When my brother, who was then 10, decided we should get a computer I was an easy sell. Back then there was not much choice and so, come Christmas day, we were the proud owners of a Sinclair ZX81. I don’t want go into too much detail on the computer itself, as I am primarily looking at the games that I played on the various machines in the past, but it would be rude not to give a little info of sorts on each of them.

 
The ZX81 was a commercially available home computer released by Sinclair Research. You hooked the computer up to your television much as you would a console nowadays and you would load and save data using a traditional cassette recorder. Another notable point is the membrane keyboard which, after time, would require the user to apply quite some pressure to the keys to have them register the keystroke. You could spend quite literally hours programming your own simple games for this computer and, when it didn’t work, you would spend even longer rereading your work looking for the errors. Or you could purchase cassettes with games already on them, which takes us to the first game.

 
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NIGHT GUNNER

 
Night Gunner is one of the ZX81 games that I found a java based version of online, just to bring back the memories. For the computer in question, the graphics are not too bad to be honest. You have to keep in mind that graphics on this machine were made up from square blocks, letters, numbers and symbols. Night Gunner is set in WWII, with the player getting deeply involved in dogfights, shooting down German planes which were portrayed on screen in this manner -o- with a full stop above the o to symbolize the pilot against a black background. It is Night Gunner after all and so set at night and to top it off a huge crosshair in the centre of the screen representing the player. I would expect back then that a list of controls came with the game, but my first ten minutes of playing this now was spent trying to figure out unlisted controls, which lead to my first “oh my god that’s right” after finding the fire key quickly as the letter Q. The rest of the time was spent trying to find up down left and right and eventually finding that 5, 6, 7, and 8 done the trick, I would never have guessed this but somehow a minute or so later from the back of my mind I was remembering that yes those were the controls. The game throws waves of four enemy planes at you and your aim is as simple as moving the crosshair over the randomly moving planes and firing to destroy them.

 
You do get the feeling, as you press the controls, you are in fact manipulating the movement of the enemy planes rather than your target, and I realize now that this is because you are playing against a solid black background and therefore have no sense of movement whatsoever other than the planes moving as you hit the keys. You have three lives and limited ammo per wave and if you run out of either it’s game over. The enemy planes do increase their jittery flying as you move through the waves and fire more often. But to the modern day gamer, it really is not a challenge, with me getting to wave 15 with no problem before thinking to myself that as a kid I loved this and would spend hours playing it but today game developers have spoiled us with shiny graphics and game play and that enough was enough and I turned it off. The game though, considering the machine it was played on and it being 30 years ago, is not really that bad, if a little mind numbing after 15 waves of planes in a row meaning it’s time to move onto something else.

 
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SPACE RAIDERS

 
This one is extremely easy to describe in only two words, Space Invaders. Just replace the raiders with invaders and surely no one will notice right? But to be honest, even someone who has never played the classic Space Invaders will, upon seeing this, recognize it for what it is. Despite this fact, it was the first opportunity for me to play something akin to the classic game in the comfort of my own home. Sure, graphics wise it was not exactly a great conversion, but the game play would be pretty tough to mess up with only three controls, left, right and fire. Little note here on playing this one again, the controls were much easier to find for this one.

 
Playing Space Raider is still as addictive as ever, much like the game it was inspired by. I spent well over an hour playing this simple little game and it made me wish that Space Invaders Extreme would come to the PSN Store for the PS3 or PSP so that I could get a modern day fix of this classic. As you can see from the included screenshot the graphics for this one are just as simple as other games on the computer, going so far as to use the letter A as the players gun and when you fire, it fires out the letter I. what is surprising, however, is the developer, and note I didn’t say developers as most of these games were created by a single person, went to the trouble of making each row of invaders look slightly different. Not something you would expect in a ZX81 game, but good to see. Space Raiders, like many games for the computer, came on a cassette with more than one title and on side B of this game was another title which I am going to include in this list and that is…

 
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BOMBER

 
Bomber is another airplane combat game but totally different from Night Gunner in that your plane scrolls across the screen from left to right over a cityscape of towering buildings. Again, this is another simple to play game with only the two controls, thanks to the site I am playing these games on for listing the controls for this one, with one dropping a bomb straight down and another firing a rocket straight forward. The aim of the game is to destroy the block buildings before your plane hits them by dropping bombs on top of them, which knocks them down by 4 or 5 blocks, or by firing a rocket which knocks one block from the top a building right ahead of your plane. The catch being that every time your plane scrolls from left to right it drops lower, meaning it is a race against time as you try and target the tallest buildings first.

 
But the real panic begins once you knock down the taller towers and they are on the same level as the lower ones. The player then becomes hard pushed to flatten the rest to ground level before smashing into them and, to be honest, even on the easiest setting I could not get past the first screen making this one of the games that was fun, yet infuriating at the same time. This is one I can vividly remember playing back then and I am pretty sure I never got past the first screen then either. The fact that I was playing on the easiest setting and couldn’t do it made me wonder what the hardest difficulty setting entailed. So I did as any self respecting gamer would do, I gave it a go and lasted about ten seconds as the little plane flew at quite a rapid pace across the screen making it near impossible to drop your bombs on the desired target. Yes I enjoyed this game but yes it also raises the blood pressure a little. For some reason I just kept having one more go, trying to clear the full screen, with no more luck than the previous turn. I think it’s best to just move onto the next game… ok, after this one more go.

 
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1KCHESS

 
The title says it all and this is one of the few games back then that taught me something that I can and still do use today. I wouldn’t say I am great at chess but at 7 years old I learned the basic rules of the game from playing it on this computer. You can’t really go wrong with a chess game. The rules are the same universally, but I mention this one merely for the graphical madness of it. Sure, the actual chess board proves no problem whatsoever, it is only black and white boxes after all. The problem arises when you put the chess pieces on the board. These are represented by letter, either in black or white for the respective players, such as a P for pawn K for king Q for queen and so on. Wait, what do we use for the knights if K is for king? Why N, of course.

 
The madness begins when a black chess piece is situated on a black square on the board. Because it is more important to know who owns which pieces, the game changes the colour of the board. So if a black pawn occupies a black square the black square will turn white. So you can end up with large chunks of the board completely white or black, as you can see from the screenshot, and therefore this game of chess requires just a little more concentration than your usual game of chess. With no mouse to click and drag the pieces around the board, it uses the old number and letter method of playing chess, where you would type in the letter and number coordinate of the piece you want to move and then again for where you wish to move. It’s a simple method but it works well for what the player has to work with. So all in all it is chess, impossible to get wrong. But it is most probably the worst looking computer chess game ever made. It makes up for this, in my personal opinion, by being a game that managed to actually teach me something at the age of 7 or 8 years old and for this reason is one of the most memorable games for myself on the computer in question.

 

 
There were many other games I played, enjoyed and remembered on the legendary ZX81. But, to be honest, they really do not improve much on the titles that I have written about above, many that offer up varying simple game play on the computer. I am sure that others reading this, who also owned the machine, have different memories when it comes to the games. Please feel free to discuss them here on the sites forum or in comments below as I would love to hear other opinions and personal stories of gaming past. For now, this is where I personally leave the good old ZX81 and in the next thrilling episode of this article, I will discuss the games I played on my next computer, the ZX Spectrum. This list I expect to be a touch larger than the one above, as it was the first machine I built up a serious games collection on.

 
All this and more coming soon in part two.

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