Back in 1985 when I was just a young boy of only eleven years old, one of the things in life I hated most was school. How dare they make me wake up early every weekday and then expect me to sit in a room and actually learn things. Now of course I realise, a little late some may say, that these people were actually trying to help me by giving me an education. What made things even stranger was the fact that after school we all rushed home with a sigh of relief only to watch people going to school on the television with Grange Hill. Then, when developer David Reidy and publisher Microsphere released the game Skool Daze on the Commodore 64 and the Spectrum, we rushed home from school to play a game in which we went to school.
The game had the player taking control of a trouble making schoolboy named Eric whose goal was to steal his own report card from the school safe, hence keeping him out of trouble. When you think about it, the teachers would probably just write it again including his latest behaviour, but lets not let that get in the way of the fun. To break into the safe the player controlling Eric had to achieve certain goals and ultimately collect a series of flashing shields around the school and then knock each one of the school teachers down using their trusty catapult, who would then give you a letter which made up part of the safes combination. Collecting all these letters would let you achieve your ultimate goal and although this sounds like it may be the end of the game, nothing could be further from the truth. Once Eric has the report card he then has to hit each of the shields once again as when they are flashing the teachers are alerted to the players behaviour and only when they have all been stopped will your task be complete. Sounds easy right? Well, like most games back then, nothing could be further from the truth.
Not only are you attempting to accomplish this task but you were also required to maintain a busy school schedule, going to classes at the appropriate times while doing what you could to progress the game during breaks and lunchtime or, on the occasion which you may be feeling a little more rebel, you could try doing so during the time you were supposed to be in a lesson. The risk that was involved in this was that the head teacher of the school, or the teacher who was supposed to be teaching you, would roam the halls of the building to find you and on doing so would punish you by issuing lines. The same punishment would be dished out for other various misdemeanours such as hitting other pupils and teachers with catapults, peashooters, writing on the blackboards, which of course being kids at the time would lead to the player writing all sorts of swear words and such upon them. These along with any other kind of misbehaviour would lead to lines being issued and upon reaching 10,000 lines it would be game over.
Along with the teachers and the hero, Eric, the school was also populated by eleven nameless pupils who would basically go about their school life in a strictly ordered way, rarely deviating from it. They would however, on the rare occasion, give Eric a small hint or tip such as telling him where a certain item was hidden.
There were also three named pupils who had their own personalities; Angelface was the school bully who would go out of his way to get you into trouble with the teachers, Boy Wander the tearaway who, although not purposefully hindering or targeting you, would cause trouble in any way he possibly could, and then there was Einstein the swot who upon witnessing Eric misbehaving in any way would report him to whichever teacher took the next class. It was within your best interests to avoid him at all costs. One of the cool things about this and the sequel, more about which in a moment, was that it was one of the first games that did not confine the player to a set story. You had a goal to achieve but how and when you go about it was all down to the player. This gave the game a kind of free roam feeling. Sure, the map was fairly small and included only the school building and a small outdoor play ground area. So although the play area was considerably smaller in scale to the free roam games of today, it was original in that it gave the players that freedom of deciding where and when they would progress the game.
Skool Daze was so popular, well as popular as a game could be back in those days, that a follow up game was not long in making an appearance. One of the cool things about games back in those days was that they were so simple development times were pretty small and sequels to games were not long in appearing, sometimes even within a year of the original release. Back to Skool followed the same story and gameplay as the original game, but numerous improvements in many areas, most notably the size of the play area which was increased to include a second school building for the girls. The buildings were separated by a wall and gate which was closed during class time but opened by a caretaker during breaks, allowing the boys and girls to mix. Much like the boy’s school in this and the original game, the girl’s school is populated with both generic hockey stick carrying girls as well as named characters, primarily the teachers and headmistress, but also Hayley, Eric’s girlfriend who can be persuaded to help Eric out by doing some of the lines dished out as punishment via payment of a kiss.
Other improvements and additions to the game included the likes of stink bombs which could be used to have classroom windows opened, giving Eric a handy escape route, a water pistol which could be used much the same as your catapult and mice which could be caught and then released within the girl’s school, causing mayhem and giving our hero the opportunity to collect shields within the girl’s building with more ease. There was also a bicycle which could be ridden upon collection of its chain combination and the ability to get the teachers drunk on sherry which could be squirted into cups. So although the gameplay remained pretty much the same, everything was expanded upon making the game even more enjoyable than it’s predecessor. It was a bit of a shame that the series officially ended at this point and was not expanded upon any more, although an unofficial PC remake of the original game did turn up a few years later under the name “Klass of 99″ which was pretty much a game for game remake of the first title with updated graphics.
The presentation of both of the games was pretty typical of spectrum games in that compared to what we are used to nowadays, they look extremely basic. Back then they were in fact cutting edge, with the scenery and characters both drawn using black pixels and lines and then given colour by dropping coloured blocks of basic greens, yellows and blues behind these. Messy when compared to what we are used to today, but doing the job admirably on the machines on which we played said games. The same could be said for the sound within the games, they were confined to a series of differently pitched beeps and buzzing sounds. The main effect within these two games was the two footstep sounds which continuously played as Eric walked around the schools and scenery.
So although these two games seem extremely outdated now, back in the eighties when I was a young boy they were as much fun as new games are today and remain, right up until this day, two of my mostly fondly remembered gaming experiences of all time.