I’m from the first generation who have pretty much had videogames in their lives since they could talk. They’ve had a profound influence on me and (obviously) my chosen career and I thought it’d be fun to share some of my biggest influences, and say a little bit about why they were so awesome. I’ve done three platforms, and three titles on each.
The Sinclair ZX Spectrum
Sir Clive Sinclair is one of my idols because he made home computing (and gaming) affordable to families like mine, and the Spectrum range changed my life. The games sure look shite now. In fact, compared to arcade games and the C64 they looked pretty shite then. But as a result the games always had to prioritise good gameplay over visuals, and a generation learned the importance of compelling interaction above and beyond everything else.
The Spectrum also had a big UK focus, and as a result there were hundreds of games that were culturally ‘British’, reflecting the country in the 80’s. They were humorous, sceptical, anarchic, innovative and tons of fun. It isn’t just nostalgia: playing these games was just joyful.
Back To Skool (1985)
The sequel to Skool Daze was a remarkable sandbox simulation of being a kid at ‘Grange Hill’, and was wonderfully anti-establishment. Snog girls, punch other kids, fire catapults at the back of teachers heads. Amazing.
Easy: using the keyboard to write ‘fuck off’ on the blackboard. When you’re 11 this is the best thing ever. Also, when you’re 37.
The Way of the Exploding Fist (1987)
I had to list a beat-em-up, and although I nearly picked Renegade, Fist was a bigger influence. Before fighting games became about learning elaborate codes (meh), they had a great blend of elegance and brutality. Fist was a perfect example of how important ‘flow’ is to games. With the not-too-easy / not-too-difficult gameplay, you could really get in the zone. Man.
Toeing your opponent hard in the spuds.
Head Over Heels (1987)
‘Ultimate Play the Game’ (who later evolved into ‘Rare’) made brilliant isometric puzzle-adventures like the amazing ‘Knight Lore’, but my favourite was Ocean’s Head Over Heels, an ingenious adventure where you played as two characters, that required both twitch skills and serious puzzle solving. Full of charm, invention and ambition, and still spoken of fondly by us olds.
The surge of euphoria and adrenaline when you unite Head and Heels, only to realise the adventure has only just begun…
I know I sound like a grumbling old codger, but it’s an absolute crime that the local arcade died. These smoky, seedy, often dangerous back-rooms of cabinets would seemingly crop up all over the place (and often disappear as quickly) and were a pillar of UK gaming culture. I LOVED them, and the stunning videogames they housed. Here’s a tiny sampler.
Double Dragon (1987)
Slightly ruined by the fact that you could use the ‘elbow’ move as a golden path though the game, this was nevertheless a huge hit with me and my friends and a pioneer of co-op gameplay. At the time it looked stunning, sounded amazing, and seriously made the adrenaline flow, despite a constant, slightly eerie feeling.
The life lesson at the end: That two brothers who use their unbreakable bond as they embark on an arduous, epic quest for justice, will still end up leathering each other over a girl.
Slap Fight (1986)
My mum would be mortified if she knew how much dinner money I pumped into this at ‘Four Seasons’ chippy in Frodsham. I loved vertically-scrolling shoot-em-ups and this lesser-known one was a favourite, thanks in part to the brilliant power-ups that were earned by collecting stars. I was second-best at this in my school. The fact that I was never first still upsets me.
The easter egg: If you didn’t touch the button or sticks till you lost your first life, you would then immediately be given all of the power-ups for being such a tool.
Also one of my favourite movies and Spectrum games, the arcade version was incredible. This was another Zen-like experience as you learned exactly where each enemy would be and flowed through them. The bosses (ED-209, the van full of goons) were tactically diverse, and the sounds of Murphy putting his gun in his leg and saying ‘thank you for your co-operation’ at the end of each level was exactly like the movie and made you feel like a badass.
The fact that I could finish the entire game with 10p
It took longer for consoles to take over in the UK than many other places. The NES was massive around the world, but had way less traction in Britain, partly because the Amiga for gaming paradise. It finally led me and my brother to succumb to Commodore, as developers like Psygnosis and Bullfrog provided a stream of delights, and it felt like a week didn’t go by when something extraordinary was released. Such as…
Sensible World of Soccer (1994)
Earlier versions of ‘Sensi’ were brilliant, but this one added football management to the real-time matches. It was like adding crack to chocolate. The (one-button) kick and dribbling mechanics were best-in-class example of ‘easy to learn / hard to master’ gameplay, and like all of Jon Hare’s brilliant ‘Sensible’ games, it was filled with British charm and personality.
Scoring a delicate long-range lob with deft taps of the Konix Speedking joystick.
My favourite game from the legends at Bullfrog, combining so many of the things I still love: near-future sci-fi, customisation (of cyborgs!), extended tactical play, and immensely violent destruction. This consumed hours of my life. I really hope the remake rumours are true, and that they capture the dark spirit of the original.
Discovering the rather delightful answer to the question “What’s a Gauss Gun?”
Another World (1992)
You know that feeling when a movie, game or album is mind-blowing yet seems to come from nowhere, with no hype or even a mention? It happened to me with Another World. Stylish and evocative, beautiful and moving, for me it is still one of the most terrific examples of interactive storytelling, even though ostensibly it’s a platform game and there’s no dialogue. It’s great to see the visionary behind it return to games with From Dust and I hope he’s here to stay.
Making friends with a rock-hard alien. It was like something out of a Pixar movie. *Wipes a tear*
To avoid TLDR syndrome I’ll stop now. I’ve culled loads of these, including (gasp!) all console games. Let me know if you like this ‘cos I could easily do it again, maybe with a console focus. Secret of Mana anyone?
I feel lucky to be a passionate, lifelong gamer, and even luckier to make them. Games have shaped my generation and not one minute of my time in front of the screen was ‘wasted’. They are easily the world’s most thrilling art form, with so much more to offer in the future, and a glorious past to wallow in.
One day, I’ll activate the PlayStation10 nanobots in my bloodstream, and transform reality into the latest GTA. And I’ll be thinking ‘wow! This is almost as good as 3D Ant Attack’.