Our journey through videogaming history continues. Part one can be found here
Football management games apart, my gaming tastes on the Spectrum reflected what was, at the time, the pinnacle of gaming – the arcades. This was where the real games were. From the classics like Asteroids or Defender, to Operation Wolf, Out Run, Gauntlet and Rolling Thunder. The gimmick games like Paperboy with the handlebars, or Supersprint with the steering wheels, the cabinet games like Star Wars, immersing you in the action.
Part of the home gaming experience was an attempt to replicate what could be found at the arcade but, let’s face it, that was always likely to be a tall order for the humble Speccy.
But perhaps my greatest memory of the arcades lies not with the games themselves, but rather a venue. Growing up in Hastings, we had an incredible amusement arcade called Out Of This World. Downstairs were the slot machines and adult games but upstairs there was a kids area. Well I remember a Saturday afternoon, getting all the neighbourhood kids together and all piling in. For a couple of quid you got an afternoon of playing all the games at no charge. There were the table top version of Space Invaders, Track & Field and some weird side-scrolling shooter whose name I can’t remember that I was strangely fascinated by.
What times these were! This is where I evolved my love of gaming. This is where I watched the 1986 FA Cup Final between Liverpool and Everton. This is where we got continually thrown out of the ball pen for throwing the balls at each other.
As I got older, and someone realised what a horrendous business idea it was to give kids unlimited time with games rather than using them as coin suckers, my experience of the arcade changed. Tecmo World Cup ’90, Final Fight, Shinobi, Dragon Ninja, Wrestlefest. Good games, but the home experience was catching up. I never really got caught by the Street Fighter 2 bug and my interests began to move more to the 5p and 10p slot machines. But the memories of those days remain as clear as ever.
Now we come to it, the greatest machine of my gaming life. The incomparable, mighty Amiga.
I still remember the day we got it. Coming home from school as an 11 year old kid and finding this treasure waiting to be unboxed. Somehow, despite the plethora of awesome game bundles, we managed to have the lamest one going, a selection of such gaming classics as Power Play, Dungeon Quest and Grand Monster Slam.
But it didn’t matter. Finally we had an Amiga. An Amiga!
It’s difficult to think back on these times without getting genuinely misty eyed. As with the Spectrum, there are so many games that everyone’s experience will be different but there are some titles that stand out. Earlier in its life, it was very much about replicating the arcades with titles such as Chase HQ and R-Type. As time went on, the Amiga carved out a place in history by being home to an incredible variety of games. There were ports sure, from the arcades and other systems. Monkey Island, SWIV and Pang for example. But then there were the originals. Lotus, Supercars, Fire & Ice, Speedball 2, Flashback, Syndicate, Chaos Engine, Stunt Car Racer, Settlers, Dune 2, First Samurai, IK+…the list is almost literally endless (read my Top Ten Amiga 500 games here).
Certain developers came to dominate the machine. Team 17 were prolific, giving us Project X and Alien Breed before spawning the format busting Worms. The Bitmap Brothers of course, Gremlin, Graftgold, US Gold, Psygnosis.
And Sensible Software.
Undoubtedly the kings of the Amiga. Unbeknownst to me, I had first experienced Sensible by playing Microprose Soccer but like most, I came to associate them with Sensible Soccer. It may be difficult to convey just how astonishing this game was. It had dinky little sprites, there were no flashy moves, no overhead kicks. It was all controlled with a single fire button joystick. How could it possibly work? And yet it remains to this day, along with its sequels (culminating in SWOS) the greatest football game ever crafted and arguably the greatest game of all time.
But they weren’t content. Because along with Sensible Soccer, they were also responsible for Megalomania, a game that took resource management and God sims and somehow made them fun. And perhaps my all time favourite game, Cannon Fodder. Sensible Soccer meets modern warfare, Cannon Fodder was brilliant, challenging, frustrating, eye gougingly awesome. It is a game so good that I can forgive it for almost ruining my GCSEs as me and a friend set aside our revision to try and get past level ruddy 8.2. I still return to it all these years later, a little bit older, a little bit wiser and just as likely to get impaled on a spike or shot by a tribesman. And I finally completed the sequel, over 20 years after it came out!
As ever, it was about more than the games. It had a range of joysticks, the Quickjoy Quickshot the weapon of choice in our house. Then there was the pedal peripheral that allowed you to accelerate and brake with your feet like a real car. There was Workbench, X-Copy 2, guru meditation, crack screens.
Not to mention of course adding the 1mb chip to run most of the games!
All good things must come to an end of course, competition from the Megadrive and Snes as much as piracy eventually bringing its reign to an end. Never again would we see a machine like it, effortlessly combining music, graphics and educational applications with some of the best gaming of all time.
But there is one particular offshoot of the Amiga that deserves a section all of its own.
There were other magazines of course. For a while I flirted with Amiga Format, occasionally I would dabble with C&VG. But none could compare to the Mighty Beings of AP.
My first issue was number 6. I can still vividly remember going to Tesco with my mum shortly after we got the Amiga and being allowed to buy a magazine. For the first couple of months, I was torn between AP and Amiga Format, the latter coming with free software and looking a bit more grown up. I next picked up issue 9 but then from issue 11 onwards, I never looked back.
Nothing can recapture the feeling of waiting for the paperboy to drop the new issue through the letterbox (issue 32 being a rather longer wait than usual). There was no magazine like it and it has left a lasting impression on me both in terms of content and style. Sceptical with just the right balance of cynicism, funny, biting, never afraid to tell it like they saw it. Truly A Magazine With Attitude.
I didn’t always agree with them. I enjoyed Frontier and Worms far more than they did. But it doesn’t matter. It is the only magazine that I would devour cover to cover, reading reviews of games I had no interest in buying simply because I wanted to absorb the words.
The writers were fantastic. From Mark Ramshaw to Jonathan Davies, Cam Winstanley to the one and only Stuart Campbell.
It had the incredible Top 100 feature. Praise was hard earned and well deserved, top ratings going (inevitably) to SWOS and Cannon Fodder as well as games like Populous 2 and PD game Gravity Force 2, neither of which I spent any time with. But it was also famous for its savagings. Games were routinely given scores of 30% or below, regardless of hype or what other magazines were doing. One of the worst games ever reviewed was International Rugby Challenge, an exercise in critical savaging that I encourage you to go out of your way to digest.
Even when the games dried up, it was essential reading right to the end, features on conspiracy theories, X-files and fish based energy drinks the order of the day.
And as a testament to its brilliance, I still read it today. Over 20 years since the final issue, I can still lose myself in its pages, transporting myself back to a simpler time. With the advent of Ebay, I have even added to my collection, issues 5 and 7 the only ones to so far elude me.
My obsession with the genre began on the Spectrum but it was honed here as football management games paved the path towards the undisputed king of the genre.
I only dabbled in the original Championship Manager, braving the copy protection to try and decipher the attendance of some obscure game. My first serious experience of it came with Championship Manager ’93, the first in the series to feature real players. It required some commitment with a 4 hour processing time between seasons. But it created a template of stats over graphics, proving that the best games truly were about the gameplay.
The series peaked on the Amiga with Championship Manager ’93/94. Towards the end of my time with the Amiga, this is the game I would come back to time and time again, racking up a mighty 26 seasons before my data disks finally packed up. By modern standards it was so simple, you just picked whoever you wanted and if your formation was good enough (3-4-3 FTW!) you would steamroller everyone. But that wasn’t the point. The fun lay not in the challenge of winning but in seeing what your best rating and highest goal scorers were and comparing them with your mates. This is the game that immortalised Nii Lamptey. This is the game that made Nigel Clough a behemoth. This is the game that called you a bandit when you resigned, sent over 30s to non league football at the end of a season if they were transfer listed, set your best players to move abroad but let you change their minds by fining them until their morale dropped, that gave your star striker career debilitating injuries reducing his value from £10m to £250k, that denied you the chance to sign Paul Gascoigne because you couldn’t get a work permit.
And this is the game that started a lifelong obsession and saw the first inklings of my mental health issues, which I will explore in a separate feature
My love of the Amiga inevitably led me on to the CD32. I saved up for this for ages and I can vividly remember the day it finally turned up in the post.
In all honesty, the machine was a disappointment. The adverts trumpeted that it was more powerful than the Mega CD but it never quite lived up to expectations. Most of the games were Amiga ports with perhaps some added music, so it never became a must have and was quickly surpassed.
Despite this, it still had some great games. Super Skidmarks, Guardian, Gloom, Alien Breed 3D, Frontier, Roadkill to name just a few.
It may have had a naff controller that had to be ditched in favour of the Competition Pro pad. It may have launched just before Commodore went out of business. It may have been nothing more than a glorified A1200 with a CD drive. It may have spawned such dross as Rise Of The Robots, Microcosm and the truly lamentable Dangerous Streets. But it didn’t matter. It was mine and I loved it.
Read my Top Ten CD32 games here.
In part 3, The ones that got away and early PC experiences.