The video game industry used to be a very different beast. The computer industry had many competitors (Acorn, Amstrad, Apple, BBC, PC, Spectrum – just that I can remember) and it wasn’t unusual to see a single title ported over to every major system. A developer could make a good living for years from a title they first put out on a single format. Also, great games were often developed by small teams, sometimes just a few individuals.
Games were more of an experience than a quick fling like today. They often came with lavish intro sequences and usually with huge manuals which not only told you how to play, but gave you a backstory, too. In this age of digital downloads it is that ‘big box’ experience that I truly miss, and when Jon Denton – who I met through racing games software – posted a blog questioning whether today’s simulated racers could cope with a game based on a single-series, it helped me realize I wasn’t alone in this, and set me off on an eBay spending spree where I re-purchased some of my favorite titles from my early days.
I started out with a Commodore Vic-20 the entire family shared, I then moved to a C-64 and then an Amiga A600 that my parents bought just for me. Although as I’ve said before the earlier systems were great family time, often spent programming our own simple games, the Amiga is definitely the system I look back on with the fondest memories; It’s gaming capabilities and the huge industry around it meant that there really never was a shortage of new and fantastic stuff to play.
Many barriers were being broken at this time because many gaming genres simply didn’t exist before it, and what’s interesting is that even today the types of games I enjoy remind me of a game I enjoyed and want to re-experience from the Amiga. One of my fondest memories gaming on the Amiga was actually taking my system to a friends house so that we could both play Frontier-Elite II at the same time and compare information. We hardly spoke to each other the entire time I was at his house, and I just laugh inside as I look back at his sister coming in to tell us we “both look Anemic” and should eat something. Those were the days!
My first introduction to IBM Personal Computers (PCs) came through a school friend named Kieron: He had a PC. While the rest of us were busy arguing over whether the Amiga or Atari ST were better, he was quietly using a system we’d all have to follow him into whether we liked it or not. I actually bought PC games before I owned a PC, and played one of them – Indy 500 – at Kieron’s house. In a way, he helped me to head in the direction I have with my career.
Many PC games today can trace their roots back to an Amiga title, but still in those early days using a PC I really still did enjoy the ‘big box’ experience. It does seem – as Jon suggested in his blog – that online gaming is what killed the game manual, the box, and perhaps created the online-only, throwaway culture gaming has become. I used to buy games to play them ‘forever’, I don’t do that anymore because there’s nothing of ‘worth’ to hold onto, there’s nothing physical.
I’ve decided to write a few retro-reviews of some of my favorite games from various formats. A personal retrospective of my feelings towards the fun I had with them, and the future they helped to create in the industry. Were they ever beaten? Were they the last of their kind? We’ll find out…
1: Stunt Car Racer.