Other than music, films and (natch) books, wasting away my hours playing computer and/or video games has been something that has been poisoning my mind and slowly turning me into a sociopath for 81% of my life (at time of writing). To celebrate this shocking use of oxygen I’ve decided to work my way through the years I’ve been playing and the game highlight from that year from 8 bit noisy load screens right up to the latest generation of black boxes. Geek-me-do!
1986 – Knightlore (Sinclair Spectrum)
I may as well begin with two confessions. Firstly, Knightlore was actually released in 1984 (but I didn’t get my first games platform until two years later) and secondly I have a lifelong love of pretty much anything released by the house that the Stamper brothers built. Anywho, my first computer was the ZX Spectrum 128 +2. The +2 stood for a built in cassette deck, negating the need to have an external machine for loading your games from. Furthermore it replaced the keys made from bits of dead skin found on the Spectrum 48k.
My parents bought a Spectrum just as many did for their children in the 80s not for playing games on but for homework and such tasks. The fact that most schools usually only had a couple of BBC Model Bs or RM Nimbuses kicking about meant that IT in schools wasn’t as ubiquitous as today and homework on a computer was highly unlikely at best. Plus few households had a printer (mine included) so actually handing in such work would be nigh on impossible. The clever brains at b3ta put such events into song a few years ago to jaunty effect: http://www2.b3ta.com/heyhey16k/
Even back in the early days of gaming there were format wars. Perhaps not as nonsensical and feverish as they are between the Xboxers and Playstationists of today, but a certain amount of playground ribbing was caused by what variety of machine your loyalty laid with. My cousin had a Commodore 128k which was undoubtedly a more powerful machine which was hampered somewhat by two factors personal to his own circumstances. For one my uncle wasn’t much of a fan of computer games (the only one he owned for several years was Spyhunter), and secondly the computer was attached to a monochrome monitor so the more impressive visuals of Commodores box could only be rendered in multiple shades of green.
James across the road had the aforementioned BBC machine which had a very strong ace up its sleeve, but more on that another time. A couple of kids in my class had Amstrad CPCs as well but I don’t recall any of my close chums having a Nintendo or Sega machine at this point.
So which game did I start my gaming odyssey with? There’s probably half a dozen or so to choose from. Firstly there was Manic Miner, Matthew Smith’s seminal and unconscionably tricksy platformer. I never got past “Miner Willy Meets The Kong Beast” so I couldn’t have that as a highlight.
Then there was Bounty Bob Strikes Back! which involved similarly precision perfect jumps against the clock as Manic Miner along with the need to step on every patch of floor within each level, so often you’d reach the end only to realise that there was a tiny section that hadn’t been traipsed across.
The other games that drew me in all came from Ultimate. From bug zapping sim Pssst to the adventurous wanderings of Sabre Wulf and the alien blasting of Jetpac, Ultimate knew how to get the most out of Sir Clive’s machine like no others could, making the more powerful computers inanimately jealous. But of all the games that the Stamper brothers unleashed from Ashby De La Zouch there’s one in particular that I remember most fondly.
The third part of the Sabreman series, Knight Lore was notable as being one of the first games to employ isometric graphics in the action adventure genre. The likes of Q*Bert had wowed early gamers with pseudo 3D graphics of this sort, but never to the dizzy heights of Ultimate’s castle based adventure with numerous rooms to explore as you searched for the ingredients needed by the resident wizard to cure you of the lycanthropic curse. This curse manifested itself every night turning allies against you and making the game incredibly tactical.
Cleverly the Stamper brothers randomised the position of the ingredients in each game so every time you played was a unique experience. I completed the game at least five times and each time I had to adjust the way I played due to the day/night cycle and my wolvish ways. No other game I played up until then offered such depth and sense of achievement.
Of course the graphics and sound haven’t stood the test of time, and the game is overly difficult compared to modern standards with their balanced learning curves and such jiggery pokery. Nevertheless I still play this game every few years as a pilgrimage to the start of my continuing wasted youth.