Legal Alien: A Scotsman in Montreal

 
They don't make 'em like they used to

I started playng computer games when I was about 7 years old on my faithful old Sinclair ZXSpectrum 48K playing classics like "Thru the Wall." Then I quickly presuaded my parents to uprade to a Spectrum +2 which had a built-in datacorder rather than needing to attach a normal tape recorder. The +3 was a little too fancy as it had a disk drive! Crazy! The +2 also had a whopping 128K of memory meaning, in certain cases, games could be loaded in one 8 minute tape transfer rather than having to start the tape to advance a level. And who can forget those white screens floating on a mess of blue and yellow lines whilst the speakers screeched with number crunching. My ears got so adept to the tonality that i could pick out whereabouts in the loading process the tape was - handy when there are 5 games on a tape and your built-in datacorder has no counter!!!

These were the halcyon days of my computing experience, my best friend had a Commodore 64, which whilst offering lower memory had superior graphics interface... no more dodgy collision detection whereby your character, despite being shaped like a man, actually occuped a square portion of the screen and could die without 'you' touching anything. Also made for trippy like effects when a white man walked in front of a blue table!

It was at this point that the beginning of the games revolution began - my favourite brand of games were Code Masters games - a company run by two brothers who would distinguish themselves by creating simulators; BMX simulator, ATV simulator, Fruit Machine Simulator all of which had kick-ass soundtracks and tended to be monochrome colour.

Time moved on, game prices rose, and new systems came onto the market. The Sega Master System and Nintendo Entertainment System were battling it out and then came perhaps the greatest computer ever: the Commodore Amiga! This too went through several generations of increasing memory and performance and it was a great Christmas when I opened my big present to find an Amiga1200!

This system built on the principles established by Spectrums and C64s; 'the graphics micght suck but we can make the games as addictive and playable as hell!' But now there existed the technical capabilities to make the games look good! I suspect that it was the same programmers making the games and knew how to make a 'good' game and why there was an inexhaustible supply of classics!

To this day I maintain no matter how complex, realistic, flexible, fast or accurate the game, nothing will come close to Sensible Soccer in terms of pure unadulterated joy of playing. A game with a one-button joystick, with players only 8 pixels high but still able to capture the imagination with the slick game engine allowing the ability to play nifty one-twos or spray a 50 yd pass across the pitch! And Sensible Software (who may still be going) also produced other classics like Cannon Fodder and Xmas hybrid specials like Fodder soccer where you had to guide your trusted men across dangerous mine-strewn football pitches with bazooka wielding referees!

Alas, once again, the Amiga was eventually found wanting in terms of power as greedy consumers continually demanded more performance. And so the market obliged and Amigas were confined to dusty cupboards everywhere to be replaced by Super Nintendos, Megadrives and chunky 486 PCs. And they never looked back, but unfortunately they left behind the innocence of that bygone era. Now, games are gory, violent and to be fair, visually stunning. Control pads require the use of every available digit. But more often than not they lack that extra little bit of quality, that extra iota of thought, that hidden sthg that makes the game haunt your dreams. Instead we are saturated with movie-quality cut-scenes, sumptuos character animation and intricate detail but many games just ring hollow.

The reason for the above rant: Phil has started playing Final Fnatasy on a NES emulator on his PC. On his fast, memory-laden, Voodoo Graphix card-equipped machine he is playing an 8-bit game which has continual reminders that if you want to save the game, remember to hold the reset button whilst you power off! And it still kicks ass!

Interestingly, at the start of Vice City, it shows an animation of the old C64 blue monochrome start-up screen and someone typing in 'Load "Vice City"' and then the floating screen on the coloured lines. A nod towards the post and its heritage and an acknowledgement of where it all began? Perhaps this is why Vice City is possibly an exception to the rule of substance not show?

I don't know about any of you, but when I get home at Xmas, I think I may dust down the old Amiga and pray that time has cured my joystick button and once more rejoice as Ghana's Hearts of Oak beats Austrailia's Woollongong United in extra time!