Experienced video game enthusiast and programmer, retro gaming on systems including the Sinclair ZX-81 and Spectrum, Atari 8-bit and ST, Sega Master System, Megadrive and Dreamcast, Nintendo SNES and GameCube, and Sony PlayStation, all of which were current technology when I first owned them...
Site currently dormant due to the return of a critical illness; I am determined to fight this will all I have, win, and return to writing about the Pi 4 and forthcoming RetroPie updates.
Interview with Dr Greg Bradley, 21:16 November 3rd, 2015, Lizards Breath Sanatorium, Nevada.
Interviewee is clearly insane, with unkempt white hair, staring eyes and a slither of drool hanging tenuously from the corner of his mouth. He seems calm at present but constantly fidgets. He seems to be holding something small and red in his hands. He won’t tell me what it is, but the nurses say he’s not a threat. Unfortunately he’ll only be coherent for an hour or so, so I’m getting started. . .
Hello my boy. It’s been a while since they’ve let me talk to anyone. You must be very special. Are you? Or are you sneaky? Are you after the gift I have in my hand? You can’t have it, I’m afraid. But I will show it to you, once you’ve listened to my tale. . .
Back in ‘51 I was a promising young geologist. I’d already seen several of my papers published and had begun lecturing at Oxford University. The world was my fossilised oyster and I was prying it open with my rock hammer. But it all changed that summer when my superiors sent me to the US. You see, there’d been a recent meteor crash near a town called Lizards Breath – how quaint a name I’d thought at the time – and they wanted me to study it. Alas, the things I witnessed there can never be unseen, and I fear that only by recounting my tale will I ever rid myself of the demons ANTS! that ravage my mind. For far too long the secret of that dusty town have been hidden in the back of my mind, and the cost has been the erosion of my sanity. Yes, dear boy, I realise that I’m quite mad, but these pills. . . they keep the voices at bay, at least for a while. Don’t they, voices? Yes.
System: Sega Megadrive / Genesis 32X
Developer: Sega AM2
Graphically very close to its arcade parent, After Burner Complete on the 32X successfully emulates the super-scalar technology of Sega’s arcade original, but in an arguably less effective manner than Space Harrier. Pop-up, the blight of the first generation of true 3D consoles, is evidenced even here on last generation 2D hardware, causing scenery to appear Mr. Ben Style (‘as if by magic…’)
Perhaps I’m just sorely lacking in ability, but to me this game redefines ‘unfair’, even when played on the surely ironically-named ‘very easy’ difficulty setting. Enemy fighters, helicopters, missiles and bullets fill the skies to such an extent that you feel as though you’re ploughing head long into a wall of metal. To add to your woes the aircraft doesn’t appear interested in reacting to the player’s input; the experience is less fly-by-wire, and more like a rodeo simulator.
Soon abandoning any attempt to fly rationally as too suicidal, two modes of progression emerge through Darwinian forces. The first option is to follow Peppy Hare’s admonitions in Star Fox 64 and barrel roll, constantly. This works as an evasive manoeuvre, but only in the same manner as the hyperspace button in Asteroids; inevitably in avoiding one collision you emerge helplessly straight into the face of another. Alternately, apply the aeronautical breast stroke – repeatedly alternate between lunging towards the floor and climbing as fast as possible, in a bid to pull off the old Blue Thunder 360 loop (which sadly can’t be done in this game).
Right, here we go, I’m in the dungeon. OK first step – how do I move? Ah, ok, click on the arrows. Bit annoying- should be able to use the cursor keys. Doesn’t seem to be anything aroun. . . oh, wait. . . is that a picture on the wall over there? Yes, yes it is. . . oh, and another. Am I in a medieval version of the Tate Gallery? I wonder what happens if I click on this girl’s pictu. . . ‘Resurrect’ or ‘Reincarnate’? Huh, com esta? What’s the difference? Sod it, resurrect. Ooo, she’s in my party. No wait. . . it’s a ‘he’ apparently. “Boris. . . Wizard of Baldor”. Hmmm. . . Wish I’d chosen someone who looked more like a proper wizard. He looks more like Justin Bieber. Right, must be more careful with my next choice. “Daroou”. Not sure. . . he looks like a gormless Chewbacca. Next. “Halk The Barbarian”. Yep, he’ll do. Always need a bit of brawn in these games.
Ok, so that’s a wizard and a warrior. . . what next? “Syra Child of Nature”? What’s she? A healer. Yep, probably need one of those at some point. Right. . . last one. . . let’s go a little left-field here. . . “Elija Lion Of Yaitopya”?. . . nah, he looks like a tramp version of Morgan Freeman. “Wuuf the Bika”? Yeah, ok, he’ll do. Resurrect. Crap, should have checked his class. . . Ninja? But he’s a man-dog. Since when did Ninja man-dogs ever exist? Bloody weird. Ah well, never mind, party’s full. . . let’s get to it boppers!
Syra: “Hi all.” Halk: “Hi.” Boris: “Hi.” Wuuf: “Woof.” Syra: “Oh, hey Wuuf. How ya doing mate?” Wuuf: “Oh, Hi Syra. Yeah, I’m not too bad thanks, just been ‘hanging around’ if you know what I mean”.
System: Sega Megadrive / Genesis
Developer: Game Refuge, Inc
Publisher: Electronic Arts
War is Hell, a hell of a lot of fun that is, in Electronic Arts’ 1993 title General Chaos. The game immerses the player in a frantic small scale war raging across a wide variety of pseudo three-dimensional single screen backdrops; The battlefield is rendered in a bright, colourful cartoon style reminiscent of SNK’s supreme Metal Slug.
Prior to commencement of battle the players assemble a five-man squad of gung-ho heroes, mixing and matching at will from amongst machine gunners, flame-thrower bearers, grenadiers, and rocket launchers. The different soldier classes muster different capabilities, including varied weapon ranges and instant-kill attacks. One of the five available soldiers appears for all the world to be U2 front-man Bono’s evil alter-ego; sporting wrap-around shades and wielding a flamethrower, world peace seems the last thing on this guy’s agenda.
The player’s squad is controlled via a simple and effective point-and-click interface; a large cursor is guided to a suitable location, to which the currently selected squad member can be commanded either to run, or directed to unleash their arsenal.
Wak-Attack – I am become Pac-Man, Destroyer of Worlds
Guest Essay courtesy of SweetMrGibs
I know Pac-Man. You know Pac-Man. Hell, we all know Pac-Man. He’s been a part of our culture since the early Eighties. But do any of us really know Pac-Man? Just because we control him doesn’t mean he’s a hero. You see I’ve been studying his behaviour for a while now, and I’ve come to a pretty horrific conclusion. Pac-Man is evil.
Think about it. What would you do if, from out of nowhere, some giant yellow ball appeared on your property and started gobbling Little Johnny’s hormone supplements? The ghosts, who represent the oppressed in our society, unseen, unnoticed, jammed into their tiny virtual hut, have no option but to defend themselves. You might think they’re attacking for no reason, but Pac-Man is displaying classic passive-aggressive behaviour at its very worst. And what happens if they dare to attack Pac-Man? Why, he chugs down a mega-steroid and proceeds to try and eat them! And you, dear reader, are enabling this behaviour.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. No, this goes much, much deeper. Did you know that Wakawaka is an extinct language of Queensland in Australia? Do you understand what this means? Pac-Man is responsible for the annihilation of a complete tribe of Aborigine, his “Wakawaka” ramblings recounting his previous murderous rampage in the Outback. And it didn’t start there…
System: Sega Megadrive / Genesis 32X
AM2 (arcade, 32X)
Year: Model 1 hardware (arcade original) 1993
Year: 32X 1995
The classic Simpson’s episode Treehouse of Horror VI sees Homer unexpectedly breaking through the 2D confines of his world to appear in the three spatial dimensions of ours, the juxtaposition highlighting the hitherto unnoticed confining nature of the previous reality; Homer’s revelatory sensation is one mirrored by first-time players of Sega’s iconic Virtua Fighter.
Often hailed as a breakthrough for the genre, the Model-1 powered 1993 arcade title dragged the one-on-one fighting game kicking and screaming into the third dimension, eschewing sprites for fully animated quadratic-surfaced mannequin fighters. Whilst rendered entirely in 3D, the action still ensues entirely upon a horizontal plane, much to the title’s credit. As Bruce Lee once said:
‘Do not deny the classical approach simply as a reaction, or you will have created another pattern and trapped yourself there’
The polygonal nature of the game enables a true paradigm shift in gameplay. Unhindered by pre-drawn animation frames Virtua Fighter’s smoothly realistic movement conveys the satisfying solidity of its fighters, and the bone-crushing weight of their attacks, whilst allowing a previously unobtainable fluidity and depth of gameplay. The resultant experience appears a different beast entirely from those iconic 2D brawlers Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat.
Bereft of fireballs and fatalities alike, Virtua Fighter’s strength lays not in what pugilistic purists may bemoan as gimmicks, but in a repertoire of over 700 moves derived from a variety of traditional martial arts, including boxing and wrestling; training is the key to success as much in the Virtua world as the real.
System: Atari ST
Developer: The Bitmap Brothers
Publisher: Image Works
Guest review courtesy of SweetMrGibs
For those of you who were too busy burning off your eyebrows with Bunsen burners to pay attention during science class, Xenon is an element within the Noble gas group of the periodic table. For a while it was considered to be chemically inert… Unlike the explosive Bitmap Brothers shoot‘em up which shares its name.
Chemistry lessons and tenuous links aside, if you’re as old as me, dear reader, you’ll remember that in 1988 mankind came under attack from a violent alien species known as Xenites. Unfortunately, at this point in history Apple had yet to develop the “Upload Virus to Alien Mothership” app and Jeff Goldblum was busy morphing into a fly. However, we came up with the ingenious plan to use the enemy’s strengths against them. You see, the first excimer laser design used a Xenon molecule. Xenon also happens to be the propellant for ion thrusters in – that’s right, spacecraft. And what does Lasers + Spacecraft equal? Why it’s the formula for turning Xenites into Ar-goners.
However, a year later the tenacious Xenites came up with a new, more cunning plan – a plan which involved wiping you – yes, you – from the very history of time! If you never existed, dear reader, you could never defeat them, right? I have no idea which Xenite came up with such an original idea, but hats off to them, they deserve a medal. Based on the above, I have either good news or bad news for you; if you completed Xenon 2:Megablast then congratulations, you beat one of the toughest shoot ’em ups of the era. However, if you gave up, well, I’m afraid it means that the Xenites succeeded in terminat* …killing you, and you were deleted from existence. I appreciate that this isn’t the sort of revelation you’d expect to find whilst reading a retro games review, but, well… there it is. Still,whilst you no longer actually exist, for the rest of us the Kardashians are a distinct reality, so – you know – swings and roundabouts.
Back in the early Eighties, the general perception of a hardcore role-player was a yellow fingered loner with a level five beard and a penchant for graph paper and Devenish ale. They’d rather roll a die in a darkened room than roll out of the pub at closing time. They were intimately familiar with the works of Tolkien long before Peter Jackson brought them into the public consciousness via the big screen (and they probably disapproved of the exclusion of Tom Bombadil). Dungeons and Dragons provided the ruleset for life, the anchor. Level 42 meant lessons in conjuring, not love and Necromancers were the height of fashion, not New Romantics.
This view was probably unfair – they’d simply chosen a form of escapism different to most others. And anyway, who’s to say what’s more acceptable; venturing to the local park for a game of football, or venturing into an imaginary dungeon looking for imaginary treasure? Regardless, things have changed in recent years… the modern gamer is as likely to pick up the latest Witcher release as they are FIFA 18 – Rooney Hair Transplant Edition. And it’s not just the Witcher series which has risen in popularity; Elder Scrolls, Dragon Age, Diablo, Mass Effect, Fallout – they have become as well-known as Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. So what changed? When did RPGs become a form of mainstream entertainment? Didn’t I get the parchment?
In the past RPGs were a niche market, outshone and over-whelmed by arcades and the games they spawned. Shoot-‘em ups and racers remained popular throughout the Eighties, but arcades didn’t lend themselves to the more complex nature of RPGs with their persistent stats and ponderous long-term gameplay. However, as gaming platforms became more powerful, they allowed developers to not only render beautifully crafted worlds, but flood them with life, mystery and virtual bodies.
System: Sega Megadrive /Genesis
To anyone with memories of the often cold and wet chore of the Great British paper round the digital recreation promised by Atari’s all-American Paper Boy is alluring. Grab your papers and hurtle along on a bmx throwing news-filled projectiles at your designated customers’ homes; apparently there’s none of your ‘actually walk up to the door and post the paper through the letterbox’ shenanigans for our Stateside cousins. Added to the thrill of (relatively) high-speed delivery is the positive encouragement to smash the windows of non-customers’ abodes, and to attack burglars, drunks, break-dancers, and wayward pets.
Despite the incredibly promising premise, Paperboy can be an insufferably frustrating experience, mainly due to the desperately uncontrollable nature of your protagonist’s transport; unlike a real bike the virtual incarnation proves harder to control with increasing velocity, forcing progress down to a snail’s pace to give a sporting chance of survival.
Whilst the coin-op sported a responsive handlebar controller (adapted from the Star Wars arcade machine’s analogue yoke), Tengen’s 1991 port of the 1985 Atari original is limited to the Megadrive’s lowly joypad; the resultant fight for directional precision engenders an experience making the execution of Ryu or Ken’s Dragon Punch seem simple in comparison.
Psychopaths in stadiums, bloodied steel struts for goalposts
If you wanted to sum up Speedball 2 in one sentence “Imagine playing a futuristic, ultra-violent Kick Off, or – even better, Sensi Soccer… on a pinball table” would be pretty accurate.
Released on the Atari ST and Amiga in 1987, The Bitmap Brother’s sequel to Speedball improved on every aspect of the smaller-scale original. The stadium was bigger, the action faster and more ferocious – even the soundtrack was catchier.
A rudimentary transfer system allowed you to improve your squad and, most importantly, there were more ways to score points; bumpers! multipliers! and, perhaps the most satisfying of all, injuring the opposition. Bring on the robo-medics! And whilst modern football games require you to memorise a dozen button combinations in order to perform a back-heel, all of the player actions in Speedball 2 could be achieved at the press of one. single. button. “PUNCH!” Press button 1. “THROW!” Press button 1. “BIGGER PUNCH!” Press button 1. Take note, PES developers.