Memories of an Old School Gamer
The8BitBear takes a long, long walk down memory lane and remembers the games that uplifted, frustrated and kept him gaming for the past 30 years. Yes, he really is an OLD school gamer!
What does gaming mean to you? Perhaps you’re thinking about the Xbox One or PS4 in your living room; perhaps the Switch that occupies your commute; or maybe that powerhouse PC in your den. Whilst these modern systems take pride-of-place in many a gamer’s life; some of us fondly remember the gaming systems of old.
The Atari, Commodore, Master System, Game Gear, NES; these systems, amongst others, may have seen their glory days come and go, but they paved the way for the current generation and deserve to be remembered.
I’m a huge fan of retro games. Anything that emulates the style and feel of the games I grew up with fills me with deep nostalgia and transports me back in time to when I was a little boy, begging my mum “PLEEEEEASE just 10 more minutes?!”
Now, I want to take you back in time with me to experience gaming as I have over the past 30 years. You’re in for a long, wild ride… so buckle up!
My first gaming experience was at Christmas when I was seven years old. Under our garishly-decorated tree was one box larger than the rest; and it was for me. Tearing the paper off excitedly, I was confronted with something called a Sinclair ZX Spectrum. I hadn’t asked for it and I had no idea what it was; but my father seemed overly excited and so I smiled broadly and masked my confusion. Father went on to explain that this was a computer that we could play games on and he would help me set it up and show me how to use it. Years later it dawned on me that maybe this wasn’t a present for me at all but for him.
The Spectrum opened my eyes to gaming. I remember the excitement of buying Crash magazine each weekend; just to get the attached cassette tape that had a collection of new games on it (before downloads, CDs and cartridges, games were loaded onto computers by playing a cassette tape!). It makes me laugh when people moan about long loading screens today.. Imagine the utter frustration of sitting and waiting for 20 minutes, only for the load to crash, requiring you to restart the process. This was my reality and possibly led to the very earliest recorded occurrence of ‘rage quitting’!
When, eventually, the games did load, I was treated to a fiesta of bright, multi-coloured pixels and 8-bit sound.
Games like Manic Miner, Back to Skool and Jet Set Willy would keep me entertained for hours as I attempted to master them..
Looking back, I honestly feel that some of these games were the most frustrating and difficult ever created. Before the internet became commonplace, fixing bugs in a game post-release was rare. Glitches, dodgy controls, the absence of any save function combined with my lack of skill resulted in me never once completing a single Spectrum game. If rumours of a Spectrum handheld ever turn out to be true, this is a situation I may, one day, be able to rectify.
My first upgrade was when I was bought my Nintendo Entertainment System (the NES) for my tenth birthday. This time round, I knew what it was, I knew what it did and, more importantly, (because my parents had separated by this time) I knew that this was just for me!
I won’t easily forget the first time I got to play with my NES. After school on that day I was allowed three friends over to play the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles game that came with the console. My mum’s rules were fair but strict: we would all take turns and when we died we would pass the controller to the next person to play. As it was my birthday I got to go first. I began to play, adrenaline pumping, eyes glued to the screen. Then, 30 seconds into the game, I died.
I don’t know where I learnt this word; I’d never used it before; but the annoyance of having my turn over so quickly was too much for me. I slowly turned to face my mum, who was standing with her mouth hanging open, her eyes wide. The console was instantly turned off, I was banned from playing with it for two weeks, and my friends were extremely angry at me. I never swore in front of my mum again until I had left home at 18. When I was eventually allowed to play again I quickly became aware of one massive improvement that the NES had over the Spectrum. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the graphics, but the loading times. Plug-and-play cartridges transported me instantly to alternative worlds.
My gaming skills hadn’t much improved over the three years I’d been playing and games like Bart Simpson and the Space Mutants and Super Mario Bros continued to dangle their elusive end-game screens just beyond my reach! The really cool thing that I loved about the NES were the peripherals. Playing with a controller for the first time rather than an awkward joystick was more comfortable and felt more responsive. I never got hold of the cool little robot you could plug in, and I never even got to see the elusive ‘POWER GLOVE’; but I remember my cousin being bought Duck Hunt and the laser gun that came with that. It blew my mind that somehow a television could tell where I was pointing this gun and firing, blowing the brains out of countless ducks as they tried to escape.
My next console was to forever change my perspective on gaming. Up to this point I could walk away from whatever game I was playing; I could still enjoy going outside, kicking a ball about or just going for a bike ride. The Sega Megadrive, changed everything. I feel this was the point in my life where I became a real gamer. I feel as though this is my favourite console and it had some of the best games I’ve ever played. My favourite game series debuted on the Megadrive, and it came with the original Sonic the Hedgehog game, the first videogame I ever finished despite the use of a cheeky cheat or two. I think this is why I always looked at the speedy, blue haired critter as my gaming mascot over the likes of Mario, Donkey Kong or Pac-Man.
I skipped a generation of consoles by not getting a Master System; so the graphic update from the NES to the Megadrive was huge. I remember playing games like Ecco the Dolphin and Streets of Rage and thinking how awful the original Mario game looked in comparison. The addition of finally being able to save progress on some games was also a welcome feature, especially considering that games were becoming longer and had more content.
It was around this time that video rental stores began to see the potential income in hiring out computer games as well as the latest blockbuster movies, and I remember being allowed to rent one game each weekend as a treat. I think this worked well for both me and my parents; as I got to play something different each week and they didn’t need to fork out copious amounts of cash buying me new titles. This was how I discovered a game that is, even now, probably my favourite game of all time. Shining Force was the sequel to Sega’s Shining in the Darkness dungeon crawler. It’s a turn-based RPG and the first game that really made me feel in control of everything. I know I had control over what I was doing in other games: moving around, firing a gun etc, but this game allowed me to put my own team of heroes together from a vast selection, it let me position them in battles, and decide whether to crush my foes through an array of spells or weapons. The tactical elements of this game, along with the cool art style, amazing music and cinematic cut scenes, really drew me in and I fell in love. I would rent it every weekend for months and months. I asked and begged my parents to buy me the game but I never got my own copy until I saved up my pocket money and saw a classified in my local paper for someone selling it.
Shining Force was followed by the imaginatively titled Shining Force 2 and Shining Force 3, the later of which broke the hearts of many diehard fans due to being made in three parts and only the first being released outside of Japan. Shining Force was remade for the Game Boy Advance; but I never played that. I guess I was too attached to the original that a remake made me feel a little sour. Even today I still play this game regularly, sometimes even streaming it. I know it inside and out, and have completed it many, many times; but it still always gives me hours and hours of enjoyment.
My love of Sega continued as I moved on to owning a Sega Saturn, my first console that used discs instead of cartridges. I felt a little disappointed with the Saturn and I don’t remember owning too many games for it. The games, while progressive and fun, couldn’t live up to the enjoyment that I got from the previous Sega console. Titles like Tomb Raider, Grandia and Burning Rangers were interesting and innovative in their own unique ways, but none of them grabbed my attention over games that I was beginning to play on my newly acquired N64. I wasn’t alone with this feeling, and it is widely recognised that the Saturn heralded the decline and eventual end of Sega’s console line. Their follow-up, the Dreamcast, was a commercial failure.
The N64 is the console that reminds me of my years at high school. I didn’t get my own until about a year after its release, but a few of my friends had them from the start and they introduced me to the excitement of multiplayer gaming. The fact that four people could play together on the same system was innovative and exciting. My favourite was Goldeneye 007. I hadn’t really delved much into playing games with other people until this point and had seen gaming as a lonely pastime; spent in a darkened room, telling others to sod off as you concentrated on jumping from platform to platform. However, Goldeneye 007 showed me that gaming could be and, in my opinion, should be, something spent doing with other people (even if that revolves around being the annoying Oddjob, slapping your opponents in the shins). The PvP element of this game brought a level of unpredictability compared to the mundane, repetitive pathing of AI abominations in most titles, and this created a whole new challenge to overcome. Another amazing N64 game that comes to mind was Zelda Ocarina of Time.
This is the only Zelda game I have ever played, and, in my defence, I completed it without cheating and do rate it as a really good title. I think this was the first time that I felt that open world aspect in a game. Although not technically a proper open world game, I remember thinking how cool it was to roam around on my horse in the open fields between different sections of the game. The choice of entering various different locations, not being forced one way or another was really refreshing and I feel this is where my love for open world games stems from.
My life of gaming has continued to be equal parts frustrating and inspiring; and has brought some amazing people into my life. I went on to dabble with the short-lived Dreamcast, then moved out of the crumbling world of Sega and into that of Sony which saw me working my way through a PS2 and PS3 before settling into PC gaming. Although I now enjoy my time spent exploring the vast lands in World of Warcraft, praising the sun in Dark Souls and looting buried treasure in Sea of Thieves, I don’t think I will ever create such vivid and long-lasting memories as I did with the games of my youth. Who knows, when I’m old and wrinkly (though some say I’m already there!) I might look back on Far Cry 5 and think to myself blimey, look how far we have come.