08 Jan

2015
Nostalgia 64 Part 3 - Hand holding

My first handheld console wasn’t a Gameboy. In fact, I didn’t own a game boy until I was in my mid twenties, and by then the fad was long gone. No, it was actually a Game Gear. And more to the point, it was also the first video game console I owned.

And the reason for getting one is clear from the previous part in this series. I was in love with the SEGA games at the time and this was basically a portable Master System. More to the point, compared to the black and white ( or dark olive green and light olive green ) Gameboy¬†, there was no contest. I did have a choice, though. Either get a Game Gear or a Mega Drive. The Mega Drive, or Genesis for those not in England, was tempting but I couldn’t resist the allure of having something I could take with me to school. A Game Gear it was.

The Game Gear was a nice little handheld. It had the controls of the new Mega Drive, and also was a lot more rounded and well presented than the Master System was.

Game Gear

I can’t remember which games I actually owned other than Mickey Mouse’s Castle of Illusion. It wasn’t as pretty looking as the Mega Drive version, but it still did a good job. It was colourful and fun, and when I look at it now it just makes me think how even up to the 90s Mickey Mouse was still a popular figure - and he would last for a few more platform games too. I think there’s something endearing about a character who is as expressive as Mickey. I also never realized it but my two favourite platform characters’ names both had the initials MM - Mickey Mouse and Mario Mario. I’m a little tempted to play the remake of Castle Of Illusion now.

Another game I remember playing was Shinobi. Now this gets a bit confusing, because I remember playing Shinobi games later on other SEGA machines and none of them were at all like the one I played on the Game Gear. I seem to recall discovering that the Game Gear version was unique, and for some people it was the better version. I remember there being an epic battle against a helicopter, and being able to play as different coloured ninjas.

Sonic was a perfect game to play on the handheld. It played smoothly and seemed more fun in its own self contained device. There’s something more connective about playing that way, with the buttons either side of the screen. It feels more like you are the character you’re controlling. I’m curious to see if there are any games on the Wii U that will make me feel the same way, assuming any utilise the tablet in a similar way.

There was on huge problem with the Game Gear, though. The battery. It didn’t last long at all. I think it might have survived about a couple of hours if I was lucky. Plus, unlike modern devices, you couldn’t know exactly when it was going to die - only th...

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04 Jan

2015
Nostalgia 64 - Part 2 : Mastering the System

The 8 bit home computers weren’t the only 8 bit machines available at the time, though, and while I never owned one of the big two involved in that other Great Format War of the 1980s, I often look back at the SEGA Master System and the Nintendo Entertainment System with fond memories.

Time has been much kinder to the NES than the Master System, but I actually think I spent more time on SEGA’s machine than Nintendo’s, at the time at least.

I could go on for hours boring you about these old games, so I will. But I’ll try to keep it quiet.

The first difference between the two machines was the box art. SEGA’s box art was horrendous.

I mean, just look at it. Putting everything on a graph paper background makes me think of a mathematics lesson, which is not what a child needs to reminded of. But at least they underlined the words “Master System”, because otherwise we wouldn’t have known for sure.¬†

Land of Illusion

And that was one of the better looking examples of box art. Here’s another, just for comparison, that was drawn by a 5 year old.

outrun

Urrrnghh!

And yet, this ugly box art did achieve one thing. It did make it easy to spot the boxes out from the growing crowd of video games. When most people who ran electronics stores didn’t know the difference between the SEGAs, Nintendos and Commodores it helped to stand out. However, it didn’t help the games stand out from each other when lined up side by side.

NES box art in contrast was, well, just normal. In fairness, later Master System games did move away from the graph paper art.

Then there was the controller. Everyone knows the iconic NES controller, and for good reason. The Master System’s gamepad had no sense of style at all (they’d correct that with the Mega Drive/Genesis)

gamepad

At the time, since I didn’t own any of these machines and as far as I recall neither did any of my friends, I only got to play the games in the electronics store. Games were still a specialty thing, and most shops were more interested in selling big TVs, which at the time were as deep as they were wide, so took up a lot of store space. Still, some stores realized you could sell two things at once if you put the game on the TV.

The store I remember going to most was at a retail park just out of town. There was the big supermarket and then in another building was the electronics store. My mum would go shopping in the supermarket and I’d go to the store and just play games for an hour. I have this memory of the manager not minding that I was playing the g...

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03 Jan

2015
Nostalgia 64 - Part 1 b : Code was like Lego to me.

I was going to go straight into Part 2, but I thought there were a few things left unsaid about the Sinclair Spectrum, and also the C64. Namely, the fact that they came with a built in programming language. So I thought I’d digress and write a small piece about that.

Now, most people have never programmed in their life. You look at all this software and websites and games and it just looks so daunting. Plus, why would anyone want to program anyway?

When I got my first computer, programming wasn’t the first thing on my mind. Like modern children, I just wanted to play the games. However, almost every child who had one of those home computers experimented with a little code. Children love to explore the limits of interactions. Usually, that’s with toys, and my childhood was the same, but with programming it was no different. I would arrange my lines of if and print and input in so many ways and never make that much, but then I never exactly made the Statue of Liberty in Lego either.

After those 8 bit years, home computers stopped being bundled with programming languages. Or at least, they weren’t so in your face as they were back then. I think the last time I saw a programming language in a computer was on the Playstation 2. There was a C64 emulator, but it was sort of hidden away so you had to find it. Still, the thought was nice.

These days you have things like the Raspberry Pi, and lots of tools online aimed at kids that sort of do visual programming, but there’s something missing. Again, they’re great at what they do, but you have to hunt them down. It’s not the same as turning on your computer screen and being presented with a little prompt and deciding to write a small program instead of just typing Run.

I actually think Minecraft has done more for introducing children to programming than anything else in the last two decades. It opened up their possibilities and scripting is only a small step away. Just seeing my nephews try and create things with that is fascinating.

I just think that if programming was as in your face on every console the way it was on those old home computers we might all open our minds creatively a bit more.

Anyway, to end my rant, if I were to wish for one impossible thing, it would be that all the big console manufacturers would include a programming language tool, even if it’s silly old BASIC, built in, easily accessible and visible, right from the start. When you’re done playing the latest games, and you are looking for something new, maybe you would click that big button on your start screen and maybe you would discover how much fun programming can be. And maybe you just might make something wonderful from it.

image

Just look at it… It’s begging you to type something. Anyt...

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02 Jan

2015
Nostalgia 64 - Part 1 : 8 bits and less.

It`s been a long time since I posted anything on tumblr, and since I`ve recently experienced a wave of nostalgia while developing my own game and receiving a brand new Nintendo Wii U, I decided to revisit my past and explore what brought me here through a life of video games in a piece I’ll call Nostalgia 64 for no reason other than because it sounds cool.

It all began many years ago at my cousins’ house. They had one of those Pong type video game machines. I can`t remember if it was the real thing or not, but I had so much fun trying to score as many points as possible bouncing a crude white square against my rectangular paddle. We`d sit really close to the television and, despite the simple gameplay and graphics, be entertained for hours. The other game we had fun with was a driving game. One of those silly little plastic things where you steer the wheel and the track was probably a rotating piece of plastic with lights to make it feel cool and high tech. There were enough loud sounds, flashing lights and interactions that it still kept me entertained. It was a while before I had my own games machine, though.

image

I might have had a game and watch at one point. They were all the rage in the schoolyard and were a lot of fun. Like all games back then, they were furiously difficult. The enemies or collectibles got faster and faster and that increased the difficulty. But all these machines were throwaway things and never really engaged me or fascinated me enough. That happened when I got my first computer.

I`m a bit fuzzy on the details, and some of this might be in the wrong order, but I remember we had some BBC Micros at school. As far as I know, they were nothing to do with the broadcasting corporation, and instead just clunky computers with even clunkier monitors that were coloured a delicious shade of cream and had shiny black keys that looked like they could have been the offspring of a typewriter. I had no idea what I was doing with them, but I would sometimes use the paint program or some mathematics software - that much I recall. Somehow I got singled out as one of the kids who was clever enough to use them - I don`t think even the teachers knew how back then.

My mother learned about this, along with news of some small event in Croydon where a bunch of smart kids would do stuff on computers. She took me there and I got to play my first adventure game. I`ve no idea what the game was, but it was a text adventure and might have had images at some of the locations. We might have even done a bit of programming. Either way, the person organizing the event somehow influenced my mother to get me a computer of my own, so we went to the Tandy store back home and brought my first computer - A Sinclair Spectrum 128K, or Speccy as owners would call it.

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17 Jul

2013
New DAME game

Congratulations on Player Three for yet another game made with DAME. This time it’s Nom Nation and is a side scrolling platform game where eating food is the big mechanic. What you eat changes what you can do, and it’s an award winner on the PSN store as well.

Also, I just discovered that Anodyne, the Zelda like adventure game made with DAME, is now available on Steam, having successfully passed their Greenlight program. Since there’s a Steam sale going on now would probably be a good time to buy!

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