Thursday, 29 July 2010

The Game That Came With Handlebars

Picture the scene; a thirteen year old enters a busy games arcade filled to the brim with popular cabinets with a fistful of 10p pieces given to him by a pestered mother. All the usual suspects are lined against the wall - Space Invaders, Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Frogger while a few pinball tables lay back like easy women trying to seduce you with lights and bells. But something isn't right. These machines which are normally surrounded by young scallywags, fighting for their turn are quiet. As ignored as water in a brewery.
Suddenly the teenager sees a crowd in the far corner and as soon as they thin out, spots the reason for the tumbleweeds in other parts of the arcade. There is a game with a bicycle's HANDLEBARS acting as its controls! No joystick or buttons, just regular handlebars reserved usually for bikes. Well that thirteen year old was me when I first clapped almost disbelieving eyes on Atari's superb Paperboy cabinet, pictured below.

It was quite a sight, especially when you consider that gimmicks like this didn't come around as often as they do now. The early eighties is when videogames started to get cool and it was a fantastic time to grow up in and be part of. Im truly grateful I was there.
The game itself (when I finally got to it after the mob died down) was a simple enough challenge. Choose a street - EASY, NORMAL or HARD - then steer the paperboy along the pavements while throwing newspapers into customers' mailboxes and throwing them THROUGH non customers' windows. Or you could hurl them at the numerous obstacles that stood in your way like drunks, kids on go karts, speeding cars and even the grim reaper! On Easy Street life was well ....EASY but getting from Monday to Friday on HARD took a lot more skill. (And a dash of luck.)
At the end of the street, providing you made it that far, was a training course where you had to jump over ramps and fling your papers at giant targets. Successfully complete this and paperboy was greeted with an applauding audience with one of them holding up a sign that bore the legend 'I Luv Paperboy.' Im not sure exactly why but that is one of my favourite gaming clips. Weird huh? But still, ignoring my strange taste, Paperboy remains one of my beloved arcade games and cabinet.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The Four Aces Of Thrash

The early 1980s saw the emergence of thrash metal and four bands took it by the studded lapels gave it a mighty case of Whiplash. They were of course Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth and each one has created classic albums and inspired a million bands. Who could argue with albums like Master Of Puppets (Metallica), Reign In Blood (Slayer), Among The Living (Anthrax) and Peace Sells (Megadeth)? Certainly nobody with even the slightest appreciation of metal music would.
Fantastic albums every one and of course those are just skimming the surface because each band has a great arsenal of songs in their back catalogues. I have been a fan of them all since the beginning and its been a privilege to grow up with them. Having my bedroom walls get smothered with more and more posters, faithfully buying Kerrang! every week and Metal Hammer each month to soak up the news and the delight of travelling to HMV in Swansea whenever one of them released a new album. Good times people, the best.
I suppose arguments could be made to include Testament and make it a Big Five and I can see where people are coming from when they say this because no doubt about it, Testament are a fantastic band with brilliant albums. They have been stalwarts in the thrash scene forever but if an argument can be made for Testament then surely Over Kill or Nuclear Assault and a slew of other cool thrash bands could be considered also? So no, as much as I am a fan of Chuck Billy and company, I like the Big Four as it is and not being a Big Five.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

The Stabby Stabby Beret

One of the early games to get me hooked was Konami's 1985 hit Green Beret. My God I LOVED this title, adored it and would slobber over it just as I do over high heels and Jagermeister now that im that bit older. The game itself simply involved running through levels as an elite soldier (a Green Beret natch) killing Russians as you go in order to save POWs at the end. But everything from the cassette cover depicting a charging soldier (see top photo) to watching the enemy disintegrate into running skeletons from a blowtorch blast drew me in making me play until my fingerpads almost bled. I was always a button control guy, joysticks were not too accurate for me.
It was quite the looker in its day and steaming around stabbing everything that was unfortunate enough to run into your path was VERY satisfying. The characters were solid enough looking and those wintery backgrounds were very nice. And who can forget the alarm siren at the beginning? It still takes me back to Christmas in the mid 80s when I play today. Which is what the stand out games did of course, they not only stand the test of time in terms of playability but they wind the cogs back as if a quarter of a century was last week.
Yes there were loading times (and times when it wouldn't load at all) but who cared? Certainly I didn't because I was too busy 'limbering up' my fingers in anticipation of yet another marathon stab stab session. Frustration was almost non existant in youth and it never once bothered me when it took repeated turns to open up another level. And on reflection Green Beret's stages weren't THAT long so my gaming skills (or lack thereof) were to blame there.
It would be fantastic if today we could recapture some of the excitement we had from playing in those days. I will never forget the thrill of seeing this title on the shop shelf and swiping at it like a rattlesnake at a cowboy's heel before rushing home and waiting impatiently while it loaded. Loading times were brilliant and as much of the gaming as the gaming itself back in the day.
It is safe to say that Green Beret was one of my biggest gaming moments and stabbing kung fu kicking Russians as they fly into you has never felt so grand.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Skate & Thrash

I was a big skateboard fan back in the day (around 1987 - 1991) and even better the scene merged into the thrash metal world which made for exciting times to both skaters and moshers alike. You can see how each scene complimented each other, both being pumped up, energetic and adrenaline fuelled. Thrash music was the perfect soundtrack to skateboarding and at the time there were lots of cool bands to ride the pipe and ramps to.
I have one of my old vinyl thrash compilation records in front of me as I type and looking at some of the band names brings a slew of memories racing back; Gang Green, Mucky Pup, Toxik, Stormtroopers Of Death, D.R.I., Znowhite, Sacred Reich and Atrophy to drop just a few classic bombshells. It was good times shredding the streets with these guys blasting out of a propped up ghettoblaster, the music pushing us further into attempting higher acid drops (skating off high ledges) and better ollies.
These years are meshed into my mind in glorious detail and it was truly a golden era of thrash and skate scenes. I used to love drawing band logos onto the wooden ramps, and in a sense it contributed to my creativity. Copying the artwork made me want to do my own stuff and so followed some interesting (and morbid) creations.
God how I wish I could shred the streets like I used to with S.O.D on my tail like a rabid, killer puppy from the moshpit! But alas my skatboarding days are over, apart from the odd occasion when I dig out an old board and do a few laps of the living room. And one things for sure, skating helped to forge a truly powerful heart in my chest that beats loudly for the good old days.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Iron Maiden - One Of Britain's Greats

The cover which started an amazing journey

Iron Maiden are a band that need no introduction. They have been on the metal scene since almost the beginning, consistently releasing fantastic albums and artwork and pulling off amazing live shows. They are true music legends (a word that gets thrown about like cheap confetti at times but not today) and I have been a fan since Day One, when I first noticed their debut album on cassette in WHSmiths with the bands mascot Eddie seeming to order me to 'buy me! Buy me now!'
After turning on my 10 year old charms and begging my mother for the money I came home, pressed PLAY and instantly turned into a Maiden fan.
In fact I had a fantastic introduction to the Heavy Metal world owing to the fact that the first albums I ever bought were Iron Maiden's debut, Kiss - Destroyer, Ozzy - Bark At The Moon and AC/DC - High Voltage which are all classics, able to turn anyone into a mosh baby. But back to Eddie's guys.
I have come to look upon the band as one of the engines of Heavy Metal, taking the music, OUR music, onward with each generation. If Heavy Metal was a temple, Iron Maiden would be one its mighty columns holding it all in place and the anthems played would include the bands classic after classic songs. And boy do they have some songs to choose from! Iron Maiden must have one of the strongest back catalogue of any band in existence. Truly. How about these ditties; The Trooper, Number Of The Beast, Iron Maiden, Aces High, Wasted Years, Can I Play With Madness?, Wrathchild, Running Free. And im only skimming the surface there. I could pick ANY one of their albums and be sure to find a classic tune or three, if only we ignore the silly hic-up they had when they temporarily replaced Bruce (but less said about that the better.)
It wasn't just about the music either. Whenever the band released a new album I would rush and get it on tape or vinyl (cds didn't exist when Maiden started) and just drool over whatever cool cover their artist Derek Riggs had come up with next. Vinyl was best being the biggest thus showing off every stroke of Riggs' work with even more detail. Good thing too because the artist always included little things in Iron Maiden album covers that weren't seen with the first look. A good example being on Somewhere In Time with its futuristic theme and the 'Aces High Bar' and West Ham winning football score. Neat little touches which were often missed on first glance. Buying a new Maiden release always brought its ritual to me of soaking up the art then getting immersed in the lucious rock melodies.
The gigs were brilliantly done. I mean how could any fan not get thrilled at seeing a giant Eddie appear midway through the set and loom over Bruce or bassist Steve Harris as they churned out another live hit? As ive said, it all made for an excellent package and hasn't aged one bit. Maiden is a timeless beast.
Naming my favourite album is something ive tried before and failed because of the wealth of material on offer, but definately Piece Of Mind and Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son are strong contenders. But then I think of Number Of The Beast and Powerslave and I soon find myself having a change of mind. Iron Maiden is all kinds of Awesome, and yes Awesome with a capital A.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Ghost n' Goblins - The Heroes Game

It is fitting that I begin this blog with two firsts; Ghosts n' Goblins and Iron Maiden. (Altho Eddie's guys will appear in the next post, this ones all for Sir Arthur.) This game wasn't my first played, those were Oric 1 titles like Rat Splat!, but it was most definately the first game to make an impact on my bowl haircutted model way back in 1985. (Haircutted? A word? It should be.)
The story of Capcoms unforgetable classic was simple; Sir Arthur must rescue Princess Prin Prin, who has been kidnapped by non other than that pesky Satan, King of Demon World. Go get him Sir Arthur!
Blocking your path to glory were hoardes of zombies, ogres and lethal crows (amongst other foul creatures) and this was a one hit, one kill affair, meaning if you were touched (oo-er!) by a foe you were killed straight. No health packs or rations for us gamers in the 1980's, or at least for this bearded knight. Actually thats not entirely correct because the first touch stripped you to you underpants (there's that oo-er again) which had you fighting the undead on screen while much hilarity ensued OFF it.
It was an amazing game and all these years later I still fire it up to pass a few hours. And you know something? Ive still yet to complete it. 25 years on, a quarter of a century, 25 friggin' years of sweat and vile cursing and im still nowhere near beating this game. I completed Metal Gear Solid in a DAY!? Pfft Solid Snake? Sir Arthur would have him for breakfast. A nice, big, gruff voiced, smoky lipped, rationed-to-the-gills breakfast. And have enough room for Ocelot dessert.
There was a bunch of things which made Ghosts n' Goblins fab for me, things which even after all these years are still stamped on my Jagermeister drenched mind. The white ogres with studded wristbands and red heart tattoos for example. I remember really taking a shine to those, amazed that Capcom would be so detailed in character design. Hey don't snigger! Red heart tattoos were like this generations water effects in that most games designers either bodged it or skipped it completely.
There was something cool about those ogres which made me fight all the harder to reach the levels they inhabitated just so that I could wallow in their awesomeness. (Another word that should be if it already isn't.)
Then there was the zombies themselves which from the very start had you delighted in the way they emerged from their pixelated graves and arms outsretched, staggered to halt you in your tracks. In fact those zombies still look great today, so chunky and well drawn and the blue tattered suits went well with the grey skin.
And those flying devils weren't too shabby either and rated highly on my young in-built horror radar which most boys have between ages 12 to 15. (And some never lose.) I liked they way they flitted about in the air ahead of you, enticing you into a good old scrap which inevitably ended with a lance in his winged ass.
Which brings us nicely onto the subject of weapons on offer. There were the lethal spears (or lances? I could never decide which) and daggers that felt oddly satisfying to throw but everyone avoided picking up those dreadful fireballs. If there was anything broken with Ghosts n' Goblins it was those balls of fire. As soon as the player picked up the flaming power up (or power down in this case) they quickly spent the next five minutes hoping for the dagger to appear. The fire balls were next to useless as they fizzled through the air, only to flop just a few feet ahead of Sir Arthur like golden snowballs. Bad fire!
Still you can overlook that minor niggle when the rest of the game is such class, and for me (and a lot of gamers) to still be playing it 25 years on is all the proof needed that Ghost n' Goblins is pure retro gaming gold.