Friday, 13 August 2010

The Great Aftertouch Debate

(or, How Beer Invented Motion Control)

At University we only ever played videogames whilst drunk. And we only had two games on our old house Sega Megadrive (Genesis): Micro Machines and a football game whose name is lost in the mists of time and alcohol. But this potent mixture of Sega football and cheap drink did help us ‘invent’ motion control.

Let me explain.

Most gaming sessions in our house at university took place on nights when we were too broke to go out to the pub. We’d long ago discovered that, for a few pounds, you could buy four cans of cheap Lager (which oddly was branded Lager Lager in Asda) and a big bottle of nasty pear wine, made local to Canterbury, called Perry. The resulting mixture hardly ever resulted in blindness - which was handy when you’re gaming.

Our libations taken care of, the crusty old Megadrive would be gently coaxed to life, and after a few rounds of Micro Machines, we’d move on to the main event: the football (soccer) game. It was an international tournament game, and Sega’s racial stereotype department had clearly been burning the midnight oil. Israel’s Manny Steinberg would face off regularly against Ireland’s ginger Johnny Joyce. In retrospect, the names were probably the most amusing aspect of the game.

As the night wore on, and the Perry/ Lager combo flowed, the player would often start making curious motions with the Megadrive controller after they’d fired a shot. At first it was just drunken enthusiasm, but soon shots that should never have gone in started to ripple the pixels at the back of the net. After a few weeks, it was de-rigeur for some players to move the controller around in the air after placing a shot.

We called it ‘Aftertouch’.

But like all good seats of learning, debate was part of life at our university, and there was much discourse on the actual efficacy and even existence of ‘Aftertouch’. The believers insisted that inside the Megadrive’s control pad, there was some device that detected movement and allowed you to guide the ball. The heretics completely denied the possibility of this device’s existence, instead insisting that it was merely a drunken illusion in a random universe. As an agnostic, I chose to deny the existence of the technology, but continued the practice of ‘Aftertouch’ (when no-one was looking). As seasoned university men, we all agreed to disagree. Each man was free to follow his conscience in regard to the mystery of ‘Aftertouch’.

But, I would like to think that in those hazy gaming sessions, we invented the concept of motion control. Only to have those believers over at Nintendo, led by His Holiness Pope Miyamoto himself, adopt our idea. Maybe ‘Aftertouch ‘ missionaries had crossed the oceans to bring the word to the unbelievers across the sea. Maybe their shrunken heads adorn to this day adorn the walls of Sony and Sega. But clearly the good word had spread around the globe.

(Perry however only remains popular within a 5 mile radius of the Asda supermarket in Canterbury)

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The Great C90 Tape Swindle

It was larceny. Well, more likely fraud. Or maybe it was just a very broke school child with a cunning plan that involved some type-in games listings, a biro and some blank tapes C90 audio tapes.

Let me explain.

It was 1984 and I was desperate to get rid of my Sinclair ZX81 (if you’re in the USA you probably knew it as a Timex brand computer). The computer, which had amazed me just a year earlier, was now nothing but an embarrassment. I didn’t even have a working tape recorder to load games with (nor could I afford the games). If I wanted some computer gaming fun, it meant sitting down with a type-in programme, and slavishly copying the sacred text from the book to the computer, like some medieval monk who was desperate to play Space Invaders. Not fun. Not a cherished retro memory.

I tried selling the ZX81 through various news agents’ window advert, but nobody wanted my little black Sinclair doorstop. And in those days I really did need the money, as my pocket money wasn’t enough to buy games for my ‘new’ Vic 20 (and I was too young to get a Saturday job).

But how to sell an obsolete computer with no games?

A few weeks later at school, the class soap dodger (let’s call him...actually best leave it at Soap Dodger) got wind that I wanted to sell my ZX81. Got many games? He asked. Oh yer – stacks, I lied. And so, holding my nose, I arranged for him to come around at the weekend, half realising he probably just wanted come around and play at my house.

That Saturday I got up early, and typed in the best game listing I could find. That was part one of my plan. Part two was to connect the broken tape recorder to the computer to make it look like I’d just loaded it in to the ZX81. And part three – the really cunning bit – was to get a pile of cheap blank tapes and write fake game names on them. Generic names like Space Trek, Munch Mate and Road Hopper. You get the idea. And so I piled the tapes with the ‘games’ on by the computer.

Soap dodger arrived.

Soap dodger played the great game I had just ‘loaded’.

Soap dodger was impressed by the 20 or so games that came with the computer.

I had a sale. Oh joyful day.

But of course it came at a price. A few days later Soap Dodger came up to me in the playground and seemed upset. Apparently none of the ‘games’ would load. I offered some excuses. Perhaps the tape head needed adjusting? Perhaps he needed to tighten the tapes? Maybe the tape leads were loose?

With excuses like these I could have saved the iPhone 4’s reputation.

Sorry Soap Dodger, I did you wrong.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Welcome Retronauts

Great...another blog about old games.

Well, not quite.  Seeing as the good people at places like Retro Gamer magazine have the games covered, this blog is something a little different.  

As the title suggests, these postings will be about all the things swirled around the classic games of your childhood.  The magazines.  The television programmes.  The freebies in game boxes.   Anything that defined gaming of yesteryear, but not the actual games themselves.  Dive in and enjoy.