Saturday, October 13, 2012

Video Games: Childhood games

In this list, I don't want to bring up all the games I played as a child. There would be too many of them. I want to focus on the first games I ever played. That also means that I can only refer to very old consoles. Only in some cases am I really sure those games are among the first I ever played. In other cases, it's just very old games that may not be the very first ever played by me.

World Grand Prix (Master System)

This game is, without any doubt, the first video game I ever played. Even more astonishing for me is that I even remember first playing it. It was my dad who played these sorts of games when I was too young to know what they are. One day, he allowed me to play the game after watching him play.
My dad was impressed that I knew how to change gears just by hearing the engine sound go high. So I figured it out really fast. But I was still very young so I crashed heavily most of the times, and it was against my nature as a child to acknowledge that braking the car in corners actually makes you faster in the long run.

 The game was pretty good for a game released as far back as 1986. Man.... just think about it. 1986. That was a time when drivers still died in F1. Michael Schumacher was only 17 years old back then.

Well, back to the game. It features real tracks (on the left, you can see the map of the Fuji Speedway), although the design is kind of repetitve, so you only see road and a little background. There are some variations, for example, when you go to Zandvoort (Netherlands), you see the typical wind mills in the background... as if that is everything people associate with that country.

Then there is the editor function. When I used it, it was the first time in my life that I figured out I was a creative person. I loved making up my own race tracks. You can choose straights, different types of corners, and in the end your course has to end where it started. Then you can race on it.

When you score points (back then, you only reached points if you were at least 6th), you can buy upgrades with these points, which puts a managerial aspect to the game. Tyres are less expensive than a new engine, but the engine will give you more of an advantage. Nice game, especially nice back when it came out, as it has a lot more options than other games.

Yars' Revenge (Atari)

As you may know, many Atari games are endless, so you are only hunting points all the way until you get tired. This game is no exception. You are some sort of space ship (and you can only tell by the cartridge it's supposed to be an insect) and must destroy.... something. Your guess is as good as mine.
Since Atari games had the worst graphics of all (and the console was older than the stuff Sega and Nintendo later came up with), the manuals of these games were full of imagery and vivid stories to get you into the mood.

I can't say much about the game. You must first destroy the brown shield that protects the enemy. Once in a while, you can fire a deadly shot. The enemy can also shoot at you, and it can fire some kind of nazi swastika (that's how it looks). You are able to hide in a safety zone (weird colours) where you can't shoot but can't be hurt either.

Millipede (Atari)

The cartridge of the game is way cooler than the game itself. You are a millipede (or rather, a block) that can shoot stuff. The only thing I really remember from this game is that I learned from it that "TNT" means dynamite.

Kids nowadays are so spoiled with good games but they don't know how lucky they are because it's only "old" people like me who will tell them about the dark ages.

TransBot (Master System)

 This is also another space ship game, and it's also endless, although I always thought as a child that there must be an ending. Your ship is flying from left to right constantly, so the screen always moves, and many different creatures attack you. They usually fly in various formations that you should identify so you know where everything is moving to. If you are too slow, you get hit by either the creatures or its projectiles, which causes damage and later a life.

There is a creative element put in by the programmers. Once in a while, a small van is driving at the bottom of the screen.

You shoot the van and a bubble appears. It wobbles across the screen and you must quickly fly into it before it's too late. Then the letters A to F are flipping at the top of the screen. Once you press the fire button, the flipping stops and your space ship transforms into another shape with different weaponry. Sometimes the ship has a very strong shot, other times a very large laser beam, and yet other times the shot also goes backwards, or scatters in front of you like spray. Then there is sometimes a big robot that you must defeat.

Eventually, you die, because you will be caught by surprise. That happens a lot when something comes up from behind after everything else so far has been coming from the right side of the screen.

Hang On (Master System)

 I didn't play this game a lot. My dad played it and I watched. It's like a time trial thing. You race on a bike, the scenery changes, it gets night, it gets day, and you go past check points.

If you're too slow, your race is over. And don't crash into anything or anyone.

Alex Kidd: High-Tech World (Master System)

Before Sonic was invented, Alex Kidd was the mascot of Sega. But he was too unimpressive to challenge Nintendo's Mario, so his video game series died off in the 90s.

Alex Kidd: High Tech World is an interesting game and somehow unique. You are a prince in a castle who wants to go to the video game arcade somewhere in a different town. Your parents don't want you to go, so you must figure out your own way to get out of the castle.

That means you must first get pieces of a map that was torn to pieces, then get a paraglider, then get to the arcade through the forest.

In the first half of the game, it's all about you walking around your big castle. There are dozens of rooms you can visit and many secrets you must uncover. Every time you enter and leave a room, time passes. If you spend too much time searching for clues, you lose the game - game over!

There are also some deadly traps you must avoid. There is a knight armor hanging in one room. If you put on the armor, you are suddenly unable to move because it's too heavy - game over!

If you switch on the broken computer in another room, it gives you a fatal electric shock - game over!

If you talk to your dad too many times, he sends you to your room as punishment - game over!

If you walk down the staircase that is damaged, you break your neck - game over!

What makes the game really interesting is that it's educational and skill-improving in a playful way. Sometimes you have to remember people's names, other times you have to answer a teacher's questions ("how many bones does the human body have" etc.) and sometimes you have to come up with your own problem-solving abilities or just make a good guess. I think this game really helped me become a little more logical.

The second part of the game, just to bring it up, is an entirely different thing. Suddenly, it's a jump and run, you must evade ninja stars and jump from tree to tree. Finally you reach the town with the arcade. But in order to enter, you must finish one task. Either you must be there very early, or pray at the altar a hundred times, or something else. So there's even different ways to finish the game.

Asterix (Master System)

There is even video footage of me playing this game as a child. I was a little impatient at times, but it's funny to see how the problem-solving skills develop when playing this game.
This Asterix game has many levels, and on top of that, you can play each level with either Obelix or Asterix, and accordingly, the level is totally different. However, once you have decided for a character, you must finish the level with the character you chose and can't choose again.

You can also enter a bonus stage with the dog that belongs to Obelix if you collect enough bones from the romans. Yeah, those poor romans. They only exist for being beaten to death.

I like the level design, it's very different from stage to stage and colourful. When I last played this game in my mid-20s, I was not good enough to finish it.

Enduro Racer (Master System)

Yeah, another racing game. Back then, there was not really much else to do.

Enduro Racer has some decent music and different levels. In each level, you must pass as many opponent bikes or cars as possible. In the end, you get points for your efforts. If you do well, you can buy upgrades for your bike (just like in World Grand Prix) so things go easier. Your bike likes to jump over hills, and if you add upgrades like engine or suspension, you go around hopping like a grasshopper without even touching the road any more. It's hilarious.

Sonic the Hedgehog (Game Gear)

 Okay, this was obviously in the 90s and not one of the very first games I played, but. the first Sonic game marked the beginning of another great video game series. The music was already good and it was a nice jump and run game.

Even though the game is a little aged now and Sonic has a lot more skills nowadays, this is a classic.

The challenging part here is also to connect emeralds that are hidden in every level. I never found them all. Whatever.

Then there is this bad guy, Dr. Robotnik, also called Eggman. He put living animals into robots. Why? I don't know. It's the way it is.

His inventions are crazy and he always flies around in his Egg, a UFO kind of thing. If you have seen the Street Fighter movie with Jean-Claude van Damme, you have most probably seen a similar flying object used by the bad guy there.

I don't think it would make sense to add more games. This was just to show you what some of the first games were. There is more to come later.