Archive | March 2011

Gaming Consoles, Past to Present

So, following my blog about remembering the computers that I used to have, here’s a similar piece about consoles. Game playing was always a big part of life, when i was younger and I suspect it was the same for the majority of the people reading this. Aside from home computer games, the console has always been a weapon of choice to most avid gamers. Way back when, I had my parents to thank for my first console.

The Philips G7000 was the first console that I had. It didn’t really take-off, which is actually a shame, because it also had programming capability.

Of course, one of the big flaws of programming in ‘basic’ on this machine, was that there was no available media to store the programs – oops! The games came in the form of ‘Videopac’ and were very familiar for any gamers at the time. Munchkin (Pacman), Space Monster (Space invaders), Satellite attack (Asteroids),  and Freedom Fighter (Defender), were not the best graphically, but had great gameplay.

Next up, was an Amstrad GX4000, which wasn’t around for very long, but provided some great entertainment. It was also shaped like a space ship, as they showed in the commercial. Oh, how commercials have changed since then!!!

Burnin’ Rubber was the first game I had on that and racing games are always a blast and was followed by games like Batman and Robocop 2. At the same time, I bought a Gameboy, which I used a lot more, especially as I loved Mortal kombat and it was a great representation on the Gameboy.

I had other games on the Gameboy, but it was that one that pretty much wore out the keys.

Moving on from the GX4000, however,, I had a Sega Mega Drive. I had a first edition, but then swapped out for a new Mega Drive 2, complete with Mega CD. The CD extension made it a little bit more interesting, as it provided games like ‘Night Trap’, which included video footage and also Final Fight, which was a much played game for me.

In addition to the Mega CD and a little jealous of the beter consoles coming out, I picked up a 32X. Essentially, the 32X, made the regular 16bit Mega Drive, a 32bit unit and there were some great additional games, Virtua Fighter being my favourite and Corpse Killer, which made use of both the 32x and the Mega CD, was great as well.

Much as I got great use of the Mega Drive, I succumbed and upgraded to a Sega Saturn. There were other consoles out there at the time, but I was a big fan of the Sega games, so this was my only choice, in my opinion.

The Saturn had a full 32-bit version of Virtua Fighter and Virtua Fighter 2, along with Virtua Racing. It also had Sega Rally, which I loved and an array of Sonic the Hedgehog games. I thought it was a great console, but it generally struggled to compete against the Sony Playstation and for the number of available games alone, I bought a Playstation as well.

Gran Turismo and Spyro the Dragon (Spent hours guiding that little fella around), were the most used I think, along with the latest incarnations of Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter. At this point, all was good in the console world.

This is the time where I kinda skipped a generation of consoles. My next machine was a lot more recent and was an XBOX 360. Loved playing it, but I really wasn’t able to use it a huge amount, so it sort of gathered dust. When it was used, it would be for Forza, in 2 player mode, or perhaps Fifa.

It was a shame that I didn’t really use it that much and also a shame that I sold it, as I seem to have more time at my disposal now. However, I do have a console; The Wii. Bit of a step down graphically, however, the gameplay is just superb. Even the Wii Sports games get a run out with this thing. Tennis, bowling, Archery, the whole lot.

The House of the Dead games are fantastic, with the controllers being used together to make up the laser gun that I was oh so familiar with, from the arcades. The other ‘games’ that are very popular are ‘We Sing’ and ‘We Sing: Robbie Williams’ – Yup, I’m afraid so, we howl into those microphones, like banshees. Believe me, the irony in the title, isn’t missed on us, ‘We Sing’ is not what actually happens.

So I’ve had a good run of consoles and I’d imagine that the Wii will carry on being played regularly. It’ll be interesting to see what’s going to come out next. Until then, we’ll have aching arms, while the neighbours have aching ears.

From ZX81 up. Remember the times.

The year was 1981 and I was 11 (Yes, I’m THAT old!). Actually I was a few months less than 12, as it was that XMAS. I opened my present, from my parents. It was a Sinclair ZX81! WOW! I was 11 years old and I now had a ‘Computer’.

As a kid, you play on consoles, whether they’re your own, or a friends and I had a fair number over the years (We’ll go into those on a separate blog). However, now I had a real computer, with a whole 1K to play with!! But wait! There was a smaller present, hiding behind it’s bigger friend. A 16k RAM Pack!!! My life was complete, or was it? A second-hand tape recorder completed the set and I was the happiest kid on the planet.

Once setup and connected I loaded up chess and played the bejesus out of it! Okay, it was the only game I had to start with, but think of it now, an intelligent chess game in 1K!! Is that even possible now? Anyway…That wasn’t the only game I had, oh no! I had a manual and a programming language, so I set off typing in programs. The typing was so fast on the lovely touch ‘sensitive’ keyboard and I could get up to 2-3 words per minute, so it didn’t take long before I had a basic Space Invaders game, copied from a magazine. It didn’t take long, just the 4 weeks, but I’d written my first program.

After that, I started learning basic and writing my own simple programs and saving them to tape, which was a dangerous procedure, to say the least, especially with the RAM pack. One wobble and your program was gone. That happened a few times, so I saved my pocket money and bought a wobble stopper. What a fantastic piece of engineering that was. A bent bit of metal, shaped to fit the ZX81 and the RAM pack, complete with a white plastic screw, to hold the RAM pack in…Genius!

By the time I’d had the machine a year, I’d also attached a rubberized keyboard, having felt a little jealous of my friends buying the ZX Spectrum. About 6 months later I sold it to one of my teachers, for about 50 quid. At school, I was starting Computer Studies and there were BBC Micro Model Bs in the classroom. My parents couldn’t afford to buy me one, but I got the next best thing, the Acorn Electron. It used the same basic as the BBC Micro and that meant I could do additional programming at work and bring it in, transferring it to the school machines.

In addition to being able to right BBC Basic programs at home, the machine had a ‘Real’ keyboard, which I’d only ever experienced on a friends Commodore 64. So I set off, writing projects for school, games for home and writing data out into Sequential text files. Remember those?

That machine got me through my exams, in more ways than one. First I could work on my exam project for my O’Level, which was a Library program, in addition to one of my friend’s Airport booking system project (Naughty!! He passed, with the same grade as me…Bastard!), but I could also play ‘Yie Ar Kung-Fu’ on it, while listening to Simple Minds and revising. Great memories and every time I here the album ‘Once Upon a Time’, I have flashbacks of the game. Of all of the other games, that were must-haves, ‘Elite’ was simply the best. That game kept me going for months and it’ll be something I will go back to at some point.

Over the following years, I ended up finally buying a ZX Spectrum, but it was the 128k version, with a better keyboard. I mainly bought it for the huge range of games, which it had, in comparison to most of the other home computers ont he market. I upgraded from that to a +2, which was essentially the same machine, but with an attached tape drive.

The tape drive was a godsend – No need for an external tape recorder and less danger of it screwing up games etc. Programming on a Spectrum wasn’t really my thing, though. I missed the programming aspect a bit, so eventually bailed on the Spectrums and went for an Amstrad CPC 6128. This was another 128k machine, but had an on-board disk drive. YES! Disk Drive!

It also had the advantage of using BBC basic, so I was of an running again, writing programs, but this time reading and writing to and from sequential text files, which were held on disk!! How cool was that? Of course the other major advantage, was that it had a monitor with it, so there was no need for a portable TV. I loved that machine as well, as it had better colour graphics than the spectrum, which always suffered from colour and sprite overlap.

Good times and fond memories. The only real regret I have, is not having them all anymore. That will change, however, as I’m determined to collect them all again, via eBay and I may even treat myself to a BBC Micro Model B.

Much as things change and technology progresses (Now a proud Mac owner), my fondest memories, are for those home computers that I’ve owned throughout the years.

Also, being 2011, this month (March), sees the 30th anniversary of the ZX81 and then next year, the ZX Spectrum. Rumour has it, that there’ll be a re-release of the original Spectrum. Will I buy one? Probably 🙂