Gaming moments – I’ve been playing around

I’m a self-confessed gaming addict — 36 years and counting. It’s been, at the time of writing this, 30 minutes since I last gamed.

We’re obviously talking video gaming, so not slot machines or general gambling, here. Doesn’t really matter what the format is, it seems to be quite easy to get me hooked and avidly playing something constantly, until the next one comes along that is.

Doesn’t matter if one day I’m mayor to a town of cute, but dysfunctional, animals that need everything done for them, or fighting a seemingly never-ending army of [insert generic horde from any moment in time], racing round a track gleefully taking out computer and human competitors alike, or mining and building in an open world environment. I can find the most basic or the most mind numbingly complex games fun to play. The only limitation is the amount of time available to play them all! I don’t want to know how long I’ve spent playing video games. It won’t be a small number. Some would be shocked or disappointed, but I’ve  never considered it to be wasted time.

I like multiplayer and single player games equally, but prefer playing by myself for the most part. I love the social competitive gameplay of things like Mario Kart, Bomberman and Splatoon 2, but generally avoid the bigger arenas like CoD:MW, CS, Unreal etc. Online play is spoilt by cheats using bots, aim bots, wall hacks — all manner of cheating systems. Don’t even get me started on this topic, it gets me so angry. I’ve considered doing a separate post on this topic, but not sure I can sit and write about it without ending up mega annoyed by the end.

Give me a game where there’s loads of options, items and some amount of freedom and I’m happy for hours/days/months. Anything with a large kit load out, like Fallout, Oblivion, Rainbow Six, Skyrim, Zelda and I’ll agonise for ages on what to keep and carry, what to sell and what to throw away. I’ve dragged bodies, bags and more,stuffed so full of items, half way across a game map, at an agonisingly slow pace, just because I was too greedy to limit my load or make multiple trips.  I love quality storylines that immerse you in the game, the likes of GTA, Fallout, Mass Effect, Tie Fighter and CoD or MoH.

FPS, strategy, resource management simulations, no real genre keeps my attention more than another. I do suck at driving games though and have never really enjoyed point and click adventures.

As far as I can remember, it all started back in 1981 with Astro wars and the Intellivision console. The first was a tabletop game produced by Grandstand, regularly bought in on the last day of the school term by a friend. It was common in UK schools for the last day to be a free day when everyone brought in games of all kinds. Although basic by today’s standard, it was the height of technology back then. Everyone would crowd round it and watch, then when the batteries ran out, we’d line them up on top of a radiator and after a while they had enough charge to run for a bit longer (definitely don’t recommend this!) I got to take it home a couple of times and would play it till the graphics were burnt into my retina. Hiding under the covers after bedtime, trying to keep the sound down so no one would hear me blasting away at a constant, brightly coloured alien invasion force, hell bent on using the same tactics to attack and destroy. Thankfully with the mains adapter, so no battery overcharging.

Intellivision was a console produced by Mattel, owned by my cousins who didn’t live close by. So I only got to see and play it on a couple of occasions. It showed me how much fun playing video games on a TV could be. It was also the first time I saw that you could have more than one game on the same system.

Both kicked off the part of my brain that deals with pleasurable and competitive activities and I was hooked from then on. As a family, we didn’t own a games system, but both me and my brother were bought handheld games. Grandstands Pocket Scramble for me and Grandstands Mini Munchman (Pac man) for him. I still have both of these, in their original l boxes too.

Being an avid gamer, I’ve owned many different games systems, from an array of manufacturers. Having never been a fan boy of one over the other, just happy playing whatever was available. Every system has a game that is just awesome, that someone else doesn’t have. Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog, Gran Turismo, Halo. etc. It certainly helped working in the retail — and later games retail specifically — industry. I worked at a branch of Dixons and a Game store in my home town of Bromley, Kent and was the assistant manager of a Game store in Kingston-upon-Thames. Following that I worked at The Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street, a nirvana of entertainment at the time. This gave me access to not only the consoles, but games and accessories, plus a generous staff discount that made buying everything much cheaper!

I’ve owned the following game systems over the years:

  • Philips Video pac G7000,
  • Commodore Vic 20,
  • Amstrad 464 CPC,
  • Amiga 500,
  • Nintendo Gameboy,
  • Sega Megadrive,
  • Neo Geo AES,
  • Super Nintendo (SNES),
  • Sony Playstation (PS1),
  • Goldstar 3DO, Sony
  • Playstation 2 (PS2),
  • Sony Playstation 3 (PS3),
  • Nintendo 3DS,
  • Nintendo Switch.

As well as various self-built desktop computers and laptops of ever-increasing power and capability. Each one, whatever the weak excuses of using it for something serious, has been purchased and used for playing games on. Sure, MS Office needs 16Gb of RAM and a 6Gb video card. That helpful little paper-clip is quite resource hungry, don’t you know!

That’s quite a history of home entertainment evolution. It’s a shame I don’t have them all still as it would make a good display and mini museum to look back on. Some were fairly commonplace and sold 100,000s of units, while others not so much. I’ll go into more detail in the console specific post that’ll come later on, as this is supposed to just be an intro.

I tried explaining some of it to my 7-years-old son. He’s definitely from the iPad/iPhone instant gaming generation. He’s pretty sure I made the whole thing up, as a lot of it sounded too crazy to him. No one would wait more than 20mins for a game to load from a tape cassette, even with a picture being slowly drawn on the screen one line at a time (also, what’s a tape cassette?). Why would you buy a handheld device that only came with one black and white, highly repetitive game on it? Why were Lemmings constantly trying to kill themselves?

I’m happy being a gamer. There’s nothing wrong with it, in moderation (define moderation though). I’m certainly past staying up till 02:00am playing Street Fighter & SSX or spending entire days off on a game (Civilisation III & IV — I’m looking at you!), but I do still enjoy playing a good game. To be honest, I’ve also quite enjoyed the odd bad game too, briefly. Sometimes it’s a great form of stress relief after a tough day at work, or if you feel you need a bit of a mental workout. Sometimes the opposite, and it’s the most frustrating and annoying of activities. I’ve never yet reached the point of bouncing a control pad off the wall, but been pretty close to it at times (more on that in Gaming moments – Top moments countdown).

So, what’s this all about? I’ve been away from my blog for a while now and decided I wanted to get back into it again. I’d started following a few people on Twitter that have been talking a lot about retro games and hardware that prompted memories myself. Writing some posts is a great way to remember things, and maybe relive a few memories that have shaped my love of video games. I’ve decided to make several posts around the various gaming moments I’ve had over the long length of time I’ve been playing them. Where possible I’ll try to keep a consistent timeline, and start at the beginning and continue into the present. No end? No, I’m pretty sure that I’ll die still in the middle of some game or other, so it’ll be an ongoing pursuit. Can just see my headstone now: “Died while attempting a Streetfighter 99 twenty-five button combo Hadoken”.

My gaming memories are fairly broad and numerous (in my opinion), so I’ve decided to try and split them up into several posts, hopefully with logical parts. If these parts are too large for convenient reading, then maybe I’ll also split them up too (feedback is always appreciated on post sizes and people’s’ tolerance for how long they take to read).
To start with there’s a history from a purely arcade perspective, and then moving on to consoles, personal computers and then handheld gaming. There’s no way that I could squeeze everything into one post and do all the memories and fun I had proper justice.

This series will appeal far more to other gamers, but hopefully non-gamers will also get something from it. Even if it’s only to find out why I always seem to have a game of some type playing near me, or which occasions have brought me so close to tears or Hulkesque rage.

So, sit down, get a handful of loose change ready and look out for the first part of Gaming moments – Please insert coin (Token 1)


Half-life, the game, the memories… …the movie?


OK, here’s an upfront nerd alert. This post contains mainly information about computer games and gaming, so you’ve been warned. There’s also a spoiler alert too as if you haven’t played the game and still want to (and why not, it’s a classic) then there’s some information here that will lessen the game experience if you read it instead of experiencing it first-hand.

For those of you that don’t know, I LOVE computer games. I’ll be the oldest gamer in the retirement home, regularly breaking wrists and fingers trying to use whatever the control pad of the day looks like then. I’ve spent entire days off playing games. So it was huge excitement to me when I saw that the rights to a movie based on the game Half-Life have been discussed again. JJ Abrams is looking at making it, along with another based on the game Portal.

For people that don’t know and don’t want to read long Wikipedia links, Half-life is a game based around the premise of a science experiment at a top-secret facility, Black Mesa, going wrong and causing creatures from an alternative dimension being transferred there. It was ground breaking at the time and set the standard for storytelling, enemy AI and action in games right up until today still.

You play a scientist (Gordon Freeman), who gets to collect and shoot an array of weapons, although the infamous crowbar itself is satisfying to use. Up until then most games gave you a pistol of some description as the first basic weapon to use, waiting on better ones to arrive as you progressed. Half-Life gave you a crow bar. A relatively small length of metal that gave a nice thunk sound as you hit creatures with it. That satisfying feeling wouldn’t return again until the wrench in Bioshock was first bought down on a splicers head.

Exploring a huge and interesting underground research facility in his attempt to get to the surface and raise the alarm. You crouched, crept, ran and leaped from place to place. All the while avoiding the dimension jumping aliens and the trademark government troops sent in to silence everyone. It’s hard not to get involved as you watch helpless lab coat clad scientists being dragged of through air conditioning ducts, only to be spat back out minus the odd limb or ribcage contents, or stand by as some stumble around tugging at the headcrab gnawing away on their skull. You feel bad shooting them, but know it’s the quickest way to end their agony (also they’d ripe your head off in a heartbeat if they got within range!). Then there’s the option to get some colleagues to tag along with you. Security guards a better option than scientists, as they carry guns. They give you additional cover, save your life, but sometimes they get killed. This leaves you with two choices, which often has you reloading a previous level so you can carry on with them or shrugging your shoulders, grabbing his gun and ammo and running off, after all you didn’t even know his name… … it was Doug. Doug Peterson, from Sector 7G, he won’t be returning home tonight, his last day on the job before retirement… …probably 

I spent so many hours playing the original game, the multiplayer game and the subsequent sequels. My online name of Christ_Monkey (or Christmonkey, as the story is clouded in the past) was created originally for playing Half-life multiplayer in a clan, [CI5] along with Prankmonkey (which is why I think Christmonkey was the original version), Mr Bullfinch and one other, she’ll be so mad that I can’t remember her in game name, but I’m sure it contained the word girl somewhere. There’s a Call of Duty 4 (COD4) clan that uses [CI5] now, but we thought of it first, way back in 1998? Mr Bullfinch even amended the logo from the (AWESOME) TV show from the 70’s and 80’s, The Professionals, and had it pasted on our in game avatars backs.

Playing against bots (computer controlled players) is ok, but nothing is better than playing against another human, except maybe playing and shooting against someone you know! Also, no games had managed to perfect bots until Unreal Tournament arrived.What prompted this post? Other than the discovery that a movie may be in the pipeline, is Black Mesa. A mod, rewrite, reboot however you want to describe it, of the original game. Let me try to briefly explain. Half-life was released in 1998 and back then it looked good. Graphics have come a lllooonnnggg way since then. Black Mesa has recreated the original Half-life game using the graphics engine used in Half-Life 2, released in 2004, but with various updates and improvements and released in 2012. It breathes new life back into it and makes it a pleasure to play through again. The sights and sounds were instantly familiar. With such a long time passing since I last played it, something’s were still a surprise to me. Even if you have no interest in the game itself, I’d still recommend watching the intro of the game that has you boarding a small train and being taken on a ride through the facility. You can’t actually do anything, other than move about the carriage and look at what is going on outside, but that’s the point. It’s a glimpse of where you are going and an atmospheric tool to make you feel more immersed in that world. You then might want to take a look at what the original intro looked like (as you’re already on the YouTube page) to get an idea of how much of an improvement Black Mesa is. Alternatively how about a side by side comparison, for people in a hurry?

Funny thing is, you only really appreciate it the second time round, I think. When you watch it for the first time, you’ll have no doubt already been waiting months for the game to have been realised. Then waited the day before for it to become available in the stores to buy. Then queued up in the shop and purchased it. Sat on the tube, bus or in your car on the way home. Ripped open the box, tossed the install guide and manual to one side and manually pulled the CD-ROM drive open, as the seconds delay before opening was becoming too much. You watched Steam install, then the game installed and it’s not like the old days when you could excitedly watch a 6 bit image slowly draw itself on the screen as your game loaded from a tape. So you picked the manual back up again and read and reread the contents, looked at the back of the box. Finally it’s loaded! The Steam logo pops up and you’re in, but you’re not quite. There’s still the matter of audio and video settings. If your computer had the hardware you could adjust everything up from the defaults, so it had to be done. OK, now you can select new game. You’re on a train, wow this looks cool, look at that, look over there, this train ride is awesome. This place looks great, you can read the signs on the train, and papers on the floor. Ah, we’re here, nope, just going through a big metal door, off again. Oh look, a big robotic transport walking below you. [Start tapping Esc key] ah, ok, you can’t skip this intro, still, I guess it’s good. [Clicks mouse thinking that may do it], hmmm, OK, they must want you to watch it all. Whoa, you just went outside the facility and saw a military helicopter on a landing pad. [Maybe the Enter key skips it?] Back inside again and off down another tunnel. Come on! I’ve been waiting to play this game for what feels like ever! Another stop, then the train goes vertically down, deeper into the facility. [What if I try Esc, then Enter and then click the mouse a few times?] Nope, hmmmm, wonder if I can go get a drink while I’m waiting? Oh, the train has reached the terminal, I can exit the door now… … that intro was excellent, wish I could watch it again.

Portal is based in the same, game universe with the business rival to Black Mesa, Aperture Laboratories, experimenting with a device that can create portals you can jump through. Yes, that’s a REALLY simplified explanation and I’m sure there’s lots of people out there who will complain at the details I’ve left out, but then that’s what the Wiki links are for!

So I am actually really interested to see and hear more about any upcoming movie based on the game. I don’t think I’ve eagerly anticipated a movie this much since the first mention of Judge Dredd, huge disappointing pile of Hollywood crap that it was. The reboot in 2012 was much better, but they all seem to have missed the mark a bit. That’s a whole other post rant though. What I will say is that Luc Besson made the perfect MegaCity1 way back in The Fifth Element.

There will be discussions about who should play Gordon and some of the other characters. The others merely bit parts, unless the movie does well and Half-life 2 is made into one too, as those characters appear again with much bigger parts to play in the game sequel.

I’m sure this post appealed to me much more than it has to others, as it was great remembering back to when I used to play it and the joy a great, well made, video game could give you.

Gordon Freeman