I started gaming when I was about 7 receiving my first computer for Christmas, a Commodore Vic-20. Most of my childhood in the 80’s was spent on acreages and although I had no shortage of friends from school, most of them lived some distance away. My siblings and I on rainy days and long winters spent a lot of time gaming together on our C64 and later on our Amiga. While I did have the opportunity to spend time with The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario and the like while visiting friends there are dozens of games you never hear about that left their mark on my childhood and I just thought I’d share a few with you. I’m far from a retro gamer but I think as a game developer it never hurts to look back at the games you found magical. So marvel as I completely date myself and take a brief look at some of my childhood favourites. Click each image for game play videos!
It feels like I spent a lifetime playing Elite on the C-64. Elite was the first space fighter/trading game I played using glorious 3D wireframe graphics and viewed from the cockpit of your own spacecraft. This space trading game came out in 1984 with its own novella to set the backdrop and it included somewhat of a moral system that I hadn’t experienced in games before. Trade in illegal goods in some systems and you’ll become a wanted man! Is it worth the hassle? I remember playing with an eye occasional cast over my shoulder so my mother wouldn’t stumble in and exclaim “You’re trading narcotics to that poor planet? The authorities are right to hunt you from system to system. I have no son!”
Giving options and consequences in a game left a mark on me as a gamer. I hadn’t experienced this before. Usually I played as the good little trader, occasionally saving others from pirates myself, but sometimes you just have to walk the line. Surprisingly, I didn’t grow up to become an arms dealer.
Raid on Bungeling Bay
I was surprised this morning to learn that one of my early favourites was the first game designed by SimCity’s creator, Will Wright. Raid was also available on the C-64 about 1984. Raid was a top down helicopter shooter which had you taking out radar stations to avoid detection in an attempt to bomb one of six factories. What I loved about this shooter is that things happened off-screen. Many arcade shooters at the time centered only on the player and the rest of the world simply didn’t exist until the player stepped into the screen. With Raid, supply boats made their way to factories and if left to their own devices they’d build themselves up and be that much harder to take out. It reminded me of one of my arcade favourites Sinistar. If you left Sinistar alone for too long while you were off mining asteroids, he’d later become a huge threat, but Raid seemed to have so much more depth. If that weren’t enough of a challenge, your aircraft carrier would often come under attack and you’d have to rush back and switch to defensive mode. I remember that almost sick desperation as I limped my chopper back to the carrier after taking a beating. I really hadn’t experienced this level of challenge before. Also, it’s fun to blow things up. Later games like “Desert Strike – Return to the gulf” provided a satisfying ratio of shots fired to things blowing up, but few shooters provided the challenge of Raid on Bungeling Bay.
Castle Wolfenstein/Beyond Castle Wolfenstein
Forever will I think of these titles when I see the word “Achtung!”
The first and second title came out between 1981 – 1984 and had two features that have become videogame staples today. Stealth play and Nazis. You wouldn’t get too far in Castle Wolfenstein to approach the game with guns blazing. You had to bide your time, hide around corners and then, when the time was right, blow a hole in a wall with a grenade and burst out with pistol a’blazing! Beyond continued the same gameplay, but this time the game focused on a plot to bomb Hitler. The stealth tactics ramped up. Guards were more easily alerted to your presence. Gunshots brought the entire bunker down on top of you. Bodies needed to be hidden out of sight. Playing games like Metal Gear Solid over a decade later reminded me of just how much the stealth and survival horror games owed to games like Wolfenstein. Nothing quite ratchets up the tension to a 10 year old like limited ammo and the sudden appearance of a nigh unstoppable foe. I can hear the audio cue of the SS’s arrival in the back of my head to this day when I’m playing a game and a difficult enemy makes a sudden appearance.
Archon I and II
More from around 1984, the Archon games combined strategy and action and successfully kept myself and my younger brother at each other’s throats for at least a couple of years. You moved various player pieces around a game board, but instead of one piece taking another piece automatically, player pieces would be transported into an arena where they would engage in often lopsided battles. There were a number of two player games available that would pit brother against brother. Spy vs Spy, GI Joe, Front Line, but none had the variety that Archon offered at the time. None offered the same type of strategy. I can think of no other two player games from my childhood that brought my younger brother and I together while simultaneously driving us apart like these two titles.
Eye of the Beholder
Eye of the Beholder is the most recent game on this list (1990) but it is one that sticks with me as it was my first, real role playing game. I was never really into D&D as a kid. It wasn’t something that my parents approved of as they were sure, like many parents of the time, that D&D would turn their children into sword wielding maniacs with a lust to consume human flesh, or devil worshipping blasphemers with a lust to consume human flesh, or some such thing involving cannibalism.
Eye of the Beholder offered a world to explore, multiple party members and better visuals right at a time when I was just discovering books like Lord of the Rings and the Shannara series. EOTB gave me a chance to really get my geek on in a way that previous games had fallen short of. Huge dungeons hid a plethora of mystical artefacts and mythical creatures and I spent days plumbing the depths beneath Waterdeep. Unlike many role playing games of the time, Eye of the Beholder also offered that first person perspective, even though all enemies seemed to conveniently fit into your field of view. Dungeon crawls today like Dragon Age or Oblivion take me right back to those pixelated corridors.
There are many more games that shaped my love of videogames over the years, from Monkey Island to Black Tiger, Doom to HalfLife – but there’s something undeniably powerful and influential about those games you discovered as a child. My hope is the games I develop will, for someone, resonate like these games have with me, or will on some level connect with those feelings I still have when I look back on my favourites.