This is the third of an ongoing series of posts in which I list, in ascending order, the games that have most influenced me. If you want to know how and why this project started, read this introduction.
Now, let’s jump right in shall we?
ZX Spectrum, 1986
Ping Pong is known for its fast-paced action, making you sweat, getting your heart pounding, stretching the limits of your coordination and concentration. Of course I’m talking about the Konami videogame version of Ping Pong, not the real life sport. Why on earth would I want to play the real life sport? Shambling unwillingly around a trestle table, wafting a wooden paddle with some rubber flapping off it, bending down after every single shot to pick up some stupid plastic ball with a dent in it so it doesn’t bounce right? Screw that.
Ping Pong (the Spectrum game, now, just to be clear) was too hard for me. It frustrated me. You had to move a bat, and press a key to swing at the ball. That’s it, that’s the whole game. Why can’t I do it? This may well have been the first game I ever rage-quit. I rage-quit every time I played it until one day, while staying at my Nan’s, it suddenly clicked. I started winning. Not only was I winning, I was unbeatable. I played the CPU on the hardest level. The room around me disappeared. The voices ceased. The choking fumes of my grandparents’ cigarettes cleared and I breathed deep the clean oxygen of success. I’d found The Zone.
If this epiphany was so strong, why isn’t Ping Pong further up the list of influences? Well, because it was a bit shit, and I’m exaggerating. But it is true to say that for a few short minutes I felt like an Olympian, the way Andy Murray must feel: elated, sweating, heart pounding, with his Nan proudly watching him and smoking.
ZX Spectrum, 1986
Darts is known for its fast-paced action, making you sweat, getting… darts is… well, darts is darts.
180 is a darts game. Yes, it’s one of those weird meta-videogames that simply simulates another game. In this case, darts. It actually played pretty well. You controlled a disembodied hand holding a dart, that hovered around in front of a large monochrome graphic of a dartboard. You didn’t have completely free control over the hand though - you’d set it in motion but then it would move on its own, feeling like someone else was doing it. As it rose and fell hypnotically it would occasionally pass in front of the treble twenty, whereupon you would hit the button just at the right time to throw a dart, or “arrow,” as the professional archers call them.
Now, when I was a child we had a real dartboard up in the garage. I’d occasionally play it with my dad. Neither of us were very good at it, as evidenced by the ring of chipped bricks and plaster around the target. But we’d while away the odd hour, just a man and his eight year old son chucking pin-sharp weighted metal weapons around an enclosed space and waiting for the pub to open. You might even think that real darts would’ve been more influential than computer darts, but you’d be wrong, because darts is darts and videogames isn’t.
Atari ST, 1991
Ocean Software, while being prolific publishers generally over many years, were probably best known for acquiring film licenses. Robocop, Batman, Rambo, Short Circuit and so many other great movies became games under the Ocean banner. And a lot of them were actually good games too, at least as good as their silver screen counterpart.
Hudson Hawk, the videogame, was at least as awful as its silver screen counterpart.
The movie sees cat-burglar and apparent stroke victim Eddie “Hudson Hawk” Hawkins attempting to steal some macguffins in order to extract tortuous comedy dialogue from Bruce Willis. In the game you play as The Hawk. Traverse rooftops, burgle an auction house, I think, and maybe some other thrilling places too, while looking for any way to tie this sluggish and uninspired platformer in with the movie license you paid good money for.
ZX Spectrum, 1984
At seven years old (or so) I never understood this game. I remember going round to some kid’s house and him telling me he had this great game where you shoot down planes and fire the big guns at ships and all the rest of it. And we fired up his Speccy and it failed to load twice and then on the third try it worked and it was the most boringest game ever and I went home and honestly I don’t even remember whose house it was because we probably never spoke again.
A few years later I somehow ended up owning my own copy of Beach Head. It was a pretty good game I suppose, especially for its time. I still couldn’t get very far with it, but I at least realised that the guns are controlled like a plane - pull down to raise the elevation and so on. But it remained a sort of nothing game to me. I just wasn’t interested in it.
Some more years passed (OK, twelve years) and I went to university to study theoretical physics. Through dedicated study, diligent calculation, and a 100% lecture attendance record (in the first semester) (OK, in the first month) I came to understand projectile motion in detail. I learned that a projectile travels furthest when fired at an angle of 45 degrees to the horizontal.
If you don't believe me, here's the proof:
So if my ship’s guns fall 1400m short of their target at 45 degrees elevation, how is it possible to even hit the enemy? Oh, just by raising the elevation? 75 degrees or so should do it? And that's a direct hit now? What a sack of shit. At thirty-nine years old (or so) I still don't understand this game.
Beach Head made me do physics for this post. Beach Head sucks.
That's your lot. I assure you there are plenty of good games coming to this series, just... well, not for another couple of years.
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Thanks for reading. Did you love or hate these games? Hit the comments below.