Thursday, 20 May 2010

Gaming: Non-PC Platforms

I've had a few notes from people reminding me of certain games, and I've also realised that I left off a few important DOS games from the previous chapters, such as Raptor, Bio Menace, Race the Nags, Cannon Fodder 2, the Lemmings series, Wolfenstein 3D, and the Blake Stone series, amongst others. I do have to exercise some sort of editorial control and unfortunately some games have been unceremoniously cut.

Now on to the next chapter. DOS wasn't the only platform on which I played games. A friend of mine, whom you all know from the Strip Poker II episode, had a Macintosh at home (I can't remember which model) and it was there he introduced me to a new world of gaming.

Glider (1988)

The player takes control of a paper plane and flies it around a room without touching the floor or furniture. Deceptively simple, yet incredibly challenging and addictive. Glider became a bit of a phenomenon in the Mac gaming scene and has had many versions. The author, John Calhoun, has made the latest version, Glider PRO, as well as the older Glider 4.0, free of charge on his website. What a nice guy. For Windows folk, Glider 4.0 was ported in 1994 and is available for download at Theodor Lauppert's page.

Maelstrom (1992)

Maelstrom, by Ambrosia Software, was my first introduction to an Asteroids-style game. I was always pretty impressed with the pseudo-3D graphics and the cool sound effects. Again, my friend was a 'hog', meaning he didn't give up turns easily, so most of my time was spent watching him buzz around the level shooting rocks. I don't blame him - when he came to my house the tables turned leaving him watching me, so it was understandable that my primary experience of this game was indirect. An unofficial port is available for OS X/Windows/Linux at Sam Lantinga's site.

Glypha III (1995)

Glypha III, a clone of the earlier game Joust, was the most popular game on my friend's Mac. He was much better than I was and I couldn't get too high in this one myself, but as mentioned before, in those days just sitting and watching was entertainment enough. Your character sits on a giant bird armed with a lance, and pressing the button flaps the wings to make you lift off and fly around the level. You have to get above your constantly spawning enemies and hit them, turning them into 500-point eggs. Interestingly, it's now available as an iPhone app.

It was Christmas; sunny outside (in New Zealand), birds chirping, presents around the tree. It was unusual, because instead of having separate presents there was a large box under the tree with four names on it. We tore into it to reveal a brand new SEGA Master System II. We couldn't contain our elation. We immediately got it hooked up to the TV, and after some fine RF tuning by the adults (no such thing as colour-coded AV ports back then), we were ready for our introduction to console gaming.

Alex Kidd in Miracle World (1986)
SEGA Master System II

I can't exactly remember which games we got with our Christmas present, but that didn't matter because SEGA was generous enough to include a built-in version of Alex Kidd which would load when no cartridge was in the slot. I remember getting to the final room, and having been instructed by a friend at school to jump on the floor tiles in reverse order, I did so, but to my terror an invincible ghost came and killed me. I had to start the entire game again. Brutal, and in some ways emotionally damaging. That was the way games were. It was the first and last time I made it to that final room. There was no save function; when we had to go to school I'd leave the SEGA on and turn the TV off, leave strict instructions with my parents not to touch it, and when I got home I would return to the now incredibly warm SEGA and pick up where I left off.

Wonder Boy in Monster Land (1988)
SEGA Master System II

It was a matter of great pride that I was the only one in my family who clocked (finished) Wonder Boy in Monster Land. Most notable was the final level, as it was incredibly tricky, being an infinitely repeating labyrinth. Just so the designers would think you weren't getting it easy, they put you under time pressure. Before entering you are given the choice of a bell, which would help you through the maze (it rarely helped me anyway), or a ruby that would kill the first dragon. I also liked the 'upgrade' feature of the game; if you found enough cash around the place you could buy better equipment - new boots would allow you to jump further and access secret areas. It wasn't an RPG by any means, but the somewhat restricted character customisation captured my interest.

Super Space Invaders (1991)
SEGA Master System II

For some reason I loved the title music of this game, and using a tape recorder I recorded the entire track and would listen to it in my room when I couldn't get to the TV. My younger brother was frightened of the sound the boss ships would make when you blew them up, and he'd always make some kind of excuse to get out of the room as we neared the end of the level. It demonstrated how much of a family endeavour gaming was, as we'd all be huddled around the console fighting for turns and would be so invested in the game that theme music and sound effects had so much of an effect.

Sagaia (1992)
SEGA Master System II

It was my brother's turn for revenge with Sagaia, as he was the only one to clock (finish) it. No one else had the patience. I only recently learned that the game was called Darius II elsewhere, part of Taito's classic Darius series. It was an arcade style shoot 'em up game with a range of ship upgrades and various enemies that looked like fish. You could also choose which planet to go to, distinguishing it from other games in the genre.

A final note on the hardware itself: the Master System II controller was a tiny rectangle with sharp edges and the directional pad had little raised pieces of plastic that would cause blisters to form after extended gameplay. Those were the days when ergonomics wasn't such a big deal and blocky things were considered cool. When I recently unearthed our now ancient SEGA and tried to play, after a few minutes the pain in my finger tips and palm was too much, which goes to show adults weren't really considered for console gaming back then.

The final chapter in the series is next, where I come to what is in many ways the end of my gaming journey.

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