Hello again and welcome to part 2 of the My History Of Gaming series. You can find Part 1 here!
In part 1 we worked through the 80’s and early 90’s ending with the Sega Master System. A console that brought years of happiness to the family long after its sell by date. You’ve got to take what you can right?! In this part we’re going to kick off around 1995 and go on through to about 2001. You can tell immediately from the reduction in timespan that as gaming has evolved it’s become way more intense.
So, Christmas 1995. My little brother got the NES.
This was shortly after the 16 bit consoles came out so everything inferior was now really cheap. It came from Toys R Us and all the games were found in the bargain bin for £2.97. That year I got a Scalextrix but it was huge and we didn’t have the space. My ma sabotaged it and we took it back to the shop as a “damaged” item. I got gift vouchers. I bought NES games. My particular favourites were Gauntlet (“blue Valkyrie shot the food” – *punches brother*), Mario (boing, boing), and Top Gun (jet engines like dial up!). I also have vague recollections of playing Mega Man, Master Blaster, Simpsons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The latter was recently remade on the PSN and it was a fantastic tribute!
The NES was actually a cracking system for its time. I think the problem I had with it was that we got it late, so while we were still riding the 8 bit train everyone else was upgrading to first class and enjoying 16 bit. However, as I mentioned last time, upgrading the games console was low priority so I never got into 16-bit. It wasn’t too bad, we had Sky TV (irony?) and there were a couple of games shows on so I lived vicariously. In fact, it was around 1994/1995 that I went to see Gamesmaster being filmed. Whichever series had Dexter Fletcher presenting it from Oxford Prison. If you manage to find any old episodes you’ll see me in one of them standing behind the (semi) famous people clutching my tupperware! I always wanted to be a contestant 🙁
Now it gets a bit crazy. Initially, I didn’t get into 32 bit either but around 1998, while studying for my A-Levels, I started working part time and getting paid about £30 a week. It was a suddenly huge amount of money to have in my pocket and I’m pleased to say I pissed it away on computer games, music and beer! When I wasn’t bunking off study sessions playing snooker I was either in a record store trying to impress the cashier with my eclectic tastes or showing off in the video game store getting high scores on games I was too poor to actually buy! When I finally did commit to buying a new console, I jumped right ahead to the Nintendo 64.
When I was at school there were about eight of us misfits who hung around together. I think, in line with a lot of people, sixth form was a really good time for me. Less subjects so I could focus and a whole lot more freedom to figure out who the hell you were and step outside of the constraints of society a little. Mostly because all the dicks who terrorised us for 5 years buggered off to the local comp. (I went to Grammar school, it was awesome!).
One of my friends came in to school one day, after Easter holidays I think, and he had bought the Nintendo 64 with Goldeneye. Now, you’ve got to remember there was no internets back in 1997. When a friend tells you something is awesome, without seeing it yourself, you either take his word or call bullshit. We went for the latter because a) it was James Bond (lame!) and b) it was a movie to game conversion (double lame)! But then he told us that he had also bought something called a Rumble Pak. If memory serves, this was the first of its kind. It sparked our curiosity. We had to see it for realz.
So that weekend a few of us went round his house. Imagine four weedy nerds and his two sisters crowded round a 20″ TV staring in absolute awe at the Dam bungee jump scene.
It looks like crap now but in 1997, Good Lord it was good! I had to have one. As birthdays came and went through that year all my mates got one and we would spend many weekends around each others houses kicking the crap out of each other on the multiplayer. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you know how good Goldeneye multiplayer was so I don’t need to go on too much but we did everything with that game. There was even one weekend where we each took a TV to one persons house, got some Y-splitters hooked up to the console and some L shaped cardboard pieces to block out the other players squares and played blind multiplayer to make it more fun! I tried to find a video but there aren’t any however I did find out that this is simply called the “4 TV Technique” haha!
Eventually my brother got one for Christmas. It was one of those rare moments that two sons and their dad finally found something they could “bond” over. My dad was the only one who could complete the Jungle level for ages so we often played together trying to complete the single player. One of the real genius bits of that game was the cheat system. In order to unlock the cheats you had to complete the game on all three levels in certain time limits. I have yet to find any other game that has encouraged that kind of replayability and I doubt I ever will.
Goldeneye wasn’t the only game we played though. Once I had money in my pocket we were able to experiment much more. Some of my favourites on this platform were 1080 Snowboarding, Snowboard Kids, Mario Kart, Mario 64, Lylat Wars, Wave Race and V-Rally. I even had a steering wheel and pedals. The N64 was flawed in that the games were all super expensive. Cartridge manufacturing was dying out thanks to the PlayStation which I had largely ignored. A console that runs on CD’s with load screens, nah, that’ll never take off!
Then one day, another of our gaming weekends, I was shown the PSone and Gran Turismo and the donut spins and the drift steering and I went and got one. Haha!
The graphics were nowhere near as superior but the games were a lot better. As you can see from the list above, N64 games were a bit…babyish. I was in my late teens and I wanted action and violence. The N64 just couldn’t deliver on that front. I played so many games on my PSOne, some of my favourites are Driver, Crash Bandicoot, Rayman, Die Hard, Time Crisis and Fifa. It really was the console that brought the arcade into your bedroom. In fact it’s probably responsible for the death of the arcade as we knew it and also why games in the arcade now cost about £2 a go.
I left one game/franchise out because it’s particularly special.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Summer. 1999. I finished work one day and went to the local Blockbuster. Oh, new games in this week. Tony Hawk (who?) and skateboarding. Ha! I remember playing skateboarding on Summer Games on the Master system. It was shite! On this though, the graphics looked good. So I rented it for 2 nights. I didn’t put it down all weekend! Seriously, it was so good! I took it back and they were doing this offer where if you bought it straight away you got the rental fee knocked off. Obvious decision really!
Going back to sixth form allowing you to discover who you really were, this game helped finalise the definition. Dude! This game changed the course of my life forever. It brought out this laid back element of my personality, this part of me that knows it’s ok to not have to try so hard all the time, that sometimes it’s ok to kick back. Up until this point I was pretty uptight. This game was full of attitude and I took that into my own life. I bought skateboards for me and my bro and we hung out in town and praticed. I sucked but he was pretty cool. I couldn’t even ollie but he could grind and jump. I just remember falling down a lot!
One of the fondest memories I have of this game, and it’s completely unrelated, is that I had also just discovered Foo Fighters and started what has become a lifetime obsession. Most of my memories of playing this game have There Is Nothing Left To Lose playing in the background!
Playing THPS1 lasted for months! It was totally addictive and it had everything. Insane jumps, destructible environments, secrets, hidden tapes, gaps, Bob Burnquist (!), ridiculously high score challenges, Roswell. It had some of that replayability I loved Goldeneye for too. I spent hours trying to get all five tapes in one two minute session. I don’t think it was possible across all levels. Whilst the PSOne didn’t have the best graphics available, if you look back at THPS1 now, it holds up. It was so ahead of its time.
And then Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 was released. It was slicker and it introduced the manual! Suddenly, massive combos were at your beck and call. It also had Rage Against The Machine on the soundtrack which kickstarted my alternative view on politics. Up until this point I’d been raised in an incredibly right wing Tory household. RATM fucked my world upside down. Thanks Neversoft! THPS2 had bigger levels too, they felt much more open world. It also had Spiderman as a playable skater! This summer THPS1 and 2 are being re-made on the PSN. I can’t wait. The trailers look amazing and from the interviews I’ve read, the developers have pretty much left it the hell alone.
When Goldeneye Reloaded came out last year I was really excited, along with half the world’s 30 year olds! However I was pretty quickly disappointed. It wasn’t terrible but it was incredibly unbalanced and the online mode was an ultimate fail! From the looks of it, Robomodo have come to THPS with a lot of respect for both it and the fans which can only result in good things right?!
So yeah, lots to take in there. Next time I’ll be bringing you all the action from the Dreamcast and the PS2 so stay tuned for Part 3!