Naturally, any sort of article like this is enveloped in personal preference, since we obviously can’t fondly recall everyone’s unique spin on the games they loved in the past. Luckily, we’re old enough to remember gaming from the seventies, in the neon-drenched, sticky carpeted, and clamorous reaches of the local Arcades. As such, we’ve also had the pleasure of living through the 80s and the golden era of the home computer, fighting in the school yard over whether the Commodore 64 or the ZX Spectrum was the better computer. The point being, we’ve seen quite a bit of gaming in our time, so hopefully we’ve covered some here that you’ll suddenly remember how much you loved in your own gaming history.
Starting in no particular order, we have a bit of a classic going back to 1989. Released for the Atari ST, Amiga and DOS by Electric Dreams, and designed by Ian Bird, the resource management Sci-Fi epic known as Millennium 2.2 will kick off this piece.
The plot is simple: in the 23rd century we have colonised the Moon and are a significant space faring race. Unfortunately, a 20 trillion ton asteroid put an end to that when it collided with the Earth, wiping out all life and making it completely uninhabitable. It’s now up to you, as the commander of the Moon base, to continue mankind’s survival and colonise the remaining celestial spheres in order to find Earth 2.0.
Being a computer game, things are never simple. You must mine resources from the Moon in order to expand your base; then you have to research technologies that allow you to mine the asteroid belt, to gain more resources to colonise the other planets. Problems abound, and before long you’re hopping from one colony to the next, ferrying valuable resources around the solar system while dealing with civil colonial war, invading Human/Martians mutants, and depletion of minerals. However, you soon find a way to micro-manage your way into creating a terraforming technology that allows you fix the Earth, and return to re-populate.
And then there’s the end sequence, when the Earth has been fixed by the terraformer, and humanity once again returns to the cradle of civilisation. Truly one of the most memorable endings in our gaming history. You are awarded a view of fields of wheat, panning out to encompass green hills, trees, wildlife and finally, a peaceful dome, housing the remainder of humanity. All the while, the background music is the thought-provoking Gustav Mahler’s Adagietto, from his 5th Symphony in C sharp minor. It almost brings a tear to the eye, after all that work. Wonderful stuff.
Little Big Adventure
Little Big Adventure, or LBA, is a 1994 title from Electronic Arts. Released for DOS, and later the Playstation – and even Android and iOS devices – LBA put you in control of Twinsen, the citizen of a 3D, semi-open world featuring anthropomorphic bunnies, elephants and other animals.
The game is a mixture of puzzle, combat and exploration, centred around our hero who is tasked with ridding the world of an all-powerful dictator, while rescuing your girlfriend and the other beings of the realm.
It had a number of interesting aspects: a four-mode behaviour model, where you’re able to choose between aggressive for fighting, discreet for sneaking past enemies, sporty for outrunning them and normal, for simple exploration of the locations within the game.
Graphically, it was wonderful, and the musical background and sound effects were splendid enough to pull into Twinsen’s world while you worked out the various – but not too difficult – puzzles.
Released in 1986 for the beloved BBC Micro, and later for the ZX Spectrum, C64, Amiga and DOS, The Sentinel (or The Sentry in the US) was a game that stretched the limits of the machines it was played on. The Sentinel was by far one of the most ambitious games ever developed for the humble home computers of the time, and as a result was highly received and suitably praised by all.
Consider The Sentinel as an elaborate and very long-drawn out game of Chess, where each move takes considerable thought, patience and time. The end result of course, much like Chess, is a complex strategy game with move, counter move and finding positions of attack.
The story of The Sentinel is as deeply woven as the game itself is. An ultra-powerful entity, The Sentinel, absorbs the energies of 9,999 worlds, and the Earth is next on its list. Although powerful beyond belief, there is a way to combat The Sentinel and that’s by absorbing energy from it. The Sentinel, however, has other plans, and as a result has dispatched various sentries throughout the many worlds it oversees who are actively seeking you out. This is where the game starts to get interesting.
You start by getting an overhead map of the world you’re currently trying to liberate, then you’ll find yourself in the 3D Vector graphic landscape. You can, from this point, look around and try to locate the Sentinel (who will always occupy the highest point) and the best way to reach him. To move in this landscape, you must look at a square and create a robot on it, then transfer yourself into the newly created robot. Doing this takes energy, but you can replenish energy by looking back at the robot you used to inhabit, and absorb it and its energy.
However, it gets a little more complex. The Sentinel and Sentries will scan the landscape for squares containing more than one unit of energy (which means you). If they can see such a square, then they’ll reduce the energy of that square to one unit, which then creates a tree randomly on the landscape – which then can be absorbed by yourself. Additional to all this, if a Sentry can see you, but not the square you’re inhabiting, then they can create a Meanie near you that will hyperspace you to another location on the map and reduce your energy.
There’s more to it, but essentially this continues until you final manage to absorb the energy of The Sentinel of that world. Once defeated, the game will offer you a code to continue to the next world.
The Sentinel was a true masterpiece in every sense of the word. Amazing graphics, great sound effects from Tim Follin, and with 10,000 worlds to beat, there are probably still people out there playing this game ever since they first purchased it back in 1986.
Jumping Jack may not be the most revered or even remembered Spectrum game of the early 80s, but that’s not to say it’s without its merits. True enough, it’s a very basic looking game, even for the early days of the Spectrum, however what it lacks in graphical depth it certainly gains in addiction.
The story, for want of a better word, has Jumping Jack reciting a four-verse limerick. Unfortunately, though, he won’t tell you it unless you guide him to the top of the screen. This, as you can imagine, is harder than it sounds, as each stage comprises of eight layers of floors which have to be jumped up to in order to reach the top.
To jump from one layer to the next you’ll need to wait for a gap in the floor of the layer above, but the gaps move across the screen and up and down the floors. For example, the first level has two moving gaps in the floors: the gap that moves from left to right travels up through the layers to each floor, while the gap moving from right to left travels down through the floors.
What you have to do therefore, is time the jump so Jack can move up the floors to reach the top without falling back down through a gap in the floor he’s currently on.
It’s certainly a tricky game to master, thankfully though you don’t lose any lives unless you fall back through the floors and end up at the starting point. The problem, however, is that the action and the gaps speed up considerably as each stage is complete, and you can soon find yourself running from one end of the floor to the next while being chased by a gap that will drop you to the floor below. If you do fall then you have a few seconds of being dazed before getting back to your feet; in the meantime, the gaps are rapidly approaching and to add insult to injury, the game decides to include enemies which when in contact will knock Jack unconscious and liable to fall through the gaps.
Maddening, but blooming brilliant.
Sierra On-Line games
Okay, we’re technically cheating here by covering a number of games under one titles, but since we’re the ones writing this, we can do what we like!
Hands up those of you old enough to remember King’s Quest? What about Space Quest? Or the Leisure Suit Larry games? These three series of games for the early PC are some of the most iconic. Show a screenshot to anyone of forty-something years or older, and they’ll be able to tell you the difference between Police Quest and how rubbing berries on yourself is a good thing to avoid being eaten by a swamp monster.
The Sierra On-Line graphical adventure games were way ahead of their time, in terms of both the number of locations, graphical content, interaction with the player, and quite often, risqué content; especially in the form of Leisure Suit Larry.
Basically put, if you owned a PC back in the 80s then there’s a pretty good chance you had at least one of the Sierra On-Line titles, stuffed in the drawer of the computer desk. They were games that forged a generation of digital adventurers; where once the gamer worked with static images, and countless commands to enter from their 8-bit adventures, Sierra On-Line brought a level of interaction and complexity that hadn’t yet been used. It was quite an incredible achievement.
Fast forward some years later, and Sierra On-Line pushed the boundaries again, both in graphics, interaction and often indelicate content, with the release of the full motion video, point and click game, Phantasmagoria. With scenes of violence, Phantasmagoria certainly brought with it a hefty amount of controversy. Enough to shock several groups into actively banning it from the shelves. That, needless to say, only encouraged sales of the game.
For us though, the best Sierra On-Line game was Space Quest 2: Vohaul’s Revenge. With a perfectly pitched level of comedy, and a great graphical puzzle to work out, it’s the one game in the entire Sierra library that really stood out for us – and the fact that we were never allowed to play Leisure Suit Larry at home.
They Stole a Million
When They Stole a Million was released for the Spectrum in 1986 it came as something of a surprise for the average gamer of the time. This was, after all, a strategy game and strategy games for the Speccy did tend to be a little niche. They Stole a Million though was a little different from its in-depth cousins that shared the same genre shelf space.
Rather than opting for an hours’ long approach to taking a strip of land from the enemy, as most strategy games of the time had you do, TSaM has you planning the perfect heist. It’s a game of two parts really, with the first part having you select the target for the ‘job’, and then choosing the right henchmen from a rouge’s gallery of a dozen or so mug shots.
The choice of hoodlum is a vital part of the game. Picking the safecracker over the electronics expert could end up with you and your team not even being able to gain entry into the building. Likewise, opting for a ham-fisted goon instead of a light-fingered thief could have you in the slammer as the alarms are triggered too early in the robbery.
There’s a clever balance here that easily went unappreciated by the gamer of the day. You only had a certain amount of time to commit the crime, so your timing needed to be perfect: a little too long in disabling the alarms, for example, and you run the risk of escaping with a bag full of swag into the welcoming arms of a patrolling SWAT team.
The criminals you could hire had a detailed rap sheet, along with how much they cost to hire and what their strengths and weaknesses were. Choose the right team though, for the right job, and finally with a fence to off-load the goods to, and you could net a substantial sum.
The second part of the game has you planning the job from a top-down view plan of the building. With the limited time available you needed to disable the alarm, open the door, get your men to their points, crack the safe, grab the jewels, and get back out to the getaway car. It took some doing, and more often than not you could end up with a mistimed crew member and ultimately a botched job.
Graphically the game didn’t break any records, but the use of a menu system, and some cartoon-like imagery lent a certain appeal to TSaM. Plus, being able to pull off a heist that would raise the collective eyebrows of Ocean’s 11 was one of the best feelings in the world.
Long before Battlefield 5, Call of Duty, CS:GO and countless other modern first person shooters with an online multiplayer element, there was Novalogic’s Delta force. This quite extraordinary shooter had you as one of the U.S. finest combat troops, where you’ll enter enemy territory with a variety of weapons best suited for the mission at hand, to secure a ‘package’ or simply wipe out the opposing force before making your way to an awaiting helicopter and escape.
It’s a simple enough concept, and one that never seems to get old. But it worked magnificently in a time where a semi-open world gameplay was beginning to emerge with the recent lurch in more powerful processors and systems.
Its popularity stemmed from a number of import features NovaLogic had the clever insight to introduce. For starters, it was a huge, open world campaign – although the actual maps were limited to some degree, and the action took place in certain sections. It featured loads of weaponry, tons of bad guys to send to meet their maker, stuff to blow up and, oddly enough, vultures that could sometimes be shot out of the sky.
Secondly, it also featured a stable and lag-free LAN client and server setup where something like up to eight players could spend an afternoon helping each other out in the various missions, or simply killing each other in the frantic deathmatch maps.
On top of the LAN multiplayer scene, NovaLogic also hosted several servers featuring custom maps, clan wars and the usual mix of deathmatch, capture the flag, co-op, king of the hill and so on. The NovaLogic servers were bombarded, almost constantly, but allowed for up to twenty plus players to battle it out day or night.
The Voxel graphics engine used was a blinding bit of genius on the part of NovaLogic. Its use relied more heavily on the CPU rather than the GPU at the time, meaning you didn’t need the latest Voodoo Banshee 3D graphics card to play, just a half decent processor – or if you were lucky enough to gain access to a server specified machine, then you could crack out some great gameplay on the then new two-processor Xeon machines.
Voxel also had some unique features which made it such an excellent graphics system to use. It had a near infinite draw distance, with very little memory use required to deliver the results. It could also be used to great effect when drawing landscapes, rocks, trees and other environmental scenery, which is why it works so well with Delta Force. In addition, it was also an extremely easy system to customise, and consequently write an editor for, which resulted in many excellent home-made maps.
Delta Force is fondly remembered hereabouts, and it’s not unknown for us to occasionally open up a multiplayer deathmatch server. Bravo, Novalogic, and thanks for the memories.
It may not be every gamer’s cup of tea, but Nintendo’s moustachioed plumber is one of the most recognised and successful characters in the history of the video game world. However, he wasn’t always the star of the show. Many years ago, he had a pet ape.
Donkey Kong first appeared in the arcade hit of the same name on July 9th 1981. A carpenter called Jumpman once owned him, and after many months of ill treatment Donkey Kong ran off and took with him The Lady, later named Pauline. It was then up to Jumpman to rescue Pauline from the clutches of Donkey Kong.
Donkey Kong, the game not the ape, was an instant hit for Nintendo, who hadn’t had a huge amount of success in the arcades. The sequel, Donkey Kong Jr followed a year later with your son attempting to rescue you from the now named Mario and his brother who have you locked in a cage. Donkey Kong though was a massive hit in the US, and with a huge global distribution of 40 million units it soon became the iconic poster child for Nintendo.
Created by Shigeru Miyamoto in 1981, Donkey Kong came about while Miyamoto was working on a conversion of Radar Scope for Nintendo. The idea was to create a game that American audiences could get behind, was easy to play, needed very little instructions, but also required fast reflexes and timing. The end result was an arcade game that not only spawned Mario, but also one that’s still going strong today.
As we said, Donkey Kong Jr. was released a year later, in 1982, with Donkey Kong 3 the year after that in 1983. There was a bit of gap then for eleven years until we saw a Donkey Kong named game return in the form of Donkey Kong Country, with the cancelled Return of Donkey Kong scheduled to have been released in 1989.
The gradual improvement of gaming technology meant that Donkey Kong, the character, began to appear in various forms throughout the Mario universe. Whether it was racing, in a 3D environment or as a secret, unlockable stage, Donkey Kong has remained a favourite in the Nintendo world.
The Donkey Kong game has also re-appeared on various platforms other than the arcade. Game and Watch, other handhelds, the N64, Wii, Atari 7800, ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 have all had the pleasure of Donkey Kong; not to mention the legions of clones. More recently, a Donkey Kong clone appeared in Fallout 4, named The Red Menace, which you can get to play before you escape the Vault.
Back in the days of the 80s home computer, one of the great pleasures of the time was marching into the local John Menzies, with your pocket money in hand, and buying the latest release. But, despite having a paper round, milk round, or simply by doing jobs for your mum and dad, your available cash often fell short of the cost of the latest title.
Unless you bought a Budget Game!
The budget games of the Spectrum and C64 appeared in many forms. Some were amazing, most were terrible, but all never cost more than £2.99. Indeed, the budget game of the 80s was the saviour of the cash-strapped gamer, and the label Mastertronic were the kings of the hill.
Feud was a superb budget arcade adventure released in 1987 to much acclaim, earning the coveted Crash Smash award (even becoming the subject of that month’s Crash cover, March ‘87). Costing a mere £1.99, this wonderfully addictive game had you as one of two wizard brothers, Learic and Leanoric, who have had an argument that has escalated into an all-out magical war.
You play the part of Learic, whereby you have to navigate the expansive map finding a variety of herbs and plants that when combined, will make up a specific spell from your spell book. Once you have a collection of spell ingredients it’s back to your home area of the map where you can mix the ingredients in your cauldron to activate the spell. After that, you can then hunt out your brother and use the spells to defeat him with combinations of your wizardry arsenal.
There are some marvellous features at work in this game: the impressive size of the playing area, the often-cunning locations of the herbs and their re-spawn time, the random villager who can be turned into a doppelgänger or a zombie in order to injure or lure Leanoric, and the tick-tick sound of your walking followed by the piercing alarm bell shrill denoting Leanoric’s sudden appearance.
It did suffer from a horrendous case of colour clash mind you. The many coloured villagers you encounter will merge with your stark white character and create a sickening hue for a brief moment, as did some of the foliage when you passed by. However, you got what you paid for, and for £1.99 you couldn’t really argue with this little gem.
It’s a funny thing, doing an article such as this, since we already know and love these games we’re writing about. In essence, we loved them, still love them, but more importantly, haven’t forgotten them.
We could go in to the inner depths of gaming, and dredge the bottom for some of the more illusive titles, but in a way not many folk beyond avid gamers will likely remember them – or have even loved them in the past. Therefore we needed advice, and so we chatted with our non-retro loving and occasional gaming friends.
When we mentioned the titles above, they responded positively, but there was one that really lit their eyes up. While we didn’t think to include this title to begin with, after seeing their reaction, and the subsequent enthused chat about it that lasted well over half an hour, we needed to include it. And that game, dear reader, is Manic Miner.
Manic Miner was the Spectrum’s, and probably the UK’s, first blockbuster game. The then teenage Matthew Smith took just eight weeks to code it; from drawing simple screens on a notepad, through to creating Miner Willy and his twenty caverns of gaming torture, and finally duplicating the tapes.
He created the code on a Tandy TRS-80, according to legend, which apparently crashed every time someone put the kettle on, so he ended up working exclusively at night. Manic Miner was inspired by the older Atari game Miner 2049er, written by Bill Hoag. Which had a miner leaping around levels, collecting treasure, and avoiding everything else.
According to Smith, he created the first level to be a little more difficult than the leading levels. The reason being, he wanted the new player to be challenged and frustrated enough to come back for more, to pit their skills against the game.
Manic Miner made a considerable amount of money for Matthew Smith, and of course the sequel, Jet Set Willy. The pressure was on, therefore, and the software companies, gamers, investors and everyone in between were hounding Smith to come up with the goods. Eventually he did, but to the detriment of his health.
It’s a great shame, looking back at it now. Smith had a lot of money, he was young and he never had the support he needed to cope with his fame. As a result he strayed somewhat and ended up making some poor life choices. The end result was a young man who was burnt out, and Smith vanished into gaming legend.
According to Smith himself, he lived in a commune in Holland repairing motorbikes, in the mid-nineties. Nevertheless, he is fondly remembered for creating the defining game of our childhood.
There’s not enough time to go through every game we once loved and forgot, so here’s honourable mentions for you to look up on YouTube, to spark that nostalgia:
Carrier Command – https://youtu.be/JypAf87c5t8
Virus – https://youtu.be/hAgWM2q9loY
Karnov – https://youtu.be/tK5v-QWQ4_w
Operation Wolf – https://youtu.be/Ujgy2ziBF8w
Match Day – https://youtu.be/FMuj957PsKg
Fairlight – https://youtu.be/U7S4xIs1WZE
The Hobbit – https://youtu.be/XJ9LuK5Tcgg
Cannon Fodder – https://youtu.be/1XUqK4l3VAU
Beneath a Steel Sky – https://youtu.be/scFkCiwivHo
The Secret of Monkey Island – https://youtu.be/RBeYlClQRgQ
And now for you…
Hopefully, these ten titles will have brought back some memories for you, and equally hopefully, it’ll spark some of the titles that are personal to you.
If so, and it’s not mentioned in the above, then let us know what games you loved but have since forgotten and suddenly remembered in the Comments section below.