Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Video Killed The Radio Star

Once upon a time, as I alluded to on here before, it was all about the board games. "Subbuteo" was the undefeated champion, with "Striker" a poor second place, but ever had it been thus. My sister's generation, a decade older than me, knew no better. She was a "Subbuteo" fanatic, and I got her hand-me-downs, and she even went so far as to have a board game based on horse racing called "Totopoly". By the time I was getting to be a sentient being, though, the times were a-changing.

The first exposure that I had to any sort of video game at all was "Galaxians", in a social club in Enfield in about 1980, but football was a natural to be converted to run through these new-fangled machines. My first experience of home computer gaming came not, as it was with most people in the UK, with the Atari 2600 (which was massively successful over here and kicked off the console revolution in this country), but with the Intellivision, a console more popular in the USA than in Britain, one of which our neighbours borrowed from somewhere for the weekend. One of the games that came with it was "NASL Soccer", a very basic football simulation, about which I can remember next to nothing, apart from it's distinctive graphics. This is what passed for high excitement in North London in 1980. I, for whatever reason, remembered it as "International Soccer", but a quick Google set me straight on that score - apparently, it was only called that when they ported it onto the Atari.

I got my first ZX Spectrum in 1983, and it was here that things started to take off. "Football Manager", made by Addictive Games, is one of the most fondly remembered Spectrum games. The format was revolutionary for the time, and it's not pure hyperbole to say that it single-handledly spawned a whole genre of game. On the face of it, it's almost an absurd concept. You don't actually play football in "Football Manager" - you pick the team and you buy & sell players, and then you sit back and watch. I was playing it earlier this evening, and I quickly remembered how I got sucked into it for so many hours when I was about eleven. It's too simplistic, obviously - there are no tactics of any sort, and the matches seem to have a more-than-slightly random element to them - but, twenty-four years on, it's still a very entertaining way to pass an evening. There were, of course, plenty of imitators ("Football Director", "Super League" and the somewhat inevitable "Football Manager 2" all spring immediately to mind), but none of them ever scaled the heights of "Football Manager". By the way, as an aside, "Football Manager"'s creator, Kevin Toms, was something approaching celebrity at the time. I met him quite randomly in the street once. He was enormously tall, a bit podgy, and very, very, very shy.

Of course, not all of us were happy sit on the sidelines. Quite a lot of us wanted to go out there and get our legs muddy. This wasn't easy for programmers to reproduce, to start with. When Ocean Software released "Match Day", though, the stakes were raised somewhat. Prior attempts to make an "action" football game had been uninspired - Arctic's "World Cup Football", the game on which the scandalous "World Cup Carnival" (see the archive for further details of that particular fiasco) was based, being a case in point - but this was a good effort. It was a bit slow, and the players walked rather than ran, but it was an enjoyable enough game. "Match Day 2", released in 1987, was an improvement, but by this time my interest in computer games was starting to wane. It would only re-ignite again in the early 1990s, when I became, well, a slacker.

But more of that tomorrow.


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