Joystick Waggling and Button Bashing: Memoirs, Pt. 2

Hyper Olympic

Due to popular demand (or at least the absence of popular opposition) I’m dipping into my Letts Boy's Diary 1986 once more to pull out another absorbing extract.

When last we looked in on my younger self I was waxing lyrical about the excellence of the Burgerland milkshake (and the "brill-ness" of Back to the Future) while bemoaning the continued non-appearance of Halley's comet and voicing concern about my brother's burgeoning jam sandwich addiction.

All of that just in January too. What a month.

5 days after the Burgerland adventure, I had this to say:

Thursday, January 30th, 1986

Learned about sets in school. Magnum was good. Cats had a tour of the house. Played Hyper Sports.

A particularly full day I'm sure you'll agree. Let's take the various sentences in turn (leaving out the bit about sets…of which I remember nothing):

1) Magnum was good

Recipe: Take one 'tache, one Ferrari, one strict (but dryly witty) English estate manager, one never-seen millionaire author, plenty of Hawaiian shirts (well it was Hawaii), countless Film Noir-ish interior monologues (etc) and bake for 60 minutes.

Result: The marvellous (fústar family favourite) Magnum P.I.

According to tv.com, the episode aired on the night in question (in the US at least) was "All Thieves on Deck" (Season 6). The synopsis reads as follows:

Magnum is to spend a week aboard a luxury cruise ship guarding an Amakua, a valuable wooden Hawaiian statuette recently purchased by Robin Masters, to be displayed on the liner while en route to the Hilo Museum. But Magnum and Higgins find that Apollo has been shot and seriously wounded after thieves attempted to steal the artefact from the Estate. Expecting the would-be robbers to try again during the cruise, Magnum secures Rick and T.C.'s additional help in guarding the artefact, but they find themselves on-board with a ship load of suspects, all potential thieves of the Amakua.

Ho ho. Sounds like the Magnum episode Agatha Christie would have written if she hadn’t (inconveniently) died 10 years previously. I'm sure the luxury cruise setting was duly exploited to allow Higgins many snide remarks RE: Magnum's uncouthness: "Do I really need to explain why you can't wear sneakers to the baccarat table, Thomas?"

Great stuff entirely.

2) Cats had a tour of the house
The cats in question were Nelson and Felix - two utterly mouldy, manky (yet strangely loveable) strays. Nelson looked like the result of a (Fly-like) teleporter accident that had fused the worst elements of a cat and a rat. Not only that but he was - like his famous namesake - minus an eye (and even the existing eye was nothing to write home about). Felix - while affectionate and fond of leaping onto the nearest available lap - was also not without fault. His enjoyment of physical contact was somewhat regrettable since any attempt to stroke him tended to result in a cloud of dead skin, dandruff and general filth being released. Why we saw fit to grant them a tour of the house is anyone’s guess.

21 years on and, once again, 2 cats roam our house,1 though these 2007 versions are far cuter and less prone to falling apart than their 1980s counterparts. Pet name enthusiasts might be interested to learn that Cat A is called Buster (after Mr. Keaton, one of my heroes) and Cat B (following a vintage comedy theme) was due to be called Harpo.

For the first 2 weeks after we got them home, however, 'Harpo' would dart (terrified) under the bed as soon as one of us came anywhere near him. This practice reminded us both of the peculiar habits of "Fragile" Frankie Merman of Seinfeld fame. Fans of that great show may recall that when suffering emotional strain or anxiety the young Frankie would run off into the woods, dig a hole, and sit in it till the mood had passed. Thus it was that "Harpo" became "Frankie".

3) Played Hyper Sports

Hyper Sports (for those not in the know) was the rather lame2 sequel to the seminal arcade game Hyper Olympic (1983). In their home computer incarnations - we had an Amstrad CPC 464 - these games required the user to perform a lot of frantic joystick waggling to make the onscreen athletes do their thing (and this at an age when that other form of "joystick waggling" was becoming an all-consuming leisure activity among my school mates and I). The average lifespan of a joystick exposed to the ferocious battering of Hyper Sports/Olympic3 was approximately 8 seconds. After that your pixilated athlete friend would stand immobile and forlorn while you - with tears of anger and frustration welling in your eyes - waggled with increasingly desperate and futile ferocity.

The joystick, of course, was a wholly unsuitable instrument for such games. Any arcade junkie worth his/her salt would have told you that "button bashing" was the only way to go. The most effective technique was to put your head down, tense your fingers and shoulders, and try to perfect a sort of ferociously intense tremble. When performed most effectively this method appeared (to the untrained eye) to involve little obvious movement. In reality, of course, the movement was so rapid that the eye simply couldn’t keep up.

Flamboyant, over-animated button smashing immediately pegged you as a rank amateur: someone who’d tragically failed to realise that the key to athletic success lay in making the interval between left button and right button taps as brief as humanly possible. Failure to adhere to this basic maxim inevitably resulted in a catastrophic (and competitively disastrous) loss of speed at crucial moments.

One alarming aspect of the "ferocious tremble" technique was that the player could occasionally appear to be exhibiting all the signs of cardiac arrest: purple complexion, extremely tense and rigid limbs, chronic shortness of breath etc. The last time I witnessed this worrying sight was one evening (not so many years ago) in my parents' house. In attendance were yours truly, my brother Brian (Mr. Jam Sandwiches) and Copernicus (Mr. Midnight Court).

The game was the passably entertaining International Track & Field 2: a more sophisticated (but less fun) version of Hyper Olympic. As the evening wore on it became apparent that Copernicus was developing a technique of such prodigious intensity that we could no longer make out the distinctive individual click-clack sounds of alternate keys being pressed. All that could be heard was a deafening and incessant drone as Copernicus' onscreen representative crossed the line for a record obliterating 5.3 second 100 metres.

As the brother and I turned to congratulate him we were greeted with the sight of a young(ish) man utterly spent and possibly in need of urgent medical attention. I actually thought he was going to die there and then before our eyes - snatched away at a moment of minor triumph. Fortunately the palpitations subsided and (after a sit-down and a restorative glass of something or other) his heart resisted the urge to explode.

The shock of it profoundly affected Brian and I though and we never went near the game again - thus ensuring that the record still stands to this day, a testament to Copernicus' willingness to push himself to the trembling limits of human endurance.

More from the diary at a later date.

Footnotes
  1. Not the same house mentioned in the diary of course. [back]
  2. Gymnastics? Skeet Shooting? [back]
  3. Yes I know it sounds odd, but it really was called Hyper Olympic not Hyper Olympics [back]

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23 Comments »

  1. foolhardy says:

    A very enjoyable post. I too loved Magnum PI but not as much as your description of button bashing:
    “The most effective technique was to put your head down, tense your fingers and shoulders, and try to perfect a sort of ferociously intense tremble”
    Sums it up perfectly.

  2. fústar says:

    It was hard to describe. I could mime it for anyone in an instant, but it’s tricky to capture in…er…words.

    My favourite event was always the 110m hurdles. This was a tough one if you were playing by yourself as you had to interrupt your running to tap the jump button without ruining the rhythm.

    Advanced players used to try and use their index fingers to hit the left/right keys while stretching a little finger over to tap jump. The advantage of this, of course, was that one could (in theory) avoid interrupting the button bashing to hit jump. It was a bit like patting your head and rubbing your stomach though. Hard to pull off and requiring plenty of concentration and coordination.

    It was much easier to have a second player whose job it was to do nothing but control the jumping. Most world records were set using this method as it allowed the other player to keep the head down and just batter the run buttons. The same approach could be taken to the long jump, where top speed and the perfect 45 degree angle of take off could produce 9 metre leaps. Hoorah!

  3. foolhardy says:

    A pencil, taped to one’s forehead, did the trick nicely (says he, as though he had actually tried it).
    Or a toe.

    I seem to remember that the technique of choice down my way was to use 2 fingers (fore and index) per button held together tightly - some even introduced the thumb to the mix, presumably adding (much needed) support and increased stability. Presumably.

    I’m sad to report that jumping assistants were also employed from time to time. For shame.

  4. fústar says:

    I seem to remember that the technique of choice down my way was to use 2 fingers (fore and index) per button held together tightly. - some even introduced the thumb to the mix, presumably adding (much needed) support and increased stability.

    I remember that technique well, and very effective it was too. With the thumb touching the rigid index and middle fingers a very solid tapping tool was created. I also recall an open-palmed, fingers-together, slapping routine - almost as if one were playing the bongos. Never favoured that myself…and it was only ever moderately successful on those machines that had the large rectangular buttons.

    I never had any respect for those two-man records. Filthy, dirty cheatin’ if you ask me.

  5. fústar says:

    Incidentally…RE: Magnum’s quality, the wikipedia entry tells us that:

    As of July 2006 Magnum, P.I. is one of a small handful of dramas voted by an overwhelming majority to have never “jumped the shark” on the user-edited website devoted to that concept.

    So there. Mind you that “Jumping the Shark” website is pretty damn lame (for something that could potentially be interesting and fun).

    [Those unfamiliar with the “Jumping the Shark” concept can find out more here]

  6. foolhardy says:

    Jumping the Shark eh?
    New to me.
    For the sake of clarity, could Steve Irwin be considered a recent example?

  7. fústar says:

    Well here’s a definition:

    Jumping the shark is a metaphor that was originally used to denote the tipping point at which a TV series is deemed to have passed its peak, or has introduced plot twists that are illogical in terms of everything that has preceded them. Once a show has “jumped the shark”, fans sense a noticeable decline in quality or feel the show has undergone too many changes to retain its original charm.

    The term comes from a much-derided epiosde of Happy Days where Fonzie jumps over a shark on water skis.

    With Steve Irwin I think it was an example of (that lesser-known phenomenon) “Antagonising the Stingray”.

    Hmmm, maybe we should leave cheap Steve Irwin ‘gags’ to one side…

    I feel guilty now.

  8. foolhardy says:

    Let me see if I have this.

    The Colbys: jumped the shark
    Fawlty Towers: quit while they were ahead

    Am I right?

    Where does that leave Cop Rock?

  9. fústar says:

    Well since The Colbys never really had a peak to begin with it, it’s hard to say when it passed it. Still I suppose most people would point to the Alien abduction episode (yes, I used to watch it) as the one in which it lept several hundred feet over the shark.

    Fawlty Towers never came near the shark. Nor did Spaced or The Office (to name 2 other fine British comedies). This is Alan Partridge did a bit of shark leaping in the 2nd season alas, with the introduction of a Russian girlfriend and generally broader (and less funny) tone.

    Cop Rock?! You tell me. You have the whole thing on DVD.

  10. foolhardy says:

    Cop Rock - DVD my arse, I have it on VHS AND Betamax. Old School. I know a guy who knows a guy who reckons he can get me the original film stock too, at a price.

    From your list of non-shark jumpers one thing stands out - neither Fawlty Towers, Spaced nor The Office went beyond 2 seasons. So, is brevity the source of quality then?

    If so, how do you explain the anomaly that is The Late Late Show?

  11. fústar says:

    You’re a divil for the Betamax all right. Sure didn’t you plan to set up a business in Castlebar for people who wanted to convert their DVDs back into Betamax? I still maintain it’s a niche market…

    Brevity is probably more of an issue for comedies, I think, for obvious reasons. It’s easy for the humour to be become strained and tired after 7 or 8 years. Having said that, there are exceptions. The above-mentioned Seinfeld (for example) pretty much sustained itself in robust comedic health for 9 seasons. The Simpsons, on the other hand, now feels terribly jaded much of the time (at least when I get a chance to watch an episode, which isn’t that often).

    As for The Late Late - it’s a bit like the experience of going to mass for a certain section of the population. You do it because you’ve always done it (even though it’s not very enjoyable).

  12. foolhardy says:

    That Betamax (or BetaMax!™ as I like to call it ) conversion service never really took off.

    People haven’t a clue. I’m prepared to bide my time though and we’ll see how they like it when, in their time of need, I turn my back on them and move BetaMax!™ to fucking Claremorris!

  13. fústar says:

    I just thought that the ad you wanted to place in the Western People sounded a tad aggressive:

    BetaMaxing the shit out of Mayo, one DVD at a time!

    Also, your penchant for calling DVD users “Moronic, sub-human scum” was never likely to win you many admirers.

    You’re too retro. Get with the programme and become “now-tro”.

    I can only imagine what you’d have to say about Blu-ray and HD DVD.

  14. foolhardy says:

    Tell me about it.
    My initial campaign ran with the slogan:
    Back to the Future with BetaMax!™

    Pretty snappy no? Didn’t work out though, thus the more in-your-face approach you mentioned.

    As I say, people haven’t a clue.

    As for DVD (Dirty Venereal Disease) users, I think I called them “Clap addled, moronic sub-human scum”
    They babble on like drunk children about picture quality! Quality! Quality!? I’m offering quantity and these clowns are thinking quality. Have you seen the size of a DVD? They’re tiny! You could choke a hippo with a BetaMax! cassette. Now, that’s what I’m talking about.

    Regarding “Blu-ray” and “HD DVD” - whatever the hell they are, they’re fads just like the rest of them. Mark my words, BetaMax!™ is the future.

  15. James says:

    Hello guys, I followed a link from wikipedia to this site. I just want to tell you that I finished a very detailed guide on Track And Field.

    If you are interested it is at:

    http://www.cincinato.org/trackandfield/

    (right now is a spanish-english mix, a pure 100% english version is on the way.)

    I am specially interested in the records from people out there, so If you want to send me your marks I will gladly add them to the score board!

    James

  16. fústar says:

    Hi James,

    Actually it’s “guy” (singular), just me on my ownsome.

    Your site looks great by the way. Really nice clean design and some lovely images.

    Now I’m off to try and break some records…

  17. James says:

    You are both ‘foolhardy’ and ‘fústar’ ? wow

    anyway thanks a lot for those nice words, I’ll be waiting for those records!

    :-)

  18. fústar says:

    Er…sorry for confusing you James. Obviously foolhardy is someone else! I’m not here talking to myself. I just meant I’m the sole author of the blog (if you see what I mean).

    Now back to breaking my 110m hurdles record…

  19. scott shrive says:

    I was reading this post with a smile. I played Hyper Olympics/Track and Field more than any human alive….lol….I used three fingers on my left hand and three fingers on my right hand, in a rat-a-tat drumming motion. I found a machine I hadn’t played in 8 years that still had all my records….the name FUZ, as an hommage to my police officer Dad. I could run the 100m in 7.55 seconds. I wish I could find the standup cabinet game for my basement.

  20. fústar says:

    7.55 seconds?! Holy crapopolis.

    Your little moustachioed chap must have been downing the steroids like nobody’s business. I’m surprised that you (or he) are still alive to tell the tale.

    I too would dearly love a cabinet for my basement. I need to get a basement first of course, but there’s no harm in dreaming.

  21. scott shrive says:

    I downloaded the MAME version for my PC….Trying to use the keyboard was impossible….so I used my Saitek controller, using the shoulder buttons as the run buttons.
    I didn’t get 7.55……but I managed an 8.07 on the 100M dash.
    Hey, in fairness, I am 38…hahaha…..even Babe Ruth stopped hitting homeruns…..lol

  22. fústar says:

    Scott, Records only count when played on a standard arcade machine. On this matter there can be no compromise. PC cheats can probably allow you to (in the manner of photons) arrive at the finishing line before the gun even sounds, thus achieving a negative time. Quantum physics meets pixellated Olympics.

  23. scott shrive says:

    Fair enough. You have my word that I use no cheats. That being said, the 7:55 in the 100M was on a standup machine.The 8:07 was mame…no cheats just 6 fingers tappin away.

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