20 GOTO 10

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CPC 464

Before the NES, the SNES, the N64, the…well you can see the pattern – there was, in the old family homestead, the Amstrad CPC 464 (affectionately known as the Arnold). Though I'd previously played the Atari 2600, various home versions of Pong, the ColecoVision etc., the idea of having a games playing machine in one's own house remained an almost impossibly thrilling one.

The genius of the 464, the Commodore 64 (etc) was, of course, that they cunningly advertised (or disguised) themselves as educational/professional tools. It was, therefore, a relatively easy job to convince sceptical parents that the object would both a) help us young 'uns with our homework (in a completely non-specified way), and, b) help them with their accounts (or whatever shit it was that we imagined adults did).

Of course, from the time the Arnold came out of its box, to the moment it got deposited (old and unloved) in the family attic, it never provided even a nano-second of educational support – which is precisely the way we wanted it. My parents had, in fairness, made a brief stab at unleashing its all-knowing power when we booted it up for the very first time. On came the familiar (eyeball-destroying) green screen which comfortingly promised that Arnold was "Ready":

Amstrad Green Screen

After pausing for a moment or two to decide how to proceed, my father (I think it was he) suggested I "ask it a question". This, I cheerfully admit, didn't strike me as too absurd an idea. It was the mid 80s (in Ireland) remember – a time when home computers carried potent whiffs of the techno-exotic and the quasi-magical. In other words, we genuinely thought they knew stuff.

"What is the capital of Ethiopia?", typed I.

"Syntax Error", replied Arnold.

Hmmm.

Several hundred syntax errors later and a disillusioned pall began to fall over the family. TV Science Fiction had, it seemed, lied to us. Computers were not the vast, cool storehouses of knowledge we'd imagined them to be. On the plus side – it didn't look like they'd be enslaving us any time soon.

With that, my parents (no doubt feeling like they'd been had) turned their backs on the 464, never to return. The minute they did so we were popping Harrier Attack (one of the 10 bog-standard Amsoft titles given away free with the machine) into the cassette player and sitting excitedly through a 10-15 minute loading sequence.

Errrrrr Ehhhhh Errrrr Ehhhh.

Harrier Attack

Modest as it undoubtedly was, Harrier Attack did, at least, have one curious and memorable feature – it took a dim view of wanton perversity. Game players have always delighted in testing the limits of game worlds by attempting to do the unexpected – shooting passers-by in the face, stabbing a helpful elf to death (etc) – but until recently games were rarely willing (or able) to accommodate us. Obstacles to any kind of deviation from the prescribed path were routinely (and joylessly) placed in our way. Boo!

Harrier Attack, however, catered to the whims of the self-destructive. As you took off from the tiny aircraft carrier at the start of each level you could (if you were quick enough) immediately dump a load of bombs on deck. The ship would disappear. Your crew-mates would curse you as they drowned and burned to death at the same time. You'd fly off to face the enemy chuckling and high-fiving your co-pilot – the imp of the perverse.

Upon finishing the level you'd arrive at the designated landing point only to find no aircraft carrier there to greet you. Limited as the Amstrad's processing power was, it remembered what you'd done and punished you accordingly. The only option left was to fly hopelessly on before running out of fuel, sobbing and crashing into the sea. No sense of humour these navy types.

Anyhoo, the reason such memories are bouncing around my forebrain is that I've recently discovered the quite wonderful CPC Zone – a beautifully designed and lovingly maintained Amstrad fan-site. Browsing through their game archive has reminded me of just how astonishingly prolific makers of 8-bit games actually were. Slaving away in the attics of their parents' houses they churned out titles by the bucket-load – titles spanning every possible genre and every conceivable subject area. The variety was dizzying (and the quality wildly variable). Dempsey and MakepeaceThe Game, anyone?

Dempsey and Makepeace Game

How about the isometric horrors of Nosferatu the Vampire?

Nosferatu the Vampire

One of my personal favourites was (and still is) Barry McGuigan World Championship Boxing. Not not only could one design one's own rookie pugilist (a mind-boggling innovation in 1985) – before launching him on the long, hard road to glory – but rarely has mindless aggression been so ruthlessly punished in a fighting game. Bursting out of one's corner at the bell and recklessly throwing volleys of punches saw one's "Endurance" (a critical value) plummet rapidly. One's opponent (if he was canny) would simply absorb this fury with some judicious blocking before aiming a gentle jab at one's jaw. Down you'd go like a sack of spuds – mouth agape, energy spent, hopes and dreams punctured.

Barry McGuigan

I'm currently (courtesy of the CPCE emulator) working my way up the rankings with my alter-ego "Slappy O'Smacker" – a flame-haired bobber 'n' weaver who throws (on average) about 3 punches per fight.

Slappy

He bores the crowd senseless but (dammit!) gets the job done – like Sugar Ray Leonard and Cliff Thorburn rolled into one unstoppable (and unwatchable) package.

10 PRINT "The End"
20 GOTO 10

July 27, 2008

23 responses to 20 GOTO 10

  1. Pingback: Red Links 29/07/08 : Alexia Golez

  2. Ha! Oh…too many memories.

    Brilliant piece.

  3. fústar said:

    Cheers. It’s astonishing to think that we once tolerated waiting 10 minutes for games to load. On those (frequent) occasions when games turned out to be crap the crushing feeling of time wasted was hard to bear.

    First time I slotted in a NES cartridge was a thrilling experience. Almost instant access to the goodies. Rich colours. Proper sound, Left the poor ol’ Arnold looking like rather pathetic and forlorn.

  4. Mindful Mike said:

    Thanks Fustar, I now have the image of a moustachio’d black Canadian, jiving around the green baize, tassles a.. tassling, refusing to rush his shot, grinding his opponent to death with his nifty footwork. No mas, no mas.

  5. Darwin said:

    ka-chu ka-chu ka-chu shhhhkkk weeeeeooooo etc. That’s the sound of 23 mins loading Prince of Persia on the C64.

  6. niall said:

    Man, it’d be neat if you could write your own attributes in that boxing game. Image – Knave, Attitude – Churlish, and so on…

  7. fústar said:

    Mindful, I’m sure many a Thorburn opponent felt like crying “No mas” (or popping a cyanide capsule) when faced with deciding sessions that stretched into the wee hours. I don’t think there ever was (alas) a “Cliff Thorburn’s Snooker Challenge” game for the Amstrad, but if there had been I’m sure the loading time would have been in the region of 5 or 6 hours.

    Darwin, C64? Bah! In my day C64 fans and Amstrad aficionados used to meet each other after school and settle their differences with hurleys and fists. You were one thing or the other. It was just like West Side Story…only with less dancing and more broken joysticks.

    Niall, My guy’s more like Image – Slobbery. Attitude – Hungry for love.

  8. Mindful Mike said:

    I remember reading somewhere that Big Bill Werbeniuk once popped 3 cyanide capsules during a Canadian Open quarter final against the grind-tastic Thorburn. However, thanks to his Rasputin-like constitution Big Bill survived, and four weeks later from the comfort of his bar stool watched Thorburn claim the title in a I-no-longer-have-the-will-to-breath death match against the ghost of Eddie Charlton.

  9. Pingback: Irish Web and Blog Awards » Blog Archive » Blog Post of the Month July 2008 sponsored by O2 - 20 GOTO 10

  10. @fustar But before the Amstrad and Commodore fans did that, they’d always gang up on the Spectrum users and use the hurls on them first. Proper order, and all that.

  11. grannymar said:

    That was an era I missed or slept through.

    Well done on winning the Blog Post of the Month for July.

  12. Darragh said:

    Just to add my congratulations – well done. I look forward to reading the piece in full :)

  13. Sweet post Fustar. Brought back memories of my first inkling that backup to magnetic tape or other such media was important for computers. I was 8. I had a spectrum 64k. It was 3am. I’d just finished coding manic miner from one of the spectrum magazines. I was about to type “RUN” when my mother crashed in the door of my room bellowing summat about bed and school and sleep and then pulled the plug. Many hours of coding lost. I back up my backups now.

  14. NewsWire said:

    Well done on the award!

  15. fústar said:

    Many thanks all. I’m currently half way up (or down) the side of a drenched mountain in Connemara. Hence the radio silence (in case ye thought I was resting on laurels or repeatedly patting myself on the back).

    Normal service will resume after the weekend. Thanks again for the kind words.

  16. Matt Black said:

    A-W-E-S-O-M-E

  17. fústar said:

    Londoner, The best thing to do with Woody’s recent efforts is (I’ve found) to ignore them. Match Point was the nail in the coffin for me. The critical praise heaped on it was inexplicable and showed (as if we didn’t already know) that there are plenty of meedja eejits out there who fall for mutton dressed as lamb.

    A great talent fading into irrelevance. Sad.

  18. Pingback: Irish Blog Awards » Blog Archive » 2009 Best Blog Post Nominees

  19. Pingback: I Love Coffee, and I Have the T-Shirt to Prove it - Fustar - Recycling Cultural Waste Since 2005

  20. brian said:

    aaahhhh the cpc….

  21. Peadar said:

    Great piece and great site, glad I was sufficiently bored/nosy to poke around. Harrier Attack evokes some of my earliest memories of wanting to be a part of something but not really understanding exactly what. A suitable preparation for the clammy world of courtship.

  22. fústar said:

    Harrier Attack as metaphor for sexual awakening? I bet that’s a first!

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