The following is not a history of gaming. It is a recollection of a personal gaming experience over last 25 odd years. It’s not detailed, that would be an impossible task. It is just the key moments that I remember when I look back. Things might be muddled, dates wrong, details murky but it is how it’s remembered.
The earliest gaming memory I have goes something like this. It was a Saturday. Why? No school or Sunday chores. The year? Mid 80’s probably. Location? My friends front room. Game? Asteroids on an Atari 2600. I didn’t really know what the system was. A black box that plugged direct into the TV and two joysticks that were pretty tricky to operate. It wasn’t a new machine. I think it was my friends brothers console that he had passed on to him. To be honest I wasn’t all that impressed with it. I was young and the outside world was more appealing to me. It wasn’t something I rushed back to beg my parents for. I went home and that was pretty much it for my gaming at that point.
Time passed. How much? I really can’t remember but another one of my friends had a much more interesting piece of hardware to get me interested in gaming again. A BBC Micro. Wait. Back up a bit. My primary school actually had BBC Micro’s and you were allowed to play games on them in the afternoon if you came top in your class. Let’s just say I didn’t get to play much. One game stands out from these limited sessions, Ghouls. A simple but devilishly hard platformer. A cross between Pac-man and Donkey Kong. You were considered a gaming god if you managed to get to the third level. Back to my friend with the BBC Micro. I used to visit his house probably each weekend. For one game. Elite. The classic space trading game from David Braben. We used to play it together. He had ship control duties and I was in charge of the weapons. We must have put hundreds of hours into that game.
The first computer I got was a ZX Spectrum 128k +2. It was a Christmas present from my parents. I cannot tell you the year. The first game I played on it? Rambo. It was on a compilation tape with five other games. All by Ocean Software I do believe. Loading games from a cassette tape was a chore. We all complain about loading times now but back then it was a lengthy process. The distinct noise of a tape loader was unique too. My father used to load a game up with the volume high and make people listen to it when they visited. He explained to them it was the sound of a computer loading. I don’t know what thoughts they had while listening to that high pitched squall. I used to buy a game a week for the Spectrum. Usually budget games from Codemasters. Such delights as the Dizzy series and the majority of the ‘simulator’ games. Budget games back then were 1.99 and full price 9.99. Full price games were a treat. Something to be bought with hard earned pocket money. Birthdays and Christmas lists were filled with the latest full price games. Three games stand out from these lists. Robocop, The Last Ninja 2 and Operation Wolf. The Last Ninja 2 I think ushered in the now common place ‘collector’s edition’. It came in a big black box. The contents were, a ninja mask (didn’t fit), a rubber shuriken (dangerous to the cat), a very large manual and of course the game tape. It was a hard game. I don’t think I ever got more than five or six screens into it. Another joy was to get C90 tapes from your friends which were full of copied games. Yes. Piracy was around then too!
The Spectrum lasted many years. Good years. But something was coming. My first console. A Nintendo Entertainment System. Or NES. This little beauty of a machine was another Christmas present. Unwrapping it was amazing. What is this grey box? Why are the cartridges so big? That Christmas morning I had two games. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Batman. I loved both of them. To me the graphics were stunning. They were actually colourful. A major step up from the Spectrum. The sound and music also was amazing to me. Ninja Turtles was an unforgiving game. I think I only ever got to Shredder once in the whole time I had it. Batman was based on the film. It is regarded as one of the best Batman games ever. This one I did manage to finish. It was a wonderful struggle though. I didn’t encounter Mario until Super Mario 3 released. I was addicted instantly. The gameplay was smooth, the graphics wonderful and things like power ups and map screens were something new to me. I don’t recall having many games for the NES though. I do remember spoiling Christmas for my next console.
The Sega Megadrive (Genesis) is the first console I actually asked for. The NES was a surprise. Knowing that I probably would get it, I knew my parents would have hid it somewhere in the house. So, one night they went out leaving me on my own. Time to search the house. Low and behold I found it in the drawer below my parents bed. It came with Altered Beast. One extra game too, Streets of Rage. Could I resist? Christmas was only a week away. No, I couldn’t. I unboxed it carefully and plugged it in. I tried Streets of Rage. The music! It was stunning. I had never heard anything like it. The game of course was basically a re-skin of Golden Axe. It was still great though. The Megadrive was also the start of a gaming love affair that is still going on today. The first game I bought after Christmas was Madden 92. I have played every Madden since. Desert Strike was another great purchase. My father loved playing that. Let’s skip back to Christmas morning. One big wrapped box. The Christmas tag. A little hand written note on it. “Merry Christmas. We know you found it early because you put the box back the wrong way”. Busted.
One day my friend asked me to go over to his house. He said he just got an imported console from the USA. Intrigued, I went over. A game called Final Fight was playing on his TV. I had never seen anything like it before. It looked and sounded just like an arcade machine. What was this console? A Super Nintendo. I wanted one. However, it was sometime before I got one my self. For once it wasn’t a Christmas present. It was a birthday one. Super Mario World was the packed in game. I loved it to death. F-Zero, Final Fight, Super Tennis and Pilotwings followed quickly. Again, like the NES, I don’t recall having that many games for it. I usually borrowed games from my friends. Things like Starfox, Contra 3 and Mario Kart. I still have the SNES somewhere. It was the only console that I didn’t sell cheap to friends.
So what happened next. I got a PC. It’s the only PC I ever owned. I had it less than 2 years. When I first got it all my friends were jealous. It was a monster machine. Nobody had seen such specs before. A 486 DX2, 50MHz, 4Mb RAM, 100Mb hard drive, Gravis Ultrasound sound card, double speed CD-ROM. Beastly. The first game I got was Star Wars: Rebel Assault. Great sound, graphics I’d never seen before and an uncompromising control scheme. After that I moved into the point and click adventures from Lucasarts. Day of the Tentacle, Sam and Max Hit the Road and Full Throttle. All exceptional games that challenged you. I remember being stuck on Sam and Max for months. The PC also brought me my first experience of versus multiplayer. My friends house. Doom. LAN. Hours of fun.
Playstation. Wow. When it was released I had been sent off to University. University meant a student loan. That meant money to spend on new consoles. A Playstation was duly purchased with Destruction Derby and Tekken. It simply blew me away. It was the perfect gaming experience. Resident Evil. Final Fantasy VII. Two games that changed the way I looked and felt about games. Resident Evil actually scared me. Rare for a game nowadays. Final Fantasy VII was an emotional ride. It’s is the only JRPG I have ever played from start to finish. Resident Evil 2 hit my radar. I got a demo of it with a magazine. However it was still many months away from release in the UK. One day I walked into a game shop and saw Resident Evil 2. How is this possible? It was a US import. I asked the man behind the counter how I could play this. He said my Playstation needed to be ‘chipped’. With this modification done I could play all games from all countries. I said ok. Two days later I had a modded Playstation and a copy of Resident Evil 2. It was and still is the best game I ever played on Playstation One. Being able to purchase imported games, Silent Hill and Metal Gear Solid soon followed. Silent Hill was impressive. It was Resident Evil turned on its head. Dark, eerie and genuinely scary. Metal Gear on the other hand was a frustrating experience. I wasn’t really taken by it. I can’t put my finger on it. Truth be told I’m just not a Metal Gear fan. They are well made games. Just not for me. Other games that stand out in my memory. Dino Crisis, Tekken 2, Resident Evil 3, Gran Turismo and Crash Bandicoot. I must make a quick note here, I was never interested in the N64. I didn’t like the look of it and sticking with cartridges put me off. This was the first Nintendo I skipped.
From Playstation to Dreamcast. The Dreamcast from Sega is probably the most underrated console in history. I bought a Japanese import. It came in a lovely orange box. The European version came in a nasty looking blue. Where to begin with Dreamcast? Soul Calibur, Resident Evil: Code Veronica, Crazy Taxi, Shenmue, Sonic Adventures and Jet Grind Radio. All amazing games. Shenmue is the only game I think that I played in Japanese with no idea what was happening and still enjoyed it. Finished it too. How the Dreamcast managed to fail is beyond me. Yes the Playstation 2 was around the corner but it deserved more time out in the wild. The controller was a monster with the clunky VMU, something I never used. It’s a pity it didn’t stick around longer but there was a monster around the corner.
Playstation 2. I remember seeing a picture of it before it released. Some magazine. I thought it was a sexy piece of hardware. I eventually picked one up. I’m not sure how long after release. It must have been pretty close as there were not many games on offer. I got FIFA with it. It’s amazing how you get shocked at each generation jump, but this impressed me. Just as with the PS1, I got the PS2 modded. This again opened up the world to imported games. Silent Hill 2 is probably the best horror game I have ever played. Not survival horror, that still belongs to Resident Evil 2 but pure horror. It’s a terrifying game. I remember loading it up. The intro cutscene played and then it seemed to pause. I sat waiting. It then dawned on me these were the in game graphics. I think I fell off the sofa. The PS2 also introduced me to the world of Grand Theft Auto. GTA III, Vice City and San Andreas. All exceptional games. My preferred choice? San Andreas. I spent hours on that game. I even fell for the Bigfoot hoax. I spent many an hour at the horse shoe rock area searching for him. The PS2 probably my most used consoles up to that point, both in terms of how long I used and the number of gam I played on it. It definitely sits at the top of my favourite console list. One console that had the least use was soley purchased for three games only. Three exclusives. Talk about being dedicated.
I first saw the Resident Evil remake being hyped on a website running on the new Nintendo console. The Gamecube. A funny, very small purple console. It looked like nothing else. It looked photorealistic to me. I had to have it. Before purchasing the Gamecube I knew that Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil Zero were coming exclusively to the machine. It was a must buy. I can honestly say that I bought a Gamecube solely for three Resident Evil games. Madness? No way. Of course they were not the only games I eventually got. But they were far and few between. Metroid Prime, Eternal Darkness and Killer 7 were the only other games I ever got for that lonely console. What about the first Xbox? Yeah. I never got one. It just didn’t appeal to me. End of story.
The Xbox 360 came out of nowhere. To me it was a true next generation console. I don’t know where I purchased the console, but I know I pre ordered it. I never saw the reveal of it or any hype. I just stumbled on it. The games I got on the release date were, Burnout, Call of Duty 2 and Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter. The graphics on all three were off the chart. The Xbox 360 introduced me to the world of online multiplayer gaming. The first game I ever played online was Rainbow Six: Vegas. I always used to get booted from the lobbies because my connection was not very good and all the lobbies seemed to be in the US. It was tough to get a game. I came across a guy in Nevada who didn’t boot me and we must have played hundreds of hours on that game. In fact we are still friends today. We play regularly each week. Seven years strong. In that time we have played co-op and multiplayer on such games as Gears of War, Ghost Recon, Army of Two, Halo, Battlefield and Call of Duty. Achievements were also something new to me. Something that I got addicted too. I just can’t help it. The quest for one more and to be rewarded with that lovely little ‘blip’ sound. Heaven. For me the Xbox 360 is easily the best console I have had. The games released on it, the online multiplayer, the interface. I love it.
What about the Playstation 3? I did get one. On release date in fact. However, the Playstation 3 eventually ended up being like my GameCube. Only a handful of games ever played on it. Killzone, Uncharted, Resistance, Rock Band and . It’s a nice machine but to me the online experience was cold. It wasn’t personal like the 360. There was no sense of friendship on it. In the end I sold it away.
The Wii and Wii U were not for me. When the Wii released I already had a 360 and PS3. Why would I want a Wii. The Wii U just seems to be designed to fail. I just don’t understand that console. So in over 25 in gaming, I have to say the Xbox 360 is the most used and most fun console I have had. Yes, the PS1 and PS2 were landmarks in the gaming world, but memories are the key. In another 25 years my memory will hold the Xbox 360 at the top of most gaming lists. Disappointing to some but not to me.
So what of the future? We have seen the reveals of Playstation 4 and Xbox One. A new generation of gaming consoles delivering cutting edge graphics, sound and content. Will I buy into them? I decided along time ago that this new generation will be one console only. At the moment I’m in the Playstation 4 camp. The Xbox One just seems not to be a gaming machine. Time will tell. E3 is around the corner. Both companies will be trying to take my money. Here’s to the next 25 years in whatever form it takes.