Computer Games

I have been playing computer games since 1983.

The first games I played were on a Sinclair ZX81 (a small home computer with 16k of memory which you plugged into a domestic television). This featured a black-and-white display and used a dialect of Basic. When it first appeared there weren’t many games available, but I remember playing a dire conversion of the arcade game Space Invaders. Most of the time we were reduced to typing in listings which appeared in the computer magazines of the time. This led to me taking up an interest in programming. I wrote a very crude version of Breakout in Sinclair Basic. This ran so slow that I was forced to learn Z80 machine code. By the time the ZX Spectrum (a colour computer with 48k of memory) appeared I was a competent home programmer.

The ZX Spectrum spawned a huge industry, providing all manner of games and peripherals. I started playing text adventure games. These were text only games where the computer describes the place or situation you are in and you command it with text phrases. The first games I played were the series from Artic Computing imaginatively entitled Adventure A to Adventure E (these were later given proper titles such as Planet of Death). You were limited to two word commands and some of the solutions to the problems were extremely illogical. Nevertheless, I was hooked and for the next few years I collected and played every adventure game I could find.

For me, the crowning glory of the text adventure came with the products of a small British company called Level 9 Computing. They specialised in huge adventures and their parser (the engine that converts the user’s instructions into a form that the computer can work with) was not limited to two-word phrases. All of these game were pure text-only, although some of the later ones included crude pictures. I have played (and completed) every single one of their text adventures with the exception of their last offering (Scapeghost). I still remember with pleasure the worlds of their games, from Colossal Adventure, Adventure Quest to Red Moon and Emerald Isle. How can I forget getting up in the middle of the night and frantically trying a new solution to a puzzle that had been frustrating me for days (this was before the days of the Internet, and instant solutions)?

From the Spectrum I Eye of the Beholder IImigrated to the Commodore Amiga, which included a disk drive so the time waiting for games to load was reduced. By this time graphical adventures were taking over from the text-only genre, but I still preferred the text only versions and I soon discovered the offerings of the American company Infocom. I played quite a few of their games (all of the Zork series, Enchanter and Infidel and Planetfall among others). Eventually, I started playing some of the graphical adventures, such as the Secret of Monkey Island, the Lure of the Temptress and others. These were very good, but I still missed the feeling of immersing myself in a complete new world that the text only games evoked. Then I discovered Role Playing Games.

The first RPGs I played included Dungeon Master, Shadowlands and Elvira: Mistress of the Dark. I was hooked. RPGs had most of the qualities of text adventures, but you could also see what you were doing in the computer world. Their mixture of exploration and problem-solving and the combat systems kept me coming back for more.

For me, the pinnacle of RPG games on the Amiga was reached with the release of Eye of the Beholder. I played this every available moment for about six weeks before I managed to complete it. Eye of the Beholder II was even better, a bigger world, improved interface and better graphics. The third version was not released for the Amiga, so I abandoned my Amiga and brought myself my first PC. EOB III was a disappointment, because it had not been produced by the company (Westwood Studios) that had produced the first two titles in the series. Eventually, Westwood Studios released another RPG, called Lands of Lore, which is what EOB III should have been.

My favourite RPG is Baldur’s Gate, which raised RPGs to a whole new level.Baldur's Gate imageI played all the expansion packs and the sequels. Other games (the Icewind Dale series) were released with the same game engine, which were very good but they could not match the breath-taking complexity and size of the Baldur’s Gate world. For me, a major part of the fun in Baldur’s Gate was creating a party of adventurers, honing their skills in battle and having them interact in their battles in ever-more powerful foes.

Neverwinter Nights was the next major RPG I played. Although this was an improvement over Baldur’s Gate in graphical terms, I missed the party-creation aspects of RPGs. In some measure, the 3D graphics and improved interface made up for this. I still have some of the later versions of Neverwinter Nights installed on my PC, which I play sporadically, but these cannot capture the magic of the early days of computer games.


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