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Old 03 January 2010, 02:08   #1
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But... That's Crap! And Yet... It's Not!

Hey all, due to erratic sleep patterns, and eating Ice Cream at 5 in the morning, and post-Seasonal sadness, I came up with an idea for a thread that involved philosophy and nostalgia and the ennui of old age and a whole lot of other abstract things which really didn't look all that moving or meaningful after an afternoon's forced snoozing... So here's the shorter, more useful version!

As a challenge, and an act of sharing memories and experiences with each, I wonder what games from the past did you come across which, despite looking to be completely shambolic or just plain boring, did you find actually contained a gem of such pure game play that even now, even with our much more jaded modern eyes, they can still raise a smile and some genuine pleasure...? "Tetris" is of course the archetype, in that everyone when they first saw it thought some variation of "Is that all it is? What's so good about that?", right up until they played it and realised it was genius in it's simplicity...

But it's not enough to name the obvious classics, as we nostalgia freaks have probably played them all under emulation now. No, what are the obscure games that look like absolutely terrible bollocks that people normally wouldn't play, but in fact are actually rather spiffing? To start you off, I present to you....


"Xzap... it's crap, more like!"

Except you'd be wrong, oh so wrong to say that.

Originally coming with the Starter Pack for the Commodore C16, along with Punchy following it (Simple Fat Policeman Platformer) on Side 1 of the Cassette, and Rolf Harris Picture Builder ("Can yuh see what it is yet?" "Nope, because no one ever bothers with this!") and Starter Chess on the second side ("Stunted Chess, more like!" Although it does manage to beat a 30 (in 1985 prices) Chess Computer I had every time... yes I've rather sadly played them off against each other!) So of course, you started with Xzap. And you sat there and waited, waited, waited a monstrous 433 ticks on the cassette counter for it to load. And then! A deep, almost terrifying booming drone shattered your speakers... This promises to be interesting!

But then you saw it, and your heart fell. I mean, come on, after all of that we get ASCII characters?!

[ Show youtube player ]

It didn't even have joystick control for that matter, either. Keyboard only it was. Bet you're so glad Mother couldn't afford a C64 now, eh?! Yes, I just can't wait to get the friends round and say "Look folks, no sprites!" But then, as you forced yourself to play it on Christmas Day, because you'd got nothing else for the baby Commodore yet... slowly, slowly, it emerges... this is actually rather clever, and even quite nail bitingly tense game!

You see, the spinning hearts can be shot at any time quite safely. But the boxes with numbers on are actually timers, and as they count down to zero, they raise one of two types of shield. The ones with solid sides surround themselves with a small shield, which fries you; the ones with missing sides throw out huge shields which fry you from a curse word summoning distance, and if you shoot them from the empty side, they bounce your shots back at you. And that's before you get to the levels with Evil Otto's low resolution bastard child coming through the walls after you...

So what makes the game so interesting? Well it's that it really is like a Thinking Man's Berzerk; you need to maintain a constant awareness of your position with regards to the entire screen, and it truly gets nerve wracking each time the timers come around again, when you start praying you've left enough space for yourself amongst all those damnable shields... and it's with a genuine sense of relief that you remove each one from the playing field. And as you can't just fire off willy nilly without risking blowing yourself up, it makes every kill shot all that more satisfying. Even the momentary pauses as they wee machine, with it's early adopter spaghetti code, freezes on each kill animation, adds an almost zen like quality to the game, as you take each moment to rapidly reassess your situation.

It's also rather like R-Type in that, damned hard though it proves to be, memorizing the levels will eventually help you get through them, as the attack patterns, of not the bullets fired, are fixed. I never did beat it on the original C16 though... like most gamers, I quickly moved on to the shinier, more visually pleasing games for the system. And there was always newer temptations still in the shops (god bless you, Gremlin Graphics! And you too, Firebird!)... but I never forgot Xzap. And now, thanks to the wonders of emulation, you too can try it, and tell me that I'm not just a rambling old nostalgic fool when I say "go on, give yourself an xzapping today!"

Now then... let's see some more basic stories, about some of those old diamonds in their own much you've come across! Let's all get misty eyed and silly!
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Old 03 January 2010, 13:48   #2
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heh, classic.

i remember dismissing it as not working as it hadnt loaded in 10 mins or something, evetually i loaded it and forgot about it and went back and it was working.

never really got played tho as i'd moved to the 1.99 mastertronic games by then, tutti frutti, sqworm.

happy days!
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Old 03 January 2010, 14:16   #3
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Law of the west for the c64, graphics where not the best it took ages to load from tape if it did :/

but i thought the game play was great the story could really develop in different ways depending on what you said, i remember once the doctor left me for dead after getting shot, purely cause i'd hinted he'd been at the sauce

Crazy but good times when you look back
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Old 04 January 2010, 19:17   #4
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Hey I remember playing this at my rich mates next door. he had a spectrum with manic miner on it and his older bro had a c16 with xzap. I had a binatone TV sports game machine thingy - but it had analogue joysticks ...http://www.tvfilmprops.co.uk/userdata/PRODPIC-229.jpg
we used to play the shotgun shooting game for hours - it was real hard on fast with the joystick speed on hi.
so was basket ball
[ Show youtube player ]

jeeze I hadn't thought about this game for years - yes it was clever and we played it loads when we got bored of manic miner.
I later got a C64 - still got it in bits - and still love playing the original Paradroid. Its got a classic blend of tactical shooter, strategic thinking and a cool puzzle game. The step kids thought it looked crap and took the mickey when i loaded it up. they then played it for hours and couldnt believe how playable it was even though it was really difficult to clear even one ship.
and looked about as good - to them - as a pair of old pants. I tried to explain to them that the metalic bass relief look was refreshing and innovative at the time but it was totaly lost on them. 'mmmmmmm' was the reply

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Old 13 January 2010, 01:14   #5
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Ugly but awesome games? How about...

Hi-Octane, for the PC (but with maximum untextured ugliness and framerate drops in the Saturn port)? It looks gross with its pathetic draw distance and dull colors, but it's easily one of the best futuristic racing games that I've played, right up there with F-Zero GX and Wipeout 3.

It's a great game for a number of reasons. First off, it has ultra-floaty handling like Wipeout, but the tracks are wide enough that avoiding the walls isn't such a pressing concern. What is a pressing concern is killing everybody else on the track; in fact, this game feels more like a vehicular combat game than it does a racing game - an aspect enhanced by the inclusion of a Twisted Metal-style deathmatch mode.

I could go on about the great track designs, or the perfect integration of racing and combat without too much emphasis on both, or the myriad options and gameplay modes, but I'd be beating a dead horse at that point. Really, you owe it to yourself to play this game at least once.
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Old 13 January 2010, 09:53   #6
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Hi-Octane is one of my favourite games of all time. I remember when I first loaded up that beauty, the speed and the sheer exhilaration of the game simply blew me away.

When I finally figure out how to get DosBox working, perhaps I can play it again.
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