Gaming Deaths

We live in the age of the FPS. The biggest selling games are your standard first-person shooters that are designed to pit you, the sane kind of chap or chapess who reads Gaming Lives, against the kind of uber-fuckwits that make up the majority of ranked match players on Xbox Live. Well, maybe they aren’t the majority but they have the loudest voices. Usually the squeaky timbre of a bionic fucking thumb that happens to have a twelve-year old American kid attached to it.

Occasionally though, my life as a person who sometimes reviews games, forces me to dip my toe back in the water and it’s usually within a minute that some arsewank has taken me apart three times while singing, annoyingly, down their mic. Eventually, with a lot of luck and a little skill, I might get them back. Usually in a panic of unaimed fire of the sort last seen in Pulp Fiction. The pay off? “You killed xX>I-Sm0k3-w3eD

I’ve been gaming ever since the days where death meant Pac-Man being caught by a brightly-coloured spectral bastard or taking a dozen pixels in the mush from a Space Invader and you know what, dying just isn’t the giggle it used to be.

Back in the day (fixes pipe, fluffs up slippers) it wasn’t all about clinical headshots of today’s generic modern warfare soldiers and faceless space marines. Nor was it about the hyper-realistic gore of the supposedly adult games that seem to be specifically targeted towards fuckwitted teenagers.

In days gone by you barely had enough memory for a title screen, an options page and the rest of your game. In fact some games never even got endings but once in a while, a coder with a sadistic sense of humour, would reserve a couple of kilobytes for a death animation and, given that games back then were harder than Chuck Liddell – in a minefield, with an exoskeleton, and a baseball bat, with nails in it, and maybe some rusty syringes, covered in bricks and mortar – you’d be seeing your death animation often. So it made sense for them to make a bit of an effort when you virtually shuffled off of this mortal coil. Of course, most developers didn’t make that effort and all too often death meant your sprite flashed on and off for a couple of frames and then you reappeared elsewhere on the screen but occasionally the death would be glorious, cold or just a little funny.

It was a better time. A simpler time. A time when crashing Bomb Jack into a flying saucer didn’t result in you being told that you suck.

Jet Set Willy
ZX Spectrum

Matthew Smith: Programmer. Hippy. Recluse. Sadist.

You think Tomb Raider is a fussy platform game? Back in 1984, Jet Set Willy’s coding legend, Matthew Smith, devised a game so unforgivingly difficult it made Tomb Raider look like Lego Fucking Tiddlywinks. Your task was to take the nimble-but-hungover Willy through his mansion so that he could tidy up after his latest drinky session and go to bed.

This involved pixel-perfect leaps (literally down to the very last pixel) while the assorted denizens of the mansion (ballet-dancing rabbits, angry telephones, deadly eggs… you know, the usual) swept through the various screens with the express purpose of fucking up your day.

The seven lives you got were frankly a drop in an ocean of BLOOD, especially as a badly-judged leap into a new screen would often result in a game-ending deathloop. Yep, Jet Set Willy was as sadistic to the young ‘uns of the 80s as the average Austrian handyman.

Once you lost your seven lives, Matthew Smith’s final ‘fuck you’ was a Monty Python-esque foot that came down from the top of the screen and squished Master Willy’s sixteen-pixel tall body. Harsh but probably the reason why most of us gamers are now counter-culture slackers who can’t be bothered trying very hard.

Ghosts and Goblins

Arthur would live to regret forgetting his PE kit. For about another fifteen seconds if my experience of this game is anything to go by.

Ghost and Goblins, or to give it it’s Japanese name, Makaimura (translated: “You Will Never Complete This Game, Fucker”) is a classic run and.. er… sword, platformy/actiony/combat game from Capcom and, frankly speaking, is designed by absolutely hateful sadists. This is Capcom at their most Japanese. For you, the war is over GI. I shall not kill you, I will let Ghosts and Goblins finish you off.

If Jet Set Willy was hard, this is T-800 hard. T-800 with hammers for eyes hard. T-800 with Doctor Martin boots, face tattoos that say ‘All Coppers Are Bastards’ and honourary title of ‘World’s Biggest, Hardest Bastard’ hard. As hard as Danny Dyer thinks he is in his own head levels of hard. I’ve no idea what level three is like because before I even get near it I’m sobbing into a pillow.

The game itself pits you (an armour-clad knight) against the hordes of the Demon Village (Govan). This means grim reapers, possessed animals, headless giant knights and a mecha-Kerry Katona’s face as well as a few tricky platform challenges. The short version is, unless you are basically good autistic (you know, autistic with super-abilities) then you’re not completing shit.

The inevitable first hit from an undead beasty robs Sir Arthur of his clothes, leaving him to fight in his underpants like an unlucky kid with a creepy PE teacher. The next hit crumbles Sir Arthur down to a pile of bones. A stark warning to the player that this game is ready to fuck with you even at a skeletal level.


It looks like the wee green fella is shaping up to curl this one in. The Barbarians are putting one two men in the wall although one of them seems to have picked up a knock.

Barbarian by Palace Software is one of those iconic games that all retro gamers remember but never particular feel the need to play again. Y’see, Barbarian was a bit blaverage. It wasn’t a bad game at all – there were better one-on-one fighting games around but there were also much worse ones – but it just wasn’t that varied.

Sure, it had a dozen or so combat moves in its repetoir but nobody remembers them. That is, apart from one. The Flying Neck Chop. This move, a throat-height, spinning horizontal slash, was tricky to land, especially against the savvy AI, but when you did the pay-off was immense. Firstly, it was an outright winner. The game had energy bars (sort of) but you’re not running this injury off. Secondly, it took your opponent’s head clean off his shoulders. Yep, land one of these babies and your opponent would drop, sans-noggin, to his knees and a small gargoyle-esque creature would kick his head off of the screen. A comedic touch to one of the first actual fatality moves in the genre.

Later on games such as Moonstone, Mortal Kombat and Soldier Of Fortune would take the idea and run with it, but Barbarian did it first and, arguably, best.


Say hello to the 3:15 from Tooting Broadway and you, Al Jolson, are next.

While Double Dragon won all the plaudits amongst the puffa jacketed arcade-dwellers in the 80s, your best bet for home mass-brawling was Renegade, a coin-op conversion of the westernised version of Nekketsu Koha Kunio-kun (roughly “Kick To The Gonads – Superb!”). Unlike the clumsily-controlled arcade version, the home versions – well, okay, the Speccy version – were a much safer bet.

The game had the then-mandatory plot of ‘girl gets kidnapped by Mr Big, boyfriend takes out a bunch of henchmen to get her back’. In this particular version of that story the boyfriend, let’s call him Rene, uses his considerable brawling talents to traverse five bastard-packed levels. However, this wasn’t some traditional karate sim. Rene’s moves were for the street and from the street.

He had kicks, punches, throws and could even mount a stunned opponent and pummel his face into the ground. A risky manouevre that could see you kicked to death like a parent on a council estate, but if you had a mean streak in you, this was the most brutal way to dispatch an opponent. However, it wasn’t the best. Renegade’s best death used the game’s most original feature – interactive scenery (well, sort of).

After all, what better way is there to dispatch someone than to stun them with a flying kick to the mush, grab their shoulders, knee them firmly in the nuts and then throw them to their death off of a subway platform? That’s right. There is no better way. There will never be a better way. Do you understand? DO YOU UNDERSTAND?

ZX Spectrum

Green wizard is about to die.

Sometimes the cruelest deaths are the ones where you see them coming from a mile off and when a rival wizard casted the ‘Gooey Blob’ spell in Julian Gollop’s turn-based wizard-them-up Chaos, it was like Jason Voorhees was doing his slow, Terminator strides towards you and you were the daft, teenage girl running away from the inevitable machete in the gut.

Chaos’ spells were mainly minion spawns and short-range fireballs. The usual dragons, zombies, mummies, elves and giants as well as the less terrifying lions, crocodiles and, bizarrely, small birds (oh my). You’d cast them and then, when it was your turn, send them off to go and hunt your rivals. Look at those snappers, Ralph!

By comparison, the gooey blob was nothing. You placed it in a location and it would randomly spread out in directions of its own choosing. The blob was easily killed but in a few turns it’d spread out like a chav family living in your street. Before long you wouldn’t be able to get near it. So it’d become the big, green elephant in the room while you continued to hunt your enemies.

Eventually though you’d lose allies to it, all the time getting yourself backed into a corner. That bastard fourth wizard who wasted all his spells on trees and walls and wouldn’t have a chance against your small army, was suddenly sitting pretty while you died a peasant’s death before exploding in eight directions in a cheap and nasty graphical effect.

Last five articles by Richie



  1. Kat says:

    “Ghost and Goblins, or to give it it’s Japanese name, Makaimura (translated: “You Will Never Complete This Game, Fucker”)”

    I lolled! :D Great read!

  2. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    Thankfully, I haven’t yet had to sit through some idiot singing to me down the XBL headset or screaming at me for any reason although I DO know that certain GamingLives writers have experienced the hyperactive gamers that get a little over excited.

    Ghosts And Goblins was awesome, SO awesome. It was probably the first time I ever was ever heard to breathe “wow” at the graphics. I know, it’s still quite basic… but it had fantastic shading and that impressed the hell out of me. Sure, we also had the likes of Mach 3, Firefox and Dragon’s Lair but they weren’t the same… Ghosts And Goblins rocked.

    Your slippers are very tasteful by the way, but please keep your robe closed.

  3. Samuel The Preacher says:

    I played Quantum of Solace on Live once, and for the life of us, we could not discern whether it was a 9 year old boy or a girl who joined the game. Until the little fucker started killing all of us and singing “who sounds like a girl now, assholes!”

    As someone who used to pride themselves on their reflexes, it was not the most fun experience. Little spazzes, thinking they’re God’s gift because they managed to headshot someone nearly three times their age…

    I’d pick out a quote from this to laugh at a lot or get irritated with, but you managed to do both many times in the space of your article, and it would hardly be fair to pick on just one or two, so kudos. That photo of Matthew Smith though… you sure that isn’t a drunken Tory at a dinner party? He sure looks like one there.

  4. Pete says:

    I LOVED Barbarian but could only play it over at a mate’s house…. he was a dick too so unless other folk were going over there I never bothered lol

    What I remember most frustrating about it though was the final level against the Wizardy fella… forward roll under the first lightning bolt and the second had you in the face and you were deed!! :o lol

    I’ve experienced the Munchkins on CSS but thankfully I have admin rights on the server I play on most so can mute them or kick them quite happily!! :D

  5. Rook says:

    Played the games at the start of this article, but not the later ones you mentioned. I don’t think I tried any other move in Barbarian other than the decapitation swing.Obviously not as good as Pete at it as I don’t recall a wizard.

  6. Lorna Lorna says:

    I still have nightmares about getting so far in a Dizzy game, only to miss a jump and end up seeing the stupid little egg bobbing face down in the water. Games were harder than Chuck Norris’s beard after a coat of varnish back then and seeing the death animation, or hearing whatever music accompanied it as one of your miserly allowance of three lives was snatched away, was fucking gutting.

    Was it Jet Set Willy that also had the evil twist of being un-finishable? Wasn’t it glitched or something. Not that I know…I never got more than two screens before giving up on the bastard thing. I still get angry thinking about the deaths in a game called Punchy…it would come up with an irritating voice, drawling ‘harrrharrr harrrr harrr’ and then go into a verison of Greensleeves.

    Really enjoyable piece, Rich :)

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