Way Of The Exploding Git

For the old fart generation...

A gamer’s life was once so different to what it is now. Here I am, nearly 40, and already in the unenviable position to say to the Playstation generation, ‘you don’t know how good you’ve got it’. And in the same breath, fully realise that actually we had it best, and I wouldn’t change it for all the world.

This is the story of a world yet to embrace gaming.  A world where bigger boys would grab your copy of Sinclair Programs and show the girls in class what a speccy twat you were. A world where like minded brethren clustered together in damp corners of the playground, trading TDKs, and plotting against C64 rival tribes. Some of you won’t even be able to comprehend this, but it was a time before…. release dates.

I know, how on earth would you cope today if you didn’t know what game you were going to get for Christmas. You couldn’t have that hot title on day of release because you had no idea when that was. Back then, magazine reviews had real purpose; not like today, when you read Edge to see if they agreed with you (they still haven’t reviewed Black Ops!). There were no previews either, back then – the first sign of an impending release were the adverts. Ultimate ‘Play The Game’ adverts were the worst, they could generate near orgasmic excitement, but all the info you had was a pretty picture. All you could do was wait until the next issue of the magazine and hope there was more information.

And what did you get in the next issue of the magazine?  The advert again, exactly the same.  Sometimes it would take (particularly with Ultimate) six months for the game to finally be reviewed in the magazine. I actually used to walk two miles to a newsagent on the edge of town which stocked Crash magazine one day earlier than the local WHSmiths, and would then anxiously sit entranced on a bench, rapidly flicking through it before the long walk home.

Now you’ve had six months of adverts, you’ve read the emphatic review probably twenty times, when do you finally get to buy the game? Hard to believe, but this was quite a magical time for us gamers. Every single day, me and my friends used to visit our local games shop and see what had come out. Every day there were new titles there to see, yes, every day. Sometimes we would get to the shop too early after school, and one of the guys there would be at the distributors picking up the day’s releases. We’d hang about until he got back with the spoils, then walk out because he still didn’t have any of the titles we were waiting for.

You see, just because the game had been advertised for six months, received a Crash/Zzap/Sizzler/Smash review, that didn’t mean you could buy it yet. In what, truly, seems a laughable situation today, games would often not come out for another six months after the review. Coming back to my Ultimate example, I remember waiting a full year for Knight Lore; then a similar situation with Alien 8 and Nightshade. In an interview years later, Chris and Tim Stamper, founders of Ultimate and Rare, laughed about how they’d completed work on Knight Lore, Alien 8 and Underwurlde already when they released Sabre Wulf a year earlier. They just wanted to hold back the releases to build up anticipation. Well it certainly worked, but was very frustrating too.

It was the lack of consistency between companies which kept us on our toes. Ocean would advertise one month, review the next, then release the next. A three month cycle, but when they held back one of their releases you’d go into panic, like you’d never be able to buy it. A sprinkling of heavily advertised but unreleased games (Psyclapse / Bandersnatch / Zombie Flesh Eating Chickens) helped maintain the fear that some of the games reviewed in the magazines might never be available to buy.

Don’t go thinking the situation changed when 16-bit came along; we continued without proper release dates right into the early 1990s. I was still walking into the games shop with my fingers crossed in the Amiga and ST era. If it wasn’t for Sega and Nintendo and their Japanese way of organising everything, we’d probably still have no clue when we could buy something today.

But, while we can smile at how silly it all was back in those early days, it was also incredibly exciting. The anticipation of a new title being released is so much greater if you have no idea when it will appear. When you finally saw that new ‘Wally Week’ title on the shelf, in the flesh, well… it was a real rush. Now we just plop the new release in the trolley on top of the potatoes.

These days I have a wry smile at the hysterical rants when games like GT5 get put back a few more weeks; you don’t know you ‘bin born lad.

Last five articles by Jace



  1. Samuel Samuel says:

    I came in right on the cusp between this and games releases being a bit more organised. When I used to go hunting for Atari ST or DOS games, I had no idea what would be in the shop or not. It continued for a bit if you were a PC gamer into the mid 90s, because PC releases tended to be haphazard long after Nintendo and SEGA’s constant media war forced them into becoming more organised about things. It was part of the charm. I used to go into the games shop, which was the size of the chippy and dark and very down market, and I’d browse for hours staring at the massive cardboard boxes at the incredible pulp artwork on the front, and trying to reconcile that with the fuzzy little screenshots on the back.

    It’s been an odd progression. I went from that to the shiny purple and red plastic fascias of the old Game and Electronics Boutique shops, when you knew at least the month a game would be out. And these days I buy all my games in advance from the comfort of my own home via online preordering, knowing almost precisely to the day when it’ll show up. Which thanks to GAME, ShopTo and Amazon’s day one delivery promise tends to be a day earlier than I should have it because of their over-zealous postal staff not wanting me to get a partial refund for it coming a day late.

    I’m precisely the right age and the right kind of nerd to have seen all this without being instantly dismissed by those younger than me as a senile old crank, heh. You’re right though. The old way was much more exciting.

  2. Jace says:

    Thanks Samuel, You’re so right about how dingy games shops used to be. You reminded me that our old local shop used to stick bits of velco on the back of the boxes and stick them to a furry wall for display. Getting that velcro back off the game when you got it home was literally nail-wrenching.

  3. Lorna Lorna says:

    I mainly remember buying Speccy games from the newsagent on those double sided racks and all for £1.99 or £2.99…pocket money-tastic. Thinking back on some of those early game ads makes me smile – they were never, ever, in my experience anything like or even representative of the content. Big boobed women and nubile young men flowing from the talented hands of Oli Frey and the like made for stunning artwork, but disappointment if you were silly enough to think that the game would look anything like it. I remember being taken in by both Firelord and Black Lantern which has stunning art and gorgeous pull out maps in the mags.

    I never remember about release dates back then…probably because, as you say, there weren’t any. Only when I switched to the PC early on do I remember them in mags. I used to pester game shop staff for release dates and wait eagerly as they would page through some mysterious looking papers to give me a date for something. I always wanted to get my hands on that holy sheaf and find out for myself. Such mysteries ;) But then I’m from the Werther’s gaming generation, so I would find it charming :)

  4. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    I was just saying to Lorna last night how the games mags would advertise games for ages and never actually mention release dates. I distinctly remember wanting Paperboy, presumably for the Amiga, after playing it in the arcade and loving it (why… on reflection… I have no idea!) but nobody ever had it on sale. That was until one day when I was browsing through the ads at the back of a mag and one company in Glasgow had Paperboy listed amongst all their other games, so I went to the post office and bought a postal order… sent it off with my order (it was two games, can’t remember the other though) and weeks went by with no game arriving.

    In the end, my mum drove me to their address to pick it up in person and it turned out to be a boarded up tenement building… there was no computer game shop, not even any tennants… just a burned out old sandstone building. I was duped. Turns out that the game just hadn’t been released yet, but I didn’t know that at the time because NOBODY SAID!!!

    That then brought me to Pizza Tycoon. I wanted that game SO damn much you wouldn’t believe, but I just couldn’t ever find it… hunted high and low for it, even ended up in the markets looking through the big ring binders full of pirate games to see if I could get it there… but I couldn’t. I read the reviews, I read the previews, the features, saw all the screen shots… but couldn’t get it anywhere. Turns out that it was never released.until YEARS after it was first previewed and, by that time, I’d moved on anyway.

  5. Ste says:

    I cant really remember this period in our gaming history and I have never been in a dingy back street gaming shop. For my speccy I would just get old games off my Dad’s friends son who was a little bit older than me but reading this I’m just so confused as to why a company would preview a game, get it reviewed etc etc and then not release the fucker for months or even years? WHY?! Didnt these people need to eat back in the 90s

    I suppose it sounds interesting with the suspense and all that but I think I’m happier with the way things are now. A little bit more civilised if you ask me. :D

    Nice article though, I enjoyed it.

  6. Stu says:

    As Lorna mentioned, I loved the £1.99 C64 cassette games I could pick up on a Saturday when the family did the weekly shop. I used to get mine from Woolworths…I remember the games were next to the music section, across from the Pin’n’mix.

    This article brought back some good old gaming nostalgia, thanks! :)

  7. Jace says:

    Thanks for your comments guys. It certainly is much more civilised now. Love the Pizza Tycoon story, I had a similar obsession with a strategy game for the Spectrum called ‘Prime Time’ where you ran a TV station. Reviewed in Crash, but never appeared anywhere, not even in those dodgy mail order adverts. And MarkuzR, what are you talking about, liking paperboy, but on reflection you don’t know why!!!!!

    Paperboy is a slice of absolute magic, the very essence of what made Atari great. I played this in the arcades when it came out and was blown away, it was the most amazing game i’d ever played to that point. There are so many special things about Paperboy, like the way you lose your customers and gain them depending on your performance each day. The way the screen hems you in, so you’re never sure what you’ll run into if you drive to the outer edges. The comedy moments, the hard to hit burglar, the assault course and the funky music. It’s a 100ft lighthouse in the ocean of coin-op mediocrity. Feel proud that you wasted your money trying to own that legendary game even before it came out ;o))

  8. FC360 says:

    I must have missed all that, I used to pop into the shop when I would go to the shop in the army base with my dad at weekends and read through the PC game magazines, now and then the shop owner would take me into his office and show me all the demo’s and free software that came with the magazines that he hadn’t returned or had broken cases and let me pick some. I remember 1 time choosing a disc because of the free publisher clip art it came with and playing a game which I later found out was Starcraft, it took me years to find the full game as the actual demo didn’t say what the game was called.

    I got into gaming about 8 years ago when I got a Xbox, I did have a Playstation original before then but most of the games on it were demos and I wasn’t really that bothered about gaming at the time. The Xbox got me into homebrew and after that I became addicted to gaming :) The Nintendo DS helped a little too.

  9. Richie rich says:

    Love this article!

    Things were certainly sketchy back then. Like the Speccy version of Nemesis being nothing like the preview screens cos they were a mock up.

    Good times though. Better times.

  10. Edward Edward says:

    Urgh, I had a big response to this but it wouldn’t send.

    I think it comes with the territory of the internet that you see the complaining parties a lot more, especially with extended release dates. I agree I don’t know how good I have it in comparison, but then apart from a few rarities, I normally end up waiting a few months to get a lot of games I want to play anyway. I mean, despite wanting the new Zelda game more than many other things, I’m fine with the wait because there’s such a massive stack of games in my room I need to give attention to before I can whine :D

  11. Victor victor says:

    “Some of you won’t even be able to comprehend this, but it was a time before…. release dates.”

    Best. Sentence. Ever. Great article

  12. Jace says:

    Wow Victor, best sentence ever! I’m honoured, mega thanks.

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