Generation Game

Maps: cat-nip from old gaming mags

As time and gaming progress, it can be easy to feel left behind, for that ‘Werther’s Original’ generation thing to become less of a joke and more of a sobering reality.  Teens and even gamers in their early twenties have grown up without some of those early gaming staples, outside those formative years that shaped everything about our hobby, from journalism to graphics to gameplay, and it can be sad when you consider that you have.  Some people have no idea of that groin-stimulating feeling when a cart thud-clicks into place in a beloved breeze block of a console.  They are angered by loading screens of more than ten seconds (try five minutes) and have no idea of the screeching nightmare a loading Spectrum can be when it is past your bedtime, or the heart-wrenching meaning of  R Tape loading error.  The very idea of a game that had no end or was physically impossible to complete would be alien – not to us, unfortunately.

Games are still aimed and marketed at the young demographic – that used to be us.  The closer you get to sailing forever from that age bracket where any snot-nosed marketing meat-head would consider that you’d be capable of knowing what a game was, the more soul destroying it gets.  For those of us who were in that unique position to grow exactly on course with the gaming industry, to be there on the crest of the wave as it passed through the years into the decades, across the millennium to a bright future, it is a strange feeling.  We never thought we’d get left behind, that suddenly, the industry – our industry – which had been twinned with our own growth our whole lives, would suddenly try and move on without us.

Jack the Nipper II, follow up to a Speccy classic and fucking tough

We went from having to rely on pocket money to buy our £1.99 releases from the newsagent and getting one or two games a year for Christmas and birthdays (if we were lucky) to being able to fully fund our own hobbies from jobs and careers, spending an inordinate amount.  We have the cash (most of the time), the passion, and while we don’t always have the time – ask any gamer – we still buy the fucking things, even if it means they gather dust while we finish work or deal with the latest family shit-storm.  We became responsible, we grew up, but we never stopped being gamers.  I think some people just stopped seeing us as such.  They stopped seeing the people who were always there for the industry that they think they invented, who supported early programmers and studios such as EA and Rare before they became famous.

We don’t see ourselves as old, but I can’t be the only one who is made to feel that way sometimes, whether it is by specific marketing campaigns and nauseating cutesy/childish characters, or otherwise decent games being ‘dumbed down’ or ‘made accessible’.  Hormonal teenagers may wank over Chobot or pour over lower demographic Xbox mags, but do they need to act surprised at someone my age reading a gaming magazine or browsing in the objectionable turd that is GAME?  People like me are still struggling against folk being astonished that a human with XX chromosomes is a gamer and always has been, but one over thirty?  Fuck me, is this a harbinger of the apocalypse I see before me?

Now this was a great intro sequence. The Settlers, back on the Amiga, was a massive time-sink

We moan, we tut, we despise anyone under the age of twenty one accessing games online, we think people whose first console was a PS2 should be force fed Spectrum noise until they cry blood, but we’re still a key part of this industry, and as long as it doesn’t force any more motion-control bollocks down our throats or keep draining the blood of our beloved classics to feed the souls of their spawn, we always will be.  Some gamers may have given up, either by choice, or because they didn’t have the spine to stand up for their hobby against an overbearing partner.  Others simply fell by the wayside as life consumed them; some forgot or kept meaning to come back, or got lost and intimidated by the more complex sea of choice now, while still more turned their backs on the jiggly direction gaming is going and returned to the rosy nostalgia of games long gone.  But the rest of us remain.  We’re still here; we’ve grown and adapted, finding gems and hidden passions along the way, while mourning our fallen comrades who now pass like ghosts behind frosted glass.  However dejected and disillusioned we may get, we still ride that wave as the industry we began with carries on (and not necessarily in a direction we’d like).  We fight the good fight against the trash-talking whippersnappers of the Playstation generation, against the embarrassing lunacy of the Wii and Kinect, and the tide of piracy threatening the treasures of the humble, indie PC devs.  We may be a generation or two older, but we still matter; we’re still gamers.

As for me, I can look back over a hobby that I’ve loved and loathed, that has cost me (and my parents) an incalculable amount – in time, as much as anything – and feel relatively content.  The so-called ‘youth market’ of today may be the only bracket that the narrow minded marketing Dementors see, but we’re still here… and my Patronus looks like Zool, you pricks.

In a moment of whimsy, I thought I’d finish with a list of sorts, because my Werther’s Original got stuck in my throat and my singing voice has gone to shit.

I come from a generation where…

  • Dizzy wasn’t a rapper, he was an egg with ADHD
  • Booty wasn’t slang for arse, but was a tough-as-nails pirate game on the Spectrum
  • Games cost £1.99
  • White plastic was a no-no
  • Box art was never more misleading
  • Some games had NO graphics whatsoever
  • Fanboys fought over Commodore, Sinclair, and Oric, not Playstation, Microsoft and Nintendo
  • Bedroom coders were invented
  • We were lucky to have 48k
  • Collision detection distance seemed to be as much as a damn centimetre at times
  • The ill-informed, mainstream, hand-wringing press had bigger fish to fry
  • An achievement was something gained by making it to the end of a game without your bladder giving out or your parents calling you to dinner
  • Despite squirming about it now, we ALL pirated a game at some point
  • Cyclone was a helicopter game, not a washing machine
  • Elite wasn’t slang used by twat teenage clans, but was a genre defining classic
  • Games about school vandalism and violence were celebrated
  • Making hand-drawn maps of text adventure games took more time than actually playing them
  • If it had the word ‘Strike’ in the title, it would kick your arse
  • There were no saves
  • Games journalism involved ink, paper, and passion
  • Typing the words ‘fuck off’ into a text adventure was the height of mischievous rebellion
  • Games were harder than a diamond shaped like Chuck Norris’s beard
  • We sat down to play games
  • Collecting eggs across eight endlessly repeating levels was never more fun
  • A toddler who picked his nose was an iconic character
  • Magazine pull-outs of maps were hugely exciting
  • Games often didn’t have endings, some cruelly looped forever…
  • We relied on expensive phone tip-lines and hints in Crash, rather than Google and GameFAQs
  • Workbench and Directory Opus were gems in our memories, now lost to time
  • Anyone who moved from an Amiga to a PC was a traitor… and we were all, sadly, traitors

Most of all, games seemed to last forever… if only our perceived youth did.


Last five articles by Lorna



  1. Chris Toffer says:

    Brilliant, brutal and ah, erm bad-ass? ( I ran out of B words)

    I’m only 25 but I know exactly what you mean. In the last 2 years I’ve seen a dramatic shift in the amount of time I have to play, and yet I continue to buy these huge games with little chance of completion.

    I can’t relate to the era you describe. I know of it, but I certainly can’t say I was there.

    I can say that I remember a time when…

    > There were no save games.
    > A games box, and manual were just as important as the cartridge it came on.
    > If it had “Super” in front of it, it was probably on a Super Nintendo
    > I didn’t need some screwed up story or character depth. I didn’t need someone to convince me to play the game. The gameplay did it on merit alone.
    > If the console stopped working it wasn’t because of a shitty manufacturer. It was from over use. and yes we all did blow into the cartridge.
    > The ONLY rivalry was Mario Vs Sonic and Nintendo Vs Sega (We know how that one turned out, so Microsoft and Sony can fuck off)
    > A Super Scope was a thing of beauty aswell as being a battery guzzling Neanderthal that looked like it belonged on a battlefield in Sierra Leone.
    > And finally: As you’ve already pointed out. Kids played games, parents let them, and no-one else cared. The world was fine with gamers, rather then being strung up by the media whenever someone died who have have touched a controller at some point.

    Awesome article Lorna. Well done!

  2. dante76 says:

    Can’t emphasize enough the no saving points!

    I think modern gamers would weep with despair without autosaves. I think knowing that if you died you’d have to spend 9 hours doing it again made you a better gamer, and one of the reasons I, unlike others I know don’t rage quit or smash controllers when dying fro the 100th time.

    I had to buy an memory module (can’t remember the name) for my spectrum just so I could hack it to save a game of Bards Tale as the only way you could save was in the town which was 14 maps away, and every map had to be loaded each time you went in them.

    I’m off to get a jewellers screwdriver to fine tune my cassette loader for my Oric.

  3. Mr McGash says:

    I recognise that map!! Fued!! Wow good times… Brilliant read as ever :D 5 star quality read

  4. Richie richie says:

    I love this.

    You’ll always be my favourite Lorn. Well you and Duncan MacDonald from Your Sinclair. Because that is how we roll. Like oldies in wheelchairs, baby. Into an 8-colour sunset.

  5. Jace says:

    Ah, bringing back some retro flavour. Did anyone really fight for the Oric? not in my school. And collision detection, gamers today don’t even recognise that as a concept! You forgot to mention colour clash, god I miss that.

    The amiga traitor issue is an interesting one, I moved on from Amiga to console gaming, because i’m a proper gamer, lol. I always hated PC gamers of that generation, all Hoyles card games and flight unlimited. It’s weird how those early attitudes set in for life, horrible techy overclocking PC gamers proud of their inability to FPS without a mouse, they should all be reassimilated.

  6. Edward Edward says:

    Wow, this doesn’t half make me feel young at 20. But then, my first console was a game boy and I grew up on the N64. It’s scary to think how much gaming changes over a couple of years, let alone this long!

    Excellent article, Lorna :D

  7. Tania Tania says:

    A stellar article superbly written. This had me alternately nodding in agreement and laughing out loud.
    I remember everything here and it makes me feel old at 29!
    Long live Dizzy, Cyclone rocks, the first RPG I ever played was Hero Quest on the spectrum, the ONLY Settlers is the original “The Settlers” and I never did complete Jack The bloody Nipper 2.

  8. Rook says:

    Mastertronic was the name to look for when buying a new game. Loading screens drawing a picture line by line. Programs not running after spendng ages copying the code from magazines. Controllers had one stick and one button. And if you did play game in an arcade, then they only cost 10p a go.

    We’re not old, we’re keepers of gaming history. :D

    What Next?>

  9. Richie rich says:

    Cyclone was sick at the time. Totally jaw-dropping visually. Good game too.

  10. Jace says:

    Yeah, cyclone was fantastic, winching those little doods back up into the helicopter, then killing them all by trying to fly under that damn bridge. Come on Costa, remake Cyclone for IOS.

  11. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    I fought for the Oric. I was laughed at for doing so, but I fought like hell… and eventually gave up and snorted up my sleeve at the Spectrum acolytes who didn’t seem to mind that their all-yellow character would inexplicably turn anything it passed into the same yellow colour, including bright red enemies. Colour bleed was what the Spectrum was all about, and high resolution graphics and a dedicated sound chip was what made the Oric great. I say “high resolution” because they WERE touted as that at the time, and you only ever have to play Melbourne House’s “The Hobbit” to see the detali in action. Beautiful.

    I remember having to use a Binatone cassette deck with a five-pin DIN socket to get my games to play, and they’d never work first time. I had somehow convinced myself that by singing an ABBA song as the game loaded, it would give it a higher chance of working… purely because that ONE day where ABBA was on in the lounge, all my games loaded first time. It was bullshit, and I know it, but it worked for me. Sometimes.

    The Amiga is still king, in my book. No matter what anyone says, that AGA chipset made the highest spec PC look like a crap calculator watch back in the day. While friends struggled with shitty looking blocky graphics and tried to convince me that PC gaming was the way to go, I couldn’t help but wonder what they saw that I couldn’t… because my Amiga graphics AND sound, for that matter, blew theirs away to hell. We are all, as Lorna said, now part of the PC clan though. I still mourn my Amiga, and always will.

  12. Jace says:

    I’m not part of the PC clan, I hate PC gaming, I hate PC games, I hate PCs, and despise those who commend them. Long live the Amiga!!

  13. [...] Read Lorna’s article The Generation Game here > [...]

  14. Furie says:

    “Fantasy World Dizzy” was the first and fuzziest voice acting I ever heard in a game. Sure, it was the title screen. Sure, the egg had one hell of an adventure awaiting for me (do not put the hole in the bag) with many fiendish little puzzles. Sure, there are dozens of other games I probably had more fun on, but that one moment when the game finally loaded and I heard those words was the very first Wow! moment I had in gaming.

    And yeah, the game was on a cassette that I bought for 25p at WH Smiths.

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