Christmas, the high water mark for consumer spending. But how, in the mid-80’s, were Software Houses supposed to flog old games with the relentless march of progress rendering their old products obsolete in the eyes of teenage Home Computer joystick warriors? The answer was quite brilliant if you were a Software House of some repute with a reasonable back catalogue? Simple. You stick a few of your best titles on the gaming equivalent of ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’.
‘They Sold A Million’ was a winner in my eyes, and a must have for Christmas. Each compilation represented value for money even if i had 1 or 2 of the titles, and the fact the line-up for each one was so strong made it all the more attractive. I seem to recall one non ‘They Sold A Million’ compilation had around 10 games, but when one of the games was ‘Super Gran’, the attractiveness of the proposition diminished. If however, you had the pick of Sabre Wulf, Jet Set Willy, Bruce Lee or Beach Head – all good to great games – then you were looking at an offer you could not refuse. Saying that, if you were lucky enough to have a mate with a decent taping setup you may have been the recipient of several C90s worth of illegally taped games that would keep you entertained for weeks on end, and you may well have scoffed at the paltry amount of games on offer under the ‘They Sold A Million’ banner. For the rest of us, the likes of these legal compilations were a great chance to get our hands on several quality games for a good price.
A rare event, the fledgling games industry wowing us with their philanthropy. Nowadays you can spend around 8 euros on the PSN to download Galaga, Pac Man, Xevious and some other interminable arcade relic. The comparison I am trying to make is that in its endless recycling of its back catalogue, sometimes the games industry can over value its content. Whereas ‘They Sold A Million’ was relatively generous in its offerings, it was also a lightbulb moment for Software Houses and Games Developers, accompanied by the sound of ringing tills, that showed that old content, given the right marketing and push, could be sold back to punters with impunity.
Here are some nice pictures of said products;
Italia 90 – a great World Cup if you were English (well, up til the end of the Semi Final). Probably released to cash in on the Greatest Football Tournament on Earth, ‘Football Champ’ was Taito’s quirky and immensely playable Football arcade game. The Greatest Football Arcade Game on Earth. according to me.
This was another Summer ’90 / ’91 Drayton Manor Arcade experience, and this one was jostling with Operation Wolf & Final Fight for my meagre earnings (believe it or not, but students working part time seasonal jobs at Theme Parks are not paid huge amounts of money. FACT.)
There was a luxury version of this game, with a little bench, and a huge (well, 40 inches or so) screen positioned roughly 2 or 3 metres away from you. If memory serves correct. And it doesn’t always.
The football was based around an International Competition (ie The World Cup in all but name). You could play as most of the major teams (including England), and matches lasted around 2 minutes. Control was fairly basic – it was short pass / long pass / shoot at goal. But there was the added joy of violence when you were not on the ball. Yes, you could pile in with a vicious slide tackle, you could attempt a Harald Schumacher type foul where you lead with your knee, or you could just punch the opposition in the face;
if you got caught by the referee, you could get a yellow or red. The idea was to floor him from behind first, then go on your merry way, crippling the opponents. It just wasn’t sporting. But it was funny.
The action was fast, frenetic, and there were sweet spots on the pitch that, if you timed it right, you could lob the ball over the goalie as he grasps at thin air. Getting the time and space to perform this move was not always possible though, as opponents always seemed to be harrying and hassling, which made the goals,when they did go in, even sweeter.
Playing it laughs, Taito appear to have gone for comedy and caricature for their characters in the game. Check out those curtains (ie the haircut) on the Dutch Manager (he looks a bit like Steve Buscemi);
It was a wonderful, fun game. Loads of re-playability. And the reward for winning the Tournament was the magnificent “All your base are belong to us’ lite;
and you can play it on MAME. You should try it.
If you want the definitive account of Football Champ, then I would like to direct you to this fantastic piece;
there is a little bit about ‘Super Shots’, something I never heard of before. They even have some footage on youtube of someone doing these hallowed moves, for goodness sake.
‘You Are Hero’ and various other screenshots are courtesy of
The Football Champ flyer is courtesy of;
A game that got me back in the arcade. Back in 1987 I was working at a theme park (Drayton Manor) that had an arcade bang in the centre of the park, and after all the rides shut down, the canny Arcade operator used to keep his establishment open for 30 minutes or more, to mop up any pennies not already spent by punters. And invariably, one or two of the staff would wonder in to either blow their meagre earnings (this was pre-minimum wage and a lot of us were Sixth formers or college / University students who would take whatever pay we could get). Some would go to the shove penny contraptions or the fruit machines, but I only had eyes for the video games. When Operation Wolf arrived in the summer of 1987, I was only interested in standing at that cabinet, cradling the fixed swivel mounted light gun, that looked like an Uzi, and attempting to free the hostages from the 6 stages of concentration camp war madness.
So many great elements in this game; the way the gun gives force feedback to simulate recoil each time you fired the gun, the relentless barrage of enemy hostility, the constant search for ammunition as your depleted stocks begin to become a threat to your mission. The little static cut scenes that move the story on with economy and purpose. The Arnold Schwarzenegger / Dolph Lundgren super-soldiers.
The graphics, for their time, were fluid and exciting. The controls on the gun were responsive and the on rails gaming experience immersive. And that cabinet looks marvelous doesn’t it?
When you eventually completed a level, it was with a real sense of achievement, such was the well pitched difficulty setting.
Death was a common experience in the game. I do not know how much money I put in that machine at Drayton Manor, but for every 10 minutes of Operation Wolf, I probably had to work a couple of hours to afford to play it. But that was okay. Operation Wolf was a classic arcade game that made the light gun / on-rails game relevant and exciting. Even 25 years later, its a perfectly playable game. You can see for yourself as you can play it online. You just don’t get the light gun experience.
Even the home conversions were good (and there were plenty of them, including a good CPC464 version, a C64 version and a top notch Amiga conversion. It also spawned 3 sequels, one of which, Operation Thunderbolt (1988) nearly cost me as much in 50p pieces as its predecessor.
This game is considered the #4 most popular game of all time according to Killer List of Video Games. (Wikipedia)
(image courtesy of http://retrobrothers.hubpages.com/hub/Astro-Blaster)
The phenomena of the early handheld gaming devices is easy enough to understand. Arcades, and their arcade machines, were our portal into a multitude of exciting, futuristic worlds and scenarios. Any device that could even try to capture the essence of the thrill of the arcade, and bring it to the home, was an attractive proposition. If the handheld devices build design was a miniature facsimile of the arcade cabinet, all the better.
Cast in bright red plastic, Astro Blaster, which was a Scramble clone, was a great example of table top gaming. In 1982, this was as good as it got for arcade home gaming. It gave me hours of challenge.Not only was it a fair representation of the game it emulated, but its build and presentation gave a great overall package. And it had settings for Pro (Professional) and Am (for amateur), to increase the longevity.
Addictive, with multiple stages of gaming, giving variety and challenge, it remains a fond memory and earns a deserved place in my Gaming Timeline.
If there is one thing that 5 years of blogging has done for me, in the context of the nostalgia exercise that I call Those We Left Behind, is that, with the power of Google, it puts flesh on the bones of memory. The Beige Box console with the Big Orange Buttons is a good case in point. For years and years finding the truth about this anomaly of console gaming has proven to be as elusive as trying to catch smoke. Well, elusive until I channeled my google-fu and after several variations on phrases like ‘retro console beige box big orange buttons’ and ‘clone console beige box space invaders’, I hit the jackpot.
What I was looking for, was the wonderfully cumbersome and completely unattractive sounding
‘Voltmace Database Game Computer’
You can speculate on the reason for the name ‘Voltmace’. Maybe the founders of the Company were Mr Volt and Mr Mace. Maybe just welding 2 masculine and arbitrary words together was the truth. I give no speculation on the application of the word ‘Database’ other than ‘Voltmace’ maybe thought the word was sufficient computer jargon to blind the customer with Science. What we have here, is a name that would not have passed muster at any other time than in the time this console was born, and we can all be thankful that that time has passed. Though if ordering online was available in the early 80’s, the people in ‘Electronic’ shops would have been spared the duty of trying to flog Entertainment / ‘Educational’ Hardware with the words ‘Database’ and ‘Voltmace’ in it.
I digress, as this moment of revelation, when I could finally put the name to one of my earliest games consoles, was a sweet victory. I quickly uncovered screenshots of games I had forgotten I had played with my Brother. I remembered the primitive and not-quite-polished gameplay. I was reminded of the fact that the Space Invaders clone that was the highlight of Christmas 1981 did not seem to have half as many Invaders as the Taito Original, and they did not form proper lines of attack.
The fact is, the Voltmace was my first true Games Console, a Beige Box with Big Orange Buttons that had a slot on top for Games Cartridges roughly the same size as the Sega Master System Cartridges. It had all the clones of the popular arcade games of the day, and clones of all the popular Atari 2600 games. The Boxing game was a real treat, especially when you were battering your opponent and its dull electronic farts of submission were accompanied by a stark apostrophe above his head, like he had no idea why he was there;
We got good value for money out of the Air Sea Battle clone, until the arrival of the most-awaited game in the whole Voltmace library, or the whole Voltmace ‘Databse’, if you will. The Space Invaders clone, despite its shortcomings, was SPACE INVADERS IN YOUR LIVING ROOM. And that was enough. The Breakout clone was always a winner – it had Mass Appeal. Even Ted Rogers on 3-2-1 had people playing the thing as part of the Quiz Show (and that was more exciting than waiting to find out if the finalists ended up with Dusty Bin. The Circus clone was a real bugger, as the little people you flung carelessly through the air with amazing speed were so little that actually getting them back on the greasy see-saw that slipped around at the bottom of the screen was akin to hitting that Exhaust Port down an armoured trench on a certain floating Battle Station by only using one shot and the ‘Force’, completely without Navigational and Targeting devices.
The Voltmace Database only plays a small part in my Gaming Timeline, but it was my first Console. Its games never really hit the heights, have not been fondly remembered, but that horrible Beige Box was my first. Thank you, Voltmace. Thank you for the days.
http://www.old-computers.com/museum/computer.asp?st=2&c=1189 – feeling geeky? The Specs, for your amusement, are here.
http://www.videogameconsolelibrary.com/pg70-1292_vc4000.htm#Models – this was one details a whole family of these consoles, with nice pictures!
http://www.retrogamers.org/babble-article12.html – this is a truly wonderful piece, a love letter to this forgotten piece of early Console History. With great pictures!
I thought I would eschew the usual canon of arcade games (who doesn’t know Asteroids, Space Invaders or Galaxians?) and post some images that evoke my time at the amusement arcade (specifically Drayton Manor Parks Amusement Arcade).
It occurred to me this morning that I have been playing videogames for 35 years now. It is officially my longest and most expensive habit / hobby, and I would like to celebrate that fact in the form of a series of postings that will chart, in chronological order, the highlights of 35 years of gaming.
First up, 1977 and the Binatone TV Master MK IV.
In all its tangerine orange glory. The Binatone TV Master MK IV was a TV miracle, giving you 4 games in one reasonably sized console (roughly the size of a PS1, but shaped like a wedge of cheese). The 4 games were Football, Tennis, Squash and Squash Practice. They were, in reality, variatons of PONG, or carbon copies, but no less enjoyable or addictive. A game for the whole family! There was little 1 player option, the console was geared toward the multiplayer experience, and was arcade perfect in its translation. But it would have taken something special to ruin the purity of a port of PONG to the nascent home gamer.
For more information;