As I’ve said before, I was late to the Commodore 64. It’s early days were well behind it when I bought mine. This was good in some ways; there were already established budget brands that weren’t just churning out rubbish but were actually re-releasing classics of yester year at pretty great prices. It was a good way to build up a cheap library of good, if not new, games.
The other way to have an immediate injection of games was to join one of the mail order computer clubs. You had a joining offer of 5 or 6 games for about 10p each and a regular commitment to but a game every 6 weeks from the catalogue they posted out. Dad had done us sterling service with the Spectrum club a few years earlier when one of the joining offers had been the text adventure the Hobbit, complete with a paperback copy of the book. At my nagging (I probably thought of it as a polite, rational case of me putting my argument forward at the time but I was a horribly precious little man when I was growing up), Dad signed me up for the C64 club, with my commitment to pay for the games out of my pocket/bus/lunch money. For reasons lost in the midst of time, the actual initial offer games were wrapped up as part of my Christmas present in the year of our lord 1986.
I mentioned in a previous post that I’d always found it odd that chemists seemed at the forefront of games retail, so it shouldn’t surprise you to find out that I’d bought my Commodore 64 from Boots the Chemist. They had a lot going for them- they were reputable, close and had stock, what more could an 11 year old want?
Well, it turns out an 11 year old could want quite a bit more. For example, the newly announced Atari STFM. I think this was probably the beginning of my obsession with new technology. It saw me own both a Megadrive and a SNES, a Saturn, PLaystation and N64 and spend my first two paychecks as an accountant on a PC and two Voodoo II graphics cards to go in it. Even now I’m rocking an overclocked i5 4960K and a 980GTX. I’m still obsessed.
Although the C64 had a disc drive add on, I hadn’t bought one because it was expensive and not everything supported it. Mind you, I remember reading in ZZAP64 that the tape conversion of Alice in Wonderland, originally a disc based game, was unplayable after a point as it wasn’t so much a conversion, more the exact code shoved on to tape, so it refused to work past the point where it asked you to insert the second disc that you couldn’t possibly insert as you were trying to load it on cassette. But the Atari ST! It was 16bit, it had 512K of RAM, it had a built in floppy disc drive! It also had an unbelievably rushed and bodged development cycle that in the long term saw it thoroughly outshone by the Commodore Amiga but none of us were aware of that at the time because frankly it was the future.
The future at that stage, as far as dads office was concerned, rested firmly with ICL’s bastardised Sinclair QL hybrid, the One Per Desk. The OPD had a re-engineered microdive*, a built in phone and a hi res (512×256) screen. For less than the price of the OPD, I could get a home computer that could do full colour, had a GUI (graphical user interface) and load games from floppy disc.
The only fly in the ointment was I had just spent all my money on a C64. Bummer. Fortunately the Gods of Technology smiled beneficently upon me and caused my C64 tape deck to fail. They’d been busy behind the scenes before this however as Boots the Chemist had realised the clue was in the name, and what reason did they have as a purveyor of over the counter and prescription medicines have selling computers anyway? By the time Boots the Chemist entered into a dialogue with dad over our broken C64, they didn’t sell the blessed thing any more. They offered a full refund. Dad, showing the sort of skills that later saw him negotiate early retirement at 51 with a fully paid up final salary pension, his company car, and a lump sum large enough to pay of the mortgage, talked them round to refunding the RRP on all the games I had on the system, including the several computer club games I paid 10p each for.
Dad even managed to get out of the commitment from the computer club, which is usually as difficult as leaving the mafia.
Dad’s skills went on to be wasted by early retirement. I think he could had been a top level trade negotiator or some EU mandarin. He was awesomely unstoppable once he got going.
I was now richer than I could have dreamed possible. The combination of what I’d spent on the C64 and what I’d been refunded added up to a whole lot of money. Add in another year of an Easter holiday spent frantically stuffing envelopes and delivering rate demands, and the money was flowing in a way that meant I simply had to spend it before I frittered it away on pointless tat.
Too many magazines had too many alluring features on the Atari ST (or the second model, the Atari STFM to be precise- built in disk drive, and mouse/joystick port in the worst place imaginable, under the keyboard), and I had to have one. Typically, as I learnt on subsequent platform launches, I was initially underwhelmed because I got the machine with GoldRunner. GoldRunner was a vertically scrolling shoot ’em up. It certainly looked miles better than anything on the C64, let alone the Spectrum, but the junior me was having a hard time convincing himself it was actually fun to play. Mostly because it wasn’t. Fortunately the rather wonderful Starglider was already out, and had been popularised on Saturday morning kids TV show Get Fresh, where it had been used in a competition between kids in the studio on a weekly basis. I still have a soft spot for Starglider to this day and it’ll come as no surprise that it’s on our list to play in the next few weeks.
I may have also re-purchased Bubble Bobble on the ST, which is okay as I technically didn’t own it any more since the game had gone back along with my ST. So that was okay. Honest.
The ST era was probably the most enduring period of gaming I had. While I added consoles (SNES, Megadrive) to my collection, they didn’t replace my ST, they complimented it. The ST was, lets not beat about the bush, crap at scrolling. Consoles weren’t. The ST was great at 3D. Consoles weren’t. It was a match made in heaven, so much so that come my final year at university, my flat mates and I were still playing Sensi Soccer with the custom team of girls that my little brother fancied and that was in 1996. That’s one hell of a life span, and I still kept it for gaming after dad gave me his 386 PC the following year.
From next week, Sam and I will be entering the world of 16bit gaming. Wish us luck!
*by re-engineered, it basically meant it worked. I’ve got 3 QLs in the loft, none of them have a working microdrive.