Perfect Gaming Moments: Zx Spectrum to PSone

There are some moments in gaming that provide a clarity, a new understanding of the game and of the expanding horizons of gaming. These great gaming moments can be a visual trick, an event in the game world or something as simple as a well animated sprite.

There are moments when the line between fantasy and reality is totally gone and the possibilities seem endless, that rare feeling of something totally new and the instant knowledge that nothing will be the same again.

The rise of gaming has been a series of logical steps, as processors get faster and the range of colours on screen expands games have become for want of a better word, prettier.

But the real defining moments of gaming are not limited by speed and colour depth, but by a spark of inspiration from the games designers and programmers. These moments once experienced are never forgotten and the feeling is infectious, how often have you only had to say “Do you remember that bit in Zelda…” for the moment to come flooding back and the inspiration return.

Here we celebrate that inspiration.

Mortal Kombat (Arcade): Scorpion’s Fatality.

After numerous frustrating joystick and button combinations the moment when it goes right and the screen darkens while Scorpion raises his mask to reveal a skeletal head which turns, breaths fire and incinerates the helpless opponent is breathtaking and a whole new culture of visceral hidden moves was born. I remember plugging pound after pound into the damn machine just to see this move, and I’m still not tired of it. It is still the most humiliating end to a fight and the ultimate expression of victory. Finsh Him!

Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64): Entering a new world.

The transition from 2D to 3D is now taken for granted, but think back to the first time you loaded up Mario 64, held the bizarre new N64 controller in your hand and watched in awe as a full bodied Mario sprang out from the familiar green pipe into the gardens of Peach Castle. Remember how you pushed up on the analogue stick and saw Mario springing off into the distance, then back towards you, jumping wildly around in 3 wonderful dimensions. Nintendo’s skill at creating intuitive controls cannot be overlooked as after only a brief moment the freedom of the 3D aspect of the game became as natural as 2D left and right. But what an exhilarating genre-defining moment that was.

Skool Daze (Zx Spectrum): The first school bell.

Still one of my favourite games Skool Daze’s cult following is partly due to the fact that there has not been anything like it since. The world’s only Teach ‘Em Up has a special place in the heart of many a school boy who would rush home desperate to unload a whole days frustration in a consequence free environment. For me the defining moment was at the very start of my first game when I found myself wandering around catapulting teachers and hitting the swotty git and hearing the first bell ring out and the words Mr Withit Map Room appear on the screen. This was accompanied by a rush of movement as the rest of the school bounded to their separate classrooms leaving me avoiding the irate Mr Withit handing out lines by the hundred.

Now I look back amazed at the level of AI, back then I reeled at the amazingly evil rule imposed by the games creator that meant I would actually have to attend lessons to complete the game. Bastard!

The Secret of Monkey Island (PC): The swordfight.

Weened on the Speccy’s many text based adventures and on through the early PC games Loom and Maniac Mansion I found Monkey Island the next step in the journey of adventure games. The humour and strong storytelling found its perfect home in a new level of interactivity and this is what makes TSoMI still so much fun to play. Playing the game is like that wonderful exploration of a new world where all previous notions become shattered and literally anything could lurk around the next corner.

This is possibly why Monkey Island was the first foray for many arcade hardened gamers on the vast sea of adventure. The characters were unlike anything found in previous games; they had pasts, dreams, prejudices and totally unexpected characteristics like belching and complaining. No longer would an angry goblin or an errant key shaped like a skull be the next problem to solve, you would have to deal with some surreal (and often too real) obstacles and devise equally bizarre solutions. And then came the swordfight. “Fantastic!” thought the arcade gamer, “Now a chance to pummel my opponent into submission!” he went on, motioning for the joystick, already working out the basic sword thrusts in his head. “That’s just what this game needs, a good old fashioned fight. Ok, when the talking’s done I’ll rip that bloke’s head off.” And he waited and waited.

Only when he realised that the insult and comebacks selected by the two opponents provided advancement in the fight did he drop his joystick and join the rest of the world in laughing out loud through the fight. You could almost hear Ron Gilbert’s sniggering in the background.

Final Fantasy VII (PSone): Ifrit.

You could argue that this is purely a cosmetic enhancement to an already established gaming moment but it proved wonderfully that RPGs and gaming itself had been brought screaming into the 90’s and a third dimension. Because the Final Fantasy games have the unerring ability to draw the gamer so totally into the world of the game the initial impact of a third dimension was probably lost on many people, the static backgrounds and rudimentary nature of the battleground’s 3D doing little to convince them of its importance.

Then came the Summon function.

After tiring of a limited hack and slash fighting style and perhaps desperate for something a tad more exciting the cursor moved towards the Summon button and then onto the enigmatic Ifrit command. The ground shook, the camera moved high above the battleground in expectation of the rise of the gigantic demon wreathed in flame to blast out of the ground and up into the sky. Roaring and drawing his arms out wide as if finally freeing himself from the 2D restraints of previous games it makes for an awesome moment in gaming history.

Resident Evil (PSone): The dogs.

Its various sequels, prequels and forays into other gaming styles on as many platforms the Resident Evil series has proved as sound a franchise as even the Mario games. The term “Survival Horror” seemed at first glance to be a crude translation from its Japanese roots, but once the introducing movie is over and the player took control the isolation and inevitable death by zombie atmosphere grew. It is to Capcom’s credit that the inspiration behind the game was closely adhered to in the unfolding of the game, and not just a gimmick.

The pre release hype and the infamous advertising of Resident Evil cleverly gave the impression that game would be more than a half naked man armed to the teeth blowing holes in the undead and leaving bloody footprints behind him. But could Capcom pull it off? Was the initial fear created by bizarre blood prints on the walls, the distant firing of shots and a slow moving zombie in a hallway simply a disguise for a no brain shooter yet to come? Usually in a game once the controls are mastered and an enemy is defeated easily that is pretty much it, the rest is more of the some ad nausem, find the right button to push, the door opens, zombie, bang bang, slump, move on.

Not so Resident Evil. The novel use of an opening door to precede the arrival in a new room allowed the gamer to prepare for an oncoming assault. In one particular new room the arrival is marked with a notable absence of things to shoot or push. A corridor opens up before the player with nothing much except a couple of tables to move and ammo to collect. Fine, walk on to the next opening door and hopefully something to shoot at. Then, as the player is casually walking out the camera quickly changes and the innocent looking windows are shattered with an almighty crash and in leap two vicious snarling dogs. The sheer terror that this moment still causes today is more than a simple cheap trick, it demonstrate the ability of a game to have a tangible effect on the gamer, in this case blind panic.

In many ways these are why we buy games, or rather these are what we look for when we buy games. The special ingredient that every games company would kill for, cannot be packaged, you won’t see “Inspirational moment” alongside “Amazing graphics” on the list of features for the latest 360 game, and that’s the point. Its not something you can plan, you can pour your heart and soul into a game and if the connection with the gamer isn’t there then it becomes another game, just another game.

These moments can be shared or discovered alone, and are unique to each person. They are not limited to a time or a place, not unique to a computer or console. Every system has had games that were exciting in a completely new way, or had that something special. Moments that can be recalled years later with a simple “Do you remember…” are part of what makes gaming special, and everyone out there has their own story to tell.

Now’s your chance.


3 Responses to “Perfect Gaming Moments: Zx Spectrum to PSone”

  1. December 16, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    Oh boy, I remember that fatality, the screen went black buda boom went the bit of music and the fatality took place. Not forgetting the voice either “FATALITY” awesome stuff. Not quite so awesome was that horrific noise the spectrum struggled out when you got some lines. I think I would rather do real lines than listen to that sound again.

  2. 2 wardy9mm
    December 17, 2009 at 11:13 am

    I could go on and on…so i will, tenchu stealth assassins, the first metal gear solid, operation wolf (on the spectrum) were all games that made me go WOW. But nothing compares to the first time i unwrapped my first black Xbox 1 and put the halo disk in. That’s when I realized that gaming had come such a long way. I also have a soft spot for delta force on the pc, which I reckon was the first time that online playing worked properly.
    Riven was another game for the pc which was visually stunning.

  3. December 17, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    Ah Tenchu, I assume you refer to the first and possibly the best of the series? My games of the past that made me go wow, was Final Fight in the Arcade, Night Trap (yes I know I know) Virtua Racing and Ridge Racer all made me go Whoa, I’m excited (probably a bit more enthusiastic than that

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