Unlike the modern ‘shoot ‘em up’ and ‘run ‘em over’ video games, the earliest video games were innovative, challenging or just plain weird. Leaving aside the craziness of a plumber trying to catch a giant ape, or a space ship flying through increasingly improbable situations filled with rocks or dragons, humanoids running through rooms of killer robots (destroy humanoids… destroy intruder…) or people throwing electronic Frisbees at each other, many lesser known games out of Japan took on a whole new level of oddness.
Few were more hard to explain than Mr Do (or Du, or Mr Du’s Castle!). Mr Do was armed with either a hydraulic pump that he threw into approaching monsters (that looked rather like alligators on legs) which he then pumped to their death. Mr Du also had a second attack which was to push giant apples on top of the monsters (if they didn’t eat them first). There were many complexities of play also included that involved random cartons of milk appearing at different times, giant walking TV screens that dropped more apples and a magical spinning diamond that stopped all play. Everything had its own internal logic punctuated by a compulsive electronic beat that sounds a little like, ‘DEE do do do, DEE do do DID diddle diddle dum dee DEE dum dee’. And repeat!
Mr Do came back in later variations with a pneumatic drill that he used to cut apart the island full of monsters he was standing on. He would also appear in mine shafts where monsters would change into ghosts of monsters and walk through walls. Then things got really strange. Modern games just don’t seem quite the same anymore.
Well I went to a park, and I wanted to dance all night, So I swiveled my hips and I shook ‘em on down to the ground. I want to dance! Dance! (ESG, Dance)
ESG (Emerald, Sapphire & Gold) are all about raw funky rhythm, simple basslines and catchy lyrical hooks – a winning combination for those of us who just want to get up and dance. I mean, dance! As feisty teenage girls growing up in the South Bronx in the ‘70s, the Scroggins sisters all graduated from pots, pans and toy instruments to real deal drums and guitars when their parents decided it would help keep them out of trouble. So ESG was born, a family affair comprising of Renee, Marie, Valerie, and Deborah and friends David Miles and Leroy Glover.
After a string of talent quest shows the group went official in ’78, with the help of Ed Bahlman, the owner of 99 Records who helped make them made a regular fixture on the New York ‘No Wave’ scene. By ’81 the sisters were signed with Factory Records and working with producer Martin Hannett. At this time they scored a slot on the opening night of one of the most famous nightclubs in the world, The Hacienda, in Manchester (or ‘Madchester’ as it was lovingly known at the time). In ’83 their success was cemented with the release of ‘Come Away with ESG’. This album features some of their greatest hits including, ‘Dance’ & ‘Moody (Spaced Out)’. Not to mention ‘UFO’, a song that has been re-sampled by a range of hip hop and indie rock acts throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. Some of the more famous acts to have sampled the siren sound in the beginning of the UFO song include Public Enemy in their 1988 track, ‘Night of the Living Bassheads’, Gang Starr’s ‘Take a Rest’ from 1990 and more recently, in 2009 MF Doom’s ‘Yessir!’.
Note the siren sound in the beginning of UFO….
Now listen out for it at the 2:10 mark in ‘Public Enemy’s Night of The Living Bassheads’ (1988). Other samples that you may hear are from a spectrum of artists including David Bowie, Run DMC and Aretha Franklin.
Gang Starr’s ‘Take A Rest’ (from 1990) incorporates the siren sample at around 0:20 seconds.
MF Doom feat. Raekwon Yessir makes gratuitous use of the siren sample from UFO (2009).
There’s no doubt that ESG’s sparse minimal beats are a perfect match for sampling and remixes but ESG didn’t view this as a compliment and they made their feelings known about this copyright incursion with their 1992 track, ‘Sample Credits Don’t Pay Our Bills’.
Towards the end of the ‘90s ESG seemed to go a little quiet but in 2000 Universal Records compiled ‘A South Bronx Story’, that gathered all the hits with a bunch of previously unreleased songs, effectively making all that ESG magic available for the next generation of hipsters, and for old fans who would have had trouble picking up the original ‘80s records during the ‘90s.
ESG went on to produce two more albums, ‘Step Off’ in 2003, and ‘Keep On Moving’ in 2006, and after that they bid farewell to their fans of over 30 years, playing their last show in Chicago in 2007. But should we have believed that this truly was the end for ESG? No way! Less than a year later they made a comeback on stage whilst announcing plans for another new album. With all that combined sass and energy, it seems like nothing will stop the music that is in them.
I remember getting a lift home one night with some older kids when I was still too young to get my driver’s license. They asked me if I’d heard of this ‘heaps mad group’ called The Pixies and when I replied with a shy, “who?” Doolittle began to play. Sure I was impressionable and musical appreciation is always contextual like that, but I was hooked from the moment that Black Francis started to sing the opening ‘Debaser’, if you could call it singing, as it was more like a freak show cabaret screaming at me through the speakers,
“Got me a movie, I want you to know, Slicing up eyeballs, I want you to know, Girly so groovy, I want you know, Don’t know about you, But I am un chien, andalusia!”.
Apparently, the lyrics were inspired by the famous surrealist collages and early films like “Un Chien Andalou”, by Luís Buñuel and Salvador Dalí where, in a dream-like sequence, a woman’s eye is slit by a razor.
But seriously, with that warped surfer/post-punk/college rock guitar and solid bass lines driving forth the lyrical madness, it was a total storm. What does it mean? Who cares! Is it one of the weirdest things I’d ever heard? Yes please! As the album played on, it sounded like underage drinking, smoking and everything crazy and rebellious in the world had just materialised in the form of 15 perfect songs. For many teenagers in the world that feeling brings about an instant recognition, an undeniably appealing connection. The Pixies made it known to me that I would one day leave my parents house and do whatever I wanted. Fall in love, break up, plot some hideous revenge, dance all night at a seedy bar, throw all cares to the world. There is an edgy balance at play here between the playful and slightly demented sides of Black Francis’ sense of humour and Kim Deal’s (known also for her other pretty famous band, The Breeders) sweet but ballsy harmonies. The Pixies had a powerful and unique sound that easily secured them their position as America’s most influential alternative rock band in the late 80s – their influence most clearly heard again via Nirvana in the early 90s. Their career continued into the 90s but eventually they disbanded citing drugs, disagreements and general burnout as the reason…“even there’s a reason, it’s silver, it’s gone…”
Since then, the Pixies have reformed for ‘greatest hits’ tours and can still be seen occasionally doing live shows but with a general aversion to comeback tours, I’d rather remember them for what they were at their peak and occasionally jump around the living room to their old songs, just like I did in those formative years.
<img src="http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/the80sareback/images/music.gif" width="20" height="20" alt="Check out The Pixies' 'Doolittle' album on iTunes.Check out The Pixies’ ‘Doolittle’ album on iTunes.
Egg was the first Game & Watch I got – it was one of the earlier titles.
I remember pestering my parents to get a Game & Watch and we schlepped to Paddy’s Markets and I stood in front of a glass topped counter and got one. In all truth, Egg wasn’t very exciting – you controlled a wolf (!) with four buttons who used his hat to collect eggs laid by hens in the four corners of the screen. As the game progressed the eggs were laid more rapidly, no doubt due to secret genetic engineering experiments taking place whilst you played the game. If you missed an egg it would break on the ground and a chick would, quite disturbingly run off screen.
As a young kid I did wonder why when we ate eggs at home there weren’t chickens inside them. I found out later that the egg companies didn’t let them be fertilised and screen them with lights to avoid ‘consumer surprises’.
Egg was re-released as Mickey Mouse under a license from Disney and the original version disappeared. Despite the licensed character it didn’t make the game any more fun.
Director John Bradham
Starring Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, John Wood, Ally Sheady, Barry Corbin
“Strange game: the only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?” (WOPR, NASA Super Computer).
You’re a whizz kid that finds school a little dull so after-hours is all about getting kicks out of the opportunities that the latest technology affords. This includes using a fan-dangled contraption, ‘the telephone modem’ to dial-up into secure systems, like the school network for example, and change your grade ‘f’ to a more winning grade ‘c’. How very clever you are. You’ve even managed to avoid being a social leper in the interim as, at least one sexy young female (a wannabe dance aerobics star on TV) finds her way regularly into your den to hang out and marvel at your amazing geek prowess.
What a life you have! Yes, this must be every nerd boy’s dream in the 80s, to be you, David Lightman (Matthew Broderick), star of War Games, a tall tale about a wunderkind who manages to break into NASA’s supercomputer, the WOPR, and lives to tell the tale. But it’s not hard to see why this hit flick held so much appeal. Set in the early 80s as the Cold War was thawing and home computing was engaging more amateur programmers, the context seems ripe for a whimsical story with a moral about nuclear war (i.e it’s a bad thing) and a warning about the dangers of placing too much trust in the security of a network and the flawless operations of a machine, even a really super almost sentient-like one.
Computing power is certainly celebrated in War Games, especially as Lightman gets so much cred from being able to hack in to wherever he likes and the super computing power of the WOPR is exalted, initially at least, as a replacement for human operators. It is explained that in the event of a nuclear attack, the computer is faster and probably just as accurate as the President in making an emergency decision. But what if something goes wrong, as it inevitably always does? In this case, America comes close to the brink of nuclear devastation or World War III, because Lightman is smart enough to figure out the backdoor password but not smart enough to realise that he’s broken into a top-secret war game computer at NASA and is scaring the pants off staff in the process (who aren’t able to confirm whether the incoming missiles from the USSR are real or not). In a desperate stab to prevent nuclear war, Lightman engages the computer in a game of Tic Tac Toe, the point being, that the computer must learn the lesson of futility. But will it learn in time to save the two sides from total devastation? As WOPR cycles through all the possible war scenarios one by one it learns that there can be no real winner, due to mutual assured destruction, and the mission is aborted.
If this film was set in current times, it’s certain that Lightman’s story would appear as the epic feature of the week on FAIL blog and he’d probably be thrown in jail but hey, it’s the 80s and the kid’s got smarts, so he simply gets a fatherly pat on the head from a NASA engineer, a squeeze from his girl, and a good time is had by all.
I was in London in 1984 and there was a seedy little arcade in Soho which had, near the door, a lovely sit down version of Star Wars. I’d plead with my parents to let me pop in for a few games after a meal in nearby Chinatown. Back then the vector graphics were out of this world – and the speed of the gameplay blitzed the far more slow moving Battlezone (Atari, 1980).
Playing on Easy mode, it made for a good ten minutes of pretending to be Luke Skywalker. First using the yoke controls to manoeuvre your X-Wing in pursuit of Tie Fighters (including an indestructible Vader!), and then plunging into the notorious Death Star trench dodging fireballs from turrets and waiting for a shot at the Exhaust Port and the gritty, tinny voice synthesis of “You’re all clear kid!”. Blow the Death Star and it was onto the next more difficult round featuring the additional stage flying low across the surface of the Death Star shooting deflector towers and then dodging increasingly complex horizontal catwalks in the Trench.
I never made it through the hardest stage, the barrage of fireballs quickly got too much as the game becomes one of targeting the fireballs as they are launched and trying to squeeze out a shot at the Tie Fighter or Turrets in between.
The vector graphics still make this an exciting game to play if you can track down a machine. I spent a good 45 minutes reliving 1984 when an original sit down cabinet toured as part of the Game On exhibition in Melbourne last year. Certainly compared to other games of 1983 none have aged as well graphically as Star Wars.
In 1985 the obvious sequel, The Empire Strikes Back was released. It used the same hardware and was available as a conversion kit. The sequel had four stages but even the stage on the surface of Hoth flying a Snowspeeder to entangle the huge Imperial Walkers didn’t quite capture the same level of excitement as the original.
When Gauntlet came out at Timezone in Sydney in 1985 I remember queues to play the game. Essentially a dungeon-crawl maze game – a direct descendent of Pac Man and Dungeons & Dragons, Gauntlet’s real claim to fame was the four player system which added a real sense of collaborative social play to the arcades – something that would bear out in the next two decades with social multiplayer arcade (and home) gaming coming to the fore.
I used to play with three school friends and we’d argue over who’d get to play the Elf – which for some reason we thought was the best character. In fact the Valkyrie was the best player. The game was pretty well balanced except perhaps for the Wizard who was just too weak to play with outside of a full compliment of four players.
The baleful cry of ‘Elf needs food’ would be heard shortly before death – usually in later levels by Death himself – a character that would glide effortlessly across the screen making a beeline for your player. As you progressed the waves of enemies emerging from spawning chambers, some made of bones like Baba Yaga’s Hut, massively increased and the mazes began to include teleporters, vanishing and invisible walls.
The game was ported to a lot of home computer systems – albeit poorly, as they missed the smoothness of the arcade multiplayer – and generated numerous sequels over the next two decades. Gauntlet II, released in 1986, expanded the original allowing players to choose any character allowing for four Valkyries of different colours to play together. It also introduced a bonus stage ‘treasure room’ where a certain number of chests had to be found before the time ran out.
The entrance wall of the exhibition will be made up of 1,176 individual Cubes, spelling out ‘The 80s are back’. We need your help to get them all turned the right way! If you can solve a Cube in a flash (or want to give it a go!) register to be part of the team. Send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Treasure hunter/archaeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford – Star Wars, Blade Runner) sets out with his ex-girlfriend Marion (Karen Allen – Starman, Scrooged), with the help of Sallah (John Rhys-Davies – Lord of the Rings, Ivanhoe) and Indy’s colleague, Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott – A Bridge Too Far, Bangkok Hilton) to find the legendary Lost Ark before the Nazis do. The hunt for the Ark takes Indy through snake pits, traps, the jungles of South America, through the streets of Cairo and a top secret Nazi submarine base.
‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ is the first in the series. The movie was released in 1981 and won five Oscars. The huge success led to three additional Indiana Jones movies; ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ (1984), ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ (1989), and ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ (2008) and a TV show, ‘The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles’ (1992-1996). The movie has inspired many books, comics, video games, building sets by LEGO and action figures. In 1999, Raiders of the Lost Ark was deemed to be of significant cultural and historical value by the US Library of Congress by its selection for preservation in the National Film Registry. Indiana Jones has since become an icon.
The movie heavily influenced the action/adventure genre, which can be seen in several lower quality copies with ‘Romancing the Stone’ (1984), ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ (1985) and ‘The Goonies’ (1985). Although these and several other rip-offs are quite entertaining there can be no comparison to the original ‘Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark’.