An army of terrorists have seized control of a nuclear missile facility and players must infiltrate the heavily defended base and face an array of soldiers armed with cutting edge military gear. Heavy Barrel is a one or two player co-operational, scrolling shoot ‘em up. It was one of the few games which featured a rotary (or dial) joystick, allowing the player to shoot in eight directions while moving.
Heavy Barrel has a great soundtrack and cool sound effects that create an immersive game environment. You hear the electronic grunts of enemy soldiers as they are hit with machine gun fire or sizzled by your flame thrower. Another interesting element which was probably borrowed from Gauntlet is that when you kill certain soldiers they drop keys which can be used to unlock chests containing weaponry or rotating shields. These chests also contain parts to build the special supergun called the Heavy Barrel. Whichever player collects the final piece of the six parts would be awarded the massive gun; at this point the game excitedly shouts ‘Heavy Barrel!’ The gun lasts for 30 seconds and wipes out most foes with a single shot and if used strategically, can be assembled before an end of level boss to make winning the fight easier.
This was one of my favourite games from the era and a real step forward in graphics with its colourfully rendered science fiction imagery. Game Designer Koji Akibayashi also went on to create Midnight Resistance (1989), one of the last rotary joystick games and another excellent run and gun shooter. This game ramped up the amount of keys players could gather and even featured alternative endings depending on how many prisoners you released.
DJ Ali Reza is going to be spinning some 80s inspired electronic music at the late night opening of the Retro Gaming Weekend on Friday January 29.
Seb Chan spoke to him about his memories of the 80s and the connections between gaming and music.
Q – What is the connection between 80s videogames and electronic music? What sounds or ‘sonic aesthetics’ connect the two?
One connection was that sampling ‘traditional instruments’ in this era was prohibitive so the electronic hardware – sound synthesis – in gaming machines was used to generate this incredibly exciting new form of music. The music was such a huge attraction and reason I loved these games so much. Just play the Galaga theme to most 80s arcade nerds and in all likelihood they will get excited.
The sounds created by these gaming machines were made by Japanese electronics companies who were creating the hardware (electronics boards such as the Yamaha YM2151 and 3012) and also the electronic synthesisers sold to musicians, therefore lots of the sounds would often come from the same place. A significant number of the 80s children who grew up with computer game music generated on the Amiga or Commodore 64 – especially in the UK – would go onto create or DJ electronic music that was directly inspired by these computer game tunes.
Q – Tell us some of the tracks you’ll be dropping. Are they all from the 80s or are you sneaking in some that ‘sound like they are from the 80s’?
I’ll be playing tracks such as Bodenständig 2000 – In Rock (8-Bit), Computer Rockers – Galaxy Defenders, Cylob – Living In The 1980s, and some computer game themes sampled directly from my own arcade machines. This is in addition to some ‘proper’ 80s pop electro classics like Paul Hardcastle – 19, some Saturday morning cartoon theme snippets and a little 80s Italo disco. I will definitely be sneaking in some tracks that sound like they are from the 80s; it’s some of my favourite music. For example DMX Krew wrote a whole album that was supposedly created in the 80s under the name David Michael Cross – Cold War, though we know it was really created in 2003.
Q – What are your favourite memories of old arcades and consoles? What made that era such a golden age?
I remember going to Parramatta bowling club with my dad most Thursday nights. He would bowl in his comp and my friends and I would play in the arcade, $5 worth of 20c coins would usually last the whole night.
Double Dragon, Super Dimension Fortress Macross and Heavy Barrel were some of my favourites. It was always so exciting seeing which new games they would bring out each month. I also have fond memories of playing Ultima V on the PC, and numerous Commodore 64 and Amiga games. I can’t really say what made it such a golden age; perhaps it was the hardware limitations that forced the creators to come up with innovative games.
Q – Do you still hear a connection between music and contemporary video games?
I do and I think that connection between electronic music and video games will be around for a few more decades at least. So many electronic music producers are gaming nerds or at least like computer game music, but I think it depends on what kind of music scene you are talking about. I’m a big Burial fan and also a huge fan of the Metal Gear Solid series, but I wasn’t aware of that one Burial sampled Metal Gear Solid in one of his best known tracks, Archangel. I’m a retro game freak but Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is probably the best computer game ever.
Q – Favourite music of the 80s? Ten tracks?
Some of my favourites but in no way a definitive list:
Kid Frost – Terminator / Atari Battlezone
Strafe – Set It Off (Original Club Remix)
Charlie – Spacer Woman (1983)
Vangelis – (Blade Runner) Main Title
Public Image Ltd. – Order Of Death
Kraftwerk -Numbers/Computer World
Public Enemy – Miuzi Weighs A Ton
Man Parrish – Hip Hop, Be Bop (Don’t Stop)
MODEL 500 – No UFOs
I used to hang out at Angus & Robertson in the computer and wargames section after school in the late 80s. A bunch of us would pester Dave – the affable and knowledgeable guy who ran the section and had an unhealthy obsession with rotary engines and role playing games – to load up the latest and greatest on the newly released Commodore Amiga. For a fair while in 1987, the game of choice – used to convince people to part with their hard earned – was Defender of the Crown. Developer Cinemaware released a swathe of fantastic games over the late 1980s (especially the b-movie homage It Came From The Desert) and Defender of the Crown was their first.
A mix of strategy and action game you play a lord vying for territory across the England, Scotland and Wales. Sporting what they called at the time ‘cinema quality’ graphics (looking more like a badly compressed pirate DVD from Thailand nowadays) there was a great siege sequence which involved breaking down enough of the castle wall to lob in ‘disease’ and fire to weaken the inhabitants; a sword fighting ‘raid’ allowing you to capture a princess; and a terrific first-person joust. Combined with a well composed stereo soundtrack it all served to show off the best of the Amiga.
While the game was ported to other platforms – I had to make do with the Commodore 64 version – the game itself was not strong enough to hold its own without the superior graphics of the Amiga. Still, playing this today brings back a lot of memories even if, once you figure out where to fire your catapults and stab and jab, raiding castles and stealing princesses becomes far too easy.
Now with the advances of modern technology, Cinemaware lets you play it and others of their classics online on their website and you can even legally download disk images to play with the various open source emulators out there.
At my Year 5 school camp to Jenolan Caves I had a Ghostbusters t-shirt that glowed in the dark. I remember putting it into the freezer to ‘recharge’ the luminosity – I still have it, and it still glows, dimly. At the time, everyone was obsessed with “crossing the streams”, Zuul, and, well, Sigourney Weaver. I also remember being in the computer store when I first saw people crowding around a Commodore 64 playing Ghostbusters. Activision didn’t have the best track record for C64 games but Ghostbusters was awesome – and it even had a sampled ‘Ghostbusters!’ shout.
Ghostbusters opens with you setting up your Ghostbusters franchise. The bank advances you $10,000 with which you select your wheels and kit out your vehicle and crew. The game is made up of several sections – the isometric view of the city which shows haunted locations and, crucially, the proximity of the Keymaster and Gatekeeper to Zuul. After selecting a haunted location to ‘bust’ you drive your kitted out Cadillac, along a vertically scrolling roadway sucking in as many ghosts as you can with your vacuum suckers. Arriving at the location the game switches to show the three Ghostbusters which you control to manoeuvre ghosts into the range of your trap. Spring the trap then rush back to your base. As the game progresses and the Keymaster and Gatekeeper reach Zuul you meet the inimitable Marshmallow Man. Sneaking through his legs you enter the final phase where you must cross the streams to close the portal and defeat Zuul.
This was an immensely fun and silly game – remarkable for being one of the few ‘film franchises’ that worked (don’t mention the abominable E.T. on the Atari – possibly the worst big budget game ever) on such primitive hardware limitations. Simple touches like the theme song with bouncing karaoke ball lyrics on the title screen, and, of course the car selections, made it a commercial and critical success.
Wasteland, for the Apple II, DOS and the Commodore 64, took away an entire three school holidays from me. I played the four disk C64 version for months, eventually completing it after a long time stuck in the sewers of a futuristic, post-nuclear fallout Las Vegas. It and Ultima IV (Origin, 1985) sit at the top of my list of best ever games – let alone games from the 1980s. They are amongst a few games that are really worth still seeking out and playing (again) on an emulator.
Built in a similar style to The Bard’s Tale series, another excellent sequence of games from Interplay, the gameplay revealed the strong Dungeons & Dragons role playing influence on the generation of game programmers throughout the early 1980s. These games, including the ‘official’ Dungeons & Dragons games released by SSI & TSR, managed to work around the speed and memory limitations of home computers by replicating turn-based rather than the real-time combat until real-time became the norm in gaming in the 90s from Wolfenstein and Doom onwards.
The secret to Wasteland’s addictive qualities was the wonderful script, witty dialogue, and non-player character (NPC) behaviour. Set in a post (nuclear) apocalyptic future, you play a ranger searching through a ruined Las Vegas, scavenger camps, and underground nuclear facilities. Gathering a motley crew of adventurers, the game begins at the Ranger Base where skills are selected then it is off into the desert in search of treasure – first priority, better weapons. By the time you come across some of the stranger parts of the game – the Servants of the Mushroom Cloud Church for example – your party is armed with machine guns, laser rifles, and suited up in kevlar and inflicting huge amounts of ranged weapon damage on robotic guards and heavily armed psychotic vigilantes in long, drawn out turn-based combat, all the while embroiled in an evolving story of intrigue.
Home computer copying was rife in the 1980s with the plain old international postal system being used as effectively as the Internet is nowadays to swap games across the world. Game companies would employ more and more complex disk-based copy protection systems – but in fact some of the most effective seemed to be those that were simplest.
So, as a part of the copy protection for Wasteland, the game came with a booklet of ‘extra text’ – numbered paragraphs – which enhanced the storyline and provided critical clues – passwords especially – and these were referred to by the game from time to time. After reducing an enemy “to a fine red mist” you would be told to “read paragraph 42.” However, the booklet contained many fake paragraphs, several of which gave contradictory advice leading you off the mission if you tried to ‘cheat’. This technique, used by several other similar games around the same period, brings back fond memories of Choose Your Own Adventure books and other clunky attempts at ‘interactive fiction’.
Although a sequel was planned it was never made.
Wasteland’s legacy continued 15 years later in the Fallout series and most recently Fallout 3 on the PS3 which all revive not only the setting but the black humour and aesthetic of Wasteland.
“In the year 19XX, half of the world was ravaged by a nuclear war and violence ruled the streets in America…”
Marian is kidnapped by a violent street gang known as ‘The Black Warriors’. The brothers, Jimmy and Billy Lee AKA ‘Double Dragon’ must now fight their way through the gang and defeat ‘Big Boss Willy’ to save her.
What set this beat ‘em up game apart was that you could use your enemy’s weapons against them. Foes attacked with daggers, whips, baseball bats and dynamite, which they dropped when they were hit. I remember constant arguments about who got what weapon; the baseball bat being the most popular, while no one wanted the whip. Also new were combination attacks that allowed you to throw your enemies, knee in them in the head and even hold them down while your team mate taught them some manners. The foes included punks, dominatrixes with blonde afros, ‘Mr T’ clones (brown and green varieties) and a machine gun toting final boss.
The finale was one of the most exciting parts of the game. Once the foes were defeated the brothers had to fight each other for Marian, (despite the game’s back story that claimed she was Billy’s lover!). My theory is that the Street Fighter franchise expanded upon this aspect of the game, as it is much more difficult and exciting to challenge a fellow gamer.
The excellent theme song (thanks Yamaha), state of the art graphics and boyhood wish fulfillment elements all combined to make a unique and enjoyable gaming experience. It was so successful it spawned numerous sequels, comics, cartoons and a Hollywood film. Also check out the brilliant version of Double Dragon II (my favourite in the series) on the original Nintendo platform, which is far superior to the arcade sequel.
There is a largely unknown reason that velcro wallets were such a huge hit in the early 80s. And that reason is primarily that they had the perfect design for the button-mashing required for these two titles from Konami (and their clones). Eschewing joysticks altogether these two titles used three button combinations to move your player, thus requiring the kind of repetitive button pressing that would make an occupational therapist faint.
Released in the period leading up to the massively hyped Los Angeles Olympic Games of 1984 these two titles gave the least athletic of us a chance to make little pixelated figures run, jump and swim in ways we never could.
Track & Field opened with the 100m dash requiring rapid two button pressing to make your character’s legs run as fast as possible. The second stage, the long jump introduced the third button. Again, you would run as fast as you could, then hit the third button on the line and hold it until you got as close to 45 degrees as possible then released it – and off you would sail. Getting past the long jump took a good many plays. Javelin followed much in a similar vein, running then holding the third button on the line to release. I never got past the hurdles which requires you to run, then hit the third button to jump every few seconds.
Hyper Sports opened with swimming which required two buttons then a third to breathe every few seconds. This was not a friendly way to start a game – it was the equivalent of hurdles in Track & Field! Skeet shooting followed which made it all worth while and was, along with archery, the best two stages of all the games – running at a more relaxed pace.
These games would spawn many offspring on home computers. I remember destroying several joysticks playing Decathlon (Activsion, 1984) and Summer Games (Epyx, 1984) on the Commodore 64. Both of these titles replaced the button mashing (which would have destroyed the Commodore 64 itself) with joystick waggling. This managed to spread the effect of RSI from the hands to the upper arm.
I think I only ever played Ghosts & Goblins once in an arcade proper.
Ghosts & Goblins was almost impossibly difficult combination of platform scroller and shooter, as well as having a ‘level timer’ requiring you to complete a level before the timer reached zero! I played the Commodore 64 version (Elite, 1986) for hundreds of hours as it had the benefit of not requiring the continuous emptying of a piggybank.
Controlling Arthur (or Mr Knight in the C64 versions) you start in a graveyard from populated by zombies, ravens and venus fly traps. These were easily dispatched by firing your unlimited supply of lances at them (a kind typical piece of video game nonsense – why a lance? Aren’t they a little awkward to carry around in bulk?). As Arthur progressed the platform elements played a greater and greater part in the game requiring you to meticulously time jumps and climb ladders all the while firing at faeries, bats and the like before reaching some devilishly difficult end of level bosses.
The game spawned a sequel Ghouls & Ghosts (Capcom, 1988). This was far more satisfying to play as Capcom fixed the difficulty gradient of the game meaning you could play for more than two minutes without dying.
R-Type was one of the last major shoot-em up games in the arcades that I spent a lot of money on.
R-Type built upon the popularity of the earlier Gradius/Nemesis (Konami, 1985) side scroller but with enhanced graphics and a combined multiple power ups (fantastic reflecting lasers, homing missiles and the like) with a pod-like add-on officially called ‘the Force’ (although no one I know called it that). Your (invincible) pod could be detached from your main ship and fired forward or backwards to fire your weapons from in other areas of the screen as well as picking up its own power-ups. As you progressed through the cleverly designed levels – including a huge alien mothership on level 3 which filled several screens dwarfing your own ship – the game required detailed memorising of attack formations and ‘safe spots’. Similarly, the use of the pod became a key element of the gameplay with some areas only being able to be traversed with a certain combination of powerups and the correct configuration of the pod – the use of it as a rear-firing cannon towards the end of level 3 for instance.
R-Type became a long running franchise which continues to today on many platforms. There were two main arcade sequels – R-Type II (Irem, 1989) and R-Type Leo (Irem, 1992) – and then other variants and ports on the SNES, Gameboy, Playstation, and PSP.
Looking back at the racing games of the mid 1980s it is hard to understand what the fuss about games like Out Run was really about. Compared to the arcade racers that came in the 90s and those more recently, the graphics seem so unrealistic, primitive, and the motion controls so limited. But at the time, Out Run was the best arcade racer around. It had a sense of speed, the hydraulic cabinet shook and moved, and it cost almost four times as much as any other game to play (at least at Timezone).
The game used the same hardware and graphics technology as the other big hydraulic title of the time, Space Harrier (Sega, 1985) – a rather psychedelic 3D space shooter with bouncing mushrooms.
Back on Earth though, zooming along in a Ferrari Testarossa on a three lane highway you and your blonde passenger would zip past ‘realistic’ scenery avoiding other cars and trucks on the road. Racing against the clock and more and more crowded roads (I’ve never seen a dirt road in the desert so packed with cars and trucks!), the end of each stage would be met with a forked path effectively allowing for multiple paths through the game to one of five different end sequences. The other ‘innovation’ in Out Run was the ‘selectable’ car radio stations something that continues as a feature in games today like the Grand Theft Auto series. The music was such a notable part of the game it was even released separately as a CD in Japan!
Surprisingly Out Run was actually a short game to finish – a beginning to end sequence would last under ten minutes – but sitting in the hydraulic cabinet surrounded by a huge queue of gamers waiting for their turn was a rush in itself.