I was born in 1971, and consequently the 80s is the decade that holds many of my fondest memories. I still listen to bands that were at their most prominent in the 80s, I’m of the opinion that today’s action movies can’t hold a candle to those from the 80s… and I love 80s computer games.
If you were British and in your teens in the 80s, there’s a fair chance you were heavily into computer and video games. Trips to the seaside were eagerly anticipated for the chance to go and blow a couple of months’ pocket money in the arcades, and your black and white portable telly probably had a computer or video game system hooked to it at all times.
Should you have been lucky enough to have convinced your parents that owning a computer would help you with your homework, then it’s likely you stood in one of two computer-owning camps. You probably owned a Sinclair ZX Spectrum or a Commodore 64.
These giants of the computing industry were responsible for the unforgettable “Playground Wars” of the mid-to-late 80s, and arguments over which was best still rage today. In truth, both systems had an awful lot to offer, but unlike today’s two main consoles were so different from each other that you were forced to make your choice and stand your ground.
Or you might have owned an Amstrad.
It was like the UK had its own version of the Jets and the Sharks in every school playground, where kids that hadn’t joined forces to kick a squashed can around in a shoe-wrecking version of football would divide into packs based on computer ownership. Cassette tapes, usually 90 minutes in length, would be swapped between mates, all stuffed to the brim with copies of games, all of which would be systematically copied again and again until the tape inevitably got chewed up through overuse.
It was a golden gaming era, with brilliant, original, imaginative and often bizarre games being released with frightening regularity. Many of these games were programmed by talented individuals in their own bedrooms. As a result of this, the games industry quickly spawned real personalities. Our parents had posters of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd on their walls; our sisters had posters of Tom Cruise and Rob Lowe. We had computer game adverts on our walls, and games programmers were our rock stars, with each release from our favourite programmer being a major event.
Twenty-five years on, these times are looked back on perhaps more fondly than any other gaming era so far. Unfortunately, the programmers of this time are nowhere near as celebrated as they should be. In fact, if you read almost any book on the history of video games, you could be forgiven for thinking there was no games industry in the UK at all.
My aim is to put that right. I had the idea for a book about twelve years ago, but it’s only now that I’ve made actual progress in writing it. I intend to talk to as many of the programmers of the time as possible, but rather than focusing on the games industry, I want to focus on the programmers themselves and their brilliant games. It’s coming along quite well so far, and I plan to step up my efforts considerably in the coming year.
Something I like to do now and again, as a kind of promotional tool, is to produce something fun based on what I happen to be working on at the time. A few days ago, I came up with the idea of producing 2013 calendars, one for Spectrum fans and one for Commodore 64 fans. Each is themed around an aspect of the computer in question, with a screen shot from a different game for each month.
It’s just a bit of fun, and I’m not a professional graphic artist, but I hope they capture the spirit as intended. They’d be fine for printing, if you can afford that much ink, or they look great as smartphone wallpaper. And as you look at each screen shot and the memories come flooding back, think about the people that programmed those games and remember… They Were Our Gods.
To download the ZX Spectrum Calendar, click here.
To download the Commodore 64 Calendar, click here.
(You may have to right-click and choose Save As)
Paul Morrison has written in his spare time for online publication Way of the Rodent since 2002, and was lucky enough to write for the fan-produced Issue 107 of ZZAP! 64 and its follow-up Def Tribute to ZZAP! 64. He is currently writing the book They Were Our Gods, a book about the British games programmers of the 80s, and their games. If you’re interested in this project, you can follow its progress at the blog of the book:
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