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8-Bit On A Budget

The good computer games in the 80s, for the original 8-bit machines, were usually around a tenner. It took me about a month to save up enough money to buy Frank Bruno’s Boxing, but I played it for hours. I know Mastertronic had released a few games early on for £1.99, which was great. It meant that games were now more affordable, although they were probably not the best quality.

At around the mid 80s companies like Firebird popped up and started releasing top quality games for under £3. Mastertronic started to develop really good games and they evolved into MAD (Mastertronic Added Dimension). It suddenly became possible to get great games really inexpensively. Home computing libraries swelled with these new titles as people were now able to obtain three or four games for the same price they used to pay for one.

Kieren Hawken is writing a book dedicated to these budget releases. 8-Bit on a Budget: The Best Budget Games of the 80s looks at the very best budget originals released for the six most popular 8-bit home computers of the 1980s: the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, MSX, BBC Micro and Atari 8-bit. Each machine has its own dedicated pages, exclusive titles and full length reviews telling you why each game was so great. You’ll also find a fact box full of trivia for each title that will hopefully teach you something new.

Kieren took time out recently to take part in a quick interview about his love for 8-bit gaming, and to give an overview of his upcoming book.

Why did you decide to write a book about budget computer game titles?

There are actually several reasons behind this. Firstly because I have tremendous nostalgia for many of these titles and I know many others do too. Secondly because I already do a segment about budget games on the Atari XEGS podcast (where I am co-host) and writing a book about them just seemed a natural progression. Lastly because nobody has written a book about them before and many of my peers assured me that this is something they would like to see!

How old were you when you first got a computer, which computer was it and what was the first thing you played?

I was 11 years old, so a little late to the party compared to many others out there and indeed many of my friends. But it took a long time to convince my parents that it was a good investment. The computer was a ZX Spectrum +2a and went with the Speccy because that is what all my friends had and, of course, that made it easy to swap games.

Did you ever have a go at writing any games?

I did actually for the BBC Micro, ZX Spectrum and Atari ST. I never got any further than using BASIC though and many of those projects are long gone. I did manage to recover a few disks of stuff that had been rotting in my dad’s loft though a few years back and that was really cool seeing those projects again, even if I didn’t even understand a lot of my own code!

Did you ever finish any games, with or without cheating?

It’s funny, I would never consider myself an expert gamer, although there are some games that I am extremely good at for some reason. The first one I remember completing was Gauntlet on the Spectrum with my brother. I recall being extremely annoyed that after slogging through 100 levels or so we were just greeted with a message telling us to insert the Deeper Dungeons add-on cassette!

We had 1 independent electronics shop I our town that sold a few games. If we wanted to get anything good we had to go to Boots or WH Smiths in a different town. Did you have access to many local game shops when you were growing up?

In my actual home town of Harpenden we had no shops that sold computer games other than a small rack in the local newsagent, not even our Boots, WHSmith or Woolworths stocked them! But thankfully for us St. Albans and Luton were only one stop away on the train and both places had a multitude of both specialist shops and high street retailers that also sold games. My place of choice was always Software Plus in St. Albans however, as the manager there was great and had a genuine passion for games.

What were your magazines of choice? I mean, not necessarily computer magazines, but mags on any subject?

I grew up reading comics from a young age and The Dandy was always my favourite, although I regularly used to buy Whizzer and Chips and Buster too. My brother got The Beano and my sister used to grab The Topper and The Beezer. So we had pretty much every angle covered there!
Once I got my Spectrum Your Sinclair quickly became my magazine of choice due to the humour. Although I pretty much always bought Sinclair User, C&VG and Crash too. Once I moved away from the Spectrum my fave mags included ST Format, Raze, Game Zone and Games X.

I also remember the waves of excitement that would ensue when a new Radio Times dropped through the letterbox though, especially as Christmas, as my siblings and I would flick through the pages circling all the films and other programs we wanted to watch!

Did you get pocket money, and if so what did you spend it on? Mine was mainly sweets.

When I was younger it was definitely comics and sweets! As I got a bit older I would always put a bit aside for games. Every Sunday morning my dad would drive down to the local newsagent to buy his fags and a newspaper. My brother and I would save £1 each and then use it to buy a budget game, we’d take it in turns to decide who got to pick, but even on my younger brother’s week I would often get my way!

One time I went to the shop to buy £1 of sweets, using a £1 note(!). I got there, bought them, then on the way back I cut through the park and found another £1 note. When I got home with sweets AND a quid, my mum refused to believe my story of luck and insisted I must have stolen £1 of sweets. She marched me back and made me give my new found £1 note to the confused shop man, who still took it. Did you ever suffer a huge injustice as a child?

I remember getting Test Drive 2: The Duel for the Spectrum and taking it into school to show my friends as I had saved up for several weeks to buy it (I rarely bought full-price games because I didn’t like waiting!) and then put it in my locker during lessons. At some point somebody broke into my locker and stole the game. I was so upset and my dad went mad at me for it saying I shouldn’t have taken it to school. I later discovered it was one of my best friends who stole the game, we didn’t stay friends for long after I found out!

Did you used to collect anything unusual when you were young?

Not especially, although I do wish that I still had all my Panini sticker albums and my complete sets of Garbage Pail Kids!

Did you have any favourite TV programmes during childhood?

The ones that really stick in my mind are Dogtanian and Mysterious Cities of Gold as far as cartoons go. Especially the latter one as I was absolutely obsessed with pyramids and the ancient world in general. This interest has never really left me and visiting pyramids for the first time in real life was a huge thrill. As far as other programs go I was absolutely obsessed with both The A-Team and Knight Rider, as many young boys were. I was also a big fan of Street Hawk and Quantum Leap too.

Did any TV programmes influence your gaming purchases? Quite a lot of later titles were TV licenses.

I think the only ones that did were the Hanna Barbara games that were produced by Hi-Tec Software. At just £3 they were great value for money, consistently good and I was a fan of the cartoons so always enjoyed them. I think I bought all of them but particularly enjoyed Hong Kong Phoeey, Quick Draw McGraw and Atom Ant from memory.

One funny story I will tell you though, my big sister bought The Munsters game for the Spectrum at full price because she absolutely loved the TV show. Despite standing next to her in Boots telling her over and over again it got bad reviews and she shouldn’t buy it she did anyway. Within minutes of playing it she was screaming at the TV and after that day I don’t think she ever played it again. I was too afraid to tell her that I told her so!

Do you still own many of the original games you bought?

I don’t have any of my Spectrum games, they are long gone sadly. But I still have loads of my original Atari ST, Atari Lynx and Atari 2600 games. They managed to survive due to boxes being stored in my dad’s loft and forgotten about!

How many titles will feature in your new book?

There will be close to 100 different reviews when it all said and done with around ¾ of them coming from me and then the rest being guest reviews from the likes of Guru Larry, Ashens, Nostalgia Nerd, Retro Man Cave, Octav1us Kitten, The British IBM and Mr. Biffo.

Is there an estimated publication date or funding completion date?

There isn’t no, unlike Kickstarter this campaign will run until it’s funded. The book is mostly done so obviously the sooner it funds the better for me and everyone who has ordered it so far. There are some great perks too including the chance to come play some budget games with myself and many of the guest reviewers at the Centre For Computing History in Cambridge, a place everyone should visit at least once.

You can back 8-Bit On A Budget on Unbound here – Unbound.com/books/8-bit-on-a-budget/

You can also follow Kieren on Twitter here – twitter.com/RetroLaird

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