It's not all about the music (part 2)

I previously spoke about what I like to do when I'm not doing anything music related and how reading is a favourite activity of mine. playing video games is another big one.

RETRO GAMING

I've been lucky enough to have grown up surrounded by technology, where video games have adapted and evolved immensely in such a short space of time. I remember being 5 years old, playing Super Mario World on my friend's Super Nintendo and being absolutely entranced. I was so excited when that same friend bought a Nintendo 64 the following year and we had a blast playing cooperative games like Super Mario Party, Super Smash Bros., and Goldeneye 64.

My parents could see how fun these games were but worried about the violence they saw in the latter two titles and were reluctant to have anything like that in our home. In time, they began to come around and hoped to find games that were more educational, which led to the purchase of Castle Explorer in 1998, a point-and-click game by DK Multimedia where, as a spy, you discover the inner workings of a medieval castle. To mine and my brother's disappointment however, our grandfather's big wizzy Windows 95 couldn't run the game. After a frantic upgrade to Windows 98, we were in business. I found everything fascinating but typically, at the age of 7, my favourite bit was the latrine tower. When you moved to that section of the castle, a sound effect of a man straining, then a farting noise, and finally a sigh of relief could be heard. I found this hysterical and, until recently, had forgotten about the sigh at the end. When I was reminded of it, I began laughing hysterically again, 22 years later.

On my eighth birthday, Dad drove us to Cribbs Causeway and we went to a video game shop (it was either Gamestation or ePlay). My parents bought me a purple Gameboy Colour and said 'choose one game'. I remember seeing all the gameboy games on the walls, each on their own little shelf. At that time, you had great games like Pokémon Red & Blue and Zelda: Link's Awakening but instead I went with what I recognised, Bugs Bunny: Crazy Castle 4. It had a picture of Bugs Bunny on it and I had loved the Space Jam movie that had come out 2 years prior, which led to an obsession with Looney Toons.

I played my one game on my Gameboy Colour religiously, waking early in the morning at weekends and staying up late with a torch under the covers, trying and failing to pretend to be sleeping before Dad stormed in to see if I was playing it or not. Dad started taking the batteries out at night and then taking the Gameboy altogether when he realised I was stockpiling batteries.

Over the next few years, my brother and I discovered and added great games to our collection, like Pokémon Yellow, Pokémon Silver, Zelda: Link's Awakening DX, Zelda: Oracle of Ages, Zelda: Oracle of Seasons, Donkey Kong Country, Driver, and Worms Armageddon. This led to us immediately buying a Gameboy Advance when it released and enjoying many more games on there, including the underrated Lord of The Rings games, which were Diablo-clone action role-playing games that followed the plot of the films. CONSOLE COLLECTION

A few months after the original xbox was released, we put some money together, traded in a beaten up old Playstation 1 that had been passed down to us, and came out of Game in Bristol with our new Xbox and 2 games - Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee and Project Gotham Racing. A friend let us borrow their copy of Halo and I still remember playing it for the first time, shouting 'look at that grass, It's so realistic!'. I played it again recently and what I was stunned by almost 20 years ago was just a photo of some grass textured onto a flat surface.

I still own that same Xbox and played some of my all-time favourite games on it, Halo being one of them. There are 2 however, that had the most impact on me. The first was The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, a huge open-world role-playing game. We had been visiting our grandparents in Durham and took a visit to the local video game shop where they had a pre-owned section. I had been flitting through the games when one caught my eye; Morrowind. I took it over to Mum and managed to persuade her to buy it for me. I can remember seeing the Game Of The Year edition there as well, which had extra content, but the naive 15-year-old in me went for the original version instead. Still, I had an amazing time playing the game. It was year 9 SATS exam time and I remember having to play the Xbox before Dad got home from work so he wouldn't know (although he probably did). The first time I opened the Morrowind disc case, a waft of cigarette smoke scent filled my nostrils and grew stronger as I unfolded the massive map that came with the game. I easily spent over 100 hours in total on my first playthrough and once I was wised up to the fact that the GOTY edition had both expansion packs, I bought that too and played another 100 hours.

The following year, both Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Fable came out at the same time. I remember this well because my brother had pre-ordered both. He had tried playing Fable but really enjoyed San Andreas. I, on the other hand, had little interest in GTA but loved Fable and became addicted very quickly. Being able to do good deeds and soon have a halo over your head and butterflies flying around you, or being evil and growing horns with red eyes was amazing. The ability to add points to your character's strength, skill or will was not a new thing in RPGs but for those added points to again, affect your appearance was. More points in strength grew your muscles, skill meant you became taller, and will caused your hands to radiate light and blue veins appeared on your skin. What didn't make sense was that with each new point added, your character grew older for some reason. So, a game which had a day-night cycle and a plot that, after the childhood introduction, probably played out over the space of a few years, starting with a character aged 18 and ended with a character aged well into their 80s. Oh well, it's fantasy, it doesn't matter. It was still a very fun game and made by Lionhead, a British company who, in a previous iteration (Bullfrog), had made great games like Theme Park World, Theme Hospital and Dungeon Keeper 1 & 2.

In time, I went on to discover more amazing games, buying an Xbox 360 in 2007 and obsessing over the next Elder Scrolls game, Oblivion, as well as increasing my PC game collection with the help of Steam, a digital platform for purchasing and installing video games on your computer. When Skyrim came out in 2011, I had pre-ordered it on PC and it arrived a day early when I was at university. I remember having to go to the student accommodation reception to pick it up and in my excitement, opened the package there and then. At the same time, loads of students had come back on the bus from uni and began coming over, also getting excited about the fact that I had the game; complete strangers all of them but all sharing my enthusiasm.

Today, as well as my Xbox, Xbox 360 (I sold my Gameboy Colour but kept my Gameboy Advance), and bootcamp on my Mac, allowing me to play my Windows games, I now have in my home a Playstation 2, a Playstation Portable, a Nintendo DS, a Nintendo 3DS, a Playstation 4, a Playstation 1, Nintendo Wii, and Xbox One (those last 3 are my wife's). I'm also saving up for the Playstation 5 and have just bought a new 4K 55" TV to replace the 32" 720p TV I've had for the past 10 years.

I love video games. I love the nostalgia they bring, and I love being able to switch off and be transported to a different world for a few hours. It's magical, and something I will always cherish.

REPLAY

Some of my all-time favourite games, which I'll happily replay and listen to the soundtracks of, include:

- Bullfrog's Dungeon Keeper 2 and Theme Hospital

- Bungie's Halo (Anniversary)

- Gamefreak's Pokémon Yellow, Silver and Ruby

- Nintendo's Gameboy Zelda games - Link's Awakening, Oracle of Ages and Seasons, and the A Link To The Past remake

- Lionhead's Fable (Anniversary), Fable 2 and Fable 3

- Bethesda's Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, IV: Oblivion and V: Skyrim

- Illusion Softworks' Mafia

- Piranha Bytes' Gothic and Gothic 2

- Snowblind Studios' Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance 1 & 2

- Bioware's Star Wars Knights Of The Old Republic 1 & 2, Jade Empire, and Dragon Age: Origins

- Interplay's Fallout 1 and 2

- Valve's Half Life

- Starbreeze Studios' Enclave

- Reality Pump Studios' Two Worlds

Thanks for reading. What are your favourite video games? Back to blog page

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© 2020 Ed Brown