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My Retro Gaming History: Michael Hay

I’ve enjoyed reading/listening to other people’s posts/podcasts about their gaming history so I thought I would write mine. Grab a can of Tizer, a sherbert Dib Dab and a Willy Wonka Dinasour Egg and make yourself comfortable. It’s pretty long but I sure as hell enjoyed writing it, so there’s no pressure to read it!

My earliest gaming memory is of playing a VideoMaster ColourScore in our family home in Glasgow. It must have been around 1980 when I was 4. I don’t remember us getting it so I think we maybe got it in the late 70s. It was basically a Pong clone which had Football, Tennis and Squash games which you controlled with paddles. Very happy memories of it as it was the first and last time that the whole family would play video games together in the living room. I still have the console to this day and only recently acquired an earlier model VideoMaster SuperScore from my wife’s cousin.

Then, when I was 6 years old in 1982, I have an incredibly vivid memory of being at the top of the stairs when my Dad came home form work and shouted up to me and my brothers that he had bought a computer. We ran down and he was holding a ZX Spectrum 48K. Well, that was the start of it. I was hooked. My early memories are of playing games like Planetoids, Tranz Am, TLL, Beach Head, Wheelie, Jetpac, Manic Miner, Jet Set Willy, Penetrator, Bruce Lee, Daley Thompson’s Decathlon and Knight Lore. Playing them until my fingers smelled of rubber. I’m now a digital designer and I can trace that right back to the 48K Speccy as I used to recreate the main character from Target Renegade using the graphics mode of the number keys. Painstaking but good fun. I also used to love printing things out on the little thermal printer that got ridiculously hot and smelled of burning.

I was also totally hooked on the magazines, in particular Your Sinclair. I still have all of my back issues. I loved the humour in it, compared with arguably the better reviews of Crash (Zzap 64’s poorer relation some would say). And the cover artwork on YS was just as good in it’s own special way. I just loved the banter between all the reviewers, some of whom are still in the industry today, and on a family trip to London I even persuaded my parents to take me to the infamous ‘Rathbone Towers’, HQ of Your Sinclair. My disappointment was palpable as I discovered it was just a normal boring office building just off Oxford Street and the public weren’t allowed to visit.

But one day whilst perusing Your Sinclair I saw an advert for a strange grey Spectrum with lots of monster, robot and animal hands on it. A classic ad for the Spectrum +2 of course. I managed to persuade my Dad to get one and my love of all things Speccy continued. I wasn’t aware until a bit later that Sinclair had actually been bought over by Amstrad, its arch rival! The funny thing is that I used to be playing on that Speccy +2 up in Glasgow and now I live half a mile away from the site of the old Amstrad factory in Shoeburyness, Southend-on-Sea which made the +2. I still have the +2 as well. It’s come full circle back to its home. Some of the games I used to play to death on it were Gauntlet, Little Computer People, Starglider, Cobra, Starquake, Quazatron, Batty, Chronos, IK+, Dizzy Games, Monty Mole games and of course, Elite. Elite is my all time favourite game and I would spend hours on end playing it. Our art teacher in Primary 7 at school used to tell us how great it was and retell stories of how he would get caught by Thargoids in Witch Space on his way to buy some new Beam Lasers. I was hooked from that moment and am gutted that I only ever reached the level of Dangerous.

Most of my friends had Spectrums. My cousin had an Amstrad but a few friends of mine had a C64. The main thing they used to show me to impress me was The Last Ninja. That’s what they kept pulling out during our Speccy v Commodore arguments. And I have to admit I was pretty impressed with that game! But my heart was always with the Speccy, despite its colour clash and monochrome games.

I remember reading a copy of C&VG and seeing a big article or advert for the NES, complete with Rob the Robot and Light Gun. I remember being open mouthed at how awesome it looked. But it wasn’t until many years later that I would make the switch to getting a console of any kind. The next machine after the Spectrum +2 that we graduated to was the Atari ST. This machine was fantastic. Again I remember reading an issue of C&VG and seeing screenshots from an upcoming 16-bit game of The Three Stooges and being totally gobsmacked by how incredible they looked. Little did I know that that particular game was rubbish, but still it made me push to get the ST and I didn’t look back. Games that stand out for me on the Atari ST from memory include Elite, Xenon, Xenon 2, Speedball, Speedball 2 (although I still prefer the first one), Rick Dangerous 1 & 2, Bubble Bobble, Mercenary, Overlander, Eliminator, IK+, Lotus Espirit Turbo Challenge, Stunt Car Racer, Lemmings, Test Drive, Lombard RAC Rally, Kick Off and many more. One thing I also loved about the ST was the pirated disks with menu screens by the Pompey Pirates and the Medway Boys. I don’t think the ST had as many demos as the Amiga but these pirates often made up for it with their cool images of orcs etc. I’ll point out at this stage that although I did copy a few games from friends etc I still did buy the majority of my games because quite frankly I loved the box art, instructions and manuals etc. But in summary, I really do have extremely fond memories of the Atari ST and it’s little green desktop. I remember having tech overload on the day that I got a brand new Casio Databank digital watch and then I went round a friend’s house whose dad had an ST with a hi res monitor that allowed them to display a spinning 3D Atari logo. Yep, a spinning 3D Atari logo. That and a game of Xenon was what convinced me that I had to get an ST of my own.

In terms of joysticks I actually used the grey Sinclair one quite a bit with my Spectrum games but I soon graduated to a Quickshot II Turbo and a Competition Pro (both iconic joysticks). And later on on the ST I also experimented with the Konix Navigator. This little blue beast doesn’t get much love these days but it served me well for games like Eliminator and Kick Off. It really did fit into your hand extremely well. Only problem was that it gave you terrible blisters on the outside of your thumb knuckle. Not ideal. My other joystick memory was when I was curious as to how one of my old joysticks worked (I think it might have been a Cheetah), and I proceeded to unscrew the bottom and start tapping the soldered pressure sensors on the circuit board really quickly. I forgot that the joystick was still plugged in and it suddenly burst into flames! Naturally I dropped it on the carpet and ran away. I think that’s the textbook fire safety reaction, I’m not sure. The carpet was ok but the joystick never worked again. But to be honest for games like Manic Miner and Jetpac etc where you have to be quite intricate with your movements I preferred using the keyboards, rubber keys or not.

One other thing that I found extremely useful on both my Spectrum +2 and my Atari ST was the Multiface by Romantic Robot. I think the Spectrum one was black but I distinctly remember the ST one was green. Very useful indeed for saving your places in games and other cool things like that.

Amidst all this Speccy and Atari ST playing I would also be mixing my time playing on my Game & Watches and TomyTronic Thundering Turbo (which I still have). And after coveting some of my friends’ GameBoys I managed to get one of my own a few years later. I don’t have mine any more but I have since acquired two from eBay and a car boot sale. I still think it is an iconic piece of kit and so well designed. And the massive magnifying glass still makes me laugh! Favourite games on it include Tetris, Super Mario, WWF Superstars and Robocop (just for the music!).

But arcade machines were my special treat. I didn’t often get to go to arcades but a few times each year we would get to go to Largs on the West Coast of Scotland and I would go to the Cumbrian amusement centre and play on all the classics of the time. The main other time I would get to play arcades would be at service stations or on the ferry on school trips. There’s nothing quite like getting woken up at 2am for a toilet break on a motorway and huddling round an Operation Wolf with all your mates. Arcades that stand out in my mind are OutRun (best game music ever), Galaga, Bubble Bobble (second best game music ever), Star Wars, Operation Wolf, Golden Axe, Gauntlet, Track & Field and Hard Drivin’. Later ones in the early 90s would be Street Fighter 2, Tekken and Daytona USA.

When the 90s came along I still didn’t migrate to consoles. A friend of mine got a SNES purely for Street Fighter 2 and it really was incredible to be playing that legendary arcade game in his house at what seemed to be almost arcade quality. But my family at this point graduated to a PC. Gaming wise I remember playing Star Wars a heck of a lot. It just worked so well with the mouse and my mum started worrying that I would break the mouse with all that clicking. I can’t actually remember many of the early games I used to play on the PC but there were certainly some great ones. I just remember a lot of them needed multiple discs as they started having more and more video clips and digitised speech. And I remember getting Rise of the Robots after seeing the incredible graphics but then being so bitterly disappointed when the game was barely playable. And I think I actually did get addicted to Minesweeper at one point.

A few years later I would get my own PC with a Soundblaster card and Voodoo graphics card etc and get heavily into games like Doom, Quake (especially Quake 3) and Half Life. These are the last of the FPS games that I would play as I could never get the hang of playing them with a controller on consoles.

The PlayStation was the first console I got. And I liked it so much that I got two of them. I ended up getting a Black Playstation Net Yaroze which was the game developers version. I fancied myself as a game developer and I actually got sponsored at university by a games company in Glasgow, but I just didn’t end up going down this route and didn’t learn how to code. But it was still cool to have a black PlayStation! A few years later, however, and in my Masters degree in 3D Motion Graphics I would design a level of Half Life which worked with stereoscopic 3D glasses. This is about 10 years before 3D came back in the cinema, so it was fun to research. Stand out games on the PlayStation for me would be Driver, Gran Turismo, Tekken, Metal Gear Solid and FIFA.

Into the 2000s and I would become a PlayStation diehard, getting both the PS2 and PS3 reasonably quickly after they came out. Stand out games would again be Gran Turismo, Tekken and Metal Gear Solid but also SSX. My time available to game would also start to be greatly reduced from now on and the games just don’t have as much longevity or hold as much sentimental value as the games from the 80s and 90s.

It’s around this time in the mid-to-late-noughties that I found out about emulation on my PC. Obviously the first thing I tried to emulate was the Spectrum. I had been massively nostalgic about the early Spectrum games when I was at University in the mid-90s, only about 10 or 12 years after I had originally played them.

Oh and I also got addicted to Snake on my trusty Nokia. Such a simple but great game.

And now I don’t really have time to play modern games much. I occasionally buy games like Street Fighter IV for my PS3 but every time I switch the machine on it needs an update which takes ages and by that time I don’t have much time left. I do also have a Wii which I occasionally use for Wii Fit, and I also have a DS (Brain Training) and a PSP (various games and also now emulation). I can’t really use emulation on my phone as I just don’t like the controls.

To be honest I get a bit frustrated with emulation as I find it sometimes fiddly to get working properly and I hate not having the original controllers. So that brings me full circle to now being an all out retro gamer. I’ve not really had any space to play or collect old machines up until now as we’ve been living in flats or rented property but now this year we have a house of our own I’m lucky enough to have a small dedicated office/mancave where I can set up some machines as well as my other 80s stuff. I’ve started collecting the machines again and I currently have a VideoMaster SuperScore, VideoMaster ColourScore, Spectrum 48k, Spectrum+2, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Master System II and a Mega Drive and also some Game & Watches and TomyTronics. It’s so nice to play the actual games as they were meant to be played. MAME currently has to be played in emulation on my laptop but I do have plans to build a MAME cabinet one day.

I enjoy retro gaming because it brings back happy memories, it’s easy to pick up and play because the games are more fast paced, and to be honest I think the gameplay can be so much better in some of the old games. It’s incredible how much the programmers had to work to get all that gameplay out of so few bytes.

Not only that but there is one hell of a community for retro gaming these days. And most of it is extremely friendly and supportive of each other. Especially the Retro Asylum and I look forward to writing more articles (hopefully shorter than this one) in the future.

One thought on “My Retro Gaming History: Michael Hay

  1. uniforix says:

    I loved reading this. Reading peoples retro memories brain dumps is always a joy.

    I remember discovering emulation on Linux in about 1998, used to run a nice spectrum emaultor in the console called spectemu, it was a really authentic experience, still the best in my memory to this day.

    My memories of PC gaming take a high point with Blood from Monolith, a brilliant FPS at the time.

    I could do with doing some of that DS Brain Training again myself, memory like a fish for normal day-to-day stuff 🙂

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