When we were 7 or 8, my best friend got a Philips Videopac G7000, otherwise known across the pond as the Magnavox Odyssey 2, although I didn’t make that mental connection until fairly recently. At the time it was the awesomest thing on the planet, with so many games all in decorative, oddly sequentially numbered boxes. Compared to the only-recently-colour TV games we’d survived on before, supplemented of course with expensive bouts of Space Invaders, Asteroids and Pac Man in the arcades (this was pre-Gorf for goodness sakes!), this was a revelation. The home computer wouldn’t appear seriously for another year or two, so for a while, this was home gaming. There was one game that we probably played more than any other, and that was Monkeyshines (although I do remember Conquest of the World being popular too). Here’s what it looked like (if you’re sensitive, you might want to shield your eyes):
The basic idea was to direct your player (the cyan blocky thing, white when dead) around the platforms (black), gaining points by capturing monkeys (the beige blocky things, which to be honest ran, climbed and jumped pretty convincingly for 1980), then letting them go (you could throw them), which of course pissed them off and made them red ‘killer’ monkeys for a while. Obviously. The 2D platform arena, on the harder settings, would change leading to platforms disappearing from under you. It was only fun in 2 player mode, where of course despite it notionally being a co-op game, you would actually capture the monkeys and throw them at each other instead.
So why did I dredge up this old fossil today? Because it’s the first thing that occurred to me when I saw Sajiki in the Ogre forum today, a multiplayer 2D-in-3D survival platformer created with Ogre. It’s actually quite different but just the view, the changing arena and the multiplayer mode immediately brought this old game to mind. Bizarrely, I can still remember to this day the sequence of beeps that the game would play when you died, as clearly as if I was playing it right now – it’s burned into my brain at some deep level, in the same way that the opening sequences of Robotron 2084 still are.
I often wonder what it’s like for kids these days growing up with modern consoles. In my youth everything to do with games was so simple, so visceral, so iconic and so new and unexplored that it was a major defining element of my time, but games now are so complex and are an increasingly stable and mature medium. I guess kids growing up now will have the same nostalgia for the games they’re playing when they’re older, but I really wonder whether it will feel so distinct; I’m thinking of the difference between how I remember games and how I remember films from my youth – film was a much more mature medium already and as such the distinctions between then and now are more subtle and the events less defining, compared to games. Maybe it’s similar to how the Baby Boomers feel about growing up experiencing music in the 60′s – for later generations the magic isn’t quite the same because the revolution has given way to production. As kids in the late 70′s and early 80′s I think we had the equivalent experience of music in the 60′s with games, a sense of freshness and that anything was possible, before it became much more businesslike. I guess this generation’s frontier is the idea of fully connected, seamless worlds, virtual or otherwise. Maybe they’ll think of Facebook and Second Life in the same way I think of Monkeyshines. Who knows.