“Call me Snake.” Snake Plissken – Escape from New York
NOTE: This is not a technical article!
I consider myself a very lucky guy. I saw the birth of video games, personal computers, BBS and the Internet. I am living in the middle of the digital revolution (I often see that technology has evolved, but people…) and I am seeing that we will soon have a new upgrade with virtual reality (I confess that I am afraid of VR. We are not prepared for it, but I’ll leave that to another article…).
This article is about how I lived one of the most iconic periods of the twentieth century. I was a teenager at the time and I was literally bombarded with so much, culturally, that today much of what I do in games is a fruit of this period. It was movies, comics, games, sitcoms and so many other things that I had access to at that time that I thank for every moment I experienced.
But unlike the world today, there was no Internet, smartphones, social networks, instant messaging, at most, we had Teletext and BBS. And you must be wondering: what was it like to live in a world like this without having your smartphone to send a message to someone; access to social networks; no streaming on demand.
Can you believe my dear, the 80’s were like old magic: powerful and fantastic.
And I’ll explain why …
Important notice: In the 80’s, we didn’t need to hunt for our lunch … We’d buy it in fast food chains.
Atari, Coleco, Odyssey, Turbographix and so many other video games that made our teenage years magical.
Despite the great video game crash of 1983, the industry went around with the Famicom and put it all back on track, from 1986. In those times, Fridays were a day for going to the rental stores and rent some video games cartridges to spend the weekend playing great classics. We would go to some friends’ and to play the through Saturday’s afternoons and Sunday. Adventure, Yar’s Revenge, Dreadnaught Factor, Zaxxon, Super Cobra, Contra, Mario, Battletoads, Mega Man, and so many others, were outstanding exponents as game titles. The Magazines on newsstands would bring us tips, maps, stories and we would spend hours discussing how to zero a game and compete for a higher score.
It was a big time for 2D graphics, chiptunes, and pretty simple controls, but we had so much fun that it all made my imagination work and I would have so many cool ideas that are still reflected in my work today. All memories of these games and the afternoons spent with friends in front of the TV make me miss these years when the imagination was the driving force of the games I’d play.
Personal computers were still in their infancy, but computer games were light years ahead of video game consoles. I remember the first time I played Starflight on a PC, and somehow I found out that I wanted to work with games. At the same time with my ZX-Spectrum, I started creating and having ideas for games. But playing was in no way any easier than today. There were actually some interesting challenges.
The main thing was the cassette tapes where we stored the games. It was a slow process that required you to use a tape recorder and load your game into your computer’s memory. This would take from 5 to 10 minutes depending on the game. It was a very challenging time and you needed a lot of patience to play a game … When floppy disk drives came out, it was a revolution! You could load a game in 30 seconds! That was a quantum leap! Famous brands like C64, Amiga, Zx-Spectrum, MSX and Apple II, TRS-80 and the first PCs, with powerful 128 Kbytes of memory (top machine!), taught us a lot about games. Much of it thanks to these fantastic machines that gave me coutless hours of fun.
The 80s were extremely rich in movies, giving rise to franchises that are successful until today. I had the great privilege of going to the movies to see Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Conan, ET, Terminator, Predator, Aliens, Back to the Future, Big Trouble in Little China and a whole series of so-called “tough guys” movies like Cobra, Rambo, Commando, Escape from New York, Braddock. Not to mention the great “trash movies” of that time like DeathStalker, America 3000, Ator, Friday 13th, etc. Movies that made me laugh. Thanks to the home videos, we would meet at home to watch those movies with friends and have fun. All these titles influenced me. They left their marks on my games, on my stories, and on my culture.
In my previous article, I’ve talked about how comics influenced me in building my games. Suffice it to say that the comics allowed us, along with the movies, to travel without leaving our homes, and to live fantastic sagas. I’m thankful for reading the great classics during the 80’s.
In a time when there was no internet, the BBS (Bulletin Board System) was our window to the world. I remember my first dial-up modem (with the powerful speed of 2400 BPS), with which I could get access to a BBS system, download files, play the first multiplayer online games (I miss Trade Wars and the old MUDS) and exchange messages with people. Along with this, there were the physical meetings of the users in a pizza shop, or at fast food restaurants for the exchange of technical information and files (we already had the floppy disks then). It was a time of discovery, where we began to have a glimpse of what the future would be (I confess that I was disappointed with certain things of this “future”…) and what it had in store for us in the following years…
RPGs and Board Games
Playing RPGs and boardgames was also part of our daily menu. We would gather at friends’ houses and start our AD&D campaigns, where I would usually be the RPG master, which turned out to be my great game design school.
I miss those times when I would meet my friends in person and spend hours, days and weeks (literally) playing a great campaign with various “dangers” and adventures. It was an incredible thing and the opportunity I had for bringing together the elements of what I read, saw in movies in a coherent sense of completeness. In addition, we would play board/war games and later miniature games. It was a golden age.
TV was a major influence on our culture with shows like The A-Team, Magnum P.I., The Fall Guy, Airwolf, ALF, Miami Vice, Knightrider, Wonders Years, Dukes of Hazzard, Fresh Prince of Bellair. For you complete nostalgia, check this out. It was a complement to everything we had within our reach.
The World and Culture
During those times, the world underwent enormous cultural/political changes. The 80’s were rich in musical trends and bands that would get us all freaked out. In addition, we were witness to the end of the cold war (which seems to be coming back), regional wars, AIDS, but we also saw the beginning of an awareness and changes of customs along with advances in technology. It was a time when things were starting to take off and show what was about to come. The world changed in so many aspects and we were in the middle of this storm.
Meetings at friends’ or Shopping Malls
We would also meet with our friends to talk about movies, games, science, the world, and, on some occasions, we would also go to the movies together to see a premiere. There was no WhatsApp, social networks, smartphones, email, nothing. It was the good old landline phone, thanks to which, we could schedule our meetings (at a friend’s place, at a shopping mall, at a fast food, at the park etc). We would meet in person to talk about a lot of things. It is something that maybe a lot of people currently do not know what it is anymore…
Where is the magic? This is a nostalgic talk … an old guy’s words….
The magic is in living a time that, until today, influences games, movies, our culture. Many people miss this time because, culturally speaking, it was extremely rich and served to mold an entire generation of artists, game designers and people who are currently working in the gaming and entertainment industry. We dreamed a lot. We did not have anyone who dreamed for us. We learned to build many things with minimal resources. We valued every information we got. We joined our efforts to make real things.
I learned a lot, lived a lot through every second of the magical moments of this time. But we also had our bad moments because we were living in a world that was being turned upside down. Yet I feel very nostalgic for that time when there was still a real challenge for building things. The 80’s taught me to work hard to get things done. I started building games thanks to those years, allied with the modern tools of our time. A mix of past and present.
The modern world gave me what I did not have technically at the time and allowed me to finally pursue my goals. I’m thankful for everything I lived in the 80’s and that I now use as a basis for my games and stories. Despite all the technical limitations, in the 80’s, we dreamed, valued our friends and our culture more than nowadays.
This is the magic: I lived in the 80’s, learned from all this and I’m trying to create some cool games to transform the present generation.
Our world today is so connected, but at the same time so full of lonely people sinking in a babel of information, without knowing how to share and enjoy their own time.
It is sad to live in a world like this.
So, this my little love letter to the 80’s. I miss you, but we have to look forward and make our decade as an inspiration for the future generations.