Monday, 6 May 2013

Now we’re off to the Fantasy Zone…by Stu Rankin

It all started for me when I visited Blackpool in 1986. Everything changed that time. Although, not all at once.
Let me explain. Being a fan of arcade gaming since a younger age, I was excited at a week in Blackpool. To me, the ‘arcade crash’ that people talk of in the States hadn’t happened, as all the arcades in those days were teaming with cool games as well as the early classics. So, I set off looking to find me a Star Wars cabinet. My friend at school had played it and said it was great. I wasn’t a fan of vector based things in those days but decided I had to give it a go. So, after working my way North, I trolled the arcades playing things like Ikari Warriors, Galaxian, Pac-Man etc. until I got to a place called Mr.B’s. In there, they not only had a Star Wars cockpit, but a sit down “Captain’s Chair’ version of Sega’s Star Trek. Wasn’t very good at that so decided to go back to Star Wars. My school friend was right. It WAS amazing.At any rate, over a couple of days I kept hearing this ‘Aaaargh’ sound coming from the pier arcades, and wondered what the hell it could be. So, on the second or third day, I headed over to the pier (I think it was the central pier) and entered an arcade. And there it was , with a crowd of people around it. Sega’s now classic, Space Harrier

…Welcome to the Fantasy Zone! I stood for about an hour mesmerised by the Rolling Type cabinet, first I had ever seen and was utterly amazed at this cross between a game and a carnival ride! Amazing. Did I play it? Nope. Too many people in big crowds around it, and I was like 13 and a bit shy at the time!
However, the seed had been sown in my mind. So that Christmas, I made sure I got Elite’s version for my Amstrad CPC and was well stoked! I also got a Quickshot II Turbo joystick for it too, but typical Amstrad didn’t like that stick too much… At any rate I played that game with it’s quirky mix of raster and vector graphics, and had gotten used to the way it looked. (To be honest I still play it now and again today as I like the speed and the music is not too bad for Around ’88 or ’89 I cant remember which, I finally managed to complete it! I was over the moon. The first time I had ever completed a game.

Then came the 90’s with Mega Drive. Bundled with Sonic of course. Total fluke here, but again my mother had gotten Space Harrier II for it for my Christmas. Yay! Happy days were here again. I had previously bought Space Harrier II for my Amstrad under a frenzy of excitement, cause the graphics were all raster and no vectors to be seen! I though this is amazing. But then I loaded it up and put it off after five minutes. Good grief. Were they kidding?? How slow was that? It was so slow, it was almost unplayable. GRANDSLAM'S SHII sucked. Not a patch on Elite’s earlier coin-op licence. So, I was happily blasting through Fantasy Land on my Mega Drive and all was right with the world again. Not too long after that I completed that game also. Well being fair it is a bit easy…

So for years, I would play SH II and that was great. By Late nineties, I started collecting retro games (yes, they did exist in the 90s- they were called Master System titles) and of course I had too get Space Harrier and Space Harrier 3D.

I got them, but no console to play them on. But that would come later, no worries. Skipping a couple of years again and it is now 1998. I had no idea about Sega’s Saturn console or the titles for it until I went nosing around one of these computer game shops that you used to see in shopping precincts. I asked if by any chance he had SH titles and to my surprise, he said he thought he has seen one in his shop not long ago, so he went to look for it. It was on a CD Sega Ages for the Saturn. Again, no Saturn, but no probs. Quick phone call to my mum again and hey presto, stocking filler bought for Christmas again that year. Over the moon. FINALLY at last, Arcade quality Space Harrier at home!!

I’m doing great!!!

Reading the names of the levels, seeing how it should look as I progressed through the game was interesting to me, but then I am an obvious SH fanboy.
I had only known the Amstrad levels, so the fact the there was other villains and entities to be disposed of was awesome. Ida heads, Godarni, Rollies etc., all waiting to do me in. And in those days they did. Frequently. So there I was quite happy with my Saturn set up listening to the remixed tracks from the game, varying the difficulties etc., all marvellous. I would also from time to time, alternate between SH and After Burner II or even a game I got separately entitled ‘A+M+O+K’

The millennium came and went, no Y2K nonsense for me, as I was retro.Then I started a new job, and as it happened Dreamcast was out. So I got one second hand (unbeknown tome at the time, it was previously owned by a guy I worked beside in the new job). Shenmue was the order of the day. Wracking my brains in order to get to You Arcade in Dobuita. Nice made it. Space Harrier for me. 100 Yen? No problems. Here have another 100 yen. The wee dude in the arcade told me I was pretty good and gave me a mini Harrier. Awesome.

And then one day, I decided to go onto Shenmue Passport and check scores. To my utter disbelief, I was ranked #1 in Europe on 50Hz setting, and #3 Worldwide on 60Hz setting. Yaaasssss! I had actually achieved something with my life!!

Dreamcast server eventually shut down, couldn’t look at scores no more, couldn’t show my mates. Oh well, just regretted no getting it on video tape.

So a few months later and I got my first PC. Wow, sucked in by AOL’s free disc trial! Amazing, I’m online now. And paying through the nose for it.

But that was okay as I was discovering new things. I kept hearing about this thing called MAME. I decided to give that a try. Couldn’t get it to work at first. Wasn’t used to Windows. Man I though BASIC was easier… well, maybe not.

In those early days MAME couldn’t handle Harrier, so it was an emulator that could do all the System 16 games. That’ll do. Eventually though, I got it on MAME and have used that since. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I was told about ‘Twin Galaxies’ keeping worldwide scores for Arcade games and console counterparts and I was told to submit my score. At this point I had the Ages 3D version of Space Harrier too. So, between a seven month period, I submitted four scores- MAME32, Sega Saturn, PS2 and Mega Drive’s SH II score.
All of them were confirmed as ranking #1 worldwide and therefor, a new record.  How happy was I? Very happy is the answer. Of course, that long sought after dream of mine to own a Space Harrier original cabinet still eluded me, as did the world record on a cab. My online mate Phil Campbell currently owns that record. At any rate, 27 years after first seeing the Space Harrier cabinet in Blackpool, I have my own mini cabinet at home.

Currently being restored to former beauty, I was lucky in that my particular cab left the Sega factory as an Enduro Racer cab. You see, some Space Harrier cabs were converted to Enduro rather than making a different cab for that game. Harrier side art is printed onto the cabinet, with the Enduro vinyl decals stuck on top. Lucky for me as I say, as the Enduro sticker for the best part, kept most of the Harrier art underneath just this side of mint. It’s not completely A+ as cabs always take knocks out in the big wide world and some times it adds to the charm. Anyway, stripped it down and got new buttons etc.

It is currently undergoing or is about to undergo a servicing for the monitor. 27 years on a CRT monitor, and no screen burn. Amazing. They don’t make them like that any longer! So when that job is completed, it’ll be back in and all systems go! Well, I need to source the metal legs for the seat stand that bolts onto the cabinet’s feet first. And that brings me up to modern times. Several home variations of Space Harrier on various formats, various world records verified by Twin Galaxies and my own jewel in the crown of my collection- an original cab by Sega! But don’t think my fanaticism will fade there… oh no. The future is heading toward a custom made Space Harrier Upright cab reproduction complete with bespoke side art and original flight stick and bezel etc. to house all the various versions of the game, to stand in tribute next to the original cab that started it all those years ago. My JAMMA cab and my NARC cab may have come and went, but not the Harrier cab. It will stay with me.

GamesYouloved would like to thank, Stu Rankin, World Record Holder for Space Harrier arcade -   Our Guest Blogger for his RETRO gaming memories.

Stu runs his own dedicated Space Harrier Page here:


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