Friday, 1 November 2013

Evolution of an Arcade Junkie - Part one of two

By David Campbell

I was born in Scotland, in 1975. Some people may think that makes me old, but 1975 was a great year to be born. Let me explain why.

Portobello Beach Arcade - Edinburgh
Video gaming was in its infancy. There were a few primitive games out there, but the explosion of fast paced, vibrant games that made you forget where you were was still to come. Most younger people probably cannot comprehend what a magical time this was.
If you ask a teenager today what the first console game they ever played was, I would bet that the vast majority of them wouldn’t be able to tell you. 

Now, that may be because home video games are commonplace now, and part of everyday life. Back when I was a kid, however, home video games consisted of variants of Pong, generously labelled as “Sports” games. Sure, Atari and a few other companies would change all that, but arcades.. nothing could rival an arcade experience.

The sights, the sounds, the colourful images, the transition as your eyes adjusted from normal outside life to the darkened digital sanctuary, revealing the delights within. That moment where you scan the arcade, looking for your favourite game, or maybe a new game.. deciding which coin slot would earn the right to your hard earned pocket money.

I remember the first arcade game I ever played. It was at Haggerston Castle holiday park in Northumberland. On our first explorative walk around the camp site, my mum, dad and I discovered a large white building, with what appeared to be a TV sitting outside on a large box. As we approached, we noticed a steering wheel

I ran forward, curious and excited by this neon coloured delight. I deliriously pushed the pedal, rocked the wheel, moved the  gear lever up and down. My mum examined this strange beast, and did something that changed my life forever. She gave me 10p to put in the machine. It was Atari’s “Night Driver”. It was the stand up version, with a black and white screen. Rudimentary would be a generous description of the graphics, but to my four year old overloaded brain, I was there - I was in a car, racing along at breakneck speed, in the dead of night. I crashed lots. I got another 10p.. and my addiction was born.

Onto the 80s

My arcade addiction grew almost in parallel with the exponential explosion of the arcade industry after my experience with Night Driver in 1979.

We used to visit Portobello beach in Edinburgh for a treat day. I would make a beeline for the arcades, which were now plentiful. New games seemed to turn up every time I visited.

By 1983, we were in what has now become known as the “Golden Age” of the arcade.  Classics such as Asteroids and Space Invaders which people had swarmed around had grown into full colour, polyphonic coin swallowers. Pac-Man, Joust, Defender, Robotron, Galaxian, Donkey Kong, Gorf, Pole Position and Spy Hunter were the regulars in most arcades. Vast rooms filled with the sonic and visual cacophony of coins rattling, buttons being thumped, teaser sounds, laser blasts, explosions, jingles; “noise” to our parents, but a delightful symphony to my young ears. 

1983 would also be the year that created a fusion of two things that have defined me - video games and Star Wars. Atari released the seminal game of the film and allowed youngsters to fulfill their fantasies across the globe. Stepping into the large cockpit for the first time; settling on the gloss black wooden bench, hands gently cradling the flight yoke of the X-Wing... the anticipation was incredible. Putting the coin in the slot, almost in slow motion; it was sensory overload. To hear the Star Wars them pumped into the speakers, the crawling text, then BOOM! you are part of the Rebel Alliance, and you are flying an X-Wing in space. Obi Wan provides encouragement as your ship swoops and swerves, shields dropping with each TIE Fighter hit, then you nosedive straight into the Death Star trench. Get those Photon torpedoes on target, and you are rewarded with shards of the destroyed space station flying across the screen.

You emerge slowly from that cockpit, and it takes you a few seconds to realise you aren’t in space, but in an arcade. You look back at what you've just experienced. The game may only have lasted a few moments, but the smile on your face and the memories you’ve just created will last an awful lot longer.

David Campbell's story continues soon....

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