best before 04.08.2016

by Hartigan Malchop

If you Squint, It Sort of Looks Like a Snake

Once upon a time there was a little fellow called Hartigan Malchop who looked remarkably like a shorter and cuter version of myself. Despite the considerable height difference between me and him, even back in those poorly-coloured once upon a times the little fellow likewise needed his entertainments. Luckily, I (that is to say, little Harty) happened to be born into a golden age of technology. Young Hartigan didn’t give a tinker’s damn for boring old inventions like antibiotics or clean water that came out of taps like magic; no, like all right-thinking young people, little Harty only cared about computer games. Of course, back in those days we were simple, easily impressed folk, and we didn’t realise how terrible our computer games looked. We thought some flashing lights and abstract lines were a marvel of the electric age. It seems ridiculous looking back on it now, but it never seemed to bother us that games didn’t really look like anything, except maybe road markings. Perhaps our brains were simpler and less evolved? Perhaps we had more imagination? Little Harty certainly had enough imagination back then to firmly believe that the house down the road was so haunted that he should never walk past it in case he was eaten by a ghost, whereas these days I am only rarely sent into a panic by a spooky house, so it’s entirely possible that my imagination has atrophied during the intervening years.

Oh! The Thrills!

The first video game that little Harty ever played gave him the hair-raising excitement of controlling the movement of a line, while trying not to crash that line into a bunch of other lines. Once he had a taste of this high-stakes stuff, he was hooked. In this particular computer amusement, you also got points every time you, as the heroic line protagonist, ran into randomly appearing dots, which was supposed to represent you eating them or something. At the same time, every time you ate a dot point or a period of time passed, the line you controlled got longer and you moved faster, which meant that you now had to avoid crashing into your own tail as well as the lines. With practice, you’d cover the screen with a labyrinth made up of your own tail, delighting in how far your greedy line had sprawled while simultaneously being terrified of how much easier your growth made it to bite yourself in the arse. It was probably a metaphor, if you looked at it just right. This endless and increasingly stressful game was called Turbo Snake. It was a version of the original Snake, only presumably with added Turbo. As a youngster, Harty played Turbo Snake on a piece-of-rubbish XT computer, a device that made a sundial look like a pretty fancy piece of technology. Turbo Snake was the most advanced thing little Harty ever saw on the XT, which wasn’t saying much because this computer basically had the graphics capabilities of a typewriter. The XT also had a massive fan that made so much noise that you were always half concerned that the bulky grey box would take off and jet clumsily around the room before exploding against the wall. To the young Hartigan, Turbo Snake was the one thing that justified the existence of the big whirring XT computer.

An XT computer at rest in its natural habitat.

An XT computer at rest in its natural habitat.

Some of you might remember Snake from when it was the standard packaged game on early mobile phones, back in the day when a charge lasted a week and having a built-in torch was a feature to make all your friends choke with envy. By-the-by, my current phone is a retro Nokia with a built-in torch, so never let anyone tell you that dreams don’t come true. Perhaps you too will someday have such a glamorous life. The mobile phone game version of Snake is now itself out-of-date. Maybe someday it’ll be the game of choice on some future device – another reappearance of the fad when people will start playing it on talking fridges or psychic electrochairs or whatever amazingly absurd thing we come up with next, and then Snake will die away again, stale and forgotten once more.

As little Harty grew, he had a brief shining moment when he was playing computer games more or less as they were released – in the days of Super Mario World and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, (Or TLZALTTP, as it was often referred to in the Malchop household). This was a wonderful period, when his exploration of games synced up with other people, when games were a shared phenomenon between himself and his friends, because they were all discovering the titles together. But as always, life gets in the way, and as little Harty grew up into me, I just sort of stopped playing games for a good couple of decades. Oh, I had the occasional go at a Final Fantasy or Gran Turismo on a friend’s Playstation, and suffered the sometime indignity of being thrashed at a fighting game by a much more experienced player who had cheated by actually practising and memorising combos. But these sporadic sessions were mere brief and meaningless youthful flirtations with game systems.

Well done, Little Hartly! You've won the mystical butter knife!

Well done, Little Harty! You’ve won the mystical butter knife!

When I reflect on it now, I can’t quite remember what exactly I was doing at the time that was so important that there was no room left for games. As far as I can tell, I didn’t make use of those non-gaming years to do anything particularly significant. In the meantime, without noticing it, generations of games passed me by. Then, one day a giant friend of mine came in carrying his Playstation, which looked so tiny and delicate in his huge mitts. In a booming voice he declared that he’d just bought a new game, which he thought I should have a look at. Little Harty hadn’t grown up that tall, so he wasn’t really in a position to argue too much with the plans of gigantic people. That oversized fellow showed me the first Assassin’s Creed, and I was slackjawed at how damn extraordinary the thing looked. It was the prettiest looking wall-jumping simulator I had ever clapped eyes on. It was as if I had been a big fan of the old wireless and all of a sudden somebody had gone and invented HD television when I wasn’t paying attention.

A shy assassin who dreams of becoming a dancer.

A shy assassin who dreams of becoming a dancer.

There was a huge hole in my video games timeline, but it occurred to me that this might not be such a terrible thing. For you see, we Malchops are famed for our poor understanding of money, and the story of how my great-uncle Rudigore Malchop lost all his inheritance at the horse racing on the very day of his eighteenth birthday is still told with a nod and a shrug today. Being a gaming primitive who had never advanced beyond the two-dimensional colourful cartoonishness of the Super Nintendo, almost all games from the last decade looked good to me, no matter how out-of-date, and out-of-date stuff could be had for cheaper, thus meaning that old Harty would have enough of the needful left over from buying these old games to still be able to afford essentials like gin and liquorice. This was my sheepish return to the long lost world of video games, when I embraced my backwardness and how out of touch I was with whatever is being played at the moment. These out-of-date games are a treat as fresh and delightful to me as the baker’s first buttery croissant produced in the morning. I play these games with the same dumb wonder you’d expect to get from a defrosted cave man sat down with an original model Xbox. Essentially, that’s what this series will be about: a confused disoriented fellow wandering through the extraordinary games he missed that are perhaps just a few years out-of-date, but still good and tasty for all that.

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