Whilst Nintendo, and any quack can crank out a conglomerate of mini-games, propagating some new-fangled, patent-pending miracle cure for whatever ails you, 20 years ago, no one cared. In a dream like decade, where everything electric for the consumer that wasn't a television or a radio was reserved for the nerds, geeks, I had a cassette-tape reader, chubby keyboard, a one-eyed joystick, and enough innuendos to put a therapist's kids through University. This helped me develop the patience of a monk on ketamine. A lot of ketamine.
The Commodore 64 was a Christmas present one year, and whilst it resembled neither HAL, nor let me play a deadly, international and naive game of tick tack toe, it was my introduction to three important aspects of life:
1 - Games are freakin' sweet;
2 - Good things come to those who wait;
3 - Whilst Death and Taxes are certainties in this life, Computer reliability is as the other end of the spectrum.
Before you even got to play a game, you had to figure out how to load it. This single flaw is one, I believe, of it's more important features:
If you couldn't figure out what to do here, go play a NES. None of your "blow on it to make it work" business here (Nintendo nurturing other skills). If you wanted to do something, you had to type in an instruction, or hold down a series of keys. Which leads us to the best part of some games: the loading.
You never could tell what you'd get. Sometimes there'd be music, other times a whining rhythmic screeching. A blank coloured screen was as equally informative as one with scrolling bi-coloured lines. Sometimes, you'd even get a mini-game to play. Ghostbusters is one such game, which let you play space invaders for the 10-20 minutes it took to load.
It was these waiting screens that helped me develop my patience. In this time, I could read a book, make a sandwich, go to the toilet (if I held it in for a few days, prior). Of course I spent most loading screens sitting, waiting, anticipating the noises of the cassette loading, and being mesmerized by the flash-flashy light show. I'm sure my parents worried, but it kept my glazed-eyes from looking for trouble, the screeching sounds and jarring imagery having disabled the speech-centre of my brain. Thankfully, waiting for a game to load has taken a bit of a nose dive, in recent years:
There were times when everything wasn't A-OK. Of course it took a trained eye to know something was amiss. The equivalent of the RROD or BSOD on the c64 was a sudden change in the loading animation (block colour to flashing, visa-versa), and possibly a new sound effect. Many a parent tried to load a game, only to have it die mid-load without their realising, and give up after 90 minutes.
Unfortunately, I don't remember much about the games. Only a few stood out. It didn't help that they were about £3.00, which was manageable even for a child. Though I did suffer the same affliction as Emulator gamers: Spoilt-For-Choiceitus, which manifested itself as stuttering of speech, hair in places there wasn't before, breaking of the voice, greasy skin. Thankfully, it was time for puberty, so I blended in with the other non-gamers.
I remember something about an anthropomorphic egg that couldn't swim; probably explaining my aversion to furries. Street Fighter II made an appearance, and for buying something that looks like a precursor to every Lego Game, I got a Ryu pin for my troubles, and a large poster of Blanka (Chun-li would have been better, but a green, hairy fiend was good, too). Xybots is the only game I can remember with any clarity. It was a co-op corridor blasting game, defeating robots around every corner. It was fantastic, and well worth the wait.
That's it. My beginnings. I hope it's shed some light on the dark ages, where we could easily count the colours on a screen, and danced merrily to chip-tunes. You kids call them polyphonic today, and look down at them from your iBricks and interwebs. Good Day, Sir!
(images taken from various sources. They belong to whomever, cheers!)