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Archive for the ‘Toys – Videogames’ Category

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Speak & Spell

Posted by Big Boo on August 26th, 2011

Speak & SpellThe Speak & Spell is one electronic toy that anyone old enough to remember the original theatrical release of E.T. will definitely remember, if only because the film used one to great effect when E.T. builds his device to communicate with his spaceship.

Created by Texas Instruments in 1978, the Speak & Spell became one of the most recognisable and popular educational toys during the 1980s. As its name suggests, it was intended to help children learn how to spell. Spelling is one of those areas that was hard to turn into a toy, since it’s not like you could print “Spell Librarian” on a card and give it to a child, since they’d then have the correct spelling right there in front of them. Again, as the name suggests, this problem was solved by making the toy speak.

Speak & Spell used a technique called speech synthesis in order to make itself heard. This was a very new area of technology back when the toy was created and was not without its flaws (indeed, even today synthesised speech is quite often blatantly obvious due to mispronounced words) so whilst it was incredibly clever, it was also not exactly that easy to be able to make out what word the device was actually asking you to spell. You often got quite a few wrong answers simply because you were entering the correct spelling of the wrong word.

If you want to hear what I’m talking about then head over to the Speak & Spell Online site, which features an emulator of the Speak & Spell which whilst it may not be functionally complete (its missing game modes for example) it sounds exactly like the original.

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Oric-1 and Oric Atmos

Posted by Big Boo on August 15th, 2011

Oric-1The Eighties was without doubt the age of the home computer. Now we might just be limited to two real choices for a computer in the home (either a PC or an Apple Mac) but back then there were more different computer systems available than you could shake a stick at.

For most of the Eighties, in the UK at least, there were four main contenders – the Commodore 64, the ZX Spectrum, the Amstrad CPC and the BBC Micro – but there were many more besides including the Dragon 32, the ZX81, the Vic-20 and today’s spotlighted machine, the Oric-1.

The Oric-1 was created by UK computer firm Tangerine Computer Systems, although it was marketed under the company name of Oric Products International. It was aimed fair and square at the ZX Spectrum end of the market, as it was of a similar size and shape, and came in both 16K and 48K versions, just like the Spectrum did, and was even sold for just about the same price.

It did also improve on the Spectrum in many ways too. First it had a better keyboard than the original Spectrum (although that wasn’t really that hard an achievement!) although it has to be said the keys were a lot smaller in size. It had better sound capabilities and a higher resolution screen too.

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Posted by Big Boo on June 1st, 2011

ArkanoidDuring the good old days of 8-bit home computers it was common practice for arcade games to make their way across to the home by way of lots of unofficial copies, many of them written by people at home for fun. For example, Pacman became Munchman, Puckman, Trashman, Gobbler, BigYellowEatingGuy and so on. All of these took the basic gameplay of the original, usually adding nothing except maybe changing the ghosts into something else in the process.

In 1986 Japanese arcade game company Taito did something similar when they released Arkanoid. The game was based heavily on Atari’s earlier Breakout, which came out some 10 years earlier. In Breakout you controlled a bat at the bottom of the screen which you used to bounce a ball around. At the top of the screen were some bricks which smashed when the ball hit them, scoring you points.

Arkanoid took this idea and evolved it, with the main addition being power-ups. Sometimes when you destroyed a brick, a capsule would fall down the screen. If you caught this with your bat (which in Arkanoid was actually meant to be a spaceship called a Vaus, but to all intents and purposes it was a bat) you were awarded a new ability, which ranged from making the bat bigger or smaller, making it sticky so the ball could be caught, splitting the ball into three or my personal favourite, giving you the ability to fire laser bolts to destroy the bricks.

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Space Harrier

Posted by Big Boo on April 29th, 2011

Space HarrierI always looked forward to our family summer holidays at the seaside. One of the big highlights for me was being let loose to go around the amusement arcades that litter most British coastal towns, as it was one of the only chances I got each year to see the latest arcade videogames, which in those days were soooo much better than anything you could play at home (at least graphically).

One year my jaw dropped immediately when I saw Sega’s Space Harrier. There was a big crowd around the machine and rightly so, as Space Harrier was certainly a game to behold, not just because of it’s then amazing graphics, but more because of the hydraulic chair that you had to sit in to play the game.

At the time those simulator rides where you sit in a capsule and get tipped about whilst watching a piece of video (usually of a rollercoaster or a high speed car chase) and Space Harrier was basically that kind of idea scaled down to accommodate just one person.

Once strapped into the game’s chair, you had a big aircraft style joystick between your knees to grab hold of. Pulling the stick unsurprisingly moved your on screen character (a cool looking dude in red shirt and blue trousers and armed with a huge gun that also somehow enabled him to fly) but it also tipped the chair you were sitting in up, down, left and right, thus putting you off your game in the process.

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Stocking Fillers - Suppliers to Father Christmas
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Commodore 64 Relaunched

Posted by Big Boo on April 15th, 2011

New Commodore 64Given that we’ve just had April Fools Day, my immediate reaction on reading the news that the Commodore 64 was about to be relaunched was that it must have been a joke that was just slow in getting to me. But no, apparently it is no joke and the good old Commodore 64 is indeed coming back.

Except of course it isn’t. Not really. Sure Commodore are bringing back something that looks like a Commodore 64, right down to the little red power LED at the top right of the machine, but look closer and you’ll notice the keyboard isn’t quite right (four cursor keys and five function keys – I remember having to use shift to move the cursor up and left) and the ports on the side and back of the machine look distinctly PC like.

Yep, it is of course modern PC components somehow squeezed into a C64 shaped shell. That said, it isn’t quite as clean cut as being a Windows based PC. I’ve read that it presumably can run Windows, but when you buy it you get a version of the Linux operating system, whilst we’re waiting for Commodore OS to turn up.

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Strange Eighties Video Game Stuff

Posted by Big Boo on March 23rd, 2011

Space Invader Cake TinA friend of mine runs a very successful Gadget website called CoolestGadgets and one of his more recent postings immediately caught my eye as it was such a simple yet cool idea, if you’re into baking cakes that is. It’s a Space Invaders cake mould which turns out some great squat little alien invaders ready for you to fill with a tasty cream filling or cover in icing. Yum!

Now, technically it isn’t a real Space Invader, as the shape isn’t quite right, but it’s close enough that you get the idea. A shame they didn’t make a whole range of moulds including the bases and player ship so you could make your own edible version of the classic arcade game. You could use Cadbury Mini Rolls for the bullets!

Space Invaders MugI did a little poking around for other such gems and came across the Heat Changing Space Invader Mug as well, which is one of those mugs which has the heat sensitive printing on the side that magically appears or disappears when a hot drink is poured into the mug. In this case the mug shows an image of a bunch of invaders when you add your favourite hot beverage.

Also available is a Pacman version, which as you might expect has a permanently visible maze layout and power pills which appear and disappear.

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Posted by Big Boo on March 7th, 2011

ColecoVisionWhen one thinks back to game consoles from the 1980’s the chances are you’ll probably think first of the Atari 2600 (in all its wood veneered glory) or the Nintendo Entertainment System. These two machines were undoubtedly the most successful of the early and late parts of the decade respectively, but there were other consoles around too. The Mattel Intellivision had a good innings, but the games console from the early Eighties that I always wished I had owned myself was undoubtedly the ColecoVision.

You’ll be forgiven for never having heard of the ColecoVision if you’re not from the US, since whilst it was available in the UK and Europe it was a very rare beast to find in the shops, which is a real shame as the system was actually very good indeed, capable of producing arcade quality versions of some of the biggest names in videogames at the time.

I only ever managed to get to play on a ColecoVision once. I used to go to a weekly computer club and one of the other attendees had brought their one along to show off to everyone there. The machine itself wasn’t much to look at, little more than a big black rectangular box, with two wired in controllers with a funny little knobbly joystick and a keypad of 12 big square buttons. There were also a couple of buttons on the sides of the controllers too.

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Text Adventure Games

Posted by Big Boo on February 4th, 2011

Text Adventure GameNow here is a style of video game that has really gone out of fashion. Though new examples of the genre do exist, they are generally now relegated to the darkest corners of the Internet rather than being available to buy from shops or online retailers. I am of course talking about the humble text adventure.

Text Adventures (also often referred to as Adventure Games in the past, or as the rather grandiose sounding Interactive Fiction nowadays) were one of the first forms of video games to be created, which is hardly surprising given that they only required to be able to display text which was all a lot of early computers could do.

Despite having no graphics, many text adventures would actually be surprisingly absorbing, sucking you into their depicted world by having your imagination fill in what the locations actually looked like. The text was often written in the second person, which is probably best illustrated by a typical example.

You are stood in a dark room. You can see a table with food and drink set upon it. On the wall there is a heavy shield and a sword. There are exits to the north and east.

What do you want to do?

That last part was a prompt for you to enter some sort of command into the game, which was normally in the form of a verb followed by a noun, although later adventure games let you enter complete sentences to describe the things you wanted to do.

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