Sunday, 17 March 2013

Apps and the 80s: I love retro gaming

If you had asked me back in the day if I owned a tablet, I would have thought that you suspected me to be be either ill, or on drugs. I remember the fuss made during the '80s and '90s of the ACID symbol. In my school, even the suggestion that you had drawn the smiley face on your RE book was enough to cause the senior leadership to call your parents in... even if you were only eight!

Another huge fuss was made about the fantasy game trend in general. In the days before we discovered Warhammer or Heroquest there were two leading fantasy brands in my school; Fighting Fantasy and The Lords of Midnight.

Both we banned by our God fearing headmaster.

Such an attitude, as you can imagine, only elevated their allure so that even the 'kids from the estate' were interested in loading up Mike Singleton's classic on the school's BBC Micros, early IBMs or C64s. In the days before Health and Safety, teachers retreated to the staff room and let the kids get on with whatever they wanted to do, bar, of course, scrapping. So free from adult interference, we spent hours glued to the adventures of Luxor, Morkin and the battle between the Free, the Fay and the Foul. 

The hours I put into this. I never beat Doomdark, though!
The same attitude prevailed for the Fighting Fantasy books. I had a friend so passionate about reading these, he used to do 'cover transplants' and place Enid Blyton covers over the top of Deathtrap Dungeon (or my personal favourite, Trial of the Champions) and merrily game away in class free from the fear of a Bible being  cast in his general direction or his parents being called in! 

The hours I put into this, I never beat it without cheating, though!
A while back I mentioned tablets. I was referring to the more modern meaning of the term, namely the communication devices that are available to us here in the 21st century and with which I communicate with you all know. I am fairly new to the idea of being mobile, having resisted the lure of an iPhone or iPad for sometime. I bought a Kindle HD, largely so I could blog on the go and to watch TV in bed with the kids. My son, Jack, loves Angry Birds and the other games that can be played so easily with a touch interface. 

Recently, I stumbled across several apps that brought back the excitement of the '80s, in a thoroughly modern way; namely the Fighting Fantasy apps Blood of the Zombies, The House of Hell and The Lords of Midnight itself. 

Let's have a quick look at them, shall we?

Blood of the Zombies 

This is a Tin Man Games produced title of the new FF gamebook released last year, or was it the year before? It was my first brush with gamebook software and it seems several other companies have had a go at bringing these classic games back to life on tablets and PCs. What struck me the most was the impact of the musical score which plays away in suitably sinister fashion as you read. It really does up the tension. Secondly, the software design gives you a range of options about how to play; a hardcore mode, which is essentially just following the rules to the letter, and several other modes that allow you to cheat. There are a number of extras also, achievements, background information about the development of the book and artworks to collect. 

Here we have the game running, complete with virtual dice and the more modern art style. Great fun!

I chose to have a go at the book on Hardcore mode. And its well named, as I died pretty quickly. But the experience excited me and made me want to go back and try again. One thing that I thought was missing, was the option of being able to map your progress through the game, as this was an aspect of FF gaming that I enjoyed the most back in the day. There is nothing stopping me doing the same now (good old squared paper was your best friend back in the day). 

House of Hell

Tin Man Games followed up Blood of the Zombies with House of Hell. Which was a gamebook that I remember vividly, even though I never actually played it. Back then, for some reason long forgotten, I only 'did' the fantasy ones. A game set in modern times did nothing for me. So I approached the second release with great interest. This time, the game mechanic was adjusted by having a FEAR score as well as all the other stats. Once you reach your maximum FEAR your are scared to death and the game ends. As before, its the music that really ups the atmosphere, and there is the option to play either in old school or more modern art styles. 

With House of Hell, two sets of dice are rolled, one for you and the other for your opponent . 
With plans to release other gamebooks in the future, it looks like I am going to get a whole load of FF quality gaming in on the go in the future. 

I cannot wait!

The Lords of Midnight

This game as an utter surprise! I had no idea that there were any plans to re-release this classic nor, sadly, did I know about the passing of Mike Singleton himself. So I was very pleased when I saw the iconic graphics appearing in the amazon app store. 

If you don't know what The Lords of Midnight was, or indeed is, then let me explain. It was a fantasy wargame on a huge scale released in 1984 for the home micro of the age. The scale of game was vast and the ambition behind it was doubly so. It was a bit like having Lord of the Rings at home. 

The new version has excellent art design.
At its heart, its was a wargame. You commanded characters, who in turn could recruit other characters and warriors to build quite vast armies. As you explored the world you visited different locations, from ruins, to lakes to mountains and fought off dragons, wolves and worse. Your ultimate goal was to beat Doomdark in open battle, or destroy his power with Morkin seizing the Ice Crown or do both! Considering the specifications of machines at the time, it really is amazing that Singleton was able to cram in so much detail into some little RAM. It really is a triumph of game design.

The modern app contains the game and load of other features that makes playing the same far easier then it was back then. No loading or crashes... Games are easy to save... And there is a tutorial that explains how to play the game. 

Are there any more '80s style gaming apps out there?



  1. I am more a pencil and paper man when it comes to the likes of Fighting Fantasy - played both these books and love them to bits. House of Hell is really tough though and my copy seems to have been spirited away somewhere... A trip to ebay methinks.

    However, I love the idea of being able to cheat at Blood of the Zombies on the app and the music sounds very atmospheric.

    Being a bit of a Luddite my means of telecommunication is a £20 phone from Tescos with no frills! Mind you an app like Lords of Midnight could convert me - not come across the game before but I'm going to have to find some way of playing it!

    Someone somewhere must have updated the likes of Gauntlet and Barbarian...

    1. Gauntlet! I remember playing that on a friend's ZX Spectrum in the late eighties. The same guy that taught me to play HQ, incidentally.

  2. I absolutely love Heros of Might & Magic. Early 90s rather than 80s but it's addictive! No app though but you can purchase it, and other titles like it, from Good Old for a fiver.

    1. It was Eye of the Beholder, an AD&D game on the Amiga that I remember most fondly from the early 90s. Never played a Heros title though, sadly.

  3. I remember at school we were forever being hounded "take your nose out of that Dungeons and Dragons book and go outside, it's not healthy reading and doing mental arithmetic, go and score some coke or bully a first year etc." Now as the proud parent of a Warhammer dweeb I am delighted with his hobby, whilst he and his friends paint and use their imagination, their other peers decay in front of their mobile phones. The FF covers have changed to become considerably more gribbly, although the content remains the same. I just wish they would re-release the Sorcery series with the same John Blanche covers.

  4. ooooooOOOH!!! I am off to the iStore immediately to download these apps :) It is the perfect too for the fighting fantasy books. I loved them as a kid and surprisingly they fell under the radar of our own god fearing teachers and principles. Dungeons and Dragons was banned however for being satanic and a dangerous, corrupting influence on children. We were all going to commit suicide when our favourite characters died or would be sucked into the satanic underworld that apparently lurks just below the surface of the civilised world.