Up until the 16-bit era, video games, for me, were objects that simply seemed to appear on store shelves, as if by magic, seemingly out of thin air. Of course, I was aware of developers such as Sega, EA, Capcom and so on, but I never spared a thought for how these games came to be. Being a kid at the height of the Mega Drive vs SNES rivalry, I never batted an eyelid, absorbing as much as a child consumer with a 50 pence per-week pocket money allowance, and the odd generous relative could at the time. Then one day, it came to me… “Where did these games come from?” Join me as we embark on a voyage of discovery and creativity, all through the eyes of my ten-year-old self.
It was 1994 and I remember hearing about an uncle of a school friend who’d made a name for himself as the software developer and inventor of some pocket dictionary / thesaurus software. As a ten year old, nothing seemed more mind-numbing than writing a dictionary. It was bad enough being told to write my name out 100 times by my head teacher, when I failed to use capital letters in handwriting class.
Some time later, I watched an episode of video games review show Bad Influence on TV (remember that one?). This particular episode had a feature in which presenter, Violet Berlin, talked about a group of kids who had developed ideas for a game which they had sent to a games developer. If memory serves me right, the game in question was a sim, in which the player ran a newspaper, set the task of finding stories to fill its pages. Seeing how these kids had set about inventing their own game concepts, I decided to go about it myself.
Knowing nothing about programming and development, the only course of action would be to write up my game concept. In a household with no PC at the time, this basically involved me drawing and writing up my game idea with a pen and paper. That’s right kids, pen and paper.
Somewhere along the line, I’d come upon the UK address for Electronic Arts. Famous at the time for its titles in the FIFA and Desert Strike series, this was my developer of choice and eventual recipient of my game.
My second point of call: genre. A huge fan of all things Sonic at the time, there could only be one game I’d possibly want to see made… a platformer (not exactly what Electronic Arts were into at the time, or since). Great start.
Next up: a main character. Not exactly the greatest illustrator this side of Naoto Ōshima, I went about designing my protagonist. But first, a few criteria: The character had to be male, had to be ‘cool’, good at running, with a pair of snazzy shoes. Ring any bells?
Firm in my mind I didn’t want to be sued for copyright infringement, acutely aware of my somewhat limited artistic abilities, I eventually settled on this guy…
Now, for every Sonic, there’s a Robotnik. For every Mario, a Bowser. For every Cool Spot there’s, err… crabs. Giving my guy the highly original name ‘Stick Man’, it was time for him to meet his mortal enemy: MR HAMMER HEAD, and his evil sidekicks the Nail Men (surely no-one would want any association with someone / something whose sole purpose is to smash you into a wall?). Set on my mission, I ploughed ahead.
A write-up of the game description told EA exactly what I was expecting from this blockbuster. Observe below (spelling and errors intact):
“The aim of the game is to save Stick Man’s best
fried friend Mr Stick after he got kid napped by Mr Hammer Head.
You have to get past the 8 levels and save Mr Stick. When
you die and your life bar has run out a Nail Man comes and stands on you then Mr Hammer Head comes and nails you into the ground then a grave stone falls from the sky and hits you.
When you have lost as many lifes as you had choose you can choose if you want to continue or get it on game over for you.”
Momentarily losing my grasp of the English language by the final paragraph, it was time for the next stage… level design.
Join me next time for tales of sidekicks, power-ups and detailed requests on the design and colorisation of the Tower of London. Confused? Imagine how the people at EA’s Berkshire headquarters felt. I’ll also provide you with EA’s response to my gaming endeavors. Solid gold gaming history.♦