It’s hard to match the thrill of destroying a Death Star…


As I’m happy to admit, I’m a geek. A nerd. Dungeons & Dragons, sci-fi and horror: That’s all my bag. Oh, and computer games.

I got into computer games early because I was fortunate to grow up in the decade when they migrated from arcades and pubs into our homes.

However, my earliest memory of video games is from sitting in the upstairs rooms of a pub in Rhyl.

I would have been 10 or 11 at the time and, as mum and dad enjoyed a drink, my brother Matt and I would occasionally be given money to spend on Space Invaders.

Actually invented by Japanese company Taito in 1978, this was arguably the daddy of all arcade games which became a global hit in the early to mid-Eighties.

Simple and addictive, it was a two-dimensional game in which the player controlled a laser cannon by moving it horizontally across the bottom of the screen and firing at ever-descending ‘aliens’.

Your cannon was protected by stationary bunkers which slowly got worn away by the aliens’ missiles (and your own).

The aim was to defeat rows of aliens that moved horizontally back and forth as they advanced towards the bottom of the screen. You earned points for destroying each alien and they became quicker and more difficult to destroy as the game progressed.

Occasionally an alien ‘mother ship’ floated across the top of the screen and hitting this meant major points.

The object was obviously to get the highest score you possibly could. Truth be told, I wasn’t great at it but I loved it nonetheless.

I also have vague, blurry recollections of playing Atari’s Pong – a very simple, 2D table-tennis game which seems such a simple concept now I’m sure most children wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.

Then, in 1984, I went on a school coach trip abroad. A couple of classes from years one and two at Holden Lane High went to Valkenburg in Holland.

It was in an arcade there one evening that my friends and I (Rob, Richie and Glyn) discovered the Star Wars arcade game. It was a revelation to kids like us who had grown up playing cowboys and indians, ‘Army’ and play-acting the heroes from our favourite films and TV shows.

Made by Atari, this game was truly brilliant for its time. It enabled you to take on the role of Luke Skywalker, piloting an X-Wing Fighter in his final run against the Death Star.

You sat inside the ‘cockpit’, while your mates hung around outside egging you on.

As you downed Imperial Tie-Fighters character voices from the film would echo through the explosions.

“Use the force, Luke”, “I’ve lost R2!”, and, of course, “This one’s strong”, added to the excitement.

By today’s standards, the simple, linear graphics seem incredibly old-fashioned but I can tell you that nothing quite matched the thrill of hitting the exhaust port of the Death Star with your proton torpedo and watching its explode. Happy days.

PC gaming was still in its infancy (my much-loved Commodore 64 had yet to arrive) but video games slowly were migrating into our living rooms – with Atari, Nintendo and Sega leading the way with their chunky ‘third generation’ consoles, ‘joy sticks’ and slide-in games which were the size of a roof-tile.

In 2012, many homes have a Wii the latest X-Box or PlayStation but, back in the mid-Eighties, being able to play video games in your house was a real novelty and any lad (it was usually lads) who owned one gained many cool points.

Some of the games from this era had such an impact on us that they entered popular culture – with Donkey Kong, Mario and Frogger springing to my mind.

Indeed, Namco’s Pac Man was so big at one stage that U.S. President Ronald Reagan once set aside matters of state to congratulate a player on getting the highest score ever.

It was during this time that many of the best-loved platforms were born: First-person shoot-em ups, roleplaying games, survival horror games etc.

Certainly, today’s online mass, multi-player games and the home console games with astonishingly realistic graphics owe a huge debt to the mid-Eighties.

That was the golden age of video arcade games and, looking back, its not hard to see why.

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

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Shace Shuttle’s iconic design reignited our interest in the stars

Some may think that the great days of interest in space flight were the Sixties.

After all, people were genuinely agog when in 1961 Russian astronaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth in Vostok 1.

Then there were the numerous Apollo missions which culminated in Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin showboating on the moon in 1969.

But it was another craft which reignited our interest in the stars when yours truly was growing up.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) actually began working on designs for a Space Shuttle in 1969.

However, it wasn’t until April 12, 1981 – exactly 20 years after the first manned space flight – that the Space Shuttle Columbia and its crew of two blasted off from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, at the Kennedy Space Center.

They returned to Earth on April 14 having orbited the Earth 37 times during a 54.5-hour mission.

Although the Shuttle was to be involved in a further 134 flights and wasn’t retired from service until last year, it will always be associated with the Eighties.

It launched at the beginning of the decade and in 1986 the programme suffered its first, terrible tragedy.

The Challenger disaster occurred on January 28 that year when Space Shuttle bearing that name broke apart 73 seconds into its flight – leading to the deaths of all seven crew members. After a seal in its right rocket booster failed at lift-off, the Shuttle broke apart over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida as the world watched in horror.

The images of Challenger’s disintegration will stay with those of us who witnessed them on the teatime news for the rest of our lives – in the same way that the footage of the attack on New York’s twin towers does.

That wasn’t to be the last tragedy, of course. The Space Shuttle Columbia broke-up on re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere on February 1, 2003 – again with the loss of seven lives.

But in spite of these setbacks the Shuttles Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour came through their missions with flying colours and the legacy of the 30-year programme is a proud one.

This unique spacecraft has carried people into orbit repeatedly, launched, recovered and repaired satellites, conducted cutting-edge research and helped to build the International Space Station.

The Space Shuttle itself is iconic for several reasons – not least the fact that it was indeed a ‘shuttle’ for ferrying astronauts to and from Space.

Sort of like a Minilink bus without the bad decor and fag butts.

It was the first reusable spacecraft which allowed the astronauts to land it like an aeroplane. The design itself, of course, was a thing of beauty as well as supremely functional.

Previously we’d grown used to traditional ‘rocket’ ships which pointed skywards and broke into bits before something akin to a Walnut Whip fell back to earth. Or into the sea.

The Shuttle’s aircraft-like design was something which we could all identify with – and which little lads like me imagined piloting in the same way that we dreamed about George Lucas’s X-Wing fighters or Battlestar Galactica’s Vipers.

Indeed, yours truly had a Space Shuttle toy – a little diecast model with cargo bay doors which actually opened!

It was about as close as a chubby asthmatic kid from Sneyd Green was ever going to get to the Shuttle programme.

I’ve missed my chance now, anyway.

The final space shuttle mission, STS-135, ended on July 21, 2011 when Atlantis rolled to a stop at its NASA home port.

Whatever the future of Space travel, the Shuttle’s place in history is assured.

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia