Tag Archives: Little bits of gaming

Relicta Review: Magnetic Attraction Or Repulsion?

Ever since falling in love with Portal back in 2007, I’ve developed a bit of a soft spot for these first-person, physics-based puzzle games. Especially those that offer some interesting gameplay mechanics to test not only your reflexes, but that also get the old noodle working too. From indie developers Mighty Polygon comes Relicta, the new first-person puzzler on the block.

Set on Chandra Base, an outpost on the moon which is powered by a crystal structure, the titular Relicta. You play as physicist Dr. Angelica Patel, who finds herself stuck on the base after an incident and separated from he colleagues. You have to deal with the A.I. of the base that is having some obvious issues, as you search for clues as to exactly what went wrong at the base and discover the secrets of the Relicta itself.

So first things first. These type of games always have some kind of gameplay hook that you have to master to progress though the various challenges. With Portal it was… well portals. Here with Relicta, your going to have to get to grips and toy around with gravity and magnetism. You are given a pair of special gloves which allow you to lift and move specific blocks with ease or even magnetise them. All of which is the main thrust and mechanic you’ll be dealing with to solve the ever increasing complex puzzles you’ll face. Charge a block with either positive or negative magnetism, give it a touch of anti-gravity and you’ll soon be moving blocks around with ease.

The game is split into multiple areas, the main hub being the Chandra Base where you can run around and explore, go looking for collectables, etc as the story slowly evolves. Then the main puzzle element takes place in various biomes, each with their own look and aesthetics. You’ll be puzzle solving on icy glaciers, arid canyons, tropical beaches and more. Each biome is split into smaller, gated areas and it is in these areas where you have to use the game’s main gameplay mechanics, that gravity and magnetism thing. You use your special gloves to either positively or negatively charge blocks or even apply anti-gravity. The main goal is to move a block or several blocks to open the main gate and move onto the next area, where you will learn more of what has happened on the base. Sounds easy, but it is the obstacles and puzzles you’ll have to work out that makes things a tad more tricky.

RELICTA SCREEN 1

It is those puzzles that really sell these type of games. They have to be creative, yet familiar. Taxing, but not overtly so. There has to be a strict balance for the game to work, and several of these first person puzzle games just don’t have that. Thankfully, Relicta isn’t one of them. The puzzles here are very well thought out and designed. They’ll have you continually experimenting to try and get to the exit of each biome. Though the basics with the gravity and magnetism remain constant through the game, each biome you have to deal with adds a new twist. It could be the ability to add magnetism to a wall, mastering turning your block(s) into movable platforms, force-fields that you can not physically cross but the blocks can, teleporters, drones that cancel out any effects you apply and more. Every time you clear one biome, you’re given a new, fresh challenging set of puzzles in the next that offers more and more variety, while still using those same basic mechanics of gravity and magnetism. They just get used in new ways each time.

The puzzles here are both clever and fiendish. While I got stuck on many of them several times, I never felt cheated. I could either see what I had to so, but not quite work out how to do it, or it would be vice versa. I would find myself often running through the solution in my mind and then trying to act it out in game… to fail. But that failure was not because the puzzle was ever badly designed, it was because I was overlooking something or I had missed a pretty obvious factor. I’d go back and re-plan, try something else, tweak my approach until it all just fell into place. In short, the reason you will get stuck is not because of how the game is designed, but more so because you are either over or under-thinking the solution. Relicta is wonderfully simple and beautifully crafty with its puzzles that can be as complex as they can be easy and despite getting myself stuck, it just enticed me to keep on playing and experimenting with the game’s mechanics.

Story-wise, to be honest, I kind of lost interest with what was going on. The moon-base has gone very wrong (or you have) and the A.I. installed to help doesn’t much. There’s a plot about you trying to contact your daughter, Kira, a subplot about your ex-husband setting you up or something and all sorts going on. All while trying to unwrap the mysteries of the Relicta itself. But truth be told, I didn’t really care. The story of these games is not what pulls you in and keeps you playing for the most part, that’s just pretty set-dressing. It’s the puzzles in these games that really draw you in, and that’s exactly what they do here. Now, I don’t blame the writing of the game for my lack of interest in the story at all, it’s really just me. I was too focused on all the puzzle solving that I just auto-tuned out whenever a story beat popped up and just lost the thread of what was going on.

RELICTA SCREEN 2

Relicta is also a very pretty looking game too. The various biomes you’ll find yourself in graphically vary, always giving you something new to look at. The sterility of the main base itself with it’s typical sci-fi-like looks gives way to warm and welcoming mountain ranges, plush green forests, stunning ice caves, lush jungles and more. Being stuck, trying to work out a specific element of a puzzle is actually quite rewarding on the eyes as you take in the wonderful and beautiful vistas. It really is a very stunning game to look at and the various biomes offer a feast for the eyes one after another.

There doesn’t seem like a lot of replayability here, unless I am missing something, once the story is done… that’s it. It would’ve been nice too see some special challenge rooms, online leaderboards for fastest time to finish a puzzle, maybe even a puzzle creator mode to challenge others online or something. As far as I can tell, Relicta is very much a one-and-done type of game. Plus, I also felt that, for a game of this type, it did go on a bit too long, and it’s possible that some players may become a little tiresome before the credits roll. But what is here is really bloody enjoyable. A nice puzzle game that is as frustrating as it is rewarding.

Retro Respects: Devolver Digital, How I Love Thee

As on older gamer in his mid-forties, I’m finding it increasingly more difficult to play modern games. Mainly due to, how year after year, AAA games keep getting bigger and bigger. Huge maps that are crammed full with icons for missions, sub-missions, distractions, etc. I just don’t have the time to invest in gaming like I used to, and to get the most out of these grand games made today, you really need to invest a lot of time. Work, parenting, reading, researching for my books, writing and general day-to-day life takes up more and more time, and my gaming takes back seat. So much so that it’s currently in the back of one of those super-stretch limos right now. So recently, I’ve been getting into smaller, indie games over the bigger titles and have found, quite possibly my favourite smaller, indie game publisher with Devolver Digital.

For this article, I’m just going to cover some (not all, there’s a lot) of their titles, ones I have played and really enjoyed and look at what makes them so damn enjoyable. Smaller, easier to get into games that still offer plenty of gameplay with tonnes of original ideas, along with paying respects to gaming days of old. This is my love letter to Devolver Digital and the teams who create their games. Give the main titles a little click for game trailers and check out the other links in this article for main websites, etc.

Devolver Digital

Founded in 2009, Devolver started out by releasing HD updates of the classic Serious Sam franchise. OTT shooters with a seriously funny sense of humour. The trio of Mike Wilson, Harry Miller and Rick Stults were the founding members of the studio. The trio had previously co-founded Gathering of Developers in 1998 and Gamecock Media Group in 2007, focusing on the logistics of releasing physical games. Long story short, those companies were bought out, swallowed up by larger companies and soon dissolved.

Still really interested in game distribution, Mike, Harry and Rick co-founded Devolver Digital in Austin, Texas. Not wanting to repeat past mistakes, they decided to not deal with physical games and concentrate on digital distribution instead. Joining the original three were Nigel Lowrie and Graeme Struthers. Setting up business, not in an office at first, as they didn’t have one then, but in a bird feed shop, which Rick Stults owned at the time.

After releasing several Serious Sam titles and spin offs, they set out to concentrate on small, indie games. Their first big hit being…

Hotline Miami

Released in 2012 from the very small, two man team of Dennaton Games. Hotline Miami is a top-down shooter where you play as an unnamed protagonist who receives mysterious, cryptic messages on his answering machine, thinly veiled euphemisms to kill Russian mobsters. Split over several chapters, each with multiple levels. You kick things off by wearing an animal mask, with different masks offering different benefits. Then it’s away you go to kill some Russian mafia. Hotline Miami is a simple game, and it’s simple games that Devolver do so damn well.

HOTLINE MIAMI

Set in 1989 and obviously massively influenced by the whole eighties era, Hotline Miami is a fantastic shooter with a lot of ridiculously enjoyable gameplay. Bloody and brutal, sometimes strategic, but always damn great fun. Really nice graphical art style that makes things easy on the eyes, even when all hell breaks loose and the bullets and blood start flying. Still, this is not an easy game and you will die a lot. It’s one of those ‘one last try’ kind of games that you’ll still be playing long after your last try. A sequel/prequel, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, was released in 2015 which offers just as much madcap fun as the first game. Both titles are well worth checking out for some crazy, violent action.

OlliOlli

Developed by Roll7, OlliOlli is a side-scrolling, 2D, skateboarding, platform game from 2014. You play as a skateboarder and you have to pull off tricks… and that’s about it. This one is so basic, with a very basic control scheme that anyone could pick up and play it in seconds. Now I just want to make it clear that my saying this game is basic is not a put-down, far from it. OlliOlli’s simplicity is what makes it so damn appealing. Easy to get into, easy to play and understand, but hard to master.

OLLIOLLI

Each level has as score you have to try and beat by pulling off and (hopefully) chaining tricks. There are also five pre-set achievements to complete. Example of a level: Score 70k, have a 35k combo, grind a road sign, grab all spray cans and score 5k in 200m. Check off all the achievements in a level and the next one opens up offering even more of a challenge. Taking place over multiple areas (Urban, Junkyard, Port, Base, Neon City) , each with their own look and style, then each area split into ten separate courses, five amateur and five pro. OlliOlli is highly addictive and has you pushing yourself to beat your own score (or those on the online global leaderboards) to keep bettering your previous attempts. The sequel, OlliOlli2: Welcome to Olliwood was released in 2015.

Not a Hero

A wonderful 2D shooter from OlliOlli developers, Roll7 and released in 2015. Side-scrolling, pixel art, cover-based shooting action with an amazingly ridiculous story. Here’s the synopsis from the website:

Professional assassin turned amateur campaign manager Steve is charged with cleaning up the city by an anthropomorphic rabbit and mayoral candidate from the future named BunnyLord.

Now Steve and his expanding roster of dubious heroes must wield their unique skills to shoot, slide, dive and take cover behind a political platform built on ethics, accountability, and an inordinate amount of gunfire.

Eliminate the criminal underworld of the city’s three major districts and persuade undecided voters to your cause, tackling the issues that matter by putting a gun in the mouth of those issues.

Yes, a mayoral candidate from the future (2048), an anthropomorphic, purple rabbit, has time travelled to hire you to kill people to help his mayoral campaign. You chose from a selection of various protagonists, each with their own weapons and special abilities, and are tasked to basically shoot the crap out of everyone you see.

NOT A HERO

The 2D pixel art here is beautiful and highly detailed. You run around these 2D levels, diving for cover, smashing through windows, kicking in doors to mow down the enemies in your way, with a variety of weapons. The action is fast and frantic, the weapons are absurd (including exploding cats) and the pixel-gore is sublime. Kill all enemies on the level and escape. As simple as that sounds, there are a few random surprises along the way that offer additional objectives.

Minit

2018 saw the release of Minit. A top-down Zelda-like action/adventure game with a brilliant little gimmick. Developed collectively by JW, Kitty, Jukio, and Dom (Jan Willem Nijman, Kitty Calis, Jukio Kallio, and Dominik Johann). Giving you, the player, an exploreable world, but only sixty seconds to live… or a Minit. However, throughout your exploring or the map, you’ll keep finding an item or something that helps you progress.

For instance, the first item you’ll find is a sword, you can then use that sword to cut down plants to access parts of the map you couldn’t before. You’ll die soon after when the sixty seconds end, but you’ll retain that sword, so you can skip that part next time. You’ll find a shop owner who asks you to kill five crabs with your sword. You do that and receive coffee which lets you push blocks. Die again after sixty seconds, but you’ll still have the sword and the coffee, so you can access more of the map. Rinse and repeat and you’ll soon find yourself really getting around the map as it slowly opens up, meeting new characters, taking on new tasks, picking up new items that’ll allow you access to new parts of the map.

MINIT

The graphics are very Game Boy-monochrome palette-like as is the sound design. It all just adds to a wave of nostalgia, but with a brilliant and unique gameplay twist that keeps you wanting to play more, solve the next puzzle, find the next important item, or just go off and explore the pretty decent sized map to find secrets one minute at a time. Minit is is glorious throwback to old school games with a modern day twist. Oh and there is a story and main quest to follow, not just random walking around shenanigans, all taken in little Minit bite-size pieces.

The Messenger

Also from 2018 by Sabotage Studio comes this love letter to 8-bit, hard as nails action/platformers. Just looking at the first few seconds of The Messenger, you should easily be able to see what influenced the game, the much loved NES version of Ninja Gaiden. Playing as an unnamed ninja, you are given a special scroll to deliver to the top of a mountain, making you the titular The Messenger.

I have recently just finished this game and it’s only now as I write this that I realise how difficult it is to talk about without spoiling it. To call this game a Ninja Gaiden homage or clone is both accurate, and at the same time, doing it a massive injustice. The Messenger has a lot more going on then you will first realise. While still maintaining that 8-bit platforming style, it does something else that I really do not want to spoil here. I think you need to experience the game yourself and be both entertained and surprised. I mean, I put in a good few hours and got to the end… or at least I thought it felt like the end. But there is much, much more to come. You ever play The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on the SNES and get to the point where you think you’ve finished the game, only for it to really be more of a halfway point and there’s a whole other dark world to explore…

THE MESSENGER

The Messenger is sublime. Not only just a fantastic reliving of older 8-bit gaming with references and homages aplenty, but also a damn fine game in its own right. There’s a wicked and funny sense of humour running through the entire game, the mysterious cloaked shopkeeper being a particular highlight with his stories or the cheeky messages you get when you die and are revived by Quarble (just play it, it’s easier than explaining). It’s a genuine surprise of a title with a lot of secrets to find that add so much more to the game. You’ll die, die and die a lot (I had over 230 deaths when I finished it) Even if you do finish the game (properly), it still offers a lot more to see and do, including a brilliant slice of free… yes FREE DLC. Seriously, definitely check this one out and give the developers some support, cos I want a sequel. Best game I’ve played this year.

Gato Roboto

Doinksoft are the team behind this little gem, released in 2019. Another throwback to classic gaming of old. This one sees you playing as cute kitten in a mech-suit, tasked with having to help your owner and his crashed spaceship. Yes, I did just write you play as a kitten in a mech-suit… and it’s awesome!

GATO ROBOTO

Just going on looks alone, I thought this was a follow-up to Minit, it features a pretty much identical Game Boy-monochrome palette-like graphical style and presentation. But the games are made by two different companies, I’m pretty sure there’s no connection between the two games other than the look. Where as Minit was a fresh take on the older Zelda games, Gato Roboto is very clearly influenced by Metroid. You are in this suit, exploring a map, finding new weapons which enable you to explore previously unreachable areas. This is Metroid with a little bit of Mega Man thrown in too. This is a lovely little title that offers some of the best old school style gameplay you’ll find.

My Friend Pedro

Another 2019 release, this time from DeadToast Entertainment. There have been some pretty brilliant and wild games so far… but right here, we have a clear winner. With you playing as a unnamed, silent protagonist who instructed to track down and kill someone called Mitch (and hundreds of others). You are told this by a floating, talking banana called Pedro. Yes, a talking banana tells you to kill people.

MY FRIEND PEDRO

This platform/shooter offers some truly OTT gameplay. You can pull off some pretty impressive moves here that would make John Woo green with envy. Jumping, diving, back-flipping, pirouetting, dual weapon wielding action. But outside of the amazing action, there’s actually a pretty well told and interesting plot that I’m not going to spoil here. As the official website describes the game: ‘a violent ballet about friendship, imagination, and one man’s struggle to obliterate anyone in his path at the behest of a sentient banana’. Yup, pretty much sums it up.

Observation

Yes, another 2019 game, this time from developers No Code. This title is a puzzle/adventure/thriller game set on a space station called, Observation. An unknown event has damaged the space station to the point where it has no power and it’s up to you to fix things and save those on board… but there’s a bit of a twist.

Dr. Emma Fisher is the only known survivor stuck on the severely damaged space station, she does her best to try to communicate with anyone else who may be alive. For that, she needs the on board computer, Systems Administration and Maintenance or SAM for short. This is the twist, you the player are SAM. Yes you are a piece of AI onboard a distressed space station. The good Doctor gets you up and running and then tells you to asses the damage and try to get Observation up and running again. After performing a diagnostic, SAM receives a strange transmission of unknown origin which tells you, SAM to ‘bring her’ to a set of co-ordinates… and that’s where I’m ending this one.

OBSERVATION

You remember HAL 9000 from the Kubrick flick, 2001: A Space Odyssey? Well, that’s basically what you are in this game, but is SAM you as evil as HAL was? This is a very slow burning game, and that works very well in its favour too. The gameplay is light and really is you just being a computer scanning things, opening doors for Dr. Emma Fisher, carrying out repairs, etc. All via the cameras and computers of the Observation space station. But it’s the story and the fairly original concept that really sells this one.

Carrion

Which brings me right up to date with this latest 2020 release that I’m currently playing right now. Developed by Phobia Game Studio and described as a ‘reverse horror game’. Carrion is a 2D, Metroidvania-style action game where you play as the villain, a red blob thing with fierce tendrils. You have to try to escape the underground facility you find yourself in.

For a red blob, you have some pretty nifty talents at your disposal. Your tendrils can pull you along floors, walls and ceilings, as well as grab scientists and armed guards for you to eat to keep yourself alive. Other upgrades/skills can be unlocked by exploring and playing through the story. You can squeeze down air-vents, swim in water, break through barricades, throw objects, etc. Now, I’ve only just started to play this one and I’m only a couple of hours into it. But so far, I’m really bloody enjoying it. Carrion requires a bit more thought to play then I first realised, you need to be cunning and use stealth/distraction to take out the good guys more so than just going barging in. But it’s not all about killing scientists as there are a few clever puzzles to solve along the way.

CARRION

The controls are a little strange at first, there’s a slight inertia physics thing going on as your red blob doesn’t stop in an instant when you let got of the control, it drifts a little. There can be a little confusion at first as you do control the blob itself, but also its tendrils which pull you over surfaces and are used to grab/attack. It just took me a little while to get used to exactly what I was controlling the blob or the tendrils, when it’s kind of both. The story has this thing where you swap between playing the red blob and humans exploring the facility you are trying to escape as the blob. I’m not entirely sure where the story is heading right now, but I’m definitely enjoying it. Carrion is grotesquely gruesome and visceral as well as being a damn fine game to play.


And so, that’s about it. There are a lot more Devolver Digital games to discover, believe me, I’ve only just scratched the surface there of some of the titles they have released. But these are some of my favourite games from the publisher so far. I’ll certainly be seeking out more titles soon.

Fantastic little gems that may not be sixty hour epics, but still offer some damn fine gameplay, retro feels and highly unique gameplay ideas and mechanics. Devolver Digital have fast become my favourite indie game publisher, supporting and releasing some tip-top titles over the last few years. A big thank you to all at Devolver Digital and all those who made these games. For an older gamer with less and less time to invest in gaming, these titles are perfect. I hope to see more in the future.

Just one question. In the shop in The Messenger, is that red thing with tendrils, hidden in a covered cage supped to be the blob from Carrion?

THE MESSENGER SHOP

Evolution Of F1 Games 1974 – 2020

Formula 1 as a sport turns seventy years old this year. That’s quite a momentous occasion to celebrate. I used to be a huge F1 fan, mainly through the eighties and nineties with Ayrton Senna being my favourite driver. Then, the blackest race weekend that was Imola  94 happened and for me, F1 died. Still, I’ve always enjoyed playing F1 games even if I really don’t follow the sport itself much anymore.

So I thought, to celebrate seventy years of Formula 1, that I would look at how F1 games have evolved through the years. From the first ever F1 game right up to the latest in 2020. Now, I’m not going to cover every single F1 game as there’s quite a lot of them and when you get into the latter games, they’re really just yearly updates. But I will be looking at some of the more notable F1 games to see how they’ve changed over the decades. Plus, a lot of the early games may not have been officially F1 licensed, but it’s very clear they were definitely F1 influenced. There will be links aplenty to gameplay footage of many of the games, a big thanks to the various YouTubers who complied the gameplay.

So anyway, here we go on an F1 trip through gaming, spanning six decades.

BORN 1950

The first ever Formula One race was held in 1950 at the famed Silverstone circuit. Italian driver, Emilio Giuseppe Farina would go in to be crowned the first official F1 World Champion. I don’t have to go back to the fifties (especially as video games didn’t exist then) for the first ever F1 game, but what could be considered the first F1 themed game is still very early in gaming history.

The Seventies

1972’s Pong is often considered the first ‘proper’ video game. It’s certainly the one game that kick-started the whole arcade and video game revolution in those early days. Back then, gaming was in its infancy and games were very simple. Perhaps the first F1-ish game could be Speed Race from 1974.

SPEED RACE

Developed and released by Tatio in Japan (Midway in the US where it was called Wheels), Speed Race offered some very simple gameplay. You controlled an F1-like car on a fast vertically scrolling road. Given just ninety seconds to make it as far along the road as you could. Along the way, you’d have to weave in and out of other racers. The arcade cabinet itself was a stand up thing with a steering wheel, simple hi-low gears and an accelerator peddle. The game itself was very basic and may not have offered much in the way of F1 thrills, but it’s cabinet design screamed F1. I believe that Speed Race was also the first ever vertically scrolling video game.

Also from 1974 was Gran Trak 10, developed and published by Atari. This wasn’t scrolling like the previous game, but instead had you racing around a single screen track. Gran Trak 10 was a bit more in-depth compared to Speed Race. It was another stand up cabinet with peddles to accelerate and break, but this one offered multiple gears, including a reverse. There was only one track available in the game and you had to race through checkpoints to extend your limited time. Do as many laps of the track as possible before the time runs out.

A lot of those early seventies racers followed a similar gameplay style. Simple weave in and out of traffic, or complete laps within a time limit. Titles such as Sprint 2 (it wasn’t a sequel, the number just reflected the number of players) was the first in a long running franchise Night Driver and F-1 were further early examples of such games with similar ideas. The latter using a unique miniature diorama and projector system to create the illusion of racing over standard graphics. But it was perhaps Sega’s Monaco GP from 1979 which could be considered the first ‘proper’ F1 game.

MONACO GP

Where as the previous games mentioned may have had an F1 art style to the cabinet with some F1 questionable influence, Monaco GP was unmistakably Formula 1… mostly. This one played very similar to Tatio’s Speed Race, it just had fancier graphics and a few new gameplay additions like night driving, ice roads, etc, all those things not seen in Formula 1 . Still with that vertical scrolling, race against time thing while dodging other cars. It certainly wasn’t a revolution in gameplay, but it was definitely trying to engage the F1 fans of the day. I mean, it was called Monaco GP, named after one of the most popular and famous races in F1 history. Plus, once again the cabinet was F1 themed especially the sit-down version.

The Eighties

If the seventies was the infancy of the Formula 1 game, then the eighties were its teenage years. The first few eighties F1 games still carried the same ideas and concepts from the seventies, not too much evolution really going on. Then 1982 happened and Namco released Pole Position. Just reading that title should spark off memories of many an older gamer and if it didn’t, this screenshot will:

POLE POSITION

Pole Position was perhaps the defining Formula 1 game of the eighties. Playing from a third person perspective, you raced around a (for the time) accurate recreation of the F1 Fuji racetrack. Before you could race, you’d have to ‘prepare to qualify’, as the digitised speech would tell you. Put in a good time for a lap and then it was on to the actual race. Here it was you against several CPU controlled opponents in a championship race. Overtake other cars, try not to explode by crashing into billboards and come first. Pole Position was the first F1 game to depict a real race track and also the first to feature a qualifying session and actual racing instead of just overtaking endless opponents. The following year in 1983 and Namco followed up with Pole Position II. Very much more of the same with some minor graphical refinements. Plus it added three more tracks, taking the total to four. Though the gameplay between the two games was identical.

By now, and thanks to the success of Namco’s two Pole Position titles, F1 racers were fast becoming hugely popular in the arcade and even at home. The rise of cheaper hardware saw consoles and computers in the abodes of avid gamers around the world. 1983’s Chequered Flag for the ZX Spectrum was an early example of a F1 simulator. You got to chose from three F1 cars, two called Ferretti and McFaster (Ferrari and McLaren) and race around six representations of real F1 tracks and four fictional circuits. There were no other cars to race against, just you trying to put in fast laps… oh and you had to avoid on-track hazards like oil slicks and broken glass, just like real F1? Chequered Flag also featured a pit-stop game mechanic, the first game to feature pit-stops where you could repair and refuel your car.

Grand Prix Manager from 1984 on the ZX Spectrum was the first ever F1 management game. Putting you in charge of a Formula 1 team. Chose your difficulty, number of races, sponsor, driver, hire mechanics and then it’s away you go. You have to keep an eye on your team, the car, drivers as you advance through the season. Grand Prix Manager was basic, very basic stuff, but it did the job well enough, for the first ever F1 management title.

GRAND PRIX MANAGER

By the mid eighties, there was a great mix of arcade style racers, more simulation style F1 games and even a few hybrids of the two. Atari released Super Sprint in 1986, a sequel to their long running Sprint franchise. 1985’s Formula 1 Simulator, despite it’s name, was less a simulator and more a Pole Position clone for the home market, even though Pole Position saw several home ports. Pitstop and Pitstop II (1983 and 84 respectively) offered some simple but fun F1 action for home computers. The latter of the two, me and my brothers spent many an hour on racing each other on our Commodore 64.

The late eighties began to see the rise of the officially licensed Formula 1 games. Satoru Nakajima F-1 Hero for the Famicom from 1988 was one of the first licensed F1 games. It saw a release outside of Japan on the NES as Michael Andretti’s World GP, which actually made little sense as Michael Andretti wasn’t an F1 driver, he raced in IndyCar. Though he did eventually race in F1 for the 1993 season. Anyway, the game was one of the first to offer a playable full F1 season, complete with all the real races and ‘drivers’… though pseudonyms were used. Then there was Nigel Mansell’s Grand Prix for home computers from 1988. This one was much more simulation-like and even allowed you to try full race distances. It also offered recreations all of the sixteen Formula 1 circuits of the time.

FINAL LAP

Arcade titles such as 1987’s Continental Circus and Final Lap, 1988’s F-1 Dream and 1989’s Super Monaco GP (the sequel to the Sega classic Monaco GP from 1979) began to push just what arcade games could really do. Buttery smooth and fast gameplay with exciting race action to boot. But then, as the eighties began to end, a real game changer was released. Namco had already established themselves a great arcade racer developers, but in 1988, they unleashed a genuine beast of a game. Winning Run was was a revelation in arcade racers, F1 themed sure, but it was the titles amazingly impressive 3D shaded polygon graphics that really blew people away. Giving you a choice of two difficulties (cars) but only one track. You have to complete a qualifying lap before going up against twelve other racers to fight for first place. Winning Run opened the doors for 3D polygon racers, both in the arcade and at home.

The Nineties

Well this is it, the decade where Formula 1 game really took hold and began to show just how good they could be.  There were more F1 games released in the nineties than any other decade. The arcade format began to grow a little tired of the Formula 1 racers and started to look at other racing disciplines for games to be based on, but the home market was a very different story, you could hardly move for F1 themed games for home consoles and computers. It was 1991 when one of the finest Formula 1 games ever was released with Formula One Grand Prix.

F1GP

At the time, Formula One Grand Prix, from game designer Geoff Crammond was THE definitive F1 game for home computers. Its impressive 3D graphics were highly detailed for the time and the game offered a very, very in-depth, simulation representation of the 1991 season. Though the game was not officially licenced by the FIA, Geoff still made the game as authentic as he could. All the correct tracks were there and so were the drivers and cars… kind of. The driver helmets and car liveries were in the game, but the names were not. However, Geoff was smart enough to add an editing tool in the game so you could change the names with ease. There is so much I could write on this one F1 game alone (like it’s online and modding community that still exits) that this article would go on for days and I have so much more to cover… like this game’s sequels. But I will finish by adding that this game was the one that not only got me into racing some, but also F1 as a sport much more deeply. Yeah I watched and enjoyed F1 before this, but it was all the car set-ups, track info, etc from this game thatmade me want to understand the sport more.

Two of the biggest F1 drivers in the sport of the era got in on the whole licensing thing in 1992 when they had games released bearing their names and likenesses. Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Racing saw you able to play a full F1 1992 season as the mustachioed one himself. This was much more arcade-like but still offered things like pit-stops, minor car set-ups, tyre choices and the like. Even the greatest racing driver of all time ever got in on the action with Ayrton Senna’s Super Monaco GP II from Sega, a licensed version of their long running F1 series of games. This one was based on the 1991 season and Ayrton himself even helped with the development of the game. He not only allowed the use of his likeness, but Ayrton pops up though the championship offering you driving advice and tips for each track, all of which was written by the man himself. Plus he helped with how the cars should handle and even designed two fictitious tracks for the player to drive on, Ayrton even had a few voice samples in the game too.

SENNA SUPER MONACO GP II

There really were a slew of Formula 1 games in the early nineties, they were everywhere. Titles like F1 Pole Position, F1 Hero MD, Formula One World Championship: Beyond the Limit, F-1 Sensation (which was actually fully FIA licenced), F1 Grand Prix: Nakajima Satoru, F1 Circus Special: Pole To Win to name just a few, were all released between 1990 and 1994. I just need to give special mention to F-1 Grand Prix Part III from 1994 on the SNES. One of my favourite F1 games on any console at the time as it melded a really great racing game with some light management elements, allowing you to create your own F1 team.  But 1995 saw Geoff Crammond return and vastly improve on F1 game when he released the sequel, Grand Prix 2… only this time, fully licenced by the FIA. All the races, drivers (with the exception of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger for obvious reasons), and teams for the 1994 Formula 1 season were wonderfully recreated and the simulation feel of the previous game was exceed ten-fold.

But it wasn’t all about heart pumping racing as Grand Prix Manager and Grand Prix Manager 2 saw releases in 1995 and 1996 respectively. Two very good and solid F1 management games full of options and variables as you take your chosen F1 team onto victory over a ten year career. To be honest, the games do feature some very questionable AI and overall simplistic gameplay, not exactly in-depth for management games, but still offered some good gameplay along the way.

GP MANAGER 2

1996 saw the release of Formula 1. Perhaps one of the most important F1 games to ever be made. This was the genesis of the F1 games we have today. Formula 1 featured the most accurate representation of the sport to date at the time. Fully licenced cars and drivers, tracks designed using actual real-life data and telemetry, TV style presentation including Tag Heuer timings. It even had commentary from the legend that was Murray Walker. This wasn’t quite as simulation heavy as Geoff Crammond’s games, but it was the first F1 game to get the whole feel and presentation of the sport right.

Formula 1 as a sport already had a rich history worth exploring in the nineties, and one game broke from the norm of trying to make the most recent season the star of the game. 1998’s Grand Prix Legends took the sport back to the sixties, in particular, the 1967 Formula 1 season. The tracks were tighter, the cars didn’t have the safety features and the sport on the whole was far more dangerous an this game tried to capture that. A full on simulation of what it would’ve been like to drive and F1 car back then, Grand Prix Legends was brutally realistic, a trait that turned many gamers off and the title didn’t sell well. But it is a game sim fans look back on with fondness.

GP LEGENDS

As the nineties came to and end, the F1 games did not. F-1 World Grand Prix, Formula One 99, Monaco Grand Prix: Racing Simulation 2, Grand Prix World and Official Formula One Racing were all released in the last coupe of years of the decade. And believe me, I’ve not even covered half of the F1 games released in this decade.

The Two-Thousands

As the next century began, F1 licenses became more strict and the games began to thin out in an quality over quantity kind of way. That’s not to say there still wasn’t a good few F1 games released. Kicking things of right was that man again, Geoff Crammond, with the third of his brilliant F1 games.

Grand Prix 3 followed the 1998 season. Yes, that is two years out of date. Though it was given an update in 2001 for the 2000 season via an expansion pack. Much like Geoff Crammond’s previous F1 titles, this one once more offered a fantastic racing experience and some in-depth simulation options. Electronic Arts got in on the F1 act using their famed EA Sports (it’s in the game) label, releasing multiple titles.  F1 2000, F1 Championship Season 2000, F1 Manager, F1 2001, F1 2002 and F1 Career Challenge all offered a more acradey feel to the racing over a deep simulation. Except for F1 Manager which was obviously a management game.

F1 Championship Season-2000

Grand Prix Challenge from Infogrames was a decent attempt at an F1 title, though it strived to be more simulation-like, it never really felt like it. Williams F1 Team Driver from 2001 put you in the driver’s seat of a young driver trying to make it into F1. Starting out in  go karts before Formula 1600cc, Formula 3, and finally onto Formula 1. An interesting title that was doing things a bit different from the usual Formula 1 games a the time, but overall, it was pretty disappointing. 2002 saw Geoff Crammond release his final F1 game with Grand Prix 4. This was pretty much more of the same from Geoff, still a good F1 racer indeed. But the problem was that other games on the market were beginning to get better and better, meaning these, once standout games no longer stood-out.

Formula One Arcade

Formula One Arcade from 2001 did exactly what the title suggested. It was a much more arcade-like game wrapped up in the official F1 licence. As far away from a simulation as you could get as the races featured power-ups like speed-boots, large high-grip tyres and even shields. This was all about high-octane, OTT racing.

By 2004, F1 games started to just became yearly update affairs. Sony secured the official F1 licence back in 1996 and made plenty of games from it too. Fourteen games in total released between 1996 and 2007. Other studios made F1 games, sure, but by the mid 2000s, Sony monopolised the market. Then in 2008, Codemasters were the ones to pick up the licence, though they didn’t use it proper until the next decade. There were still a very small handful of Formula 1 games released. For instance, F1 2009 was published by Codemasters, but developed by Sumo Digital. It was in 2010 when Codemasters released and developed their first Formula 1 title.

The Twenty-Tens And Twenty-Twenties

Yup, from this decade onward, Codemasters had exclusive rights to the official F1 licence. Meaning only they could release ‘proper’ F1 games. I don’t think it’s really worth going into all of their titles as they are basically yearly updates over the previous game. From F1 2010 to the most recent F1 2020, Codmasters have given us a decade of solid F1 simulations. Their F1 games over the last ten years have been great and easily offer the best Formula 1 racing around. All fully licenced with all the tracks and drivers representative of their respective years. I reviewed the most recent game only a few weeks back too.

F1 Race Stars

Codemasters did release a little curiosity of an F1 game back in 2012 that wasn’t part of their F1 sim games. F1 Race Stars was a more kart-racing-style arcade game, Full of power-ups, weapons and crazy track layouts that included jumps and even loops. Far and away from the simulation games, F1 Race Stars was actually really good fun and it even featured the official FIA licence too. Yup, you could drive as any of the twelve teams and twenty-four drivers from the 2012 season around OTT tracks inspired by the real circuits.

Other games have offered F1-like racing in some of their games. Rockstar introduced F1-style cars and races in GTA Online and the Forza Motorsport series has also included  Formula 1 cars and tracks. As too does the Assetto Corsa franchise. Though in these cases, they are either fictional cars or historical ones due to Codemasters having exclusive rights to the current F1 season.


And so, that’s pretty much it. Formula 1 games from the dawn of the sub-genre in 1972 right up to today in 2020. From simple arcade racers to more in-depth, realistic simulations and even management titles. F1 has seen a real evolution in terms of games that has spanned six decades. As much as I love the Codemasters F1 sims, it’s a shame they have exclusivity over the licence. I’d like to see more studios making F1 games like back in the eighties and nineties. I’d like to see more variation on the sport too instead of these yearly updates. Codemasters’ own F1 Race Stars was good fun and showed you don’t have to always make 100% serious Formula 1 titles.

I’d love to see more historic F1 games. Why not relive the career of a legend like Ayrton Senna or Michael Schumacher? Start out in karts, before moving through the ranks of the  Formula Ford 1600 Championships, Formula 3 before moving into F1? There could be a real-life comparison kind of thing where the actual career of Senna/Schumacher is going on in the background and you have to try your best to match it. I’d like to see more F1 management games, a sub-genre greatly underused. I’d like to see more acradey-like games and so on, titles that push the imagination of F1 beyond the simulation genre. There’s so much scope to be had with the sport, yet all we are getting are yearly updates of (admittedly) great F1 sims and cameo roles in other driving games.

And There They Go: F1 2020

I used to be a huge Formula 1 fan, my era was eighties and nineties. I have to admit to not really being into the sport today like I used to be. Ayrton Senna was my driver, and when he died at Imola in 1994, for me, F1 died with him. Still, I continued to watch for a while after Senna’s death because of one man, Michael Schumacher. Shuey was the bad guy I loved to hate, my pantomime villain. Then when Schumacher retried (the first time) from the sport in 2006, I really had little interest anymore. But even so, I still think F1 is a fantastic sport and do have an interest in it to this day, I just don’t have the passion for it like I used to. My interest for the sport extends to F1 games, the latest of which. F1 2020 from Codemasters is released tomorrow… if you have the Deluxe Schumacher Edition, if not, you’ll have to wait a few more days. I’ve had my review copy for a little over a week now and I’ve put in a good few hours. So, time to take a look at the latest F1 offering from Codemasters.

The Game

Right, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first. An F1 game is an F1 game, is an F1 game to be honest. You’re hardly going to see any major advancements over last year’s edition. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all. The thing about the Codmasters’ F1 franchise is that they are quite simply sublime. You’re just not going to find a better Formula 1 game around… well Codemasters do have the official licence, so it’s not like they have too much competition in that regard.

F1 2020 SCREEN

The game kicks off with you creating your avatar. Look, sex (yes, you can be female), name, nationality, etc. Then it’s to the main screen where there are a multitude of options available. Solo play allows you to take part in various singleplayer races and events. There’s the basic time trial with you tearing around any of the twenty-six tracks (twenty-two official F1 circuits and four shorter variations) in the game on your own just trying for fast times, this is a great mode for trying out car set-ups. Grand Prix mode allows you to create your very own season. Choose a car and driver and then create your own season with between one to twenty-six races, you can even have twenty-six of the same track if you want. Set your difficultly from the wide range available, use driving assists and so on. Choose the length of not just the races themselves from only five laps to full length, but you can also tinker with the entire race weekend too. Short or longer practise sessions, one shot or full qualifying. You can create your very own race season.

Both the Time Trial and Grand Prix modes allow you to race using any of the cars in the game. There’s the official Formula 1 2020 cars, a selection of classic cars from 1989 to 2010 or even race in the Formula 2 2019 cars.

Then there is Championship mode. This one is split into two separate modes itself. First up is Championships where you can take part in various pre-set events such as a full F1 2020 season, Classic Championship, F1 Sprint, F2 World Tour and even a Legendary Tracks event. A wide variety of races across both F1 and F2 featuring several decades of cars. The second mode features the Invitational Events, twelve special events with specific restrictions and challenges. Checkpoint Challenges where you have to race through checkpoints before your time limit runs out, Pursuit in which you have to catch and overtake all opponents within a lap limit, Time Attack is self-explanatory and Overtake Challenge where you must overtake a set target number of cars within a time limit. Each of these challenges are on set tracks using a specific car. So that’s your singleplayer options, and I’ve not even talked about the extensive career mode (later).

F1 2020 MENU

Then there are the multiplayer modes. Weekly Events are usually tied with the current, real-world F1 season. Leagues allows you to take part in or set-up custom made online league races. Then there are both ranked and unranked single online races. Finally, there is the return of split-screen mode where you and a friends can enjoy some couch F1 races together on the same screen. Just to finish, there’s a theatre mode which allows you to relive some of your finest moments in a highlight reel, as particularly interesting races are compiled into handy highlights which you can save and re-watch whenever you like. Plus, there’s a showroom where you can look at any of the cars in the game from the 2020 season, the 2019 F2 season and even all the classic cars in much more detail.

What’s New

F1 2020’s biggest new feature is an all new My Team game mode. Here, you can create your very own team instead of playing as one of the officially licensed ones from the grid. To be honest, I’ve been screaming out for a create a team mode in an F1 game since playing F-1 Grand Prix Part III on the SNES in 1994 (loved that game). Yeah, it’s great jumping into a Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes or whatever. But when it’s your own team, it just feels a bit more special. The My Team mode offers you the chance to be a driver/owner and even throws in some light management gameplay too.

You start out by creating a team name before choosing a main sponsor. Different sponsors offer different benefits. For instance, one sponsor may offer you a bigger initial payout, but smaller bonuses per race. Or maybe your chosen sponsor will give you a smaller sign up deal, but bigger bonuses. If you meet you sponsor’s goals through the season, then they are more likely to offer you even more money, money you’ll definitely need to keep your team afloat. Next up is your engine provider choice, again, each of them has their own benefits, but you have to be careful not to spend too much and keep an eye on your bank balance as you still have to sign a second driver to join your team. Drivers have varying skills that can be levelled up as you race and they gain experience. Then, as long as you’ve not blown your budget, you can create your team. Next you have to choose and design your car’s livery, there are only five pre-set liveries to choose from, but more via DLCs. The livery customisation really is little more than just being able to change colour schemes, it’s very basic really. There are no Forza style custom creations here. Once that is done, it’s then on to designing your team badge that will be on your car and driver overalls, etc. Finally, you have to select an overall colour scheme for your team. Once all that is done, you’re then ready to unleash your newly founded F1 team on to the grid.

In between race weekends, and back at your team’s HQ you can invest in R&D to help improve your car, upgrade your factory facilities to help improve your drivers, sponsors and general car build. Hire drivers from the driver market, create new helmet designs, give your driver a new pose/celebration, design overalls. Then if that’s not enough, you’ll also have to find things for your employees to do between races. Hold parties, send drivers on training, make promotional films, etc. All actions that can increase your team’s morale and profile, improve work ethics and so on. There’s really quite a lot to keep an eye on when maintaining your team. It’s a very light management aspect over dedicated F1 management games that never feels like it’s taking away from the main event of racing. It’s a nice balance between F1 simulation and a management game.

F1 2020 MY TEAM

When you do hit the track, your custom team will not be very competitive at the start, this is why you need to invest in new tech and research new parts. You’ll really struggle at the back of the grid (if you’re not playing on easy) and it’s a slow progression. Keep the sponsors happy and the money rolls in, invest that money on factory improvements, R&D, better drivers and before you know it, you’ll be fighting it out on the track for points and maybe even the championship itself. The My Team addition is the biggest to the game and is bay far and away the stand out feature of F1 2020.

The standard career mode has also seen some new features added. The pre-Formula 2 races are back from their introduction in F1 2019 and been improved upon too. Now you can choose to race a short three race season, a mid range six race season or even go for a full on twelve race season in F2 before advancing to the big leagues in F1. Though they seem to have removed the story element that was in the previous game. Then even the F1 season itself can be adapted to suit your tastes. Like the F2 introduction, you can change the length of your F1 season, add and remove races. You can essentially create you own custom season from all the circuits available. Both the My Team and standard Career modes feature a ten year career to follow. If you play with a full race weekend and full race length, that’s a lot of F1 action for your money.

F1 2020 CAR

Then there have been some general tweaks and refinements. I personally found the cars, both F2 and F1, a bit easier to drive in this game over previous ones. They seemed more stable and controllable. A virtual rear view mirror has been added and so has a ‘casual’ mode which allows you to make your driving experience a little easier if you’re looking for a more arcadey F1 game over a simulation. Podium Pass allows you to unlock new avatar items and you can even create your very own trophy cabinet to show off best victories and accolades. Then there are two brand new tracks for the 2020 season with the first ever Vietnam Grand Prix at Hanoi and the return of the classic Dutch GP at Zandvoort. Both tracks offer some great and varied racing.

Overall

I may not have the passion for the sport like I used to, but I do still enjoy playing the games and this is the best F1 game around. The refinements over last year are not huge at all, but they are noticeable. I found the cars handled far better, more nimble with less under-steer than the previous games. The career mode is as great as it was previously and allows you enjoy the F1 circus your way with so many options and variables. Make the game as easy or as hard as you like with a multitude of gameplay tools. Turn on traction control, breaking assist, make the AI easier, change the number of laps per race and so much more. Pretty much any and everything can be tinkered with and fine-tuned to suit your personal play style and difficulty level. You can even alter the amount of races per season and pick and choose specific tracks to race. Or you can go full on pro career mode with a full season, full race distances, full race weekends and zero assists, high AI difficulty at the flick of a button if you want a genuine Lewis Hamilton feel.

The addition of the My Team thing is great. It has the right balance of management sim and yet it doesn’t feel overbearing. There’s a good deal to take in, yet it’s not so in-depth that you feel lost on all the options and variables of running your own team. I felt a sense of pride and it all seemed much more personal when racing in my own created team over just choosing one of the pre-existing ones. Slowly building your team from the ground up, taking on an inexperienced driver and watching them grow via experience made earning a half decent finish in the middle of the pack feel really deserved, in a way that jumping into a Ferrari and securing podiums regularly just does not do. The My Team mode is brilliant.

F1 2020 BOX COVER

But there is one thing I found disappointing if I’m honest. I’ve been playing the special Michael Schumacher edition and for me, I found the extra content severely lacking. F1 2019 also had a special edition, a Senna & Prost version. The extras allowed you to not just drive some of their iconic cars, but also drive as and against Senna & Prost too in special race challenges. You could even play as either in the career mode. The extras in F1 2019 showed there was potential to grow in new titles with similar ideas.

This Schumacher edition really has very little going on. There are four of his iconic cars and some cosmetics for your avatar… that’s it. You can play as Shuey I guess, if you select him for your avatar, but I don’t remember seeing him in the driver’s selection for the My Team mode. I’d just thought that with having the licence to one if the most celebrated F1 drivers ever, that Codemasters would really do something with it, and they haven’t. I’ve never been the world’s biggest Michael Schumacher fan, but I do respect him (mostly). Personally, I’d love to have seen Schumacher specific challenges, memorable races of his that you could relive either as Schumacher or one of his rivals. Drive into the side of Damon Hill to cheat your way to win the championship, play as Rubens Barrichello then after out-driving Michael Schumacher all weekend and in the race, be told to move over to let him win, that kind of thing. Actually drive as and against Shuey in specific challenges and memorable moments from his career like you could with Senna & Prost from last year’s game. But all that’s here is the option to use Schumacher as your avatar, the four cars and some minor cosmetics. It just seems like a waste of the license to me.

F1 2020 Schumacher

Plus this year marks the seventieth anniversary of Formula 1 too. There is a little bit of DLC to celebrate this momentous occasion… and again, it’s nothing more than a small handful of cosmetics. You’ve got seventy years of F1 history to celebrate, so how about some classic cars and drivers? Brabham, Häkkinen, Moss, Fangio, Lauder, Clark, Mansell, to name a few. Maybe some older tracks that haven’t been seen for years like Estoril, Brands Hatch, Sepang, Fuji, Hockenheimring, Imola… well maybe not Imola? They could have featured the original tracks and updated ones. A documentary looking at the history of the sport or at least some of its more stand out moments good and bad? It’s not everyday you can celebrate seventy years of something is it? There’s so much Codemasters could’ve done with the seventieth anniversary of of F1, but what you get instead is a new car livery and a helmet/overalls design. For me, the extra content is really not worth the extra money at all. Seven decades of the sport completely ignored.

F1 2020 70

Conclusion

So is this worth buying? If you’re a die hard F1 fan, then you’ve already made up your mind. This is an F1 game, very, very similar to the previous entries (which were great). There are no huge strides of advancement here, just the same thing as before, updated with the new 2020 line up. But that really is the crux of the problem with these yearly update-style games, I’m pretty sure they could just update the new info with a bit of DLC instead of a whole new game. The My Team addition is great, best thing about F1 2020, but again, I’m pretty sure they could’ve been added via a piece of DLC.

But saying that, this is still a damn fine racing title, you’ll not find a better F1 game around. If you are going to grab this, I’d suggest just sticking with the standard edition of F1 2020 as the DLC extras are bare-minimal and a step backwards from last year’s Senna & Prost content. I got my review copy for free and I still felt let down by it if I’m honest. Unless Codmasters have more planned for the Michael Schumacher licence in the future, then I really don’t see the point in spending the extra for it here. Then the seventieth anniversary of F1 is just completely wasted here too. Great game, amazing addition with the My Team thing but the DLC is really a let down.

Still, at least you can actually drive a full season in the game, unlike the real 2020 Formula 1 championships…

My Love For Digitiser, Thanks Biffo And Hairs!

I have a very strong memory of me always checking out Digitiser on teletext just before I left for school as a teenager…

Okay, so perhaps some context before I really get into this one. Teletext was a ‘on demand’ (I guess?) service we had here in Blighty on our telly-boxes before on demand services really existed. You’d press the ‘teletext’ button on your TV remote and be presented with an on-screen world of information, news, weather, sport, holidays, interactive games, daily magazines and so on. It was like an early internet before the internet took off proper… with a slightly lower abundance of midget porn.

There were literally hundreds and thousands of pages crammed with info. Different TV channels had varying versions of the service, each with their own pages. Each page would have to be inputted manually via the TV remote using a simple three-digit system. Popping in page 370 (though it did move about a bit) would take you to one page in particular I loved to read on a daily basis, Digitiser, or Digi for short, was a daily (except Sundays) video game magazine and was crammed with gaming news, reviews, opinions, readers letters, tips and so much more.

A Very Brief History Of Digitiser

Digi 1

Originally starting out on the channel ITV on the 1st of January, 1993, before moving over to Channel 4 later that year. Digi fast became hugely popular, bringing in 1.5 million readers weekly. That fanbase mostly came from the fact Digi was honest in it’s journalism (unlike a lot of paper published gaming magazines at the time) and how the main writers behind Digi had a wicked, irrelevant, Python-esque and often very near the knuckle sense of humour… which often landed them in a lot of trouble. The two main guys behind Digi were Paul ‘Mr Biffo’ Rose and Tim ‘Mr Hairs’ Moore.  Of the two, it was Tim Moore who was the established journalist, having written for and been published in a few magazines previously. Paul Rose was originally working at Teletext as a graphic designer but had no real experience as a writer, but he did have a vast knowledge of gaming. Between the two, they birthed Digitiser, Tim’s more professional journalistic approach, mixed with Paul’s more rough and ready writing, coupled with his graphical skills is what really formed the backbone of Digi. Between the two, they crafted weird and wonderful characters, off the wall scribblings, and pissed off plenty of gaming magazines and gaming publishers along the way too.

See, real paper publications relied on advertising to bring in some coin, ads funded by the game publishers. To secure ads and keep publishers happy, most (if not all) print magazine publications would not necessarily be entirety truthful when it came to game reviews. As an example, a poor game could get a very reasonable review in a print mag as this would keep game publishers happy, because their terrible game looked pretty decent off a review. This would mean that game could sell more copies despite it’s awfulness. In turn, publishers would be more likely to pay for more ads in the magazine, which would bring in more money for the publishers of said magazine. But Digi didn’t rely on ad space, so they didn’t feel the need to keep game publishers happy… so they could be much more honest, often brutally so. It was Digi’s honesty that really made me want to read their reviews and listen to their opinion’s more so than your typical gaming magazine. This did rub some publications up the wrong way as caused some friction between Digi and some print magazines.

In 1996, the duo of Paul Rose and Tim Moore were broken up. While Paul was away on paternity leave, Tim ran a news story about well-known and respected gaming magazine editor, Dave Perry (yes, that Dave Perry). The story claimed that Dave had gotten into serious trouble from his bosses for poor sales of their magazines, a story that Dave threatened legal action over. Tim was ordered to the editors office and was told to disclose his source for the story. Tim refused and so he was escorted from the building, sacked leaving Paul Rose to do Digi on his own.

The latter years of Digi were brilliant, but a slow death. Instead of calming down now that Tim was gone, Paul actually pushed things to be far more mad-cap and irrelevant. I could go on and on here, but I’m supposed to be looking at some of the more memorable moments of Digi. There’s loads of backstage stories of friendships, betrayal, controversies and so on, someone should write a book (I write books). This was just meant to be a quick explanation of what Digitiser was, and I’ve gotten a bit carried away with that. So…

Digitiser ran from 1993 to 2003, there were a few reasons why Digi eventually ended. In 2002, Teletext gained a new editorial team. This team began to lose patience with Paul as he continued to push and push was was acceptable to be shown on the service. His double entendre, risqué jokes, questionable characters and so on. The editors didn’t want to get rid of Digitiser and Paul Rose completely, just try to control him. They reduced the Digi output from six days a week to just three. They took control over the humour and edited jokes and even removed entire paragraphs of writing in case they had any hidden naughty jokes in them. The much loved characters were removed too. It just stopped being Digitiser really and became just another gaming publication, it lost it’s identity. Then there was also the 9/11 terrorist attacks, yes even that affected Digi. See, Teletext as a company made a lot of revenue from their holidays and when those planes hit the towers, people didn’t much fancy flying for a while. This downturn of of holiday makers put a massive dent in Teletext’s holiday side of the business, they had less money to spend and Digi was one (of many) of the pages in teletext that saw massive cutbacks.

Digi End

Digitiser’s viewing figures plummeted due to the changes, and Teletext began receiving weeks and weeks of angry emails of complaint from fans. The suits panicked and asked Paul to bring back all they had told him to remove, but for Paul Rose, it was already over and done with, he handed in his notice at the end of 2002. But just as a thank you to the fans, he did bring back Digi to it’s former glory for a four month run before he left. Digitiser officially ended on the 9th of March, 2003.

And with that rather meandering introduction to what Digitiser was, on to some of my favourite memories of its (slightly over) ten year run. However, memories can fade and people tend to misremember. I mean, I started this very article by stating that I have a very strong memory of me always checking out Digitiser on teletext just before I left for school as a teenager. But here’s the thing, I left school in 1991, Digi started in 1993. So memories may not always be 100% reliable, I must have read Digi before leaving for work not school. I guess what I’m trying to say is that what follows it how I remember Digitiser, and it may not be entirely factual.

The Honesty

The first thing that comes to mind when I think back on Digi is just how to the point Paul Rose and Tim Moore really were. Not being bound by the bondage of advertising revenue mean they didn’t have to be loyal to game publishers. If they didn’t like a game, then they really let you know. There was no pussy-footing around here. This in turn added a lot of validity to what they did. When they posted a positive review, you knew it was because they generally liked the game an not because the publishers of said game turned the thumb-screws to get that prise.

This honesty also came across when they would cover big gaming events like E3, or replying to readers letters and so on. There was just a whole sense of quality with their journalism that coated any and everything they wrote, serious or not.

The Humour

My own humour taste is really quite broad. I like very dry and even dark humour, but then I also like completely irreverent and silly humour too. It’s the latter that was the style of Digi. For me, Paul Rose and Tim Moore were one of the great comedic double acts. Laurel & Hardy, Pryor & Wilder, Reeves & Mortimer, Morecambe & Wise… Little & Large?

They just had this completely non-sequitur and surreal style that I found hilarious. The little quips in reply to reader’s letters, fake adverts, April Fools, the Amiga bashing, crazy top-tens. Every page of Digi was crammed with jokes, comments and jibes that kept me laughing through the day at school work. And let’s not forget some of those reveal-o gags.

Digi c3po-3

See, teletext had a feature were text or an image would be hidden on the screen, and when you pressed the ‘reveal’ button on your TV remote, whatever was hidden would then be shown. Most pages didn’t really make much use of this feature, or of they did, it was poorly implemented. But Digi was different. They used the reveal gimmick to full effect. From just showing a Digi catchphrase to parodies of films and TV shows to mocking celebrities and even some of the most bizarre but wonderful randomness on TV at the time.

The Characters

These were perhaps one of the most famous elements of Digi. Now, Paul and Tim created dozens and dozens of characters over the years. I’m not going to sit here going through all of them, I’ll be here for weeks of I did. But I do want to just look at some of my favourites. These characters were used for all sorts of reasons. Replying to reader letters, popping up in fake ads, just completely random moments and comments or even for long running features.

Digi Characters

Fat Sow was a rather brutal pig who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, often creating controversy along the way.

Gossi The Dog was the one who broke big gaming news on Digi. Remember how Tim was sacked for that Dave Perry story? Well it was Gossi who ‘really’ broke the news to the public.

The Man With A Long Chin or The Man for short was Digi’s main mascot. He became so popular that he started keeping a diary of his crazy antics.

Mr & Mrs Nude were… well nudists. The Nudes hosted the tips page of Digi and would often disagree and get into arguments. But they still remained very much in love and their relationship remained in tact.

Phoning Honey spent his time on Digi making prank phone calls to game shops to annoy the staff. He would make complains about broken consoles, faulty games and the like with hilarious results. The phone calls were actually genuine too, often made by Paul or Tim, then transcribed and displayed on Digi under the Phoning Honey character.

Digi Ring Sir

The Snakes, oh how I loved The Snakes. They were a couple of teenage serpents who created ‘the bantz’ before it became popular. Streetwise, beat-boxing snakes who were very likely to cuss you and your mum bad.

Mr T would appear on the Digi pages and offer some questionable advice on all sorts of topics and issues. He even had his own agony aunt style problem page. Just don’t mess with his bins! Crazy Fool.

Zombie Dave was one of the more sneaky characters on Digi. If there was one thing Digi loved to do, then that was getting very risqué jokes past the editors. Using an zombie to deliver cleverly hidden swearing was just the ticket. All Zombie Dave could so was moan and groan. However, his lack of vowel speech hid words that really shouldn’t have been published on teletext.

Mar10 Day

Every gamer knows what Mario Day is. It’s a time when the gaming world celebrates one of the most famous gaming mascots in the world, Mario. The celebration is always on March the 10th… Mar-10… Mar10. Now, you’d think that given Mario is Nintendo’s biggest and most famous mascot, that it was the Big N who came up with Mario Day, but it wasn’t. As I said, everyone celebrates it, even Nintendo themselves.

Mario Day

But the whole thing actually started on Digi…

And there’s actual photographic proof too…

Mar10 Day

Yes it was a fan of Digi who wrote in and pointed out that, with how the date was written at the top of the teletext pages, that March the 10th read Mar10. From that day forward, Mario Day was born. Personally I think Al_Hine should get on the phone to Nintendo and ask for royalty payments, covering the last two decades, because they’re using his discovery.

Digitiser Still Lives

Even though the teletext version of Digitiser came to an end in 2003, the brand itself is still very much alive. Paul Rose secured the rights to the Digitiser name and still uses it today. Digitiser 2000 is a website set up by Paul Rose where he carried on that Digi crazy irrelevance. Yakking on about games, readers letters, lengthy but interesting opinion pieces and the like. And yes, still with that trademark Digi humour and its characters.

Then the site has its own spin-offs too. First there was the YouTube show. Digitiser: The Show, which made its appearance in 2018. Yes, even in person, the show was just as mad-cap as it’s text-based counterpart. Hosted by Paul Rose himself and featuring a host of famous and popular YouTubers… and Paul Gannon (love him really). Digitiser: The Show was just brilliant, stupid but brilliant. That off the wall humour was there, the fan favourite characters (now in 3D) where there and it made many a Digi fan very happy indeed.

Of course, it had to happen. The spin-off from the spin-off and in 2019, the unthinkable happened. Digitiser Live. Over two hours of Digi goodness and laughs with Paul Rose, more famous and popular YouTubers… and Paul Gannon (support his new book!). The live show was a huge success and another one was planned for this year, but then that there Covid-19 thing put a kibosh on that plan. So it has been postponed until next year instead.

Digi Live

Paul Rose has kept the Digi name alive for the fans over the years, and we very much appreciate it too. Now, Paul has very recently re-branded his YouTube channel from Digitiser to Biffovision. He’s not necessarily turning his back on Digi and gaming, but just that he wants his channel to be about more than just Digi. Paul also makes short comedy films and all sorts of videos well worth checking out. I recommend his long running, very funny/strange Mr Biffo’s Found/Lost Footage series.

But it’s not just Paul Rose who has been keeping the Digi name alive over the years. Thanks to some amazing work by Chris Bell and a lot of Digi fans. There is the most exhaustive and comprehensive guide to Digitiser on the interwebs called Super Page 58. Chris has helped me out on a few things for this very article and most of the images used have come from the Super Page 58 site. If you’re a die hard Digi fan like me, then there simply is no better place to get your Digi fix from in terms of its history.

Personal Impact

You know, it’s only now as I write this that I realise it was reading Digitiser that encouraged me to start this very blog. I always wanted to write about games, but back then, never believed that could happen. Writing just wasn’t something I thought I could do. Thankfully, modern technology allows pretty much anyone to create their own blog and yak on about anything they want. I started this blog because I wanted to be like Paul ‘Mr Biffo’ Rose and Tim ‘Mr Hairs’ Moore, I wanted to tell people what I thought about games. Share my views and memories, and it’s this blog that has allowed me to write even more, to the point of writing books… actual real books. Everything has even managed to come full circle as my book MICROBRITS even featured on teletext itself… kind of. See, part of the previously mentioned Digitiser Live event of 2019 gave teletext a rebirth of sorts via what was called Chunky Fringe.

Chunky Fringe was a warm-up show to the main Digitiser Live event and featured several specially made teletext pages offering a variety of oddities and curios, including my book (thanks Alistair)…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Yes, I the long time Digitiser fan, actually finally became part of Digitiser in 2019…. though I do want to quickly add that I have since updated MICROBRITS and it’s a much better book now than it was then. Yes I am ending this retrospective look at Digitiser promoting my own work, that’s the great thing about having your own blog, you do whatever you want.

Anyway, I have to say an absolutely gargantuan thanks to Paul Rose and Tim Moore. Thank you for all the work that went into Digi, all the irrelevant humour, the honest reviews, the crap you had to put up with from the suits. Thanks for everything and inspiring me to write myself.