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Saturday, 12 October 2013

AMSTRAD CPC - RUNT OF THE LITTER?



Technology today is so advanced, there are hardly any bad computers. Back in the day, it was a minefield, picking the 'uncool' computer could easily result in an 'accidental' black eye, whilst walking through the schoolyard. Basically, if you picked the wrong computer, you were fucked! Worse still, you'd be stuck with it for years to come, without any descent software.

As a kid, my parents, like Mums and Dads the country over, kept an album of photos of their children. If I were to sort through them now, there are several taken of me when I was a toddler on my bike, and the rest show me sitting glued next to a green screen computer. Often family members have looked through them and said something along the lines of "There, see, he'd got the computer bug in him even then, you can see it can't you?" Well, I don't expect Bill Gates to sign me up anytime soon, but it does add up, as I not only loved messing around with computers but for the last twenty years or so, I've worked with the latest technology for a living!

The 80's could easily have been a harsh place for me. I was taller than most, so rarely got picked on, my parents bought me Nike trainers in place of Dunlop, and Farah instead of turn-ups; I guess I was lucky in many respects. However, I wasn't so lucky on the computer front. I had the computer that nobody wanted, it was considered to be the 'also-ran' of the 8-bit world. I didn't know that then but quickly learned that any association with the CPC would instantly label me a loser, and the butt of every joke. When asked by our resident school bully, whose arms were bigger than my thighs, "what computer do you have?" I'd proudly respond, "I own a 'Speccy'", technically, I was telling the truth and walked away bruise free.

I'm convinced the Amstrad's reputation was deserved in a sense; my system had a dog shit version of Outrun, a crippled version of Green Beret and all those massively sluggish half-hearted Speccy conversions to contend with. Games like Super Hang-On or Enduro Racer should have been awesome, but instead, we got treacle. It wasn't all bad, but there were times I wished for a C64 instead. I always felt programmers never realised its full potential; some harnessed its graphical capabilities to a tea, but never really programmed games with its limitations and strengths in mind. On the rare occasion when someone did, it took real 'eye of the tiger' stuff, as seen in Operation wolf and Chase HQ.

Looking back, I'm proud I owned a CPC; there's an appreciation for it that I've never quite established with any other piece of electrical equipment. It gave me the computer bug. I've got lots of unhealthily obsessed memories of playing Renegade for 24 hours straight, Fruit Machine with my dad, shooting down planes in Harrier Attack and learning to program in basic from the well-written manual that was included.

Today we see all types of new games appearing for the CPC, some are just remakes, whilst others, like Zombie Monsters and Orion Prime, really show off what the CPC can actually do. It's just a shame that during the CPC's commercial life, things didn't look, or play, anywhere near as good as the software available now. The remake of R-Type changed a lot of people's perceptions, but the statements I heard back in the day, hold true, all be it hard to swallow, but true. I've often heard the CPC referred to as the 'runt of the litter', the 'also-ran', or 'the third machine'. Because at the end of the day, it's all about the quantity and quality of software; sadly, commercially the CPC couldn't compete in either area. A great machine, though, but I can't help feeling I backed the wrong horse.


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