Monday, 23 April 2012

ZX Nightmare

When I look back now, 1982 was probably my "year zero" culturally.

Eagle Comic, popular for it's strong jawed hero Dan Dare in the 50s and 60s, was relaunched in March 1982...a great mix of sci-fi and horror. You can read one of the best early strips The 13th Floor over on The Theatre of Terror blog. Marvellous stuff. I didnt miss an issue for 4 years...and then a few years ago...bought all the ones I'd been stupid enough to throw out back off ebay. I remember actually writing to Fleetway in the mid 90s to see if I could buy the rights to Doomlord, as I felt he was ripe for resurrection during that period of millennium fever. They said no.

Thirty years ago today, also marked the launch of something which literally defined my childhood and presumably my subsequent relationships with girls...the ZX Spectrum 48k. One of the actual highlights of my young life was programming a text only adventure game in basic and then writing a theme tune on my casio keyboard WHICH I THEN CONVERTED TO SPECTRUM AUDIO. Sadly...I no longer have the cassette which contained my fantasy quest game "Dark Lion and The Pyramids of Fear", or I would of course have made a .z80 emulator file available for you to enjoy.

So in loving memory of them both, here's a wee mashup of the sort of story that used to appear in early 80s Eagle, this one featuring a spectrum game...


Mark had been waiting to play Gaki for weeks, everyone at school was talking about it – but only Chris had actually played it. He said it was the scariest game ever. It wasn’t a game you could get in the shops, it was like the strip poker game or the Manic Miner bootlegs with extra levels. Sean said you could get an IRA game as well, but Mark didn’t believe him. Mark had asked Chris to come over or even to give him a loan of it, but he kept saying no, or that he was stuck at a bit and he would give him it when he got past that. Then Chris’s mum had died, and he hadn’t been at school, so Mark couldn’t ask him again. That’s why he was really surprised when he came home from school later that week to find that Chris had posted him a copy through the door.
Chris had copied it onto a C60, it was wrapped in a letter,
“It’s really hard, I’m fed up with it. See you at school soon.”
The data screamed and flickered across the screen, it was taking ages to load.
“Mark do you want to play He-Man?”
“No John I’m playing this.”
“Mum! Mark won’t play He-Man with me.”
Mark pushed his brother out of the room as the screeching stopped, signalling the start of the game. There was no intro screen, just white text on black.
You are in a dark room with a dirt floor. Somewhere nearby you can hear crying. There is a wooden door.
“Open door” typed Mark.
 The door is locked from the outside.
“Use key.”
You have no key.
“Look in pockets.”
You are dressed in rags and have no pockets.
Some time passes...
The crying stops abruptly.
“Search room.”
You find some dirt. And bones. It is too dark to tell which kind.
“Search dirt.”
You have found a trapdoor.
“Open trapdoor.”
The trapdoor is now open.
“Go through trapdoor.”
You fall down through the inky darkness and smash onto the rocks below. It takes some time for you to die. You are still conscious when the rats come.
Chris wasn’t kidding. This was hard.
You are in a dark room with a dirt floor. Somewhere nearby you can hear crying. There is a wooden door.
Some time passes…
The door is unlocked. A man shuffles in slowly.
“Look at man.”
Don’t you know it’s rude to stare? The man is wearing stained overalls, he has many cuts on his hands. He is smiling.
“Talk to man.”
You cannot talk.
“Go through door.”
The man is in the way. Some time passes, the man drags you from the room.
You are in the kitchen, the blunt knives hang from the hooks. The walls are smeared brown. The man
“Get food.”
There is nothing here you should eat.
There is no escape. But there is a small window above the sink.
“Open window.”
You are too far way. The crying starts again.
“Climb on sink.”
You climb on the sink. The water is slimy with grease and gristle.
“Open window.”
The window is open. You can hear the rain and the man shuffling.
“Mark get off that computer right now. Homework!”

Mark played Gaki every night that week, he got out of the kitchen without losing fingers. He got through the mines (you had to stay in the coal cart when the girl died) and past the dogs (you used the bucket of bones from the nursery) but had been grabbed by someone and thrown in a cage. He wasn’t dead, so it was obviously meant to happen, but he couldn’t get out. He had tried waiting for a bit, like at the start, but nothing happened. He had even tried starting again a few times to see if he could do something different; he always ended up here. He tried phoning Chris to see if he knew, but it was his dad who answered and he said Chris wasn’t feeling very well and hung up quickly.
Some time passes…
You are cold.
Some time passes…
You are cold and hungry.
Some time passes...
You are cold and hungry and weak. You will soon die.
A door opens. Gaki is here. He says “Would you like me to help you?”
“Nod head.”
“If I help you, you will need to do something for me. Do you understand?”
“Nod head.”
The cage is unlocked.
“Open cage.”
The cage is open. Gaki is waiting for you.
“Leave cage.”
You are in the room with Gaki.
“Leave room.”
Gaki has not finished with you yet.
The screen flickered at the edges for a moment, as if the game was still loading.
“Hello Mark. Do you like my game?”
Mark sat back from the keyboard.
“You have done very well to get this far. You must be very clever. Can you help me. I am cold and
“Give food to Gaki.”
Gaki is still hungry.
“I need more Mark. Much more.”
“Who are you?”
“I am Gaki. I am in the game. I am the game, but I want out. I need you to help me get out, I’m not strong enough yet.
“I need you to find other people to play the game. But you cannot tell them about me. They must find me themselves. They must need me to help.”
Mark stopped typing. Is this why Chris stopped playing? It didn’t feel right.
Some time passes…
“The more I help them, the stronger I will become.”
Mark didn't want to type anything else back, just in case.
Some time passes…
“If you do not help me, bad things will happen.”
It sounded like the chain letter Sarah brought to school. Teacher said that it was okay to break chain letters, that it was just people trying to scare you. Gaki was supposed to be a scary game…so this was just part of the game.
Some time passes…
“And they won’t stop happening until you share the game.”
Mark yanked the power cable from the port, exactly like his dad had told him not to do. He pulled the C60 from the tape recorder and buried it at the bottom of his drawer, under the rubbish mastertronic games he’d bought last month.

Next day when he came home from school, the police were at his house. His mum was crying. John had been playing outside and been run over. The car had just driven off, leaving John lying there. By the time the ambulance arrived it was too late.

Some time passed…

Mark’s mum and dad didn’t want him going back to school so soon, but he made such a fuss, screaming, demanding, that the doctor agreed it might be better to let him get back to his friends. Mark sat up all night with his dad’s midi hi-fi.

He passed Chris at the school gates and they smiled sadly at each other. Then slowly, they began passing out the copied cassettes to all their other friends.