Wednesday, 27 July 2016

My Gaming History - Part One - TV and Tabletops....

It occurred to me the other day while I was writing that post about my game designs, that I've never really shared my early experiences with video games on the blog....

I've mentioned that the Spectrum was my first computer, but I didn't get my first one until I was about 12 years old, and I'd already been gaming for at least six or seven years before that! So where was I getting my gaming fix from until then?? 


Well, it all began in the early eighties with the T.V. Game you see the box for above...The Binatone TV Master Mk IV! At least I think it did...the mists of time have fogged my memory, and I no longer have the machine, but I'm pretty sure this is the right one, and conferring with my brother he seems to think it is too, so it probably was...

There were loads of different TV games you could get in the late 70s / early 80s, but they were all clones of the classic Pong with a few variants added to keep you playing a bit longer. You just connected them to whatever TV you had at the time via the aerial socket at the back, and rotated the analogue controllers to move the bats up and down the screen. It didn't matter if you hadn't a colour TV either, which a lot of people still didn't actually have when these things were released, because the games were all in black and white! 

Talking of which, I've just this second remembered that although we were lucky enough to have a colour TV, it was only because we rented it from Radio Rentals, and it kept blowing a fuse or going wonky every so often and we had to get a TV repair man to come out and fix it! Hehe..crazy! Anyway, back on topic...

Fun as these TV game things were, they were very limited, and by the time we actually got one, games had moved on to have a lot better graphics and gameplay. And it was with the weekly visit to the local Asda to pick up the groceries, that my peepers focused on the next gaming wonders that I wanted to get my hands on....

At Asda, y'see, they had set up an area near the entrance to the shop where all the tabletop games you could buy were switched on for the kids to play! So my parents would leave my brother and I with all the other kids who'd been dumped there, and we'd take turns to play all the different games while the adults carried on with their shopping in peace! It was a set-up where everybody won! Even Asda was happy, because after playing the games the kids would pester their parents to buy them so they could carry on playing at home! A bit different from when I was in Asda a few years back when they had PS3 and 360 demo pods switched off, because they were concerned about all the kids lurking about around them...Isn't that the point??

Anyway, the games that I can remember playing at this oasis of video game wonderment, included.....


CAVEMAN (Grandstand)

One of the very first ones I tried, and one I never ever actually owned but coveted for years! In this one you play as a Caveman trying to steal eggs from a dinosaur to take them back and feed his family!


SCRAMBLE (Grandstand)

Another one that I never owned, so only got to play in Asda or just before the school holidays, when all us kids were allowed to bring in toys on the last day! This was based on the arcade game of the same name but had different gameplay as no scenery was generated. I always found this one a bit too confusing for some reason....



These were the ones I could never persuade my parents to buy! They cost way more than the other games, mainly due to them being the closest thing to a VR headset you could get back then! Nintendo basically stole the idea when they came to make the Virtual Boy too! ;)

 I'm still in awe of these things and have still to get my hands on one of my own....there were loads to choose from though!

Holding them up to your face and peering through the binocular-style eye tubes transported you into your own personal game space! Being the only one who could see what you were playing felt really cool, and I can remember getting quite frustrated when someone else was hogging a new one as I wanted to see what it looked like for myself...

The box artwork on the Tomytronics was pretty groovy too!

Here's some gameplay of a couple of the titles....


Eventually, through shear harassment, I managed to persuade my parents to get two or three of the various other handhelds that were on display, so lets have a look at the ones I actually owned!

MUNCHMAN (Grandstand)

The design of this Pac-Man clone was amazing, being somewhat similar to Pac-Man, sorry...Munchman, himself! I still own my original unit of this, and it still works as I had it fired up only a few weeks ago for a quick bash at it!

If you don't know how Pac-Man plays,! But gameplay is a bit weirdly-different with this due to the fact that you need to be facing the dots to eat them, but you only ever face one way, which means you sometimes have to pass the dots then go back the way you came to munch them down! See the gameplay video below if you have no idea what I'm talking about....

Basic though the game was, I somehow managed to play this for hours until the score couldn't get any higher and, if I remember rightly, reset itself! On the Amateur setting at least....never really played the Pro mode much....


FIREFOX F-7 (Grandstand)

I loved this as a kid! It was your basic shoot-the-aliens type blaster, but had different waves that did different things and different music at the start of each stage, a lot of which was stolen from Star Wars! The sound effects were pretty amazing too and it gave it a surprising amount of atmosphere...

It's another that I still have the original unit of, but unfortunately my dad "customised" the battery compartment to run off of some homemade adapter, and so I can't use batteries with it anymore. I should be able to get it working if I manage to find a Grandstand adapter though!

Here's a vid of someone playing their game so you can check out just how groovy it is!


BMX FLYER (Grandstand)

Loved this too, and sadly this one seems to have gotten lost somewhere so I no longer have it. In this game you ride your BMX over dangerous terrain whilst avoiding vicious competitors, and bombs which are being dropped by an angry man in a helicopter, who I can only assume is the boss or something of the other riders? To get rid of the riders that are chasing you, you can kick dirt back at them...

Every now and then your girlfriend will appear flying by in a balloon, and you can jump up to catch a quick snog for extra points. Collecting fuel cans along the way will also help...

Rather than a video for this one, I'll direct you to this excellent Flash version of the game (click here) so you can play it for yourselves! Remember to press down when you come to a dip or wheelie over the shorter ones, and also to wheelie over the spikes..I'm sure you'll be able to work it all out! Enjoy anyhoo.....then come back and read the rest of this post! ;)


GAME & WATCH (Nintendo)

There were loads of these in Asda too, but the one that I managed to pick up was Donkey Kong! Taking control of Mario, you had to jump over the barrels, make your way up to the second screen and steal one of the keys holding up the platform where Donkey Kong was standing. Do this four times and Donkey Kong would fall and crack his chin, letting you get a kiss from Daisy before it all started over again!

I took this game everywhere with me, as it fitted very handily into a pocket and was protected by the cover.. a design Nintendo would return to for the Nintendo DS years later! I also used its handy alarm feature to wake me up for school quite often, although I'd usually still be late getting ready due to then playing the game after it had woken me up! Hehe...

Again, rather than a video, I'll give you a link to this excellent site (click here) where you can play Donkey Kong for yourself, along with a whole host of other handhelds!


Galaxy Invader 1000 (Grandstand)

This one wasn't actually mine, but my brother's...but it still holds many fond memories as I obviously played it a lot too! It's a Space Invaders clone, but a pretty damn good one!

Here's another Youtube vid of someone checking it out...


So yeah, that was my first experiences with video games! Well that and popping to the arcades every now and again to marvel at all those waaaayyyy better games, but that'll be covered in the next Gaming History post, which should appear soon-ish! Hope this has kindled up some nice retro-gaming memories for some of you in the meantime...



  1. Ooh, I've got Caveman... Tricky game that one! Got Dracula as well, similar setup but you have to make your way through a castle and then pick the right coffin to find Dracula... Tricky stuff.

    A few people in school had the Tomytronic 3D things, managed to get myself one off eBay about six years ago, then found a boxed one in a charity shop not long after that. Great stuff - still after a Scramble one though.

    Our gaming evolution was similar - Pong machine to Spectrum to Mega Drive and so on. Our Pong machine was called the Grandstand TV Master Colour or something along those lines. The Binatone one you have there is the same as the one we set up at Replay events and so on :D

    1. Like the sound of that Dracula one...can vaguely remember someone bringing it into school once now that you've mentioned it! Another one to add to my want list! :)

  2. Another one here who loved the Tomytronics! Only ever had the one and I think it was the plum-coloured one where you play as a tank, switching between three 'lanes' and shooting down spaceeships. Mindblowing stuff as a kid! Not so mindblowing having yer Dad place a strict limit on how long I could play it for!

    1. Hehe...well, I only ever played them for about half an hour whilst my parents were shopping, so can't really tell whether your dad was right to stop you after a while in case of headaches or whatever! :-)

  3. also had the galaxy 1000 and played that a LOT, also had the POCKET PAC-MAN and adored that thing, eventually when it died i took it apart! genuinely an outstanding little machine

    and there was GRANDSTAND MATCH OF THE DAY, with the fizzog of that goal missing kevin keegan on it, another one i payed for hours and hours, and BANDAI BASEBALL too ..... aww man i miss that probably the most.

    but the grandfather was of course MERLIN

    my first gaming experience until playing on a tabletop GALAXIANS 2, then a few years later the godly SPECTRUM 48k, i still have two working 128+'s and tons of games for it but not had it up and running for years now

    1. Yeah, the Speccy was my first proper computer! There will be a post about my first experiences with that at some point...

      Anyhoo, thanks for commenting! Always good to hear about other folk's experiences! :)