4. Copy protection
Copy protection is, and always has been, a colossal imposition. But it was a more pressing concern during the days of 8- and 16-bit computer gaming, when it was ridiculously easy to pirate a game. All it took was a twin-deck hifi, or a pair of cassette recorders, and you could copy any release.
The software companies’ response to this was to implement a wide array of increasingly convoluted protection mechanisms. Sometimes you were required to pick a word out of the manual and type it in. Other games had you fumbling with more elaborate devices, perhaps lining up the dials on a cardboard wheel.
The worst of these was Lenslok. This system was used to protect, amongst other things, the space trading game Elite. In order to play, you had to squint through a piece of transparent plastic in an effort to decode the on-screen symbols. Fail and you were locked out of the game you’d paid an outrageous amount of money to own and had to reload it. Even now, I still suspect there was some kind of demonic influence at work.
5. Congratulatory end screens
While Mass Effect 3 may have been criticised for its overly similar choice-negating endings, it at least had endings. All too often retro games had no real ending to speak of, typically displaying the words “Well Done!” and then unceremoniously plonking you back at the menu screen. Hardly the reward you were expecting after spending an hour or two completing your virtual task.
6. Manual mapping
Thanks to modern-day features such as objective arrows, you’d be hard pressed to get lost in most games, especially considering how linear they often are. But many old-school games were labyrinthine, leaving you in serious danger of stumbling around aimlessly.
The apparent solution was to make a physical map, using graph paper and a pen. Many gamers actually embraced this technique, believing it made for a more immersive experience. Some may balk at its inclusion in this for just that reason. Yet I always found this experience to be utterly tedious, taking me out of the game rather than pushing me deeper into it. The invention of automapping couldn’t come quickly enough.
7. Save systems, or lack thereof
You can’t play a game these days without being patronisingly reminded that turning your console off while it’s autosaving will bring about the apocalypse. During the early days of gaming, such a luxury was rarely afforded. If you didn’t finish the game within one sitting, you had no recourse. Children would live in mortal fear of their parents turning off their system overnight, erasing their progress.
When games did start getting save systems, they were often password-based. Cartridges could potentially contain a battery backup, but it would cost manufacturers more than a standard cart. Instead, they often implemented password saves, meaning you had to scrawl down an excessively long string of numbers of digits to continue to the game.
Lose the scrappy piece of paper you’d written the password on and you’d have to start all over again. At which point you’d be so enraged you’d start inputting rude words into the password system. While typing in “BIGHAIRYBOLLOCKS” did not, in fact, warp you to the final boss, it was strangely cathartic.