Sierra

#652: Evolution ’80s: Music and Gaming

#652: Evolution ’80s: Music and Gaming

We had a big old IBM PC with dual 5 1/4″ floppy disk drives.  That meant you could copy disks from your friends much faster and easier, and so we did.  It wasn’t very powerful and we only had a monochrome monitor, but back then you had virtually unlimited access to free software.  Copy protection usually took the form of the game asking you for information that can only be found in the game manual.  So, you would just go to the library and photocopy the manual from your friend.

My dad worked at the bank at the mall, and he had a number of customers who did him cool favours over the years.  One such friend was a fellow named Scully.  Every once in a while, he’d come to my dad with a list of video game titles.  Dad would bring it home, give it to us, and say “Circle any games you want.”  My dad would buy a pack of 5 1/4″ floppy discs, and a week or two later they’d come back full of games.  “Flight Simulator” (version 1.0), “King’s Quest”, “Alleycat”, “Sierra Championship Boxing”, “Lode Runner”, “Executive Suite”, “Rogue”, “Janitor Joe”, “Decathlon”, and “Evolution” were some of the game titles written on the floppy discs that returned.

Best friend Bob, who was without a computer in his house, came often to play the new games.  Back then, a PC was a luxury.  Only a few families on the street had them.  My dad’s was subsidised via work.  And by the way, when families on the street had computers, that meant more access to free games.

Bob and I shared a mutual love of music, and so music was usually playing when we were gaming.  Mom and dad were tolerate a little noise once in a while, and damn, we had such a good time.

One game that we played to an endless soundtrack of Iron Maiden (Live After Death predominantly) is unfortunately a title long forgotten.  It was a grid-based shooting game, and the controls were so complex.  You had four keys for moving, and four keys for shooting — one for each direction.  Keyboards are not designed for that kind of gaming, and so playing alone was all but impossible as you mashed your fingers together trying to quickly move and shoot using eight keys.

Bob figured out how to play the game:  as a team!  He manned the firing keys and I moved the ship through this grid.  It was about an 8×8 grid, approximated by hand below.  As these alien things started moving around their rows and columns, I had to dodge blasts while setting Bob up for shots.  You had to kill each alien twice.  It required co-ordination, all enhanced by the steely bass of Steve Harris combined with the precision percussion that Nicko McBrain provides.

Mystery 80s DOS game (approximation)

Another game that required coordination was “Decathlon“, which unfortunately drowned out any music we could play.  My dad  hated “Decathlon”.  During the racing events, you “ran” by hammering on two keys as if you were running with your fingers.  Bob and I discovered the best way to do it was two-handed — both pointer fingers at full speed.  The clacking sound was a cacophony and my dad complained every time we played.  The point of the game was to beat Bruce Jenner, so we had to do it.  My dad hated Bruce Jenner because of that game.

Back to the teamwork:  there were some events I could do well, while others only Bob could do, and one that required both of us hammering keys in unison.  That was the pole vault.  It began with someone doing the run-hammering with their pointer fingers on two keys.  The other person had to use four keys to 1) plant the pole in the ground, 2) jump, 3) pull a handstand on the pole, and 4) release.  Music didn’t help with the pole vault — you were fucked if you weren’t focused completely on your little digital man.

Some days I played solo.  Bob was a couple years older and had a part time job at Harvey’s.  There were a few games we had for playing against the computer.  I obsessed over Sierra “Championship Boxing” one summer:  1988.  Ace Frehley had a new album out, Second Sighting, and he happened to have a boxing related track called “The Acorn in Spinning”. The game allowed you to create all kinds of your own custom boxers, so I created a whole storyline about one I built called Acorn.

One of the aforementioned games, “Evolution“, was a lot harder without Bob.  I picked it because one night, watching TV with my parents back in the early 80s, there was a story on about a new Canadian software company called Distinctive Software, based out of British Columbia.  They were being spotlighted for a new and very original video game they released:  “Evolution”.  Through a series of levels, you had to evolve from a single-celled organism to an amphibian to mammal and up the ladder to humanity.  It was praised for being different from the average computer game.  The whole premise was so cool, and the actual gameplay so awful…not to mention, even as kids, we knew that humans didn’t evolve from beavers.

Level 1: the amoeba.  You’re an amoeba floating around and trying to eat all the little edible blue dots around you, while trying to avoid a weird spinny eyeball looking thing that launches little purple spiky things at you.  You can also, like, electrify your amoeba for a little while to protect yourself.  You have five lives, but I used to typically burn three or even all five on this first level.

Level 2:  the tadpole.  A little easier this time.  Just move side to side and jump to avoid fish, and to catch food.  The simplicity of the controls meant you could make it through, losing minimal lives.

Level 3: the rodent.  Dig little mouse tunnels and drop poisonous mouse poops behind you to block it again.  Avoid being eaten by the snakes.  Be careful you don’t use up all your poops too soon.

Level 4: the beaver, yes, a fucking beaver.  Avoid the alligators while retrieving five pieces of wood to build your dam.  A surprisingly easy level.

Level 5: gorilla.  Humans didn’t evolve from gorillas, but we do share long distant ancestors, closer than beavers anyway.  In this strange level, you have to throw oranges at monkeys who are stealing your shit.  Aiming those oranges was purely just a matter of luck.  Game over here.  If you ever make it to this level, congrats, but you’re done now.  Only once, maybe twice over the years did I hit all the damn monkeys and move on to:

Level 6: human instant death.  As soon as your little fully-evolved human ejects from his neat space car, he is dead meat.  Numerous robots and aliens enter immediately after, from every direction, and being shooting.  You will have no chance, so just accept your fate instead of wishing you were still a gorilla.  And you thought those monkeys were bad.

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I love/hated that game so much.  I wanted so bad to get to that final human level, and with Bob, we worked as a team to finally get there only for it to last a couple seconds at best.

Perhaps 1982’s “Evolution” had a deeper message. We climb the hill to the very top of the food chain on this world, only to be squashed immediately by whatever is waiting for us out there.  It’s a classic science fiction dystopian theme.

Can we find a suitable heavy metal song to go with this doomed fate of alien or robotic annihilation?  Of course we can!  From 1988’s Ram It Down, another album I obsessed over during this period, it’s the apocalyptic “Blood Red Skies”.

Whatever your gaming soundtrack, I hope your memories are as good as mine.

As the sun goes down, I move around,
Keeping to the shadows,
Life, hangs by a thread,
And I’ve heard it said, that I’ll not see tomorrow.
If that’s my destiny, it’ll have to be,
So I’ll face the future,
Running out of time,
I’m on the line,
But I’ll go down fighting.
 
Felt the hand of justice,
Telling wrong from right,
Threw me out upon the street in the middle of the night,
Cybernetic heartbeat,
Digital precise,
Pneumatic fingers nearly had me in their vice.
Not begging you,
I’m telling you.
 
You won’t break me,
You won’t make me,
You won’t take me,
Under blood red skies.
You won’t break me,
You won’t take me,
I’ll fight you under,
Blood red skies.
 
Through a shattered city, watched by laser eyes,
Overhead the night squad glides,
The decaying paradise.
Automatic sniper,
With computer sights,
Scans the bleak horizon for its victim of the night.
They’re closing in,
They’ll never win.
 
You won’t break me,
You won’t make me,
You won’t take me,
Under blood red skies.
You won’t break me,
You won’t take me,
I’ll fight you under,
Blood red skies.
 
As the end is drawing near,
Standing proud, I won’t give in to fear,
As I die a legend will be born,
I will stand. I will fight,
You’ll never take me alive.
I’ll stand my ground,
I won’t go down.
  
You’ll never take me alive,
I’m telling you, hands of justice,
I will stand, I will fight,
As the sun goes down,
I won’t give in to fear.
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REVIEW: Frehley’s Comet – Second Sighting (1988)

Part three in a series on Ace Frehley!  Missed the last part, Live + 1?  Click here!

FREHLEY’S COMET – Second Sighting (1988 Megaforce Worldwide, 1998 reissue)

Ace was rushed on Second Sighting.  I think that might be why it seems a little Tod (Howarth) heavy, song-wise.  I recall in an old Hit Parader interview circa 1989, Ace complained that he had to follow a “stupid schedule” on Second Sighting, and the album suffered for it.

Having said that, I like Second Sighting better than Frehley’s Comet.  I wondered what the hell Ace was high on when he made that comment about Second Sighting.  Indeed, this is my favourite (post-Kiss) Ace CD.  Let’s not forget how important context is.  It was summer 1988.  It was the summer of Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Van Halen…and Ace Frehley!  I was a kid in love with the rock.

The lead single was a choice Ace may regret today.  Instead of coming out with a rocker, they went with “It’s Over Now”, a ballad sung by Tod!  I always thought to myself:  “If I was a kid and I didn’t know who Ace Frehley was, would I assume he’s the blond guy singing?”  Tod’s singing, playing the keyboards (a huge friggin’ keyboard), and then he breaks into a guitar solo on one of those little Steinberger’s with no head…odd choice for lead video, no?  Check out the close up on his two-handed tapping technique.  The perfect Howarth hair.  The video even seems to be vaguely about him and some chick.  I still have to admit that my teenage self loved the song, it might be a ballad but it was a quality ballad with some soloing.

Thankfully, the album itself was lead off with a better track, “Insane”.  It’s an Ace helmed good time party rocker.  New drummer Jamie Oldaker (Eric Clapton) isn’t as fancy as the unavailable Anton Fig, but he throws in some pretty cool fills.   Of course Ace lands the perfect solo, always complimenting the song.

The second track is a melancholy Dokken-esque rock ballad from Tod, “Time Ain’t Runnin’ Out”.  It has a pretty significant keyboard part, which some may find obtrusive.  Fortunately the guitar parts are great, and Tod’s powerful voice is easy on the ears.  It also has a pretty solid chorus.

I don’t know the story behind “Dancin’ With Danger”, but it sure boasts an odd batch of co-writers, including Spencer Proffer, Streetheart, Ace, and Dana Strum from rival band Vinnie Vincent Invasion.  The good news:  it smokes.  It has a ZZ Top-like sequencer part, adding a robotic pulse, but not taking anything else away.  The riff is pretty heavy, Ace takes the lead vocal and an absolutely scorching solo.

The first side of the album ended with “Loser in a Fight” which is kind of…meh…eh…  It’s OK, it’s heavy at least, but what I like about it is that is a co-lead vocal with both Ace and Tod.  It’s that old Kiss trick that I used to like.

SECOND SIGHTING_0001Ace enters on side two with some pretty cool guitar effects, leading into “Juvenile Delinquent”.  Ace sings to a 16 year old girl and tells her to follow her dreams.  It’s a little creepy when Ace sings “You’re looking good these days, believe it girl, I’m not blind.”  I tend to just block that part out when I hear it.  I think it’s a catchy song with a rock solid guitar base, and other than a couple lines in the song, I dig it.

“Fallen Angel” (not the Poison song that was a hit around the same time) is another Tod ballad.  Like “It’s Over Now”, it’s a totally solid song, but this one has some more balls to it.  It’s a little pissed-off sounding and the chorus is blazing hot.  It is followed by “Separate” which to me sounds like vintage Ace.  It’s sparse, the lyrics are basically spoken, and it has an extended guitar solo as the centerpiece.  It kind of reminds me of “Don’t Run”, an Ace demo that eventually became “Dark Light” on The Elder.

“New Kind of Lover” is a wicked cool hard rocker about Tod Howarth gettin’ it on with a ghost.  Once again, the solo is obviously Tod.  Some may find it offensive that Ace didn’t play every single guitar solo on his album, but Frehley’s comet was a band, and Tod’s no slouch.  His soloing style is opposite to Ace Frehley, which is one reason to allow him a couple solos.  It also lent the album a modern edge.

As is the Ace tradition, the album closes with an “instrumental” (technically).  Unlike past albums, it is not a nice pleasant “Fractured”.  Instead, this is a blitz of riffage and solos called “The Acorn in Spinning”, which does in fact have words.  The lyrics entirely spoken, Ace tells the tale of “this new fighter Bronx,” and a few other seedy characters.  As it happens, that summer I was introduced to the Sierra PC game, Championship Boxing.  Obsessed as I was with “The Acorn is Spinning”, I named my boxer Acorn and created a whole persona and cast of enemy boxers for him to challenge.

That’s the note I want this review to go out on, a note of personal anecdote, because for me this album is personal.  Summer 1988.  Ace may have been dissatisfied, but LeBrain 1988 was eager to hear the next one.  Little did I know that Frehley’s Comet had to endure some serious lineup changes.  But that’s next time.  See you then!

4.5/5 stars