Listeners of Episode 013: Kojima’s Rainbow will recall that the new Rewind section – a look back at the great and good of video-games gone by – featured the Commodore Vic-20. It was my first games machine and only worked properly about one in five attempts, which makes me thankful for the progress made in hardware reliability. This is what it looked like…
In hindsight, storing the machine in my gran’s shopping trolley probably wasn’t the best way to maintain the Vic-20’s ability to work – especially since unbundling it involved about half an hour of wrestling with a viper’s nest of the wires tangled around it.
When it did work, it was magical. Or that’s how I remember it anyway. As I grew up without brothers and sisters, this was a super-fun way to play alone when it was too grey and drizzly to go outside, which was often, oop North.
The game I remember most was Frogger. We’ve seen hundreds of iterations of it over the last few decades, and each one reminds me of desperately trying, and mostly failing, to get it to load on the Vic-20. But when it did – my word, it was the best. For about five minutes. Then I’d get bored and try to load Gridrunner or something else.
Incidentally, the Vic-20 lives on in my memory through a bizarre set of circumstances where I sort of had a pet pigeon. Yes, I know, bear with me here.
After numerous attempts to make the machine work one day, I decided to give up and go and play in the garden. While throwing stones at the fence – a particular favourite pastime of any bored six-year old – I heard the sound of tumbling coming from the roof. I looked around just in time to see a pigeon fall to the ground in a heap.
It’s wing was knackered and it was stumbling about like a drunk at kicking out time. Quick as a flash I built a nest for it in a big plant pot using grass cuttings and twigs. I picked the pigeon up and plonked it on the nest and it seemed to calm down. I brought it bread crumbs and a little tray of water – the pigeon may have been injured, but it’d lucked out and crash landed in the best birdie B&B in the North West.
Satisfied that it was OK, I went back in to try and load Blitz on the Vic-20 a bunch of times. It didn’t work. So I went to check on Pigey (the name I gave it) and was met by a scene of horror that’ll be forever etched in my memory. Pigey wasn’t in the nest, but hundreds of feathers were. I looked up just in time to see next door’s cat making off with my feathered friend over the tall fence at the back of the garden. Cue tears. Lots and lots of salty tears.
I ran back inside and sobbed that Pigey had been ‘stolen’ – six-year old Nathan hadn’t quite grasped what a grisly end the cat had no doubt planned. Still crying, I tried to make Blitz work again and to my surprise it came on first time as if the Vic-20 knew I needed cheering up and all was well in the world again. There’s probably a deeper message about games making me numb to real life horrors, but I’ll save that for therapy. RIP Pigey.