The excitement was created by Konami's International Track & Field on the Sony Playstation, which he'd rented from Blockbuster Video. One of his schoolfriends had come for a "sleepover" and they were competing at the various events. Think of Daley Thompson's Decathlon and you've got the idea except that - strangely, for a track and field game - it also includes free-style swimming.
The game was being played to a mixture of shrieks of delight and heartfelt groans so, like its precursor on the Sinclair Spectrum and Commodore 64, it is a success. But way back when they came out, I didn't have any interest in twiddling a joystick, and today I don't want to know how fast I can tap two buttons. The whole idea is boring.
I admit that International Track & Field's 3D graphics are very good (perhaps the animated figures look a bit wooden) but I'd rather have gameplay any day.
Son has also been playing a few more interesting Playstation games. The drawback is that these can take longer to learn, even if you've played similar games before. For example, Son started out unable to catch a ball in the American football game, NFL Game Day ...
The best of the recent bunch is, I think, Ridge Racer Revolution, though for anyone who owns the original, it's "more of the same, only better." Somehow it gives a greater impression of speed, and I guess it really is faster - which may explain why I keep crashing into walls when trying to skid round corners. As Son tells me, kindly: "if you hit a wall then you slow down a lot." Life's like that.
What he doesn't like about Ridge Racer Revolution is "that horrible commentator with 30 horrible remarks. Very irritating." I tend to agree. I've heard him saying "Ha Ha, you're too slow!" more often than is good for player-publisher relations.
We also like Sony's NHL Face Off, though you can't expect an unbiased view from an old National Hockey League fan. We have three ice hockey games for the Sega Megadrive, including Electronic Arts's EA Hockey, and that is still the best of its ilk. But Son likes the way you can foul people in NHL Face Off, even though "it's got no fighting. Well, not from what I've seen ..." I really like the authentic sound effects, especially the organist encouraging the home supporters. And two players can play.
The surprising thing about NHL Face Off is how little acclaim you get when you score a goal. The authors, Stats Inc, just don't seem to understand the importance of triumphalism. Perhaps they should look at International Track & Field ...
However, the "latest game" in the house at the moment is an old one: Stunt Island. This was published for the PC by Disney Software early in 1993, and I remember thinking it sounded quite good from the reviews published at the time. When I came across a cheap, second-hand copy, I thought it was worth a try.
In Stunt Island you play a stunt pilot, and your task is - surprisingly enough - to perform a series of stunts for movies. One of the easiest is to fly through a barn (yes, the doors are open at the time). Your exploits are "filmed" so you can play them back afterwards. You can also edit your own "movies" and watch them in a little theatre.
The storyline provides a nice combination of a flight sim, albeit a simplistic flight sim, and an educational toy.
New old games are a useful indicator of progress. Because they're unfamiliar, they let you see with fresh eyes what the standards of the time were like.
It's pretty obvious from Stunt Island that PC graphics have advanced a lot in the past three years, while sound has progressed even further.
This game doesn't compare with today's best PC programs, let alone reach Playstation and Sega Saturn standards. Still, it does perform snappily on Son's PC, which can't really be said for most of today's RAM- and CPU-gobbling monsters.
One example might be Microprose's Grand Prix 2, written by the inestimable Geoff Crammond. It's happiest with a Pentium, and PCs with slow Intel 486 or antique 386 processors are likely to find it hard going.
The alarming thing is that my 75MHz Pentium PC was a pretty snappy u1,800 machine when I bought it 15 months ago, and today it's virtually obsolete.
It does make me wonder what Crammond had in mind when he started the development about three years ago.
There's an amusing PC industry saying about the race between hardware and software: "Grove giveth, and Gates taketh away." In other words, the increases in processing power delivered by Intel, the company co-founded by Andy Grove, are swallowed up by the increased needs of software written by Microsoft, the company co-founded by Bill Gates. This is a little unfair to Gates in the sense that they all do it, games programmers included.
At least that's not a problem with console games where the hardware is fixed, the downside being that you can't upgrade it when it's obsolete, only throw it away.
Jack Schofield is The Guardian's computer editor.
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