Article Archive

A Bit About 16-Bits

Author: Kieren Martin
Thursday, 23 August 2007
’Twas a novel and exciting time, 1993. Peter Andre was king of the world, releasing albums and ruling the charts (and airwaves), the Fourth Republic of Ghana was inaugurated with Jerry Rawlings as President (thank you, Wikipedia), and Sega’s Megadrive and Nintendo’s Super Entertainment System were the kings of the roost.

These were the times when ‘playing’ a videogame actually involved some key-presses and other similar input on the part of the gamer — you remember playing games, don’t you, where you ran around and jumped a lot, as opposed to watching endless successions of seventeen-minute cut-scenes-

This was the age when ‘inclusiveness’, as applied to videogames, was a bad idea, and a game that your girlfriend could finish was a game that was to be mocked mercilessly, and endlessly. (Not that, of course, your standard gamer in 1993 had ever come close to having a girlfriend.) These games were tough, and they caused you to grow hair on your body in places that didn’t have hair before. A quick run-through of Gradius, or R-Type, or Contra, and people would emerge from their living rooms pale and shivering, clutching at themselves, unable to remember the past seven-and-three-quarter minutes. ‘Winner stays on’ rounds produced lounges full of people who looked like they’d escaped from a bomb shelter. Yes, my friends, these games were fucking hard. Oh, the memories.

It was also a more honest time in videogames, when there were two main competitors, and each was responsible for its own products. Nintendo had Mario, and Sega had Sonic, and while we’re not going to get into a debate about who was better (although, of course, Sonic was), the important thing was that each mascot’s games were developed by their respective companies. When Sony muscled into the market, their joke-of-a-mascot — yes, Crash Bandicoot, I’m looking at you — was designed and programmed by a contracted outside development house, and as for the games… well, they kinda sucked. Nowadays, the new breed of console developers seem to have abandoned the concept of mascots altogether, and video gaming is poorer for it. I fondly recall purchasing videogame magazines, turning to the letters section, and seeing artwork from enthusiastic readers, depicting Sonic hog-tying Mario, complete with a spinning, serrated blade and the imminent union of said blade and Mario’s gonads. Good times.

We also bought games on cartridges back then, which meant they were near-indestructible. Many a 16-bit cartridge was run over with a Mack truck, involved in an unfortunate Coke-spillage incident, or on the receiving end of an amorous session with a cherished family pet (either Sparky the dog, or Grandma; both have been known to happen) — and yet, all it took was a quick wipe-down, a small puff of air in the cartridge slot, and everything was ready to go.