Rab here. We caught up with our good pal Iain Cook from the amazing CHVRCHES recently, to talk about computer games the way guys talk about computer games when they talk about computer games.
Here is the chat, presented in a typical Q&A format, as first popularised by the guy who interviewed Jesus back in the day for the Nazareth Daily Express.
Consolevania: What were your earliest meaningful computer game memories?
IAIN: I was thinking of this the other day. I am struggling to pinpoint the FIRST one. I remember playing Space Invaders at my local community centre and having my credit semi-stolen by some annoying older guys (“geez your last life wee man”). They also had an Asteroids and later a Defender cabinet. But I think my most significant early computer game memory was when I played my friend Cliff’s ZX Spectrum. I had seen an old Binatone bat and ball machine running computer games on a telly at home but this was something very much more magical and exciting. It was 1982 and the computer had just come on the market. He had Manic Miner, Horace Goes Skiing and a teddy bear toy collecting game called Ah Diddums by Imagine Software. But the one that really captured my imagination was 3D Ant Attack. The art was monochrome, the 3D part referred to the isometric camera angle, the buildings were just shaded blocks and the sprites were tiny with two or three frames of animation. But the atmosphere was what made it. And the sense of panic in the post apocalyptic city, trying to save your partner and escape from the giant ants. That was something really different.
Consolevania: Did you ever buy pirated games down the Barras?
IAIN: Not until I was in my 20s when I was buying CD ROMs full of PC games. Although from the very early Spectrum days, there was a bunch of mates - more acquaintances with insatiable computer game habits really - there was a lot of piracy going on. I felt pretty nervous about it because of all the fear-mongering from print ads in Crash and Your Sinclair magazines. But it didn’t slow us down at all. I remember there was a program that was doing the rounds that allowed you to load a game in to the memory of the machine from cassette and then dump it back out to another cassette. This then became a first generation copy of the game rather than one made on one of those tape-to-tape cassette decks which obviously degraded in quality from one generation to the next and eventually became very difficult to load, (and when the loading times of games were close to 5 minutes, a failed attempt or two was quite frustrating). I remember rationalising it in my head that if the cops stormed my bedroom I would be able to argue that technically piracy would require me to be selling the games or something.
Consolevania: What was the first game you remember being completely obsessed with?
IAIN: That’s a tough one to narrow down because there were so many and I can’t remember which really came first. Lords of Midnight by Mike Singleton was one that really captured my imagination like nothing before. The premise was sort of a LotR knock-off but you controlled 4 characters, Knights and Wizards and the like, and you had to run around the map trying to take Castles and recruit other Lords and armies for an eventual showdown with forces of darkness. The art style was incredibly advanced for the 48k Spectrum and the blurb on the box boasted something like 50 thousand locations. That game and the sequel Doomdark’s Revenge, I was properly obsessed with. And Elite! I know that the Spectrum port is not considered to be the greatest of the bunch but I loved that game.
Consolevania: What was the most shite game you've ever played?
IAIN: This is a much harder question to answer that I thought it might be. Usually i find something to like in any game that I put a bunch of time into. That said, I usually write games off within the first half an hour if they don’t grab me. If i had to choose one that I owned that was really disappointing, it would probably be Rise of the Robots on SNES. It was just shit. Oh and Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball.
Consolevania: If you could go back in time to one period of your gaming life, where you could hit a big pause button and live in it for as long as you liked, where would you go?
IAIN: Another tough call! The Spectrum years were amazing. I used to love those endless weekends of going through C90 cassettes filled with pirated games where you didn’t know what you were going to play next or if it was even going to load. I remember the feeling when you came across a hidden gem and thinking that no one else was playing this game anywhere! And when I got a SNES - towards the end of it’s cycle when there was a huge choice of brilliant games (particularly the Square Enix RPGs). But I am going to choose 1996, when I got my first PC. It was a Pentium 133 machine with 16 MB of RAM and a 1.2 gigabyte hard drive. There wasn’t even a graphics accelerator or anything in it but it just felt so powerful and exciting. I had a mate, Chris, who I think did get a bunch of stuff from the Barras and he always punted them over to me. He also had some little card programming device where he could reprogram Sky TV cards so that you had all the movie channels, etc without paying for it. Dodgy bastard! But I didn’t have any money so you sort of had to do some shady stuff from time to time. After that it became less fun because I became frustrated that I couldn’t afford the best hardware and spent most of my gaming time trying to get more performance out of my machines. So I eventually fell out with PC gaming for about ten years between 2005 and 2015 and got properly into consoles from the 360 to the PS4. But now it’s just incredible what hardware you can squeeze into a laptop and take anywhere with you.
Consolevania: Have you ever met any famous videogame designers, like Hideo Kojima maybe for example?
IAIN: Ha. As a matter of fact yes I did meet Kojima-san very recently! I was in Tokyo with the band and we went to his studio and he showed us around as well as showing us some work in progress on his new game Death Stranding. He came to the show and we went for some sushi afterwards. I thought I was going to be star-struck but he’s very cool and easy to talk to (once you get used to talking through an interpreter that is!) His office is so cool, it’s all classic horror memorabilia and Godzilla shit. I could have spent all day in there. He’s such an inspiration though, so brave and thinks like no one else. Some of the shit he is doing with the new game is unlike anything I have seen anyone else do. I have no idea how he’s going to make it work but I am confident that if anyone can do it, Kojima can.
Consolevania: Which games have your favourite music?
IAIN: I don’t really listen to a lot of computer game music out-with the game but I do really love the music from the Castlevania games - particularly Symphony of the Night by Michiru Yamane. Nearly all the Castlevania games have really great music - the gothic fantasy metal stuff. Lots of pipe organs and shredding! The Darius games have weird great music too. I also have a soft spot for the music from all the versions of Outrun. Aside from the classics like Magical Sound Shower and Passing Breeze, there are a few horrifically catchy songs in Outrun 2 which I can still remember all the words for. And all the Uematsu Final Fantasy Scores are fantastic too, particularly FFX. The most memorable ones from my early years though were Tron and Rally X and the synthesised John Williams score from the original Star Wars arcade game.
Thanks for the chat, Iain. We’re not at all jealous that you met Kojima. Not ataw. NOT ATAW.
Here’s CHVRCHES performing Miracle from their album Love Is Dead. Enjoy. It’s on Ellen. Enjoy. Thanks, Ellen.