Why I fell in love with video games

On 15 October 2020, The Secret of Monkey Island turned 30-years old. This classic point-and-click is a one which had a huge impact on me as a gamer, so I celebrated its personal significance by publishing a tag post and streaming a complete playthrough on Twitch.

The timing of the first EXP Share event over on Tales of the Backlog was therefore very convenient. This new collaboration is the idea of DanamesX and was designed to encourage us all to share our experiences around a particular subject connected to our hobby. The topic for November is ‘The video game or moment that got you into gaming’ and today’s post is going to start with a response to this: here’s how it happened for me and why I fell in love with the adventure genre.

I was lucky enough to receive an Amiga 500 from my parents for Christmas when I was nine-years old. After spending most of the morning trying to hook it up to our television, my dad asked me what I wanted to play first; and it was a set of floppy disks in a cardboard box showing a mysterious skull and fierce-looking pirates which was chosen. I remember us both being slightly confused when the game loaded up because it didn’t look or behave like anything we’d seen before.

My granddad got roped into playing too and we eventually came to the section where you must break Otis out of the prison cell so you can add him to your crew. We struggled with the puzzles for a while until the grown-ups eventually drifted away from the screen. I was so proud of myself when I managed to figure out that you needed to use the various mugs scattered around the Scumm Bar with the grog, all on my own – something had clicked and it was like I finally understood what the game wanted of me.

A question asked by JMNelsonPhilpot over at Video Games as Art last month is related to the topic of November’s EXP Share, so now let’s move on to why it was this moment that made me fall in love with video games. My family had owned a Commodore 64 and NES before my Amiga, the former being bought as my dad had a hobbyist’s interest in coding at the time. It was something I then became curious about myself because I enjoyed anything to do with maths and logic puzzles a kid.

That’s why I started checking the Usborne coding books out of the local library. After going through several entries in the introduction series, I came across the four adventure books and it’s Island of Secrets that I remember most fondly. Getting the code to work in its entirety always seemed impossible and I never did manage to play any of the games; but I did teach myself a bit of BASIC and realise I could find story snippets hidden within the program listings.

Island of Secrets, book, television, monitor, CRT

They were far more exciting than any of the platformers my dad and younger brother had been playing on the Commodore. Rescuing a girlfriend from demons or finding a princess in another castle was boring – I wanted to explore fantasy lands and save the world from evil curses. These narratives were more in line with the sort of fiction that was my favourite back then, and I don’t think it had ever occurred to me that it was possible for similar stories to exist in video games.

That was until I played The Secret of Monkey Island. My young mind was blown: pixels were able to bring those stories I’d enjoyed reading in books alive on the screen in front of me. There wasn’t any platforming to frustrate me, no fights to get into or anybody who needed rescuing. But there were plenty puzzles to wrap my head around and keep me occupied, along with a plot about wannabe pirates, vengeful ghosts, kickass governors and mystical legendary islands to get sucked into.

LucasArts’ project made me see that all the things I enjoyed – tales that were far removed from reality, logic puzzles, stupid humour and even coding, to some extent – could be combined into a single thing. Why had nobody told me before that something so absolutely awesome existed? It ended up being the first video game I played truly for myself, all the way through to the end without a lot of help, and the one which sealed my fate as a fan of the adventure genre.

I went on to other point-and-clicks as soon as I’d completed The Secret of Monkey Island. I saved wizards from evil forces in Simon the Sorcerer; jumped between linking books in Myst; and explored alien planets and tried to get back home in The Dig. When I was slightly older, I scared myself silly while trying to recapture the Ixupi in Shivers; and I went on a quest to restore the Balance in what would turn out to be one of my favourite adventures, The Longest Journey.

The Secret of Monkey Island, video game, pirates, Guybrush, Carla, leather jacket

It remains my preferred genre to this day and I return to it frequently. Adventures may have changed since the 1990s and evolved into new forms, incorporating elements from other types of games, but there are many new releases which keep the heart of the point-and-click beating. If I hadn’t have been for that Amiga 500 and discovering The Secret of Monkey Island, or trying to learn coding for the Commodore 64 and finding those Usborne books, I might not be the gamer I am today.

Thank you to DanamesX from Tales of the Backlog and JMNelsonPhilpot from Video Games as Art for giving me the chance to share this post today. If you’re interested in joining in with the first EXP Share, you can find all the details here.

Shivers: remembering the fear and nostalgia

Back in January I introduced my blogger-friends to Herdy-Gerdy during our 50-day challenge for GameBlast. It’s not one that many people heard of, but I enjoyed it when I picked it up for my PlayStation 2 in 2002 because it was so different to anything else out at the time.

I seem to have a knack for finding titles that go under the radar. A few weeks ago I decided to play Shivers on stream one weekend and it was the first time most of the friends who joined us in chat had heard of it. This horror-themed adventure was released on PC in 1995 by Sierra Online and was a deviation from their earlier titles, for which it received both praise and criticism. Some called a sleeper hit while others referred to it as an unoriginal Myst clone at the other end of the scale.

It was a game I came across in the same place as so many others during my early teenage years: the gaming stall at our local market, during a trip there to pick up something to see me through the summer holidays. Point-and-clicks were all I played back then so I can understand why its box caught my eye. What I still can’t remember though is the reason why I bought it; I was as much of a coward back then as I am now when it comes to horror titles so it seems strange I’d buy one with the tagline ‘What darkness conceals, terror reveals’.

Shivers’ story starts when our teenaged protagonist is dared by their friends to spend the night in the grounds of Professor Windlenot’s Museum of the Strange and Unusual. Unfortunately they’re not alone because several years before, two ‘nerds’ had broken in and accidentally released ten Ixupi from a set of ancient vessels. These evil spirits were left lurking in elements such as sand, metal and wood, and are intent on sucking the life-force out of anyone they come into contact with. Can you survive the night and find out what happened to the Professor?

The game was installed the following week when my parents left me at home alone one evening and I invited a small group of friends over to keep me company. As we solved puzzles to get further into the museum, everyone tried to keep their cool – but we all let out a scream the first time we encountered one of the Ixupi at the underground river and it attacked us. It was then quickly laughed off because the game was obviously ‘stupid’ (you know how it is with teenagers).

The first thing I did after my friends left that night was to go around the house with the pet dog Max in tow and turn on a light in every single room. I remember the skin prickling on the back of my neck each time I heard an unexpected sound and my overactive imagination telling me there was someone there with me. I was grateful when my parents and brother arrived home a couple of hours later, even if my dad did tell me off about the lights and for wasting electricity.

Shivers, video game, ghost, spirit, water, Ixupi, river, boat

It’s often the strangest things that scare you and what frightens one person won’t affect another in the slightest. I’ve been creeped out when entering dark rooms in the Greenbriars’ house in Gone Home; on edge with Sirrus and Achenar in Myst despite them being trapped in linking books; and shocked by the unexpected foes found in the mines in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. In-your-face frights are scary and will certainly leave you screaming, but it’s usually the more subtle things which stay in your uneasy mind afterwards.

After playing Project Zero on Twitch at the end of September and being disappointed by how little it frightened us, my other-half and I decided to seek out some other horror releases in the lead up to Halloween. For some reason I was inspired to replay Shivers and I didn’t think it would be a problem: although I hadn’t touched it since the summer of 1996, I’d seen some videos of playthroughs and found it laughable that something as silly-looking as an Ixupi could have scared me as much as it did back then.

I was wrong. The level of nervousness I felt on stream, along with the tensed shoulders, increased heartbeat and sweaty palms, was surprising. I realised there was nothing to be frightened of – I’d already completed the game once before and I knew to expect nothing worse than a cartoon ghost jumping out of an item – but it really did feel like being a teenager all over again. At certain points I was afraid to enter a new room and freaked out whenever I heard the Ixupi theme in the background.

It was the soundtrack which did it. There were several themes which immediately made me anxious back in the day and hearing them now brought all those feelings rushing back. Listening to the The Theatre and The Secret Hall made me feel on edge despite the bright lights and company of the stream, and it’s no wonder: music can be a powerful tool when it comes to nostalgia. Many studies have documented the ability of songs to bring to mind previous events and emotions.

I haven’t returned to Shivers since that night and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to bring myself to do so. There’s a part of me that wants to complete it once again and prove to myself I can conquer those teenage fears – but there’s another which just keeps repeating ‘no’. It does seem silly, especially since I know what happens in the story and that there’s really not much in the game to be scared of, but the level of anxiety I experienced during our stream is enough to put me off for the time being.

One good thing did come out of it though. We had the pleasure of meeting Darkshoxx who was kind enough to give us plenty of advice on the puzzles in chat, as well as introduce me to a community of Shivers speedrunners. I had no idea that such a group of people were out there and it’s lovely to know I’m not alone in remembering Sierra Online’s game. I’ve been watching a lot of his streams lately and it’s been so interesting seeing how he attempts to complete it as quickly as possible.

Is there a title that still scares you even though you know there’s nothing to be frightened of? Shivers is likely to always cast that spell over me… but one day, I’ll be brave enough to capture those Ixupi again.

Banjo-Kazooie: Nintendo and nostalgia

Over the past six months I’ve taken part in game-swaps with other bloggers. Possibly the best thing about them is the chance to broaden my gaming horizons: I’ve played a game I’ve never heard of before, a series I’ve never touched and a title with a mechanic I don’t usually like.

The latest game-swap has been with Nathan from Gaming Omnivore and we decided to go for genres we’re not skilled in. He was looking for a point-and-click and wanted something with a horror storyline; and out of the several options I proposed, he decided to go for Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. It may not be the scariest game but you can’t beat Tim Curry playing a sleazy protagonist. I can only apologise to Nathan for some of those puzzles though – nobody said that 90s adventures were logical.

In return, he asked my other-half and I to play Banjo-Kazooie. This was a very good choice for us in terms of the brief for two reasons. Firstly, neither of us are particularly great at platformers (check out our previous GameBlast streams to see us playing Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy and you’ll see what I mean). Secondly, it was also a sneaky way for him to get me to play a Nintendo game on stream (I still need to finish the post about why I dislike the company that I mentioned back in August). Well played, sir.

Rare’s release was just what we expected from a 3D-platformer published in 1998: big polygons, bright colours, caricatured characters and platforms where it’s impossible to tell how far you need to jump. It has a similarly cartoonish storyline to match. A bear and a bird – Banjo and Kazooie from the game’s title – must try to stop the plans of the evil witch Gruntilda, who has kidnapped Banjo’s younger sister Tooty with the intention of putting her in a machine and stealing her beauty.

They’re aided by Bottles, a mole who teaches them new moves, along with a shaman called Mumbo Jumbo who can turn the protagonists into other forms including a walrus and a pumpkin. The heroes travel to each of the nine levels through a central overworld known as Gruntilda’s Lair using collectibles to unlock doors. A certain number of Musical Notes will grant you access to a new section of the overworld, while jigsaw pieces known as ‘Jiggies’ will complete puzzles to get you through to a new level.

Each is made up of challenges involving standard platforming, helping non-player characters (NPCs) and defeating a range of enemies. Find Bottles’ hole within a level and you’ll learn a new ability to help you on your way. For some of these, you’ll need to seek out additional items such as Red Feathers for flying or the Turbo Trainers for speed boosts in timed puzzles. There are also the Jinjos to look out for, five small creatures in each level that will grant you a Jiggy if you locate all of them.

Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo, Kazooie, bird, bear, video game

The main reasons I don’t play platformers often is because I tend to suck at them and continuously seeing your character die isn’t an enjoyable experience. 2D versions aren’t too bad – for example, I managed to complete LIMBO for #MaybeinMarch last year – but I’m normally useless when it comes to 3D games. There’s something about the camera angles which means I don’t seem to be able to judge distances very well and falling off ledges ends up being a frequent occurrence.

Although you’re generally able to move the camera in Banjo-Kazooie, it usually ends up wandering back to its original position and is even fixed in one place in some cases. And let’s not forget about the inverted controls: when completing the underwater swimming sections, down on the controller moves the protagonists upwards and vice-versa. Although I played very small parts on stream, I’m very glad Pete was in charge for this game-swap because he did far better than I ever could.

He admitted finding the title hard at the start because it felt rather clunky being a 1990s platformer. But he’s now at the point where he’s really got the hang of it and has even managed to collect all Jiggies, Musical Notes and Jinjos in some of the levels. The swimming parts are still a pain in the butt and it’s proving far too easy to overshoot items when underwater or run out of air while trying to pick them up. But one or two more sessions (at the time of writing) and I reckon we’ll have another game-swap behind us.

I wouldn’t have been so positive if you’d have asked for my opinion during Furnace Fun though. This final level takes the format of a quiz show where players must answer questions about what they’ve seen, heard and discovered about Gruntilda during Banjo-Kazooie. It’s harder than it sounds: some of the screenshots shown during visual tests are so abstract they’re almost impossible to recognise, and we couldn’t hear the audio tests well due to our speaker-volume being turned down low to prevent feedback on stream.

Banjo-Kazooie, video game, path, lava, fire, quiz, Gruntilda

Consider also that if you answer incorrectly, you don’t get to move forward and one of your Honeycomb health-pots will be taken away. Lose all of them and you’ll find yourself being taken right back to the beginning of the level to try all over again from scratch. I have to say a big thank you to The_Ghost_Owl, The Gaming Diaries, Frostilyte from Frostilyte Writes and Nathan for helping us by adding the answers in chat and cheering us on when we finally managed to reach the end.

Speaking of the people who joined us in chat for the streams, it was lovely seeing so many of them share their past experiences with Banjo-Kazooie. It appeared Pete and I were definitely in the minority of those people who hadn’t played it as a child on the Nintendo 64 or in fact ever picked it up before. Ellen from Ace Asunder revealed that it’s in her top-three games of all-time; and Frostilyte had plenty to say, particularly when it came to the engine room in Rusty Bucket Bay.

That nostalgia is an incredibly powerful thing. Most people recall social contexts and good relationships when they’re asked to describe a nostalgic memory; so they might reminisce about a certain title, but the chances are that they’re actually thinking about a time they bonded with loved-ones or shared their hobby with friends. Because my other-half and I don’t have these memories, Banjo-Kazooie didn’t have the same impact and instead ended up being simply an acceptable platformer.

I’m not sure we’ll ever feel more about entries in the genre. It’s The Secret of Monkey Island that brings back fond recollections for me because I received it as a gift for Christmas as a kid and it was the first game I’d ever really played for myself; and Pete always brings up Zork on the Commodore 64, a release which both intrigued and frustrated him. I think we’re therefore always going to be drawn to narrative games and feel more for them, because they feature in our earliest gaming experiences.

That’s not to say this current experience hasn’t been worthwhile though – far from it. As I’ve written previously and mentioned again at the start of this post, perhaps the best thing about game-swaps is that they’ve encouraged me to try titles and genres I wouldn’t normally play. So I’ve got to say a huge thank you to Nathan for proposing Banjo-Kazoozie as well as telling him ‘well done’: you did it. You actually managed to get us to play a Nintendo game on Twitch, damn you.

I’m still plugging away at Final Fantasy XIII at the time of writing but now having reached the penultimate chapter, it won’t be long before we’re able to start our next swap. I know that Frostilyte wants to see Pete play a visual novel, a genre he’s really not a fan of; will he manage to convince him?

Eel-ing better: fishing in ESO

I’ve had an on-off addiction to The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) since first trying it during the Christmas holidays in 2015. I’ll go through periods where I’ll play it at every possible moment at the expense of other games, then I won’t touch it for several months.

The last time I properly played was at the start of this year during our streams for GameBlast20. Finding video games to play every evening for 50 days proved to be rather difficult but ESO was our saviour: not only was it easy to dip back into it with the absence of a steep learning curve, we were able to regularly hook up with a few friends who were playing at the same time. You’d often find me joining my other-half, Phil, and Tim and Jake from Timlah’s Texts & Unity3D Tech for a dungeon or two in the evenings.

It wasn’t all just fighting long-dead draugers and killing giant spiders though. Sometimes we’d leave the dungeons behind and do something completely different instead. For example, there was an entire session spent in what was essentially an ESO-version of MTV Cribs: after Tim and Jake showed us around their sprawling mansion and we’d transformed ourselves into monkeys using their Fan of the False-Face, they guided Pete on a tour through the various abodes available to players and then helped him decorate once he’d chosen a home.

After our 50-day challenge for GameBlast20 had been completed in February, we put down our controllers and that was it for ESO. Pete had achieved what he’d set out to do and had finally levelled up a character enough to become a Champion; and I was eager to return to my beloved adventure genre, having not played many point-and-clicks over the past two months because they weren’t particularly great for streaming. Although the game was left installed on our laptops, we signed out and didn’t go back to it.

That was until earlier this month. As I wrote at the end of July, lockdown gaming was turning my hobby into a task that felt more like work and it was starting to feel like something I did more to just pass the time than enjoy. Add to this the fact that most of the upcoming releases I’d been looking forward to had been delayed thanks to COVID-19 and there was nothing I was absolutely itching to play; I was just going through the motions, because what sort of video game blogger doesn’t play video games?

A couple of weeks ago, Athena from AmbiGaming published a great post with the title Old Friends and New Adventures: COVID-19 and Comfort Gaming which talked about nostalgia and the exposure effect. She said: “We take comfort in the familiar. Our brains process a familiar event and recognise it as something that it has survived, and therefore it is not something that poses a mortal danger to us, compared to this Unknown Thing that, despite appearances, might not be as satisfying / benign / good for us.”

The Elder Scrolls Online, video game, tankard, inn, drink, woman, barman

I think this explains why I found myself opening ESO once again at the start of August and downloading the latest patches. With uncertainty about my work and concern for my family slowly gnawing away at my sense of stability, I felt as though I was floating and waiting for something to come down (to quote Athena again). I wanted to do something to take my mind off everything happening around me and all these things I couldn’t control, and I needed that thing to be something which felt safe and familiar.

But instead of returning to my old character, I decided to create a new one so I could ease myself in with the early quests. Surely it was just a coincidence that this new Wood Elf rather resembled by old one and even had the same alliance and class! This time was going to be different though, I told myself. This time around I’d complete the areas I’d already covered in my previous playthroughs, then explore new islands with a view to sticking with it and perhaps finally completing all the missions.

However, I found myself still in the starting location of Vvardenfell several days later and not having done much outside of the first few main quests. I was far too busy running around the countryside with the important task of collecting butterflies and netches for fishing bait. If I’d jumped back into ESO yet again, I was going to do it properly – and that meant making sure I had enough suitable bait to be able to catch every single rare fish in each location and earn myself those achievements.

I have a long history with fishing in this game. I’d previously bagged the Morrowind Master Angler achievement during our 50-day challenge but failed to get the Grahtwood Angler title thanks to one lousy creature. I was struggling to get the Thrassian Eel and so, as you’re more likely to catch a rare fish when others join you, I enlisted the help of Phil. The only problem was that he ended up catching that flipping eel for himself every time we fished together while I walked away empty handed.

After a few weeks of hanging around the shores in ESO and wondering just how many insect parts one Wood Elf can carry, I think my time with the game may be drawing to a close once again. The situation right now may still be unsettling; redundancies loom at work although my position isn’t at risk for the time-being, the UK is officially in recession and the number of daily coronavirus cases is on the increase. But my brief break in Vvardenfell I feel a bit more able to deal with these things mentally now.

I’m also starting to feel that familiar itch of desire to play something again, to take on a new challenge and discover a new story. As Athena explained in her post: “…grabbing a new game, playing through it, and completing – or beating – it is a way for us to vanquish a fear of the unknown. After all, that’s exactly what we’ve done: willingly put ourselves into an unknown situation, and survived it, or, dare I say, even thrived in it, if we successfully made it to the end. And isn’t that a nice feeling?”

I recently downloaded Lighthouse: The Dark Being from GOG.com after hearing about it during the Ages Before Myst talk during Mysterium 2020 at the beginning of the month. I’m surprised I’ve never come across it before; this title was released in October 1996 as was Sierra Online’s response to the success of Myst and I think it might be just what I need right now. It has that comforting nostalgia I get from old adventure games, but it’s a whole new adventure I haven’t yet experienced.

I’m sure I’ll go back to ESO at some point in the future because I always do. And one day, I’m going to catch that damn eel.

Rainy-day gaming

The weather here in the UK has surprised us these past couple of weeks (at the time of writing). Instead of our usual summer where you might see a bit of sunshine but are still wise enough to take a jacket when you go out, we’ve had clear blue skies and soaring temperatures.

We should be appreciative when we have warm spells like this but try to play video games and you’ll soon be wishing for rainy days again. The thought of sitting in the same room as PCs and lamps adding to the hot air when it’s already over 30 degrees inside doesn’t make streaming a pleasant experience; and the glare on the television caused by sunshine sneaking around the blinds means you can’t actually see what’s happening on-screen clearly anyway. You might as well put down the controller.

It’s not only these factors that make gaming on a sunny day less fulfilling than normal. There’s just something about grey clouds and the sound of rain outside that makes video games feel even more special. You know the feeling I’m talking about: a quiet weekend, the housework finished in the morning and lunch now eaten, drops of rain gently hitting the window and muffling any other sounds from outside, nothing to do for the rest of the afternoon except lose yourself in a digital land and possibly save the world.

It’s during periods like this that I’ve discovered titles which have stayed with me for a long time afterwards. To The Moon is an example and it’s now one of my favourite games. It must have been a Saturday morning when I decided to grab a cup of tea and turn on my laptop to install it, with the intention of only making sure it ran ok before getting in the shower. Around four hours later I was still sitting in my pyjamas on my bed, crying my eyes out and wondering how a video game could do this to me.

There was also J.U.L.I.A: Among the Stars. I decided to do a little work on my backlog during a day off work and this was a title I’d picked up as part of a sale some months before. I pretty much stayed in the same spot for nine hours because I was so engrossed in this story about a woman and artificial intelligence (AI) who were lost in space. It made me feel as though I were playing through Myst for the first time all over again: that feeling of stepping into an unknown world, trying to figure out why you’re there and what’s happened.

Then there was The Red Strings Club. It was a release which had been on my radar for a while, so I gave it a try when it was appeared in the Prime Gaming bundle one month and I happened to have a spare afternoon. I’m not sure a game has ever left me with so many questions about myself and my views before. It asks us how far we’re willing to go to suppress the worst aspects of our personalities for the good of the population; do our feelings make us who we are and is happiness at the cost of free will ultimately worth it?

The Red Strings Club, video game, bar, woman, Larissa, bartender, Donovan, android, Akara

Experiences like those described above could explain why rainy days and time off work give me a strong desire to play point-and-clicks. I can’t deny that this is my favourite genre and the one I turn to most frequently, but there’s just something about this type of game which makes it fit perfectly with lazy afternoons. Perhaps this could have something to do with nostalgia and memories of my childhood: maybe they remind me of school holidays filled with strange characters, conversation trees and overflowing inventories.

Somehow the rain makes it easier to switch off from the rest of the world. It presents you wish the guilt-free excuse of staying inside while waiting for the clouds to pass; and the sound of the drops dull other noises so it’s easy to pretend everything outside your room doesn’t exist for a moment. The only thing to do is focus on the story unfolding on the screen in front of you, immerse yourself in the world shown to you and shape its future – whether it be a point-and-click or some other type of game that takes your fancy.

According to the weather reports at the time of writing, we have another day or so of these clear blue skies and rising temperatures before the storms are about to hit my part of the country. I know I should be out in the garden making the most of the sun while working from home, taking long walks through the local nature reserve, or enjoying barbecues at my parents’ house. But there’s a part of me that’s looking forward to the rain coming in and getting lost in a totally different kind of adventure.

Are you a fan of rainy-day gaming? Or is there some other time you find perfect for video games?

Herdy Gerdy: my little gaming secret

The schedule for our 50-day challenge for GameBlast20 made use of a theme for each day of the week. For example, Indie Mondays gave us as chance to play some gems viewers might not have come across before; and All-Action Wednesdays treated us to Grand Theft Auto V chaos.

For Retro Fridays we revisited releases we’d played when we were younger. Some of these were modern-day remakes, such as Golden Axe from the SEGA Mega Drive & Genesis Classics collection and Battletoads from Rare Replay. Others were the original copies we’d purchased for the Xbox 360 back in the day such as Catherine. And the remaining were titles for the PlayStation 2, either found in Pete’s box of old games or purchased at the London Gaming Market.

One such game in that last category was Herdy Gerdy by Core Design. I’d picked it up at the event in July last year after seeing it on a stand and being reminded of playing it in February 2002. I can’t recall what attracted me to it back then and only have a vague recollection of coming across it for the first time in a GAME store all those years ago. If I had to hazard a guess now, I’d say it was because it was completely different to the typical shooters being released for the console.

You see, Herdy Gerdy is puzzle game about… wait for it… a young apprentice herder named Gerdy. He discovers his father has been placed under a spell by the evil wizard Sadorf when trying to wake him for the annual herding competition, in an attempt to prevent his dark rule over Magical Island from ending. To exact revenge on his dad’s nemesis and restore goodness to the land, our hero must embark on a journey to hone his skills and compete in the tournament to become Master Herder.

The gameplay takes place over 20 or so locations in which Gerdy must learn the relationships between creatures. There are around ten different species, each with its own personality and behavioral patterns, and puzzles arise when trying to figure out how to successfully herd each animal into the appropriate pen. For example, the cute little Doops will huddle around the Herding Stick, enabling you to easily group them together; but the pink Gromps will snack on the Doops, and give you a smack in the face while they’re at it.

I loved Herdy Gerdy at the time of its release. As mentioned above, it was completely different from other titles being published for the PlayStation 2 back then and, as someone who has never really enjoyed the FPS genre, that appealed to me. Here was a game which didn’t involve any guns or explosions, didn’t contain any violence – other than a kick from the bigger creatures when they were able to catch you – and it felt innocent. I remember chilling out with it every night after work until I’d manage to complete it.

Playing it again for our 50-days of streaming for GameBlast20 did make new see how much it has aged in the past 18 years though. As with a lot of older games, the controller buttons feel as though they’re the wrong way round and it’s easy to perform an action when you actually mean to jump. The camera is also a tricky thing: we’re so used to being able to pan around using the right-joystick nowadays that being told you have access to only three views feels rather constricting.

But that didn’t stop me from enjoying the couple of hours I spent with the game that night. It’s hard to pinpoint why I look back on it so fondly but I think it has something to do with the same elements I love about Fable. There’s something magical about the storyline in a fairy-tale kind of way and, although they contain elements which obviously aren’t from the real world, they aren’t so fantastical that they’re completely removed. There’s just something charming about them.

Our stream audience weren’t so entertained however. Although I was aware that Herdy Gerdy wasn’t a well-known title and had received mixed reviews from critics back in 2002, I was still surprised to hear that nobody who joined us in Twitch chat that evening had ever heard of it before. I appreciated how they were kind enough to indulge my nostalgia; but after a while we changed to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City so Pete could indulge in some nostalgia of his own.

It just goes to show you that you can’t please everybody – but there’s a game out there to appeal to every individual, regardless of how strange the choice seems to others. nostalgia has a funny way of making you assume that everyone is going to love an old one as much as you do so it can be a shock to find out they don’t, or aren’t even aware of it. But somehow, that makes those titles even more special: they’re like a little secret which gives you a warm feeling inside.

Is there a game you have fond memories of that very few other people know of? Why not tell us all about it.