Life On Mars

Originally Published: 26 January 2012

[This was my final blog post for Ready Up]

When I was younger, so much younger than today, I used to have a Spectrum. It was a +2 model, with a built-in tape deck. It was brilliant. Even when it didn’t work properly, all you had to do was jam the blade of a Swiss Army Knife into the air vent which propped up some stuff and it worked perfectly.  You can’t say that about modern consoles, can you? You can’t fix a red ring of death with the cunning insertion of that tool for getting stones out of the bottom of horses’ hooves.

One of my enduring memories of that time is any Saturday afternoon. I’d be playing on the Spectrum – usually an adventure game – and listening to the radio. I’d be listening to the comedy shows in the afternoon – in those days it was Radio 4 at 12.30, Radio 2 from one until two, and then back to Radio 4 for the afternoon play which, even when it wasn’t a comedy, was – on the whole – bloody good.

The one game I remember playing on a Saturday afternoon, probably more than any, was Marsport. It was a side-scrolling adventure, part of a trilogy of sorts with Dun Darach and Tir Na Nog. It was, as you can probably tell, set in space – a port on Mars, to be precise, and you had to escape.

As you explored the complex you’d discover locked doors with hatches next to them. You needed to put the keys into the hatches. It was a simple enough idea. But you never had the key. The key was hardly ever, as far as I remember, just one item (I remember getting into the chemists – the key for that was boots). It was, more-often-than-not, a combination of items – to get into one door, for example, you had to make a cake by combining other items you’d found across the station.

I loved that game. I never finished it but the memory of playing it has stuck with me. Indeed, I have a ROM version of it on my laptop (which is fine, because I have the original version as well). All I need to play it properly is some graph paper, a ruler and a pencil, because it definitely needs a map (each unit of the space station being a five=by-five-centimetre square – another fact I remember from my Saturday afternoons). And I need the radio, of course, because it wouldn’t be the same without it.

But now I’m older, I’m paying a bit more attention to the radio than I am to the games. That’s not to say I’ve fallen out of love with gaming – believe me, I haven’t. Given a chance I’ll sit up until 2am shooting things in the head or grinding experience points. But times and circumstances have changed. I have less time to play than I used to, but I have more time to listen to the radio, and to pay more attention to the shows on the radio, and to sit and write things that could – maybe, possibly, if I’m ridiculously lucky – make it onto the radio. Or into something else, in some shape or form.

And that’s my own personal Marsport locked door. The panel beside it needs a key made up of the experiences so far and the hopes for future.

I’ve never really played this far into the game before. I don’t know what’s on the other side of that door. It could be magnificent and wondrous, or it could be giant space ants that will chase me down the corridors and blast me to death with lasers.

As I cross the threshold, though, the one thing I do know – without a shadow of doubt – is that everything on this side of that door has been fucking brilliant….