The naivety of youth is something that you lose, as you grow older, thankfully.
In my teens back home in West Wales I felt protected. My family were around me to cushion me from the outside world and all the stuff that was bad in the world seemed to happen a long way away in other countries.
At the tender age of 13 I received my ZX Spectrum for Christmas along with the games Manic Miner and Lunar Jetman. These two games were recommended to me by a school colleague as he had been given a Spectrum 6 months before for his birthday and boy were they good. Both games were played continually over the holiday period with Manic Miner becoming one of my all time favourite Sinclair games.
I managed to get to the later stages of Manic Miner and with Lunar Jetman, if I’m totally honest, I never really understood what the overall objective of the game was until I was a little older, yet at the time it was still fun flying around shooting blocks of colour on the screen!
After weeks of playing these games it was time for a change.
The family used to go shopping every weekend in the local shopping town of Carmarthen some 13 miles. Tesco was the shop of choice for my parents, for me it was WH Smiths and Woolworths and a little Newsagent at the top of town where I used to buy my weekly can of orange Fanta.
My Spectrumhad been purchased at WH Smiths some weeks previous in the run-up to Christmas and it was here I went to look for my next gaming purchase.
In the far end corner of the store, next to the chart records and LP’s, was the computer section. Here I found a rack from the floor to the ceiling with row upon row of empty cassette cases adjourned with colourful inlays. On the inlay front was found the name of the game in a big bold letters, the system the game would run on and underneath the text, a graphical portrayal of the game. Towards the back could be found a textual description of the adventure you would be taken on if you were brave enough to buy the game and load it on your system of choice.
Now lets remember that at this time I had only had the pleasure of seeing and playing two games on my Spectrum and both games were incredibly good. On looking and reading the inlay descriptions of the games before me I had no doubt that every single game I was presented with was of equal quality and value for money as the two I already owned. Why should I not think differently! Surely the producers of these games would not lie to me with their claims of “Game of the Year!” and “Shockingly realistic!” So in my mind back then it was a matter of choosing what kind of game I would like to play – the quality and game play were furthest from my mind as they were an assumed part of the package.
I spent a good while choosing the game I wanted to play.
Finally I chose one. It was called Devils of the Deep and was produced by a company called Richard Shepherd Software. The cover promised “A stunning 3-D graphic adventure for the 48K Spectrum” and depicted a diver shooting at a massive eel. It looked superb and I couldn’t wait to play it.
After the short journey home, I rushed up to my bedroom and fired up my Speccy and TV (well switched them on). In went the tape, I typed LOAD “” on the keyboard and then pushed the play button on the tape recorder.
The loading screen appeared after a minute or so and some text set the scene for the game. All looked very promising.
The obligatory few minutes passed as the game loaded during which time I took the opportunity to read the instructions on the cassette inlay – see box-out for a run-down of the world I was about to explore in Devils of the Deep.
I started playing the Devils of the Deep and invested a good couple of hours exploring the city of Atlantis. I was confused. Surely I was missing something here with this game (a term I later found out to be called ‘playability’). I kept on thinking was this it? The game was slow, unattractive to the eye and sounded awful. These were not adjectives used on the cassette inlay that so enticed me to buy this game. I felt tricked and realised that maybe what you see, or what you are led to believe, is not what you will necessarily receive by the game publishers.
My parents suggested I took the game back to the shop as £6.50 was a lot of money to waste on something that would never get played. The problem was that WH Smiths had signs up everywhere stating that software could only be returned if unopened. I would give it a go anyway.
The following Saturday I made my way to the computer counter at WH Smiths, put on my searching for sympathy face, and told the lone assistant at the desk that I would like to exchange the game I had purchased from them the previous week, as it would not load. The assistant then, to my horror, put the tape into the tape deck connected to the on-display Spectrum and started to load it to verify my story. The minutes ticked by; the game continued to load flawlessly; beads of sweat started to form on my young forehead. During this time a queue of people had started to form at the counter and the assistant had to go back to serve the less than patient customers. As he did so, and ensuring that he was not looking, I pressed the pause button on the tape recorder to stop the tape. I then pressed the pause button again to continue the tape playing.
The assistant came back to face R Tape Loading Error on the TV.
“See I told you”, I said.
Sheepishly (excuse the Welsh pun), the assistant said I could choose another game as a replacement. The one I chose was Hall of Things that proved to be a much better purchase even though, again I chose the game based on its influential cover and its text/screenshots.
Soon after this little experience, I started to buy Sinclair User magazine, and a little later on, Crash magazine primarily for their reviews of the latest games. I was not so naïve as I once was in believing that you would always get value for money from a product you spent all your pocket money on even when the product had ‘buy me now!’ packaging and promised to take you on an adventure of a life time!
Richard Shepherd software helped me to have a little less of a rose-tinted view of the world that we know and since the purchase of Devils of the Deep I always seek someone else’s opinion on a product before purchase.
So thank you Richard Shepherd, wherever you are, but still beware of the marketing devils of the deep; they are after your money!