Gorf : like fighting a bully with a robo-voice.
When you’re a young lad in your formative years, there are certain times and events that shape your persona, and that stay in the memory for the rest of your life. The summer of 1981 is one of those times for me. Our family had a two-week long caravan holiday in the Northumbrian ‘hotspot’ of Amble. The sun was shining, I.T. Botham was smiting the Aussies to all four corners of Headingley, Thin Lizzy’s “Waiting For An Alibi” was constantly playing on my dad’s tape player and a good time was had by all.
Take that, y’ big Aussie puff.
Now, when you’re having a caravan holiday in the summer on the northeast coast, you do tend to spend all day on the beach, or listening to the cricket if we’re winning. But at night, when you’re nine years old, activities are more limited. Just as well the caravan park had an arcade, then.
In 1981, arcade games hadn’t really hit their stride yet. They were definitely on the up, but were not yet into their golden years. Still, it was with nothing but excitement that I walked into the amusements on the first night of our stay. I’d visited arcades on day trips, but this place promised to be my evening ‘home’ for the next fortnight.
It was a typical seaside resort amusement park. There was a hot dog/candy floss stand, an assortment of dodgy rides, and the main amusements building. A variety of sounds and smells flew at you from all directions. All small boys should, at some point in their lives, have their nostrils filled with the combined smells of hot dogs and sea air, as I did in Amble.
It’s “Space Combat!” Psshheeoww! Psshheeoww! And if you’re not strapped
in, you’re going to be the loser, kids.
The dominating feature was one of those hydraulic rides with little spaceships on the end of giant arms, and you fly up into the sky and around and around. On one particular night, some poor bastard had been flung out of his spaceship and had landed on his head, right next to the hot dog stand. Being a kid I didn’t really understand how hurt he must have been, and remember thinking it appropriate that he was next to the hot dog stand with all of that ketchup lying around. Well, I was only 9.
The main building was also typical. It was green and shabby, it had two double-door entrances and all of the windows were boarded up. But inside… inside it was like Aladdin’s cave. Of course, it featured the staples of every seaside arcade. Penny and tuppeny slots, cakewalks, those “grab-a-toy” rip-off machines. But sprinkled liberally around the sticky linoleum floor were the arcade games.
Come on in, children. Look, ice cream. And moneeeeeey.
I remember walking through the building, eyeing everything up. “There’s Galaxian, great. Space Invaders, of course. Ooh, what’s this? Phoenix? Looks nice.” And then I saw this machine with a big aircraft-controller style joystick. Filled with curiosity, I took hold of it.
“Beeeeooooh INSERT COIN”.
I just about shit myself, and jumped back in fright. “Dad! Dad! The machine talked!” He wandered over, looking amused. Back then, my dad was as much a gamer as I was. He handed me my coin bag and let me go. I took out a ten pence piece, and did as the machine told me.
Look, it’s NOT called Gorf because
‘FROG’ spelled backwards, alright?
It was slightly disappointing at first. It was just Space Invaders. It was a bit noisier and more colourful, and it talked, but still, Space Invaders. They were soon vanquished, and with an explosive crash the screen went black and a different wave of enemies appeared. ‘Laser Attack’. This looked easy, too. Just shoot that…what the…? A huge yellow line split me right down the middle. I didn’t expect that. Nor did I expect to be informed that “Survival is impossible”. Really, you stupid machine? We’d see about that.
Prepared for the ship-splitting laser, I cautiously and successfully navigated the Laser Attack, and after another ear-shattering explosion I found myself confronted by Galaxians. Pah, easy, I’m good at Galaxian, I thought. The thing was, these weren’t quite the same as the arcade favourites I already knew and loved. They didn’t quite move the same, and they chucked bullets about far more liberally than in the original. Another life was lost, and my game was almost over.
Still, I knew more of what to expect, and with a sure trigger finger and a lot of anguished wrenching of the joystick, the level was soon complete and I was moving on again. ‘Space Warp’. “What’s this?” I wondered. I soon found out. A tie-fighter-like ship spun crazily out of the middle of the screen, chucking fireballs all over the shop. I was stunned. I survived the first, but the very next one smashed me to bits and the game was over. I’d lost, and I hated the game.
You see, Gorf didn’t just beat me. It laughed at me. It mocked my pitiful inadequacy. Oh sure, it might have thrown me the odd complimentary bone every once in a while, but in the main it actually appeared to be taking great pleasure from my failure. It stung my pride. I couldn’t have that. I bunged in another ten pee. We’d see who’d be laughing this time.
“Ha-ha! You’re shit at Gorf!”
It was the machine that was laughing, again. I didn’t get past the Space Warp that time, either. I lasted a bit longer, but those crazy attack patterns freaked me out. My coin bag with my nightly allowance was getting lighter and lighter. Just one more go! This time I’d make it.
And this time I did make it. I survived the Space Warp, only to be confronted by the Flagship. It was huge, and so were the fireballs it threw my way. AND there was a force field that I had to blast through, too. Whether by luck, skill or judgement, my very first shot at the Flagship landed right smack in its reactor, and it exploded in a shower of jaggy orange lines. I was chuffed to bits. Not only that, I’d been promoted.
Success! Laser death, the sign of
any good family holiday.
I don’t remember how much longer I lasted. As far as I was concerned, I’d beaten that grinning fat strawberry and rammed some of its words back down its throat. I went and met up with my dad, who was playing a Dive Bomber game that we’d both eventually grow quite fond of. I was done for the night. I wanted a hot dog, and I wanted to go back to the caravan and revel in my glory. Tonight I was a Space Captain, and nobody could take that away from me.