The Joy of

STICKS

 

An article by Pooka

 

 

My mother took me to PC World and bought me a joystick.

 

It was a nice surprise, but in all honesty, she only bought me a joystick because I’d saved up my pocket money to buy one of the last remaining copies of Superfrog and I needed a joystick to play it. This is, of course, untrue – as we all know, you can play Superfrog with a keyboard. Anyone who’s played Superfrog on a PC – whether they’re emulating it or playing the PC Version – knows that you can use a keyboard. It’s just that, well, nobody told me this, and there’s no indication on the packaging to indicate that keyboard support is there at all. The back of the box sports an enigmatic “Keyboard-Joystick” following a set of requirements that makes me grin (326sx20; VGA; DOS 3.0 or higher; Min Mem 2MB; HD 3.5”), and Team17 clearly didn’t bother to revise the manual that comes with the game, because – whichever version you buy – it assumes you are using an Amiga.

 

I didn’t even know the Amiga existed when I was 14, never mind knowing that Amiga games were built for joysticks.

 

Remember when games used to come in these huge boxes? Those were awesome.

It’s only controlling it that I had a problem with. Installing and loading it weren’t that much of a problem. I’d learned a little too much about how to boot into DOS by hammering F8 at the “Starting Windows 95” screen. It took me about two months to work out how to run the Worms playable demo, but now that I knew what to do, running Superfrog was no problem at all (fortunately, though, the guy at Team17 sales told me that I had to run it in DOS, otherwise I would have been very upset at trying to run it in Windows...). My desktop PC at that time even came with a built-in DOS bootdisk-making facility. Not that I used a bootdisk; I just wrote a batch file which ran all the keyboard, mouse, etc. executables and then Superfrog itself.

 

Yeah, I was a geek even at 14. It helps, you know.

 

 

 

Intelligent though I may have been, I clearly wasn’t intelligent enough to try pressing all the keys on the keyboard. Having a quick play before school on the day I got the game (it was sports day, if I remember correctly), I could make SF run back and forth, I just couldn’t jump over the second pit of spikes in 1-1. I managed to run over the first pit without any problems, but when it came to the blob squatting there, followed by a bigger pit, there was clearly a missing jump function, and the up arrow, alas, failed to qualify. Had I attempted a CTRL-ALT-DEL soft reset at this point, I may have realised what the key combinations were. I just, you know... didn’t. I turned off my PC at the switch and went to school instead.

 

I was in a euphoric state all the way through school. I don’t like sports and had managed to avoid being in any teams whatsoever, so I sat at the side of the field and chatted informally for a few hours. That was about it. As one may expect, it was an easy day. Hot, maybe, but easy, in any case. I returned home, and sat down at the computer again. It was in the kitchen at this point, and my dad (who is an actor, so he doesn’t get a lot of work) was cooking something or another. He noticed my frustration as I read through the manual and noticed the word “jump”, shortly after the word “joystick”. And thus, on account of the fact that I’d been waiting oh-so-very long for a copy of this game, in order for me to be able to play the damn thing, my mother ended up driving me to PC World, where I picked out a joystick.

 

I picked a pretty simple jobbie – blue base, black handle, red buttons. Flashily named “Logic 3 Tornado”. I still don’t know why I chose that one. I just touched it and thought, “this one has a bit of resistance, it’ll do.” I also like the colour blue. It felt good in my hand, like a SNES pad. But I think the real reason I chose this specific stick was the fact that all the others looked too modern to be playing Superfrog. This was a game, after all, released for the PC in 1994. I wanted a retro-looking joystick that fitted, and that’s why I chose this one. My mother paid £10 for it and we left the shop.

 

The joystick stayed in the back of my PC for a very long time. I didn’t know then, but in hindsight, playing through Superfrog with a joystick was something of a baptism of fire. I’d never used a joystick before, and in any case, it took me some time to get used to the “fire” trigger being operated via a finger I was unused to playing games with. As with any new game you’re going to play, it took me some time to get to grips with it, but I managed to wrestle it into submission anyway – or thought I did. That’s what I thought after beating 1-1, anyway. I didn’t know there were 4 realms in each world, and I didn’t know about the password function, either. Yeah, I was a weird kid. But at least I could play the game. And, oh, how I played.

 

It's really rather cool.

 

The consequences of playing Superfrog with a joystick were:

·         SF was harder to control, and therefore harder to stop. I had to really sharpen my reaction timing for some sections of the game.

·         Jumping was an odd issue, because I had to hit the “jump” button at the same time as angling the joystick in the direction I wanted SF to jump. I couldn’t control him mid-jump like you can with a keyboard.

·         Firing Spud wasn’t something I did apropos of nothing. I needed to have a real reason for doing so, because it required me pressing button 2. Not that I didn’t want to press it, but it was a trigger and I thought it should be used sparingly.

·         The Wings hardly ever did anything. I had to squeeze button 2 with my index finger and let go and then squeeze again, so I played through the entire game using the Wings for one, maybe two flaps, per jump.

·         Playing the fruit machine was more realistic on account of the fact that I was pressing an actual button to stop the tumblers.

·         The muscles in my right hand were pumped up considerably. I still have a freakishly strong right hand.

·         It took me Forever And A Day to complete the game... well, I say “complete”. I actually mean “get to the spikes in 6-4 and then die because I can’t use the Wings properly”.

·         The game was considerably more difficult as a result.

·         But I loved it.

 

My netbook doesn’t have the right sort of port to plug in my joystick. But I’m keeping it aside, along with my copy of Superfrog, just in case. After all, days of intense frustration and repetition, yanking a joystick as hard as I could to make a small green frog jerkily traverse some odd landscapes... well, when I look back now – those were some great days. Heady, dizzy, froggy days.

 

And if anyone’s willing to give me a desktop computer with a rudimentary graphics card, sound support, 16-bit monitor, DOS 3.0+ and a port to plug a joystick into, I’ll show you just how much fun it is to play Superfrog... especially when you have absolutely no idea how to play.

 

Go on, I dare you.