God Save the Queen

God Save the Queen
Yak to the Future

Graeme Virtue | 14 Apr 2009 12:30
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Congratulations! You're living in the golden age of videogames. Except it's not really an age - it's more of a continuum. For the first time since the blocky birth of our favorite digital art form, we've come full circle. A potent combination of nostalgia and digital distribution is breathing new life into games that were previously confined to the history books. Even old duffers who haven't played a game since they thumbed some coins into a Space Invaders cabinet 30 years ago have received a second chance.

In your web browser, on your cellphone, on your Wii - arcade-style games are invading again, ready to snag casual gamers and lead long-serving veterans on a trip down memory lane. Why is this return to twitchy gameplay so exciting? Because it means the Sacred Llama Prophecy may finally be fulfilled. The mighty Jeff Minter will return in his luxuriant-haired glory and lead us to psychedelic salvation! Are you ready for the ascension of Yak?

In the beginning, there was Yak
If you have any interest in videogames and their provenance, you've probably heard the name. Minter - although he prefers to go by his high-score handle "Yak" - was one of the original breed of British 8-bit coders who jumpstarted the entire U.K. games industry from their bedrooms in the early 1980s. Some of these self-taught zealots flared furiously, then faded - such as Matthew Smith, the fevered mind behind Jet Set Willy. Others leveraged their initial notoriety to launch major development companies, like Richard and David Darling of Codemasters. In a fledgling industry that started at a frantic pace and hurtled forward with each technological leap, the choice was simple: adapt or die.

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The young Jeff Minter took adaptation seriously; his early games were reskinned versions of arcade titles (we would now call them "classics," but at the time they were cutting edge) that swapped out frustration in favor of wacky fun. His shaggy reimagining of Defender - a VIC-20 shooter called Andes Attack - replaced the besieged humans with llamas, an incongruous use of livestock that would become a Minter hallmark. Of course, the man who christened himself Yak didn't have a monopoly on wigged-out game concepts - Jet Set Willy tasked you with tidying up your mansion while being pursued by killer jelly - but no other 8-bit coder pursued their own whimsical obsessions with such glee. Pulsing dromedary shooter Attack Of The Mutant Camels was followed by Revenge Of The Mutant Camels, which saw players abruptly siding with the embattled beasts of burden.

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