Author Topic: Video Gaming Behind The Iron Curtain  (Read 7662 times)

Mandle

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Video Gaming Behind The Iron Curtain
« on: 09 May 2015, 12:35 »
This started as a discussion between Kasander and myself in the '80's graphics Colouring Ball and he was kind enough to continue the discussion via PM.

As a child of the '80's Kasander mentioned that his family owned an Atari console in the '80's and that this was his first video gaming experience...

I was amazed both by the fact that this kind of gaming even was possible behind The Iron Curtain and also by my own complete lack of knowledge on this topic.

Considering that I grew up in Australia and was also playing on an Atari console at the exact same time as somebody in an area of the world as unimaginable and inaccessible back then as North Korea is to us now blew my mind.

Here is Kasander's tale of that time from his own perspective, posted here with his permission:

Hi Mandle,

I've already written you a bit about living in the 80’s Poland from a child’s perspective but I thought I could elaborate on that, since it seemed to me that you were genuinely interested in the subject.

I was born in 1980. My parents and I were living at our grandparents until I was about 3 or 4 years old and my parents received a small flat from the government (one room with the kitchen and bathroom).

I’d say my parents were rather poor back then in the 80s, but I didn’t need much to have a happy childhood. I remember the long queues before entrances to shops and worker holidays with my grandmother. My grandmother was working in a furniture factory* and she often brought home some wooden leftovers which served as playing blocks. I had quite a lot of Polish made toys, which were very affordable, every child I knew had them, even those who lived in small towns and in the country. The only toys which were harder to get were Western made ones, i.e. Lego sets (I had a couple of those as well, although the smallest ones) which were every boy’s dream. Those were only available in special Pewex stores, where Western goods were sold for dollars. I’m quite sure that Pewex store was also the place where my dad bought Atari 130 XE. It must’ve been 1986 or 87. Unfortunately I can’t remember how much it cost precisely (he has told me one day)...700,000 zlotys or some outrageous sum like that. Well, it sounds outrageous, but those were times before denomination so almost everyone in Poland was a millionaire towards the end of the 80s and in the first half of the 90s :) I think it would be somewhere around $2000 in current US dollars.

What’s more interesting is how he got the money in the first place. That was all the amount he had acquired from selling my grandfather’s house in Soviet Union (obviously the property was Polish before WWII, but after it ended, the state borders has changed;)). It was a pittance for that piece of land but it was just like this for most of the people - nobody got rich thanks to Soviets, unless they were high in the Party structures. And so my dad spent all those money on one 8-bit computer, because it wasn’t enough to buy anything more “serious” like a car (my parents couldn’t afford the upkeep costs anyway**). Obviously my mother was quite upset about "wasting" those money, but I was overjoyed.

The funny thing is that despite the dramatic state of economy, the Polish culture was never better than during the communism. The politics of isolation really boosts up country’s culture and art (the most striking example I think was Iranian cinema in the 80s and 90s - but since then the regime in Iran has sealed the lid once and for all). After 1989 (the end of communism in Poland) all branches of Polish art died out or are in the slow process of dying. Literature, cinema, theatre, music, comics, everything, even the pop culture is struggling - there’s no market for homegrown artists anymore. That’s the price of capitalism - Polish culture, art and the whole society is pretty much Americanised now - which for me bears a striking resemblance to being "Sovietised" in the communist times. And I’m afraid there’s no good remedy for that :/

Sorry for that long ramble, but it seemed to me you were genuinely interested. And forgive me all the errors this letter is probably riddled with ;)

Here’s some bonus to sweeten the experience, a classic "cold war" piece of Polish electronic music from 1984:


Cheers,

Kasander

*Which was a main source of the employment in her town and which got “nuked” when the capitalism kicked in. Last week I was visiting my maternal cousin’s family in that town and from what they told us, things are grim. I’d say it even got worse there, when compared to how it was during communism. There’s a huge unemployment (like everywhere in Poland) and also a big problem with criminality in many smaller towns like that. The police (nudge nudge!) just don’t care because they’re underpaid and corrupt and most often just not qualified enough to tackle those problems. It was quite different during communism, because the police - however vilified and Party-steered - was the authority not to be messed with (sure, there was still some criminal activity going on, but the scale is incomparable). Compared to the old times, there’s plenty of goods in stores, the shelves are bending, but there’s a lack of job opportunities (which were provided by the government back then), so there’s a lack of money to buy them with :/ I live in Warsaw, so it’s pretty much cream of the crop compared to the rest of Poland, but it’s still a second world country for you. I’m 34 and unemployed (with a Master’s degree in Arts). I’ve been working at some odd (usually non-artistic) jobs now and then and naively hope for a better future. I would have a hard time making ends meet without my parents’ help.

**My parents only got better off and could afford a car in the 90s

PS: In case you wonder, no, I’m not a commie! ;D


Thanks you Kasander for taking the time to send me this info.

I have a few questions I would like to "interview" you with in this thread to preserve your unique perspective on video gaming behind The Iron Curtain:

(1) Do you still own your original console and the game carts for it? If so: do they still work?

(2) What games in particular do you remember owning and/or being amongst your favorites?

(3) Did your whole family play the games or was it mostly just something for the kids?

(4) Where could you obtain new game carts? How much did they cost? About how often could you get your hands on a new game?

(5) Were there any games that were only released behind The Iron Curtain that you either owned or know of?

(6) Were there any controversial games (Missile Command comes to mind) which were banned and unavailable?

(7) Can you show us some scans from your Polish gaming magazine of that era (if you can find it) which are especially expressive of the era, say something in particular about the gaming community of Cold War Poland, or are just funny/camp to see in 2015?

This is also a community thread so I want to invite any others with questions, personal insights from either side of The Iron Curtain, or comments on anything presented here to chime in if they wish to do so.

Fitz

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Re: Video Gaming Behind The Iron Curtain
« Reply #1 on: 09 May 2015, 15:08 »
Commie gaming history? Let me throw my two cents, too (or should I say kopeikas?) The first thing you need to see as far as gaming behind the Iron Curtain is concerned is this:



This was the commie gameboy. Each of those had one simple arcade game: juggling pancakes, catching eggs falling from hens' nests, racing games, etc. I got the one you see above in 1988, when I was 8 (I was born the same year as Kasander -- and I'm Polish, too). I still have it -- and, 27 years later, that thing still works! See, we might've lived 50 years under Stalin's boot -- but that way we've never been exposed to the joys of the so-called planned obsolescence. Things were built to last, not go kaputt after a year so you could get yourself a new one.

My first computer was a Commodore 64, which we brought from West Germany in 1988 (along with a VCR). The way I remember it, at the time the game market was booming -- but not in the way you'd imagine. Other than the Pewex stores, there was no official distribution of western media. Still, you could get RIDICULOUS amounts of games. Anything! I spent many hours playing Bruce Lee, International Karate, Skate or Die, Turbo Outrun... Sport games, soccer... But my favorite was Hammerfist. A lot of times you could get up to 30 games on a single tape. A sort of 80's game bundle, if you will. All of it pirated. See, back in the 80's -- and well into the 90's -- copyright was a strange and foreign idea in our neck of the woods. Censorship -- which was a large part of official media -- including press, music and movies -- didn't apply. We got whatever snuck through the border. If you had a tape recorder, you could copy the cassette -- and distribute it among your friends for free OR put up a small stand in the town bazaar and sell them there. It's actually how some of the greatest carreers in Polish game distribution/gamedev started -- including Adrian Chmielarz, former Metropolis Software/People Can Fly CEO, currently CEO of The Astronauts, and the man behind Teenagent, Painkiller, Bulletstorm and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. In a recent interview for Polygon, he mentioned feeling deeply embarrassed by how he had to make money -- not so much because he stole someone's work but because someone he knew might've seen him peddling games in the bazaar. The ending of the 80's was crazy, we got all sort of computers all at once -- Commodores, Amigas, ZX Spectrums, Ataris, and maybe even Apples. Not to mention obscure computers such as MSX and Acorn (which was actually fully officially distributed by the state!). It was a weird mix of being far behind technology-wise -- and then catching up in one big leap. In 1993, when the market was already open, we also got NES. Well, sort of. What we got was this Taiwanian (I think) rip-off of Famicon called Pegasus -- which had a full-blown advertising campaign, including tv commercials! What's noteworthy -- and relevant to one of your question -- it was marketed as fun for the whole family (as reflected by the full name: PEGASUS FAMILY GAME). Carts were easily available in stores. Can't remember the price, but it wasn't exorbitant. I mostly played the 168 in 1 bundle that came with the console, which included Mario, Pacman, Contra, Donkey Kong, but I also owned some casino game, Robocop -- and my favorite, Solbrain.

We didn't have magazines dedicated to games specifically. The first one, called Top Secret, was first released in 1990. Before that, we had computer mags such as Bajtek or Komputer:



I distinctly remember some game-related special, with reviews of 40 Atari games. Atari was a cult thing, and not just in the 90's. And yes, there were 8-bit games made in Poland, in Polish (and hence, probably never got smuggled abroad). Mozgprocessor, Seksmisja (you might know its remake, A.D. 2044), Hans Kloss -- the latter two based on beloved cinematic franchises (with complete disregard for copyright, as you might expect). I got my first PC in 1995 -- and started reading game mags only shortly before that -- so I was completely oblivious about what was going on in the market before that time. But I'm learning a ton of new things about that time now, 20 years later, bout just now, through PIXEL -- a new paper mag created by veterans from game mags mentioned above, with a significant emphasis on retro (and currently running a series of stories on LucasArts!).
« Last Edit: 09 May 2015, 15:10 by Fitz »

Mandle

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Re: Video Gaming Behind The Iron Curtain
« Reply #2 on: 09 May 2015, 16:32 »
Commie gaming history? Let me throw my two cents, too (or should I say kopeikas?) The first thing you need to see as far as gaming behind the Iron Curtain is concerned is this:



This was the commie gameboy.

The rest of your post is fascinating and I have read it over already a few times to absorb the information...

That's when I noticed that your link here in my quote above did not display anything for me (I'm in Japan)...

I tracked down what I think is the image you were trying to display:

Something like this?



And actually this was not just for the Eastern Bloc countries...

At the same time the Gameboy was already out these "GameWatch" games were still in full production even in Western countries...

It seems that there was still a very large market for parents picking up a game to satisfy their child on long car trips for a much cheaper price than buying them the entire GameBoy rig plus the additional carts for each new game...

I, in fact, actually owned (and maybe still own...time to go through my boxes in my Mom's attic..) this exact game...Damn those tentacles were hard to time to get by just right...
« Last Edit: 09 May 2015, 16:41 by Mandle »

Crimson Wizard

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Re: Video Gaming Behind The Iron Curtain
« Reply #3 on: 09 May 2015, 16:43 »
I lived and live in Russia, and had ZX Spectrum since late 80-ies. The computer itself could be legit, but all the tapes I saw in my life were 100% pirated :D. Besides, at those time we had no idea what "license" is; since the data was represented by analogue signal, whoever had a tape recorder just copied the games to his friends.
I had heard of some "geniuses" who transferred this data even by radio :).

Tapes were sold in random places, and, as I said, were most likely all pirated. There were often many games on every tape, and they came with cheap sheet of paper with list of games and some random, often unrelated, pixel art printed in black & white.
Like this:



I don't remember much titles, unfortunately they faded in my memory, but I recall "River Raid", "Lode Runner", "Golden Axe".

Even before that, in mid-80-ies, I remember we had arcade games in the public places, like attraction parks. Years later I was finding these games in the internet; and some of them appeared to be Sinclair / Atari games, such as "Space Invaders" and "Jetpack".

My father played it too sometimes, but not very often, perhaps because he had a real desktop computer on his work (he worked as an engineer in research institution), where he had "Monkey Island" and other PC games of that time :D.

Regarding "banned games", I do not think this could be an issue. In 80-ies the video game market here was still half-legit, most games were pirated, and goverment was not likely able to do anything with it. Not sure if they even wanted to, considering future events of late-80-ies/ early 90-ies.
« Last Edit: 09 May 2015, 16:59 by Crimson Wizard »

Mandle

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Re: Video Gaming Behind The Iron Curtain
« Reply #4 on: 09 May 2015, 17:08 »
Even before that, in mid-80-ies, I remember we had arcade games in the public places, like attraction parks. Years later I was finding these games in the internet; and some of them appeared to be Sinclair / Atari games, such as "Space Invaders" and "Jetpack".

Your entire post will take me a few more reads to absorb it completely as it's already blowing my mind as an Australian child growing up in the '80's...But for now I just had to:

Highlight the parts that blew me away the most in that there were actual arcade ports of SINCLAIR games???

Going a tad off topic so using hide function:
Spoiler: ShowHide

Sinclair was the first computer I ever actually touched with my hands. It was the original 1k and my high-school maths teacher had to fight tooth and nail to even find a loophole in the school's budget to buy them (I think he might have paid for a few himself actually) and to find a crawlspace between the maths staffroom and the english classroom next door (which had probably been an extra storage closet) to house our school's proud "computer lab" in...

I was in there every lunchtime coding in 1k games in BASIC...Had to type the game code in every time anyone wanted to play it because we did not have the tape recorders to save the data...

My Lunar Lander rip-off game was my biggest project and I had the entire code scribbled down on two sheets of A4 paper...I got so good at typing it in that at least a few people got to play it before lunchtime ended and we had to go back to class...

Anyways...


I'd imagine these days that if someone could actually find one of those Sinclair port arcade machines that actually worked they would be sitting on a gold-mine...

Could be some of the rarest arcade games of all time!

Crimson Wizard

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Re: Video Gaming Behind The Iron Curtain
« Reply #5 on: 09 May 2015, 17:51 »
Speaking of games of Russian origin, I am afraid I had no chance to know any produced before 1990, except for Tetris, obviously.

I can mention of "Copper Feet" development studio who was making ZX Spectrum games in very early 90-ies. "Copper Feet" is a literal translation of the developer's family name (Mednonogov). They made surprisingly quality games, like "Adventures of Buratino" (russian variant of Pinoccio), which was some kind of quest/exploration mix, and "Tankodrome", an arcade game where you controlled tanks on terrain with lots of obstacles.







PS. Wait... how could I forget Perestroika?? lol
« Last Edit: 09 May 2015, 17:53 by Crimson Wizard »

Fitz

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Re: Video Gaming Behind The Iron Curtain
« Reply #6 on: 09 May 2015, 18:00 »
Oh yes, I remember seeing arcades as early as 1987, in some holiday resort. Can't remember what the games were, though, for the life of me. Later on, in mid-90's, they were still a thing, and I saw some pretty awesome games in the smallest of sea-side towns, such as Tekken or Soul Calibur.
I see Crimson Wizard's experiences were pretty similar to mine. There was a very lively illegal trade between our countries going on well into the 90's -- especially contraband VHS with Russian overdubs :D Oh, the memories! I imagine how bizarre all of this must sound to you, Mandle. Trust me, that's not even half of it :) We could probably go on and oooon about various ways of "getting by" in the merry times of Uncle Misha and then the early years of our very own version of savage capitalism.
And yeah, those tentacles were tricky. I thought I'd been a clumsy kid -- but when I tried the game last year, I couldn't even get near the 1300 points that I scored at the age of 8.

Kasander

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Re: Video Gaming Behind The Iron Curtain
« Reply #7 on: 11 May 2015, 19:21 »
Wow, thanks for sharing your memories, Fitz and Crimson! Those were some wild times, huh? ;)
Right, those "commie gameboys"! Everyone had at least one of those. Usually with Wolf from a brilliant Soviet cartoon, "Nu pogodi!", but as Crimson has shown, there were other versions, too.
Spoiler: ShowHide

Oh yes, back then those things were built to last, weren't they? I still have Elorg, a state-of-art (seriously) pocket calculator made in USSR. It has a solar panel so unlike those "gameboys" it doesn't need any batteries). It's only a few years younger, but works so much better than me! :)


Now for some answers from myself.  There's a lot of meandering, so you'll have to excuse me. That was some trip down memory lane...

1) Do you still own your original console and the game carts for it? If so: do they still work?

No, unfortunately I don't have it anymore. My dad sold it in the early 90s and bought Atari ST (few years later in mid-90s he bought first PC). I was even considering buying 8-bit Atari or C-64 some time ago. You can get a working one for around 50$ now which is pretty affordable (obviously now the price of dollar is some few hundred times smaller than it was in the 80s). Those old 8-bit and 16-bit computers are pretty common thing on the most popular Polish auction site.

Actually it turns out I've mislead you with that sum of 70,000 zlotys I thought my dad had paid for Atari XE (sorry!). I asked him about it yesterday and it turns out it was only some 2000 to 2500 zlotys, so soorry to disappoint you ;)  I have a hard time telling how much USD it was back then. I read on some forum that 8-bit Atari sold for 199 USD in Pewex stores somewhere in mid 80s.  Anyway, the price of dollar was sky-rocketing every year, and thanks to the hyperinflation almost everyone in Poland ended up as a millionaire around 1991 ;)


(2) What games in particular do you remember owning and/or being amongst your favorites?

I had dozens of games (I think about a hundred, maybe more) - everybody had in those days. Some of them were arcade ports. I remember games like Zybex, Frogger, Boulder Dash, Gauntlet, Karateka, Lode Runner,The Living Daylights and Moonraker (James Bond games), Battle Ships, Mouse Trap, Basil the Great Mouse Detective, Commando, Ghostbusters, Operation Blood, Pirates of the Barbary Coast, Dropzone, Necromancer, Black Lamp, Spy vs Spy, Jet Set Willy, Eidolon, Archon, Pitstop, Pitfall, Blinky's Scary School, Robin Hood... and countless others. As Fitz has already said, everyone had a lot of pirated games in those days.*

My favourites:

---> NINJA
---> ZORRO
---> BRUCE LEE
---> HENRY'S HOUSE (loved it to bits but I couldn't beat it)
Also Montezuma's Revenge, River Raid... But my all-time favourite 8-bit Atari game was:
---> FRED (1990)
Spoiler: ShowHide
It was made in Poland by L.K. Avalon. They 've made few dozens of games for 8-bit Atari and C-64 from 1989 until 1994 (!) and for Amiga till the end of 90s).


Speaking of Cold War-themed games, I had Raid Over Moscow (I wasn't very good at it) and Green Beret (I liked it a lot). I'm not sure if I had Missile Command (I probably did) but I'm quite sure I've seen this at the arcade saloons in the 80s. I remember reading about Spitting Image game in a magazine, but it wasn't released on 8-bit Atari so I couldn't have it.
Spoiler: ShowHide
BTW, have you heard about Communist Mutants From Space? I haven't, until now :D As for controversial Custer's Revenge, I haven't seen or heard about it until fairly recently as well.


I haven't used game cartridges until couple of years later. 80s pretty much belonged to cassettes, no one I knew had a console or a computer that worked with cartridges. In the beginning most of computer users in Poland had only cassette players/recorders, a lot of faith and tons of patience (it took 20-30 minutes to load a game from cassette on Atari). We used casette players like this (made in Taiwan, I think):


or this:
http://legendy-prl.pl/rm-121-1.jpg
my ZX Spectrum friend used something like that, it was made in Poland by Kasprzak factory and served perfectly fine as a regular radio)

I still remember how badly I wanted to play Moon Patrol and it just didn't load for some reason. Every time it took 30 minutes of waiting (on different days), as it was with most of the games - and there was always some error. So when it finally loaded, I was literally over the moon ;) Only after a couple of years later we had our Atari upgraded to TURBO version (just like everyone did) which was able to load cartridges - and boy, from then on loading a game was so quick it was insane, truly an ultrasound speed. That, and you could have dozens of games on a cartridge as well.

Quite a lot of my friends in the late 80s (from 1987 on) had computers as well. My best friend had ZX Spectrum with games like Jetpack, Saboteur, the other one had Timex, my maternal cousins and the other pal had C-64  (I loved playing International Karate Championships and Barbarian with them). That other C-64 guy  had 5.25 floppy drive which was quite a sight (as most of us still used cassettes), and he had a copy of Sid Meier's Pirates and a map of Spanish Main as well (I'm not so sure if that was an original copy though).

I have fond memories of playing at the arcades. I distinctly remember playing Skulls & Crossbones and Xain'd Sleena/Soldier of Light in Warsaw in late 80s. These games made a lasting impression on this 8-bit Atari user with their high-res, colourful graphics. They were mesmerizing... I sucked at playing them but I could watch older kids wrestle those machines for hours. I even wrote some article in which I recalled those 80s arcades for a Polish computer magazine in early 00's. I miss them a bit, I guess. I've read they are still a thing in Japan,  though. I guess you must have seen them around, haven't you, Mandle?

...

Sometimes the cabinets were set in some nice, convenient place but most often they were put inside ordinary containers (you can see one in that video I've linked to in my PM). I fondly remember one of those ugly barracks with these rotten seeds of Western-imperialistic joy inside, was just below a major artery of transport in Warsaw: People's Army Alley.
Spoiler: ShowHide
People's Army was then "proudly" (and now is "shamefully") associated with Soviets, as it was representing Soviet interests, so it's kind of funny to think that there was this American "Soldier of Light" hidden in a cabinet inside this barrack-like container, below the bridge, doing his undercover work and corrupting our young innocent socialist minds ;) What do you know, perhaps video games had a hand in helping to squash the communism? ;)

That container was small and inconspicuous on the outside, but held multiple worlds inside... So much better than Tardis! :D

(3) Did your whole family play the games or was it mostly just something for the kids?

My mom didn't (games were just plain silly for her) but my dad used to play with me when he had spare time (he's still a casual PC gamer now in his 60s). Back in the 80s his favourite game was Who Dares Wins, he also liked Blue Max and Behind the Jagi Lines a lot. Oh, and he loved to play Silent Service

I remember he dad had our Atari 130 XE downgraded to 65 just to be able to play Ace of Aces, because the tech guys in the store told him it to (I suppose they just took out a memory cube or something), and it miraculously helped.

(4) Where could you obtain new game carts? How much did they cost? About how often could you get your hands on a new game?

As Fitz already said, back in the 80s and 90s most of the game copies in Poland were the pirated ones. The original copies of games were quite hard to find (even in the 90s) and most people couldn't afford them, so they bought cracked & pirated versions for a fraction of the original price (I don't remember how much they cost; I've googled for for the prices but it's quite difficult to track). There were few computer markets in Warsaw in the 80s. The oldests ones were probably in Karlik Student's Club and in Stodoła Students' Club. The biggest one was in a public elementary school on Grzybowska Street (it was established in mid 80s, probably in 1986, but that would require some in-depth research). Here:

http://imgur.com/a/z2nqy
(the first photo looks like it's from 86-87, b/w ones are from 88-91, the rest is from early to late 90s).

Spoiler: ShowHide

In the 90s the computer market on Grzybowska was joined by Stadion X-lecia (Tenth Anniversary Stadium), where you could buy virtually everything, from Soviet Army uniforms through various clothes and house utilities to pirated films and software. The goods were mostly of Eastern origin and the games were pirated by Russians. They had Polish descriptions on the back though, often so badly translated it was hilarious ;)
 
Yeah, that place has some shady past. I remember the Police casually strolling the tribunes in the late 90s and early 00s where the pirated games and movies were sold and the sellers covering their wares with some blankets for a minute or two, then uncovering them when the policemen passed by.

Obviously Poland is much more civilized in that regard now, there's no problem with buying a boxed copy of any game and games are much more affordable in general (although software piracy is still a huge problem).

That Tenth Anniversary Stadium ("tenth anniversary" bit pertained to a certain manifesto, signed by Stalin) is now National Stadium.


In the very late 80s (from around 1988/89 I think) you could also buy games in electronics/software stores where pirated, cracked games were officially sold. As said, everyone could afford them.

I remember going with my dad to such store in my district. Upon our entrance the store-keeper would bring out  file holder with a long list of games printed on numerous A4 sheets, and you could just take your pick :) When I actually saw an original edition of a game for the first time (around 1990-1991 I think) in that store, I could hardly believe there's only one game inside such a big box, it made no sense whatsoever ;) 

*I have to mention that pirating and using pirated games and films was legal according to the a letter of law in Poland almost until mid-90s. There was no such thing as "copyright" until the copyright act was passed in 1994. Only then a (very) slow decline of piracy started.
Spoiler: ShowHide

I think my first original game was Polish point-and- click adventure Tajemnica Statuetki (PC) in 1994 or 95.

Perhaps it doesn't look so impressive now, but I guess it was a fairly decent start for its developers. One of the three people who made it is now a CEO of Astronauts, the studio which made The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (btw, he spoke very fondly of Dave Gilbert's Blackwell series some time ago), and the other one is CEO for 11-bit who made This War of Mine.


(5) Were there any games that were only released behind The Iron Curtain that you either owned or know of?

I had to ask google to refresh my memory, then I rememembered. There were only a few of them from what I've gathered. Now I remember reading about one in a computer magazine (Bajtek) back then. It's probably the most famous Polish made game from the 80s, a post-apocalyptic text adventure "Puszka Pandory" (Pandora's Box) from 1986. I dont't remember playing it personally (not that it was censored or anything, I just had lots of other games and didn't care for text adventures much back then). Looks rather primitive, but still...

--->PUSZKA PANDORY

Actually, the premise (white font on the red screen) sounds very "Cold War-ish". The game is  set in future after the Third World War. The remaining population moved to South America (I guess the north one, Europe or Australia weren't much of use after 3rd WW), but there's still some pre-war prophecy about Pandora's Box looming over the survivors: there's an ultra-powerful nuclear missile hidden on some island, capable of wiping out all of the remaining population. And the player's goal is obviously to disarm or destroy that Pandora's Box. Now that I think of it, that premise reminds me of a certain novella, Głowa Kasandry (Cassandra's Head) by reknown Polish author, Marek Baraniecki, published in 1985. I'm quite sure that game developer read it (btw, it's possibly the best piece of post-apocalyptic fiction I've read). UPDATE: Yup, he probably did, actually wikipedia says that, too.

(6) Were there any controversial games (Missile Command comes to mind) which were banned and unavailable?

None that I can remember. Everyone could play anything, including Missile Command. I don't remember any kind of censorship regarding games. As Fitz said, nobody really cared. Games were considered "kids stuff" back then (I guess it's not that much different now).
Spoiler: ShowHide

I'd imagine some games could be banned in Poland later, from the 90s onwards, like that Monty Python one which had "shoot the Pope" bit, but the reviewers liked it very much overall (excluding that bit ! ;D) so I guess you could still buy it somewhere if you had looked for it. There was some church outburst regarding Diablo but it was just a news item, more or less.


(7) Can you show us some scans from your Polish gaming magazine of that era (if you can find it) which are especially expressive of the era, say something in particular about the gaming community of Cold War Poland, or are just funny/camp to see in 2015?

I'll try to dig some of those 80s Bajtek magazines next time when I get to the cellar :) For now, here's the cover of its first number, which started as a supplement to a youth journal Sztandar Młodych in 1985 and become an independent magazine from 1986 onwards:



There was a summary of an editorial attached to that photo and it turns out the editors were "envious" of some Bulgarian computer magazine they had seen. So it seems quite certain that Poland wasn't exactly a pioneer when it comes to computer magazines behind The Iron Curtain ;) I wonder if there are any Bulgarians among the AGSers.

Mandle

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Re: Video Gaming Behind The Iron Curtain
« Reply #8 on: 12 May 2015, 01:08 »
Kasander: WOW!!! Just WOW!!!

What an incredible read you have provided! This is exactly the kind of stuff I was wanting to know about! I have a fascination with Iron Curtain countries and to hear this information from someone who was actually there is an amazing treat for me, rather than just reading about it on wikipedia etc.

When I have a larger block of spare time I will read your article (as well at the kind posts by everyone else) and look at the links you have provided and reply in more depth myself.

For now just let me say that: Your story about the shipping container full of "other worlds" corrupting the youth right under the noses of the authorities actually moved me to tears. You have quite the gift for writing and dude, your English is flawless! How the hell is your English better than most native speakers?!

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

One more question I would like to ask you guys which is off the topic of gaming a bit but:

Q: Did any of you ever plan, think about, or dream of escape during those times? I'd imagine you were maybe too young and/or couldn't leave family behind. But did you ever have such dreams?

You've all probably seen this before but some younger people reading this thread may not have:

It's a brief account of three brothers who escaped East Berlin one by one, returning twice to break out the remaining brothers until they had all escaped:

CLICK HERE TO VIEW

Some background:
Spoiler: ShowHide

This is a part of a TV documentary and there is a brief story of a river escape (which is also amazing) before the story of the three brothers begins, including the actual video footage of their flight and interviews with the brothers themselves. They leave out a few amazing facts that show how clever these guys really were: Like how they painted Soviet military symbols on the wings of their ultralights so that if any guards spotted them they would be too afraid to shoot without authorization, and by the time that came, they would be long gone. Anyway, the entire story is easy to find on wikipedia etc. for those interested in more background.

This is one of the most moving and inspiring stories of real life adventure I have ever seen. I have watched the videos of their flight over and over many times and still cannot believe that a movie has not been made of this story. Mind you...it's probably better just to watch the real footage than see actors pretending to do it.
« Last Edit: 12 May 2015, 02:57 by Mandle »

Crimson Wizard

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Re: Video Gaming Behind The Iron Curtain
« Reply #9 on: 12 May 2015, 09:22 »
nevermind. I am not in the right mood to answer this anyway.
« Last Edit: 12 May 2015, 09:49 by Crimson Wizard »

Hobo

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Re: Video Gaming Behind The Iron Curtain
« Reply #10 on: 12 May 2015, 12:02 »
Q: Did any of you ever plan, think about, or dream of escape during those times? I'd imagine you were maybe too young and/or couldn't leave family behind. But did you ever have such dreams?
Soviet Union wasn't a prison camp, Mandle :) In the 1980s, majority of the people were living normal and decent lives, don't confuse this period with the ultraviolent Stalinist regime. Of course we didn't like living under a foreign communist rule, but most people in occupied coutries were probably dreaming of becoming an independent nation once again rather than escaping. Yeah, some crazy shit happen occasionally and life certainly wasn't perfect (and most likely not even good by my standards), but people got by.

As for video gaming, then can't really help you with that. I was only 6 when Estonia regained it's independence, so I don't remember much about the eighties or the soviet time. I'm not completely sure, but I think that the video gaming history of our family began in the early 1990s (might have been very late 1980s). Anyway, we went through the usual console cycle (Elektronika handhelds - Atari - Dendy (NES) - Zhiliton 938-a (SNES)) until we finally got a Nokia desktop PC in the latter half of the 90s.

One of the earliest Estonian game development companies was Bluemoon Interactive, they started doing stuff around 1986.

Crimson Wizard

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Re: Video Gaming Behind The Iron Curtain
« Reply #11 on: 12 May 2015, 12:19 »
Well, its good Hobo expressed all this in a civilized manner, because, to be honest, my first reaction, which I deleted in the post above, was basically "WTF he is talking about". For a few minutes I was wondering whether you were serious or joking in such peculiar way.
« Last Edit: 12 May 2015, 14:03 by Crimson Wizard »

Darth Mandarb

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Re: Video Gaming Behind The Iron Curtain
« Reply #12 on: 12 May 2015, 14:11 »
This thread (for the most part) has been an amazing trip down memory lane! 

It's really fascinating to see what different systems/consoles were called in different regions of the world.

I find it fascinating that somebody on the other side of the world was playing Bruce Lee on the Atari at the same time[frame] that I was!

I was very fortunate that my father worked for the tech-center of General Motors (he loved new technology) so I had exposure to so many games!

I can remember, from around 3 years old, having the following systems/consoles:

This was the first game console we had...
I think it was 1980 (might have been '79).
I was only 3 or 4 so the memory is hazy at
best but I do remember being blown away by
the moving graphics!

Favorite Games (ones I can remember)

ATARI
We had a bunch of Atari game systems thanks to my dad's love of technology.  My mom thought we were damaging our brains by playing video games.

Atari 800

Atari 1200XL

Atari 130XE

Atari 2600 (the legend!)

Atari 5200

I cannot really remember the order in which we got
these systems (my dad was (still is) a tech junky!).

I know we had the 5200 only briefly (it broke and wasn't
replaced)... and I think it was around the time we got
the Colecovision...

I spent HOURS in front of these things!


Atari Games
There are the obvious ones; Pac Man, Pitfall, River Raid, Space Invaders, Adventure, Missile Command, ET (yes!), Joust, Pole Position, Yar's Revenge, Dig Dug, Star Wars, Bowling and Galaga (could probably go on!) but here are few of my old favorites that are a little more vague:


COLECOVISION

The Roller Controller


ColecoVision Games:

After this we moved on the Nintendo (NES) and other more modern consoles (Sega, SNES, Sega Genesis, 3D0, Atari Jaguar, etc (we had them all - very spoiled!)).

I have great memories of those more modern consoles but the ones I've listed above have a very special place in my heart.  I learned to program on the Atari (BASIC) and spent hours making my own games.  I still have my 800 and 130XE but I haven't plugged 'em in for years!  I would love to dust 'em off one day to show my son how it all began!

Thanks for the memories everybody!

Mandle

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Re: Video Gaming Behind The Iron Curtain
« Reply #13 on: 12 May 2015, 15:10 »
Well, its good Hobo expressed all this in a civilized manner, because, to be honest, my first reaction, which I deleted in the post above, was basically "WTF he is talking about". For a few minutes I was wondering whether you were serious or joking in such peculiar way.

No, I wasn't joking and I didn't mean any disrespect as well sorry...

I was talking more about Eastern Bloc countries such as East Germany and Romania etc. than the actual Soviet Union and sorry if this caused any dramas...

I probably should have been a bit more sensitive about that distinction...Sorry again...

I had a co-worker who escaped from Romania during the '80's. Three times actually... He told me that the first two times they sent you back and you went to prison for a while the first time, and a quite longer while the second time...

The third time they did not send you back because you did not go back to prison the third time...If you catch my meaning...

So yeah, you had to escape three times just to prove you were serious enough to get into a refugee camp where (according to my co-worker) life was even harder than back in Romania and many people died there from lack of resources and dodgy medical care (I will not name the country to avoid further posibility of offense to anyone...and remember this is only what I heard from one individual)...

And in the story of the three brothers I linked in my above post their daring airborne escape from East Germany happened in 1989 which is late on in the era we are discussing. The same video link shows a man and his three-month pregnant wife swimming across a river to reach West Germany. They chose a point where the opposite bank of the river was open to Western tourism so that the guards would be too scared to just shoot them in the water for fear of hitting a Westerner and starting an international incident.

So I'm sorry again if my question was a bit too open-ended but it does seem to me that a lot of people were trying desperately to escape from behind the Iron Curtain and even risking their very lives...

And if I am ignorant and believing something that is false: Then that is why I am asking as well. I'm very open to the possibility that I was a fool just believing the Western propaganda which was all that was available to us at the time.

So thanks for your honest replies and feelings to my question. When we get angry about something we are questioned on I think it tells a lot of truth about the question and the answer as well.

I'm sad that I could not have seen your original post Crimson Wizard. Maybe you could reproduce it? I'm not the type to get into a flame war over anything said to me... Even in anger. I would rather take the time to understand why my question made that person angry in the first place.

Also:

I find it fascinating that somebody on the other side of the world was playing Bruce Lee on the Atari at the same time[frame] that I was!

I played Bruce Lee as well, but I think it was on the Commodore 64. I watched Kasander's YouTube link and it was very much the same game mostly.

I remember this being one of the hardest games to beat of my life (that I actually completed that is)...You got up to the final stages and if you failed...well bad luck...you go all the way back to the friggin' start!

This also blew my mind to learn just now that people I had no chance AT ALL to be able to meet up because some governments had decided that this was HOW IT WAS were also playing the exact same game at the exact same time...

* Mandle 's mind is blown!

And:

Atari Games
There are the obvious ones; Pac Man, Pitfall, River Raid, Space Invaders, Adventure, Missile Command, ET (yes!), Joust, Pole Position, Yar's Revenge, Dig Dug, Star Wars, Bowling and Galaga (could probably go on!) but here are few of my old favorites that are a little more vague:

OMG!!! ADVENTURE!!!

MY FAVORITE ATARI GAME OF ALL TIME!!!

Some hidden ramblings about "Adventure":

Spoiler: ShowHide

The amazing thing about this game was that is was random every time you played! That just did not exist in Atari Games! You could reset the game and play a different quest every time (well...the item placements were random...not the map...but...well a bit more on that later...)

The game even had jumpscares in that one of the dragons could pop out of the side of the screen and just eat you suddenly if you were gliding along the edge of that particular side at the time(and I loved that their stomach was shaped exactly to fit your massive single pixel character and they even had a "gulp" animation) before you could get in the right position to kill them...So kinda a retro "Five Nights At Freddy's" without probably trying to be...

I also love that your character was a massive pixel but you could hold a sword:

"I'm your worst nightmare: A pixel with a sword!"

So getting back to the "fixed map layout" thing I mentioned above...Well:

I found out by chance that if you play with the "reset" switch in just the right way (basically flipping it to its very limit and then pulling it back as fast as you can) that the game can reset with completely new mazes including blocks that flash on and off when you go near them and block your way and this also results in unsolvable maps but...

Every once in a while you could glitch the game into providing a new playable version of itself. This is when I would go to all my mates' houses and tell them to come over. As long as you did not turn off the console then you could play this new game over and over. A new game for free!!!

Also: This was the first ever known game to include an Easter Egg, which I'm kinda proud to say I actually found back when I was a kid but had forgotten about until I watched this video:

« Last Edit: 12 May 2015, 16:15 by Mandle »

Hobo

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Re: Video Gaming Behind The Iron Curtain
« Reply #14 on: 12 May 2015, 15:56 »
I was talking more about Eastern Bloc countries such as East Germany and Romania etc. than the actual Soviet Union and sorry if this caused any dramas...
Ah, this clarifies a lot (at least for me), Romania and some other countries were a bit of a different case and I've read and heard some really awful things about the Ceaușescu dictatorship in Romania. I of course have no real idea what was actually going on in there.

It's really fascinating to see what different systems/consoles were called in different regions of the world.
Yeah, the lack of copyright laws in China and Eastern Europe gave birth to some really odd console knockoffs and game cartridges. For example, when I think of NES games, I always think of those good old yellow cartridges that had multiple games on them.
« Last Edit: 12 May 2015, 15:59 by Hobo »

Mandle

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Re: Video Gaming Behind The Iron Curtain
« Reply #15 on: 12 May 2015, 16:40 »
Ah, this clarifies a lot (at least for me), Romania and some other countries were a bit of a different case and I've read and heard some really awful things about the Ceaușescu dictatorship in Romania. I of course have no real idea what was actually going on in there.

Interesting story from my memories but off topic so hidden:

Spoiler: ShowHide

Well...the co-worker I mentioned who had escaped from Romania and I worked at a hotel in Sydney together: In the banquet's department...

The day the revolution happened and they shaved Ceaușescu and his wife's heads into mohawks and executed them it just so happened that in real time on our side of the planet a wedding party in our ballroom was ready to make their entrance for their reception event...

Vio (my Romanian co-worker) had the news broadcast up on the big projection screen (nobody was brave enough to get the remote control away from him: He was not even remotely in control) behind the bridal table and when the images of the two shaved and executed people came up he was yelling out "F*ck you! You motherf*ckers!!!" and the signal hadn't quite got through to not maybe open the ballroom doors just yet to our slightly English-challenged Thai waiter Monchai...(Ahhhh, Monchai...where are you now? Hope you are well!)

So the doors opened and you can probably imagine the faces of the happy bride and groom to hear, instead of the fanfare music they had planned, an intense Romanian screaming out profanities at a massive screen with an image of two very dead people with mohawks...

So yeah...I remember a cash refund and many appologies being made by the banquets department manager Adam, but no action was taken against Vio except for a quiet warning:

He had, after all, just seen the demon that had controlled his life dead and knew that this meant he could possibly contact and maybe even meet his family he had left behind again after years of not being able to hear any news about them for fear of them being imprisoned or worse...

Anyways: Once again this is only my own personal experience and the personal word of someone I knew about how bad things got...But I was there when he was screaming at that screen and I believed it...

And a wedding to remember for somebody!

Crimson Wizard

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Re: Video Gaming Behind The Iron Curtain
« Reply #16 on: 12 May 2015, 17:16 »
I'm sad that I could not have seen your original post Crimson Wizard. Maybe you could reproduce it? I'm not the type to get into a flame war over anything said to me... Even in anger. I would rather take the time to understand why my question made that person angry in the first place.
There was nothing interesting, just random tantrum. I had a very bad mood earlier today, and overreacted. I think the main reason was that this question was made in the context of discussing how video games get "behind Iron Curtain".
« Last Edit: 12 May 2015, 17:31 by Crimson Wizard »

Cassiebsg

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Re: Video Gaming Behind The Iron Curtain
« Reply #17 on: 12 May 2015, 20:00 »
Kasander, it's funny to read how you guys had it back then with pirated games... And you need not go behind the iron curtain (I'm Portuguese), cause I'm pretty sure all those games I bough (in a store) for the Spectrum back then, were pirated copies (they come in a cassette, with a generic printed cover - first in B&W and later on in colour - with the name of the game printed on it. And if the tape didn't read, I would just go back return that one and get a new one)! Though I didn't knew it was a pirate copy at the time, I just thought that's how they come. (laugh) Only several years later, once I started thinking about it, I realized they were very unlikely to be legal copies.
On the other hand, the games I bought for the C64 and later on PC (from another store, but more "under the counter" type of deal), were Pirate copies, and I knew it at the time. :-[ Can't remember exactly when I stopped buying pirate copies and moved to the originals.
Am pretty sure I can still go to that store and get a pirate copy if I want (since I know the owner, and he knows me, my brother and his friends - then again, I haven't been there in over 11 years... ;) ).
There are those who believe that life here began out there...

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Re: Video Gaming Behind The Iron Curtain
« Reply #18 on: 12 May 2015, 21:03 »
Speaking of piracy, it was at least till mid-2000ies that in Russia you could come to almost any computer / gaming store and for every 1 legit disk they had 50 pirated titles. I mean, literally, no one ever bothered to hide they are selling pirated goods "in the light of the day". I remember a funny case when I overheard client complaining to store clerk that he had some problems installing the game, and the clerk told that the disk is distributed legally by this company, so buyer should address their support service. And the man was like "you are kidding right?"; guess it was a new experience for him.

This is was happening when government fails to establish control in time, so ironic actually.

To be honest, I am not sure what decreased amount of pirated production here: was that the law, or the cheaper internet & torrent trackers? (wtf)
« Last Edit: 12 May 2015, 21:08 by Crimson Wizard »

Fitz

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Re: Video Gaming Behind The Iron Curtain
« Reply #19 on: 14 Mar 2016, 21:45 »
Mandle, if you're still interested in the topic, there's a new documentary about Polish game mags of the 90's, available with English subs on Steam. The nostalgia will most likely be lost on you as you won't know any of the interviewed people, but it's chock full of info about the game industry in our neck of the woods at the time.

(sorry for digging up an old thread, but I thought this'd be relevant to the discussion and more interesting in this context.)