This is the second piece of a series of articles I’m doing about some of the games I covered for FFG in our earliest days. It’s a way of looking back at those games, at the site, and at my own gaming history, as part of the site’s 15-year anniversary. The first piece, and a bit more preamble, is here.

Today we’re looking at a variety of titles, under the vague (and slightly misleading) heading of ‘multiplayer games’.


As I’ve probably mentioned before (and if not, it’s most likely obvious from the almost complete absence of relevant coverage on this site) network-based multiplayer has never been of much interest to me. It might be down to the fact that I was never really enough of a fan of any of the big first-person shooters of the early-mid 90s to give it a try, and there were technological and cost implications in those days too: you needed a modem, a good connection, and – if you were living with your parents – a family that didn’t mind the phone line being tied up (or paying the bill).

Truthfully, though, the major factor could well have been the unnerving prospect of having to engage with random internet strangers (and I mean that with absolutely no disrespect to you, random internet stranger), which I still find vaguely terrifying even without the prospect of multiplayer shooty-man action to get everyone all riled up.

At some stage I do recall a friend managing to get Quake running on the school network, but I found Quake (or “Adventures in Brownland”, as my FFG colleague would have it) incredibly boring, plus there was only the two of us running around the fairly large poo-coloured levels, so I guess I didn’t see it at its best. However, as a youth, and when it was possible, I did enjoy multiplayer and the social element of gaming: it was just that I generally preferred to play with or against people that I knew and liked who were alongside me in the same room.


As a teenager with limited income and patience, the budget market was a godsend. My own personal tactic was rarely to save up for something full price and highly acclaimed but instead head out to the shops at the weekend, see what was available for around ten quid, and then go round to a friend’s house to give it a try.

A frequent consideration was whether it might have local multiplayer. TOCA Touring Car Championship was acquired with a weekend get-together forthcoming, in the knowledge that there was a four-player split-screen option that would work on a modestly-powered PC. Needless to say, none of the assembled company had a particular interest in the world of the British Touring Car Championship, although those with no prior knowledge of the sport found significant amusement value in the fact that the vehicles were not, to the untrained eye, high-powered race cars, but dull family saloons – and someone almost always chose the Volvo.

As such, it wasn’t taken desperately seriously, and as none of us seemed to have the requisite concentration or discipline to actually produce error-free laps, races descended into bouts of good-natured swearing as each of us headed into the sand traps at regular intervals, before someone inevitably lost their patience altogether and started driving the wrong way around the track in an attempt to sabotage the whole thing. Somehow, the lack of competitive edge made it all the more enjoyable.

Puma World Football ’98 was purchased for no particular reason, other than it was cheap, and the fact that I was at one point unable to resist collecting football games in case one of them just happened to be an unheralded gem (which they usually weren’t). I don’t quite remember how or why Stoo was persuaded to participate in a two player game, other than the fact I was staying at his house at the time and he just happened to be a polite host. But there was something about the cartoony graphics, customisable teams (somewhat inevitably, comic and sci-fi heroes and villains featured prominently, alongside a number of heavy metal band members) and unintentionally amusing commentary, allied to a gameplay model that was easy to pick up, allowed for end to end action, and was forgiving on the football novice (superhuman goalkeepers prevented the stronger player dominating, while allowing for the possibility of the weaker side nicking a goal, and a victory) that eventually made it another firm favourite.


The other major multiplayer football title that dominated the mid-late 90s for me was Championship Manager 2. Surprising as it may seem to non-aficionados, this famous time-hog featured a hot-seat mode that allowed two players to occupy the same world, with the game’s turn-based nature making it all surprisingly workable. (Remarkably, this mode still exists in what is now Football Manager; I’d imagined it had been phased out, given how involved the game is these days compared with CM2, in which you could zip through a season in an afternoon).

My Dad and I had played CM2 for a few seasons, as managers of Bradford City and Swindon Town respectively. Memories are hazy things, but I recall being marginally more successful than him: he was notoriously reluctant to splash out in the transfer market, preferring to take a punt on youngsters and unheralded journeymen, in marked contrast to my scattergun approach to filling my squad, which mirrored the wheeler-dealer stylings of former West Ham, Portsmouth and Tottenham manager (and noted fan of multiplayer Mario Kart) Harry Redknapp. (For the sake of balance, I must point out that my Dad, at 66, is still playing Football Manager, and is certainly more up to date with the series than me. These days, my parents live in Spain, and many a telephone or Skype conversation has featured an announcement from my Mum that “they’ve been protesting about your Dad again!” before clarification is sought that ‘they’ are the virtual fans of his FM club, not the fellow real-life residents of their apartment block).


Sadly, I was unable to continue the years of Swindon dominance into a second saved game with my friend Peter, who callously filled his team with players who were known (more through magazine features and word of mouth than the internet, in those days) to later develop into unstoppable superstars (I’m not sure if he had Neil Lennon, but he certainly had Dean Windass). I’m not bitter. Not at all. Although I do still bear a grudge against Notts County to this day.

Occasionally, we genuinely had to improvise. Sometimes it was just impossible: an attempt to justify my frankly poor decision to purchase EA’s FIFA Soccer Manager and cajole others into playing by weakly parroting the marketing spiel about being able to ‘watch the action unfold’ was soon undermined when it became apparent that there was no multiplayer feature anyway, a pointlessly unnecessary exclusion befitting a largely pointless game. Unsurprisingly, no-one wanted to spend a Saturday night co-managing Huddersfield Town with me.


However, I do recall playing through a significant section of Interstate ’76 with two players sharing the role of protagonist Groove Champion: one of us drove, while the other attempted to fire the car’s weapons. Even though this obviously wasn’t a successful strategy in terms of making progress in the game, as we struggled and bickered, we could almost have been mirroring a chase scene from the kind of buddy-cop series or movie that inspired the game in the first place.

In this site’s early years, we earnestly swore never to don the rose-tinted spectacles in looking back at our old favourites, yet here they are, perched on the end of my nose. Lots of these games were not classics (although whatever other flaws my early reviews might have, they certainly weren’t overly generous) and it’s very likely that these times have become more fun in retrospect than they were in reality. While I didn’t have a difficult childhood, my main memories of being a teenager are that it was generally pretty shite and I wouldn’t like to do it again. But there’s something about being 16 that means that the things you liked then stay with you, which is probably why, in the early days of FFG, I chose to prioritise write-ups of games like TOCA, Puma and Interstate ’76 over contemporaries that could perhaps be considered more historically significant.


Next time: When I played…Blade Runner