Sunday, 2 February 2014

Chapter VIII: The Carl Lewis Challenge

I did mentioned before that many of the stores that dealt with pirated copies of Amiga and Spectrum games organized regular tournaments of the most popular games. Before the Amiga became the platform of choice for most gamers, Decathlon was one of the default games when it came to these competitions. I do remember attending a Decathlon tournament while I was still in first or second grade, meaning that I was either 6 or 7 years old at the time. For some reason, that competition was preceded by a chess tournament, that I also participated in.

I played only one game at the chess tournament, against a man that looked older than my father. I managed to eliminate one bishop of his, which was reason enough to brag about for the rest of the day, even though I lost in very few minutes. But that was just a warm up anyway, what I really was expecting was the Decathlon tournament, but unfortunately my mom came to pick me up because we had to leave to catch the next bus home. I cried a lot and my mom convinced the organizers to let me play first, meaning that they had to anticipate the starting hours of the tournament.

Well, it was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. It was akin to have to take a penalty at the world cup finals. Since I was the first one, everybody was standing behind me seeing how I would fare. Since I was still so young, probably the other participants just found the whole thing quite funny and cute, but in my mind these tall, smelly and furry kids behind me were menacing, and I had to keep my calm and play it well. My hands were sweaty, and I noticed my hands slipping on the keyboard, but there was no way to turn back now. One of the events was the High Jump, and predictably, it went terrible. After my run was over, I had to leave quickly to catch the bus.

At night I called my cousin Walter to know how I ranked. ‘Last Place’ he said, but you got yourself a participation prize. A prize! It didn’t matter that I ranked last, I got a trophy and that was reason enough to feel proud of myself. It was a blue rubber case filled with colouring pens. I loved it so much and I couldn’t wait to take it to school.

I told every other kid in my class how I got the case and ensured that everyone got to see it. I saw by their reactions that they were indeed impressed, and while the day went by, I just couldn’t stop being the happiest I’ve ever been. Until the bell rang. In the usual hustle to put everything on the desk inside the backpack, I couldn’t find my dearly loved blue case. I was getting desperate. I asked everyone and my teacher if they saw my blue case. Nobody saw it, and I cried. I cried a lot for the rest of the day. Somebody stole it from me, and I immediately knew who the culprit was.

For me, it had to be Ilyusha. Let’s call him that way since looked straight out of a Dostoyevsky novel. Ilyusha was the poor boy of the class. He came to school in ragged clothes, shaved head and his face always seemed covered in soot. He was constantly bullied by all his peers and spent most of the time crying. I confronted him and he swore it wasn’t him. I never believed him. He was poor and dirty, obviously it had to be him.

One day Ilyusha stopped coming to class. It seems his family moved and I never saw him again until maybe twenty years later. He was selling roasted chestnuts by the sidewalk. He looked as poor as twenty years ago, maybe more. Even though we were both in the mid twenties by then, he looked almost forty. I thought about talking to him, and telling him I was sorry. I didn’t had the guts to do it, and I went home and tried to forget all of that. After all this time, I still think about him every now and then. Ilyusha taught be a big lesson about prejudice that I still treasure to this day, and it all started with a tournament of Decathlon.

When the 90s arrived, all the Spectrums were rapidly being neglected together with all the sports waggling games that were popular in the eighties. That was until 1992 when The Carl Lewis Sports Challenge was released. Me, Walter The Baptist and his friends saw the game on a magazine and everyone started getting all nostalgic, as if that was even possible for thirteen year old kids. We got the game, via the usual illegal means, and played enthusiastically for just a few days. Not me, or Walter, or Roy, or even Ricky Cap played that game ever after that week. That’s usually how nostalgia works.

The runners have gravity-defying abilities that are of tremendous help to the photographers 
Because of some troubles in configuring the Whdload version I went ahead with an ADF cracked version and oh boy, what have I been missing. People who legally bought games also don’t know how poorer was their youths by not seeing crack intros regularly. They usually had kickass tunes and visual effects, and this particular one is absolutely ace. I could finish right here and this game would go on a high, but that wouldn’t be fair.

This is pure bliss
The intro to actual game keeps on with the high standards set by the opening band. The Psygnosis logo should be reason enough to justify the very cool intro tune of the game, but I had no idea whatsoever that legend Chris Hülsbeck was involved in this game. Like George Costanza once taught us, it’s good to know when to leave on a high note, and after this kickass tune, it would have been the perfect time to exit the emulator.

For some reason, I thought it was a good idea to choose the “Full Simulation” mode in the main menu. I just wanted to do some joystick waggling and I was faced with the most boring task of doing the training schedule for my athletes. I really can’t fault the game, since it gave me the option to go straight for the running/jumping, but I question if anyone ever found this part to be any fun. Whatever I do, I just see my athletes getting crappier and shittier every passing week, but truth be told, I didn't make much of an effort to try to understand the training system.

Mr. Dandolo seems one of the few not affected by the Black Death
The overall aesthetics of the game are quite odd, and I can’t describe it very well. I kind of like the old scoreboard look of the menus and interface, but the graphics of the events themselves aren’t particularly pleasing. It definitely doesn’t show the usual sheen of Psygnosis published games.

The game gives three controlling options: “Speed”, “Gearing” and “Rhythm”. The first method is just old-school waggling. I dug up my old Quickjoy Megastar to try it but it was an exercise in frustration with a big potential for joystick damaging. I just couldn’t get any satisfying results in the 100m competition, and to be fair, I just couldn’t see the point in damaging such a beautiful kit with this game.

The other two control methods are consist of clicking on the fire button in a rhythmic way which isn’t much different of what I imagine what it must be like to be playing Coldplay on Guitar Hero, on easy, with your eyes blindfolded. Yes, it’s as fun as it sounds, but at least here we don’t have to actually listen to Coldplay.

I was hopeless with any kind of control method. But for some reason I was quite good at the Long Jump, even getting a silver medal at the end, but I never felt any kind of triumph. I just wanted to get over with it and thank the fact that these kind of games stopped existing. I’m glad this blog isn’t called “Spectrum Memoirs” because it would mean that I would also have to shatter my fond memories of Decathlon.


  1. Ha! Some of my favourite games on the Spectrum and C64 were the Daley Thompson games and Activision's Decathlon, particularly on the C64. I have a gut feeling most players' angst towards waggling-based sports games is that they either don't have a proper joystick for them, or they don't know of a safe technique to play these games. If you don't mind, I might as well make a public service here by telling my method of playing Decathlon. First of all, the joystick: it needs to be something light with a low movement range, something like a Tac-2 or Ergostick, which is my current favourite, although you might prefer something you can hold down on the floor/table. As for the method of control - you need to find the sweet spot from your hand, which suits you the best. Getting a good grip which allows for speedy movement is the key. I place the Ergostick's stick between my right hand's ring finger and middle finger, my hand in a sort of upside-down angle. Finally, you have to tense the correct muscles in your hand and forearm in order to get a good seizure-sort of action going for the stick. Unless you feel more comfortable with frantic button-pushing action, of course, in which case you should disassemble a joystick with microswitches... ;-) On the other hand, I haven't played Carl Lewis Challenge, so I don't know if any of this would apply there. Oh, and good story about Ilyusha - I know of a not completely dissimilar story from my childhood that happened to a guy few years older than me and ended up as something similar as Ilyusha. Life can be unfair sometimes...

  2. Thanks for your priceless advice, but i think i've closed a chapter in my life when it comes to wagglers:)

    Unless it's Daley Thompson, because now i remembered that once i bought a copy of that game and then i had to trade it back because it was a 128k only version or something. I never got to play it.