Zaxxon is a computer game released by Sega in 1982. I was born in the same year. Zaxxon is one of the first computer games I’ve ever played.
When I first discovered Zaxxon, I was like “whoa, is this for real?”. Zaxxon felt like the ultimate computer game, the finest ever created on the planet and that all the other games should bow to Zaxxon in awe of its awesomeness. You know the feeling when you feel like the future is dawning upon us? Zaxxon gave me that feeling when I was a little kid.
I know most of you wonder what’s the big deal about Zaxxon. When you look at the video above, it looks like some cheap Taiwan bootleg arcade game, right?
Wrong. And let me give you a short lesson on what “computers” were at that time so you can appreciate how great a game Zaxxon was. Youngsters take note.
Computers at the time have very limited internal disk space. Imagine, a regular desktop computer costing at least RM 5000 measures its hard drive in MB, not GB. Nowadays, I know people with 10GB porn folders. Back then, if you want to run a program or play a game, you have to insert a floppy disk @ diskette into a slot. This means that you cannot multitask on your computer. You can only do one activity at a time, whether word processing on Wordstar, programming in GW-Basic or playing Frogger. (Internet? What is that? A sci-fi novel?)
To use the stone age computer, first you have to “boot” or start the machine. It normally takes more than a minute to get the computer running. The long booting time is when the computer loads the operating system, called MS-DOS. Imagine Windows, without the windows, only a command prompt. That is MS-DOS.
In many machines, including mine, MS-DOS was not stored in the computer. You have to insert the MS-DOS diskette on the main slot (usually called the A: drive) before you boot the machine. Otherwise, MS-DOS won’t start and you cannot do anything useful with the computer. Then, you insert the diskette for whatever it is you want to do into another slot (called the B: drive).
Most games are self-contained in a diskette, meaning that you cannot run any other game or any other program while playing it. The game itself will use up all the processing power of the machine. I’d like to think that my cellphone have more computing power and memory space that the most expensive desktop computer available in the 80s.
Sometimes, games did not come in a diskette. Some of the smaller games were stored in the computer, usually in drive C:. I remember that our C: drive contained PacMan, Digger, Frogger, Exterminator, Space Invaders, Pong and some other Cro-Magnon era games.
To play these games, first you type some command to move from drive A: (the default MS-DOS drive) to drive C: (the internal disk drive). Then you write the command “C:/>dir” to list down all the files in that drive. The games and other executable files are listed with extension EXE.
Coming back to Zaxxon: It was purely accidental that I found this game in some floppy disks my father bought. At the time, a floppy disk could cost more than RM 200, so many games were bundled with program diskettes (most of the programs were pirated anyway).
Although more than 20 years ago, I remember the day clearly. I was bored playing Pacman and Digger, and decided to try on all the diskettes we had in the house and run all the EXE files. Most of the EXE files were some fancy computer applications which I had no idea what they were.
Until I found ZAXXON.EXE. I was jubilant when I found out it was actually a game, and I literally jumped with joy when I discovered what was probably the best computer game of the era (this was back in the 1980s okay). It felt like hitting a goldmine.
In terms of graphics, Zaxxon was way ahead of the other games from that era. The game was very difficult, especially for a butter-fingered boy like me. Look at the video above: when you reach the space level, there’s no way to gauge the height of the other fighter planes except by size. I didn’t go very far in the game — I always got hit during the space battle. That did not stop me from playing Zaxxon day and night.
When I played Zaxxon as a kid, it felt like I was being transported into the future and I was playing a game on a more advanced machine, not on my primitive computer that can only load baby games like Pacman and Digger.
It felt like the future, indeed, had finally arrived.
* End nostalgia and back to my cheap laptop and fast internet connection. Kids these days, lucky them. *
Trivia: According to wikipedia, Zaxxon is the first game ever to display shadows. Shadows!