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Pirates and Young Pioneers game exhibition turns back time

Remember when computers were wired up to TVs? When we’d manually, line by line, rewrite programmes from magazines or record on tape, and when our apartments would echo to strange download sounds? Luckily, floppy discs would soon take over. Take a trip down memory lane with Fest Anča between 30 June and 1 July for the Pirates and Young Pioneers exhibition. Come and play classics of Slovak gaming.

Slovak games developed from the 1980s. Thanks to the breakthrough 8-bit ZX Spectrum microcomputer and production of its clones by Didaktik Skalica in our country, tens of thousands of people had a computer even before the fall of communism. Didaktiks and ZX Spectra inspired numerous elementary school pupils into becoming programmers, seeking knowledge of specific commands and Assembler and BASIC programming languages. An extremely literate generation of users formed around the first microcomputers, many of whom would go on to make their own programmes and games.

At that time, the Internet was unknown so communities and hobby groups – especially Svazarm (Union for Cooperation with the Army) and schools – exchanged information and games. It might sound somewhat absurd today, but in those days software couldn’t be officially distributed or bought in Slovakia. So copying and game exchange was never considered piracy – software was swopped for free or bought cheaply from pirate sellers.

Games resulted from enthusiasm and creative drive. Due to low technical requirements, the text adventures genre dominated the 1980s and ‘90s. Until the Ultrasoft distribution company was founded, few considered the option of creating games for profit. The main inspiration came from foreign games and the Czech company Fuxoft (founded by František Fuka). From 1984 he produced high profit margin games (e.g. Treasure), and inspired the Czechoslovak gaming scene. Even after Ultrasoft had entered the scene, many games were produced as freely distributable software.

“Pirates and Young Pioneers will showcase game development in Slovakia between 1987 and 1993,” said curator Maroš Brojo. “Visitors can dust off Didaktik computers from Didaktik Skalica and enjoy playing game gems by numerous distinguished producers. For the time, their software was cutting edge in terms of quality and content – such as Vietnam-set Šachotin where heroic major Šachotin had to destroy the popular American hero Rambo. The game was made by high school students Stanislav Hrda, Juraj and Michal Hlaváč, Martin Sústrik and Palo Čejka. Poking fun at the socialist regime, they reflected society at that same time. Society was still controlled by communist ideology while increasingly influenced by Western culture.

Another noteworthy game is Dokonalá vražda (Perfect Murder) by Ľudovít Vittek, founder of the first Slovak game distribution company Ultrasoft. “Vittek’s text adventure is interesting because of his subsequent business activities, and the game is also a rather controversial and well worked-out successful murder plot. And the player plays as him/herself rather than as a fictional character,” observes Maroš.

Kliatba noci (Curse of the Night) by Radoslav Maruša will take you on a quest through a castle – avoiding skeletons and warlocks, and collecting objects to brew a potion to awaken a sleeping princess. Its graphical processing made the game one of the finest home titles of its time.

Many creators drew inspiration from popular games from practically every country, for example Arkarum by Rudolf Priečinský and Komando II, which was an unlicensed and unofficial continuation of the well-known and popular foreign game Komando.

The Pirates and Young Pioneers exhibition is organised by the Slovak Museum of Design. It will take place between 30 June and 1 July 2017 at the New Synagogue in Žilina as part of Fest Anča’s Game Days.  The festival is financially supported from public funds of the Slovak Audiovisual Fund.

30.05. 2017