My journey into the video gaming industry
By Christian Marriott
Set on 175 acres of beautiful Staffordshire countryside near to the historic market town of Leek, St Edwards hospital in Staffordshire was a Victorian era mental assylum and one of the largest mental health hospitals in the United Kingdom.
It was the autumn of 1981 and I was a bored nine year old sat with my parents and their nursing collegues at the hospital social club.
Across the smoke filled room was a small crowd of highly exited teenagers gathered around a low table from which was emanatingt some oddly interesting noises, a low thump...thump...thump sound accompanied by frequent beeps and bleeps, I decided to sneek away from my parents and investigate.
Pushing my way through the other kids I found the table had a tv screen set into it, piles of ten pence coins were piled up on the table and two kids sat opposite each other furiously tugging away at little knobs, which were situated between their legs. I watched mesmerised as the little green space invader aliens moved across the video screen being blasted by the laser base at the bottom.
I ran over to my parents to beg for some ten pence coins and reserved my position in the queue by placing my money on the table.
My first game of space invaders was pretty terrible I lost my three lives in under a minute, but by the end of the evening I had spent enough money (much to my dads dismay) to get myself to level three.
During the next couple of years I would grab every opportunity available to play video games, wherever I went I was on the lookout for an arcade machine, during family holidays to Wales I would spent the whole time in the nearest arcade, during shopping trips with my gran I would ask for a few ten pences then dissapear off to find an Arcade Machine. This wasn't usually to hard a task because by 1983 they were absolutely everywhere, our local fish and chip shop had a defender machine in the corner which attracted crowds of teens for example, and for a time they probably made more money from the kids playing on the Arcade Machine than from selling them food ! Our local working mens club, The Foxlow (now a coffee shop and arts centre), in Leek had a cocktail table arcade machine in the corner of the games room. That Arcade Table only played one game at a time and to update it to a new game they had to actually swap the internat circuit board. It was crazy popular and kids would swarm over it, especially when they changed to a new game. I remeber playing Frogger, Donkey Kong, Crazy Painter and Qix on that table arcade machine.
8-bit gaming with the micro-computer age
Around 1984 the 8bit computer revolution took hold, my peers had ZX Spectrum, commodore 64, or BBC Micro computers.
I begged my parents for a BBC Micro but they could not afford, however for Christmas 1985 I received the cut-down version called an Acorn Electron.
The computer came with a selection of games, but they weren't very good to be honest, I remember a poor quality clone of the Arcade Game Pac-man called 'snapper' and a rubish space invaders clone. However as soon as the shops re-opened after the Christmas holidays I went straight to the local bookstore 'the Picture Book where I had heard a rumour that they were selling video games in the basement. It turns out that the book store owner had a son who was just a little older than myself and he had convinced his parents to allow him to sell video games from the tiny basement room below the books store (I have it on good authority that for a couple of years he was making far more money than his parents). I browsed the shelves looking at the various games, they were all on the display in tape cassette form, but one item caught my eye immediatly. In the middle of the top shelf amongst all the brightly coloured little tape boxes, was a large black box with the Title 'ELITE' accros the front and some artwork featuring space ships.
Elite was a space trading game written by David Braben and publised by Acornsoft. I was already a space genre nut having grown up of tv shows like Star Trek, Buck Rogers, and Space 1999. Playing Elite I felt like a combination of Han Solo from Star wars and Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica. It was just awesome and for the time far superior to anything else out there.
The game came with a short novel, 'the Dark Wheel' by Roberty Holdstock, a ship identification poster, a function key strip and after sending a short letter to Acornsoft they sent me one of the coveted metal enamel badges.
During the following years many games came and went, but none ever managed to impress me the way Elite had done, I lost much of my early teen years and failed to submit endless pieces of homework due to that game !
During the early nineties I had lost interest in video games and arcade machines, this was probably due to my discovery of the twin pleasures (and evils) of Alcohol and Girls, I will say little more on this except that I watched my friends progress from 8-bit microcomputers through 8-bit and 16-bit gaming consoles and then onto Personal Computers without really being interested. However, that all changed on the day in 1993 that my eye caught a copy of PC Gamer magazine in the newsagents.
It bought the magazine and read with Interest about the release of First Encounters, the sequel to Elite (technically it was the second sequel as somehow I had managed to completely miss the earlier 'Frontier, Elite 2'. However I was instrantly exited about this game and I made the descision to buy my first PC.
The elite magic from a decade earlier came back, I was completely enthralled with FFE and played it to the complete exclusion of the real world. I also had an interest in carpentry and embarked of a project to build myself a fully enclosed cockpit which required hacking a keyboard and building various control panels, the game did not natively support joysticks but again with a bit of keyboard hacking I managed to rig up an old arcade joystick. My favourite touch was that I built a Millenium Falcon style hyperspace lever !
As much fun as Fronter Elite 3 was, real life was nagging me to get a real job and at the turn of 2001 I found myself becoming a dad. For a couple of years my gaming life seemd to be nothing more than a distant memory.
My First Home Arcade Machine
However during the summer of 2005 I came across the arcade machine emulation software called MAME, after a few hours playing around with MAME on my PC I hit on the idea of building myself a cocktail table arcade machine and installing a PC running MAME on it. A few weeks of research and a bit of dodgy carpentry later I created a machine that looked great and played a few hundred games. At the time I was a single dad and stuck in in a low paid job, I was however looking for a business opportunity and when a shortage of money forced me to place the machine on the auction site ebay and it sold quickly for a good price I had a eurika moment.
A Retro Cocktail table arcade machine as produced by Elite Gaming
Elite Gaming was born
After my quick success selling the first arcade machine on ebay I bought some tools and materials, and a 14ft metal shed. A few design modicfications and I started mass production of home arcade cocktail tables. I was only missing one thing for my new venture, a name ! I ummed and arrd for a few days before finally settling on 'Elite Gaming', I registered the company and in honour of my childhood favourite game created a company logo based on the Elite Poster from 1984.
Despite my lack of business experience, and complete naivety regarding such things as trademarks and copywrite, Elite Gaming did quite well. Machines were built and sold on ebay on a regular basis and it was not long before I rented sppace in an old factory and quit my job.
A couple of years had passed by and Elite Gaming had stopped using MAME emulation for legal reasons, we had developed a range of arcade products and started to venture into flight simulation cockpits, gaming desks. I even created a flat-pack version of my old Elite cockpit, this was an amazing product and one that as a designer I was immensly proud of, althoughfrom a commercial point of view it was something of a flop, being too expensive and bulky for most people I had a huge positive response with comments that usuall went along the lines of 'I would love one of those, if only I had space for it'....
This is the chair section from the interior of the Elite Cockpit, it was marketed under the GameCAB brand name and despite being highly praised by fans of Elite Dangerous it was not a commercial success
At some point around this time I received a letter from Frontier Developments complaining about our use of the Elite name and the company logo. It was a positive experience really which I finally took the time to learn about intellectually property rights. Also around this time for personal reason I decided to shut down Elite Gaming and move on to other challenges, the business was briefly renamed before being sold to a competitor.
After a few years in the wilderness, I decided to embark on a new business, but my itch for video gaming still needed scratching. It's a lifelong passion that I will never escape from. During the corona virus pandemic of 2020 I dusted off some unfinished projects from my old Elite Gaming business. These were an arcade fightstick design and a gaming input pad with customizeable key caps called 'Game Commander' I needed a new company and for some reason the name XCOM came to mind, the internet domain XCOM was taken so I shortened down Game Commander to GCOM and that is how we got started. As of 2022 GCOM has a range of three products that we designed and manufacture ourselves and a range of third part gaming accessories. We also have a passion for retro gaming and now sell a range of arcade machines from various manufacturers which ironically include a couple of machines that I had originally designed and then sold on when I closed down Elite Gaming !
Our Vision for the future
My passion for retro and arcade gaming will never die, however that is only one aspect of my vision for GCOM, as an avid PC gamer and esport enthusiast the future of our company lies in servicing those markets. We aim to supply only the very best and mostinnovative gaming products, for PC, Console, and mobile.