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My obsession with Jet Set Willy


Apart from my garden, you mean? Immense.

Jet Set Willy, in many ways, showed what would be possible with games played on home computers – that even then, processing power and memory were sufficient to create satisfying worlds to explore, to spend vast hours in, and that those worlds were exclusive to us young ‘uns, utterly incomprehensible to our parents. 

Those computer-based worlds have, naturally, gone on to become utterly photo-real, even more immersive and, sometimes, totally free-form. But the tendrils of that graphically-expressive, imaginatively-satisfying, exploratively-rewarding genre were already sprouting in JSW. The future just brought bigger silicon chips (and budgets).

For it all we must thank Matthew Smith. His life has been somewhat eccentric, to the point that he was once the subject of a website called “Where is Matthew Smith?” which now opens with the line Please note that this website is perilously out of date, and requires a lot of updating, mainly because Matthew Smith is no longer missing. 

It tells a lot of his story. To sum up, he left the UK after JSW  to live in a Dutch commune. It’s tempting to make comparisons with Willy. But I just don’t know. 

There were other big games in the early 80s. Who can forget the joystick destroying capacity of Daley Thompson’s Decathlon? But Jet Set Willy was the best-selling, and the most influential. Matthew Smith may have disappeared, but the impact of his creation shows no sign of going away. 

Even if I never did complete it. 


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