UK gaming stamps

When it comes to the creation of hugely successful video games, the United Kingdom arguably punches above its weight. It's a small country when compared to the size and population of the United States of America, but the video game designers there have given us some of the greatest computer games ever conceived, from the Championship Manager series through to Grand Theft Auto. It’s a history worth celebrating, and the country has decided to celebrate it in the most delightfully British and eccentric way imaginable - by publishing a series of postage stamps.

As great as Grand Theft Auto has been in almost all of its guises, it's adult nature means that visuals from the game aren't suitable material for use on a stamp. In any event, the current crop of Grand Theft Auto games sits outside the range of dates that have been chosen to feature on the stamps. It's the (relatively) early era of British video games that's being celebrated, with a particular focus on the games of the 1980s and 1990s. Join us for a walk down memory lane, as we check out the famous and memorable games that have been deemed worthy of inclusion.

Tomb Raider
Although she was played on the big screen by American actor Angelina Jolie, Lara Croft is the most British action hero imaginable - a bookish archaeology nerd who just so happens to be a jaw-droppingly good looking athlete and adventurer at the same time. The female video-gaming answer to Indiana Jones has turned up in various forms of entertainment over the years, from movies to comic books to online slots. Such is her popularity with casino players that not only have there been official Tomb Raider online slots, but there has also more recently been a specifically Lara Croft-themed online slots game called ‘Temples and Tombs’ on website such as New Tomb Raider games are still made to this day, and the staggering success of the franchise might explain why four stamps from the collection of twelve are given over to the mid-1990s Eidos creation.

The follow-up game Frontier: Elite II was more widely-played and better-reviewed, but there had never been anything like Elite until David Braben came up with it during the 1980s. Vector graphics on the ZX Spectrum were a huge leap forward for the platform, and the concept of a space trading game where you had the freedom to go about your commerce in peace or fly around blowing everything up was bigger than anything that had been brought to the field of gaming before. Through clever programming, Elite gave us a sandbox universe on hardware less powerful than a Bluetooth speaker. A stunning achievement.

Sensible Soccer
If you’re not a soccer fan, it’s hard to explain the appeal of ‘Sensi.’ Even now, more than 25 years since the release of the first game in the series, some people still believe it’s the best soccer video game of all time. FIFA may have good looks and real-life physics, but Sensible Soccer and its top-down arcade-friendly antics were easy to pick up and play, and guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Each player may have been made up of less than ten pixels, but they were substantial enough to make you care about them. A footballing cartoon come to (virtual) life.

We're told that playing God is a bad thing, but we suspect the people who tell us that have never played Populous. What kind of a deity would you be? Would you be loving and nurturing toward your worshipful followers, or would you torment them with earthquakes, tornadoes, and fire? For most of us, it was the latter, and it may have revealed more about our personalities than we'd like to acknowledge. Like Elite, Populous was a concept years ahead of its time when it was released in 1989.

Micro Machines

Micro Machines
Video games based on toys generally turn out to be awful, but there are exceptions to every rule. In the face of racing video games, Micro Machines is that exception. The tricky little plastic toy cars had a habit of getting wedged under furniture or trodden on in the schoolyard in real life, but on your PC or Amiga, they were a delight. Driving cars around the edge of bathtubs or across kitchen floors at high speed, and who can forget the agony of slipping into the pocket of a pool table while trying to negotiate a sharp bend? Fun, fast, and strangely compelling, we'd love to see this game re-made with modern technology.

The popular misconception about lemmings is that they’re suicidal creatures who will happily hurl themselves off the edge of a cliff. That isn’t strictly true, but it didn’t stop Psygnosis using the idea as the basis for a platform game on the Amiga in 1991. A tribe of lemmings poured in from the top of the screen with a cheerful cry of ‘let’s go,’ and from that moment on your job was to remove the obstacles in their way and keep them out of danger so they could leave again through the exit at the bottom. Fiendishly difficult, adorably cute, and addictive in a way that’s hard to explain to someone who’s never played it.

If all Team 17 had done was create a turn-based military game in which players fired projectile weapons at each other from different sides of a map, it would still probably have been a good game. The fact that they made the bizarre decision to use worms in place of soldiers takes it from 'good' to 'great.' Many readers of a certain age will have fond memories of taking out their friend's worm force with a well-timed airstrike, and the coup de grace always came when a doomed worm would break the fourth wall, look directly at you, and sarcastically criticize you for your role in their impending death. It didn't have much in the way of depth, but if playing Worms didn't put a smile on your face, there was something wrong with you.

Back in the 1980s, just about anything would do as the mascot or star of a side-scrolling platform game. Manic Miner had a miner, Super Mario had a plumber, and Dizzy had - well - an egg. Playing as an egg would be a strange experience in any scenario, but the fact that the egg had a face, red boxing gloves for hands, and red boots made the whole thing surreal in a good way. Eggs, as anyone who's dropped one or thrown one at a younger sibling will know, are very delicate. So is Dizzy. Getting him from one end of the screen to the other in one piece was difficult, but also rewarding. There was a whole series of Dizzy games, but sadly the character didn't make it into the 21st century.

UK stamps WipEout

This was the game that the original PlayStation was sold on the back of. With its incredible speed, textured graphics, anti-gravity racing, and world-class soundtrack, Wipeout was a huge step forward in video gaming. It still holds up pretty well today, but back in 1995, Wipeout was truly mind-blowing. Nobody had ever seen anything like it, and everybody wanted to play it. A soundtrack that featured hits from Orbital and the Chemical Brothers provided an atmosphere like no other racing game before it had enjoyed, and also demonstrated what the exciting new console was capable of. Would the PlayStation have survived to the modern age without Wipeout? Probably, but it would have had a much more difficult time doing so.

The collection of stamps was announced in mid-January and is expected to be on sale by the end of the month.