Remember those miserable times when, as a small child, one had to suffer long school hours without nary a videogame in sight to pass the time? What better friend in misery than the thought of a computer/console waiting at home, ready to be fired up with that awesome looking game you bought yesterday and barely had time to mess around with? But what if, once you went home, you could also vent your frustrations and make fun of all the teachers you hated at school, along with the bully and the nerd?
That was the main reason Skool Daze was among my favourite title to get back to as soon as I returned home from school. Even though I realized years later it was a simple BASIC feature, the possibiliy for the player to change the names of all the characters was like opening up a whole new world for me. Unfortunately, I had only female teachers and nuns at my school, while the game has none, so the suspension of disbelief was kinda hard…
Sound and graphics matter little when having fun
Skool Daze is a 1985 ZX Spectrum title, first and foremost, it was ported on the C64 but looks pretty much identical: limited color palette, simple sprites. There’s also basically no music and not much in the way of sound effects. Still, it matters not since there’s much more bubbling beneath the surface of the title designed by David S. Reidy, who, after this, apparently did little else.
At its core, it plays like an adventure game and a school simulator all rolled into one. Well, an oldschool… old school simulator. (BA DUM TSS!). The final objective is stealing the school report from the headmaster’ safe, so that our main protagonist, Eric, can amend it and not suffer his parents’ anger. This has to be done in a week of the game and without being punished (with “lines”) too much, otherwise that will be game over. Eric shall be punished for doing anything that is not sitting at his desk in the right classroom. Actually, sometimes he’ll be punished through no fault of his own, just like real life, cause someone either ratted him out or punched him out of his chair.
The actual solution to opening the safe is so complicated that, without the manual that contained a basic walkthrough, figuring it out shall be nigh impossible. Definitely, one of those legendary games that has a very low chance of being completed. Luckily there’s plenty to do even without even starting the taskes required to complete the game, like avoiding the kid who’s got mumps, stopping “the swot” from ratting you out to the headmaster, punching your female classmates and generally wrecking havoc.
Sandbox gameplay done right
Eric’s main quest is hitting all the shields – found strewn throughout the school – with his catapult, which is hard enough on its own, especially because some of them will actually be out of reach. After that there’s even more complicated stuff to do, like figuring out the history teacher’s birth date. And the final reward for getting the report back? Well, Eric just moves up a year and everything starts all over again. Not really worth all that blood and sweat.
I would imagine most people played Skool Daze for the freedom of causing mischiefs with said catapult, like tripping up the teachers and other students. It is definitely wonderfully designed, the game doesn’t force the player to strictly follow its main quest gameplay, instead merges that with the “open world” (well, school) sandbox style. It would mak sense to define Skool Daze as one of the precursors of the “sandbox gameplay” seen in the Grand Theft Auto series and, especially relevant in this case, Bully.
There was something endlessly endearing in running away from the class one was supposed to be in all while trying not to be caught by the teacher. Not to mention the huge pleasure of punching the nerd before class so that he would be punished for being late. Since, at the time, I was a rather quiet and studious kid, the only chance I would get to act like the bully was firing up Skool Daze and well, putting my name in.
Skool Daze received a ZX Spectrum exclusive sequel in the style of “more of the same but bigger and better”, Back to Skool, less than a year later. The objective remains the same, but the school is bigger and there’s also a whole girl section to explore.
Several years later there was also a very interesting, and free to boot, remake that combines both games into one. Should one wish to play a similar experience but with a friendlier user interface, check out Klass of 99. It works fine by using DosBox.