All in all you’re just, another line in the wall.
Remember when you were a small child, suffering long school hours without nary a videogame in sight to pass the time?
What better friend in misery than the thought of your 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 vent your frustration 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…
Game design lesson #1 – sound and graphics matter little when you’re having fun
Skool Daze is a 1985 spectrum game first and foremost, it was ported on the C64 but looks identical: limited color palette, simple sprites. There’s also basically no music and very little sound effects. Still, it matters little 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 is an adventure game and a school simulator all in one. Well, an oldschool… old school simulator. (BA DUM TSS!). The 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 completing 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.
Game design lesson #2 – sandbox gameplay done right
Eric’s main quest is hitting all the shields with his catapult, which is hard enough on its own, but still that there’s more stuff to do, like figuring out the history teacher’s birth date. And the reward for getting the report back is pretty rubbish to boot, Eric just moves up a year and everything starts all over again.
My guess is most people played for the freedom of causing mischiefs with said catapult, like tripping up the teachers and other students.
That is a wonderfully designed idea, the game manages to combine “open world” and the main quest gameplay in such a way that you could almost call Skool Daze one of the precursor of the “sandbox gameplay” seen in the Grand Theft auto and, especially relevant in this case, Bully.
I found something endlessly endearing in running away from the class you were 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 play the bully was firing up Skool Daze and putting my name in.
Skool Daze got a 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 is the same, but the school is bigger and there’s also a whole girl section to explore.
There was also a very interesting, and free to boot, remake that combines both games. If you’re looking for a similar experience but with friendlier user interface, check out Klass of 99. Just use DosBox and you should be fine.