If you played games in the 90s, you likely thumbed through its pages, more than once coating its shiny, colourful images in your rotten proletariat slaver.
Special Reserve was a pre-internet mail order catalogue that highlighted the coming generation of games machines - a porthole onto the future - and I was sure that I would never be able to afford anything it offered.
I only held out in that belief for so long, admittedly, but my timing couldn't have been worse: I bought myself a Mega Drive at a point in my life when I was meant to be saving money for premature parenthood. I'd think twice about spending £189 on something these days, so Shiva alone knows where my head was at back in 1990.
Suffice to say, it went down about as well as a tungsten sternum at a hip party.
I hadn't planned on becoming a dad at 18, though having been an uncle since the age of 8, to an eventual abundance of nephews and nieces, it didn't come as the surprise you might think.
It felt oddly natural, merely the sort of thing that happened to my sisters and I, much to my the distress of my parents (who must've feared they'd spawned the components for a future BBC Three documentary).
Or maybe I was just able to compartmentalise any shock in order to do The Right Thing. For a while anyway.
I hope I've proved them wrong in the years since, but for a long while my mum and dad - doubtless rattled by a teenager who dropped out of college and spent his money on expensive consoles at inopportune moments - seemed to labour under the assumption that whatever I was going to do would only disappoint them.
When I first started working from home, my dad would occasionally drop by for a cup of tea; after I got up from my desk to answer the door, his response would typically be "Not working today then?".
I love being a dad and always have. I've not been together with my daughters' mother for quite some years, and my kids are all adults now - though I have somehow picked up three step-daughters along the way (yeah, do the math: it's a miracle I still have hair) - but becoming a dad was a case of finding my purpose early in life. Nothing else I do will ever matter as much.
Like any parent I've sort of had to find my way as I go along, not least because I was still a kid when I became one. Nevertheless, I'm pretty confident that I got it right more times than I got it wrong. To come out the other end of raising your children and seeing them as wonderful, well-balanced, lovely, unique people, is the best reward there is.
That said, only 1/3 of my offspring have ever really been into games. My eldest was hooked on The Sims, and my youngest was briefly obsessed with Kameo and Spyro - the latter only because it had a dragon in it - but my middle daughter really loves her games.
Even before she started playing, she'd ask to sit on my lap and watch me play. Whereas some kids are capable of naming all the dinosaurs, we knew she was different when she could rattle off all the Pokemon, and tell us the full, esoteric history of Hyrule. To be fair, I was probably like that with Star Wars. I probably still am. Bo shuda.
Anyhow, I'll forgive the other two for not being gamers, providing one of them gives me a grandson one day...
Altered Beast and Super Thunder Blade weren't the best introduction to Sega's Mega Drive. I never got far into either of them; I'd been burned by the Master System, and didn't want to waste my time again with another Sega donkey.
Fortunately, a near arcade-perfect version of Golden Axe prevented me from ditching the console as I did its predecessor.
By the time I picked up Revenge of Shinobi, I was sold; that was the game which demonstrated that we were in a new era.
For me, Shinobi drew a line beneath everything that had come before. It had a sophistication, both visually and gameplay-wise, which eclipsed all those games I'd struggled with growing up. With Shinobi it felt like the difficulty was deliberate, or the consequence of my own hobbled gaming abilities, rather than a product of a game straining against its own technical limitations.
It was a watershed. It made me love the Mega Drive, and it made me think: "Yes! So this is what video games were meant to be like all along!".
When I eventually left Ladbrokes after five years, my leaving gift was the Mega Drive version of Strider (which was priced prohibitively at over forty quid). In the unlikely event my life ever becomes a very boring movie, it would be considered a very obvious act of foreshadowing...
WE'RE ON OUR WAY TO WEMBLEY
I went from Ladbrokes to Wembley Stadium, where I was employed as a scoreboard operator. My sister had seen the job vacancy listed in the local paper, and though it was terrifying to leave the sporting bosom of Ladbrokes - where I was very much at home by that point - I recognised that it was time to move on before I became too comfortable. My dad suggested I get my hair cut for the interview. I waited until after I got the job.
Wembley was a completely different environment to Ladbrokes. I went from a busy office to being part of a team of three. While it was a essentially a full-time job, with anti-social hours, there wasn't a lot to do. The job basically entailed preparing adverts and promotional messages to be shown on the Stadium and Arena scoreboards during events. On the weeks that there were events.
If there was a football match playing, we had to input the scores as they happened. Or, rather - because we were sequestered at the back of the stadium, and couldn't actually see the pitch - as soon as Sky Sports showed it.
If the event was a concert, we had to switch off the display once the houselights dimmed, and switch it on when they came back up again.
We also had to change the bulbs in the scoreboard. This, excitingly, meant crossing a rickety gangplank, a hundred or so feet in the air. The scoreboard was effectively a huge pixel display, each of those pixels represented by hundreds of individual bulbs. You try finding the dud one in that lot by trial and error...
Things didn't always go as planned, however. One time I misheard a request from the control room, and broadcast a scoreboard message welcoming "Guy Sports" to the stadium. I realised my mistake as soon as I looked up at the TV showing "Sky Sports" - and the hotline from the control room started ringing... "Get that down! Get it down!".
Another time, I managed to bring a Bryan Adams concert to an abrupt end, after accidentally switching on the scoreboard before the first encore.
Thousands of fans immediately started to leave the arena - presumably disappointed that he'd not ended the show with Summer of '69, or something - and it was reported to me that Adams was so incensed that he was throwing chairs around backstage.
On the plus side, while the football side of the job was tedious, I got to see a lot of gigs I otherwise wouldn't have bothered with. A week's residency by Neil Diamond - with its well-rehearsed ad-libs and teeth-jarring rap version of Red Red Wine - would've tested even the resolve of his die-hard fans, but MC Hammer and Gloria Estefan were surprisingly entertaining.
Best of all, I had the entire stadium to myself when David Bowie and Queen sound checked one of my favourite songs, Under Pressure, prior to the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert. I'd found it strange that the stadium had been so empty as I sat eating my lunch, but later read that Bowie had requested it be cleared out before he'd take the stage.
Apart from the musicians, I was the only other one in the entire place. Unlike the show proper, not even Annie Lennox showed up for the rehearsal. Bonus.
As a side note, click on my favourite Annie Lennox story after you're done with this (it contains the sentence “A fellow who was dressed in a black cape, platform boots and a gas mask approached the stage"...)
All in, I barely ever came to work. My boss, Fred, was based at the far end of the stadium and could rarely be bothered to come and see us, so it was fairly easy to stay at home. My colleague Gerard had the same approach to turning up as I did.
Not so much Dennis. Dennis, Gerard and I decided, lived in the Stadium. He was always there before we were, and never left before we did. Some days he'd sulk and not talk to us. Other days he'd have a clear plastic bag full of raw meat beneath his chair.
Dennis kept a large, retractable spike next to his computer terminal, and the damage to the desk next to him suggested he attacked it when we weren't around.
Dennis once tried to fix a leak in the scoreboard booth roof by filling the cracks with several bottles of Tippex.
Dennis also took a day off work to appear at an inquest into the death of a rambler, who he'd pulled out of the canal at the bottom of his garden.
"He died of a heart attack, because as I was pulling him out of a canal he must've banged his heart on the cigarette case I kept in my top pocket", Dennis explained the next day.
We were pretty certain that one day we'd come to work and Dennis would be hiding behind the door with his spike in his hand, ready to plunge it into our necks.
Instead of going to work to be murdered, I was usually at home, building up a portfolio of comic art. A couple of years before, with some friends of mine, I'd put together a mock-up for a comic - inspired by the late-80s/early-90s magazine Deadline (in which Tank Girl had debuted) - and managed to get a few legends, such as Oink! veteran Lew Stringer, onboard to contribute. Trying to be cleverer than I was, I called the magazine "?" - or "Why?".
Alas, becoming a dad put paid to my tentative dreams of becoming the editor of something - at least at that point - but I still wanted to draw comics.
I'd somehow impressed editor Richard "Tharg" Burton at a comics show, and he'd invited me into the 2000AD office for a chat. He gave me a Judge Dredd script written by John Wagner to illustrate, but somehow I botched the assignment, and they never ran it. I lost confidence in my abilities at that point, and stopped trying.
I still managed to get the artistic itch scratched at work, though. The days I did come in, I was able to go to town with the scoreboard animations - between 1992 and 1994, if you went to a football match at Wembley Stadium and saw a "GOAL!" animation, it was probably one of mine.
Sometimes I took it too far however - animating myself into a No Smoking cartoon, starring a super-hero called Salt Water Man, who threatened to squirt saline at anyone caught lighting up. I was told it was "inappropriate".
Most of my Wembley animations were inspired by video games to one degree or another. I was working with higher-resolution visuals than I had at Ladbrokes, almost as if my work was keeping pace with the better graphics coming along on the Mega Drive and Super NES.
Despite being mostly impoverished, and finding it impossible to stretch my wages further than a week, I'd bought a SNES. Super Mario World, Super Tennis and F-Zero pretty much cemented me as a Nintendo fanboy - after the Game Boy had already laid the foundations with Tetris.
The Super NES was a huge step forward from the Mega Drive, as far as I was concerned. It felt finished - whereas the Sega machine had that hollow, amateurish quality. Likewise the games were somehow more robust, more polished. Sega always felt like it was winging it somehow.
Fortunately, I was about to change jobs again.
And this one meant that I no longer had to spend a penny on games - because for the next ten years I'd be getting them for free.
GAMES OF MY YEARS: THE ARCADES - PART ONE by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: THE ARCADES - PART TWO by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: SEGA MASTER SYSTEM - PART ONE by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: SEGA MASTER SYSTEM - PART TWO by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: ATARI - PART ONE by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: ATARI - PART TWO by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: THE ZX SPECTRUM PART ONE by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: THE ZX SPECTRUM PART TWO by Mr Biffo