R.I.P. Art Bell

It was a late fall night in 1997. I was driving home from my drummer’s house after an all-night rehearsal. The tape deck in my car was on the fritz and none of the FM stations were playing anything of value. I was groggy and the rhythmic passing of the dotted lines on the highway were lulling me closer and closer to the danger zone. Out of desperation for something to keep me awake I switched the radio dial to AM and began to spin through the stations. That was when I discovered him.

A baritone voice boomed through the speakers, “Wildcard line, you are on the air!”

What followed was some of the most interesting  radio I had ever experienced. A caller claiming to be a government employee working at Area 51 had called the talk show. His voice was panicked and only grew more distressed as he continued to speak. He was issuing a warning to the listeners. The host, Art Bell, remained calm and patient and attempted to ease the caller. That’s when the feed was cut. The show went silent. After several long minutes a commercial aired, it was followed by the voice of Art Bell. He explained that a loss of signal caused his broadcast to go off the air temporarily. (As it was later revealed, the entire radio network that hosts the show lost their satellite signal). It was riveting. Was it a hoax? Was the caller a simple joker who just happened to be followed by a consequential network outage? Or was it something more nefarious… a government conspiracy? Over the years, this odd string of events has today become a bit of an urban legend. But needless to say, it kept me awake and alert for the rest of drive home.

From that moment forward, I was an Art Bell fan. His shows Coast to Coast AM and Dreamland were almost required listening at my home. If was up after midnight, Art Bell and his paranormal talk show was on my radio. Art was my companion for many late night gaming sessions, believe me.

As the years went by I stood by Art and his many retirements, jumps to other networks, and eventually the founding of his own online streaming service. Sure, I’ve rolled my eyes at some of the personal dramas surrounding his later years. But, there has never been anyone like him on the air.

From the subject matter, to his iconic voice. Everything about Art Bell made him perfect for overnight radio.

This morning I woke up to news about his passing.  The ride is over, but his fans will never forget it.

Remembering the Playstation

From the 80’s to the early 90’s, Nintendo was the undisputed king of the home console market. The NES and Super NES were household names, but times were changing fast. In order to keep up with new technology, rumor has it that Nintendo decided to partner with Sony on a joint project that would add CD-ROM  functionality to the Super Nintendo. For whatever reason, Nintendo bailed. Instead of cutting their losses in R&D, Sony decided to take the technology and develop their own system. Thus, the Sony PlayStation was born. Almost right away, developers jumped on board. Even many of Nintendo’s prized partners, Capcom, SquareSoft, and Konami began to develop for the PlayStation, leaving the SNES in the dust. Times were changing.

As I’ve mentioned before on this site, there was a span of time in the mid to late 90’s that I virtually ignored home console games. The PlayStation era was such a time. As a result, I missed out on a number of great games. Over the years, I’ve caught up on a few, but there’s still quite a number of legendary titles that slipped through my fingers.  Naturally, I’ve played the Final Fantasy games, and I’ve already posted reviews for the Castlevania  titles on the blog. But there are so many more.

In the coming months I’ll be playing and reviewing a number of games from this era. Some of them I’ve played in the years after their release, others I managed to miss altogether. So unlike all the other “retro reviews” I’ve posted, we’re reaching a phase on this blog where I’ll be experiencing some truly legendary games for the first time. Please look forward to it!

Nerd Passion: Dungeons & Dragons

So far, this site has focused mainly on video games. That’s not too bad. Almost everyone plays video games to some extent. We’ve also touched on subjects just a little bit less mainstream; comics, Star Wars, etc. But again, who doesn’t like Superman or Darth Vader? These are household names. So today, I’m going to talk about one of my passions that is 100%, unfiltered NERD MATERIAL. That is: Dungeons & Dragons.

I love D&D. But sadly, I have not played it in many years. For those of you who are not familiar with the game. Dungeons & Dragons is a tabletop role playing game. It’s played with books, paper, dice, and these days, miniatures. Perhaps, you’ve seen the movie E.T., remember the scene where Elliot and his brother are sitting around the table talking about elves and magic missiles? That was D&D.

I was first introduced to D&D when I was about eleven years old. I remember seeing some of the rulebooks in the bookstore and I was very intrigued. This was around the time that the original version of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was transitioning to its second edition. At this time in my life I lived on the island of Okinawa in Japan, so when I expressed an interest in playing, my parents had some of their young AirForce friends come over for dinner and they stuck around to teach me how to play.

Over the years, I experienced a number of fantastic adventures. I played First Edition and Second Edition D&D. I bought and collected all the material I could get my hands on, and even read several of the novels. (Dragonlance was a favorite of mine). However, like many other things in my life, my interest in the hobby started to fade as I got older. By the time the Third Edition of D&D was released, I was no longer playing.

But, my interest in the game never completely faded. In reality, between school, work, and other hobbies I could never find the time to pick it back up. I also became a bit disgruntled by the rapid release cycle. In just a few short years the third edition of D&D became 3.5, and than before you know it, Fourth Edition was being shoved down everyone’s throats. I couldn’t afford to keep up if I wanted to.

These days, I have a bit more time on my hands and I find my interest in the hobby rekindled. The hardest thing about playing these days is not finding the time, but finding people to play with. Tabletop RPGs have recently taken a backseat to computer games. Today, the “D&D Nerds” play MMO games like World of Warcraft. No one seems enjoy that nostalgic sound of dice rolling across a dining room table. I miss that! After doing a bit of research, it seems the best way to find other players is by hanging out in local hobby shops or stopping by for official “hosted games”. Not my first choice, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. I feel like this problem may have more to do with my location than with the overall interest in the game itself. I live in the middle of nowhere. The nearest hobby shop is thirty miles away. So, yeah.

Despite these hurdles, I’m starting to feel that D&D itch again. After doing a bit of research, I’ve learned that the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons is on the horizon. The new version of the game is expected to launch this summer. It is my intention to get in on the ground floor with this “D&D Next“, as they are calling it.

Naturally, I plan to detail my experiences here. So if that’s your cup of tea, keep an eye out in the coming months.

Nerd Passion: Comic Books

spiderman-pile-comic-books1

So far the posts on this site have been almost entirely focused on gaming. That’s ok, but there are some other topics that I want to comment on as well. Now that I’m all caught up on the games of my youth, I feel like I’m somewhat free to discuss other things. So now, I’m going to spend a few moments to discuss something equally as nerdy as video games… comics.

I can easily say that I’m a comic fan. I love super heroes, and I enjoy reading comics, but I’m not quite as passionate about them as I am about games. Like most things I’ve discussed on this site, my love for comics these days is mostly fueled by nostalgia.  My early childhood took place during the 80’s, my teenage years during the 90’s. These were great times to be a kid. We had the best TV, the best games and the best comics.

As a young child, I wasn’t into to comics very much. I remember having a few random comics laying around my room, but nothing that I read religiously. My interest in comic books didn’t actually blossom until I was maybe twelve or thirteen. It was 1991 and I was living on an Air Force base in Japan and one day I was riding my bike home from school when I stopped into a corner market to grab a drink. There was a big comic display that I usually never gave a second glance to, but that day there was something that caught my eye; a Double Dragon comic book!

Double Dragon was the name of a popular Nintendo game, one that I’ve talked about on this site actually. The game itself had a somewhat shallow storyline, but it was one of my favorites at the time, so this comic book caught my eye. I had enough money on me so I bought it and took it home. That afternoon I read through it and found that I really enjoyed it. I think the one I bought was number three in a series of four or six books. Over the next few days, I scoured the various stores on base I and I was eventually able to acquire the issues I was missing.  By the time I was done reading the whole series, I realized… hey, these comic books are pretty good!

I decided to check out some more, so a few days later I went back to the shop and picked up this epic looking thing:

 

The Infinity Gauntlet! This book (and the mini series it was a part of) was an epic crossover event that introduced me to the Marvel universe. This is where my love for comics really started to build. I purchased everything I could get my hands on. Spider Man, X-Men, The Silver Surfer.. you name it. I wanted to see what I had been missing.

Just a few months after getting really into comics, my family moved back to the United States. Once I was back here, I discovered the glory of comic book stores. There’s no telling how much money I blew at these places. I was not really a big fan of DC Comics at this point, so I focused mainly on Marvel offerings. I enjoyed Spider Man, and I read almost every Spidey title that was out. I was also a fan of his villains, so  I made sure to snap every Venom, Carnage and Morbius book that happened to show up on the shelf. But aside from Spider Man, the other stuff I read wasn’t very mainstream. I enjoyed more obscure titles like Sleepwalker and Deathlok. During the early 90’s there was also a Marvel imprint known as “2099”. This featured a futuristic take on traditional Marvel characters. I loved and collected these with a passion.

 

My comic phase lasted maybe two or three years before fizzling out almost completely. I kept my books for many years, but the purchase and reading of comics was eventually replaced with my newfound passion for music. As I got involved in the music scene and began performing in a band, my comic books were all but forgotten.

This lull lasted for over a decade. Then one day, I happened to see a mention online that DC comics was doing something pretty radical. They were going to reboot their entire line of books, starting over with brand new #1 issues. Immediately, the nostalgia pangs for comic reading started. So, I decided to see what was going on with this and I purchased a handful of these books.

I was immediately impressed by the quality of these comics. Both in art and storytelling, but also in the physical quality of the product. Comics have really improved over time! The pages are now a thicker, sturdy material. The art is crisp and clear, no more newspaper style inky messes. I was really impressed.

Since DC’s launch of the “New 52”, Marvel has also followed with a semi-reboot as well. So if you are someone who is interested in comics, this is a great time to jump in.

My purchase of physical comic books lasted about six months before I finally made the switch over to digital. Now, I collect comics on my computer and read them on a tablet. Technology has really made this an easy hobby to enjoy. You can carry hundreds of comics with you anywhere thanks to reading devices like the iPad and the Kindle Fire.

The internet has made digital distribution a very profitable way for publishers to release quality comics. Aside from the big two (DC and Marvel), there are tons of independent or smaller publishers out there. Titles like The Walking Dead are a good example of this.

So yes, aside from being a game geek, I’m also a comic nerd. Just another notch on my nerd resume. With this post, I begin occasionally adding some comic related entries to the blog. This is something I won’t do very often, but expect a few posts from time to time.

Rise of the MMOs – Part 1

Ultima_Online_cover

The nineties were a truly epic time for gaming. This decade saw many changes in the home console market. Handheld gaming became mainstream. And of course, PC gaming took off at a rapid pace. With the ever growing popularity of the internet, a new concept in gaming began to rise to the surface: online connectivity.

The first online multiplayer game that I ever played was a text-based adventure game hosted by a local BBS. It was called Legend Of the Red Dragon (LORD for short). The game was quite simple actually, but it totally floored me at time. The BBS in which it was hosted could only handle one or two connections simultaneously. When trying to connect during peak hours I’d have to command my modem to dial over and over until I was finally able to get on. LORD is a hard game to explain these days, but essentially, the first time you played it you made a character and you could perform a certain number of tasks daily. This is includes things like fighting monsters, exploring, flirting with the taverns girls, etc. I don’t believe you could participate with other players in real time, but you could leave notes for other players that they would see when they logged in. Also, a log of player actions and accomplishments were posted so that everyone could see what had gone on during the day. At the time, the whole concept was fascinating to me and I have many fond memories of the title.

Example of the LORD interface courtesy of Moby Games

LORD was a watered down version of what is known as a MUD, or Multi-User-Dungeon. These text-based games allowed multiple players to interact together to one degree or another. MUDs were the first “MMOs” in many ways.

The first full blown Massive Multiplayer Online game that I truly experienced was Ultima Online.  I had been a fan of the Wizardry series for many years, and I had recently came off a binge of playing every RPG game I could find on the PC. as a result, I had just finished a marathon of Ultima games and the franchise was on my mind. I remember seeing the game on the shelf of my local computer store and I recall the fierce debate that raged inside my head; do I really want to pay to buy this game and then pay to play it?

I had a somewhat moral objection to revenue model for this game. I had recently read about it in a magazine and I was appalled to learn that the game was going to have a monthly subscription. In my mind, paying for the purchase of the game was enough. I had all but decided to boycott the product, but yet, actually seeing on the shelf – I couldn’t resist.

I played Ultima Online for a couple of weeks, but I wasn’t able to really get a sense of understanding for the title. It looked and played like some of the later titles in the series. But the online element felt rather chaotic. Also, to me, there didn’t seem to be any clear-cut goals to accomplish. Maybe I just missed something, but by the time my free month had expired, I decided that the game wasn’t for me and filed in the back of desk drawer – swearing to ignore these types of “pay to play” games from now on.

Of course, a year or two later I was persuaded into trying the latest and greatest multiplayer title, Everquest. You see, by this time I had moved on from hanging out on BBS forums and I was a full blown Internet user. I used to hang out in an IRC chat room with other local people and all of them were big Everquest fans. They raved about it non-stop. So, I bought the game and indeed, I was impressed by the way the title looked and operated. I was quite ignorant about the inner workings of the game, and I didn’t really understand the community aspect that already formed around the game, but I was enjoying exploring and checking things out.

Everquest

It was only a few days after getting my feet wet with the game that I again decided, this was not the title for me. You see, every time my character would leave town, I would be attacked by a group of players. Being new and inexperienced, I was no match for them. I would literally take one step out of town and BOOM. These guys would kill me. It was my first experience of being griefed by another player. It was all I needed to say “That’s it. I’m done.” Despite this bad experience, the game still intrigued me. I could see the draw behind the game. Everquest reminded me a lot of Dungeons & Dragons. (The tabletop role playing game that I played a lot as a young teen).  I found the setting and most aspects of the game very appealing. But at that time in my life, I had very little patience and being held back by other players was just unacceptable. Today, the game is still active and in fact recently reached its fifteenth birthday. Since the time of its original release, the game has changed dramatically, nineteen expansions and countless updates, the Everquest of today barely resembles the Everquest that I played in 1998. In fact, I believe it is even Free-To-Play now. I’m also sure that the type of player-killing I encountered now has some safeguard in effect, so for the curious, the game might be worth a look. It’s also important to note that Everquest spawned a sequel, Everquest II. A third sequel is also rumored to be on the way.

Due to these experiences, I stayed away from MMO RPG style games for a long time. My multiplayer experience was restricted to first person shooters almost exclusively. Then, one day I saw an article stating that Square Enix was looking for players to help test a new online game, this game would be Final Fantasy XI. This struck a chord with me. I had enjoyed the Final Fantasy series immensely and for the first time in a while, I found an MMO that interested me.  I’m not going to go into too much detail here now, because one day I will post a whole article about XI. But, this game is the MMO that finally managed to hook me. I played the crap out of this game. I have wasted years of my life… seriously. It’s actually kind of sad.

Final Fantasy XI

In Final Fantasy XI, I found the perfect balance I has always been looking for in a multiplayer game. FFXI has a wonderful storyline. So, you’re not just walking around killing monsters and getting stronger for no apparent reason… you’re doing it so that you can continue experiencing the game itself. In fact, everyone is doing this – as a result, teamwork is encouraged. It finally all made sense. FFXI really opened my eyes to the magic of MMO games. Since that time, I have tried several titles over the years with varying degrees of success.

No discussion about MMO games would be complete without a mention of what is arguably, the most popular of all time, World of Warcraft. WoW is the title that really brought MMO games into the public consciousness. I should go on record as saying that I am not really a big fan of World of Warcraft. I have played it, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. But by the time WoW popped up on my radar, I fully invested in Final Fantasy and WoW did not offer enough compelling gameplay to tear me away from my home. That being said, Warcraft certainly offers a lot for new players and it’s very easy to get into.  One feature that really set WoW apart from the other games at the time was the concept of player alliances. You see, when creating a character in World of Warcraft, you have to choose between creating an Alliance character or Horde character. This represents your character’s allegiance or affiliation. Originally, this had a big impact on gameplay. You could only befriend and talk to other players on your faction, members of the opposition were considered enemies. This has become very watered down over the years, and the concept really doesn’t mean as much as it once did. In many ways, the World of Warcraft has reached the sunset of its lifetime. Over the last couple years, the game population has dwindled as more MMO games have captured the attention of players. Now, players can often even create characters that are instantly granted maximum level in the game. This is a practice I disagree with.

Regardless, WoW really did wonders for the genre. It introduced concepts and practices that were very much needed and still permeate to this day. For example, in Warcraft, when you encounter an NPC that offers a quest, there is an icon floating over the head of that character. This let’s you know that they have something interesting to say. In prior games like Everquest and Final Fantasy, there was no identifier. To uncover quests and assignments you pretty much had to wander around and talk to every NPC that you encountered. WoW also popularized the Quest Tracker. This provided an in-game log of assignments and your character’s progress on them. Until now, these sorts of things had to be kept track of manually on paper by the player.

Character Creation for WoW

After the success of Warcraft, it seemed that there was a new MMO popping up every time you turned around. Conan, Vanguard, Guild Wars, the list goes on and on. For the most part, I managed to ignore most of these games and stuck with Final Fantasy. But occasionally, I ventured off my tried and true path.

I admit being suckered into buying the original Guild Wars and all of it’s expansions. This game intrigued me with its beautiful art-direction and pricing. You see, unlike most other games, Guild Wars does not require a monthly subscription. It functions off a model known as Buy-to-Play. After paying for the initial boxed software, you can play the game for free. As a result, the content in the game is somewhat limited compared with other MMOs, but there’s certainly no shortage of things to do.

One of other side effects of this sort of pricing I discovered, is the general immaturity of other players. Up until now, I had found MOST other game participants to fairly friendly and mature. This was especially true for Final Fantasy XI. WoW certainly had its number of jerks, but nothing like what I experienced in Guild Wars. I’m not sure how it is today, but back in 2007/2008 you could almost guarantee that the first thing you would see when logging into the game was a line of half-naked women dancing or people arguing in open chat. One time I asked another player if they wanted to team up for a quest and I was told repeatedly to “eat his farts”. So… free to play and buy to play gamers, be prepared to grow some thick skin against this type of nonsense.

The beautiful world of Guild Wars

I’ll be continuing my thoughts on MMO gaming in another post within the next couple of days. If this is a subject that interests you, stay tuned.

Lost in the Shuffle – Forgotten PC Games

 

With my review of WarCraft III out of the way, I have finally played through the bulk of my entire physical PC catalog. Well, not exactly… there’s a couple of titles I purchased back in the day that I didn’t review now, because I either didn’t complete them when they were new or I have plans to replay them at a later date (the Ultima games, for example).

But just like my look back on the classic NES games of my youth, there’s also a handful of titles that I just didn’t get around to reviewing for a variety of reasons. As the picture above indicates, the infamous Daikatana is one of those games…

Daikatana is famous for being an exceptionally terrible game. I was one of the suckers that purchased the game at full price when it was first released only to be caught dead in my tracks due to bugs and unable to progress through it. Like many others, I waited patiently for a patch. When the fixes finally came, I seem to remember that my savefile no longer worked, meaning I would have had to start the game over again. Disgusted with this turn of events, I shelved the game.

I briefly toyed with the idea of revisiting Daikatana, but I found the game did not really perform well on my modern PC. I’ve heard rumors of an unofficial patch in development. Perhaps, I’ll give this game another look if it ever sees the light of day.

Another game that I intended to review was SiN – this was a Quake-Engine game that came out just a few weeks before Half-Life. It is a first person-shooter that features some pretty innovative gameplay. Sadly, Half-Life became such a runaway hit, that some of the thunder was stolen-away from SiN. This game also has the honor of being the first mature game with nudity that I ever played… that was a shocker at the time.

This was actually a title that I fully intended to play, but again, I had some serious issues getting this game to run properly. Shortly after I decided to skip over the title, GOG.com released a version of the game. I have purchased and tested the GOG release, and I’m happy to say it runs perfectly. This is a title I expect to revisit and review sometime in the future.

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Finally, if the screenshot above doesn’t bring back pangs of nostalgia, then you simply were not a PC gamer in the 90’s… The Descent trilogy were some extremely innovative titles that featured “360-degrees of motion”. These games were infamous for giving people motion sickness and I was no exception. Once my eyes and brain got adjusted to the games, they started to feel natural and I remember being quite good at them actually. I spent many hours as a teenager playing multiplayer Descent, but these days I found the look and feel of the game to be a bit too much for me. Maybe I’m getting old or perhaps the game plays too fast on modern hardware, but I encountered a very difficult time controlling the games this time around. Perhaps my days as the “Material Defender” are over.

– Sidenote, I remember owning a Descent clone by the name of Forsaken. Instead of piloting a space fighter, you rode flying motorbikes through a series of 360-degree mazes. It would be nice to get my hands on a copy of that gem again.

As far as games that I purchased, but never really got to dig into, the honor goes to Unreal II and Unreal Tournament 2003/2004. I also owned, but never completed, Baldur’s Gate – the classic Dungeons & Dragons title.  All of these are games I plan on covering here in due time.

There are also several PC games that I did enjoy in my younger days that I have decided not to cover at this time. The Star Wars titles, as well as a handful of role playing games fall into this category. I have future plans for these so stay tuned.

Of course, no one person can experience every PC game. If you have any good suggestions, please feel free to let me know. I occasionally get messages and comments and I’m always willing to try something new.

The End of the 16-bit Era

    Street Fighter II

As the 90’s rolled on, the original NES was eventually put out to pasture and completely eclipsed by its successor. Years went by and new games were released, but by the mid-90’s my interest was starting to wane.

The last game I remember playing to completion on the SNES was probably Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest. This title was a simplified RPG, intended as an introduction to the genre. I remember playing it and being slightly let down. I felt that it was “Final Fantasy” in name only. And, while not a bad game, it didn’t live up to the reputation.

Mystic Quest

I also noticed around that time, that the games featured in Nintendo Power Magazine started to change. Classic concepts such as platform games started to give way to newer styles such as fighting games and realistic racing games. Sports games started to be pushed a lot harder than they had been previously. The Nintendo kids were starting to grow up, and Nintendo as a company was not sure what to do about it. Censorship and other issues forced Nintendo to lose a little bit of ground to competitors. And let’s not forget, the dawn of the personal computer had also arrived.

At this point in my teenage years, my interests began to shift from cartoonish style gaming to things much more tangible… like girls. I began spending less time playing video games and more time practicing on my guitar. Eventually, the NES and SNES got put in the closet and were only taken out when friends were over. Even then, our play shifted from things like Mario to multiplayer fighting games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat.

Mortal Kombat II

 

Even my trusty Game Boy was eventually replaced by a Walkman as a form of “entertainment on the go”. The last game I really remember spending time with on my Game Boy was the Final Fantasy Adventure. (Another name-dropper. This game, while good, was not a Final Fantasy title. But instead, was first in what would come to be known as the Mana series. – I decided not to include FF Adventure in my playthrough reviews because a remake of the game has since been released for the GBA).

When I did feel the urge to play, I found myself sitting in front of my mother’s PC playing some of the later games in the Wizardry series. For me, it seemed that I had matured past my video game days. And for a couple of years, I didn’t spend much time gaming at all.

That changed in the latter-half of my highschool career when I built my first PC. That was when I discovered that PC gaming was more than text-based adventures and frame-by-frame fantasy games. It was the dawn of the First-Person Shooter.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be focusing mainly on my early days of PC gaming. I’ll still have a few modern reviews thrown in here and there, so fear not console-lovers.

Also, this leaves a bit of a gap. As discussed in the a couple of my recent Retro Reviews, there were a number of games that I missed out on. Only recently did I  take my first stab at Super Punch Out! for example. There’s a number of great games from the 16-bit era that I simply have not experienced, that are now considered classics. Star Fox, Earthbound, and the Mega Man X series to name a few. I plan to catch up to some of these in due time, and I’ll feature them all right here. But for the meantime, I plan to have this blog follow my own personal journey through gaming.

Remembering the Super Nintendo

Not long after Nintendo gave the gaming world a way to play games on the go, they redefined the way we played games at home. Enter the Super Nintendo. Despite the grumbling of parents over the lack of backwards compatibility, every kid (myself included) wanted one. This system offered everything a serious gamer could want at the time. Crisp colorful 16-bit graphics, better sound and bigger more complex games. All of these promises were proven true with the very first SNES game many of us ever played, Super Mario World.

Nearly every successful franchise saw a release on the SNES, further cementing it as the new standard for home consoles. With pretty much every game developer on board, Nintendo proved again that they were champions of home console gaming.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be doing mixed reviews of both the SNES and Game Boy-era titles that influenced me as a kid. I may even cover a few classics that slipped thru my fingers the first time around.

This post is here to serve as both an introduction to many of the upcoming game reviews as well as a salute to one of the greatest home systems of all time

 

Dawn of the Handhelds

Somewhere between the glory days of the NES and the introduction of the SNES, Nintendo brought us the now legendary Game Boy. I was living in Japan when this little brick of happiness was released and I remember being in complete awe of it. It was not the most attractive device. A grey hunky of textured plastic with a puke-green screen that somehow formed grey/black pixels into graphics. But it played games. Damn good ones too.

Back then, the Game Boy came with a free copy of Tetris, the now-classic puzzle game with a soundtrack and proved that even beeps and bloops could be catchy and infectious to anyone within earshot.

As if an addictive puzzle game was not enough, it came with multiplayer capabilities. Yes, you would link two Game Boys together with a cable and ram bricks on to your best friend’s screen at the worse possible moment. It was amazing and the beginning of a whole new era for gamers.

As the system matured, so did the games. Eventually, many of these early portable titles even rivaled classic home console games in complexity and fun. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be taking a look back at the Game Boy titles that I loved as a kid, and even checking out a few of those that I may have missed the first time around. Previously, I touched on two of the Castlevania titles when I had my Castlevania playthrough back in the fall, so if you’re curious about my thoughts on those, please feel free to look back and enjoy.

 

Evolution

NintendoStack

So far I’ve written about my experiences growing up with the original 8-bit NES. But naturally, like many other kids who came of age in the 80’s and 90’s, I was also the proud owner of its successor the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

The SNES was a thing of glory to behold. It boasted better graphics and better sound… I mean you could actually hear real speech. (Maybe only in 10 second fragments, but still!) This was a big deal. It also had a lineup of games that were a force to be reckoned with; Super Mario World, Super Metroid, Zelda: A Link to the Past…. It was enough to make your head pop. It’s hard to make a statement like this, but I daresay that the Super Nintendo was just as important to legacy gaming as the original NES. I look at the NES as the seed/root and the SNES as the vine/blossom of Nintendo’s success.

Some of the greatest RPGs of all time saw the light of day on this box of 16-bit goodness. In fact, the SNES has been hailed by many as the pinnacle RPG platform. Not only did Nintendo’s first-party titles and various RPGs flourish on this new system, but the early 90’s saw the rise of two-player fighting games, these also soared to popularity thanks largely in part to the Super Nintendo. Games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II owe a debit of gratitude to the SNES.

As I mentioned in another post, around the mid-90’s my attention waned a bit from console gaming. I became more interested in social activities. Any gaming I did during this period was in front of a PC. My consoles sat on a shelf collecting dust while I learned the ways of new games like DOOM, Quake, and Diablo.

In 1996, the Nintendo 64 was released. By this point Nintendo was so far off my radar I barely noticed. I vaguely remember seeing an ad for Mario 64 and I thought to myself “Wow. Would ya look at that!” To date, the N64 is probably my most neglected era of gaming. I have since gone back and experienced many of these great games on the Wii, but I feel like I missed being in the middle of all the action. It is a pox on my gaming record to be sure.

Around the same time, Nintendo faced it’s first serious competitor: The Sony Playstation. Sony’s console made the move from cartridge-based games to CD-ROM. My old roomate had one and after seeing it for the first time, I remember wondering if Nintendo’s days of dominance were over. It certainly seemed that way. The N64 fell in popularity over time and the Playstation earned a much larger audience. Third-party developers jumped ship in record numbers. The Final Fantasy series moved exclusively to Sony’s console. As did many games from Capcom and Konami.

Sony followed up their success in 2000 with the release of the Playstation 2. This console changed everything. It was leaps about bounds above anything seen before. Many PC defectors, like myself, were lured back to the living room thanks to the PS2. In attempt to strike back, Nintendo released the GameCube. It was a cute looking device that accepted odd little mini-discs. The GameCube was responsible for some good titles, but by this point it seemed that Nintendo has officially lost the battle and the home console scene now belonged to Sony. Thankfully, Nintendo was able to weather the storm due to the popularity of their handheld gaming devices.

It was around this time that Microsoft decided to enter the scene. They brought the Xbox to the table and for the first time ever the console battlefield included 3 main competitors. It was during this time that I stepped back on the console scene. I had been recently married, and my love for Final Fantasy had been rekindled. I purchased a PS2 and caught up on many of great games I missed over the years. Then one day, my wife came home with a GameCube. This enabled me to get reacquainted with Nintendo and their offerings at the time. I was slowly on my way back to being a full-fledged gamer again.

2005 was the year that console gaming came back full force. Microsoft unveiled the Xbox 360. For the first time a modern game console was combined with the power of the Internet. Sales surged and Sony’s dominance took a hit. To retaliate, Sony struck back with the powerful but pricey Playstation 3. I believe that price alone is what kept many people away from the PS3 initially. Due to this, the Xbox retained the top spot in many households for a time. (Mine included.)

By this time, I was fully back in my gamer persona. Nostalgia had worked it’s magic on me and I watched Nintendo’s next move with baited breath. Rumors had been flying around the Internet of Nintendo’s new project; codenamed “Revolution”. Everyone was talking. I remember the guy at my local Gamestop almost salivating as he claimed to have the inside scoop:

“I’ve been told by a very reliable source that it looks like a pyramid. On each facet is a slot for a different cartridge!! There’s one side for Nintendo, one for Super Nintendo, N64, Gamecube, and then the last side takes the new discs!”

Naturally, I had to point out that pyramids only had four sides, but that didn’t seem to matter to him.

What Nintendo actually did produce was the now famous Wii. Like many others, I was put off by the name. “Play with my Wii” jokes flew around the office. But I was intrigued by the new motion controls. I remember thinking it would either be revolutionary or a complete bomb.

The Wii was a smash-hit, outselling everything else. The secret to its success was its appeal to all audiences. Heck, even my parents bought one! Through the Virtual Console feature, new gamers were able to experience classic NES and SNES games that they had never seen before. Nintendo had returned!

That brings us to today. The three-way console race is still on and it’s hard to say who dominates. The beautiful thing is, it doesn’t matter anymore. Games are released across multiple platforms and these days and it makes little difference which you choose. I personally own all three systems and I enjoy each of them.

Now that we are all caught up, the main focus of this blog can finally begin. It is in this world that the modern gamer finds themselves. If you’re like me, you work full time job. You have a family to raise and life away from the computer or television screen. Time is limited. You love games, and you still want to experience them all, what do you do? I mean think about it. There’s new great titles being released every day. Now with things like Xbox Live, Playstation Network and the Virtual Console almost any legacy title you want is only a download away. It can be frustrating.

The answer is time management and focus. I’ve learned this the hard way. I also find a lot of my free time sucked away by MMO games. It is easy to fall behind. This blog is going to be a chronicle of my journey through the world of gaming. I’m going to be reliving the games of my youth as well as tackling the games of today. This site will serve as motivation to finally tackle that backlog. I hope you stay tuned.