Gaming Retrospective: A Stunken Drumble Down Memory Lane

It seems I’m destined to write you while tipsy this week. Okay, well, “destined.” Either way, what better way to wrap up this rose-coloured retrospective week of what video games have meant to me than with a glass of vodka in hand and a bottle of Tylenol on the bed-stand? Okay, it’d be nice to have a watermelon, but these are the sacrifices we make when we choose to make a living writing. I mean, where was I going to get a watermelon in my boxers? Oh, also, before we start, I’m starting a new letsplay series with my friend Boris the Illithid. Come check it out!

We’ve talked enough about my love of games and the way they’ve brought me together with some of my best friends this week. So, I’m going to just let go and talk about whatever. Next week, we’ll get back to the thin veneer of professional cogency we both pretend I have.

I played a lot of Mario and Duck Hunt when I was a tottle-spawn. As I got older, I played Battle Toads (Yes, that one) and R-type. These were my introductions to the action genre, and they felt so absorbingly, edge-of-your-seat epic that I used to sit, mouth-agape, reacting on instinct, eyes unfocused, fingers reacting, in a zen state of mind-blown tranquillity. This was the height of entertainment, I thought.

Yet, I kept having my mind blown. Star Fox for the SNES would follow. Thinking back, I guess I didn’t really play any of those expansive PC games I hear so much about nowadays. I’ve got them kicking around somewhere for educational purposes, but I suppose I have action gaming to thank for my reflexes and hand-eye coordination, so that’s alright. Despite looking like something you’d find in a high school art class today, Star Fox was amazing to me. We’ve got a lot of these early games to thank for the graphics capabilities and game-play we have today. The shoulders of giants and all that.

When I sat down to play it, the dim light of the living room faded and I was in the game. Dodging around grey-metal buildings that rang with a pleasant “ting” every time my lasers hit them and aiming for the flashing weak-points filled my mind. I was the Arwing. After that, the next things I can remember are Mario All-stars, LoZ: A Link to the Past and Megaman X. I remember renting Yoshi’s Story one evening, only to find out that my RF switch had been shoved into the television wrong too many times and my game wasn’t going to work unless I replaced it. Sheer bloody panic! My local video store only rented games overnight, so I pleaded and begged my dad to get me a new one. He ran out and got one, rented the game another night, and I was soothed, awash in the sounds of the tracking egg and the up-beat soundtrack. They’re almost elemental to me now, so essential as to be singular.

I have my dad to thank for my gaming habit. He nurtured, funded and encouraged it. Actually, I think I’m going to call him tomorrow. He did a lot for me; he deserves to hear it once in a while. Anyways, drunk-dialing your parents in tears to thank them for RF switches from over a decade ago probably isn’t a good idea. Come to think of it, Snowflake Video played a big part in helping along my gaming obsession. It was there that I got the first game that truly blew me out of the water, the first game I played that felt like an epic tale of victory (Yes, even moreso than LoZ): Mario RPG. I won’t play it now, because I know I’ll ruin it for myself. I still have it, though. True to form, the owner of Snowflake actually held on to the store’s copy of Mario RPG for me, because he knew I rented it so much. He offered it to me for ten bucks. I’m still kicking myself for not accepting it.

Over-night rentals and a regular school week meant that when I rented a game like Mario RPG, and didn’t manage to finish it in a weekend, there was no guarantee my save-file was still going to be on it. It was stressful! I still remember running home, game-box in hand, shaking with the anticipation of getting the game back in my machine to see if the hours of progress I’d logged were still there. I developed strategies to make sure they stuck around. I always saved in the second or third slot, and I named my games stuff like, “EraseandDie” or “IAmWatching.” I’m sure someone got creeped out by that. It made the in-game dialogue funny, too.

Secret of Evermore, Kirby Superstar, Turtles in Time, Super Mario, Gradius, F-Zero, Mario Kart, Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, and Earthworm Jim, oh my! The Super Nintendo was an amazing machine. I still remember getting a Game Genie and staring at it like it contained some awesome mystical power, so much was my respect for the machine it entranced. These were heady days, but it was only the start. The best was yet to come.

Doom, Duke Nukem, and King’s Quest. These were games that I remember pulling me in and not letting go. Even to this day, I can look back and remember the awe of stepping into those game universes. They were so foreign, so “mature.” They felt like experiences meant for someone else, but their alien nature made them all the more compelling. I drank deep from their cup of knowledge.

Pokemon was a major milestone for me, too. It was the first time I used the night-light at the end of my bed for anything other than reading. I finished it for the first time in the basement of my friend’s place while I was supposed to be visiting. This was before I knew about the Rare Candy cheat or, indeed, used the internet. Blastoise and I all the way. Although, he did fall in the final battle – a truly emotional moment for me – we won the day. I’ve never forgotten his sacrifice. Also, he ran out of MP for Hydropump, so there wasn’t much to be done.

The N64 followed. Along with the Playstation and the Dreamcast. Let me tell you, I thought there was no limit to what these dream-machines could produce. The first time I played Mario 64, I was a gamer for life. Up until that point, I’d enjoyed games, but the free-movement of Mario 64 and the 3D world felt so real. I know, it looks like polygon butt-cheeks by today’s standards, but compared to the 3D in other games, it was amazing. Wave Race (my sister still holds the high score grrr….) and Banjo-Kazooie sealed the deal. Every now and again, I’ll feel nostalgic and throw on a letsplay of it, but I can’t help cringing when they run past everything. I’m a survival horror gamer, what do you expect? Eventually , Final Fantasy 7 would blow the bits of brain-matter remaining into smaller, neater chunks, but it was around this time that I got my hands on a game that would change my life forever…

Silent Hill. Now, I’d always watched horror movies and lived in a perpetual horror-scape in my imagination, but Silent Hill was the first time I lived one. The bizarre puzzles. The twisted monstrosities. The very real feeling of imminent death. It was perfection. My sister and I sat in the basement and powered through it. Solving the puzzles and talking about the mystery with her is still one of the best times I’ve ever had. I’m trying to wrangle her into playing SH Downpour, but it’s an uphill battle. Don’t worry, it’ll happen.

It didn’t stop there. Zone of the Enders, FF9, Resident Evil… the PS2, the XBox, the Gamecube… Fable, Halo 2, Silent Hill 2, Turok, Fatal Frame, Clocktower, Eternal Darkness… they start to run together. Huge LAN matches of Halo 2, Quake, Counter-strike, Star Craft, Dungeons and Dragons for PC, World of Warcraft, Golden Eye… They all start to run together, whole universes colliding and coalescing, each one building on the other. Micro-managing in Star Craft became micro-ing in DotA, Counter-Strike assisted Resident Evil 4, while Fable hung out with Eternal Darkness.

I like to think that a little bit of the nobility of each character I played rubbed off on me. Master Chief and James Sunderland are still the voices of determination in my head when I’m really feeling down. I owe a lot to gaming. Before we wrap up this half-hearted veil of a theme, there are two more things I’d like to talk about: walk-throughs and the Devil-spawn notion that was controller-input cheat-codes.

I don’t have much to say about walk-throughs except to express my admiration for the people that engineer them. The ASCII art alone is enough to boggle the mind at times. The hours it would have taken to collect and organize that data, often-times for free, is incredible. The gaming community owes a debt to those people, and I’d just like to thank them while I’ve got the chance.

Do you remember the N64 days I was talking about? This is when I was affected by controller-input cheat-code devilry the most. I know everyone knows about the Konami Code, and the controller-input cheat-codes (oh, we’re just going to call them C-IC-C)  of yester-year, but I still think the whole concept was evil. Why? I’ll tell you why, because I spent hours trying to figure them out! I’d get a brand-spankin’-new N64 game home, hastily un-box it, tossing aside its flimsy cardboard carapace, nestle it lovingly into the machine and sit at the title screen for hours inputting random combination of buttons, meticulously writing each one of them down. Then, I’d try the ones I’d input already again on other menu screens. Ah, the madness of youth, nearly a sickness. I think in the whole time I was doing it, I only unlocked one or two codes, but it was enough.

The best way to get someone to repeat an action is to reward them on a random basis, and I’d have to say that C-IC-C definitely counted. The number/letter cheats were almost as bad, but I usually looked those up when I saw there was an input window for them. Then, I knew there weren’t any C-IC-C codes to be found. For some reason, I thought the written codes were too long, so I’d never get them (I know about statistics now, and I can’t help but agree). However, for some flip-diddling honk-nosed idea, I thought I could guess the C-IC-C codes. I guess the accidents of history back me up, but given what I know about stats now, I’m still amazed.

I just want to acknowledge that someone, somewhere, did this long enough to unlock the codes. I know many of them were released, but someone did it at some point. To whoever that brave soul is, I salute you. You fought the good fight.

Thanks for indulging this walk down memory lane. I’ve already got something queued up for next week. Until then, keep gaming!

Final Words: Half-Life.

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