Growing Up Gaming: EverQuest part 2

I’ve been getting behind on posting these regularly as I’ve been consumed by Horizon: Zero Dawn on Playstation 4. I finished with a platinum trophy, so it’s time to jump back into the retro reminiscing with more about EverQuest.

In the last post I went over memories on the Antonica continent, setting sail across the Sea of Tears to the continent of Faydwer. On the way there, the boat would stop at an island inhabited by the Sisters of Marr, who killed my friend’s shadow knight when he mistakenly stepped off thinking he’d arrived at his destination. Once the ship set sail again, however, you did arrive at Faydwer in the Butcherblock Mountains, which housed the dwarf capital of Kaladim. Beyond that you’d venture into Greater Faydark, the elf forest and home to both the high elf city of Felwithe and the wood elf city of Kelethin.

Felwithe – Truly an awe inspiring sight

Nearby was the infamous zone called Crushbone where one quickly learned about orcs and “trains to zone.” The zone boss that players camped was called Emperor Crush, who had a dark elf near him named Ambassador D’Vinn (this NPC has been given a nod in World of Warcraft Legion with a demon NPC named Ambassador D’vwinn).

When adds would respawn during a fight or extra enemies were accidentally grabbed in a fight, parties would have no choice but to flee the battle. EverQuest, unlike modern MMOs, had no leash mechanic on NPCs. Instead, they would keep chasing players until they were killed or until they reached the border of a zone, its zone line. The whole time, players were drawing attention of every enemy in their escape route, building a train of enemies chasing them to the zone, hence the warning shouts “train to zone” told others to beware of the incoming danger. Other zones that were notorious for trains wiping numerous parties were Unrest and Mistmoore Manor, home of the vampire Mayong Mistmoore (also referenced in the original release of World of Warcraft).

Trains could get pretty bad

Train death
Like…..really bad.

Lesser Faydark, a second zone that continued the massive forest of the continent, was home to another major GM event I remember hearing about by word of mouth, though this one happened when I was playing. It took place during the first expansion, the Ruins of Kunark, when the god of fear, Cazic Thule, appeared in the forest. Firiona Vie arrived to drive him back with Tunare’s blessing, but not before he was able to corrupt a unicorn that was known to wander the zone. The unicorn, Equestrielle, was a friendly NPC to good races. Firiona was forced to make a choice to save Equestrielle from corruption by killing her or risk corrupting her forever by cutting off her horn, though doing so would allow her to purify the forest of Cazic Thule’s corruption. If I recall, the unicorn asked her friend to save the forest and Equestrielle became the black horse, Corrupted Equestrielle, who would kill anyone on sight and was a very dangerous NPC wandering the forest from then on. She killed me and three friends once and our max level friend had a hard time getting our corpses dragged to the zone line without being killed herself.

Which is another point I’ve not touched on. Death was serious business in EverQuest. If you died, all your gear, your money, and your inventory was left at the point you died. You had to have players bind your soul to cities near where you’d be hunting so you would respawn there completely unequipped and run back to your corpse to reacquire your gear. Death also carried with it experience penalties and the possibility to lose levels (which could render you unable to wear armor you had on). Other players could drag your corpse for you and necromancers made money summoning corpses to them (sometimes the only way to get your corpse back). You had 24 or 48 hours (I forget which) of online time  or 1 week offline time to recover your corpse of it decayed and you lost everything on it.

This corruption of Equestrielle was just one chapter in a larger over arching story in Norrath that played out over time involving Firiona Vie and the return of her old nemesis, the Child of Hate Lanys T’Vyl. I remember Lanys went on a quest with numerous players that culminated in the Rathe Mountains with a sphynx or some such creature posing a riddle. The player that answered it was granted special armor from the GM playing Lanys and a special title, I believe something like “The Discerner.”

Not all GM events were grand stories, though. My friend and I were in a volcanic zone when the sky turned red and a goblin was shouting to the zone he was cold. We managed to find him and my friend gave him a high level item with cold resistance. The goblin despawned, but then appeared again and gave my friend a breastplate that only came from very high end raids.

I never got high in level, enjoying the game at a leisurely approach alongside my guild and roleplaying as if we were having a D&D night all along the way. I did complete the Armor of Ro quest as well as the paladin’s class weapon to get the 2 handed sword the Soulfire. I didn’t play too far into the Kunark expansion before the Scars of Velious expansion released. I was barely high enough to travel to the moon when the third expansion Shadow of Luclin released.

What impressed me with each expansion was how big the new continents seemed. Ruins of Kunark introduced the Iksar race and Shadows of Luclin introduced the Vah’shir. Each race started at level 1 on their newly released continent, making an expansion introduce enough zones for 1-50 if not higher without going back to old zones, though that was of course still an option. It made the game seem so vast and expansive that few players would ever spend any real time hunting and exploring every zone across the world, especially since soloing was rather rare. Of course, the camp-and-grind leveling made this easier than modern models with quests and story driven experiences.

The one last story I recall from EverQuest is not a GM event, but rather a player enacted one: The Battle against the Kerafyrm, or The Sleeper. This dragon was the forbidden product of a blue and red dragon mating. Lore stated if the Sleeper were to awaken, it would rampage across Norrath and bring about the end of the world. This was meant to be a far later storyline that would be explored, so the Kerafyrm was never intended to be fought and killed. It was also a one attempt per server fight. If they woke the Sleeper and failed to kill it, it would never be in the game to attempt again. But gamers like a challenge.

Kerafyrm, the Sleeper

Dozens of players, if not over one hundred individual players, gathered to take beat the unbeatable. They started the fight and anyone who died would run back to their corpse for their gear and jump back into the fight. One would think with 100+ players, this strategy now commonly known as zerging should have made short work of any enemy, but I’ve always heard it took hours for them to whittle the monster’s health down. Just before it died, though, a GM despawned the monster and denied them victory. Players took to the forums to decry the action and caused such an uproar that SOE eventually made a statement saying it was the wrong decision. They would reinstate the Kerafrym and allow players to try again, though as a non-canonical kill should they win. The players organized again, this time with 200 players, and managed to kill the dragon after four hours.

I stopped playing EverQuest during the Shadows of Luclin expansion, before even getting a horse. However, in many ways I still like aspects of EverQuest’s design philosophy more than what’s become commonplace in many MMOs today. The world felt so large, danger lurked around every corner, and players would form friendships over true fear of death. Bad or good behavior could build a reputation in the server community, allowing players to often police themselves more than is seen in modern MMOs. The guide program furthered that, allowing players to take on minor issues as mini-GMs in exchange for free game time. The level of socialization was simply above and beyond anything in the games today.

The story was not told in quests on set paths, it was a living part of the world. SOE would add things to the world in a patch without mentioning them in the patch notes. Players would then notice crates with a weird symbol had appeared in dark elf camps and orc camps, spurring speculation of a coming alliance and possibly war. When those crates appeared in High Hold pass, there was discussion on the forums of the possibility that High Hold was infiltrated and going to turn bad, cutting off access for good races to get to Qeynos without a lot of difficulty. Many stories and speculation sprang up, some proving to hit the mark on what later unfolded in GM events and stories, some being completely speculation, but it made the game’s story feel organic because players, like their characters, didn’t know every detail of what was going on in the behind the scenes politics of Norrath.

That’s not to say the genre hasn’t improved and EverQuest was the golden age, only that some aspects that made it so unique have been lost through the years of improving accessibility and faster experiences rather than expecting long hours of commitment. Norrath was a large world that you could take time to escape reality and live in, not just play a game and do a routine for loot. It was about adventure and comradery, stories told by the developers as well as by players, and a world that asked you to explore it. I hope someday these design concept comes back to MMOs and we see a true return to MMORPG rather than MMO Theme Park designs, but I personally don’t see this happening until we develop Virtual Reality to the levels we’ve dreamed of for years in sci-fi and anime.

Ironically, a machinima for World of Warcraft might give the best indication of what it’s like to remember EverQuest by those who started it from the beginning:
“I want to understand.”
“What we have suffered? It can not be understood by those that did not suffer it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing Up Gaming – EverQuest part 1

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With Playstation and N64 in my bedroom as my consoles of the time, I found myself wandering into the land of PC. I was in my final years of high school and had a little experience playing Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II along with even less of X-Wing vs TIE Fighter. I had played a few PC games a little bit in the past with Alone in the Dark and Quest for Glory: So You Want to Be a Hero, but a friend pulled me more fully into PC gaming by introducing me to EverQuest.

Just look at that cutting edge amazing game.

After playing RPGs on consoles, the breadth and scope of EverQuest, or EQ, was quite impressive. What set this game apart from RPGs I had played before was the notion of living in a fantasy world and finding your own adventure rather than just playing through a pre-determined story. I didn’t know of Ultima Online, so EQ was more of a revolutionary concept than a genre for me, but it certainly went on to cement itself as a, if not the, founder of the MMORPG genre of the next number of years.

I started on the server my friend was on: Erollisi Marr, which was still running last I looked. I created a human paladin named Feneril (Fin-er-ill) and started in Freeport. EverQuest is still, to me, the closest any game has gotten to best imitating a Dungeons & Dragons world in a video game.

Night was dark and humans couldn’t see in the dark without a light source such as a torch, lantern, or magical item. As a result, I found myself in the dark falling into the water at the Freeport docks. Now in the water and still unable to see, I didn’t know where to go, so I spent the game’s night cycle swimming against the wall of the docks, treading water and getting my swimming skill leveled up!

From Freeport killing rats, I journeyed to the Commonlands where a tunnel became the go-to location for player barter and trade. EverQuest didn’t have an “auction house” like most modern MMOs, so shouting to hock your wares was how the economy flowed in Norrath at the time. There were tales of people getting cheated during trades, but I didn’t know anyone who was myself. That the area became the accepted player market place is one of the early examples of emergent gameplay that made EverQuest unique at the time.

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Commonlands Tunnel Entrance

The Commonlands also had another…we’ll say feature that you don’t tend to find in MMOs anymore: ridiculously high level enemies that wandered into low level areas. While players were in their early teens coming into this zone, a level 36 griffin would wander about. The griffin would fly along and aggro (attack) players below. When they were spotted, players would alert others by using /shout to announce the sighting and players either ran from the area or would get indoors at a merchant’s shop for safety. The latter didn’t always work as the griffin would sometimes come through the ceiling or wall and attack anyway. Norrath was a dangerous world.

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The monster itself!

Moving on was the first far-from-town outpost from Freeport where players gathered. It was basically a collection of stones, but druids would make money there offering the Spirit of the Wolf buff (SoW). This let players run faster and was sought after for the next leg of the journey to venture through the next zone of Kithicor Woods. Nobody wanted to get caught in Kithicor Woods at night.

EverQuest, particularly in its early days, had GM (Game Master) events where the game GMs would trigger and/or lead major events. These were often used for major story events that would impact what was happening in the world’s grander stage. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Battle of Bloody Kithicor. The whole event went down before I was playing, but EverQuest had these events only once rather than remaining available for all players to experience forever. As a result, these events passed on to stories that players would tell, which then became the stuff of legend much as the stories have in human history.

The way I read it was players were contacted by GMs posing as messengers of the gods with warnings of a great conflict to come in Kithicor Woods, but beyond that were fairly vague other than how many days they had until it would happen. Players then began to spread the word. One group of players gathered at the city of High Hold, expecting it to be the target. Two zones away in Neriak Forest, home of the dark elves, the dark elf character Lanys T’Vyll spawned under a GM’s control. After a speech, she started a march towards the Commonlands, gathering players who marched with her on the way to Kithicor Woods, resulting in a growing army.

On the other end of Kithicor Woods, the high elf princess Firiona Vie, EverQuest’s mascot character, appeared as well, also played by a GM. Players flocked to her as well, swelling an army to defend High Hold Pass.

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The result was a conflict of players against spawning mobs as well as players vs players. Emergent gameplay cropped up during the event as players from the dark elf army split away to invade the bordering zone of the Rivervale and to attack the halflings. Why? No particular reason, but they were still attacking “innocents,” so the defenders followed and the battle spilled into that zone as well.

The event ended with the sky going red (which became a hallmark of GM events) and the woods becoming cursed due to the bloodshed and hatred caused by the battle. After the event, Kithicor Woods remained a medium level zone by day, but became populated by large amounts of higher level undead at night, associated with the Plane of Hate.

Beyond Kithicor was High Hold Pass which led to the Plains of Karana and on to the city of Qeynos as well as the city of the barbarians, Halas. It was in the Karanas I fought gnolls and toward the Rathe Mountains to fight aviaks. Along the way, my friend that got me into the game brought me into their guild, The Champions of Marr.

Combat was quite different from today’s MMOs. Nothing was instanced, so leveling was done by forming a group and taking up a camping spot, then pulling enemies to the group to fight and kill them for experience, then wait for a respawn to repeat the process. The advantage this gave was downtime to chat and get to know other players, making EverQuest a very social game where friendships were formed and relationships began that were known to even lead to real world marriages. I still remember a number of my guild mates: Avaric, Esperanza, Lily, Kharne, Gorndax, and Ariell to name a few, though I’m not in touch with most of them anymore.

Another event, this time in the Karanas, wasn’t so quickly resolved. The god of plague and disease had followers preparing to summon him into the mortal realm, causing polluted rain and diseased, rabid, animals through the plains. There was quite a bit of reported event activity in the city of Qeynos at the time, but I don’t remember all the details as I do with Kithicor’s retelling. I do remember once walking, not running, from Qeynos to Freeport just to do so.

On the opposite side of Freeport was the Desert of Ro where I spent some time leveling as well. There was a number of zones on the continent of Antonica that I never even explored. Instead, I headed for those Freeport docks once again where players could wait up to 30 minutes for a ship to arrive and carry them across the sea.

With the departure from Antonica, we’ll stop here for now. In my next post, I’ll discuss memories on the continent of Faydwer, and we haven’t even gotten out of the game’s initial release and started to explore the expansions yet!

 

 

Growing Up Gaming – Nintendo 64

I don’t recall the details of buying the Nintendo N64 as vividly as the prior systems and certainly didn’t get as many games for it. After all, the only console I can think of with a smaller library is the ill conceived Virtual Boy. I didn’t even play Super Mario 64 on the system, but there were some games I certainly did enjoy.

I got my first real FPS experience on the system with Goldeneye 007, aside from a bit of prior experience with Wolfenstein 3D on a friend’s PC. Despite that bit of experience, Goldeneye was the first I really played through and enjoyed, both for the single player campaign and the multiplayer experience. My friends and I played the 4 player battles enough that we invented our own games, such as 3 on 1 battles of “capture the base” (where in one level, the “base” was the restroom). While I still like Goldeneye, and had fun with Perfect Dark as well, I never really got into the FPS genre as a result of playing it.

Another shooter on N64 I liked was Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, and I still prefer 3rd person shooters over FPS. Although the game was probably fairly ranked as an average game, it wasn’t bad and it did offer a chance to play in the Star Wars galaxy. I particularly liked the Hoth level and the final level with the chance to do some space battles.

But if we want to talk about “Star Wars” + “Space Battles” then Star Wars Rogue Squadron was the game to get. The entire game was excellent, from its own Hoth battle to the more on rails levels. IF any series needs a current gen entry, even a VR entry, it’s Rogue Squadron. An entire game in an X-Wing sounds much more intriguing than just a bit of DLC in Star Wars Battlefront.

But for the N64, even Star Wars has to step aside when it comes to space battles as my favorite game on the system is Star Fox 64. Essentially a remake of the game on SNES, Star Fox 64 feels like it is the presentation of what the initial game was intended to be. With more complete shapes and graphics, superior music, and a bit of actual voice acting, the game was truly a masterpiece that has sadly not been matched since (unless you count Star Fox 64 3D for Nintendo 3DS).

 

 

 

Of all this era’s games, Star Fox 64’s graphics still hold comparatively well.

The only other big game I have strong nostalgia for is Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The first game to let us explore Hyrule freely in 3D, but more importantly to let us do so on horseback! Truly, Epona was the real breakthrough for the Zelda series here. The other unique aspect I liked was utilizying four arrow buttons for the ocarina music. However, aside from these new additions, it was just an excellent game that brought everything great from the series to the still budding world of 3D graphics.

 

Seriously, even the opening & title screen said “It’s all about Epona.”

As is obvious by the shortness of the list, I didn’t play too many games for the N64 and while the small library is partially to blame, it’s really the diversity of Playstation’s line up that really reduced my gaming with Nintendo this generation. I did miss some good games, like Banjo Kazooie and Banjo Tooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, and a few others.

I will give an honorable mention to Mischief Makers, which was a pretty darn good side scroller I remember quite enjoying. I was particularly happy to add it back to my library a couple years ago.

That’s pretty much it for my N64 experience. Next up, I’ll take a step away from consoles and head over to the PC that dominated the next few years of my gaming with a little game a few people may have heard of called EverQuest.

Growing Up Gaming – Playstation

Like so many others, I started the shift to Playstation from Nintendo for one game in particular. Final Fantasy VII.

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Final Fantasy II and III (still talking US SNES here) made me a full Final Fantasy fanatic. When Squaresoft announced the next installment on Playstation, it was already no question I would get it, but then the commercials showed off some cut scenes and it was like the future had arrived. The cut scenes they showed were like nothing we’d had seen before. If you go back to look at them now, they still aren’t that bad, but certainly show their age.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then there are the graphics of the actual game. They aren’t too bad in combat, and the backgrounds were definitely beautiful, but the polygonal block bodies of the characters are certainly rough. The game definitely had weaknesses, not helped by some poor localization translations due to a rather short deadline given to the localization team. It has since developed a divided opinion with some feeling it’s an overrated entry and others feeling it’s the best entry in the series.

Personally, I had leaned towards it being a great game that was still overrated, but have started leaning back towards it being pretty damn good. I’m not sure it’s the best entry in the series and I honestly don’t want to try to narrow down a de facto decision of which I think is the absolute best, but Final Fantasy VII, in my mind, definitely deserves its praise.I think Sephiroth is generally overrated and JENOVA is generally underrated in the game’s dual villain dichotomy. While I liked all of the cast, and I was stunned when Aeris (Aerith!) was killed, my favorite team was Cloud, Tifa, and Red XIII (Tifa being the best of waifus past, present, or future).

Hopefully the forthcoming remake collection will make the game what it truly should be, with improved localization and fleshed out segments that were clunky or unclear in the original release.

The summons got more details in their animations and more impressive, but there was one thing I particularly didn’t like about them – too many Bahamuts. I’m on board with Bahamut being among the strongest summons, if not THE strongest, but having Bahamut Zero, Neo-Bahamut, and Super Hyper Ultra Supreme Zeta Excelsior Turbo Arcade Capcom Bahamut got a bit much.

I finished Final Fantasy VIII on the system, but didn’t like the game nearly as much, especially the Draw system. The graphics were a clear improvement over the polygons of VII, but are still pretty rough to go back to today and the story and characters weren’t as memorable for me. I will give VIII credit on having a better ending than VII, though, since it actually had a conclusion for the main characters while VII basically gave us a Final Fantasy ending for Disney’s The Lion King.

I loved Final Fantasy IX much more than its predecessor and it ranks highly in my all time favorites in the series. With the return of characters being specific classes, the game seemed able to really set scenes to give each character their own story arc with personality and growth.It was alos a nice change to have the more cheerful world and cast after the darker, even angsty, atmosphere of the previous two games. Even Final Fantasy VI was a good bit darker, particularly the second half. While I said previously that I would be hard pressed to pinpoint my absolute favorite Final Fantasy, I do think IX is my favorite ending of them all, and definitely my favorite ending of the series on Playstation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other Final Fantasy game often overlooked on the system is Final Fantasy Tactics. I had not played tactical RPGs with the aforementioned exception of Shining Force II. I actually liked the earlier portion of Tactics as the story is more grounded in the war and political intrigue amidst the kingdoms before it gets into demons and monsters and nefarious looming evils.

Though I loved Final Fantasy VII, another RPG I have fond memories of came out alongside it on the Playstation – Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete. Where Square Enix was breaking new ground with CG cut scenes gaming hadn’t seen the equal to before, Lunar (originally on Sega CD) had beautifully animated anime cut scenes and vocal songs that kicked off right from the intro. It is a fantastic game a lot of voice acting (and includes a collection of outtakes and bloopers at the end, which get rather amusing).

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are so many RPGs on Playstation and so many I never played as a result. A few others I particularly enjoyed were Star Ocean: The Second Story, Wild Arms, Breath of Fire III, and Tales of Destiny. Chrono Cross was a good RPG, but came off feeling a little disappointing for me as a follow up to Chrono Trigger. Likewise, I enjoyed Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete, but not as much as Silver Star Story.

Moving away from RPGs, Playstation pulled me far into a new genre: Survival Horror. I had been exposed to the genre with Alone in the Dark on PC, but didn’t get too far in that one. Now Resident Evil 2 truly dragged me into it. I learned to dread the “click click click” of Lickers and became paranoid of a sudden burst of glass with dogs or ravens coming for me. I really knew to be worried if I found a room with a ribbon, ammo, and herbs with a typewriter. This led me to go back to play the first one and I then continued with each main entry since.

Playstation also had Spider-Man, which was the first really good Spider-Man game (also available on N64) that let you climb the walls and ceilings as well as web swing on top of good combat. It was followed by the equally good Spider-Man: Enter Electro. While the games may not seem as good today, especially without an open world, they were absolutely great at their time. These games began the tradition of having unlockable costumes that I really hope continues on the new Playstation 4 game.

 

 

 

The last game to have the a long lasting impact on me from the Playstation is Metal Gear Solid. I most remember the trippy 4th wall break with Psycho Mantis being such a surprise. The solution was quite clever as well, though it drove me nuts figuring out the call frequency that’s given to you on the back of the case. The Metal Gear Solid theme is one of my favorite video game music pieces.

 

This line up is far from complete, though. I played Crash Bandicoot and was introduced to Spyro the Dragon on the system. Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver was a lot of fun as well. And yet despite all the good memories on Playstation, I still barely scratched the surface of what was available. As with every console I collect for, hopefully I’ll be able to get back to more of them some day.

That’s it for this entry. Next up, I’ll briefly discuss my time with the overshadowed Nintendo 64.

 

Growing Up Gaming – Sega

Sega. It does what Nintendon’t.

One thing it didn’t do that Nintendid was grab my interest. There were some games, yes, but not as many to come close to the Nintendo and the Super Nintendo. In fact, I’m going to cover my experience with all Sega systems in a single post due to lack of in depth experience with them.

I first played Sega at another kid’s house in the neighborhood. It was the original model Sega Genesis and I think we really only played Sonic the Hedgehog, which was alright. I was impressed with the colors and music and, of course, the seeming speed at which Sonic would travel, the screen sometimes barely, if at all, keeping pace. I later got the model 2 Sega Genesis bundled with Sonic the Hedgehog 2.

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While I liked the original Sonic the Hedgehog okay, and eventually beat it with all the chaos emeralds, the sequel was certainly better. I vividly remember the first time flying to the Death Egg and the battle against the giant mech-Robotnik (and yes, I still like “Dr. Robotnik” better than “Eggman” as an official name). One thing the Sonic games did well, a thing that became a notable feature, was their music.

I still love Sky Chase Zone’s music

Of course, Sonic 3 and the Sonic & Knuckles expansion came after and were also great. I also played Sonic Spinball and Sonic 3D Blast, but they really weren’t as good. I have, however, always found it odd that the characters created for the Archie Comics, who appeared on the popular Saturday AM cartoon, were never utilized by Sega for any games other than cameo appearances in Sonic Spinball. I think a game based on the comic/cartoon would be far better than some of the recent offerings.

I did like the X-Men game on Sega Genesis, but primarily with a cheat code that gave unlimited mutant powers since I never thought it made sense otherwise. Cyclops isn’t limited to a certain number of optic blasts before he has to recharge and Wolverine certainly doesn’t have his strength sapped when he uses his adamantium claws. I know I played the sequel, X-Men 2: The Clone Wars, but I don’t remember it as well as the first.

I only played one RPG on the Sega Genesis: Shining Force II. I really liked how the combat had a strategy element with a full army of party members to move about the battle field with different reaches for their attacks. I’d like to go back and play the first one, though I understand it is quite difficult.

I did play a bit of Ecco the Dolphin, though never really knew what to do. Despite that, just swimming around impressed me with how fluid the animations seemed. Despite not playing them too much, I’m still a fan of the Ecco series today.

I never played anything on Sega CD or Sega 32X addons for the Genesis, though I always wanted to play Sonic CD. I’ve since gotten all of the systems of the “Genesis Trio” here and hope to get to play the games I missed out on eventually.

At some point, and for some silly reason, I also had a Game Gear. I loved the bright colors of the screen, but it was certainly a large, unwieldy device with practically no battery life so the hand held was basically a home device for me, using an AC adapter. I had some Sonic games, X-Men, and Tails’ Adventure, but nothing really stood out to leave a lasting impression.

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“Feed me your batteries!”

From Blockbuster, I rented a Sega Saturn to play Panzer Dragoon, thinking it looked like Star Fox on a dragon! I did definitely enjoy the game, but not enough to try saving up for the system and try more games for it.

As most know, the Dreamcast came out not too long after that, but I never had it. Instead, I had a friend I was roommates with in college that had it hooked up in our living room, but I only ever played Sonic Adventure on it.

So ends my woefully limited exposure to the Sega systems. Next, I will discuss my continued relationship with Nintendo as the N64 came out, though I certainly have less games to speak to there as well.

Growing Up Gaming – SNES

The Super Nintendo is definitely my favorite system. I enjoyed the NES, but Super Nintendo is where things really took off for me.Similar to the NES, I saved up the money to buy the system myself. I remember purchasing it in Houston, TX when we were visiting family.

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Buying just the system, I started with Super Mario World and was blown away. Granted, in my last post I did mention Super Mario Bros 3 introduced more new concepts that Super Mario World iterated on, but it did that so darn well. Flying moved from a raccoon tail to a yellow cape, but now able to glide along and even dive bomb with it. The big addition so many, including me, loved was Yoshi. I also really liked the music, which had some nice variety to it.

Super Nintendo also had some great beat ’em up games. While NES had Double Dragon, River City Ransom, and Battletoads, plus TMNT2 and 3, the SNES continued these with Super Double Dragon from Technos, Battletoads & Double Dragon and Battletoads in Battlemaniacs from Rare. The Super Nintendo also brought us Final Fight from Capcom.

Looking back, though, all my favorite SNES beat-em-ups have comic book origins. Of course, the first an foremost that has to be noted is TMNT IV: Turtles in Time from Konami. The game has smooth animations and great music and felt like the original arcade game had finally come to consoles (at the time, I didn’t realize there was a Turtles in Time arcade game). Just like many NES titles, it was a lot of fun with friends. We played the game fully through more than once, each as our favorite turtle.

The next I particularly liked was Spider-Man & Venom: Maximum Carnage from Software Creations & Acclaim, which was really hard. Perhaps not the best game (okay, it’s definitely not the best game, even for a beat ’em up), I still liked it. Playing as Spidey or Venom and playing through the story from the comics crossover was a awesome and the first time I felt a game started to capture the feel of being Spider-Man to some extent (previous titles didn’t do it for me). It would have been cool to have more of the characters playable instead of cameos for special attacks, but I still liked the game and there are certainly other comic book games that fared much worse.

Next would be what I feel is one of the best beat-em-ups and one of the best X-Men games for its time, X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse from Capcom. You played as Beast, Cyclops, Gambit, Psylocke, and Wolverine, each with their own stages, with basic beat ’em up levels, but some moves used more Street Fighter style controls to execute. The animations were fluid, the controls were responsive, and the story was fairly well done. Capcom took the gameplay of this game and went forward to be use it in another fun game late in the SNES lifecycle, Marvel Super Heroes in War of the Gems. Wolverine returned for this one, but instead of X-Men, you had Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Hulk.

I also really liked Capcom’s Street Fighter II on the SNES, despite being horrible at it in the arcades. Street Fighter II Turbo and Super Street Fighter II were also favorites to play. I was never particularly good on the console either, but still enjoyed playing the world tour at least. At the time, the big fighting game rivalry was Street Fighter and Midway Games’ Mortal Kombat. I never cared for Mortal Kombat, though. I preferred holding back to block more than having a block button and I thought Mortal Kombat was ridiculous with the blood spatter. A single punch seemed to send a liter of blood flying from your opponent. However, like many, I did find the fatalities ridiculously amusing just because of how over the top they were.

Continuing the exploration into genres I never got into on NES, we come to Nintendo’s new first party IP, Star Fox. I never played any sort of flight simulator or flight combat except perhaps a brief attempt at NES’ Top Gun that failed miserably. I think it’s safe to say Nintendo Power had a lot to do with drawing me into this one. I was 12 years old at the time and still on the tail end of TMNT-mania and had liked the space adventure of Bucky O’Hare (the NES game is an underrated gem – too bad I sold my copy and it skyrocketed in price since), so the Nintendo Power comic presented a good story basis to get excited for the game. I played Star Fox multiple times to explore each path. The Nintendo Power comic turned out to have little connection to the game’s story, but that didn’t matter. I still loved the game.

Just look at those cutting edge graphics that blew our minds:

Still continuing the exploration of genres I hadn’t tried with NES, I also loved another new one from Nintendo: F-Zero, despite never really caring to try racing games. The music went a long way for me and the health of your car being depleted and restored during the races added something fun. The other racing game I liked from Nintendo on SNES would be Super Mario Kart, particularly the four player battle matches. I still don’t think any of the sequels have matched the fun of the original simple balloon busting battle matches.

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And now we come to the real meat of my love for Super Nintendo. Roleplaying Games. Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy II (really IV) was my first Final Fantasy game and I believe the first roleplaying game I played other than a little of of Quest for Glory on PC. While I agree other entries may be objectively better, I still put this one as my favorite. I was completely engrossed with the story as Cecil gained and lost allies, fought monsters, and went through dungeons from dark knight to becoming a paladin. The combat of controlling the party, each character with their own class of skills and abilities, magic, and Rydia’s summons were all so great. I played through the game twice shortly after one another and was eager for more games like it.

Then it was Final Fantasy III (really VI). My friend recalls I was skeptical of it since it wasn’t a sequel to Cecil’s party. At the time I didn’t realize it was actually the sixth in the series with each being a new story. I quickly warmed up to it, though, and was once again fully immersed in the story. Overall, I do still feel like the cast could have been trimmed back a bit and that story driven games can easily suffer from “here’s a dozen characters…choose four” as you need certain characters in certain places to get more of their backstory or see their personalities come out and their character growth as certain events unfold. Still, I loved Final Fantasy III and never got rid of my original copy, the box, manual, or map.

Opening credits scene is near obligatory when talking about Final Fantasy VI

And finally there’s the winner of most “Best SNES RPG” lists as well as many “favorite SNES game” lists: Chrono Trigger, also from Squaresoft. I loved this game as well. So many great tracks on the soundtrack and a different take on combat from the other RPGs I had played. Chrono Trigger nailed almost everything for me. Characters were interesting, music was great, animations pushed the capabilities of the SNES, especially with facial expressions. Then on top of all that, it turned out to have multiple ways to beat the game for variations on the ending. This is another I’ve kept complete in box all these years.

A few honorable mentions for me with the SNES RPG line up would be ActRaiser from Enix, Breath of Fire from Capcom (but published in the US by Squaresoft), Illusion of Gaia by Quintet and published by Enix & Nintendo, and definitely the Lufia games by Neverland. Squaresoft also really hit a home run for me with Secret of Mana, which has one of my favorite pieces of music on the SNES.

Mega Man took a huge leap from NES to SNES with Mega Man X from Capcom, another favorite of mine. I only played the first, but have since picked up the second, which two of my friends feel is the best in the series. Eventually I’ll play it and someday find a copy of Mega Man X3 as well.

Similarly, I only played the first Donkey Kong Country. I’ve since gotten all three and am also told by friends the second is once again the best banana in the bunch, so someday I’ll have to get through all of them too. Donkey Kong Country was so cool because of how unique and impressive the graphics style was at the time. It was also just a fantastic platformer.

To wrap up this post, though not my favorite game on the system, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past introduced me to the Zelda franchise and is among my top games of all time. The charm of sprite based games holds up to time better than early polygon games.

One last honorable mention would have to be The Lion King from Virgin Interactive. One of my favorite animated Disney films, I got the game and was amazed at how smooth the animations were. I was also amazed, but not pleased, by how hard some of the later levels were. It also had some pretty good music adaptations from the movie that were impressive for the time.

Next I’ll talk about my memorable games from the other side of the console war: Sega.

 

 

Thoughts on Nintendo Switch

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Nintendo unveiled their new console, the Nintendo Switch, this week and the Internet has all sorts of reaction, as expected. Some are proclaiming the death of Nintendo (again). Unfortunately, investors are not convinced with the console either as stocks dropped after the system’s reveal event. Many are voicing worry that it will be a repeat of the Wii U’s underperformance and, to some extent, I am too.

A lot were thinking $250 was the smart, and likely, price point for the Switch. Instead, $300 gets the Switch console unit with dock, AC adapter, the Joy Con controllers and charging grip. However, once you add a game for $60 you’re looking at $360 to get started and $430 if you want to add a Pro Controller. What’s more, it’s a weaker system than Playstation 4 or XBox One. This could have still been appealing if it was released head to head with PS4 or XB1 at launch, but with those consoles currently priced around $250 with a game included, it’s a lot to justify. When the competition has a more powerful, current gen system, having one of the cheapest release prices in console history (when adjusted for inflation) doesn’t mean much.

On top of that, the accessories seem extremely steep. $70 for the Pro controller, $80 for extra Joy Con controllers, $30 for the charging grip, $90 for an extra charging dock set (if you want a second TV set up with one). If there’s a reason for the Pro Controller costing $20 more than the Wii U Pro controller (and a Dualshock 4), such as motion control or the advanced haptic rumble feedback like the Joy Cons, Nintendo needs to make it clear to make it seem like the value is worth the price.

Many are also marking a lack of games as a strike against it. 1-2 Switch seems like it should be the Wii Sports equivalent, packed in with the system, but it is a launch day game. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Just Dance 2017, Skylanders: Imaginators, and Super Bomberman R are all launch day titles. It does strike me as odd that Nintendo didn’t make more of a showing of Bomberman R, though I’ve seen complaints that it has micro-transactions tied up in it.

Within the release month, Has-Been-Heroes, Snipperclips: Cut It Out Together, and I Am Setsuna are also releasing for the Switch. While I Am Setsuna is available on other systems, I’d be interested if Nintendo and Square Enix offered a physical release here. Still, that’s 8 games available in the first month where Playstation 4 had 26 and XBox One had 21 launch day titles.

There was a Wii vibe from some of the titles presentations, but I’ll admit with the high prices, the game line up, and the presentation, there is a Wii U performance vibe here.

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The fact that Nintendo didn’t come up with this themselves is also disappointing.

However, with the information provided, I heard some real excitement at work the next day from fathers who loved the idea of the games for family nights and the ability to go from TV to handheld. The battery life didn’t remotely phase them as they expected portable charger options to be available. If that spreads, the Switch could actually be more of a Wii, adopted by families and less of the “core gamer” crowd, than a Wii U.

But here is my opinion on what Nintendo needs to do to get some interest in Switch, as equally irrelevant as everyone else’s opinion!

Indie Games – Court them!
I thought this about the Wii U and I feel the same about the Switch. Since the console is less powerful than the other two on the market, Nintendo should make a strong effort to court the indie games that don’t need as much power. If Nintendo made themselves into the key console for indie devs, they could build a library that’s unique to them. Seriously, Nintendo should have secured a Wii U console exclusive of Undertale.

And even if it’s not a Switch exclusive, Nintendo could stand out by putting in the extra effort to of releasing those indie games in a physical release that are otherwise digital only. This may seem like a minor differentiating factor, but Limited Run Games has been showing there is a demand for physical releases of indie games.

Imagine if Nintendo had picked up Mighty No. 9 rather than it being a Kickstarter project. If the project had been developed with Nintendo involved, their quality requirements having to be met, would we have gotten a better product? After all, since Mega Man was a staple on the NES and SNES, I felt Nintendo should have been involved in getting Mighty No. 9 up to snuff and securing it as an exclusive.

Or how about another NES staple with Castlevania? Would it increase interest in the Switch if Nintendo had picked up Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night as an exclusive rather than that being a Kickstarter project?

In the same vein as indie developers, Nintendo needs to re-evaluate their handling of fan projects. While I understand the legal necessity to protect their IPs, they could take a look at these projects they’ve shut down and work out a deal with the creators to complete the project for Nintendo. Moreso, they could start a program allowing fan’s to submit passion projects to Nintendo for approval and release. If Nintendo could bring these creators on board and officially release the fan made Mario 64 HD  or the recent fan remake of Metroid 2: The Return of Samus, it could offer relatively cheap exclusives for Nintendo.

There has to be some middle ground for fan projects to meet with Nintendo. Just look at Sonic Mania, a passion project including team members who were working on a fan project high-definition remake of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Having a program that encourages fans to submit their examples of levels or game work might find Nintendo new talent to bring on board.

Nostalgia & 3rd Party
One of the criticisms leveled at the Wii U is now being leveled at the Switch: lack of third party support. Some of the multi-platform games announced for the Switch are reportedly ports of last gen versions of the games due to the weaker power of the Switch. If the Switch doesn’t have the power to handle current gen games, they need to establish a unique niche that becomes a “must have” apart from what PS4 and XB1 offers.

The greatest strength Nintendo has is nostalgia, as recently demonstrated by the high demand for the NES Classic. They should capitalize on this with their new console as well. Not only do they have the nostalgia in their favor, but retro games are definitely in favor right now.

Rather than highlighting a lack of power, Nintendo could pursue third party developers to make exclusives, even if timed, that are lower cost and retro inspired. A perfect example is the XBox One’s upcoming Cuphead. Pursuing developers for these types of games while reaching back into their past library for inspiration could give them a good line up of new games. And if these games are cheaper to develop, a lower price tag on them could increase appeal. If Nintendo’s system costs as much or more than the competition, but the games were, on average $10 to $20 cheaper at retail, that could balance out the cost perception a bit.

Here are some Nintendo heyday series Nintendo could pursue convincing developers to bring back:

Adventure Island – Last seen as WiiWare, converting the original game to a 3D approach, Konami could come back to this series either as a classic style side scroller or keeping the 3D approach.

Adventures of Lolo – Another series that’s been forgotten, HAL Laboratory made Kirby and the Rainbow Curse on Wii U, so they still have a relationship with Nintendo. Lolo was a maze puzzler that would fit pretty well with Nintendo’s modern offerings.

Ghosts n’ Goblins – Though the original 8-bit and arcade versions have been re-released, a complete remake would be a solid exclusive. Staying true to the original difficulty, this could be Nintendo’s side scrolling “Dark Souls” of difficulty.

Ikari Warriors – SNK hasn’t done anything with this series since the NES. They were originally 2 player, but adding more enemies and really making the game chaotic could lend itself well to the Switch supporting 4 players, either on 4 Switch units for local co-op, or 4-way split screen could be loads of fun.

Capcom – Yes, we could long for Capcom to make another classic Mega Man that outshines Mighty No. 9, but no. Well, okay, if Nintendo could convince Capcom to make them an exclusive by the name of Mega Man Legends 3, that would get some attention for sure. But no, my thought was more towards a few remasters. Following the success of DuckTales Remastered, let’s get Rescue Rangers, Darkwing Duck, and TailSpin Remasters out.

TMNT – It’s been a while since the turtles had a good game and Mutants in Manhattan didn’t hit a home run. Either as a 3D approach or a classic side scrolling beat ’em up, Nintendo’s family gaming image might be a good fit to partner up with Nickelodeon for an approach at the four brothers.

Sparkster – Another longshot since it’s stuck in the depths of Konami, but perhaps Nintendo could pry it from their cold hearted fingers. I loved Rocket Knight Adventures and Sparkster and I don’t know why they never took off (pun intended). I’d love to see Sparkster brought back as a modern side scroller or as Nintendo’s contemporary to Ratchet & Clank.

Earthworm Jim 3 – Another title that hasn’t seen much attention other than a 2009 remake, Nintendo could do worse than to clench a new Earthworm Jim as an exclusive.

Samurai Jack – Ol’ Jack is on his way back to Toonami on Cartoon Network. Another potential partner for Nintendo to pursue, if they could land a deal to publish games based on this IP, it would be a decent win. With the new show said to be darker, it could offer a less “for kids” game for the Switch.

??? – This one will be a little difficult as it has the problem of no current developer or publisher, but Nintendo could go a long way if they could get a partnership deal with Disney now that Disney Interactive is defunct. Remember Aladdin and The Lion King on SNES? Smooth animation, tight controls, great music. Yet where was the game for Zootopia or Moana last year?

Staying in Disney’s court, where are the Marvel games? There hasn’t been anything in the MCU area since Captain America: Super Soldier from Sega. Aside from Lego Marvel Super Heroes, anyway. Where is X-Men Legends 3 or Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3? While these likely wouldn’t be Switch exclusives, having them on the system, if it was made, would be great fits for the multi-player that Switch promotes.

Mother Collection – Simply stated, if Nintendo would make a Mother Collection release for the Nintendo Switch, it would swell. At least to its fan base. If they’re that worried about it, they could do a limited first print run to gauge interest in the US with a 2nd print planned if the demand was there.

Nintendo’s Missing IPs
Nintendo has Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild at launch and Mario Odyssey slated for holiday 2017, but there are still a number of Nintendo IPs that need games lined up for Nintendo Switch.

Kirby – Almost a guarantee a Kirby game will release on Switch at some point.
Donkey Kong – Donkey Kong Country is on SNES, N64, Wii, & Wii U. It’ll happen.
Pokemon – With Switch’s portability, I’m sure it will get a Pokemon game. They may not want to step on Sun & Moon’s foot on 3DS just yet.

Metroid – I can’t really imagine Nintendo isn’t finally planning a new game in this series, likely in the Metroid Prime series. I have to think Nintendo will want to do one with the Joy Con controllers. If they are planning one, it would be wise to announce sooner rather than later.

Kid Icarus – Similar to Metroid, I think it might be interesting to see what the Joy Con controllers can do to emulate archery with the haptic rumble feedback. When was the last time Pit had a console game, after all?

F-Zero – Mario Kart has taken all the attention as Nintendo’s racer, but I’d like to see F-Zero come back on Switch.

Star Fox – Star Fox fans are still eager for a good Star Fox game whereas Star Fox Zero was really a Star Fox game built from testing the Wii U capabilities. Fake leaks suggested Star Fox 64 HD remake and that might actually be all Nintendo has to offer to satisfy fans. Personally, I’d like to see Star Fox move forward with a new story after Command. Pick an ending to make canon and go foward. I’d also like to see a little more depth brought to the story. Have Fox, Falco, Slippy, and Krystal piloting with Peppy as tactical advisor. Play up the mercenary basis and have them framed as traitors having to prove their innocence & bring down a new threat. Bring in supporting cast characters and implement cut scenes to actually make a story. Honestly, I’d even be okay with Star Fox Adventures coming back if that series went more towards Ratchet & Clank meets Zelda with more of a Star Wars style story. Or go 3rd person shooter mixed with flying levels like N64’s Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire.

Bravely Switch – Since Square Enix is developing for the Switch, I’d love to see I Am Setsuna get a physical release on the system and Bravely Third developed for it instead of 3DS. For that matter, Square Enix could bring Breath of Fire back to console.

The Big Deal – Super Mario RPG or…

Paper Mario has taken the place of Super Mario RPG, but I’d love to see Square Enix do another true Super Mario RPG sequel to Secret of the Seven Stars.

But going a step beyond that, I’d like to see Nintendo and Square Enix do a spiritual sequel: Super Smash Bros. RPG. Taking the page from Kingdom Hearts and mixing Smash Bros. cast with Final Fantasy characters for an RPG. If they come up with a good story, having these casts interacting could be fun. And they could negotiate to give us an entire line of Final Fantasy amiibos. Even splitting profits on those, I think the volume might make up for it.

The Nintendo Switch is never going to compete with the Playstation 4 nor XBox One and Nintendo shouldn’t try to. Their best bet is to establish themselves with a solid line up of games that make themselves unique and worth having. First party games alone aren’t going to be enough, as the Wii U showed. They need to get third party developers offering games as well, but not just ports that aren’t on par with the competition. If they can carve out some unique offerings, though, the Switch could still be an appealing console and with a price drop to $250, it could become an easy choice. Most gamers today are willing to drop the money for two consoles if both are offering enough unique experiences the other isn’t.

And also…cut the artificial scarcity nonsense. People want your product. Get into as many homes as you can before they get frustrated and decide to just pick up your cheaper competition.

What do you think Nintendo could do to make Switch a must have console apart and separate from the competition?

 

 

Growing Up Gaming – NES

In the last post, I mentioned not being certain about specifics of my gaming roots, but my memories are more clear as we proceed to the arrival of the Nintendo Entertainment System. I didn’t get one at release, but I certainly wanted one.

I was in elementary school and we had a fund raiser selling raffle tickets with the grand prize for who could sell the most being $100. While my parents took me door to door in the neighborhood or out to the local golf course, and my grandparents around their neighborhood, I had to give the sales pitch myself. Ultimately, I did sell the most tickets and got my $100 prize, which I opted to spend on buying myself the Nintendo Entertainment System.

This set me on a path that I grew rather proud of, having bought every console I’ve ever owned through the years myself rather than asking for one from my parents. While they bought me games at birthdays and Christmas, I always bought my own consoles. I think it was a good lesson in responsibility for young me.

I got the Action set with the console, controller, grey zapper, and Super Mario Bros./ Duck Hunt.

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Note: I pronounce it as N-E-S, not “ness” which is just silly.

My first game, of course, was Super Mario Bros., and my father and I started playing it together. Now, my father certainly has never had much interest in video games prior to this, nor since, but at the start of the NES era, we did play together some. In fact, he played enough that I remember him picking me up from school one day with a big grin on his face. When I asked why, he told me he had beaten Super Mario Bros. My father beat Super Mario Bros. before I did. I beat it not long after, and with the Fire Flower’s power, which he hadn’t.

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I tried to claim he cheated because I was at school, but I knew the truth…

The other game I got early was also because of my father: Golf. My dad has always been a golfer and I imagine he hoped playing the game together might spur an interest in the actual sport, but the game did no such thing. It wasn’t all that great of a game either, but it still holds a special place in my memory because of that time playing it with him.

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Mario played the gentleman’s sport of golf.

Now, there are plenty of other games I will be talking about in this post, but only one other with a connection to family for me. I had my tonsils removed when I was young and after surgery, I got The Adventures of Lolo as a get well gift. I seem to recall beating the game, but never played the sequels.

While I didn’t have a lot of familial connections in gaming, I did have friends. All my close friends had gotten an NES and we would play whenever we visited one another’s house. One friend and I played through Bubble Bobble on 2 player together. I played DuckTales at another friend’s house, but never owned it. I borrowed Mega Man 2 from a friend to play through.

DuckTales The Moon Theme may be my favorite NES tune.

And that social aspect, the trading games, led to exploring other games. I got Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers because I liked DuckTales. I got Mega Man 3 because I liked Mega Man 2. I went back to the original Mega Man via rental because I liked Mega Man 2 (but never beat it.. darn rock monster in Wily’s castle).

Rentals. Ah yes, before our town even had a Blockbuster, we had a local family owned rental store. I remember renting Dragon Warrior, which I didn’t care for at the time, Dick Tracy, Robocop, Yo! Noid, and Ninja Gaiden games. My friend and I would play Ikari Warriors for hours each rental. I also remember loving Wolverine on NES after the disappointing offering of Uncanny X-Men. Unfortunately, I owned (and still own the same copy of) Uncanny X-Men and only rented Wolverine, though I’ve rectified that now.

Like almost every young boy in the USA, I was wrapped up in turtlemania, so of course I got the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game. I don’t recall how I got it, but I’d be willing to be it was a birthday or Christmas present one year. While many had trouble with the underwater level diffusing bombs, I never had too much trouble and with some practice, I was able to ace that level every time with minimal damage. It was the level afterwards that always got me, with so many places to go and not knowing where the correct path was. I’d waste too much health going to dead ends or in circles and lose lives. Without YouTube and the Internet, the best we had was whatever Nintendo Power had to offer (which I was subscribed to starting with July/August 1989, Volume 7). We watched my friend’s older brother get to Shredder once, but he didn’t manage to beat him.

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Some of the covers were pretty amazing.

By the time TMNT 2: The Arcade Game was out, we all knew the arcade game (which I would love to own one day) and though not as good, the NES version was still a blast. We still went over to each other’s houses to play it and we’d replay the full game again and again after beating it.

Another curiosity of the NES era is the movie games. Today, and for a few generations now, it is generally expected that movie tie-in games tend to be fairly lackluster, though there are some exceptions. This wasn’t the case with the NES, possibly due to the more simplistic game designs. Still, the NES had some decent movie tie-in games. The 1989 Batman movie game was a pretty good side scrolling platformer for its time.

I also still love the Who Framed Roger Rabbit game with the ability to drive around in Benny the Cab and outrun the weasels being one of my favorite parts. The game had some puzzle solving, amusing items to employ (exploding cigars and cartoon holes to cause enemies to fall through), collecting pieces of Acme’s will, some joke telling mini games, and a little bit of fisticuffs for combat. I remember spending a lot of time on that game, and a lot of frustration against Judge Doom.

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Seriously, it was a hard fight.

Other movie tie ins I remember being pretty good include the Robocop games, Dick Tracy, and particularly Gremlins 2 was a lot of fun. I think Back to the Future is supposed to be pretty good, though I don’t recall playing it. I also liked both Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II, despite what anyone else says. Of course, not all were great, like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but the ratio of good to bad movie tie in games is definitely in the system’s favor.

I also played Super Mario Bros. 2 at my friend’s, or borrowed it, yet never owned it. Once again, it spurred me to get Super Mario Bros. 3 and eventually went through every level (though I definitely prefer wise use of warp whistles). The third is definitely my favorite on NES, though Super Mario World on SNES may edge out as my favorite of the series. Still, Super Mario World made polishing touches where Super Mario Bros. 3 introduced so many new things. Flying with the raccoon tail, saved games (correction, this was not on NES’ SMB3), the different suits with different abilities were all impressive and stunning new additions.

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In hindsight, I actually missed a lot of great titles that set the standard in their categories and launched both their own franchises as well as imitators since. I only briefly played, or watched friends play, Legend of Zelda and Adventure of Link. The same goes for Metroid and Kid Icarus. I never played Kirby either, though a friend of mine had the GameBoy game.

Bomberman.
Metal Gear.
Castlevania.
Even Final Fantasy!

All games I never played as a child and still haven’t played through yet in some cases. I’ve got them in my library now, added to the ever monolithic backlog, but haven’t played through them.

Honorable mentions of other games I did love: Contra, Bucky O’Hare, Tiny Toon Adventures, Little Nemo, Battletoads, Godzilla: Monster of Monsters, Double Dragon, and Shadowgate.

As a bit of a sidenote to the NES, I never really got into hand held games. I never had a GameBoy, but later got a GameBoy Pocket and then GameBoy Color, but I pretty much only got in on the Pokemon craze with Blue and then later Yellow. Otherwise, I didn’t really play GameBoy through its iterations.

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Back when he was a pudgy Pikachu.

To me, the Nintendo was all about fun. Well designed games with solid gameplay. Often light on plot, they were still a lot of fun. And some did have decent plots within their constraints. But Nintendo, the NES, was also about fun with friends and sharing your experiences and your knowledge with each other.

Playing video games at my friends, trading games to borrow, and talking about how to beat them pulled me deeper into loving video games. They weren’t just for introverted kids (even though to some extent I am an introvert), there was always a social aspect to them, even to single player games.

And though I may have missed some great games, I still had great experiences with the ones I did play. Experiences I hope to share.

In the next entry, I’ll talk about my favorite games from the Super Nintendo, where I fell fully into RPGs.

Growing Up Gaming – Arcade & Atari

I don’t remember all the specifics of years and ages for the milestones of my childhood playing video games. As such, I can’t say with certainty what I played first, but I have some small recollection. I do know as a child, before I owned any system, I played arcades at hte Dairy Queen restaurant in my home town when my grandparents would sometimes take me after school.

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I’m fairly sure Ms. Pac-Man was the first game I ever played and it was at that Dairy Queen with their single arcade cabinet, asking for extra quarters whenever I could. It turns out that Ms. Pac-Man and I are closer than I’ve realized in my youth, as her initial release on January 13, 1981 was only 8 days prior to my birth.

The second game I seem to recall playing was Galaga. I didn’t chase high scores, being young enough that such a thing wasn’t important to me if it even truly registered in my mind other than putting your initials in to be saved, but I had fun playing them. To me, that was, and still is, the core focus of video games – to have fun.

I never got an Atari system growing up, either. The Atari 2600 had been out a while, releasing in 1977, and the Atari 5200 released in 1982, right after I was born, but still a while before I was starting my discovery of video games. My friend, however, had an Atari 2600, so I was introduced to home consoles at his house when I’d go over to play.

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I remember playing Pac-Man and, despite the graphics being a fairly poor imitation of the arcade, absolutely loved it as well. I didn’t care that it didn’t look as good: it sill played basically the same and was still fun. I guess even in the 80s, you could have a debate over the importance of graphics to the overall experience of a game.

Another game I remember playing frequently with my childhood friend was Joust. For hours we would battle over the lava pits on those birds. Joust still remains one of my favorite games on Atari and I was quite amused to see it recreated in World of Warcraft’s Cataclysm expansion.

I don’t remember too many specifics of playing it, but I do remember I loved Chopper Command on Atari 2600 as well. My friend may have gotten this one later, as I think I vaguely remember playing it while he was playing NES at the same time. Or perhaps we just took turns playing it.

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Thrill at the lifelike graphics as you rescue your men from the enemy!

While my introduction to video games, or videogames if we want to get into that debate, was not largely in depth with vast exposure to the arcade scene nor a large library of Atari home console games, it did create the spark to light what would become a wildfire in my life. It’s interesting to me that I was born just before the video game crash of 1983, but games were still out there enough to gain my interest for the two years before Nintendo would release the Nintendo Entertainment System.

In a way, the crash may have contributed to setting the stage for Nintendo’s explosive arrival with their console. Had it not been for Atari consoles, and their games, having prices slashed, many may have never played them. If we hadn’t been exposed to them then, who’s to say we would have been excited when Nintendo came along? Sure, a lot of people never played Atari and still jumped on the Nintendo train, but perhaps some of us, perhaps myself, wouldn’t have.

Yet oddly enough, not once during my childhood was I even aware there was a crash. There was always a couple arcade cabinets in town growing up, either at the Dairy Queen I mentioned or the bowling alley and later a pizza place. One friend or another would still have an Atari 2600, though I don’t recall any of the later Atari systems being in any friend’s home. Then the NES was here before we knew it.

While this little post was rather small, it’s because my introduction to games was small, but in my next post, I’ll start to discuss my memories and favorite games starting with my first console, where I truly got into video games with the Nintendo Entertainment System.

National Videogame Museum Opens Its Doors

The National Videogame Museum (NVM) opened in Frisco, TX on April 2, 2016. It was a bright, sunny Saturday morning. 10:00 AM, to be precise, was the opening of the doors. I was there and I was excited. Obviously, it’s taken a while for me to get to writing my thoughts on the grand opening of the nation’s, the world’s, first museum dedicated to the history of video games (I use “video game” though the museum officially uses “videogame”).

I had arrived at the Frisco Discovery Center, where the NVM is located, at 10:05 with a bit of a hurried step. I wanted to get in with plenty of time to look around as I was meeting someone in 3 hours to hand over some video games I had accumulated that weren’t going into my collection. I knew the doors opened at 10, so I went right in. And found the line. I followed the line outside again and saw just how many had arrived to see the history of their hobby.

There were a lot. The Museum holds about 240 people and the line was well out of the building and along the sidewalk, starting to curl around the build like a human formation of Nibbles.

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One or two people showed up

I stood in line with a mother whose 7 year old son was running around playing with other kids while they waited. Preston was here to see more about video game history, particularly Pac-Man and Galaga. I learned something from Preston’s mother in the hour we waited outside.

Pixels was a good movie. That’s right, Pixels.

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Yes, THAT Pixels.

Preston saw Pixels more than once in theaters and probably a dozen times at home since it released on blu-ray and DVD. Pixels introduced this young boy to Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Q*bert, and made him want to learn more. He went to Google and began reading about these games and these characters and when they came out. He grew interested not only in the games themselves, but their history.

If a 7 year old boy loves a movie about video game characters, and that movie drives him to pursue the history of the industry, then I have to say the movie did something right. Adults and critics may not like it, but if it stirred the interest and curiosity of children, then it’s a good movie by my measure.

And so, there we were, at the first museum in the nation that would let him explore more of that history. TekForce was present and volunteered to provide music and MC the waiting room that we reached at 11 o’clock. I was able to speak with him a moment and learned that the museum was expecting 1,500 visitors for the grand opening day. In the first hour, they were adjusting expectations to 4,000. They underestimated how many people would come out for the grand opening.

As we waited for our ticket groups to be called there were pictures available to color, music played, and a couch set up with a Wii U and Super Mario Bros. available to play. Kids were having a great time. There was also trivia to win prizes – the question I was present for was regarding Pac-Man’s original name (The answer is Puck Man).

At 11:35, our ticket group was called up and we finally went into the NVM lobby to pay for our tickets to the museum proper. Tickets are $12 for adults, but include $1 worth of tokens for the arcade at the end of the museum. By noon, 2 hours after arrival, I finally set foot inside.

The Museum is divided into 16 stages, all of which cover a different portion of video game history.

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But first, you’re greeted by Mario

 

Stage 1, “Begin” covers the early days of video game history. In fact, with Ralph Baer’s “Brown Box Prototype” on display, it might be safe to say this touches on video game pre-history and then advances through history from there.

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An important aspect of the NVM is that it’s not just exhibits to look at and read. There are a lot of interactive features at the museum, mostly in the form of playable games in the exhibits. Almost every Stage has something you can play.

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Just like the one you grew up with, right?

Stage 2, “Timeline” is the most time consuming interactive option. With screens set up above oversized Super Nintendo controllers, this allows visitors to browse every single video game console ever released to get some information about them. Release year, MSRP, some highlighted games, as well as notorious games, and some of the most valuable on the system can be reviewed. There are 53 different consoles to read about, all of which are on display on the wall.

Stage 3, “Third Party” showcases a number of the third party titles that helped consoles excel with the public. Pitfall, which is playable in the exhibit, Stampede, Megamania, River Raid are on display in their original boxes in a display case while some notable Nintendo entries from Activision share the bottom shelf of the display with Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II, Rampage, and more.

Stage 4, “Control” is, quite simply, a full wall with a history of controllers through the years. Multiple controllers from each system are displayed, as well as a disassembled Atari 5200 controller.

Stage 5, “Portable” explores portable games. Game n’ Watch is on display, along with others that pre-dated the Game Boy most think of when “portable gaming” is mentioned.

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Again, there are playable games set up here as well. However, one of the most notable items features in this display is the Barbie Edition Game Boy, which is an unreleased prototype Game Boy Pocket. Supposedly the deal never went through and only two of the systems, along with a gaudy carry case, were made.

Stage 6, “Crash” is ironically my favorite exhibit, despite its dark days in gaming history. It deals with the video game crash of 1983. The first thing I liked was the introduction plaque does detail that the cause of the crash is much more complicated than the simple examples often cited, but not without being self aware of these rumors. Poor E.T. still appears in the stage’s image, even though it’s acknowledged the game was not the cause.

What I really liked about this exhibit, though, was the “going out of business” store front. With various 80s items such as Pac Man trading cards and bubble gum under the glass, a Top 5 sign for the week’s hottest games (which includes E.T., I might add), and a sign indicating the store is going out of business, it’s a very nicely done presentation.

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I promise I was also NOT the cause of the crash.

Stage 7, “Rise” presents the return of video games, stronger than ever, on both computer and with the Nintendo Entertainment System. A lot, and I do mean a lot, of set ups are here to play and interact with.

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At this point, as you venture through the museum, you’ll find the bathrooms. Not exactly something you’d think worth mentioning, but this is the NATIONAL VIDEOGAME MUSEUM, so of course the bathroom entries are worth mentioning with their clever indication of “Men’s” and “Women’s” signs.

 

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Women’s

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Men’s

Stage 8, “Create” presents games moving from just being games and actually involving the user in the creative process. Games like Mario Paint are on display, but I wasn’t able to spend much time hands on (there were a lot of people here, remember?).

Stage 9, “Invent” presents a theoretical game studio’s office. Games adorn the shelves, a PC and work station are present, various articles and news clippings are framed on the walls.

Stage 10, “Transmit” discusses the rise of online gaming with various Blizzard entries, Quake, and two terminals that visitors can use to communicate and send a webcam image to each other on either side of the exhibit with.

Stage 11, “Listen” details music coming into games more with entries such as Parappa the Rapper and, of course, Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution.

Stage 12, “Unplugged” is likely to surprise many visitors with the various board games that were released based on video game properties. Frogger, Q*bert, Pac-Man, Legend of Zelda, and more are all on display.

Across from “Unplugged” is an exhibit showcasing various items. Systems, the Pokemon series, rare and valuable games, this section is an eclectic mix of things that didn’t belong to a single exhibit, but are definitely fun to look at.

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Before venturing to the next stage, there’s also an exhibit with various pieces of merchandise, including the wearable Mega Man helmet.

Stage 13, “Family” accurately portrays a family living room from the 1980s, with a console hooked up for play on the television, a fake plant, wood panel walls, and a Dogs Playing Poker painting on the wall! There are even family photos on display.

Stage 14, “Sanctuary” depicts a teen’s bedroom. Bear in mind, the NVM is in Frisco, Tx, so if you aren’t a Cowboys and Rangers fan, forgive the decor!

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A Pac-Man throw pillow, 80s movie posters, a record playing 80s music, and a Mario phone. It’s worth noting that the visitor I caught in this picture….still had trouble with the NES Zapper hitting the ducks in Duck Hunt.

Stage 15, “Respect” isn’t an exhibit so much as an art display. A cube art mural of Ralph Baer hangs near the conclusion of the museum tour.

Stage 16, “Bonus” is a collection of framed posters, displays, arcade machines, and a life size statue of Gabriel Belmont. Along the wall next to Stage 16 are a line of consoles, all of which had someone playing them. I did get to finally play a bit of Bonk’s Adventure on Turbo Grafx-16, though. Above the consoles is a mural with a number of recognizable video game characters.

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Stage 16 leads to an 80s style arcade to conclude the tour of the National Videogame Museum. The lights are dark and lit more by the neon marquees and the screens of video games than overhead light and it was packed with a person on just about every cabinet. A machine is in the arcade to give tokens for dollar bills in case your 4 tokens from entry aren’t enough to get your gaming fix.

Finally, you exit the arcade to find yourself in the gift shop. I didn’t look at everything, but overall they had some cool items in there. Some books particularly caught my eye and they were all priced reasonably compared to Amazon.

I’ve gone on for over 1700 words about this museum and don’t think I’ve scratched describing it. I was hopeful for this endeavor after visiting the “History of Videogames” exhibit at the Experience Music Project museum in Seattle, WA, but this is far beyond what was presented there.

The one thing I’d like to see NVM add if they are ever able to expand in size is to build a display library for every system. The curators, I believe, have only brought out a small part of their overall collection. I would love to see a glass display shelving every Atari or NES title in their boxes. In time, seeing every video game on every system lined up on shelves, their spines facing out would be truly a sight to see.

If conclusion, if you’re in the DFW area in Texas and have time to get to Frisco, the National Videogame Museum is well worth your time. I only had a couple of hours available and don’t feel like it was remotely enough time. I’m looking forward to going back with friends when they come into town, but I might have to sneak an extra trip before they make it.

My only hope is that they get repeat business and are able to stay open for a long time to come. Video games have become a huge part of our culture, both in America and across the globe, and it’s great to see a museum preserving and sharing their history.