Game History pt. 2 (1998-1999)

1.17.2019

  • Reading: “Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban” by J.K. Rowling
  • Listening to: “Courage to Grow” by Rebelution
  • Playing: “Bastion” by Supergiant Games (Xbox One X)

I started washing dishes at a small, family owned Italian Restaurant called the Great Impasta as soon as I was old enough. My family ate there regularly and the food was delicious. I came home smelling like garlic, tomatoes and Italian dressing every night but it was worth it as I could finally save for a car and also allow me to expand my SNES game library. This job also initialized my love of food and cooking which I will cover in future writings.

In my youth I was obsessed with video game magazines and kept current on upcoming games, systems and other aspects of the gaming culture. I flipped through issues of Nintendo Power, EGM and Game Informer (FuncoLand’s publication which you received as a part of its reward program). I was fascinated with the Nintendo/Sony console which was set to be Nintendo’s follow-up my beloved Super Nintendo and decided that I would have it as soon as I saved enough money.

There was a falling out between Nintendo and Sony which is covered along with the Nintendo/Sega feud in the book “Console Wars” by Blake J. Harris, a fascinating read if you want to know more about the aggressive marketing of games and consoles in the 90’s. When Sony unveiled the PlayStation I knew I had to have it, the graphics were in three dimensions and the games came on CDs, which was quickly becoming the format of choice over cassette tapes for music.

I could not afford the $299 console when it launched on my minimum wage salary so I went to Wal-Mart and put the PlayStation and one game on lay away. I put 10% of the total price down and had 3 months to pay off the balance. Every plate I washed and every pan I scrubbed inched me closer to making my first console purchase. This passion was noticed by my manager, who began teaching me how to make pasta sauce, boil pasta and toast garlic bread in a salamander.

After a few weeks of giving my entire paycheck to Wal-Mart I finally had my PlayStation! I took it home and plugged it into my personal TV (a 10-inch TV/VHS combo that up to that point had been reserved for re-runs of old WWF pay-per-views and the Back to the Future and Karate Kid Trilogies) plugged it in, inserted the included demo disk, fired up my first demo and experienced the heart-breaking stuttering and skipping of the full motion video which was my first PlayStation experience but not my first experience with skipping as I owned a DiscMan.

Buying a system near its launch is a risky proposition. The hardware sometimes doesn’t work as the manufacturer intended. This was the case with my PlayStation. Fortunately I had every receipt from my lay away transactions and was supplied with a replacement immediately at Wal-Mart.

This time when I hooked up the PlayStation I didn’t bother with the demo disk, I wasn’t messing around any more. I was frustrated that my hard work earned me a faulty console and I wanted to fight about it. Fortunately for me I had purchased only one game all about fighting: Tekken.

My experience with fighting games up to this point were primarily casual matches of Street Fighter 2, Killer Instinct and ClayFighter but from the moment I played Tekken for the first time I was hooked. I remember being stunned by the 3 dimensional graphics and movement of the fighters. I really enjoyed playing as Kazuya, Paul and King. I enjoyed how the action was realistic compared to the fireballs and dragon upper cuts of Street Fighter 2.

I played many games on PlayStation since I had income and the large initial investment of the console had been made. I remember subscribing to PlayStation Underground and feeling like it was the future of gaming. I signed up for the disk-based magazine and was mailed the “issue” in the mail. The first disk had insider content: interviews, music videos, codes and a bunch of other stuff; but the second disk had game demos and I had my first exposure to many games this way. None stands out to me more than the quirky and cinematic platformer, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee.

Abe’s Oddysee is one of my favorite games on the PlayStation. I was fascinated with the offbeat characters and moody, alien environments. The game is a side scrolling platformer with puzzle elements about rescuing the indentured Mudokons from their evil corporate overlords using your wits and “GameSpeak” alone. Abe was a weak, pacifist janitor who stood no chance against his enemies; he had to stick to the shadows and sometimes flat-out run away from gun-toting Sligs and the ferocious native creatures of OddWorld. The game developers originally had plans for 5 games in the OddWorld series and I have played every new OddWorld release over the years and am still holding out hope for a new game in this series. The PlayStation also introduced me to a different series and an entire genre of games shortly after my experience with Abe.

Final Fantasy games had never been on my radar, honestly role-playing games didn’t interest me very much; I didn’t understand the turn based battle system, leveling up or setting up skills and magic. Final Fantasy 7 changed that and became one of my favorite games of all time and catapulted me into a whole new genre of games that told incredible stories and were challenging in a different way than I was accustomed. There was a falling out between Nintendo and SquareSoft and the Final Fantasy games were not going to be published on the Nintendo 64 as the game would require more memory than was cost-effective of the low-memory, high-cost cartridges of the Nintendo 64.

Sony and SquareSoft used this in their marketing of Final Fantasy 7 and the cheeky advertisements had me interested in the game so I went to the EB Games in the mall and pre-ordered the game. When the game was released I went to pick it up and was surprised that the game came in a dual-disk jewel case instead of the usual single-disk case used for PlayStation games. I opened the game when I got home and was shocked to see not 2 but 3 disks! Needless to say the game occupied many hours of my teenage years and led to my later love of Dungeons & Dragons.

During this time in my life I was all about pre-ordering games, you would usually get a t-shirt, poster, figurine or other cool incentive to do so and there was not a risk of your small, Mid-West game store of running out of the game on launch day. I played so many amazing games on PlayStation and felt that my first major purchase was justified and the joy I experienced with that console was the precursor to my first buyer’s remorse for a pre-order and it was not a $50 game; it was “$199 on 9.9.99” and became the reason that I never buy a console at launch.

Game History pt. 1 (1987-1997)

1.9.2019

  • Reading: “Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban” by J.K. Rowling
  • Listening to: “Misanthrope” album by Brian Altano
  • Playing: “Bastion” by Supergiant Games (Xbox One X)

I started playing video games in 1987 when I was 4 years old. My origins begin with the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). I remember the feeling of joy that came with the realization that I could control the character on-screen with the square, grey controller with bright red buttons. I loved watching Sesame Street and my 80’s Saturday morning cartoons but from the first moment I touched a controller I was in love with video games.

I started with Jaws on the NES because the cart was in the console. This game had an overhead view when controlling your boat and switched to side scrolling during the underwater sequences. I never killed Jaws, but I would spend hours shooting spears at him while his health barely dwindled, repeatedly falling victim to his powerful bite and unyielding health bar. One day in the future I will fire that cart up and finally vanquish my first virtual foe.

After my introduction to the Nintendo with Jaws I then figured out I could change carts and popped in the other cart we had called Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt and this was when my love and adoration for video games truly began. The music, a beautiful, upbeat 8-bit chiptune soundtrack, will forever fill me with feelings of nostalgia and joy. I was captivated by the sense of speed compared to the lumbering swimming and boating mechanics in Jaws. Mario would run, bounce on an enemy’s head and collect massive amounts of coins in his quest to rescue the princess from the notorious Bowser.

I improved with every life lost, screaming through levels using muscle memory and trying to get to the flag without stopping. Before modern-day achievement systems my incentive to do such things was usually to show off to other kids: challenging them to beat my time or rush through the entire game using warp pipes without losing a life. In modern times there are speed-runners whose entire schtick is to blaze through a game as fast as possible, sometimes using glitches and other exploits to improve their time. Watching videos of them are awe-inspiring; with movement and reaction times so flawless they resemble an artificial intelligence when performing these runs.

I played many games on the NES; some classics and some licensed crap with bad controls and horrendous graphics. The beauty was the fact that the gaming culture of the late 80’s for a midwestern kid was nearly nonexistent and I had no outside influence. In my opinion the Jaws game on NES was better than any of the games available on our other console my father’s ColecoVision; with its ports of arcade games from the early 80’s and controller that resembled a telephone number pad. My childhood favorite games from the NES are Excitebike, Super Dodge Ball, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, Donkey Kong Jr. and of course Super Mario Bros. With the Nintendo Switch and NES Classic I have been able to revisit some of these games and still find joy in playing them; though admittedly some of my platforming skills have dulled since my youth and those retro games are difficult!

I don’t remember when I got the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) but I remember Super Mario World and the effect it had on me. Super Mario Bros. made me fall in love with games; Super Mario World made me obsessed with games. With its colorful, bright, world and beautiful (especially when compared to early systems and accompanying games) graphics and near flawless gameplay I began finding every secret level and methodically scavenging every inch of the map before ultimately rescuing the princess from Bowser again (not for the last time) and seeing the finale of the game.

Blockbuster was in full force at the time and it was with the Super Nintendo I convinced Mom to allow me a weekend video game rental instead of the usual VHS tape. I played so many different games during this time but I didn’t really master any of them except the handful I owned (Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, F-Zero, and Pilotwings) but have fond memories of the many iterations of Street Fighter 2, ClayFighter and Donkey Kong Country 2 and 3. It was during this time I made my first ever purchase of a game with money I had earned by doing chores.

During a trip to the Mall of America I had around $100 to spend and I was enthralled by the alluring shops and wide variety of wares. I had a one track mind and I stumbled into K.B. Toys (R.I.P. brick and mortar toy stores) and saw a black SNES cart behind the glass. I inquired the price and was told it was $80. Having no concept of the value of $100 or the normal cost of games at that time I calculated that I had enough to purchase this mystical, brooding cart. I had not seen a colored cartridge since the gold Legend of Zelda NES cart (which I never owned and still have not played; more on that in part 3) and I remember immediately opening the box just to see the smooth, dark plastic.

My primary memories of Killer Instinct are purchasing it and being demolished by the CPU opponents and trading it in at FuncoLand (later purchased by GameStop) and receiving the measly sum and accompanying sting that anyone who has traded in a game has experienced. This was the first and last SNES game I purchased as a different grey console demanded my attention and this one played music CDs!

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