Category Archives: Retro

What can I say?

Twitter is definitely the worst thing ever to happen to this blog.  A lot of the little moments I used to share, I end up tweeting, and rarely do I come here to expound upon those moments.  Before Twitter, I’d lament about the most minute experiences.  Now I blast them out there and feel less inclined to write about them here.

It’s not the end of the blog.  No way.  I’m coming back with a vengeance.  (Watch this be the last post for another two weeks).

Tonight was Retro Night.  Andrea, Luke and I played some Mario Kart 64 battle mode.  It started out that way, because Luke wanted to play and in that mode he can just drive off in any direction he pleases.  (And I get to use him for target practice. That still makes me a good dad, right?)  Andrea took over Luke’s spot for a little bit and I had a blast playing.  There was a moment when she pulled off a miraculous shot, and we both cried out in laughter, but I immediately thought about how long it’s been since that game had provided that, and how long it will probably be until the next time.

I would love to have a small group of people that wanted to get together on a regular basis and play old games like this.  I don’t see that happening around here.  Of course I never expected the GoldenEye Fests to be as popular as they were.  That was when the N64 was the new thing though… Oh well.  If I can trick Andrea into playing with me once in a while, that’s okay.  And if that feeling is rare and fleeting, then I can appreciate it all the more I think.

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A Game I Missed

I know I’ve written here before about how weird life was back in the Gamecube days.  As far as gaming is concerned the result today is that I have a rather large collection of games for that system that have been barely played.

F-Zero GX was my choice tonight for retro night.  I’ve actually been thinking about this game for a while, ever since the 30 cent sale Nintendo had on the Wii U Virtual Console that featured the original F-Zero on SNES.  I could have swore I’d played GX more, but when I popped it into the Wii tonight in the Retro Room, what I ended up playing was MUCH better than I remember.

First off, this game made me re-affirm my love for the Gamecube controller.  What a well crafted, comfortable and precise instrument.  I still would have preferred a more traditional button layout, but everything else is just about the pinnacle of controller design.  It just melts into your hands.  And this game, F-Zero GX really highlights how precise and solid the analog stick is.

Maybe I approached this game too much like Mario Kart.  F-Zero is more about course memorization and well timed flicks of the stick than it is racking up power slides and cutting corners.  I remember being absolutely terrible at this game when it came out.  Apparently I haven’t given it another chance until over a decade later.  What I discovered tonight is the smooth and polished controls, AI that really fights back, and some really creative course design.  It didn’t take long though before the tracks started kicking my butt.  I need to spend more time with this game and learn the tracks, I’m convinced that’s the ONLY way to win the later stages.

All of a sudden I’m smitten with this game that has literally been collecting dust for ten trips around the sun.  I really hope to spend some more time with it this weekend and finally break it in.  If anybody wants to come over for some split-screen action in the Retro Room, just make the call.

Bygones Are Bygones

I was never a Sega kid.  If you look back through the archives of this blog, or explore the “Video Games” category, you’ll know that I am a fair tempered Nintendo fanboy.  And in the 16-bit days, the console wars were at Defcon 2.  It just so happened that I really ended up sitting out of the 16-bit era.  I never had a Super Nintendo growing up, but I had friends with both a Genesis and an SNES.  Maybe that’s what made adding the Genesis to the collection feel so right, or maybe it really is that enough time has passed, we can put those quarrels behind us.

I got a small amount of birthday money in the past couple weeks, and combined with a small amount of money I saved up, I had enough to buy this Sega lot on eBay.  A Genesis, 1 controller and 22 games.  I pretty much inherited somebody’s complete Genesis collection!

What do I play next?  Now, granted a lot o those games are mid 90’s sports games.  But it was really fun watching Andrea play some football that has almost more in common with the old vibrating metal football games of the past than it does today’s sophisticated Madden games.  Still just as fun though.  And neat to think that at the time, that was the pinnacle of gaming achievement for the genre.  Plus it’s kinda cool to play as Joe Montana for the Chiefs.  I mean, c’mon.  If you don’t like that you can play as one of the OTHER 27 teams! (Hint, there’s 32 NFL teams now).

Of course there’s Sonic in there, and some other arcade/adventure style games.  Really a pretty nice collection.  I know positively nothing about Sega, but it will be fun to experience these games for the first time!

Retro Game Night!

FFVI Cart on Shelf

I’m so excited.  I have officially dubbed Tuesdays as Retro Game Night in my house.  You’re probably thinking, I could play retro games every night around here if I wanted to.  And I COULD, but then I couldn’t get a lot of other things done, be it gaming, or actual, you know… responsibilities.

So I decided in order to be able to enjoy a few of the things I’ve really been wanting to do, and not just plow through them one at a time like it’s a job, I would take different nights of the week and dedicate them to different areas.  All part of this preparation and organization kick I’m on lately.

Monday – Guild Wars 2 Night: Officially started last night as Andrea and I were playing through with her new character. This game is incredibly fun, but will literally consume every minute of your life you’re willing to throw at it. Part of this new schedule is to keep me from spending ALL my time playing GW2. Haha.

Butt Kicked

Tuesday – Retro Game Night: A night to play anything not in HD. That’s (begrudgingly) how I’m defining “retro” gaming these days. Right now I’m focusing on Final Fantasy III. It’s tough because it’s been so long between play sessions I’m having trouble remembering what to do next. Hopefully playing on a more regular basis I can follow along a little better.

Wednesday – Guild Wars 2 Night: Because honestly this game deserves 2 nights a week. It’s the game I’m most interested in right now and the game I’m having the most fun with. These game night themes aren’t the same forever. But this is how it is for now.

Thursday – Automotive Night: This makes the list because generally I kinda like working on my old cars. And matter of factly, I NEED to work on these old things to keep them running. Basically there’s only one thing that matters when you’re driving old cars on a daily basis like we do. And that is fix things faster than things break. If you can do that, it will last forever.

Friday – Project Night: This one I’m most excited for. Mostly because I don’t know what my project is going to be yet. Ultimately I’d love to build a MAME Arcade Cabinet. But this night will rely on funds being available for big stuff. But right now I know there’s plenty of little projects around the place here that I need and want to get done. And this sets aside some time to do those.

So there you go.  This whole idea is all about making time for the things I want to do.  I’ve felt so busy since Luke was born.  But hopefully putting a little focus behind my recreation, I can not only actually get to them, but also enjoy them.  All to often I feel like I’m just plowing through something I’ve wanted to do, making it something I have to do because I don’t know when I’m going to get back to it.  This adds some structure.  And it helps me remember I will get back to things, so I don’t have to force my way through them.

We’ll see how long this lasts.  I get on these kind of kicks then eventually they fizzle out for me, but right now, I’m pretty excited about it.

A new generation, and rebuilding of the Retro Room.

Jake Me N64

My little brother Jake came up this past weekend.  For the past two weeks, he’s been calling me every couple of days asking about GoldenEye.  What we can do, what levels we can play, and most importantly, what cheats we can use.  Haha.  I don’t think he typically plays a lot of games, but for whatever reason he’s really latched on to GoldenEye.  In fact, I haven’t seen anyone this excited about GoldenEye since… me.

So we spent a large amount of time playing that.  I was content to spectate.  As I’ve said before, I almost like watching people play games, more than actually playing them.  Which is why I still nag Andrea once in a while to play through Final Fantasy X.  It’s just so fun watching people discover the game as they play.  It’s as close as I can get to playing it again for the first time.

More than anything, I found it remarkable that an 8 year old kid in 2013 is at all interested in a game that is literally twice as old as he is.  Compared to games today GoldenEye must some mundane to some extent.  But I appreciated and enjoyed our shared enthusiasm.

Jake GoldenEye

If you’ll notice the TV on the floor in the picture above.  Luke has since moved into the old Retro Room.  So we moved that TV upstairs.  It is a heavy bastard.  Much more than one person can handle alone.  So in a time crunch, I had to set everything up like that, because I knew I’d be at work, and Jake would NOT want to wait until I got home to play GoldenEye.

Later this weekend, Andrea was able to help me get the TV up on the stand, and I started rebuilding the Retro Room.

Seems like a nice spread to me.  =)  One thing to note, is that little of that has been actual collecting, for collecting’s sake.  A vast majority is just accumulation over time.  Most people garage sale old games and systems once they are bored with them, I just never did and now I have a ton of this stuff.  This is all pretty much everything before HD consoles.  The only things missing are the Wii games which we still keep downstairs to play on the Wii U, and the ridiculous amount of controllers.  Everything else from 1987 – 2012 is pretty much right here.  Kinda weird to see all that history and all the memories in one place.

Gameboys

I like this arrangement better than what I had in the old room.  Rather than a straight line from left to right.  Looks pretty good I think for some free cards from Club Nintendo, and $1 frames from Dollar Tree.

Andrea Gameboy

You can’t be around all these classic games and NOT pick one up!  Andrea found Super Mario Land 2 and decided to give it a go.

Andrea Luke SMB3

And there’s pretty much the current setup.  I like it better than the previous arrangement.  I still have to swap some cables out to get some of the systems playable, but for the most part, it’s all within 60 seconds of being ready to play.  I have an idea for controller storage I’m excited to try and I want to try to find a few more things for the walls.  But the Retro Room is back!  That’s the important thing.

The Retro-Room Has Been Evicted!

What was the “Retro-Room” is now officially “Luke’s Room”.  We had some doubt about how he would take to moving downstairs and into a room all by himself.  And turns out, he couldn’t be happier apparently!  He went to sleep without a single peep!  We’ll see how he handles the morning though when he wakes up and Mommy isn’t right there.

I for one am super happy.  I always feel like I have to tip-toe around in the morning getting ready because I don’t want to wake Luke up, and that in turn wakes Andrea up.  So this way, I don’t have to go into his room at all and he can stay zonked out.

As for the retro-room.  I guess all that stuff is getting relocated to our bedroom, which is really two rooms that got combined at some point in the past.  So there is plenty of room up there.  But I thought with it in our bedroom it would be less accessible when guests come over.  But then I thought, who am I kidding.  In all the time we’ve had guests over, maybe once did we spend any time in the retro room.  I guess I’m alone in my love for these old games.  If nothing else, hopefully in our bedroom, and having the opportunity to look at them each day, they will get a little more play time, at least by me..

Truthful Quote of the Day

If this  were made today you would earn experience points, level up and then get some kind of cheat after a couple tries to help you through the level… because everyone is entitled to win!  Well, not back then.  These games made you cry.

The above is a quote from Mark Bussler’s “Classic Game Room” in his review for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II for GameBoy.

Games have come a long way.  20 years ago we were mesmerized by a few dozen textureless polygons in barren and featureless worlds.  We could have epic 2D adventures unfold on a canvas only 256 pixels wide.  Just like your grandparents lived without now expected amenities like air conditioning or cruise control, we played on without quick saves or wiki’s.  We didn’t long for them, because we didn’t know any better.

Technology has enabled games to be some of the most amazing pieces of entertainment production available.  Massive open worlds to explore, epic and cinematic story presentations, new ways of interfacing with that world and controlling your character that wouldn’t have been possible in the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s. But strip away the technology, and what you expect out of a gameplay experience is fundamentally different than it was 20 years ago.

Game Over Little Mac

Let’s consider  metagaming.  Metagaming, in this context being what players in general expect from a video game, along with what developers produce to meet those expectations and sell games.  You couldn’t release a game such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II above on any current generation hardware and expect it to be even mildly well received.  It’s clunky, it’s slow, it’s repetitive, and it has a steep difficulty curve.  Consumers expect polished and expansive games with tons of content.  Many games don’t even include instruction manuals anymore.  No big deal, because the first 2 hours of gameplay are tutorials.  The game IS the instruction manual.  Without any research whatsoever, I feel pretty confident generalizing that the average gamer today has a shorter attention span than they used to.  Maybe that’s just something old farts like me say.  But I’ll even include myself in that generalization.  There are so many more mediums of entertainment and information now battling for our attention, that I don’t think it’s a far fetched claim to make.

Please don’t take this the wrong way.  I’m not saying “New School” is wrong, “Old School” is the only right way.  I just think that as the “meta” morphs the game experience slowly and over time, that eventually you reach a moment where you suddenly become aware and have to say to yourself, “How the hell did we get here?”  Where your computer controlled side kicks can kill every enemy in a level, where you can sit idle and let your health re-gen, where you can insta-save at any moment so there’s no fear of dying, or perhaps most egregious, purchase in game “power” with real world money to make a game easier.

then and now

As a developer, your job is to create games that will sell.  When games first became a profitable venture, it was the job of the developer to come up with a fun and compelling hook, then beat the ever loving shit out of you in short order.  In the arcades, this kept people pumping quarters into the machines.  Games that were intensely fun to get you playing, but quickly became incredibly hard to get you off the machine.  The first home consoles basically fulfilled gamers’ desires to bring that arcade experience into their home.  So again, developers gave gamers what they wanted.  As home consoles became more prevalent,  the market started to open up for games that were a more lengthy experience.  You could easily sit on your couch for 30 minutes or an hour and enjoy a video game now.  And again, with an installed hardware base already in place and the technological means to deliver those longer games; people first started to demand them, and soon expected them.

Over time, along with the technology, gamer’s expectations also evolve.  What is first innovative, soon becomes standard.  And once it is standard you become comfortable, even rely on it.  Jump back in the evolution chain and it can be difficult to adapt to a game that doesn’t have some of the expected features of a more modern title.  I experienced this with Final Fantasy III on the SNES.  I was trying to figure out how to use Sabin’s “Blitz” command, and was completely lost.  I didn’t have the instruction manual and there was no in-game tutorial.  I was completely adrift for a while.  I guess part of me just expected the game to hold my hand through that part, instead it opted to mercilessly kick my ass.

For me, some of the best games I’ve ever played are the ones that frustrated the ever loving crap out of me.  Because you keep tyring, and when you FINALLY beat it, you feel like you have really accomplished something.  I remember the first time I beat Ganon, got past Bald Bull, de-fused all the underwater bombs in time, and passed Stop N Go Station.  All some of the hardest and most rewarding experiences at the time.

battletoads

This isn’t a rant about how games aren’t hard any more.  There are still hard games.  This is about lowering the bar until the player can step over, rather than expect the player test their mettle. Regardless of a game’s difficulty there’s something I respect about a game that is unwavering in its challenge.  I feel there’s some degree of measurable respect to be given to players who meet those challenges.

Games now aren’t worse for their crutches.  Just a different kind of adventure.  One that is perhaps a little more scripted and forgiving.  But if you get a chance, pick up an old game.  Grab your old Super C cart and see just how far you can get your first time through.  It can be a humbling experience.  And in the “say anything” age of the internet, it is my observation that we could all use all the humbling we can get. Myself included.

Biebs Bytes – Hangout 3

Much more focused conversation this time, on a topic I could discuss for hours!  Retro Gaming!  Hope you enjoy this episode!  And thanks to Josh at JoshBieber.com, check out his site for lots of cool Tech tips and such!

Portable Gaming

Keeping it Portable

My first video game experiences

I’m 30 years old, and for as long as most people have known me, video games have been a part of my identity.  It’s a passion that waxes and wanes through the years, but for the most part it has always been there.  Well, not always.  You know, there was a time before games, before Nintendo.

My VERY first memory of video games involves the NES.  I had to be around 5 years old.  It was at least 1987, because I remember a friend and co-worker of my Dad’s bringing over his NES to our house.  If I recall, his name was Kevin.  This was a long time ago, so that may not be accurate, but for the sake of the story, we’ll call him Kevin.  He and my Dad set up a small 13″ TV in our dining room and strung out all the cables and connected the NES to the TV.  I really had no idea what it was.  But I remember Kevin was excited to show it off.  They were playing The Legend of Zelda, which I distinctly remember because of the gold cartridge and I remember watching Link walk around killing creatures.  I never did play it though.  To be honest I was more interested in this totally awesome firefighter board game he brought for me and my sister.

Not the same TV, but a very similar setup to what I remember.

Not the same TV, but a very similar setup to what I remember.

To side track just a minute here.  That board game by the way, was freaking awesome.  I completely forgot what it was called, but thanks to the internet, I actually was able to find it!  It was called “Oops & Downs”.  You actually assembled several pieces of cardboard together to create a 3 tier game board and you raced to the top.  Sometimes you’d land on a tube though, and you had to slide your fireman down the the level below.  It made a funny little “waaaah” noise as the game piece slid down the tubes.  It was about as complicated as Shoots & Ladders, but it was so much fun!  I hadn’t thought about that game in forever!

Oops & Downs

Okay.  Back  to Nintendo.

So while Kevin’s NES was my first exposure to video games, I didn’t have a real meaningful impression until some time later.  Sometime in 1987 or 1988 I remember visiting a friend of my Mom’s.  I can’t remember what her name was.  I’m 95% sure my Mom knew her as a co-worker from her days at “OK Video” in Dodge City.  I want to say she had a somewhat uncommon name.  At any rate, her son had an NES in his room.  He would have been a few years older than me.  And I remember vividly, his room was small and cluttered.  It was dark, lit only by the glow of a small TV and the light that bounced in from the open door to the hallway.  I remember watching him play Super Mario Bros. and thinking, “This is amazing!”

Any impressive technology provides a bit of disbelief that you are actually able to do what it allows you to do.  I still marvel at smartphones, and that I’m able to get my e-mail, navigation and even video chat from almost anywhere.  It still baffles me a bit to know that all that is capable in a device you can slide into your pocket.  If you weren’t there at the time, it’s hard to imagine the NES as “amazing”, I’m sure.  But the Nintendo Entertainment System really felt like something new and cutting edge.  When you saw it sitting on the shelf, you marveled at the technology inside.  It looked sleek and very “now”.  The NES has become such an icon of retro culture that it’s difficult to believe that we once looked at it the same way we look at the PS3 or iPad now.  It was an expensive advanced and fancy pants machine in its day, that’s for sure.

Today this looks "retro".  In the 80's this looked fresh and cutting edge.

Today this looks “retro”. In the 80’s this looked fresh and cutting edge.

I remember watching this kid in his room, pluck-ing fireballs, going down pipes, and exploring this amazing world inside the television.  He let me play a bit.  I of course was terrible, but I was compelled, just wondering what could possibly lie just off to the right of the screen.  What adventures did each next level have in store?

My Mom came in and told me it was time to go home.  I actually cried when it was time to leave.  I wanted to badly to stay and keep playing.  In the weeks after that, whenever Mom loaded us up in the Astro Van to go run errands, I always hoped in the back of my mind that we would make a stop at that house so I could play more Mario.  To this day, I still remember that house was on Avenue C.

This is quite possibly the house I played my first Nintendo game.

This is quite possibly the house I played my first Nintendo game.

The weeks and months that followed may possibly have been some of the most annoying days my parents ever experienced.  I don’t remember nagging them for a Nintendo, but I do remember REALLY wanting one BAD.  So whether I deserved a Nintendo, or they got one just to shut me up, I’m unsure.  When  you’re 6 years old, you have a significant lack of perspective.  Whatever the motivation we eventually got our very own Nintendo Entertainment System.

Here’s what I remember… I don’t recall it being a particularly special occasion like a holiday or birthday.  I just remember my parents saying we were going to Wal-Mart and we were “Going to get a Nintendo”.  I couldn’t believe it.  I don’t remember going in the store, but for some reason I feel like I remember seeing the box in the car on the way home… that memory is really fuzzy though.

As a note, this is not our first NES. Our FIRST NES was destroyed by one of my careless friends (Daniel D.) who ran across in front of the TV while I was playing. He yanked the deck right off the shelf, onto the floor, never to work again. I still have 2 copies of Super Mario Bros. to show for it.  PROOF that this wasn’t our first NES… the Quickshot controller on the bottom shelf under the TV in the photo.  Why would I have that, if I didn’t already have an NES?

One thing I do remember rather clearly is my folks saying it was going to take 30 minutes to hook it up once we got it home.  30 MINUTES!  I couldn’t believe it!  What an eternity!  I might as well just wait until I’m RETIRED!  Sheesh!  Time is certainly a relative perception, and if you have kids, don’t underestimate the difficulty little people have waiting for things to happen.  When you’re a kid, if it’s not happening now, it may as well be 100 years away.  The funny thing is, now hooking up a NES takes about 2 minutes.  But it sure felt pretty complex back then.

I also recall being chiefly aware that this was expensive.  I don’t know if I respected that fact then as much as I do now.  It was definitely a lot of money compared to every other toy I had.  I figure the NES probably cost around $150 then… the equivalent of almost $300 in today’s money. That was a lot of money just to shut me up!  Ha ha.

After that, my clearest memories involve me being supremely frustrated with Super Mario Bros.  There was so much rage when I couldn’t even clear the first jump in World 1-1.  Time and time again, I would approach that hole… jump… and die.  Mom had to try to calm me down, I would get so mad.  I even tried thrusting the controller up in the air, hoping my muscle movements would help propel Mario over that chasm.  Little did I know someday that would actually be possible.  But with patience… okay, maybe not patience, but practice… I finally cleared that first jump.  After that I never looked back.

The NES continued to bring so many great memories.  Excitebike, Punch Out, Galaga, Rad Racer, Ice Hockey… all early experiences that felt completely amazing.   And it began a love for games that continues to this day, even if I spend more time reading and writing about them that I do playing them it seems.

What were your first gaming memories?  Post ’em up in the comments!