Category Archives: Retro

My Philosophy on Collecting

Geeze, how many copies of Madden are in that picture?

I like watching videos on YouTube of other people’s video game collections.  There are so many different ways to collect games.  Some people go for every game ever released.  Some people collected sealed, never opened games.  Some collect only for a particular brand.  Some like to import.  Some people like collecting merchandise.  And some people go for the really rare and expensive stuff.  Every collector is probably a little bit of all those things.

I appreciate the most extreme collectors on a preservation level.  I respect the people that try to collect games and systems that are complete with all the boxes and materials that would have been included when new.  Without their eccentric obsession, knowing exactly what documentation came with the original Atari 2600, for example, would be impossible now.  99% of people will say, “Who cares?” but if you want to know what something was like “when it was new” as opposed to “when it was garage saled”, then keeping this stuff intact is the only way.  It’s the nuances of history, but it is history none-the-less.

I’m not sure when I began considering myself a “collector” of video game junk.  For the most part, my stuff is just amassed through purchases over the years and I’ve never gotten rid of it.  The only game I’ve ever gotten rid of purposely, was Yoshi’s Story for the N64.  But for the most part gaming has just been a past-time I have enjoyed and blown my disposable income on.  Over the years I have ended up with quite a bit of stuff.  To me it just shows that I’m old.

But I guess I crossed over the line to collector when I started hoarding all these brand new Nintendo 64 controllers.  Since I bought them they have done nothing but sit in their boxes on my shelf, never being played with.  Dissatisfied with third party N64 controllers, my original plan was to use them as my current wore out.  Most of them I acquired for around $30 which is about what they costed back when they were on the market anyway, so using them wouldn’t feel that bad.  But it’s like that nice bottle of wine.  The one that you’re saving for some really special occasion, and every special occasion that comes along, just doesn’t feel quite special enough… so that super special bottle never even gets drank.  That’s when I realized what I was.

So all of a sudden, my 25 years of video game purchases are now a “collection” so I’ve labeled it.  Now I feel like I have to establish some guide lines.  Mostly to set some limits for myself.  Because when you are a “collector” that just means the amount of money you can spend on old junk instantly loses all reason.  If you’ve got the cash to blow, you can buy a certified, sealed copy of “Pinball” for the NES for $19,999.99.  That’s only $19,999.00 more than I paid for my loose cartridge of the same game a year ago.

It's yours for $19,999.99!

It’s yours for $19,999.99!

It’s yours for only $00,000.99!

So what’s the difference between the two?  Well, there’s only one difference that matters.  You can ACTUALLY PLAY one of them.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the $20k version for what it is.  A pure un-altered time warp.  Maybe the only one left in the world.  Sealed behind a plastic enclosure that just as well be a temporal barrier that is impossible to traverse.  And if only two people decide they want it… then it has value.  But one thing is for sure.  If you want to play the game you definitely don’t want that one.  And when it gets right down to it, I’m all about playing my games.

So whatever it is that I happen across, whether its the Vectrex, NES Pinball, or the Wii U, I want to make sure it’s something that I feel like I or anyone that comes over, can pickup and play.  So it should work reasonably well, but not be so pristine that actually using it destroys what it is.  To me the nostalgia of this stuff comes from playing it, not looking at it.

I like to make sure things are as original as possible.  I never got into emulators, because there were always little differences that took away from the experience.  Don’t get me wrong, you could go to great lengths and get very close to the original experience.  But nothing replaces blowing in a cartridge, sliding it into an NES and hearing that springy click as you push the cart down into the system.  The feeling of the original controller in your hand and knowing you don’t have the ability to quick save at any moment.  For me it’s all about being able to shut everything else out, and fore that brief moment, you might be able to convince yourself that it is 1987 again.

That’s where the worth in my collection comes from if you ask me.  Not in its monetary value.  But it’s ability to transport you to another time.  To actually pass through that temporal wormhole and at least let a part of you exist in that world that used to be.  When you’re playing an old game, you remember how simple life used to be.

I really enjoyed growing up, and I have vowed as I get older, to not forget what it was like to be a kid.  Now that I have a little guy of my own it feels important to me that he is able to do the same thing.  I don’t expect him to care about the same things I care about.  I want him to make his own memories.  But I do hope he learns to value his experiences the same way I do.  You can easily get caught up in the desire for more “stuff”.  But in the end, it’s only the experiences that really matter.

So maybe I should finally open up the box on one of those N64 controllers and lay down some blistering Mario Kart 64 times.

I’ll think about it.

Backlog

Decided that it was a day for some retro fun.  I picked up Final Fantasy III off eBay a while back.  Weeks ago actually.  I just today finally got around to beginning a file.

While I’d call myself a fan of the Final Fantasy series, my experience with this game is essentially zero.  I’ve heard it’s awesome.  And many people think it’s the best Final Fantasy game of them all, and some people even think it’s the best game ever made.  Again, I can’t comment on any of these claims because until today, I’d never played it!

So far I’m about two hours in and I have to say I’m enjoying it thoroughly.  Even in 2013 this game is compelling.  I can see how in the early 90’s this game would have been epic.  Not that it isn’t epic now, but it’s not really fair to compare this game’s presentation with something from today’s hardware with HD, surround sound, and fully orchestrated soundtracks.

It hasn’t been too difficult, but I have to confess, I really didn’t understand how to use save points AT ALL for a long time.  I thought just walking over the save point activated it… nope not so much.  A fact I only found out after I got my but kicked in the Vargas fight.  It was pretty obvious to me I was supposed to use Sabin’s “Blitz” command, but I failed to notice any explanation on how to use it!  I kept getting “Invalid Blitz Input”.  I died… then found out all those save points I thought I saved at… didn’t.  But after some brief frustration and going all the way back to the first arrival at Figaro Castle… I regrouped myself.

After an event like that, most games I put away and think, I’ll come back to it when I’m not so pissed (Metroid Prime).  But this time, I was so thoroughly enjoying  the game, that I really wanted to get back where I was, and see where it was going.  It took me about 45 minutes to get back to the Vargas fight (ACTUALLY saving frequently along the way this time).  And I made it a point to pay close attention to where it explains how to use that Blitz command.  Only it DOESN’T!  I can only assume in the instruction booklet it explains how to “Blitz”, because no where in the game did it even hint at what to do.  And as far as I can tell, that’s the only way to win that fight.  I had to seek the guidance of the internets to figure out what I was supposed to do there.

You know, there was a time when all you had was an instruction booklet and maybe a friend that had played the game before you to help when you got stuck like that.  You might be able to go buy a magazine with some hints in it at the store, but that would require your mom taking you there, and you know darn well, Mom wasn’t going to take you to the store solely to buy a magazine for a video game you were stuck on.  So you had to REMEMBER you wanted that magazine the next time you happened to be there.  And even then, you were lucky if begging her to buy it worked.  So thanks for the Internet, I guess.

I think for the rest of tonight, I’m going to play some Guild Wars 2 before it’s back to the weekly grind of work and my 1.5 hours of free time each night.  Man, being a grown up is grueling sometimes.  Remind me to write that blog about how I vowed to make gaming a priority for life back when I was 15.

VECTREX!

Man, I haven’t been this excited for anything I’ve bought on eBay since the Panasonic Q fiasco.  A long sad story that ultimately ended with me getting screwed out of $400.  Worst case scenario, I’ll get screwed out of a lot less on this deal.

Still holding my breath to see what actually shows up in the mail this week or next, but I still can’t help but be excited.  I’ve said before that the Vectrex is my “holy grail” on my retro gaming wishlist.  Mostly because they have been going for more than we spent on the Wii U recently.  But for whatever reason, it seems like prices have gone down on them in the past few weeks.  I found one that doesn’t look quite perfect, but appears to be fully functional and in pretty good shape for something that’s 30 years old now.

For those not up to speed on what the heck a Vectrex is, here’s a fantastic review from one of my favorite Youtube Channels: Classic Game Room.

My infatuation with the Vectrex is a bit perplexing, even to me.  I never had one, nor known anyone that had one.  Honestly I’ve never even seen one with my own eyes.  So it’s not like it’s nostalgia that is drawing me in.  It’s just so totally different than anything else.  It’s like getting the keys to a time machine and being able to go back and experience these games in exactly the form they were 30 years ago.  You can hook up an NES today, but to get the purest retro experience, you need to hook that NES up to a 25 year old cathode tube TV too.  Well with the Vectrex, the video, the sound, the controller… it’s all still there preserved as one unit.

I’ve played some vector games before.  I most vividly remember a Lunar Lander arcade cabinet that they had when I was at “Space Camp” at the Cosmosphere as a kid.  But most of us are far more familiar with raster games.  Like Mario or Tetris.  Where the images are made of pixels.  On the Vectrex, there are no pixels.  Rather the images are drawn from vectors, or lines from point to point.  At the time this gave designers the ability to do some cool things, like scaling or rotating images, which required more processing power than was generally available from console hardware at the time.  One of the drawbacks was the lack of color, which actually lead to one of the Vectrex’s coolest features: the color overlays.

So yeah, I’m stoked.  Hoping not to get my dreams crushed when I open the box… that hopefully eventually arrives.

 

Look at that.

I wish I could still buy controllers for that price!

N64 Flyer

Tuesday Top Ten…err Eleven: Best Nintendo Games on Each System

This Tuesday Top Ten will be a bit different.  Because each of these ten games are all number one.

It’s hard to believe, but Nintendo has released more than 10 different gaming platforms over the years.  Kinda makes me realize how old I’m getting.  Nevertheless, here’s my favorite game on each of ten Nintendo Consoles.

EDIT:  Okay, I had originally intended to combine the Gameboy/Gameboy Color games as one console… but then as I was writing this, I apparently forgot to do that.  Rather than take a great game off the list… I’m just leaving it a Top 11 list.  Enjoy!

smb3

1. NES – Super Mario Bros. 3: It’s rare these days that a game feels fresh, new and exciting. Especially when it comes to a sequel. But that is precisely how Super Mario Bros. 3 felt when it came out. Graphically, it has pushed the NES where it had never been before. New ideas like the World Map and item stash are still in use today over 20 years later. I may be wrong, but I believe that Super Mario Bros. 3 was the first game I ever bought and paid for with my own money. What a great investment.

linksawakening

1. Gameboy – The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening: This is pretty close to being the best Gameboy game AND Gameboy Color game. Link’s Awakening set the tone for numerous Gameboy Zelda games to follow. The story was quite weird… but when it comes to playing Zelda anywhere, any time. This game is possibly the best. Carrying around a game of this magnitude anywhere you go back in the day was pretty darn impressive, when most handheld games were 5 card draw poker games and bad segmented LCD games.

DK Country

1. Super Nintendo – Donkey Kong Country: This list could easily turn into the Mario & Zelda list. But my SNES exposure is severely limited compared to the other consoles. I never had one growing up so I was limited to playing what my friends had at their house. There may be better SNES games but I have probably spent the most time playing this one. It was such a fantastic platformer. The graphics were truly impressive, and it was more than just your standard run and jump game. The levels had a definite rhythm to them. You bounce a long and hit combo’s of enemies or tires to just kind of bound though a level, just like a monkey hopping from tree to tree. I recently acquired this game and have been loving it all over again!

Oracle of Seasons

1. Gameboy Color – The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons: Okay, I have to do it. The second Zelda game makes its apperance. This is literally one of my favorite Zelda games. The seasons mechanic offered a fun and sometime confounding twist to the world. Certian seasons allowed you to reach different areas. For instance you could walk across a frozen lake in winter, or climb up a vine covered cliff in summer. The catch was you could only change the seasons while standing atop a stump. So solving the season puzzles could often be a challenge. There was also a companion game to this one called Oracle of Ages. A game I never played but hope to snatch up some day. Maybe it’s even better than this one?

Mario Kart 64

1. Nintendo 64 – Mario Kart 64: When this game came out, something about it immediately resonated with me.  Mario Kart 64 was my first experience in the Mario Kart series and since then it’s undoubtedly taken up more hours of my life than any other single game.  I still like sitting down and cranking out some Time Trials and seeing if I can even get close to my old times.  But what I miss about Mario Kart 64 is the awesome battles we used to have with my friends.  So much fun nailing somebody with a green shell on Block Fort.  Ahh, the memories.

Super Circuit

1. Gameboy Advance – Mario Kart Super Circuit: Oh hey. What do you know, two Mario Kart games back to back. That’s nice… But it’s true! Mario Kart Super Circuit on the GBA was a fantastic game that often gets overlooked. The GBA was finally cranking out portable games that you didn’t have to sacrifice much to get the whole game experience. Super Circuit was anything but a stripped down version of Super Mario Kart on the SNES. It had more tracks, more items, better visuals, and better sound. In all honestly, I bought a GBA just to play this one game.

Eternal Darkness

1. Gamecube – Eternal Darkness: I don’t like scary movies, and I don’t even care much for Survival Horror games either. But Eternal Darkness is something a little different. Yes, the plot is grim and morbid, the scenes are often gruesome, but at its heart, there is a compelling story that keeps you wondering what’s next, and some absolutely fantastic gameplay. Best played in a dark room with surround sound cranked to the max.

Animal Crossing Wild World

1. DS – Animal Crossing: Wild World: Animal Crossing on Gamecube was a fantastic game, but it had two obvious shortcomings. It was cumbersome to travel to other people’s towns, and you couldn’t take it with you! Animal Crossing is the perfect game to have on the go, because you really should play it every day, and that can be hard to do! But if you have it on you, it’s easy to pop it out for 10 minutes, do your dailies, and get back to the real world! If you had to pick one version of the game to play, I would recommend this one!

Skyward Sword

1. Wii – The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword:  For me, this one isn’t even close. There were some great games on Wii, but there’s a wide margin between Skyward Sword and everything before it. It’s one of the most artistically beautiful games in the series striking a style balance somewhere between Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. But the most fun part about this game is… playing it. I never did completely fall in love with motion control, but Skward Sword changed that. If every motion control game was this fun to play and this natural, well, I wouldn’t have much of a bank account left. Take my money!

SMB 3D Land

1. 3DS – Super Mario 3D Land: You don’t know how close I was to putting Mario Kart 7 here. I mean, it’s still on my notes right now, but I audibled at the last moment. I just got to thinking, which game is more 3DS-ey? Mario Kart 7 is a fantastic game, and I mean to imply no shortcomings. But Super Mario 3D Land is the defacto 3DS game. It just is. It’s probably the single best use of 3D on the system. It’s got it’s own unique quirkiness and level design that kind of set it apart from your traditional Mario release.  Super tight controls, and tons of throwbacks to games gone by.  It’s the game the 3DS should have launched with.

Nintendoland

1. Wii U – Nintendoland: It’s “just” a mini-game collection. It’s no Wii Sports. It’s not a “complete” game. All things I heard, and for a large part bought into before the Wii U came out. I wasn’t looking forward to Nintendoland all that much myself. But after playing it, and most importantly, playing it with a group, it’s the most pure flippin fun I’ve had playing video games since the N64. And for me, that’s saying something! There’s plenty of stuff to do solo in the game, but playing with friends is where Nintendoland, and truthfully, the Wii U itself shine brightest.

Tuesday Top Ten: Awesome Controllers

If there’s one thing about collecting game stuff that I really enjoy, it’s the controllers.  They are such an intimate piece of hardware.  It’s what establishes the link between you and the world inside the game.  A bad game is a bad game.  But a bad controller can ruin even a great game.

Admittedly, I haven’t experienced EVERY controller.  But I think I’ve spent a fair amount of time with the mainstream ones that I feel confident enough to put together a Top Ten list that no one will agree with.

10. PlayStation: I’m going to lump all the PlayStation controllers into one. And had the original PS1 controller never evolved, it might have actually ended up higher on this list. But I have one major gripe with the Dual Shock X controller… and that is the analog stick placement. When they originally debuted the analog (after someone else paved the way…) it felt super pasted on. But the d-pad, button layout and overall comfort of the controller is outstanding.

9. Arcade Joystick/Buttons: I love the old arcades. The control panels were not only built to withstand daily abuse and grind, but were also purpose designed for the games themselves. I still remember the button layouts on some of my favorite old arcade games. Everything on a good arcade machine feels solid and provides great feedback as you play.

8. Nintendo Entertainment System: This isn’t necessarily a list of the most influential controllers, but not including this controller on the list would feel certainly wrong. Today the NES controller feels really small to me. When I hold the controller it’s obvious that my hands have grown since I first used it. And it serves to remind me of the youth I can never truly return to. Be that as it may… it’s still a brutally efficient design. And the fact that it still works almost 30 years later after countless hours of use proves it LITERALLY stands the test of time.

7. Super Nintendo: I remember when the SNES first came out and my first thought of the system was, “Look at all the buttons on that controller. How do you remember what each button does!?” But once you play Super Mario World, you realize how perfect it is. The way one set of action buttons is concave and one is convex, the excellent D-pad, and the rarely used, but perfectly positioned shoulder buttons… there’s absolutely nothing about this controller I would change. It’s the ultimate 2-D controller in my opinion.

6. Wii U Gamepad: I haven’t spent nearly as much time with this controller as the others for obvious reasons. But from the time I spent with it, I’m blown away. It’s lighter and more comfortable than it looks. It’s solid and it is connected wirelessly to the console from my couch AND my toilet. It has a built in universal remote. I could go on. Nintendo has always pushed controllers where they’ve never gone before, and they’ve done it again with the Wii U.

5. Gamecube: The Gamecube was probably my most anticipated console of all time. And when the local store in Manhattan finally got a Gamecube kiosk setup and I laid hands on the Gamecube controller for the first time, all of the things I had imagined about it were finally realized. To this day, the GCN controller is the most comfortable controller I’ve ever held. The handles are perfectly molded. It just feels like an extension of yourself. And best of all, the analog stick was infinitely improved over the N64 stick which has the lifespan of a gnat.

4. Wii: For a second I thought to myself, why am I putting the Wiimote so high on the list?  Yes it does some things no other controller does, and it did enable an entirely new way to play.  But so many of those games were just waggling the controller around in lieu of pressing a button.  Then I remembered “Skyward Sword”.  The latest Zelda game used the Wiimote to its fullest potential and with great finesse.  In the right hands, the Wiimote can do great things, kinda like the Master Sword I guess.  Any shortcomings in Wii controls are no fault of its controller.  Sadly many developers just never took the time to get it right.

3. Xbox 360: Starting with the Controller S on the original Xbox, somebody finally nailed the design of the perfect layout.  Left analog and action buttons sit squarely and naturally under your thumbs.  D-pad and right analog are only millimeters away.  Trigger fire buttons underneath perfect for shooters and easy to reach shoulder buttons.  Everything was finally where it needed to be, comfortable and solid.  And possibly best of all, a matte finish in a world where every other single piece of electronics is a glossy, fingerprint smudged mess.  I’m one of the few that actually enjoyed the original Xbox controller bohemouth, but I have to admit future iterations again, starting with the Controller S are far more refined.

2. Mouse & Keyboard:  There’s a few genres out there that are only optimally experienced with a keyboard and mouse.  FPS, strategy, and simulation games to name a few.  While it’s been done, I can’t imagine playing many of those games with a controller without feeling like I’m making a serious compromise.  I’m not a huge PC gamer, but I’ve played a few great games long enough to appreciate the level of control and customize-ability the platform offers.  Being able to swap action keys around.  Fine tune sensitivity  and having multiple commands at your fingertips.  After a while your brain forgets about the controls and you just play the game.  Which is what any great controller should do.

1. Nintendo 64:  Okay… no big surprise here if you’ve followed the blog for any length of time.  I am and forever will be hopelessly infatuated with the N64 controller.  Objectively… should it be number 1?  Definitely not.  That joystick gets destroyed under moderate use in just a few months.  But let me tell you, when it’s new and working like intended, it’s silky smooth, and the sensitivity is incredible.  You can simply apply pressure, and not even actually move the control stick itself, and it will cause Mario to creep along ever so slowly.  The button layout is perfect.  Two main action buttons, and the yellow C buttons that, while designed for camera control in games like Super Mario 64, are also perfect for shooters and strafing like in GoldenEye, or simply additional action buttons like in Zelda: Ocarina of Time.  The trigger underneath was always satisfying for firing whatever weapon you happened to be wielding  and the shoulder buttons are large and responsive.  I don’t care if its less than perfect, this is my list, and if you ask me, the N64 controller is the most awesome controller of all time.

Watch Luke learn a skill he will never have to use.

A Great Day For U

We got our Wii U yesterday.  I haven’t spent a TON of time with it yet, but so far it’s pretty sweet.

Luke and I got to Gamestop at about 11:00am, and it turns out they said we were the first person to come pick theirs up!  At first I thought, “Well that’s lame, when I was younger, I would have been waiting at the door for the store to open!”  But then he said that Wal-Mart got a ton of them and decided to do a midnite launch, so a bunch of Gamestop people cancelled their pre-order and went to get it at Wal-Mart at midnight.  That made me feel better.  There’s still some gaming and Nintendo fanaticism left in the world.

We decided to go with the “Deluxe” package.  It comes with some extra stuff like stands, a charging dock, and the game Nintendoland.  Along with (I think) double the internal storage space of the basic bundle.  So for the extra $50 it’s certainly worth it over the life of the console.  Which is pretty much forever I guess, seeing as how my original NES is still in working order.  Nintendo makes some quality stuff!

I asked Andrea before she left for Wichita this weekend, “Do you want me to wait until you get home to open it?”  She said “Yes.”  And it’s a good thing I asked, or else I would have just tore into this bad boy!  But as I’ve written before, and as lame as it sounds, opening the package on this kind of stuff is a big deal for a geek like me!  And actually it kinda made me happy that I’m married to somebody who thinks its kinda a big deal too.  I mean she did want me to wait, right?

When she got home Luke had just woke up, and it didn’t take long for us to pop it open.  Everything was perfectly wrapped.  I didn’t document any of it… if you want to see what’s inside, just go to Youtube and search for “Wii U unboxing” and pick from any of the 2300 results.

It didn’t take long for the contents to get strewn all over the basement.  We had to move things around.  Unhook old stuff, hook up new stuff.

The keyboards on the floor were Luke’s doing, haha.

We decided to move the Wii to make room for the Wii U.  Since the U will play all the Wii games anyway.  The Wii console will now be queued for installation into my current backburner project, the “retro” room.  More on that in a later post though.

Luke was trying to be helpful.  Or… just trying to figure out what all these new thingys do.

There’s Luke with the gamepad dock…. in his mouth.

Here’s that queue I was talking about for the Retro Room. Years of fun on this table!

So we got it all set up, and after about a 90 minute wait for the System Update… we FINALLY got to play!  Boy, I don’t know how excited kids on Christmas morning are going to be able to handle that brutal system update… It was about to drive me nuts!  But alas, we are up and running!  I’ll do some more gameplay impressions soon!  For now, I gotta get to work!

My collection isn’t that bad…

At least not as bad as this.

I ran across this auction on eBay.  It’s totally fishy to me because it was listed once under the story that some kid died and the parents were selling off his collection.  They claimed not to know anything about this stuff, but they consulted a “Nintendo Expert” that informed thim of the value of the collection.

The seller seems like a real tool.  It looks like they got barraged with messages about the auction.  They posted a bunch of negative questions on the auction with a bunch of a-hole responses.  Then the auction was cancelled and re-listed without mention of the kid dying.

If I had to guess, this is a scam auction.  But it appears this collection does exist… somewhere.

Of course, if you want to find out if the auction is legit, it will only cost you $59,000.

Wow. OSU Marching Band plays video games