From Humble Beginnings

13 07 2009

Yes, I know I should probably be working on my TF2 map, but I want to flex my writing muscle a bit more in preperation for writing down a couple more ideas I’ve come up with, specifically while I’m on vacation next week and will have the time to do some serious writing. Course maybe this isn’t the best way to do it but whatever.

I thought I’d take the time to, at length, talk about the first video games I had ever played, and what impact they may have had on my gaming tastes in the future. I won’t cover everything but I’ll cover the big highlights and “firsts” as it were. I’ll go up a few years, since there’s quite a bit to cover.

1989-1990: The grey box that started it all
Moreso remembering 1990 than ’89, the first video game I had ever played was Super Mario Bros. for the NES. Yes I know that sounds incredibly cliche, but it’s true. Know what else I first played? Duck Hunt. Gotta love multi-game cartridges. I wasn’t any good at either game at that age (heck, I was only 3), but I had fun with it. And yes, I did do the incredibly cheap move of walking up to the TV and firing point-blank at it to win. At least until my aim improved (or as much as it could improve with zapper technology anyway).

Another game I wound up being introduced to at this time was another NES title, Maniac Mansion. Good lord I didn’t understand this game at all (I do now of course), but I was mostly playing it/goofing around so I could hear the individual musical themes for each character. Later in life when my friend introduced me to the sequel game, Day of the Tentacle, I was wowed by realizing that it was a sequel to Maniac Mansion, and also at the flat-out hilarity that LucasArts was capable of in their graphic adventure games. Of course by that time Adventure Games were on their way out but I’m glad they’re making a comeback of sorts now.

1990-1992: I get introduced to the Game Boy and stick with it as it runs over every other portable in its path
My older half-sister owned a game boy. It was through her I was introduced to two concepts

1. Games can be played on the go
2. Tetris is the most addictive game ever created and I’m very glad that the KGB never weaponized it.

Of course, Tetris wasn’t the only thing she had, she also had Hatris, which was like Tetris meets the Yoshi puzzle game but only with hats. Then there was Super Mario Land, which took me about 4 years to get good enough to beat (wheras the sequel was stupidly easy by comparison), and a few other games as well. By ’92 I had my own Gameboy and basically started running the gamut of various sports through Nintendo’s eyes including the following

-Baseball (Baseball)
-Racing (Super RC Pro-Am and F1 Race)
-Golf (Golf). Funny story about this one. I thought for the longest time, despite playing at least 3 golf games before I knew better, that the object was not to get the ball in the hole in the lowest number of strokes. Ah, the naivete of youth.

I also learned about the greatness of linkplay gaming, even at one point managing to get a 4-player game of F1 race going with that weird 4-way hub they had for the gameboy, which I guess was the closest thing to LAN gaming I would experience for years.

Speaking of other golf games, I almost completely forgot my first experiences with PC gaming. So let’s get to that. First game I can really recall playing, aside from built-in games like Minesweeper and OS/2 Chess, was Jack Nicklaus Golf. I used to fire up the New Zealand courses just to hit the sheep that dotted the landscape. Later versions of the game had a course designer that I messed around with out of curiosity. There was also Tony LaRussa Baseball II. It was a strange game to be sure in terms of other baseball games that were more uh…”current”, In Tony LaRussa Baseball II you were playing on much older baseball fields with teams that consisted of an “all-time all stars” of each respective franchise. But it was a lot of fun. It also came on six floppy disks, which was pretty much the standard for the time. I think I had to wait until we got a new computer 3 times over (my dad worked for IBM) before I could hear sound in the game but I didn’t necessarily need it.

Then came Wolfenstein. Yes, at the tender age of six my dad decided the best thing for me to do was slay a buttload of nazis for Christmas. Ok that’s not entirely true, he didn’t realize what the game was about (according to him). I think that’s a lie though because the floppy disk’s label clearly spelled out what the game was about and what you had to do. So my parents did try to stop me from playing it (and any other FPS until I was 17), but that pretty much failed for the most part. I’ve turned out perfectly fine in the meantime.

On computers not belonging to me I was introduced to id software’s less-violent franchise known as Commander Keen, which has songs that still get stuck in my head to this day, as well as the unique and incomporable Dopefish. Also it’s just really such an offbeat and zany game that I wish someone would revive it. I mean Duke Nukem got more of a following than Keen did, and well…actually where am I going with that? I have no idea.

1992-1996: Sega
So when I turned six I got a Sega Genesis. It’s hard to pin down what games I truly got blown away by on the system, since the largest library at my disposal was mostly the ones belonging to my cousin and to my best friend. So I got introduced to some pretty amazing stuff like NBA Jam, and Dinosaurs for Hire (which nobody but me seems to remember). DfH was a really odd fourth-wall breaking game that mixed Contra with send-ups of action movie cliches like fighting off way too many ninjas. Oh, and your protagonists were bipedal dinosaurs that were twice as big as most opponents and carried massive guns. No I’m not making that up. Also my whole reason for getting a Genesis in the first place? RBI Baseball ’93. Possibly the most unrealistic baseball game with real stats ever made without being “NBA Jam but baseball”

Some people say the Genesis was the weaker console between it and the SNES, and maybe they were right, but I never felt that way.

Anyway by this point I think I had pretty much been exposed to everything I could save for RPGs, and that pretty much is the first half of my experiences with video games, at least the most recognizable ones.

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25 Years of Falling Blocks

6 06 2009

On this day 65 years ago, Brave soldiers of the Allied Forces faced the daunting task of storming the beaches of Normandy and succeeded. But since everyone loves talking about that and this is a games blog, I’m going to talk about a different anniversary. Yes, it was on this day in 1984 that Alexey Pajitnov created possibly the most addicting video game of all time, and subsequently got screwed out of his rightful kudos, but i’ll get to that in a bit.

Inspired by the game of Pentominoes, Alexey created the game of Tetris while working at the Computer Centre of the Moscow Academy of Science. Trimming down the size of the pentomino motif down to 4 blocks (Tetrads, later called “Tetrominoes”) instead of 5 and adding a time factor where the object was to not fill up the screen, and thus, Tetris. However since the game was written on the Soviet Government’s dime, they snapped up all rights to it (or at least tried to), forming “Elektronorgtechnica” (or ELORG) in order to deal with the possible profit to be had from such a game. At least, that’s what I’m gathering from the Internet, but we all know how reliable that is.

Spectrum HoloByte attempted to bring the game to the Western World through a convoluted series of deals and rights issues while a British company named Andromeda had tried to get the PC rights direct from Pajitnov himself. Of course, by 1986 a version had already landed stateside and rendered a lot of this moot, though Andromeda did eventually secure home PC rights for a time.

Things just got more and more complicated from there, but most people never even knew about that, instead being easily enraptured by “The Soviet Mind Game” as it were. Now Tetris was not the first game I ever remember playing, though it was the first Game Boy game I ever played, and probably was the same for many other people as well, since arguably the Game Boy version of Tetris is what allowed Nintendo to completely run over any competitors in the fledgling handheld market.

How can something so simple endure after all these years? Is it the easy to understand play mechanic? Is it the versus mode which probably had one of the earliest instances of being able to be a total dick to your opponent? Is it KGB mind control? who can say? All I can say is it’s still a hell of a lot of fun. As for Pajintov, he eventually went on to work at Microsoft, working on a few of their entertainment pack game software suites and also the game Hexic that now comes default with Xbox Live. He’s also one of the major faces behind The Tetris Company, which manages all the rights to the game now. So he’s doing all right for himself I’d say, even though I feel he still hasn’t really gotten all the credit he truly deserves for creating something so masterful. Though I guess the massive attack against all shareware versions of Tetris in the mid-90s probably balances that out. But anyway. Let’s not judge by that one event.

Anyway here’s to 25 years of Tetris, and here’s hoping we get 25 more.