Part Six (Part 1 can be found HERE; Part 2 HERE; Part 3 HERE; Part 4 HERE; Part 5 HERE)
My Gaming History Pt. 6 (FINAL ENTRY)
Christmas of 2001 kicked ass. My brother and I received an xbox from our parents, who had previously vowed never to buy us another video game console again, but relented and did just that, with, from what I recall, no prodding from us whatsoever. They knew we wanted one, but we never thought they'd buy it for us, and never asked...I don't think. Their recollection may be different than mine but I no longer speak to them, so we'll have to go with my account for now, but I digress.
Whatever the case was, they bought us an xbox console with a copy of (of course) Halo, a copy of Fusion Frenzy, and an extra controller. We were REALLY excited, and spent the rest of that holiday period playing our newly acquired system (most of that time was spent playing Halo, of course).
Our initial experience went like so: We hooked it up, marvelled at the awesome startup/boot sequence, started Halo, marvelled at the amazingly epic title screen, initiated a co-operative campaign, and then spent 5 or so minutes walking into walls and staring at the floor and ceiling.
Ya, we were new to dual analogue and had to get it figured out (including look inversion settings) before we could play. It looked ridiculous but it did little to temper our excitement. We finally got enough of a grasp on it to proceed past the initial in game acclimation sequence, and then, proceeding down one of the hallways of the Pillar of Autumn, we encountered the first little scripted sequence and an ensuing battle. MAN it was NUTS. The action, the graphics, the crazy sound effects and awesome music. It was INTENSE!! And once we got the hang of the new method of control, we didn't want to look back. Sure, Goldeneye and Perfect Dark had just been rendered nearly unplayable due to the now impoverished control scheme (yes, I know the single analogue controls were always impoverished to PC players, blah blah) but it was worth it!
|Totally Worth It|
This xbox thingy was shaping up to be one HELL of an awesome experience.
And so things continued in that fashion for quite some time, with the addition of some new games, and of course more Halo. LOTS of Halo. LAN parties started to take off, once other people started getting their own xbox consoles and copies of Halo (and caught on to the fact that you could connect them to one another and play multiplayer Halo on different televisions with up to 16 people simultaneously). Drunken Halo become a regular weekend (and sometimes even weekday) activity. Trash talk reached an all time high in my neighbourhood. Oddly enough, people seemed to regress to their respective ethnic roots in terms of speech patterns and mannerisms while playing Halo multiplayer and dishing out the trash. I believe I started to sound a lot like the stereotypical Italian mobster at times. My brothers' friend Jason began to sound 2% aboriginal. It was all really rather odd. Very competitive, and also very fun.
So things went. Until somewhere around September (if memory serves) of 2002, when reports surfaced of a little ol' game in development exclusively for the xbox. The game?
NINJA (motherfucking) GAIDEN*+
*Note: Not the actual game title.
+Note: It should have been.
|Holy Shit Holy Shit Holy Shit!!!!! Need I Say More?|
And so, after I dry humped (the shit out of) everything in sight, I made it priority one to follow every bit of news from that day forward until release.
And I did just that.
And the screens and videos rolled in, and I could not believe what I was seeing. It looked ridiculous!!! And the media seemed to be loving it (although game previews are mostly overly positive bunk....). I was DYING to get my hands on the game, and of course, the game had several release dates, all of which were broken. I recall the last delay causing me to nearly lose my mind, as they delayed it several months with less than a month to go. I was going NUTS. However, let me backtrack for a moment. See, while I was dying to get my hands on the full game, I had actually already played it dozens of times. The demo of it, at least.
See, in early 2004, the Official Xbox Magazine included, on their monthly demo disc, a demo for Ninja Gaiden. When I heard this I went crazy going to the store every single day around the time it was supposed to be out trying desperately to get my hands on it. One day my persistence paid off, as I managed to nab the very last copy of the magazine the day it was released to newsstands in my area. And so my buddy and I went back to his place, popped in the disc, and proceeded to try it out.
IT. WAS. MIND. BLOWINGLY. FUCKING. AWESOME.
Hype, as any gamer can tell you, is quite often a killer, and experienced gamers usually learn to stifle their innate hype meter as best they can, in order to reign in false expectations and avoid tarnishing their experience. It's too easy to get far too excited and actually ruin your experience, as the game in question will fall short of your lofty expectations, and seem disappointing and even worse than it really is. No hype can be great, as you can be caught by surprise, and experience the opposite effect. Hyping a game without any limit on yourself almost certainly never bodes well. Disappointment is basically unavoidable.
Not in the case of the Ninja Gaiden demo, however. I cannot even begin to try and qualify or quantify the hype I felt going in, and the game was so fucking amazing it SURPASSED the hype. I have discussed Ninja Gaiden at length countless times, both at this blog and elsewhere, so I won't bother retreading THAT particular ground again, so suffice it to say that we all know where this leads. I played the HELL out of the demo, got the full game, and well, I'm still playing it, in one form or another (NGB these days).
I'll never forget the first time I played it. Oh, how smooth it was! How fun, deep, visceral, fast, and exciting the combat was. How slick the platforming! How amazing it looked and ran. How cool that boss loo-oh, shit!!
Did I just die at the first boss in a modern game? On the default difficulty as well?
Holy shit I did! And so did Claudio! And so did everyone else! Wow, wicked, old school difficulty!
Of course, he's now as easy as could be, but I was really excited to find myself losing to the very first boss in a game, and having to actually regroup and try to formulate a strategy. That was something to behold, as games, especially on their default difficulty, almost never threw any real challenge your way so early on. And that hasn't really changed since then, although there have been a few games released this past year or two which have garnered for themselves a reputation for true difficulty. Demon's Souls and Resonance of Fate come to mind.......and interestingly enough, they are both RPG's.
|Who would have thunk it?|
Ya, I love(d) it THAT much.
In 2005, the xbox 360's release was imminent, and I pre-ordered one for myself. Hearing about the backwards compatibility feature, I decided, incredibly, unbelievably foolishly, in retrospect, to sell my original xbox and just play my xbox games on the 360. This would save me a bit of money (selling the console and putting the funds towards the 360) and also save a bit of space, something my wife (then fiance) appreciated (especially considering the fact that we (well, I) already had several other consoles in the house). And so, like an idiot, I sold my xbox.....for a measly $60. “No big deal,” I thought, “I'll play Ninja Gaiden and whatever else on my new xbox 360, and hey, I heard that it upscales to 720p, so the games might even look a bit better! Not that that really matters, but hey, it's a free added bonus. Cool!”
Except of course for one problem: No saves.
I lost all of my saves, and had to start from scratch.
It took me a while but I eventually got mobilized enough in my grief to be able to begin the arduous task of getting myself back to where I was, and so I did just that, beating NGB several times, unlocking mission mode again, getting back towards my 22 million (at the time) MM score.....and then I got the infamous RROD (red ring of death).
Well, it wasn't the HDD, so at least I still had my saves.....
Well, I got a new console sent to me by Microsoft, attached my hard drive and, upon booting up NGB (and subsequently NG) for the first time, I was informed that my saves were corrupted/damaged (due to security/protection built in by the developers which basically only allows the saves to work with the console they were created on) and I had to start over.
By the way,
This happened two more times.
I lost Ninja Gaiden progress 4 different times, and 4 different times I had to do it all over again.
There aren't even enough swear words and euphemisms for suicide in the English language to make describing my feelings during these events worthwhile. I suppose I can draw a parallel for you:
Imagine being a little kid in a sandbox building a sand castle. You spend an inordinate amount of time building by far the best sand castle you have ever built, and just as you start to call your mom over to see it and take pictures of it for you (so you can show your friends), a westerly wind comes billowing out of the east and demolishes it. The wind immediately dies down, and after you finish your crying fit, you begin to build again. You become sure as you build that you'll never again recapture the majesty of the original, and for some time this seems true, but then a gleam catches your eye, and you notice there appears to be a chance of recapturing the magic afterall, for the boxy and mechanical edges and walls have become rounded and you see the shadow of the orignal, faint but there, present within the new creation. So, rejuvinated, you press on, and as you near completion, a bigger kid comes by and kicks your sand castle into pieces, and then pisses on you while kicking you in the nuts.
Well, that kid had it fucking EASY compared to me.
Ninja Gaiden issues aside, there are a few further things I'd like to talk about with respect to this particular console generation.
My brother and I got a Nintendo Gamecube halfway through, and while it did not get a ton of play, we were both completely infatuated with Resident Evil 4, and each spent dozens of hours playing it. We got to play a few other big GCN titles, like Mario Kart, Super Mario Sunshine, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Metroid Prime, etc but I unfortunately missed out on Eternal Darkness, and have actually yet to have played it. I keep meaning to, then forget about it for several months to a year or more, until I remember it again, intend to get it, and then forget. And repeat. I am going to have to try a new tactic: the written reminder. Yes, I am leaving myself a written reminder to purchase a game....
Hey, asshole! Buy Eternal Darkness already!
Oh, that reminds me, I have several other games that are currently sharing the same fate as Eternal Darkness, including Shadow of the Collossus and Shinobi (PS2). I'm going to have to go bargain bin shopping soon......
Anyways, I digress...
Last gen was also the generation in which I discovered that, contrary to my long held, and only once verified (or so I had thought) belief, role playing games did not in fact, suck; they were actually quite good, and I had been missing out. I discovered this upon playing, and, amazingly, enjoying, Fable. I went on to play others, and my enjoyment of RPG's has increased steadily since then, to the point now where role playing games are in my top three favourite genres. I also started to play a lot more puzzle games, and I found that as the generation went on, I spent less and less time playing fighting games (although I did play a lot of DOA3 as I mentioned, and when Street Fighter Anniversary Colllection released, my buddy Sean and I would stay up all hours of the night fighting eachother and we even each recorded our matches onto VHS tapes....which I wish I had...... :(
Halfway through the generation, and especially nearer to the end, I became absolutely sick to death of FPS games, and basically refused to touch them. This continued into this current generation, although my interest in them has been resparked for short periods of time at varying intervals- just not often and not for long. For example, around the release of Halo 3, and at the launch of the Rainbow Six Vegas games, I was sucked back into the genre, at least for a time. I also enjoyed COD2 (purchased due to the underwhelming launch lineup and the, at the time, impressive graphics and gameplay, seen in the demo I played at EB Games) and COD4 (rented; single player only), and beat them both on Veteran and I played a fair bit of GRAW (1, didn't bother with 2) online.
I came to appreciate 3rd person shooters more so than first, with games like Resident Evil 4, Max Payne, Special Forces: Nemesis Strike, Kill.Switch, and The Punisher providing me with new, interesting and exciting experiences. The seeds had been planted with Winback: Covert Operations on the Nintendo 64 I suppose. Even so, I was really becoming burnt out on shooters, and even the thrid person ones weren't immune to this feeling.
My love for hockey games was rekindled in a BIG way with NHL Hitz-20-02. The most arcadey hockey game I had ever played, that game featured players catching on fire, hits that would put players through the glass on a frequent basis, dozens of goals being scored per game, the ability to take the puck across the ice and try and score.....using your goalie....and more.
|NHL Hitz: A Cure for Boardom.....Get It?|
Gamers and video game developers alike took to it, as it afforded both camps a host of new and exciting opportunities. I myself enjoyed it quite a bit, and still do at times, although to a much lesser degree than do so many others, and I do lament the seeming loss of splitscreen/local multiplayer gaming. It seems to me that while gaming has become more social, it has become less so. A major contradiction, I know, but it makes sense. It's a contradiction that isn't one. (Another one, I know). It's like Sega's move with the Dreamcast broadband adaptor that I discussed in the previous entry to this series.
With the advent of viable online services, the consoles also started to see games being supported post release, as they had been for years on the PC, in the form of patches and content downloads. Now, a game was no longer necessarily finalized once it was shipped to retail. Glitches could be fixed, new additional gameplay elements could be added, and new experiences could be had, all without buying a new game. This was overwhelmingly something that occurred more frequently on the xbox side of things, but some PS2 games incorporated these things as time went on, and Sony has certainly made these things easy with the PS3.
Another huge shift that occurred was the incredibly fast changes seen in the first person shooter genre. It went from a PC dominant genre to one that was equally competitive and full of games on both consoles and PC's. There was now a console on which FPS games were actually viable, in terms of both audio/visual and performance, and, perhaps even more importantly, control. Granted, the PC still dominated (and still does) in terms of control if you want to compare the keyboard and mouse system to that of a controller, but with the dual analogue controls that had now become the standard, you suddenly had console shooters that allowed precision aiming and fast look speeds/sensitivity. While you could never say that it was as good/accurate as that of a mouse, aiming systems that did not rely on heavy auto aim and/or lock on were now doable (although auto aim was and is still common on consoles, just no longer necessary per se; easier, but not necessary).
Related to the above is another shift: you actually saw PC FPS players playing console shooters. Halo got the attention of the PC crowd due to the hype, and many of them actually bought an xbox to play a console FPS. This was a completely new turn of events, as the PC up until that point was THE way to experience first person shooters, and a PC player trying to get their hands on a console shooter was unheard of.
Halo changed that. The controls made it decently playable for their standards (save of course for the hardest of the hardcore, and I can't say I fault or begrudge them their staunchness, as the K/M setup is superior, and will always be so, even though I prefer controllers) and the gameplay innovations Bungie made actually served to push the genre forward, at least in small ways. Namely, the ability to throw grenades while you had a weapon drawn (drastically increasing the speed of gameplay and the ease of use) and the novel health system, which involved the traditional health pack system while adding a new twist in the form of a secondary system: the recharging shield system.
This too served to increase the speed of gameplay, as players spent far less time searching out health packs and therefore had more time to engage and be engaged (by the enemy, not their significant others; significant others do not become the enemy until after the wedding!); the recharging shields also changed the dynamic when playing single player, as you had enemy AI who would, especially on the hardest difficulty, utilize cover to recharge, meaning that unless you were quick/accurate/had a good weapon, you could not merely stand back and pick them off en masse. You had to change your tactics somewhat.
Another change witnessed in the last console generation was the shift in focus for hardware manufacturers. Now, consoles weren't just for playing games. They played CD's. The xbox allowed one to place a CD in the tray, copy said CD to the hard drive (first console with a built in HDD btw....another big change) and play the music back from the HDD, either from the dashboard menu, or, even more interestingly, in the background while playing a game! This enabled you to set your own music soundtrack (for the games that supported the custom soundtrack feature).
Starting with the launch of the Playstation 2, and later with the release of an aftermarket adaptor for the xbox, the PS2 and Xbox allowed DVD playback. Consoles were not just game machines. They were starting to become multimedia centres. This trend took off in the current generation, with the PS3 and Xbox 360 being all in one high definition media centres, including video (and music) streaming (both from a local computer and online services such as Netflix), DVD playback (and, in the case of the PS3, Blu-Ray playback), internet browsing, etc.
Well, that's about it for this series. If I go any further I'll be talking about this current generation (which I sort of already just started doing, but we'll ignore that) and I don't want to do that because it's too recent. Suffice it to say that I have a 360 (fourth one, fucking piece of shit hardware) and a Wii (which is sturdy as hell but basically collects dust for the most part) and I am still gaming as often as time, health, etc permits. Can't play like I used to, what with the illnesses and the toddler and all, but I do it as much as I can. Another (small, but relevant) obstacle in my life is my wife has taken a keen interest in gaming as well this generation. Previous to this one she might have played a few rounds of Tetris or something once every few months, if that, but now she plays weekly. Mostly RPG's and puzzle games. We're both into Puzzle Quest, which is a kickass puzzle/rpg hybrid series (Stick with PQ1 and 2; skip PQ: Galactrix, it's terrible).
And so things go on, things change, and yet things stay the same. I plan on gaming as long as my mental faculties and physical condition allow. I love video gaming. It's been a great relationship overall. A bit tumultuous at times, and tinged with disappointment and regret (and also financial expense) (wait this is starting to sound like my marriage.....ba dum tish!) but definitely mostly positive and I plan on doing it until I am no longer able. Or until every game is motion controlled and/or they finally do away with the ability to rent games. If either of those happens I'll be done. I won't do it with any joy whatsoever, but I will have to take my leave from the hobby.
Until then though.............