Tag Archives: autobiography

FGC #287 Pac-Man (Gameboy)

So I figure there are two ways we can go with this article. One, we could take a look at this:

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And laugh uproariously at this primitive attempt at a portable Pac-Man. It’s super tiny! They couldn’t fit the entire maze on the screen! There isn’t an attempt at “new” mazes, despite the fact that Ms. Pac-Man was released years before. There’s no color!

Or, second choice, we could address Pac-Man for Gameboy as the most important game that was ever released.

Let’s go with that second choice.

I did not purchase, new or used, Pac-Man for Gameboy. I did not have a legit Gameboy as a child, and the few games I purchased for my Super Gameboy were significant and precious. Pac-Man was never even in the running. Pac-Man, even by the release of the Super Gameboy, was fairly played out, and, if we’re being honest, primitive. OG Pac-Man had like one maze and four directions. There wasn’t even a jump button! I want to say that I didn’t consider purchasing a Pac-Man game until The Age of the Download, because, seriously why bother? Besides, ol’ Paccy seemed to pop up often enough in other, more complex games. So, ya know, screw it. If I want to get lost in a maze, I’ll just play god-damned Fester’s Quest again.

No, I did not ever think to purchase Pac-Man for Gameboy. This game was inherited. This game once belonged to my grandfather. And that’s kind of important.

According to Pokémon Go (this is how I do research), the local arcade was founded in 1976. Pac-Man, according to Wikipedia, was released in the spring of 1980. Given my grandfather notoriously enjoyed Space Invaders since its initial release two years earlier, I’m guessing the man first played Pac-Man in that arcade. Here, for reference, are the two “original” Pac machines still floating around that arcade, nearly forty years later:

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You’ll notice that OG Pac-Man is not pictured. That’s because the old man got tossed sometime around when The World’s Largest Pac-Man Cabinet showed up. Then again, it may have gone to the dumpster well before that, as Ms. Pac-Man has always, no questions, been better than her hubby. It’s a Pac eat Pac world, and even Junior can conquer the old man. Regardless, I’m going to ahead and assume Pac-Man was first played by my ancestor somewhere around that general area pictured above.

Or maybe I’m completely wrong. Pac-Man, despite being a boring old man compared to the rest of his family, was ubiquitous for nearly a decade. In my youth, I saw Pac-Man cabinets in every restaurant lobby, hotel, motel, and Holiday Inn in the country. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a few of the sit-down Pac-cabinets in doctor’s offices. Pac-Man was everywhere for a while, and I could see my grandfather first playing the game at any of those locations. He was a dedicated husband and father, but my mother has always eaten about as slow as a particularly anemic snail, so I could easily imagine my grandfather sneaking off to a diner Pac-Man cabinet to munch pellets faster than his daughter could devour potatoes. … Or maybe I’m just confusing my own childhood with his adulthood…

Regardless, I can tell you one place my grandfather did not play Pac-Man for the first time: his living room. It’s hard to even imagine now, but gaming used to be exclusively an outside activity… or at least outside the home. You could not play videogames in your living room, you were stuck going to any of those (many) locations listed to get your gaming fix, because the technology just wasn’t there. Did you see those arcade cabinets? No way anything like that would fit in your bedroom.

But when you did get something home…

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It might not have been so hot. That’s Pac-Man for the Atari 2600. I know for a fact that my grandfather owned that game, because I played “his” Atari roughly 28,000,000,000 times as a kid. But I didn’t play Pac-Man that much (Combat, man, Combat), because, even as a toddler, I knew a compromised port when I saw it. And my grandfather agreed. In the same way one might have a cherished memory of an elder telling a tale of a bygone age/lemon tree, I can distinctly recall my grandfather sitting me on his lap, and saying, “Bobby, let’s save this game for the arcade.” And we did. And it was good.

Looking back, it’s obvious why Atari Pac-Man was so terrible. We didn’t know the numbers at the time, but the Atari literally had 32 times less memory than the Pac-Man arcade board, so trying to get ol’ Pac going “perfectly” on an Atari was about as likely as running Windows on the Sesame Street Cookie Counter. But back in the earliest of 80’s, the message seemed to be that, no matter what, we were never going to get “arcade realism” on the humble home console. I’ve spoken of this phenomenon before, and, yes, it even applied to games where the hero is a yellow circle and no participants even have recognizable appendages. Regardless, it seemed like that would be the status quo forever, and “home computers” would never be advanced enough for something so complex as a yellow pizza man.

The originalAnd then… they were. Whether you want to point to the Commodore 64, Nintendo Entertainment System, or even the later Atari 5200, we did eventually get an “arcade perfect” port of Pac-Man (or close enough to forget that that earlier Pepto-Man ever existed), and Pac-Man actually could be enjoyed at home. We made it! What could be better?

Well, Pac-Man anywhere you want, of course.

Pac-Man had a few portable iterations in his heyday. I’ve never seen one in person, but google the Tomy Tronic Pac-Man if you ever want to see the glorious old days of pac-portability. And the Coleco portable Pac-Man “cabinet” had a similar, early portable styling in that whole “light up blocks” a number of people remember from the Tiger Electronic portables. Oh! And those Pac-Man electronic watches! I hear people have died over those things. All of those whacky devices technically provided a portable pac-perience, but if Atari Pac-Man was a compromised port, this was an excuse that was somehow even less. I’m pretty sure you could get a more robust experience out of a damn wall mural than those stupid watches.

But then the Gameboy came, and Pac-Man was good.

And, sure, there wasn’t any color, and sure, you had a choice between teeny tiny graphics or actually, ya know, seeing the whole screen, but it was pretty damn Pac-Man. All the cinema scenes are here, and I’m pretty sure the ghost/power pellet times are arcade accurate. All the little intricacies of Pac-Man are available on the go, even if it’s kind of difficult to tell Blinky from Inky. And, while it seems obvious to say that people notice details, it’s those little things that separate atrocious Atari ports from the kind of games that can pry Tetris from that lone, precious Gameboy slot.

So, yes, today, Pac-Man for Gameboy seems primitive and, frankly, kind of sad. This is a version of Pac-Man that is meant to be played on a screen barely larger than an Amiibo base. But then again, that’s kind of the point: when Pac-Man was released, it could only be contained in an arcade cabinet that weighed hundreds of pounds and cost hundreds of dollars. But, in just a decade, Pac-Man could gobble down ghosts while being powered by a mere four batteries.

Yeah!And my grandfather always had those four batteries available. Essentially. He suffered from a stroke around 1999, so, being partially paralyzed, he didn’t really keep up with videogame advances. But one image I’ll never forget would be from about two years before he died (incidentally, roughly ten years after the stroke). He was sitting at his computer in his wildly disorganized “office” (a place my grandmother never visited), and he was chatting with his brother. My grandfather lived in New Jersey, and his brother of some eighty years lived in Florida. They were chatting via a messenger service (probably AOL), and my grandfather had somehow jury-rigged a modern webcam to a tripod from roughly 1956, and there was his brother on the screen, chatting away, and likely with some similar piece of makeshift webcammery on his side. They were talking, or, to be more particular, my grand uncle was talking, and my grandfather was listening. And, while my grandfather was listening, he was playing a game of Pac-Man in the other window. It’s not hard to play a videogame with four buttons with one hand. But I’ll always remember that scene: two men from the early 20th Century, talking across miles and miles as if they were in the same room, and one is still nursing a case of Pac-Fever.

Pac-Man came a long way, and technology came with him.

And that’s always going to be important.

FGC #287 Pac-Man (Gameboy)

  • System: I have got to find a better system than making the system part of the title and then denoting the system directly below the title. Also, I should say “system” less.
  • Number of players: Two! Via link cable! I have no idea how that works, because I never saw a second Gameboy with Pac-Man in my youth… but it’s probably lame. I mean, this ain’t Pac-Men.
  • Further Photographic Evidence: I wasn’t kidding about the Gameboy screen being the size of an Amiibo Base.

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    Also, for the record, that Gameboy is playing my copy of Pac-Man, you just absolutely cannot see it. Oh well.

  • Two in one stroke: I’m also going to claim that this article covers Atari Pac-Man, so that way I never have to touch that one again. Yes, I did also inherit that “beloved” childhood memory, too, because of course I did.
  • Did you know? Yes, I live in a town where I can still walk to an arcade. Multiples, depending on the season.
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    And, yes, at least one arcade has OG Pac-Man.
  • Would I play again: Pac-Man, yes, Gameboy, no. I have respect for the first decent portable system in history, but respect doesn’t do anything for eyestrain.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Persona 5! Or maybe he didn’t choose it at all, and I just feel like writing about a game I played for a hundred hours. Who could say? You get Persona 5 either way. Please look forward to it!

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FGC #281 Doom (32X)

Starring DoomguyI remember being cool in high school. … Wait, no, that’s a lie. I was never cool in school. I’m sure you don’t remember me. However, I know I was cooler than a lot of other losers. I was, like, the coolest kid in the computer club, bar none. I dated actual, real-live women. I went to two proms with three dates. I’m moderately certain I was the envy of at least seven freshmen. And, when I graduated high school, I easily cruised right into college, and wasn’t some lame, always-stuck-in-his-hometown dropout of society. I might not have been the coolest kid in the class, but in high school, I was at least… cool enough?

But a funny thing has happened in the intervening million, billion years since high school. I look at pictures from my old yearbook, or albums from cherished field trips, or even some random pic that gets posted on Facebook, and I see… a nerd? Okay, I’ve always been a nerd, but I at least always had an idea of what was stylish, right? What the hell am I wearing in that picture? And why is my hair… doing that thing? Wait… why in God’s name am I wearing nail polish? I wasn’t goth! Wait… I was dating that one girl for…. But that was just a gag! Like, I didn’t look like that for… where did this picture come from again? Can it be burned? Can we destroy the entire internet and any record of human life from before about 2010? That’d be great!

It's a party!Of course, the only thing keeping me going is that I’m not alone in this phenomenon. My best friend looks like just as much of a nerd as me, thank God. That girl I had a crush on for a solid ten years has hair that looks like it lost a fight with a stylist from Full House. And back to that terrible yearbook, even the cool teacher that was literally voted “Coolest Teacher” looks like something out of a particularly poorly cast 90’s after-school special (maybe something hosted by Garfield?). In short, it is horrifying to gaze upon your own past, as it turns out it’s not just the kids these days that have rotten trends and fashion, it’s everybody.

So what else was popular when I was rocking an ill-fitting Final Fantasy t-shirt and thinking I was the coolest thing since Coolio? Doom.

Doom is a classic videogame. Like Super Mario Bros, Doom basically invented a genre that is still going strong today, and, also like SMB, Doom established that genre by just plain being a good experience. … Except, as has been mentioned once or twice, I’m not a big fan of that genre. And there’s probably a reason for that! I was a console gamer. I’ve never been a fan of using computers for gaming because, basically, I rationalize computers as “work” devices, and have since sixth grade. Couple this with years (years!) of learning that keeping your computer “up to date” is a fool’s errand (I realize this has gotten better in recent years, but the mere mention of “video cards” still makes me indirectly nauseous), and it all adds up to Goggle Bob generally avoiding “computer games”. Sadly, this has continued into the modern age, and I still haven’t played Undertale (I’ll get to it!). Whatever the reason, Doom: The Game To Play wound up not being my thing, so I missed that particular trend, and any fond memories of a Doom-based childhood.

Except… that isn’t completely accurate.

Word!I may not have had a gaming PC, but I did have a whole pile of videogame consoles, and a serious drive to be one of the cool kids playing the cool videogames. This eventually led to purchasing Doom on the 32X, obviously the most superior Doom. It’s got all the Doom you love, and hasn’t been reduced to 16-bit low-fi. It’s got a six button controller, so you’re not limited by a keyboard or a mere four buttons! And it’s a cartridge, so no load times! Eat it, Playstation. This is the game of games on the system of systems! This is the best thing ever! … Or at least that’s what my friends seemed to believe.

And I play it now, and… huh. This is embarrassing.

First and foremost, that precious six-button Genesis controller is not meant for a FPS. In Doom’s defense, for exclusively working with a crosspad, Doomguy controls pretty alright, but little things like, ya know, aiming are impossible. Are the legions of Hell slightly above you? Sorry, you’re going to die. And, as far as I can tell, there’s no jump or climb button, so there are these awful pits that just leave you there to die… but not nearly fast enough (side note: I have no idea how body armor is impacted by standing in a puddle of acid). So, right off the bat, steering Doomguy is about as fun as navigating a hallway full of iron maidens in the dark.

But that kind of thing is understandable. You can start a genre, but it’s unusual to start a genre and perfect it, so a few hiccups are to be expected. And, hey, this was designed for the computer in the first place, of course the ol’ joypad is going to have a problem or two. Nobody ever chastises a teenager just for being young, and nobody chastises a port for not perfectly emulating the source material (this entire sentence is a lie).

No, what is most embarrassing about Doom is… Doom. Or, more appropriately, what Doom used to be.

BLAMMOMy social circle was convinced that Doom was the most mature game in history. There aren’t silly yo-yos or swords here; this is wall to wall guns. You’re not fighting daffy robots or whacky Universal monsters, you’re up against hellspawn and spikey eyeballs. There’s no puerile plumber bounding fifty feet in the air, Doomguy is a real person, he can’t jump or shrink or turn into a raccoon; it’s just him and his bare(ish) fists against the world. Monsters bleed. Doomguy grunts. This is real videogames for real adults, not those childish antics you see on your ‘intendo.

And revisiting that attitude as an actual adult? It doesn’t exactly do the game any favors. Have you been looking at these screenshots? Doom looks about as realistic as something you’d hang on your fridge after Timmy has been a good boy. Hell, some of those “scary” demons look downright cuddly. Cuddly isn’t cool. Cuddly isn’t cool at all!

Doom is a great game. Doom is responsible for much of where gaming “is” today, and nothing will ever change that. However, I opened up Doomguy’s yearbook last night and… uh… Bad news, Doomguy, I think…. I think you might have been a nerd.

Please don’t hit me.

FGC #281 Doom (32X)

  • System: Doom got around, bro. It was on the computer. It was on the Super Nintendo. It was on the 32X. It was on the Jaguar. It was on the Playstation, Saturn, and 3DO. It eventually wound up on the Gameboy Advance. It was released on something called “The Acorn”, which sounds pretty nutty.
  • Number of players: I think we’re stuck with one on the 32X. Was there a deathmatch version here? I’m not going to go back and check.
  • Really?Hot Takes from 1993: Why is Doomguy wearing ab-bearing armor? He’s wearing gloves on the title screen, but his fists are bare when punching demons. John Romero has silly hair! Ha-cha-cha-cha.
  • Favorite Weapon: I am partial to chain guns. Chainsaws are a second runner-up. Maybe I just like chains?
  • Did you know? A lot of people seem to forget that Doom claimed a lot of notoriety by being partially released as share-ware at its release. Trying to make your franchise the hottest thing since sliced bread? Give it away! That always works!
  • Would I play again: I feel like I should… but nope. This is another one that isn’t nostalgic enough for me to hold my attention, and has been improved in every conceivable way by later editions. Sorry, yearbook, you’re going back on the shelf.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Breath of Fire 3 for the Playstation! Now it’s time to see Ryu’s baby photos. Please look forward to it!

FGC #271 Shinobi (PS2)

Here comes a special ninjaSet foot into my home, and you will realize that I really like putting things on a shelf. The videogames are a given (hi, have you read this blog?), and, of course, that also means a pile of assorted videogame paraphernalia like controllers, Random ROBs, and the ever-expanding amiibo collection (please, Nintendo, please stop). Then we get into the action figures representing various videogame and comic book characters (and at least one Beartato pillow). And, should you escape my basement of ultra-nerdy items, I’ve even got “figures” upstairs that are more mundane and widely accepted. Did you see that bird my grandfather carved? That qualifies as art, right? Yay! Normal people stuff! Oh, uh… that painting over there? That’s…. that’s the Mana Tree… do I need to explain that?

In what passes for interior decorating, I’ve tried to segregate these collections to different rooms. One such segment is my library, which, in addition to the myriad of books that I claim I’m going to read one day, I swear, houses what I consider to be the more “childish” collections. Naturally, this means that I’ve got a room where all the Transformers hang out. And, given I’ve been afflicted with nerdiness roughly since my birth, this means there are Transformers that are fresh acquisitions (like the BIGGEST TRANSFORMER EVER recent release of Fort Max) side by side with Transformers that I first played with when I was but a wee Goggle Bob. Grimlock smash puny contemporary design sense. And, when I look at a toy turned objet d’art that has been following me around for thirty years, I can’t help but think that I used to actually play with that hunk of plastic, likely transforming it from beast to machine and back again over and over for hours; however, now, here it sits, randomly perched on a shelf in front of The Tyranny of Dead Ideas (there’s probably some synergy going on there). Maybe I’ve watched Toy Story far too many times, but I almost feel bad for this emotionless object and how I’ve now forsaken it for “playing” with nearly anything else in the universe. Optimus Prime is untouched on a shelf, never to roll out again.

And then I look back at that room full of videogames, and somehow feel even worse.

OwieIt’s completely random (thanks ROB!) but maybe this is the ideal follow-up to the navel gazing nonsense of Kickle Cubicle. Today’s game is Shinobi, a Playstation 2 release hailing from the bygone age of 2002. Fifteen years? Yeah, that sounds about right. Shinobi was released during a time that many people identified gaming as “too easy”. Whether it was because the Playstation (1) made gaming cool and fresh and fly for a whole new generation of cool kids, or if technology had advanced to the point where such things were possible, one way or another, games had gotten easier in pretty much every conceivable way in the decade or so since the NES. No more did you have to write down finicky passwords to continue your quest, now there were plentiful memory cards. No more did games seem completely insurmountable thanks to one random puzzle, now there was a wealth of knowledge on the internet. And no more did you have to worry about some 2-D platformer that reveled in killing your digital avatar repeatedly, no, the age of 3-D came with life bars and quick respawns (… probably just because it would be a pain to reload a “giant” world after every death), and everything seemed much easier as a result. Prince of Persia on the Apple 2 seemed insoluble, Prince of Persia on the Playstation 2 was going to take a week, the end.

And Shinobi wanted to answer that with a modern, 3-D action game that was also rock hard and throbbing with death. And it succeeded! Hooray!

I can't beat him nowThere are sections of Shinobi that are permanently etched into my brain. An image of tearing across a cityscape while slicing malevolent souls is right at the front my lobes. Defeating one of the later bosses in one go and not having to bang my head against that particular wall again is a cherished memory. And the final boss… I’m moderately sure that’s the longest I’ve ever spent on one individual videogame battle in my life. I was determined to beat this game, and beat it I did… it just took, I believe, two days’ worth of memorization and practice. End of the day, I could say I beat Shinobi, the hardest game of its console generation until the next really hard ninja game came out. Such a glowing accomplishment.

And then I put Shinobi on a shelf, never to play it again. Why? Because I didn’t want to ruin it.

Shinobi was a hard game. Shinobi was known as a hard game. I don’t think there was a single review of Shinobi that didn’t note its high difficulty level. And I beat it. I defeated that game that everyone said was hard. I didn’t A-rank it or replay hard mode, but I beat it. There are people who didn’t beat Shinobi, and I am better than them. And, were I to play Shinobi again, I would likely find my skills had atrophied, and now I’m no better than the scrubs. Dammit! I was an elite ninja warrior! I can’t throw that away! How about I just play another game, and not ever replay Shinobi again? That way, with Shinobi up there on that shelf, I’ll always have the memory of being good at Shinobi, and never suffering a crushing defeat to some errant tank.

And at this point I would like to note that this thinking is A. completely what I believe, and B. bonkers.

Ew!Videogames are meant to be played. Books are meant to be read. DVDs are meant to be watched. They’re not meant to sit on a shelf for the rest of eternity, aesthetics be damned. I like putting things on a shelf, but, dammit, I need someone or some “challenge” to prod me out of, “yes, that was a good memory, I’ll never play you again” thinking. ROB does the job for me, but I encourage everyone reading this to take those cherished memories off the shelf, get ‘em going, and start some new memories with your old friends. Entertainment is meant to entertain, not sit in an attic.

And regarding Shinobi? I replayed it for this article. I sucked at it. I think I got my poor ninja stuck in a helicopter rotor. There was a lot of cleanup. But you know what? I enjoyed it. And, more importantly, the videogame police didn’t knock down my door and steal my Shinobi Completion Diploma. I currently suck at Shinobi, and that’s okay. I had fun, and that’s more enjoyable than looking at an unplayed game on a shelf.

FGC #271 Shinobi (PS2)

  • System: Playstation 2! The Xbox will have to get its own super-hard ninja game.
  • Number of players: There is only one Shinobi. Something to do with a limited number of soul-sucking swords.
  • Favorite Boss: Sometimes, late at night when I’m trying to sleep, I’ll close my eyes and see that final boss. I will then not sleep for upwards of a week. Videogame PTSD is a thing, right?
  • Too hot for ninjaOther Shinobi Memories: I want to say this was one of the first PS2 games I owned that contained a memory card holder. As a result, I think Shinobi saw more “use” for its case than its actual game.
  • Any connection to old Shinobi games? Well, this ninja likes watching entire cities burn about as much as the last guy, so that’s some kind of continuity.
  • The story continues: The sequel to Shinobi is Nightshade, which features very similar gameplay and a lady ninja. Unfortunately, the whole “Shinobi 2” thing kind of got buried somewhere along the way, so most people don’t even know a sequel to Shinobi exists.
  • Did you know? Voice acting in the PS2 era was amazing.
  • Would I play again? Okay, truth be told, this is a PS2 action game, and a lot of modern conveniences we take for granted (like a goddamned map for starters) aren’t here. Also, the camera seems to have the damnedest time staying centered on an enemy. But, all that aside, I feel like I now have to replay this one, as, ya know, whole shelf thing. So… probably yes?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Nintendo Land for the WiiU! … Huh, I swear ROB is getting nostalgic about the most recently retired Nintendo hardware, and we’re seeing more WiiU games on the block. Or it’s complete random chance. Whatever. Please look forward to it!

Ugh
This is going to take forever…