Thursday, November 3, 2011

PC & Console Game Week: 4 of 6

by Chris McGinty (According To Whim .com)

In my first part, I discussed my very humble beginnings as a gamer with one of the most iconic platforms ever, the Atari 2600, and the greatest computer of all time, the Commodore 64. Don’t believe me? Go look and see what model of computer holds the Guinness Book of World Records, record for the highest selling model of computer.

Nathan discussed the fact that consoles started becoming defined by how many bits of memory they had. I was never really all that big about that. I just wanted fun games to play. I’m not saying that Nathan was or wasn’t about that, just that he brought it up. My experience with gaming was actually more Commodore than anything else for a while there, so what I noticed was that as the games expanded, so did the number of disks they needed.

I discussed the homebrew games before. When I first started, I had a few blank discs, and it took me forever to fill them. I had a game disk that had so many games it was ridiculous. Then there got to be a point where the programs were getting bigger. This was around the time that I was told the difference between High Density and Double Density. There were double-sided disks marketed, but with a Double Density disk, you could take this little device and punch a hole on the other side of the disk case to bypass the copy protection, and use the second side of the disk.

Then the packaged games started using both sides of a disk for whole games. At first you would buy a disk, and when you looked at the menu, you would see that there was space left over. I think it was possible to use that space in some cases, but I didn’t just in case. The leftover space started decreasing, and the next thing you knew, you would have to flip the disk over to finish loading the game. It wasn’t long before there were games that used multiple discs. And games have not stopped getting bigger.

The world moved on to 3 ½ inch disks. There was even a drive made for the Commodore, but I never had one. Heck, there was eventually a hard drive made for the Commodore, but it was made as the market was dying. As soon as games became big enough that they had to be held on a 3 ½ disk, the games were becoming big enough that they had to be held on multiple 3 ½ disks. Soon CDs became the standard, and then multiple CDs per game. Then it was onto the DVDs, and now Blu-Ray. And the games just keep getting bigger, and in some cases, perhaps better. Perhaps not.

Let’s jump forward a little bit to the age of emulators. I guess the software companies were afraid of emulators at one point, but there is always the innocuous side of any of these “piracy” technologies, VCRs being a good example. Yes, there was a point when the copyright infringement fringe attacked VCRs because of their ability to tape from TV. With emulators, the innocuous side is that you can play old games that are not really supported anymore. Yes, there are arcade classic packages, but let’s face it, there will probably never be a company that will buy up the rights to every Atari game ever, so that I can have a good time with all those great games (and the not so great ones) once again. This is where having an Atari emulator is very nice. I spent many hours last year playing Defender on my laptop. Decades later, and I love playing that game.

Many Atari games are worth playing even in the age of open world MMORPGs. It’s a different game play style, one that is suited for cell phone apps now, but they’re still great games. Some of the bigger games now would seem amazing if you showed them to a gamer of the 80s or 90s, but it doesn’t mean they would have fun playing them.

Ok, now that I’ve argued about the good old days of gaming vs. these modern times, allow me to get back to the timeline that seemed to be established before. There weren’t that many years between the Atari 2600 and the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), but given the amount of game playing I did, it surely seemed that I had the Atari and the Commodore for a long, long time. Then we finally got a Nintendo, and the worlds of Zelda and Mario were opened to me and my brother. And eventually, we branched out to any game we could get our hands on. The game swap thing didn’t seem as prevalent by then, but many video stores also rented Nintendo games, so we got to play a number of titles that way to see if we wanted to buy them later.

I remember seeing something once that spoke of Nintendo players knowing what it meant to have to blow on their games before playing. I can’t remember exactly how it was phrased. For some reason as the games got older, they would stop loading properly when you inserted the cartridge and turned on the system. For some reason blowing out the dust seemed to work, even if there couldn’t possibly be any dust left in there. We bought this cheap plastic cleaner that slid on either side of the game chip, and hooked to another pice of plastic so you could insert it into the console. It worked pretty well, but sometimes we’d still have to blow on the games.

The other problem that the Nintendo cartridges had was that they used a battery for saved games. I don’t know if every game that saved used a battery, but some did. We were given a copy of Legacy of the Ancients and we were unable to play it because we couldn’t save. We discovered that getting a battery installed was cost prohibitive, especially for a game we weren’t sure we’d like.

Back to the emulator thing, this is why I would never feel bad about having a Nintendo emulator. Even if I owned the games and the game system (I do still have a system and a few games by the way, but I’m not sure how well they work) I couldn’t be sure that I could play the games the way the designers intended them. And that’s provided that blowing on the cartridge got them to play in the first place.

While we didn’t own an Atari, a Commodore, or an NES the moment they came out, This was the last time in my existence that I was anywhere near “up with the times” on video game systems. By the time I had a Super Nintendo in my home, it was because Miguel had owned his so long that he didn’t play it anymore, so he loaned it to me indefinitely. I was still using a 386 computer when computers had moved on from the 268, 386, 486 naming convention. And we won’t even get into my continuously failed quest to own a Playstation 2. I’ve owned one, but it was such an odd situation that found me without one a month later. That’s the problem with playing pawn shop to someone you know. They might actually get you your money back after you’ve bought the Grand Theft Auto Trilogy pack for $24.99. And then you have the games and a couple of memory cards, and no means of playing them. It was briefly a fun time though.

From here I could launch into a discussion of buying gaming systems and games years later, and how it tends to be much cheaper in the long run, and just as much fun. Or I could discuss stories I have about playing games.

When I first started going to see bands play live, I was keeping an index card of all the bands I saw play. From the very get go it was incomplete, because I couldn’t remember who opened up for Huey Lewis and the News. The fact is that I quickly outgrew the index card and made the mistake of not getting a notebook to continue to keep track. I have thought about sitting down and making a list of shows I’ve been to and writing a set of blog posts that tell any interesting stories about the shows.

With video games that might be harder to do that, because video games are a lot of times a solo effort. Nonetheless, I have a few tales of playing video games with others that might make for a good third part of this. I have until Sunday to remember anything else I might have wanted to bring up too. Tomorrow is Nathan’s third part, so be sure to read that, and then check back with me on Sunday.

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