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Tag: childhood

Ye Olden “Proud Of Myself” Story

As you can probably tell from the various podcast episodes I have done (including here on vgconvos), while I love topical discussions, I also adore old stories. Anything filled to the brim with reminiscence is right up my alley. I love hearing how people grew up with games, how those games affected their lives, and any little vignettes they care to relay.

This is one of those quick, old stories.

I have spoken before at length about Zelda II and whether or not I actually like the game. I shared how I have never actually beaten the game myself, but a childhood friend has the personal glory of owning a save slot on my cartridge with a completed game (and amazingly enough, my game’s battery still has not croaked):

Rewind to the previous game: the original Legend of Zelda.

Mike C. was always a slightly-better gamer than I was — not significantly so, but enough to impress me just enough without leaving me scornfully jealous. It was definitely fun times. We both played the Hell out of the first game, sitting down for long nights in front of the TV (long after our parents thought we were asleep) and trading the controller back and forth on levels and save slots. Mike C. beat the first quest before I did, and the two of us turned our attention toward the rumored-yet-true second quest.

Anyone who has played the original Zelda knows how completely arbitrary some of its discoveries can be. Burn a random tree here, and you found a cheap store. Bomb a random area of wall here, and you found an old man who steals your money. In the second quest specifically, walk through this random wall that cannot be bombed and shows no signs of passage in any way, and you found a hidden passage. Once you realized that only one “secret” would be present on any single screen, things fell into place a little more…  but it still felt very “random”, even with the amazing feeling of accomplishment.

It is that combination of “randomness” and “accomplishment” that gave me one of my only one-ups on Mike C. with the second quest. We roamed the map for days looking for level six, but could not find it. Level seven was a tree burn, sure, and we found that one ahead of time no problem… but where the Hell was level six…?!

Its original location held no clues, but I was convinced that it would still be around the graveyard in some capacity. We pushed every grave stone. We bombed every wall. Nothing…

… nothing, that is, until one night by myself when I decided to blow the whistle/recorder on each of the six graveyard screens:

Words can not describe how proud I was of my child self, and how devilish it felt to be the one to share the information with my buddy.

A Very Zelda Christmas Memory

It was Christmas 1998. I was a junior in high school. While I had a semi-part-time job, I was not raking in much of my own cash and could not purchase every single game I wanted. That’s OK, though. Ocarina of Time would have only been out for a month, so I could wait until Christmas for it.

The last game in the series had been Link’s Awakening, which by now you know well is one of my favorite games of all time. Also adoring Super Mario 64, I was beside myself with excitement over the latest game in the series coming into the world of 3D.

And there it was, ready to be unwrapped under that glorious tree on Christmas Day in 1998. Not only that, but it was the golden cartridge version, a limited-edition version that could only have been obtained with a pre-order, and a toss-back to ye’ olden NES days of golden Legend of Zelda and Adventure of Link cartridges.

I later heard the hilarious tale from my mother. She fought through a crowd of people at Toys ‘R Us to get up to the front. Somehow she learned or overheard that there was a golden-cartridge version, which is the version she asked for at the desk. The person behind the desk asked her if she pre-ordered. She said she did. My mother lied; she had done no such thing. The goal was clear, and she would accept no other outcome. She walked out of the store that day with the limited-edition golden cartridge version.

We are greedy and clueless as children, and have no understanding of the nonsense our parents go through. I can reflect on that now and try to put myself in her place. I wonder if and when I have children if I will ever fight a crowd of equally-annoying parents for the golden-boxed virtual reality car flying simulation kit as a gift. Knowing me, I’ll make up a wonderful story about how the clerk put my pre-order under someone else’s name, and I will be victorious.

The real shame here is that Ocarina of Time never truly captivated me. In fact, I was completely lost as to what to do for a couple hours after first starting it. To this day, I have never made it past the Water Temple. I have made many valiant efforts over the years, but I simply get bored earlier and earlier in the game each time. I appreciate the game for what it is,  love many of its elements to death, and certainly hold it in the highest regard and with fond memories. Thankfully I found a wife who prefers and has essentially mastered all of the 3D Zelda games, so her 3D Triforce of Power matches up well with my 2D Triforce of Widsom.

I guess we’ll need a kid one day with their Virtual Reality Triforce of Courage.

HDTV Gaming and Lag: First Impressions

One of the things I was most excited about and terrified of in the move to the new house was finally having a current-generation TV and audio setup to go along with the now-current-generation video game consoles. Up until last month, I had been gaming on a (decently sized) SDTV with its built-in speakers. I was at least playing the 360 and PS3 through component cables, but it was 480i with crappy audio none-the-less.

But let’s take a step back, first.

While I have not kept up with anything in a formal sense, I consider myself as having a bit of a musical background. In addition to my deep love of music (as seen by lo-fidelity), I played saxophone back in elementary and middle school and even took private lessons for a couple years after that. I dropped it mid-high-school for a variety of reasons (I think I wanted to play ska music but didn’t know what it was I was looking for), but the background was enough to carry with me and give me a wonderful frame of context for years to come. I think I have a finely-tuned ear for music, an incredible sense of rhythm, and pretty decent hand/eye coordination… all offset by a horrific singing voice, but you can’t win ’em all.

So what was horrifying about the move to HDTV gaming with a new sound system? It was the A/V lag inherent in the new technology that frightened me away like a dog with its ears down and its tail between its legs. For someone who can tell if anything is off-beat by even the most minor of measurements in milliseconds, “looking forward” to lag does not seem to make much logical sense. I ended up going with the following items for our setup:

– Pioneer PDP-5020FD Kuro 50″ Plasma TV
– Sony STRDG920 7.1 A/V Receiver
– Polk Audio RM6750 Speaker Set (Center / 2 Front / 2 Surround / Subwoofer)

Between all the HDMI and component cables, speaker wire, and miscellaneous items I made sure to pick up ahead of time, we were able to put together a complete setup (with an additional two speakers coming at some point in the near future, and actually putting the surround speakers somewhere other than in front of the TV):

hdtv_lag_setup

I knew things would potentially be OK with games like Rock Band where there was a thorough lag calibration system in the game’s options, but that wasn’t what I was most worried about. I wanted to start with the very basics, and move up from there. The first thing I popped in was the Wii, and set its display to 16:9 and 480p. It was wonderful to finally see the system taking advantage of what it could do in a larger display format, and I salivated at the thought of finally being able to see things in games like Super Smash Bros. Brawl. However, like I said… let’s start with the basics. It’s Virtual Console and Super Mario Bros. time.

hdtv_lag_smb

I was very much let down by the fact that the Wii did not automatically adjust to display games in their 4:3 format, and instead stretched it out to fill the 16:9 display. While there are a variety of ways I could adjust this, I found that the most convenient was to switch the receiver to output in 480p (rather than the upscaled 1080p), which for whatever reason scaled it back to 4:3 progressive rather than 16:9 progressive (which the TV then recognized and added the gray pillar bars on the sides)… but that was OK. Display issues were the least of my worries, though, since I knew I could adjust those on the fly. I was most concerned about lag, and especially with games I knew as intimately well as the original Super Mario Bros. Everyone has games that they have grown up with and feel are almost an extension of their hands and fingertips. Muscle memory takes over, and you feel like you could play an entire world blindfolded if you absolutely had to.

This is where it starts to break down. While it may be imperceptible to those not as familiar with it, Super Mario Bros. actually felt sluggish and unresponsive. Mario still jumped when I pressed “A”, but there was just enough of that insignificantly minor delay that I was accidentally jumping into Goombas and missing a couple pixels on the edge of a staircase after a jump. It was as if someone stole half of a cookie from me; the love and enjoyment was still there, but I knew I was missing something that held it back from being a complete whole. This made me wonder if I wanted to bother playing any old games at all on the newer setup if they were not going to feel the same to me. Sure, you could go tinker around with things like the receiver’s A/V lag calibration, but that only helps with things like movies where it can delay them both to match each other without worrying about real-time controller inputs to actively display in real-time right back at the viewer (geeze, that’s a mouth-full).

I decided to play another “old-school” game, but this time one that I was not as intimately familiar with. Would I even be able to tell if there was lag? If I had zero frame of reference, would I know any better? With all the hub-bub over the new release, and remembering the minor fanboy fiasco with HDTV lag issues when it first came out on Virtual Console, I decided to go back and play some more of the original Punch-Out on NES. I had only briefly played the game as a child, and even though it had been sitting on my Wii for months upon months, I had still only briefly played it and therefore had no memories to compare it to. How would it fare?

hdtv_lag_punchout

Well, I did the best I have ever done in the game. I made it up to King Hippo and could not honestly tell if there were lag issues. I am sure beyond all reasonable doubt that there were delays in the movements due to input lag… but coming into it completely fresh, I could not tell the difference. It felt like an entirely normal gaming experience to me, and one that I enjoyed to its fullest. Was my brain compensating for the lag, but making the entire process transparent to me since there was that lack of a frame of reference?

I have since played plenty of other games, both of an old and newer generation. I put an entire day into Pure on PS3, and while it may be due to the customizations and general control style of those types of games, my ATV felt as it should. Playing as Jigglypuff in Brawl felt normal… but then again, it’s a slow character, and the Wii was playing in its standard 16:9 / 480p. Street Fighter IV and Soul Calibur IV felt completely normal, as well… and those are faster games that we expect to have and demand pixel-perfect responses from. I still have a problem even with games like Rock Band, though; while the calibration options are supremely impressive, it does not change the fact that you are not actually playing the songs in real-time. When the drum solo bits come up, what plays through the speakers is not at the same moment as when you hit the drum pads (it is delayed by just a few milliseconds)… which in addition to making you look and sound like a complete spaz of a drummer, it can throw off your rhythm by leaps and bounds.

I still have a lot to learn about these types of setups and the best customizations to make. The Wii’s settings in conjunction with the type of upscaling the receiver is doing seem to have an effect on the input lag. I continue to learn more about the TV’s options and its different modes, so I may be able to customize things a little more to reduce lag (it looks like the “Game” display mode does nothing more than adjust colors and brightness, but when used in conjunction with another switch it may turn off things like noise reduction that affect display lag).

Instances like this make my yearn for the days of old when we hooked up a RF switcher to the TV (uphill both ways in snow)… and we liked it. Technological advancements like this are common place in all hobbies and everyday life processes, and it pains me to think that I am getting grumpy over them. While the ends may justify the means (having an impressive, enthralling, and engaging gaming experience), it reminds me of other hobbies like AMVs where the necessary preparation effort and time-sink are enough to deter me from even getting started, despite loving the end product.

Maybe having a retro setup is the way to go…?

hdtv_lag_oldsetup

That doesn’t change the fact that I will be picking up more older games via download services like Virtual Console and XBLA than I will old NES cartridges (though, incidentally, I do have the NES hooked up to an even smaller TV in our finished basement). Will the lag be non-existent to me in games I have never played? Will I be able to optimize things better as I go along and learn more about the setup I’ve purchased? Can we just go back to the 1980s, please?

How I Began Street Fighting

With Street Fighter IV out this week, those that follow along here on the site and podcast should (rightfully so) expect a lot of talk about it coming your way. Before I even get to talking about the new game, I thought it might be interesting to take a look back and figure out just how exactly I got here. When did I first play a Street Fighter game? Why did I stick with it? What are some of my earliest memories? Why does it continue to enthrall me to this very day?

First off, let’s be honest: very few of us actually played the first Street Fighter until we loaded it up in MAME one day. I simply never saw it in arcades or convenience stores, and if I did, I dismissed it without a thought.

sf1_arcade

I should start off by saying that I don’t think I got “into” fighting games until Mortal Kombat came around. I don’t know what it was that I was so busy playing instead, but the first round of Street Fighter II in the arcades (and even on the SNES) just totally flew by me. Even then, I didn’t get interested in playing them until the first Mortal Kombat was already out on the home systems in late 1993, nearly a year after it hit arcades. I was vaguely aware of it, but that awareness was the extent of my interest. I first remember seeing the game at a local kid’s house (wasn’t really a “friend”, especially since I kicked the crap out of him later that year for being a jackass, but boys will be boys). I have to imagine it was the prospect of doing fatalities that really drew me in, though I don’t remember all that much. I just remember seeing it, and being hooked from there on out.

mk1_snes_gameplay

Around that time, Mortal Kombat II was already hitting arcades, and I was ready to jump in head-first. Everything about the second game was better. The fighters were more realistic, the amount of moves increased, the number and types of finishing moves increased, and the game had a fantastic tongue-in-cheek sense of humor about itself. While the game certainly bumped it up a notch in terms of skilled players being able to fight effectively, all of the characters ultimately still played exactly the same with the exception of their special moves and finishing moves. Additionally, let’s continue to be brutally honest: we were still all playing the game just to see the fatalities. In the case of Mortal Kombat, the “end-game” was far more interesting than the actual game, itself. I played the ever-living-Hell out of the SNES and even Game Boy versions (the latter of which actually let you pause the game, which is the sole reason I purchased it… in addition to wanting to play against everyone else at school…), but something was lacking.

mortal_kombat_2_fatality

It was around this time and with this realization that I became more aware of Street Fighter. I was enjoying fighting games, but the fighting games I was playing (really only Mortal Kombat) felt more like brief competitions to see an end show rather than focusing on the fighting itself, which I was truly interested in.

I don’t know what went off in my little head, but I decided it was time to pick up a Street Fighter game.

I had my dad drive me down to the local video store, and I purchased a used copy of Super Street Fighter II for the SNES. Yes, by this point in time, we were already on the third revision for SNES, and I hadn’t even played the game before. I was initially confused by the lack of an “end” after the fight, which was to be expected coming from the Mortal Kombat camp (I don’t have a source on me, but I do remember the MK creative team noting that fatalities even came about in the first place because they wanted to move the mid-fight dizzies from other games to the very end so you could get one more hit in). Regardless, though, it was a love affair from there on out. Instead of mastering the art of B, B, LP, I suddenly became a master of F, D, DF, P. Two-in-ones became second nature. The clumsy juggles of Mortal Kombat became more skill-based than I could imagine.

ssf2_snes_char_select

It’s interesting to note that, despite becoming totally involved in the world of Street Fighter, I kept up with Mortal Kombat for a little while. I was all about Mortal Kombat 3, and will tell anyone who will listen that I was the one responsible for unlocking Ermac in my local Wal-Mart’s arcade machine of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. I rented a Sega Saturn more than just a few times for the sole purpose of playing UMK3 (though Sega Rally was nice, too). I was running around with my crazy-ass Kabal and Nightwolf combos, and proving that Smoke had more to him than just a teleport punch -> spear -> uppercut.

umk3_snes

By now we’re into 1995, and I’ve still said more about Mortal Kombat than the supposed topic of this post. Here’s where it begins to shift, though.

I became very adamant about checking out my local arcade and playing not only against other people, but completely new games, as well. It was a big year for fighting game fans. I may have skipped over Super Turbo (other than some brief play on my friend Jason’s 3DO), but the series received a reboot with Alpha. The Mortal Kombat series had just gone Ultimate, and Virtua Fighter 2 was shocking players with how far polygonal fighters had come in a single generation of games. I took notice, too. In addition to playing the first game on my 32X, I was pretending to be good with a little Kage action in Virtua Fighter 2 in arcades, myself. I was still mostly ignoring Street Fighter, though… which I don’t really understand. I preferred the gameplay of that series more than all of the others, but I found myself leaning towards these others. Maybe it was because those arcade machines were actually free of crowds? Was I still trying to figure out exactly which game series interested me the most? Who knows?

virtua_fighter_32x

Things shifted for good the next year, though. My arcade got a gigantic, large-screen, sit-down Street Fighter Alpha 2. The combination of the music, the characters, the animation, and the grand scale of the thing won me over. I still vividly remember seeing that pre-match character layout (which zips into the profiles) for the first time and being amazed at just how slick and refined the whole thing felt, and I even remember that it was Adon that I first went up against.

sfa2_arcade_gointofight

I think “refined” is the perfect word to describe what I found missing in all of the other games. Mortal Kombat 3 brought the series into more offensive territory with the Run button, but it still felt clunky and imprecise. Virtua Fighter was a great first step into 3D, but the ridiculous floaty jumps were very off-putting (though 2 did an amazing job cleaning it all up). I only briefly dabbled with Tekken until Tag, and only the second game on PS1 (thanks to a demo pack-in with my system). SNK’s games were getting to a fantastic level (despite the hardcore fans problems with the striker system, I’m a huge fan of King of Fighters ’99), but I couldn’t find anyone else to really play them with (at least until college). Here was Street Fighter, pulling everything together so nice and clean. It just… worked.

I never seemed to get around to picking up any additional home console versions for a couple years. I think I just rented them enough that I felt like I owned them. Once 1999 came around, though, I wasn’t about to miss out on Street Fighter Alpha 3. I emptied all of my change bowls and scrapped together enough right there to purchase the game. Everything about it was magical. Despite finally dropping the classic tunes for the characters, Alpha 3 just oozed fresh style. Takayuki Iwai & Co.’s new musical score was both instantly memorable and catchy (and was actually one of the first game soundtracks I ever purchased). The new “-ism” styles let you play Alpha 2-style if you so desired. The home version’s inclusion of even more characters from “Upper” (the Naomi board version) flesh out an already-gigantic cast of both familiar and new faces. It may not have been the most balanced game in the franchise, but that was hardly enough to keep a player like me away from the controller. In fact, aside from Super Mario Bros. 3, it is perhaps my most-re-purchased game of all time (PS1, PS2, GBA, PSP… nope, never owned the Saturn or Dreamcast versions, myself).

sfa3_ryu_gameplay

You’ve heard Andrew and I talk about Alpha 3 enough on the podcast, so I’ll leave behind one of our all-time favorite games behind.

During this time and over the next several years, we were treated to an array of crossover games that complement the main (numbered) series quite well. Whether it was dropping quarters into X-Men vs Street Fighter or playing the import Dreamcast version of Capcom vs SNK 2 day in and day out, we played them all. Marvel vs Capcom 2 also immediately jumps to mind, with all of us having college buddies that, despite having absolutely zero interest in fighting games, couldn’t resist throwing down for a few hours with us.

We’re missing a game series, though. It seems like a lot of people forget about Street Fighter III. I think like the majority of the more mainstream Street Fighter fans (those of us who thoroughly enjoyed the series, but never got up to tournament level or anything like that), something just didn’t sit right with me. Perhaps it was indeed the overall lack of returning fighters. Maybe it was the more Darkstalkers-esque characters that felt out of place (don’t get me wrong; I enjoy that series, as well!). Maybe it was yet another drop of any and all classic tunes. I played here and there in random arcade machines, but then again, maybe it was the death of arcades that was hurting my ability to even play the game in the first place. I was excited to see a III machine on my college campus while visiting the summer before school, so you can understand my sadness to see it gone when I returned later that year.

Things have changed over the years, though, with regards to III. Like a fine wine, it actually seems to get better with age. I appreciate more and more about the game as I get older. I now find the soundtrack to be one of the most fitting (if not silly) in a fighting game. I love a lot of the new characters, and even found my quasi-Fei Long in Yang. I like to pretend I’m a solid technical fighter with my parrying of simple fireballs (don’t ask me to use it in general gameplay up close, though). The animation is fluid and eye-popping. The general presentation is just as slick and streamlined as any Street Fighter game before it. It’s a very technical fighter, but it’s not as intimidating as something like the Guilty Gear series. I’m incredibly glad to have a copy of the game sitting around, and while we don’t revisit it as much as I otherwise would like to (Alpha 3 and CvS2 seem to be the default go-to games), it’s always a damn good time when we do.

sf3_char_select

It seems like there is so much more to talk about, and so many other fighting games to compare and throw into the mix (nevermind all of the assorted merchandise like anime and action figures). Alas, this is only supposed to be a simple reflection on how I came to be the type of Street Fighter fan I am, and it still ended up being a stream-of-consciousness plop of text. Here we are with IV finally in our hands, and like Ono wanted us to do, we are rediscovering what it is about the series (and these characters) that we love so much. Forgive me, but I think I need to stop typing and get back to the game, now!

Next time around, we’re going to take a look at the “Collector’s Edition” pack-ins. How does the new anime stack up to previous efforts? Does that headband fit? Are the extra costumes worth downloading? What’s on the soundtrack? Stick around…

Losing Games Via Loans

Since I’m leaving for my honeymoon tomorrow, I was briefly over at Jeff’s dropping off another key and talking about our kitties. I had a bunch of my stuff returned top me while I was there… stuff which I had almost no recollection of even loaning to Jeff in the first place. They included:

Mario Party 8
WarioWare: Smooth Moves
Wii Play
GBA (original) w/ Link’s Awakening (original)

I remember loaning him the GameBoy Advance and Link’s Awakening after the first episode of our podcast, but I had completely forgotten about those Wii games. Now that I have them back I remember bringing them over there for his house-warming party, but since then I had completely forgotten I even owned them. It’s really funny, because just the other day I moved a whole bunch of games around on the various racks and shelves  here, and I remember thinking to myself, “Huh… I thought I owned a couple more Wii games. *shrug*

It reminds me so much of being a kid, loaning games to friends… and never getting them back. For me, it had a lot to do with the fact that I moved around so much (I went to four high schools in as many years). The two examples that I remember very well are Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES), which Jennifer (the girl who lived across the street from me) borrowed. The other was Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (GB), which my friend Ryan (who actually got me into DBZ) borrowed. I’m sure there are plenty of others that I’ve lost this way over the years, but those are the two that I’m most mad about! God dammit, I’ve been dying to play SML2 again, and not emulated! C’mon, DS-version on Virtual Console!

So I leave you all for the next week or so with this question: What games have you lost in a similar manner?

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