Wednesday, August 24, 2016

SNES Celebrates 25th Anniversary in North America




Yesterday, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System celebrated the 25th anniversary of its North American launch. For a lot of us, SNES wasn't just the next step in gaming, but a revolution: the literal second coming of Nintendo, which had ceased being a hobby and become an essential part of our essence. 

Mario World and Zelda: Link to the Past were just a taste of the unforgettable games to come. Two seminal Final Fantasy games, the first home version of the immortal Street Fighter II, Earthbound, Starfox - Super Nintendo didn't just do games well, it defined genres and launched IPs that remain successful to this day.

Happy birthday!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Gaming Wisdom: Mark Twain



"A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time."

 - Mark Twain, Author of "The Adventures of Huckelbery Finn" and "Sub-Zero player

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Day the Wasteland Stood Still

For me, what makes Bethesda’s seminal Fallout 3 memorable isn’t the graphics, the voice acting, or even the spectacularly lackluster storyline. No, it’s the plethora of oddities that the denizens of the Wasteland take in stride. Vampire cannibals, an underground town teeming with moss-eating children, hijacking the Declaration of Independence from Button Gwinnett-bot and selling it to an old man for a handful of bottle caps – it’s all just another day in the world of Fallout.

Then there’s the myriad bugs and glitches, which are some most unique I’ve ever seen.


But one of the weirdest things Fallout 3 has to offer comes in the form of the Spaceship Zeta expansion pack. This DLC pits the player character, The Lone Wanderer, against hundreds of aliens with an endless supply of lasers – all of which I stuffed in my backpack and lugged around for hours and hours.

But we’ll get to that.

Back in the day, my mother was a stay-at-home parent. It didn’t make a whole heap of difference to my brother and I when we were in school, but during the summertime, it was a good thing Mom was around to make sure that we didn’t try to melt each other with hairdryers or something. But I guess there’s only so many times you can whip out the Sesame Street toys and amuse your soul-sucking children with half-baked impressions of Big Bird and The Count. Eventually Mom would leave us to our own devices, flip on the TV, and watch whatever adults in 1987 were into at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday.

I must have been six or seven years old when my mother first invited us to watch “Unsolved Mysteries” with her on one of those sticky summer days. For the uninitiated, “Unsolved Mysteries” has the most terrifying theme song known to man, presumably written by a roomful of Satanists and taxmen, and performed by closet-dwelling boogiemen, Jason Voorhees, and demons with yetis for hands. The host, Robert Stack, gave a pants-soilingly freaky performance with his trademark trench coat and restrained demeanor, always popping out from behind a tree to tell you about the time a rabbi shot a werewolf stripper. Despite his unnerving voice, you knew Stack himself wasn’t a threat. But you weren’t entirely sure that if you were attacked by escaped lunatics right in front of him, he wouldn’t just describe what was happening to you in real-time to some invisible cameraman instead of trying to help you.

Robert Stack, presumably on the set of Unsolved Mysteries. Possibly just hanging out.

Most stories were about missing nudists or Midwestern ladies saved from peril by guardian angels/dogs. But then there were the tales of UFOs and otherworldly encounters. We found these segments to be the most alarming – especially the ones that looked like they could have really happened. As the summer wore on, our trips to the video rental store would end more and more with a handful of low-budget UFO documentaries, all of which featured cheap reenactments, blurry evidence, and perpetual old man/credibility fountain Stanton Friedman.

This guy. Yeah, him.
The three of us would huddle in my brother’s room, door closed, and emerge 42 minutes later scared out of our minds in broad daylight. I’m sure I had some kind of alien PTSD that summer, triggered by flashing lights, cheap alien masks, and grey spandex. I’m a lot better now, but watching seemingly credible evidence of ETs at night still sends shivers up my spine.

Thanks, Mom.

Cut to 2016, and Matt Frey is now an old-ass man playing Fallout 3. After watching The Lone Wanderer grow up and bust out of Vault 101, naturally, one of the first things I did was make a b-line towards the alien signal my radio had picked up.

Not long after, I was beamed aboard the most disappointing UFO in history. No unspeakable torture devices dripping with goo, no disorienting lights, and no pulsating anal probes to confuse my fragile sexuality. Nope, just the alien equivalent to the waiting room in a doctor’s office.

To escape, I was forced to ally myself with sketchy fellow earthlings and be lead around by the nose by a sarcastic Punky Brewster imposter. In the first seven seconds, while mowing down those alien bastards, I wound up accidently shooting a “good alien” (which we all know is an oxymoron). So from that point on, nonviolent NPCs would scatter like leaves in the wind whenever I entered a room.

The problem is, when one of them ran past the group’s medic, he freaked out out. Long story short, there were many times I was in desperate need of a health kit, but my medic was jogging around inconsolably, like some kind of Forrest Gump wannabe with in need of an adult. Finally, that jerk hopped through a teleporter and straight out of my campaign.



The prospect of sneaking around with low health was about 100 times scarier than the “little green men” style aliens that poured from all areas of the ship, keen on disintegrating the collective johnsons of me and my useless comrades. I guess those sinister aliens succeeded at least once, because about two hours into the ordeal, I received a message that one of teammates had been murdered. Yet search as I may, there was no body, not even a pile of disintegrated ashes. Scratch a second teammate to bad programming, I guess.

Remember how I was talking about carrying around hundreds of alien weapons, right before I gushed about “Unsolved Mysteries” for 22 paragraphs? Well, every time I wasted an alien, it dropped its weapon, which was about 9,000 times better than anything I had back on Earth. Naturally I began collecting them. All of them. Until this happened:

video

That’s right, I played though most of the DLC at a snail’s pace. But I wasn’t about to leave all this great, expensive loot floating around in that generic space crate. It was worth it in context of the game I suppose, but not so much in context of getting my beauty rest.

Oh, how I suffer for my art.

After murdering the same two aliens 5,000 times, the DLC culminated in the piolet’s room. The floors wet with gallons and gallons of generic alien blood, I approached the controls. Just then, a rival alien ship appeared in front of us, though the, uh, windshield. So in what must have been the least entertaining space battle of all time, I managed to destroy the threat by ramming buttons.

Heh, heh. What a mess.

I got the feeling that if I stuck around, I was going to pay for shooting up that alien bastard’s ride. So my legs buckling under literally hundreds of pounds of alien standard issue gear, I crawled onto the nearest teleporter and headed back to town.

Fallout 3’s merchants were pretty impressed with all those lasers I guess, because when all was said and done, I walked away with about 15,000 bottle caps lining my pockets. Sure it threw off the game balance and made everything too easy and boring, but, uh… yeah.

You know what? This DLC sucks. If you’re one of the seven remaining people who hasn’t played Fallout 3 yet, skip this garbage expansion and watch a rerun of “Unsolved Mysteries” instead. It’ll save you an afternoon and give you an excuse to call your mother and reconnect over your mutual terror for creatures from beyond the stars. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Video Vignettes - "To Catch a Plumber"

Video Vignettes are 500 to 1000 word short stories about one or more video games. "To Catch a Plumber" features elements from "Super Mario Bros." and "Pok√©mon Go." 

#####




He felt the water around him begin boil and knew what lied ahead.

He’d never thought much about it before, just accepting it as a part of this strange world. But as he watched it twirl around, like the compass he used in grade school math class, he began to wonder: how DO those fire sticks burn underwater?

But he was a plumber, not a philosopher, and there were more pressing matters at hand. A pair of black-and-white sea horrors silently glided towards him, their terrifying tentacles almost brushing against his boots.

With one hand holding his hat to his head, the plumber struggled ahead, barely evading the stick of fire. As it struck one of the demons, a sound like a rock hitting a metal bucket echoed through the ocean, and the beast sank lifelessly into the depths.

But the other, motivated by hunger and hate, charged onward.

The plumber could see the green pipe just ahead. There was no way he would make any farther than that.

As he felt a slimy tendril wrap around his ankle, he lunged for the pipe, grabbing the side. As the monster tried to drag him to a watery grave, the plumber pulled with all his strength towards the inside of the pipe, to the current that could get him to safety.

The plumber suddenly felt a great force pulling him upward. Relief washed over him and he relaxed his tired muscles, literally going with the flow. Where ever he would end up, it HAD to be better than the aquatic hell that had nearly claimed his life.

Darkness gave way to light. The plumber reached out of the water, felt around for the edge of the pipe, and hoisted himself out. He slumped on the grimy, damp floor with a thud.

But then he heard a second thud and something wet and heavy climbed on his chest. He was face to face with sea beast!

Before he could react, a red and white ball wacked the monster in the head. It confusedly blinked a few times before wilting into a heap next to him.

The plumber stood up slowly. The small, dim room reeked of wet rats and rust. The only sound was the constant dripping of sea water – enough to drive someone mad over time – and the labored breathing of the person who had rescued him.

“Who are you?” asked a raspy voice.

“It’sa me, M-”

“Never mind! Names don’t matter down here. The only thing that matters is catching them. ALL.”

From the shadows emerged a man with an ashen face. A tattered white and red baseball cap concealed his eyes. His decades-old jeans, torn at the bottoms from constant wear, hardly fit around his emaciated waist. Balled up in the corner were the remains of a blue and white overshirt, and on floor lied a waterlogged cell phone, the word “Go” crudely scratched into the glass screen over and over again.

The man stretched out his hand, which was clad in a moldy green glove. He slowly extended his finger towards the sea beast lying dead on the ground.

“That one is dinner,” he grumbled. “But I was hoping for a new friend, too.”

He lifted his head, his eyes visible for the first time. They danced with evil.

“I choose you, plumber man!” he hissed.

The man threw another one of the red and white balls and it landed near the plumber’s feet. The sphere popped open like compact mirror. The plumber shielded his face instinctively, wondering what fresh horrors would emerge.

The sphere rattled, then tipped over, spilling out a pile of animal bones. Was it a rat? A mouse? He couldn’t tell.

They clinked like tiny sticks as they hit the cold, metal floor.

“Mama mia!” exclaimed the plumber.

He dashed towards the pipe and full speed, jumping once, twice, three times to avoid the attack. But it was too late. The crazed man used the great ball, and the plumber was caught. The last thing the he saw was a series of flashing lights, enough to induce an epileptic seizure, then darkness. Only darkness. For the rest of eternity.

“Gotta enslave ‘em all!” exclaimed the man.

Sadistic laugher reverberated through the dank room, leagues beneath the extraordinary kingdom of mushrooms, and miles away from justice. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

"Get Ready, Fighters!" Evo 2016 schedule, predictions for SFV

Evolution Championship Series (Evo), the Super Bowl of the fighting game world, is punching its way onto your computer screen Friday, July 15 through Sunday, July 17, 2016. This year featuring nine top fighting games from Street Fighter V to Super Smash Bros. Wii U, Evo brings together the best of the best players from around the world in a dazzling exhibition of skill.

The schedule is as follows:



Links to the streams on Twitch:





History and Personal Ritual
Evo began in 1996 as “Battle by the Bay,” taking on the Evolution moniker in the early 2000s, and slowly becoming the massive tournament that is today.

I first began watching Evo in 2011, during the height of Super Street Fighter IV’s popularity. But I didn’t develop my current Evo ritual until 2014, which was thanks to commentators James Chen and David Graham – and overinsistent advertiser, Mountain Dew. After being reminded to drink the summer-only Baja Blast flavor over and over again, I finally cracked, walked out of my office and to the nearest store to buy some. Ever since, it’s been my little tradition.

Tweeted at Chen and Graham with the caption "This is all your fault."

Predictions for top eight
Here’s my person prediction for players making the top eight in Street Fighter V, in no particular order: Daigo, Infiltration, Tokido, Momochi, PR Balrog, Justin Wong, and two unknowns.

My personal favorite has always been PR Balrog, and he never misses an opportunity to let me down. But damn, if he isn’t the best Balrog player alive, I don’t know who is.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Video Vignettes - "Return of the King"

Video Vignettes are 500 to 1000 word short stories about one or more video games. "Return of the King" features elements from Earthbound, Super Smash Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog, and Silent Hill 2, as well as some inspiration from American pop culture. 

#####

Mist cascaded over the small plot of land. A dank, earthen stink permeated the air.

The shovel sliced through the ground, again and again, before sounding a loud “clank.”

The man in the red hat stopped for a moment, contemplating. His striped yellow t-shirt clung to him like Saran wrap and exposed his jiggly belly. His shorts barely contained his bottom and ended seven or eight inches above his knees.

He knelt down near the hole, tossing the shovel carelessly behind him. His long, straggly hair hung so low it nearly brushed against the ground.

He reached into his decades old yellow backpack, once cute but now caked with grime, and removed an old, shattered baseball bat. Around it he placed several candles, creating the shape of a pentagram, and lit them.


“Michael, you look so peaceful,” he said. “Forgive me for waking you. But without you, I just can’t go on. No one has needed me since 1995. I’ve had to fight in illegal underground tournaments for the last 20 years just to make ends meet, and I’m tired of it. With you, I can bring back the past. People will remember what life used to be like. And I can go on another adventure.”

He stood. “The old Gods haven’t left this place,” he said, “and they still grant power to those who venerate them. Power to defy even death. The power of revival – for both of us.”

The candle flames leapt higher, tickling the brush around them and producing an eerie green glow. After some hesitation, the man tossed the final piece of the ritual in the center of the pentagram. For a brief second, the side of the rectangle object was illuminated as it fell, revealing the words, “Sonic the Hedgehog 3.”

The flames burst into the sky, and for a moment, the night seemed to give way to day.

“This is going to be a real thriller,” the man hissed.

A rhinestone-gloved hand burst from the hole, breaking through the coffin that had entombed it. Through the mist, the tattered body emerged. The moonlight reflected from its shiny, red jacket.

“This is it!” the man exclaimed, punctuated by mad laughter. “The King has returned!”

The body growled and lurched forward. For the first time, he could see the creature’s face, pale and decayed. The lips had long rotted away, revealing stark white teeth. The eyes were dead and yellow. Only the nose remained, in perfect condition, as if it were made entirely of plastic.

“This is bad! This is dangerous!” shouted the man, stepping backwards in disbelief. The creature followed, knocking over the several of the candles and kicking open the box labeled “Sonic the Hedgehog 3.” Out fell a small, disc-shaped object, on which was written “Sonic Boom: The Rise of Lyric.”

The man stared at it in terror. The sacred ceremony had been compromised! Also, he had been ripped off on eBay.

The creature grumbled a single sentence: “Beat…it…”

Scream after scream reverberated through the trees and into the night, trailing off miles from the nearest ear.



Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Tale of Two Sonics


The original Sonic the Hedgehog sped onto the small screen 25 years ago today, June 23, firing what many consider the first major shot of the 16-bit Wars. Until the blue blur hit the scene, Sega had been only a small thorn in the mighty Nintendo’s side. Sonic put Sega on the map, and the Genesis in the hands of millions of gamers.

But as the 16-bit Wars gave way the PlasyStation era, Sonic started to lose his luster. The last great Sonic game was Sonic and Knuckles, released in 1994, and the last tolerable Sonic game was made in 2001. Sonic '06 came out 10 years ago, and became what many consider the final nail in the series' coffin. A shell of his former self due to the increasingly criminal decisions of his parent company, Sonic has spiraled into irrelevance in the last decade.

Why does this always happen to child stars? Were he real, Sonic would likely have joined the ranks of Macaulay Culkin and have his own E! Hollywood True Story by now.

But let's not concentrate on Sonic in whatever alleyway he has chosen to become intoxicated in today, let's remember his greatness of years past.

Ah, but wait – there HAVE been good Sonic games in the last decade. Danny, a friend of mine, pointed that out to me today.

“I feel like people are a bit too hard on Sonic,” he wrote. “No doubt there are some serious misfires, but Sonic Colors was really great and Sonic Generations is easily the best Sonic since Sonic and Knuckles.” He added that he enjoyed Lost Word, and “only Sonic Boom since Sonic Colors is worthy of scorn.”


Ok, Ok. So sometimes I say mean things about Sonic that aren’t entirely deserved. (See implications of alcoholism and homelessness, above.)  But that’s because no one takes Sonic seriously anymore, even with decent games like Generations. Sonic needs three or more hits in a row now, triple A titles, to make some kind of a real comeback. Maybe Sega should give him to Kojima, or just do something radically different and fun, like Resident Evil 4 did.

I haven't cared about Sonic since Dreamcast and I know I’m not the only one. It's going to take more than Lost World and some other meh games here and there to change that.

But are Generations and Colors those games? For some, yes.

So where do you stand, reader? Did Sonic’s career slow to a crawl, or is there still some star power in those red shoes of his?  

In any event, Happy Birthday Sonic!