Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Marching Upon Oblivion, or "Life Of A Vidiot"

Another quiet night in Port Angeles. And that means one thing for me: video games. Well, Joy is sick, and since our tastes in TV differ pretty drastically, I opt out of trying to get her to change her mind on watching that Law & Order: SVU re-run for the 63rd time, and retreat to the basement. Down below, my old nineteen-inch TV is hooked up to an XBox 360 that I bought from my little brother for $40 and a carton of cigarettes. My game of choice these days: The Elder Scrolls, Vol. 4: Oblivion.

I never thought I was going to like the system, let alone the game. Let's just say that I've never really been an early-adopter of video-game technology. Which is kinda funny, because I've always been a video-game freak. Hell, the first real video game was made the year I was born (IIRC). I've never really known life without them. My first real memory of video games was seeing a Pong machine at a skating rink when I was barely big enough to skate by myself. Then I remember playing a baseball game at a Shakey's Pizza in the Seattle suburbs at the age of five or six. An Atari Video Pinball console graced the home here in Port Angeles, though it was never quite the same after I spilled spaghetti on it. That wound up being the last system my family ever bought for me. I remember bitching, whining, begging and pleading for an Atari Video Computer System (better known as the Atari 2600), a Magnavox Odyssey, Mattel's Intellivision and Coleco's ColecoVision, all to no avail. Those were dark days, indeed.

And then in late 1986, when the Port Angeles High School Marching Band went to San Diego to play at the Holiday Bowl, my addiction to video games really began in earnest. During a trip to a shopping mall in downtown San Diego (Horton Plaza, I think that was the name of the place), I saw a Nintendo Entertainment System for the first time. I was still playing games in arcades, but I'd never seen anything like this before. Let's just say I was jonesing pretty bad. But I never got the chance to really mess around with one for several years, until I'd gotten together with Joy, and found her kids playing an NES. But by this time, the Super NES was already coming out, and it was a few more years before I could finally mess with one of those.

The pattern kept on going over the years, getting one system after another, and always pretty much right at the end of their particular cycles as the preeminent system in the world. Didn't care much, though - I was having too much fun. The Super NES was replaced by a Sega Genesis, then briefly by an NEC TurboGrafx 16. Then along came a Sony PlayStation. All along, the games were getting better and better, but I found something a bit disturbing in all of it.

I found that the games were getting too complicated, the controllers too complex. When I was a child, that old Video Pinball console had only two buttons on it for the flipper buttons, a dial in the center for playing Breakout, and switches to turn it on, and start and select the games. Now each individual controller had a directional pad, four control buttons opposite, and two more buttons on the controller's 'shoulders' in addition to start and select buttons. The addition of 'analog' sticks to the controllers, as well as two more shoulder buttons for PlayStation 2 controllers, sent me into 'oh, hell no!' mode. How the hell was I supposed to coordinate that kind of activity? Was I being generation-gapped out of video games?

No. I was just being a pussy.

And I shouldn't have been. By this time, I was just beginning to warm up to games on a PC - something I hadn't touched in years, since I was removed from the presidency of the PAHS Computer Club in something of a nerd coup d'etat. And I was handling the combination of mouse and keyboard to play Diablo just fine, so why not buck up and get a better home console? And thus the timesuck truly began as I found some really great games to play on the PS2, like Dragon Quest VIII. I could see why people rated that game so highly, and why that series had hung around for so long - the original game in the series was a debut title for the NES under the name Dragon Warrior - great story, awesome music (with a real orchestra!), and gameplay that didn't tax my brain too much. Then there was Kingdom Hearts 2, where the universe of characters from the legendary Final Fantasy series met up with the Disney Universe, and what could've been a colossal clusterfuck became video crack for not only me, but for Joy as well.

And then I was offered the 360. I'd never even messed with a first-generation XBox, let alone its sequel. But Mac had one to spare, so I figured 'what the fuck?' and picked it up. By now I was used to the dual-analog controllers, so the 360's sticks, d-pad, four buttons, shoulder buttons, shoulder triggers and three start/select buttons wasn't that big a deal any more. Though come to think of it, fourteen - fourteen! - control surfaces on a single controller is pretty fucking crazy. But I found it all to be pretty intuitive. And Oblivion uses them all. And while I knew that a good game could take up a serious chunk of time, I don't think the timesuck factor really hit home for me until I started playing Oblivion. I mean, DQ8 could require up to 40 to 50 hours of gameplay to finish the game. With Oblivion I could rack up 140 hours or more of play and still not really have accomplished much of anything. But it's a fucking awesome kind of not-really-accomplished-much-of-anything. And the next chapter in the Elder Scrolls series - Skyrim - is coming out on Veteran's Day this fall (11/11/11 - yeah, I can remember that). I might actually have to buy that game new instead of used - maybe even pre-order it......

And then on top of all that, we got a Nintendo Wii. Our daughter-in-law back east in North Carolina is an EBay reseller in her spare time, and apparently she's pretty good at it. Enough so that when a lot of 24 Wiis came in to her possession, she sent one our way as an early Christmas present last year. And it came with a whole shitload of bells and whistles. Like a WiiFit game and balance board, a complete set of Band Hero instruments (as well as the game itself), even a Nintendo GameCube controller and a few GameCube games that the Wii was backwards-compatible with. But what interested me the most was online gaming. No, not MMORPG's like EverQuest. That's one place I won't go - and more on that later. I'm talking about the Wii's Virtual Console. Y'see, the bright beans over at Nintendo came up with the idea of placing their entire back catalog of games for all their old systems (NES, Super NES, N64, even games from other manufacturers like Sega, NEC and SNK's NeoGeo) and make them available to be downloaded onto the Wii's internal memory (or a handy-dandy SD card). The idea of being able to download all my old favorites and play them again gave me a full-on video boner! Although I haven't bought nearly as many games as I would've liked to, now I can play River City Ransom, Mega Man 2 and Dr. Mario (Joy's all-time favorite) any time I damn well please. And I can do this with my 360 as well. I've downloaded internet-browser games like Bejeweled 2 and Hexic HD to the 360's hard-drive, as well as the classic arcade game Bubble Bobble. I've even gotten some downloadable content for games like Oblivion and Forza Motorsports 2. Now if only I had a more stable source of broadband-internet, then I could actually play online more......

Except for MMORPGs. For those of you still living under a rock, that unwieldy acronym stands for Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games. More like massively-expensive, massively-hacked, massively-risking-my-marriage-even-more-than-I-already-do-with-long-ass-videogames-games. Ironically though, Joy found one she likes and plays when she can, Wizards 101. It's really more of a kid's game, but she likes it - so who am I to argue? And it's free to play. Well, it's free to play if you really don't mind that your character never gets anything good - you've got to pay for the good stuff. I think that's what I hate most about MMO's. - having to pay for membership and/or 'premium content'. And then there are the 'adult' MMO's. Don't ask me how I know about them, I just know about them. Rule 34 in full effect, y'know. I already hate MMO's, but you couldn't pay me to touch those games. I don't want to risk getting a virus.....

Thank you, I'll be here all week! Try the veal!

Okay, time for bed. Stay tuned for more insane rants, same time, same channel!

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