Kodra the Prodigy

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Last night I had what is going to go down for awhile as one of my strangest dreams.  The root of it was a roadtrip, that apparently myself and the rest of the AggroChat crew were taking across country.  I have no clue at all where we were going, or what we were actually doing.  However we were in a road trip in a car that was probably too small to fit all of us…  but those are the sort of details that dreams just handwave away.  What I do know for certain is that at some point we stopped at a roadside diner, and while milling around and waiting for everyone to finish going to the restroom I noticed this little girl had a cool vintage metroid championship t-shirt.  I commented that I liked her shirt and she showed it to me proudly…  and that is when I noticed that emblazoned across it in a fuchsia with purple shadow version of the Metroid logo was the name “Kodra”.  Round about this time in the dream Kodra comes out of the bathroom and I point out the t-shirt and he is super nonchalant about it.  This is the point where we learn that apparently he was a child prodigy at video games… and “he doesn’t like to talk about that time”.  We also find out that apparently there is this entire internet sub culture that has been trying to find out what happened to Kodra after the championship…  which in itself is funny given that he goes by that game on our podcast.  It is around this point that the dream starts to break down like every dream does, especially given that I am not sure the timing works.  Kodra is quite a bit younger than I am, so not sure what age he would have been when Metroid was even a thing.  In any case… it was one of those strange dreams that I had to commit to paper as it were.

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As far as “me”, I am doing mostly better… or at least on the road to better.  I feel bad about the weird state of yesterdays post, but I just didn’t have any proper fuel to cobble together a post.  I have been stressed beyond belief for reasons I can’t get into.  Just know that for the most part those events have passed and I think I am on the other side of them.  Cryptic as hell I know but that is about all I can really say.  I have not been feeling great, but I think it is just a side effect of the stress.  Last night I wound up going to bed before 10 pm, and then woke up about midnight feeling like I had slept an entire night.  My body does strange things when it comes to sleep, but thankfully I was able to mostly get right back to sleep.  As far as gaming goes last night, I managed to exist in the “organized gameplay” world just long enough to drag some friends into Heroic Darkheart Thicket for the World Quest that rewarded an 850 wrist.  This was unfortunately good enough that it was worth breaking up my four piece world quest set to partake of the level difference.  After that and finishing up my emissary quest for the day I flipped over to my paladin and continued questing out in Highmountain for a bit.  So far leveling as a tankadin is pretty chill and relaxing, and while I would rather run around Justicar Julia Celeste, I have to say Vindicator Boros is growing on me.  It is kinda fun to run around and be Super Draenei Tankbros.  I contemplated actually transmogging to some of the gear he is wearing to make it even seem more legit, since I think I have a lot of that stuff from the Draenor expansion.  However my purple judgement set matches the purple tone artifact so well… that I am leaving it be for the time being.  Over the night Tam managed to ding 110 so my hope for tonight is to grab him and smuggle him into a heroic to hopefully get some gear.

Of Geekdom

You’re A Gamer

Yesterday I saw the above video pop into my subscription feed on YouTube, and since Pixel is awesome and was a Blaugust participant I of course watched it.  In the video she talks about a problem of shunning going on in the “girl gamer” circles, and it prompted me to write yet another one of these pieces.  While I absolutely see the issue happening in that community, I also think the issue is inherent in all “geek” communities, and it becomes pretty damned frustrating.  For awhile now I thought I could blame it on my generation.  As far as video games go, we are essentially patient zero.  My folks had a pong system, then I graduated to Atari… then to Nintendo… and pretty much every gaming fad in between.  So for awhile now I have felt this strange sense of responsibility for apparently being part of the generation that created this broken model.  I thought maybe the gatekeeping came from the fact that for many of us we have experienced a bit of shame over our hobbies, or at least being treated to those “you are not normal” type of looks on a regular basis.

I wear my “geekdom” on my sleeve but once you leave the development row at work… I am absolutely “not like the other kids”.  I have Lego MiniFigures instead of pictures of kids, and I have to explain so many of the assorted items of kitch on my desk.  Weirdly enough pretty much everyone knows what a Creeper from Minecraft is however, but I guess if folks have kids… that makes sense.  The odd thing is…  I remember a time when it wasn’t like this really.  I remember when you went to someones house and saw an Atari… you were essentially instant friends because you had a fast point of reference.  Same thing happened for Nintendo, and everyone would huddle around the lunch room to talk about this game or that.  It wasn’t just a geek thing, it was an every kid thing.  Hell my wife does not consider herself a gamer at all… but she had an Atari and a Nintendo and played both.  Her favorite game growing up was Snoopy and the Red Baron, and at some point I am going to find one for her for no reason other than sheer nostalgia.  So I guess the question is… what happened?

Forming Camps

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The very first time I can really remember any tension forming, came from the early Sega versus Nintendo rivalry.  I mean during the Atari era there were other console systems like the Colecovision or Intellivision, but ultimately it didn’t really matter that much.  At the end of the day we were all playing the same ports of arcade games, which seemed to be universally offered on all platforms.  The first party title thing didn’t seem to really matter… that is until Mario and Sonic.  The advertising was constantly and obnoxious and full of partial truths.  I grew up in a small town, and quite literally no one that I knew could actually afford both a Super Nintendo AND a Genesis, so it ultimately meant you had to place all of your hope in one console or the other.  I don’t remember any fights breaking out but it was really the first time I can remember such a thing as someone owning the “wrong console”.  I had a friend with a Sega Master System, and I remember one birthday party where everyone was disappointed that he didn’t have a Nintendo to play.  No one really wanted to try this “other” thing, because everyone wanted to play Super Mario Brothers.

I could drive myself insane trying to trace the roots, but regardless of how we ended up in this situation…  it isn’t a great one.  Any system where we claim that Gamer A is not as much of a gamer as Gamer B because they like this thing or that thing…  is a really bad system.  I guess the part about it that I don’t really get is when did we start competing with each other on everything.  Can’t it be enough that you like a thing, and want to do a thing…  without having to feel the need to shit on everyone who is doing something else?  I mentioned Minecraft earlier, and that game honestly gives me a lot of hope.  A friend of mine was telling a story the other day, about how their kid bumped into some other kids while on vacation.  Somehow the topic of Minecraft came up, and suddenly all of these random strangers were instant friends.  Games have the power to bring people with no other shared interests together, and honestly most of the people I know on the internet… I know thanks to gaming.  So I see the potential that this shared interest has to unite us all… and it just makes me even the more depressed when I see people fighting over this game or that game.  Does it really matter if you prefer Call of Duty to Battlefield, or if you happen to like a PS4 over an Xbox One?  Can’t we all just be okay with saying “these are things I like” and be equally okay when someone else happens to like different things?

I Have No Answers

I have no real answers at the end of the day.  Lately I have seen a lot of angst in the World of Warcraft community as people disappear from that game.  I was absolutely part of the problem during the first great exodus to Rift, and I feel bad for it.  Ultimately what I want is for people to do whatever makes them happy, and play whatever game they are passionate about.  Similarly when they stop being passionate about it…  it is perfectly okay to walk away with zero shame.  Just because I am in a down cycle where I am not all that interested in World of Warcraft it doesn’t mean that I wish the game harm.  Sure there is a bit of schadenfreude occasionally over the earning reports, simply because I have felt for awhile that the staff doesn’t really get what players actually want.  I keep hoping that they will right the ship and turn us back to a game that I would be happy to play again.  At no point however do I want the game to go away or am I willing to actively rail against people for playing it.  I guess what happened to change my opinion… is that I started to see the alternative.

During that first parting of ways…  we had not seen the consequences of when a game stops being supported.  Ask the folks who played Star Wars Galaxies, City of Heroes or Vanguard how they feel about having a game world disappear.  After watching several worlds just simply vanish…  it has made me quite a bit more respectful of whatever game anyone happens to be playing.  We invest so much of ourselves in the games that we play, and whatever it is that you happen to be passionate about is awesome.  The gatekeeping and the “you must be this tall to ride this ride” signs that we seem to constantly be willing to tack up all over our landscape are counter productive.  I original thought it was my generation that broke the system, but now I am just not certain any more.  Maybe tribalism is just something that is naturally going to happen in any system when it gets too large.  Maybe “gamer” isn’t even really a thing anymore… and video games are just something that everyone does.  We don’t have a title for folks who watch TV, because that distinction is utterly meaningless.  Just because we both own a TV does not mean we are likely going to be watching the same shows…  but by the same token no one is expecting us to.  Maybe we need to shed the notion that we all have this common point of reference, and maybe we just need to accept the fact that we are all going to like different things.  Maybe in another generation this question just simply won’t exist any more because gaming has become so mainstream that nobody even thinks about it as an identity.  Whatever the case…  for the time being…  I just wish we could treat each other better.

 

 

NBI Talkback 3 – What Made You A Gamer?

Early Beginnings

searstelegames I had an extremely strange couple of days, so instead of talking about that I thought I would tackle the third talkback challenge.  For this one my good friend Jaedia posted a prompt on the Newbie Blogger Initiative website asking “What Made You A Gamer?”.  This is one of those topics that I have thought long about for years, and I am not really sure what the answer is.  I am not sure if there is any one thing that makes someone a gamer.  I think you are either born with the natural proclivities in that direction or you are not.  My earliest memories of gaming are pretty clear however.  My parents had a Sears and Roebuck version of the Atari Tele-Games console system…  aka Pong.  I remember being completely enamored with being able to move the bar on screen to intercept the square bouncing around the screen.  I don’t necessarily remember playing this all that often because well… it was my parents toy and not mine, but I remember the desire being real.

A few years later thought my parents purchased an Atari 2600, and that is the system I remember being “mine”.  My mom was a teacher and I guess one of her students was selling theirs used.  This is important because it sets up a long tradition of me buying console systems second hand that I continue today with my Craigslist finds.  The console came with the base system, several well worn controllers and a dozen or so games for the big price of $50… which actually was quite a bit of money back then.  I was enthralled by the games and while they really had no story to tell on their own, it didn’t stop me from making up stories.  Even the most generic game could be a vehicle for me to tell tales of valor and bravery.  I remember for whatever reason that Sea Quest was one of my favorite games at the time, which was this simple game about going down in a sub marine to save divers.  In my head I was this crack submarine pilot fighting off sharks to rescue my troops.

Discovering Role-playing Games

DaveTrampierPlayersHandbook At this point we are going to take a bit of a detour, because I was happily an Atari kid for years making up stories to fill in the gaps that the games were not providing for me.  Then an event happened that literally changed my trajectory permanently.  As I have said before I grew up the child of a teacher, and that means a bunch of things.  Not the least of which is that you end up spending a lot of time up at school waiting for your teacher parent to “wrap things up”.  I knew all of the janitorial staff by name and they were a kind of family that I hung out with as they did their things, and I waited on my mother.  At the end of the school year there was a tradition, the great locker cleanout.  On the last day of school, anything that was left in the student lockers at 4 pm was going to get dumped in the ground and thrown out, to clear the lockers to be cleaned for the next school year.  I learned my scavenging instincts at a young age, and this was pretty much a magical time for me as I wandered around through the piles of debris picking up gems.

Most of the treasures I found were in the realm of nifty “stationary” items like binders or notebooks, but I remember during second grade I stumbled upon a book that quite literally changed my life from that point onwards.  That seems like a fairly bold statement but finding a dusty well worn copy of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook was like opening a whole other world to me.  To say I was obsessed with this was a bit of an understatement.  I poured over the pages of the tome soaking in everything I could from it.  While I didn’t understand anything about the game itself, it provided for me a structure of types of heroes, types of weapons, types of magic that imprinted upon me.  I loved the artwork and the next year at school it dominated the recess games I played with my friends.  We were a band of warriors, and the fact that the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon started around this same time only served to fuel the fire.  The only problem being that we lived in the bible belt, and “Dungeons and Dragons” was an evil thing.  So instead I got wrapped up in the Marvel Super Heroes game also by TSR.  For some reason my friends parents could stomach them playing a game based on comic book heroes, so long as we never referred to or referenced it as being “like” D&D.  We had to go so far as to hide the dice needed to play it, so as a result I became the game master because my parents were cool with all of this.

The Nintendo Christmas

nintendo-nes-mario-console-boxed The next major event in my game development came with the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System.  Up until this point I had been doing everything I could to squeeze the joy out of a combination of the Atari and my scattered pen and paper role playing games.  Then my cousins came to town with their Super Mario Bros and completely destroyed my world.  Everything about the NES was just better.  There were stories being told through the games, and with characters that you could actually recognize as characters.  I grew up in a pretty small town and the arcade was a less than savory place.  So my exposure to Arcade games to that point was pretty much limited to the occasional lobby of a department store.  While I craved playing them, and begged my parents for a quarter anytime we were near one… it was not something I really got to do all that often.  When the NES came on the scene I was completely blown away by the graphical fidelity and my entire existence became about getting one.  This was the Christmas that the Nintendo was universally sold out around the country.

I had to be the most annoying kid because I kept tabs on which stores had them, which stores were rumored to have them… and which stores were sold out.  I kept my parents up to date on my findings, in hopes that they would rush out and get one.  So as Christmas rushed towards us and there was no Nintendo shaped box under the tree…  I was completely devastated.  Then Christmas morning happened… and I had put on a good face and was prepared to swallow down the disappointment.  There under the tree was sitting a gleaming Control Deck box just like the one above.  This was probably the most joy I had experienced to that moment, and if my parents had a video camera it probably would have looked a lot like the N64 kids.  This was the single best and worst Christmas I had ever experienced.  About two hours after getting my Nintendo…  we lost power due to an Ice Storm that was raging… and we did not get power back for three days.  So while I had the object of my desire…  I had no power with which to actually enjoy it.  The rest is pretty much history, games like Final Fantasy were able to merge my love of RPGs and my love of games, and now I spent most of my time playing MMOs.  I still think however that people either are inherently game lovers or they are not, and there isn’t really much that can “make” a gamer.

Summer of “Free” Rentals

Beating Games

This week I did another one of my “Bonanza” posts over on MMOGames.com and in it I linked to one of Tams post about why he plays games he doesn’t like.  This came from a conversation that we were having awhile back about how none of us could fathom how he can push on to beat games that he doesn’t even enjoy.  The problem I have been having of late is that I don’t even bother to beat the games that I am enjoying the hell out of.  The funny thing is that I was not always this way.  I have always been a collector, it is part of me buried deep down inside me.  I’ve collected star wars figures, comic books, Legos, and now more importantly awesome people as I stuff them into my free company.  There was however a time in my history when I used to collect video game victories.

During late elementary / early middle school it was the era of the Nintendo Entertainment System and I was completely enthralled by it.  Thankfully all of my friends were also engaged, which acted as a serious enabling force in my life.  There was one friend however in particular that matched my level of obsession, and going to break one of my cardinal rules and name him directly… since this post is going to get super contorted quickly without some name of reference.  Wade was always significantly better at me when it came to video games, and this created a friendly competition between us as we attempted to defeat as many of the cartridges as we could.   We both kept these intricate lists of what we had defeated, and often times swapped notes and strategies over lunch.

Summer of “Free” Rentals

We were enabled by the fact that the grocery store in our small town has a special deal during the summer months.  You could pay $20 and get a card that would allow you to rent as many games and movies as you could like during the three months of summer.  There were some stipulations on it of course, and you could only have one title out at any given moment.  But you could keep said title out as long as you liked.  Wade and I both got these cards and started trying to burn through as many titles as we could.  He had a significant lead on me in part because he lived within walking distance of the grocery store, and for me I was out in the boonies on the other side of town so required a special trip to go swap games.  There were many times he would start with one game in the morning and go swap it out that afternoon for something else.

We were also enabled by the fact that for some unknown reason our grocery store seemed to have a far better selection of games than would be reasonable for a small town grocery store.  I have a sneaking suspicion that one of the owners was a Nintendo junkie.  I don’t know where exactly we ended the summer at, other than the fact that Wade was leaps and bound ahead of me.  I think I managed to get somewhere in the 80s.  I would like to think that this was totally due to the fact that he had easy access to the store and could swap games at any point he liked.  That said I feel like he was just a much better gamer than I ever was, namely because his favorite game was Milon’s Secret Castle…  a game that to the best of my knowledge broke me.  I don’t think I ever managed to beat it, or at least not that I can remember.

Fighting Games

The games we played changed after that summer.  We both got addicted to Street Fighter 2, and then Mortal Kombat 2, and later Killer Instinct.  Fighting games were “beatable” but that aspect didn’t really matter any more.  It was more about could we beat each other, and honestly if he was playing Ryu I didn’t have a shot in hell.  We still played lots of JRPGs on the side, since those were now a thing… and sure we beat them, but they were a much more prodding experience.  I personally preferred to wallow in the games and spend as much time faffing about killing random stuff and earning currency as I could.  It took me over a year to beat Final Fantasy 6 for example because I spent so much time messing with the coliseum.  The dynamic changed… when a game started taking hundreds of hours to beat…  you wanted to make sure you didn’t miss any details before moving on to the next area.

Then we graduated High School and I mostly lost touch with Wade.  I moved on to college, got married, got a career…  and rarely ever spent much time back in my home town.  When I moved to college I was just “gone”, I never came home on the weekends because I was working at an internet service provider.  So when I moved out of home I literally left home permanently.  There was none of  that transitional period where I still hung out with friends from High School.  The sad thing is that Wade is one of the half dozen people that I actually really am still interested in from my High School days and I don’t have much in the way of contact with any of them.  One of them died in a surfing accident, another one quite literally joined the circus…  the rest of them are busy with lives and families.  The only one I know next to nothing about is Wade, which is truly unfortunate.  Before sitting down to write this I think I found him in facebook, so we will see if I can actually reconnect.

Massively Multiplayer Online

In 2000 I first played Everquest, and it completely shifted my focus away from console gaming for a good period of time.  If I was playing a game I was playing an MMO because it gave me this constant stimulus of other people to play with, and short term goals that felt like I was building towards something bigger.  This is really the point at which I stopped beating games, because I got used to playing games that continued on forever.  The thing is this shifted my mindset significantly, because so long as I faffed about and never actually defeated a single player game… it could continue on indefinitely like the MMOs I was playing did.  So games like Fallout 3, or Skyrim… in essence became single player MMOs for me.  There is a certain amount of let down now for me when I finally do beat a game.  The experience is over, and sure I could start up a new character…  but that notion is somehow tarnished.

When I play a single player game I am building this character in my head and this story as I go along with it.  That story, that character… dies the moment I do that final turn in, or defeat that final boss.  If I start a new game it is a new character, with a new story.  This is in part why I struggle playing deeply narrative games… because they ask me to play some other character that isn’t inherently mine.  At this point it is almost like I have a phobia of finishing games, because it means the joy is over.  When I leave one unfinished it is like that game is always on pause, and the enjoyment and happiness that I had in that moment never goes away.  While I so rarely pick up an old save and continue it…  I know that it is there waiting on me to continue the journey that I started.  I lack that competitive drive that makes me feel like I have to beat the game.  I am no longer collecting wins… but instead collecting nuggets of joy in these games that I can remember fondly later.

Arcade Box

Loft 1.0

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Currently I am known for being a fairly PC centric gamer, but this was not always the case.  Once upon a time I had a game loft with all of the major console systems prior to the Xbox hooked up and playable at any given time via a complex set of switches.  It was a ton of fun, but also a massive pain in the ass to remember which combination of video switches produced which actual game system being fed to the arcade style RGB Monitor.  Ultimately things happened that lead to at least in part the dismantling of the game loft, and other interests kept me from ever really rebuilding it in the same fashion.

During the summer we cleaned out the loft and set up the loft again, but this time I did not want to string cords all over the place like I had before.  Currently I only have my Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 hooked up long with a cable box.  The problem is… I still want access to all those retro games, or for me “the good old days”.  Essentially I decided I was going to create a dedicated emulator PC, but I wanted it to be something small and quiet.  I ended up going with a Foxconn Nettop machine similar to this one.

Something Simple

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The current iteration of the box relies upon XBox Media Center and quite honestly has been more fiddly than I would have liked.  As a result it is still sitting in my office instead of hooked up out in the loft as it should be.  So yesterday when an interesting thing crossed my feed I had to explore it.  One of my friends on G+ shared a link to a project called ICE.  Essentially it is an interface between Steam and the various Console Emulators, allowing them to be added to your game library and accessible through Big Picture mode.  Personally I thought this was a really awesome idea, as running a system through steam big picture mode would also give me access to a lot of the indie games that would run just fine through the nettop as well.

I did quite a bit of research into how it actually worked, as I did not want anything accessing my steam account and potentially compromising it.  Essentially it only acts as a go between, in a sort of batch file mode, automatically registering a bunch of roms with steam and configuring them to load the emulator and the file as command line arguments.  For the most part it works really well.  I had no problem getting the Nintendo 64 and Gameboy Advance games working, however I was unable to get any Super Nintendo title to work.  The list of currently supported consoles is a little something like this.

  • NES – Nintendo Entertainment System
  • SNES – Super Nintendo
  • N64 – Nintendo 64
  • Gamecube – Nintendo Gamecube
  • PS1 – Sony Playstation
  • PS2 – Sony Playstation 2
  • Genesis – Sega Genesis
  • Gameboy – Nintendo Gameboy
  • GBA – Nintendo Gameboy Advance

Arcade Box

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Were I only interested in having console games on tap… it would have been a pretty solid solution, pending I could get all of the games to register properly and get the super nintendo emulation working.  The problem is… I also want access to Mame which Ice currently does not support or have listed for future intended support either.  Why play a console port of an arcade game when you can just play the actual arcade title.  So this has lead me to search further for an easy to use solution, and I have landed upon a nifty piece of software called Maximus Arcade.

 

Once upon a time I worked as a developer at a Palm Pilot software company.  Before the environment got the life sucked out of it by corporatization…  we had this amazing Mame cabinet that one of the developers had built after hours… and then brought into the office for us all to enjoy.  Through a whole bunch of arcane bullshit he had cobbled together this really cool menu system that let us have over 4000 arcade games “on tap” at any given time.  Maximus Arcade seems like a piece of software that does all the configuration for you and just presents a really nice and cohesive interface.  Currently the software ships with all X-Arcade joysticks, but you can purchase it separately for the really paltry sum of $25.

So once again begins a little phase of me determining how best to build a Maximus Arcade machine.  Right now all suggestions are pointing at WIndows XP, specifically a derivative known as Micro XP.  The software has decent forums so I intend to do quite a bit of research there before I do the system build out.  The cool thing about it is, that it supports every console and arcade emulator I have heard of… as well as several that I have not.  So it seems like I would be able to grow the system to support anything I might want to add in later.  For the time being the important things to me are Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Genesis, Master System, Gameboy Advance and Mame and it seems to do all of those without issue.  I will keep you guys updated as I work on the build and get it rolled out into the game loft.