One of the odd things I have been struggling with over the last two years of writing daily is why on the week days I can bang out a post in usually less than thirty minutes, but on the weekends it takes upwards of three hours. The problem is I think that I simply don’t feel quite the same pressure to perform on the weekends. I know I am not under the gun to produce in a short period of time so I faff about more. This morning for example I have read half a dozen articles, done my daily garrison chores in World of Warcraft and am finally just now setting down to start writing. I think the pressure to perform is crucial for what I do, and without it I likely would not have kept this up all this time. All of this said there are days when the process of getting up every morning to stare at a blank screen becomes frustrating. On those days I wonder just how long I can keep this ritual up. Tomorrow will be the second year anniversary, and so far the will to write has not left me.
Last week Mortal Kombat 10 was released, and I will admit there is a part of me that wants to purchase it and wallow in the nostalgia a bit. The problem is another part of me knows that I could do this, but it would not feel the same. In fact no fighting game I have played has felt right to me, and I cannot really place the reasons why. Ultimately I think its because I myself am in a different place than I was when I first played Street Fighter 2 all those years ago. I touched on this a bit with my story about my friend Wade, but I thought I would delve more into it this morning for Storytime Saturday. While I have heard the fighting game scene is alive and well with the EVO Championship Series, there is just something missing from it without the existence of the arcade element. There was a critical friction required of actually getting to the arcade that somehow made the experience worth that much more.
I remember in the days before I had my drivers license, I took any opportunity I had to get my hands on a stand up arcade cabinet. I spent many trips to Wal-mart hanging out in the lobby and playing whatever games they happened to have available there, trying to make that handful of quarters last an entire shopping trip. When the Circle K in town first got in Street Fighter, I was not exactly drawn to it… because at first it looked like the boring Karate games that came out in the late 80s. We of course did not have a “real” Street Fighter cabinet, but instead one that was recycled from some other game with Street Fighter innards. As such we didn’t have the helpful stickers showing us the moves, so the first time my friend stumbled across a special attack it was like magic.
The Gaming Bible
Electronic Gaming Monthly became my bible, and I anxiously awaited every single issues because they painstakingly printed move lists for all of these fighting games. By the time Street Fighter 2 was released we had an arcade in town called the Wooden Nickel and any time I could I tried to get out there to camp the fighting game machine. It was at this point that I was first introduced to the etiquette of the arcade. On that machine at Wooden Nickel was a plastic strip attached to the bottom of the bezel, with eight numbered coil slots. My friend who was much more of a regular than than I was, explained to me that it was how you requested the next game aka “Winner Stays, Loser Pays”. You could walk up to any machine, plunk your quarter down and you were immediately in line for the throne. It became a challenge to see just how long you could stay on the machine, and it became my mission to stretch my quarters as long as I possibly could.
I could play a mean Ryu or Guile, but there were always challengers that I found difficult like someone who really knew how to play Dhalsim for example. Around this time Mortal Kombat released but we continued to plug away on Street Fighter 2, it felt like the superior game in every way. Mortal Kombat had the cool gimmick of fatalities and photo captured graphics, but the gameplay itself was just more fleshed out in Street Fighter 2. That was the case until the release of Mortal Kombat II, when most of us changed our religion. By this time I had transportation and was regularly going to Arcades in both Bartlesville and Tulsa. There we started to find various “beta boards” for Mortal Kombat II, and quite honestly this was the strangest time in video games that I can remember. At this point there was really no such thing as “patching” a game, but Midway distributed Mortal Kombat II in such a way as to allow for the swapping out of chips as upgrades came out. The first MK2 board I can really remember playing on was one that I think was labelled “.98” but honestly at this point I have had 20 years of time to forget the details.
`The problem with these early boards is they were extremely incomplete. They might have a fatality for this character, but not one for another character. Was the boards evolved we started seeing newer and stranger items being added into the mix. I remember the first time I saw a “babality” or a “friendship” I was completely floored that something like that would exist. The problem is this started a massive rumor mill flowing in the arcades. People would come in and sell these guides that had codes for supposedly all of the characters, more than half of which are completely made up. At this point if you had access to AOL you were a god, because you had access to the message boards where all of these codes were being traded. I made it my mission to try and assimilate all of these rumors together into a comprehensive guide and actually test each of the codes. I noted which version of the game had which abilities, and which codes were complete bullshit. All I had access to was Microsoft Works at the time, but I tried my best to churn out as professional a guide as I could for the time. Instead of charging for them, I would just leave them with the desk of the arcade for anyone who wanted one.
The Arcade Community
There were some players who knew all of the abilities and other players who had nothing to really work with. When you have as many characters as a fighting game has, you don’t have room on the cabinet bezel art to actually show the moves… so everything was guess work. I guess in my own way I was trying to level the playing field. Let people know the attacks so they could defend against the jerks in the arcades that would refuse to teach anyone any move. Me I would happily explain what I was doing to the players that fought against me. I would explain why I was doing what I did, and why I was attacking in a specific way. Granted over time I lost my advantage on the players, but I felt it was for the good of the community as a whole, because really at that point the arcades were like a community. You would see the same players when you went to specific arcades, and they would remember you and chit chat back and forth as you played. When someone would be gone for a significant amount of time… folks would note their passing and wonder why they were not around.
The last game I remember being extremely excited about before this era finished for me was Killer Instinct. At this point anything that was 3D rendered was new and exciting, and we rushed to this cabinet because it represented the next evolution of fighting games at the time. It looks so primitive now, but at the time it was pure magic. The attract music was amazing, and listening to the absolutely over the top sound effects like the infamous “Combo Breaker” made the whole experience unlike anything else that was being offered. Additionally this was the first game that I can remember that had actual programmed combo sequences that you could kick off. I graduated High School, moved on to college and other than a few flirtations with Soul Edge in the University Center basement I had moved on to the PC and games like Starcraft. I feel like my entire generation went through this transition and then the gap between home systems and arcade systems lowered to the point where there simply was not a reason to keep going somewhere else to play video games. I mourn the loss of that community because it really was something special, not entirely unlike the relationship we have in MMO guilds. I have heard the EVO scene has revitalized a lot of this, but I feel like at least for me… that was another time and another place and I have moved on to other games.