Life As A Gamer Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

By Guest Writer Zach Miller

When I was sixteen, my friend Luke Nielson and I took a biology class at the University (UAA). Being homeschooled, we were allowed to take college courses for both high school and college credit. The class was a lecture/lab, and my dad had made me a deal: If I could pull off an A in both parts, he would buy me a Nintendo 64. I remember going into the final weeks of both classes with B’s over my head. I studied like mad but couldn’t muster the mental stamina necessary to recall all the different parts of a human heart. Happily, I found out that I could get extra credit in the lab by writing a paper regarding some aspect of my group’s dissected fetal pig which we had lovingly named “Babe” (“Babe vists the Bio lab” was written on its storage bag). I wrote about endothermy and dinosaurs, which came as no surprise to instructor, who gave me an A in the lab. The lecture final proved to be much more difficult, however, In order to pull off an A, I would need to scare an 89. I met my professor a week after the test to pick up my grade. I’d gotten an 88, and my heart sank. I noted that he had given me one extra credit point for drawing interesting pictures on the blackboard before each class and for my good questions. The next day, we went to Costco and bought an N64 Ocarina of Time bundle. I still play it to this day.

My friendship with the Gingras’ and Rodgers’ kids may have died down, but I became good friends with a kid in our neighborhood named Charlie. He and his brother Matt were more into PC gaming than consoles, and they lived for Starcraft and Diablo. They had an N64 but it mainly collected dust. I was able to borrow plenty of games from him though, including Super Mario 64. My best friend Darin also had an N64, but his game collection rarely grew beyond the launch games. He had Mario and Wave Race 64, but he loved Goldeneye 007. Whenever Darin had a get-together at his house with me and whoever else, conversation inevitably gave way to deathmatches and Bond. Darin was more of a Genesis buff, and he subscribed to the Sega Channel. I often reminisce about the times spent in his basement, picking games like Primal Rage or Sonic & Knuckles and playing most of the day. Darin went on to graduate from Northwestern in Chicago. I doubt he plays games much anymore by himself, but we always flip on whatever console I have around when we see each other, which is sadly rare.

The N64 years were mostly enjoyed by my little brother Luke, though. We both like Pokemon and ate up the Stadium games, but for the most part I spent my gaming time on the computer. Charlie’s pastime had rubbed off on me, and I enjoyed games like Grim Fandango, Croc: Legend of the Gobbos, and, oddly enough, an Encarta quiz game that was set in medieval times. It had some of the best shoes-stepping-on-cobblestones sound effects of all time. Strong as it was, my PC interest fell through pretty quickly, as it soon became apparent that our aging Gateway 2000 was not going to be able to play the better software very quickly or well. Our family’s next computer, a Dell, would play things like Diablo II and Alien vs. Predator 2, but my love affair with PC gaming had died off by then. It lives on in Luke, though. I didn’t play the N64 much—this period was ruled by my Game Boy Color and then my Game Boy Advance, but my general attention turned more toward school and less to games, and this lasted about a year. My brother began selling games to the local used-game store, and for the most part I didn’t mind. There were a few hallowed titles, like Ocarina and Tetris Attack, but the majority of games, including Game Boy games, were lost. It wouldn’t be until nearly half a decade later that I’d long for those lost games, if only play Solar Striker one last time.

It’s interesting to note that while I was aware of the PlayStation’s existence, it never really appeared on my interest radar. I wasn’t even entirely aware of the leaps and bounds it made in mature gaming and graphical prowess. Final Fantasy VII? What’s that? Symphony of the Night? Never heard of it. This was probably due to Nintendo Power’s influence, although at one point I nearly bought a Dreamcast in order to get my hands on a game called Carrier (also Parasite Eve 2). It didn’t happen though, but to this day I always check the price used DC’s and games, just in case a cheap one comes around. That all changed when my little brother bought himself a PlayStation 2 around 2001. Our Nintendo Power subscription ran out just as the GameCube was announced, and I began to realize that perhaps that magazine wasn’t as “fair and balanced” as it could be. I looked for another magazine and found two that piqued my interest: Electronic Gaming Monthly and Game Informer. Both were funny, insightful publications that cost the same. I signed up for the latter and my brother the former. I was also about to move to the dorms and had decided to leave the N64 behind. I’d bought myself a well-rated, but affordable TV and DVD player from Costco but now I needed a gaming platform. Behold my good luck when the first issue of GI I picked up (as well as EGM) was the issue describing the upcoming console war, but not between Nintendo and Sony, but between Nintendo and…*gasp*…Microsoft! This was the first time I’d heard of the Xbox, and I instantly chose the ‘Cube over putting more money into Bill Gates’ bustling wallet. Looking back, I made the right decision for the wrong reasons.

No comments: