Thursday, December 17, 2009

Memories in video gaming: One Old-School Gamer’s Perspective

A Link in the Past

I must have been seven or eight years old, and I remember when my brother and I received that very first Legend of Zelda NES cart. We tore apart the plastic cellophane and opened up the box to reveal… a gold cart.

We, along with millions of other kids, then spent their every waking hour on the first Zelda game released in the United States. Video game magazines then were hardly available (most having died off in the Video Game Crash of ‘83), there was no internet, let alone a, with easy-to-access information… everything was word of mouth. So when we put the cart it, we didn’t know what to expect… hell, we didn’t even know what to do. But we loved it.

When we found the first dungeon, walked inside, and the music turned to ominous (keep in mind, in those days we were used to only one or two music scores for an entire console game) we all looked to one another and wondered “Just where the hell were we?”. I think we may even have gotten scared and ran out of the dungeon, fearing that Link’s three measly hearts wouldn’t cut what we were about to face (which would end up being a few measly bats and a pretty weak boss).

We spent hours trying to figure our way through dungeons, hand drawing maps, not knowing where to go, finding items we had no idea what the hell they did. We fought through bad engrish, and we didn’t have one single walkthrough to help us. We had to rely on friends of friends whose friends had parents who would let them call the Nintendo hint helpline, or who had an older brother that had figured it out on their own.

I remember dungeon eight could only be found on the map by blowing a whistle at a certain fairy pond. Mind you there were no hints to lead you here. We spent close to a year trying to figure this out, and nobody we knew had even gotten that far. Lo and behold, one day my brother’s friend was goofing off, and blowing the whistle in every screen, and when he got to that particular fairy pond, blew the whistle, the pond dried up and the staircase appeared. We all looked at each other as our mouths dropped and just sat speechless for minutes.

In the end, I think it took us two years or so to complete Zelda… not that it was a hard game, not that it was we were dumb (maybe we were a little dumb) but because there was nothing that would tell us where to go or what did what (especially if you were one to lose the instruction manual, as we children so often did). Now you can onto the net, and in two clicks your answer is solved.

But back then, there were very few complex adventure games (console wise that is… if you were into Sierra dominated PC gaming back then, you were screwed and destined to log onto sierra BBS’ or buying hint books), so it was possible to take a year or two to solve and beat one game.

Into the future

Now every month (sometimes, every week) epic games that take hundreds of hours to complete are released, with complex gameplay and complicated puzzles, and lots of extra content… yet, it seems it only takes a couple weeks to a month of heavy playing (okay, sometimes two, max) to beat these games. I wonder how many of us (me included) can sit at one RPG or adventure game, get stuck on an area and then feel the itchy fingers and desire to head onto the internet to check for the answer.

But why waste time when the next best game is coming out tomorrow, or sitting on your shelf ready to play?

There is definitively something gone from the classic feeling of gaming in the retro era, but it’s a double edged sword. I would rather have the selection of games now than the selection I had back then, because if we had the same selection back then, we probably wouldn’t have spent two years playing Zelda.

But if you ever find yourself wondering… just wondering…what the hell it was like to be us back in the mid to late 80’s, go ahead, put in (or ROM up, or virtual console it up) a NES game you’ve never played (give Castlevania 2: Simons Quest a go!) and try to get through it without anything other than the manual it came with…hours of brain numbing exploration…trial and error…maybe a good ol' pen and paper.

- TinyDinosaurs 12/11/09

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