Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Personal Gaming History

One of my flatmates was looking through Ebay listings of old consoles today. He wanted to buy a Sega Dreamcast. Looking through the games included in the listing descriptions, soft cooing could be heard from behind his laptop screen while I cooked my dinner. We exchanged nostalgic gaming memories; I concluded I was most sad that I had sold my Nintendo 64, exchanging it for the GameCube which has lain dormant on a shelf for the past few years. He made me promise absolutely to bring it back with me the next time I go home. If I forget, I’m not sure I will be going home again…

The first computer game I remember playing was Commander Keen on my Mum’s PC. It was some years later that I got a Nintendo Entertainment system (NES) with a light gun and Duck Hunt. I remember the games being quite difficult. I even exchanged a game which I couldn’t get past the first level, only to watch in the store as the press start screen demo showed how to get past the bit I was stuck on. It was only later in my gaming life that I came to really enjoy difficult games.

Command and Conquer really got me into PC gaming. Although I had enjoyed many PC games before that, realtime strategy became my preferred genre for some years after that game. Its sequel, Red Alert, was the first game I made custom content for - the maps I made for that game were the start of a side-hobby of modding games that has continued to this day.

Everybody's favourite blue hedgehog in his heyday
But there was never a year went by I didn’t buy at
least a few games for my console. I played the Sonic games to death on my Mega Drive, but my fondest console memories are for the Nintendo 64. Having mates around to play the likes of Super Smash Brothers and Mario Tennis was an experience no childhood should be without. Of course, no talk of Nintendo 64 would be complete without a mention of Goldeneye, which really set the standard for compelling and diverse single-player first-person shooter experiences. I’m baffled to this day how I managed to get almost all of the stars on Super Mario 64 without any form of guide. The internet spoils us these days.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time set a benchmark for
adventure games that few were willing or able to follow
Looking back on The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, I feel it was the first game that really tied down everything I like in a game. A compelling plot and emotional attachment to key characters, challenging gameplay which sometimes required a bit of thinking and interesting environments enhanced by solid visual and audio production values. Those three benchmarks can be set to most mainstream games. In my opinion, only one game has bested that game.

Not a year has gone by since its release
that I haven't played Baldur's Gate 2
I’m not even sure why I picked up Baldur’s Gate 2. I got stuck on the first level (sound familiar?) and decided to pick up a walkthrough book. Before BG2, I barely knew what a role-playing game was. I have never read literature so compelling, never been so absorbed by a world in film or TV, nor played a game whose mechanics I have dissected so thoroughly to improve my play… as Baldur’s Gate 2. I could go on praising it, and I might just do that… but in another post. I have to move on.

As my gaming palate matured, my appreciation of gaming genres broadened. There really are very few genres I don’t enjoy sampling, even if I don’t have enough time or money to try everything the genre has to offer. Even my parents have got in on the act - owning a Nintendo DS and Wii between them; and we continue to regularly play board and card games as well.

To say that games in the past ten years have been less influential on me would only be partly true. I think the frequency of high production cost games (triple A games) has resulted in fewer games that stand out head-and-shoulders above the competition. Games I love from the current generation include Lost Odyssey, Bioshock, Portal, Dragon Age: Origins, Ninja Gaiden 2, Mass Effect, Guitar Hero 3… I could go on.

Ninja Gaiden 2 was renowned for its brutal difficulty. I guess I love a challenge!

Games continue to fascinate me. I only wish I had more time to play them. I asked my friend how long ago he sold his Dreamcast. He never owned one. Nostalgia is a funny thing.

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