Mad Mack: Eighteen Moments That Defined My Gaming Life
While I was writing my last article about Battlefield 3 douchebags, it occurred to me that I was pissing and moaning about some fairly minor problems in the grand scheme of things (in fact, any article bemoaning anything to do with video games is pretty much the definition of ‘First World Problems’) and that really, we have never had it so good.
Although I am painfully aware that if I bang on much more about Battlefield 3 and how good its multiplayer is then I am in serious danger of suffocating on its balls as I attempt to gargle them deeper and deeper, I just think it is a great example of a lot of things that are amazing about modern gaming that we take for granted. Certainly its single player is balls, but the graphics are fucking impressive (probably not if you have spent your whole life upgrading a PC that runs on unicorn blood while the rest of us were busy having sex), with the attention to detail pretty outstanding. Just look at that picture of the tank commander that headed the last article. Just look at it. That could be a photograph if you were not looking particularly hard at it! That shit is tight yo!
If I were to go back in time and tell my 12 year old self that in 15 years he would be playing his computer games against people from all over the world in beautifully rendered 3D environments where he could go from driving a tank to flying a jet to planting C4 to gunning people down, all in one sitting, he would literally shit his brain (after looking up the definition of ‘rendered’ on a real, physical dictionary that sat on his desk). It was this thought process that had me thinking of where we were when I first picked up a controller and where we are now, and why we probably should not moan too much, no matter how many times that cock-stab sniper kills you from his impossible to reach location.
With this in mind, I’ve decided to revisit the pivotal moments in my gaming life to date, from the my NES days right through to the current generation. This list is not a comprehensive rundown of gaming milestones, but it is rather the most memorable times from my past that may or may not correspond to widely acknowledged milestones. In any case, I hope they say something about the significant games and developments of the past – and how we got from where we were then, to where we are now.
Super Mario Bros and Operation Wolf
So there I was at the ripe old age of about 5, when my dad brought in the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) complete with Mario Bros and Duck Hunt. This was my first entry into computer games and to say that I found Mario fucking tough is an understatement. It is an absolute fact that I did not complete Mario Bros because what the fuck do you do when the end lizard starts shitting out hammers from his head? Seriously?
This was rapidly followed up with me acquiring a Sega Master System along with Moonwalker (where you, and I shit you not, played as Michael Jackson on a quest to find babies in car boots and dark caves) and Operation Wolf (Sega’s answer to Duck Hunt). Op Wolf was AMAZING. It gave me the opportunity to be Rambo, and I didn’t know who the fuck Rambo was! All I knew is that I got to brass up mother fuckers like a boss. But I don’t think I ever got past the first set of levels.
Super Mario World
Moving on to the next console generation, and you start to see games that didn’t suck balls and still don’t, even to this day. Super Mario World was one such game. This was for me the first taste of anything resembling non-linearity. You could select the levels you wanted to do, you could get to different parts of the maps by finding alternate level exits and secret areas, and you could see what an acid trip is like by completing the secret levels within the secret levels in the Star stages. But fuck me I was stuck on that bastard forest forever. Getting onto the chocolate island was like reinventing the game all over again. Inventive bosses, colourful enemies and awesome power ups. This game represents one half of the golden age of the 2D platformer.
Also, special mention to Super Mario 3 for the NES from which Super Mario World drew many features – it just didn’t rock me the same way Super Mario World (and I mostly played it as part of Mario Allstars Collection on the SNES).
Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 + Knuckles
This was a different time. This was a time when the console wars were at their height. Nintendo and Sega, head-to-head and going all out. In those days games rarely got multi-console launches, and even games that shared the same title across consoles were usually vastly different from one platform to the next. So the console choice was important back in those days is what I am saying, and most were fiercely loyal to either Nintendo or Sega. I am sure there are many like myself who were heartbroken when Sega eventually capitulated and Sonic saw himself featured on a Nintendo console (we didn’t realise that this signified the massive heap of jizz that the Sonic franchise was about to become – werewolf Sonic– seriously, what the fuck? I suppose we should have known when we were treated to Sonic 3D on the Megadrive – that steaming shit-pile should have set those alarm bells ringing).
At the time the Sonic games really stood on their own with a mix of colourful environments, fluid game flow and (again, at the time) jaw dropping speed. They were the other half of the golden age of 2D platforming. Sonic 3 was an excellent evolution and allowed for saving of your game progress AND you could select your character. Jesus Christ Sega, with features like that you were spoiling us rotten! Then Sonic and Knuckles came out and literally blew all of our minds. Plugging S3 into SnK was like opening up whole new gaming opportunities. Anyone who played S3 or SnK without the other missed out like, 70% of the experience.
I never could get all of the super emeralds. There was one special stage that was an absolute cunt to do.
As you can see, failure is a common theme here.
Dune II: The Battle for Arrakis
Because I was too poor to get a PC for many years, I was limited to consoles for a lot of my gaming youth. So my first experience of the RTS was Dune II: The Battle for Arrakis. At first I was like ‘the fuck is this shit?’. If you had any idea of how long it took me to figure out what ‘spice’ was, and how it related to my credits, you would wonder how I managed to get through a day in school without getting molested by the janitor (with great difficulty I would have you know – them Catholic schools are a nightmare). But I eventually figured it out, and then I figured out how to progress through levels, and then I figured out that there was fuck all point in playing as anyone other than the Harkonnens, who had the Devastator tank and the tactical nuke special weapon (which shat over the other two special weapons – some above average infantry and a saboteur that really did shit all damage for the Atreides and Ordos respectively).
This was my first taste of RTS, and I was fucking hooked.
Oh, and I completed this one. FYI.
So far the landmarks listed have been ones that I am sure a lot of you will agree, are very positive. But there are other types of landmarks. For example, there could be one type of landmark that teaches you that life is empty, that there is no hope and that disappointment has a bitter, bitter taste far worse than even the most unwashed janitor’s balls.
My time as a Mega-CD owner was one of those landmarks. This very pointedly signified the beginning of the end for Sega, with the PS1 coming hot on its heels and the general fact that most of its games were seriously balls. Like, seriously, utter balls. There were a few gems on the Mega-CD (as there always is with shit, rapidly abandoned consoles) – Dune, despite having some of the worst artwork that has ever made it to the final build of a game was a pretty good RPG/strategy with some Mist-like elements. Sonic-CD was apparently one of the best 2D platformers ever and Snatcher (despite sounding like a sex-offender’s prison name) was a pretty awesome cyber-punk interactive comic/detective type affair.
X-Com: Enemy Unknown
So we move on to the 32-bit generation. For those of you that were too young for this sort of balls, console generations were once measured by the amount of RAM they carried (citation needed). The NES was 8-bit, Mega Drive and SNES were 16-bit, the PS1 was 32-bit and the N-64 was (wait for it)…64-bit!
Anyway, my X-Com experience was similar to my Dune II experience – I put it in, loaded it up and spent the next several weeks wondering what the fuck I was supposed to do. Was I supposed to photograph the aliens with a ‘Snap Shot’, and how the fuck do I get more ‘Time Units’? This one had a pretty thick manual, and I was damned if I was going to, you know, read something to find out what to do. What am I? Some sort of girl?
I would also point out that at this time I didn’t have a memory card on the PS1, so every time I started the game I would be right back at the beginning. Every. Fucking. Time. This might not have been a problem with the earlier generation of games, but for a 20+ hours of playtime game like X-Com this made getting to the end impossible. Forever.
Years later, at uni, I downloaded the DOS version of this game and completed it. Eventually.
N64 and Ocarina of Time
The N64, while not the massive disappointment that the Mega-CD was, still had a lot of drawbacks. I am sure I am not alone when I say that while defending the N64 from the slings and arrows of the plebeian PS1 owners, there was a constant niggling voice telling me that they were probably right, and that there was more fun to be had with a PS1 (especially if you got that bad-boy chipped so you could buy copied games for a fiver).
Nonetheless, the N64 had some amazing games that were genre defining at the time (and set the template for every Nintendo game since). The N64 represents the high water mark for Nintendo in terms of quality of gameplay and originality for their ‘AAA’ titles. Mario 64 was a great game in itself, adding and improving on the non-linear elements from Super Mario World. I probably don’t need to say that much about Goldeneye – that was the game that brought the FPS to the consoles, and introduced the genre to those of us who missed Doom, or thought that Wolfenstein 3D was balls. And then there is the Ocarina of Time – the last original Zelda game. The game that has been copied and re-formatted endlessly since. Words cannot describe the joy of playing through TOoT for the first time. At a point of time just before the internet was really prevalent in everyday life, I spent many hours constantly revisiting the same places in order to unlock all of the secrets that game had to offer. Many people say the water temple was balls, but it was not the hardest challenge for me- It took me fucking ages to realise that I needed to play the scarecrow song in the Fire Temple in order to reach the last unexplored place to get a heart fragment or skulltulla or some such bollocks.
One thing you cannot overlook is where Nintendo shaped the future of gaming forever. The N64 controller was the first controller to adopt an analogue stick and feature vibration technology (external rumble pack sold separately). The controller on the N64 was the template for all that have followed. I think. Someone back me up on that one. Maybe there was a PC peripheral that had an analogue stick or something!
I probably don’t need to labour the point here too much. I loved the RTS genre, but Starcraft blew us all out of the water. It was the first game that really convincingly married RTS with storytelling, introducing unique characters and settings that really brought the whole thing to life. I was fucking upset when Kerrigan killed Fenix, even though I was the one controlling her!
Add in the usual Blizzard-quality FMVs (that stand up on their own even today), an easy to use online matchmaking service and a relatively user friendly level editor (I even made a few levels that dealt with the immediate aftermath of the end of Broodwar and they were fucking awesome) and you have one of the best games ever made.
While we are on the RTS games of note, I would also like to point out Homeworld and Homeworld 2 as immense games well worthy of consideration. It is a shame that they seem to have gone the way of the dinosaur.
Again, not much to add here that has not already been said. I am going to sum this up in one phrase: Doom 2.0.
Doom defined and popularised the FPS genre, and many games that came after offered some improvements, but none possessed the same ‘WOW’ factor that made the original such a massive hit. None that is, until Half-Life came along and changed the game. It was no longer enough to run and gun against hordes of aliens or demons. After Half-Life, gamers would demand plot development, set pieces, puzzles and interactive environments (until you get to the last level, then feel free to run and gun like a motherfucker) to really bring the game to life.
This was my first and last foray into MMORPG, and it was fucking shit. I could not believe how dull it was:
‘So you kill about 30 of this monster to level up.’
‘Ok, then what?’
‘Then you kill 60 of a harder monster to level up again.’
‘Well, then you do it aga-‘
‘Hold the phone, are you telling me that I kill shit to level up, so I can kill more shit to level up again, even though nothing in this repetitive process is at all even approximating fun?’
‘Fuck yourself Everquest. Fuck yourself in the ass.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I don’t play MMORPGs.
Sid Meier’s Civilisation II and Alpha Centauri
Civ II was amazing. My friends and I would often play weekend-long games on the same machine, hot seating between turns. It was just amazing. And then I played Alpha Centauri, a game that in my opinion has yet to be equalled by any of its more modern peers. It was the perfect evolution of the God-sim genre, only this time it was set on an alien world. The game is notable for its interesting factions, overarching storyline (a feat as yet unmatched by the recent games) and fantastic unit editor.
Each of the factions had its own identity that somehow was conveyed very effectively. Based on the multiple sound recordings from each of the faction leaders, plus the faction inherent bonus and penalties gave them an identity that was hitherto unknown in the God-sim. The game was more of the same really, but with one major improvement that would have a very notable impact – the Unit Editor. This was a modular system that allowed you to custom design your own troops by selecting the chassis, power reactor (health), armour, offensive weapon and special abilities. The special abilities alone meant you could craft a specially tailored force for any specific needs you had. It was a genuine pleasure to attack an island-based faction on several fronts, invading their weaker cities from the landing boats using a marine force, before following up with a crushing rapid air and ground offensive to rip the throat out of their counter-attack and before then marching inexorably on their remaining cities. Game, set and match motherfucker.
If you have not played AC but are a fan of the Civ games, then get it. I promise that you will not be disappointed.
I put this here because while it did bring FPS gaming to consoles, (though I feel that Goldeneye really beat it to the punch in that regard), it is the sheer number of hours my friends and I dedicated to playing through the campaign on co-op. Again, and again, and again and again. It was the first game where we were happy going over the same ground repeatedly, just because it was so much fun to settle in with a few beers and spend a night gaming away.
Halo also to my mind set the standard for including vehicles in a FPS game. They were seamlessly integrated into the gameplay and were an absolute joy to use. Who can forget the first time they and a mate tore shit up in a warthog? Well, I forgot, but only because I was probably drunk at the time. Nonetheless, it was a defining moment.
Knights of the Old Republic
A huge, fairly open RPG with multiple choices and lightsabers? What is not to love right here? The second best game BioWare have ever done.
I thought that GTA Vice City was the endgame in terms of an open-world sandbox, and in fact I was going to give them this segment, but I realised that when looking back, it did not have the same ‘Mother of God’ moment that I got when playing Morrowind. Or to give it the full title – The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Stepping off the boat at the beginning of Morrowind, for the first time in my life (in a computer game), when I asked myself ‘what the fuck do I do now?’ the answer was ‘whatever you like champ!’ I looked around and immediately set off out of the dirt-pile village looking for adventure. ‘I wonder what is over this hill’ I asked myself. ‘ZOMG It’s another hill! What’s over that one?….ZOMG ANOTHER HILL! This game has it all!’
When looking back at older games it can be difficult to see what the attraction was at the time. It can sometimes require a bit of imagination to understand why there are people who cannot shut the fuck up for five minutes about Super Mario Bros, X-Com or The Ocarina of Time. However, I would say that if you look at Morrowind in the light of today, you would clearly see what it was that made it such a damn good game – they are the same elements that have been making people cream over Skyrim, more or less unchanged save a lick of HD paint and some voice acting!
Rome: Total War
I was not sure whether I was going to include this here, but then I felt that I had to pay homage to one of the greatest strategy games series out there. I had played Shogun and Medieval: Total War, but it was Rome that really blew me away and cemented this franchise in my mind. For the first time the strategic map was not just a chess board, while the tactical combat was refined over the previous two outings making it one of the most satisfying and challenging games out there.
Rome: Total War was the tits.
The Orange Box
So here we are, we have arrived into the most modern console generation. Anyone who reads my articles on a regular basis (basically the editor and his mate) might be surprised that I can find any games that made me go ‘Wow’ in this generation given the cynicism and scorn I tend to heap on to a lot of modern offerings (#firstworldproblems), but surprisingly there are a few.
The Orange Box made me go wow, not because of Half-Life 2 (which was great, but didn’t do anything that its predecessor hadn’t and in my mind had a far to great reliance on physics puzzles – yeah, we get it, the physics engine is great, but can I just get back to shooting things please?) but because of the whole package. Getting HL2, Episode 1, Episode 2, Team Fortress 2 and Portal all in one box, for the same cost as a normal game? Fuck me the future is definitely bright and it is definitely Orange!
COD: Modern Warfare
I know this might seem controversial given what it and games like it have done to the FPS genre and to the gaming landscape as a whole, but at the time I had all but dismissed the so called ‘realistic’ shooters in favour of Halo 3 and others of its ilk. But then I played the multiplayer at a friend’s and was pretty well hooked. I got it and was blown away at how much fun I was having killing brown people or terrorists or whoever I was being asked to kill. And then there is the bit where the nuke goes off! Fuck me, did anyone else see that? I think my mind has been literally blown. I am now going to have a lie down before I shit my brain out of my ears.
Mass Effect 2 and Battlefield 3
So here we are. The last two games to make me go ‘wow’. I have clearly documented my feelings towards ME2 (the best game Bioware have made) and BF3 (you know, all the ball gargling). I loved these two games for different reasons, and each one makes me feel good in different ways (but always with a happy ending).
You can complain all you want about how games are moving into a content-based delivery system, or how reboots and remakes are ruining once beloved franchises (you really want to ruin a beloved franchise? Go back and play the games again on XBLA, trust me, it ain’t all that great) or how games are just too easy or repetitive or multiplayer focussed or whatever, but you need to look at all the good works that are being done.
The fact is that games are now more than ever a respected form of entertainment and as a result are being made to a higher and higher quality. Yes, there will always be shit, exploitative games that seem to be designed purely to separate gamers from their cash (I am looking at you MW3 and your Elite Membership bollocks – hey, Activision, is there any chance you could take me out for a bucket of KFC chicken when I buy any of your games? I ask because you see it hurts less to be greased up before I get fucked!), but that is nothing new – look at ET on the Atari back in the ‘80s. That game was so bad it almost crashed the whole computer gaming industry! Some developers will always look at their customers like fatted calves, but because of the increasing money in games, it has opened the door to publishers to still do it for the love (and the piles of money). This and future generations of games are going to get better and better, thanks to companies like Bioware, Bethesda, Valve, 2K and all the others out there making the best damn games the world has ever seen. Even EA has realised this and so has put its might behind new IPs and smaller, talented development houses. And, for the first time in years, small developers are getting the opportunity to reach the mass market through the PSN or XBLA. Game developers like Romino or Goldhawk Interactive are poised to create some fantastic games.
So, that is a run through of all the ups and downs of my gaming career. I have had many ‘wow’ moments, I have had many ‘the fuck?’ moments and I have had many ‘what the shit is this’ moments. And I am sure that I have many more to come.