A New Direction: Side Stories

It’s been a fun few months with Jon and myself sharing our own thoughts on classic games and their impact on us growing up. From clunkers like Robocop to a week of beat ’em ups or adoring our first Final Fantasy games. When we originally set out to A Wink to the Past we had the aim of it being a community project. The warm fuzzies we put to digital paper made their way to you in hopes of inspiring your own memories to bubble up. Some of the conversations we’ve had spawned from those have been great. With the latest focus on the Legend of Zelda and all the guests we had we realized this was more of what we wanted to do. While we both love sharing our own tales of yesteryear, it went to a whole new level when we were hearing from you all how games impacted you. Either right time right place, or just by being a constant in your life throughout. It’s great to be reminded there’s more going on with people when they play than just zombing out in front of the ‘tube.

Going forward we’ve now been subtitled for phase 2 of this project. I’d like to welcome you to AWttP: Side Stories

So what’s it all mean? No more Chris or Jon? No more retro lookbacks? No more goofy bits of how games turned us to rampant delinquency? Not quite.

Today we’re putting out a call to anyone that wants to put their thoughts out there in a communal tome of video game memories. If you’ve had an interest in writing but have never done it before it’s a great place and an open floor for you here. If you want some coaching and enjoy what you’ve read at AWttP previously we’d be more than willing to proof what you wrote or help structure it. The key thing is we want to hear from you around this water cooler we call the internet.

Kind of like this, except it’s you and me instead of giant robot warriors.

Why Side Stories? I’m a firm believer that games are something you do while other things are going on in your life or in your head. Whether subconscious or on the surface I’m sure you’re sorting stuff out while you go into hour 3 of your game session. Figuring out your weekend plans, remembering the first time you played a game in that series, matches with friends online and goofing off, or binging on an RPG to escape life’s complications. They’ve brought you joy, solace, laughter, or introspective among other experiences. You’ve had odd revelations through games (“Did you know Sephiroth is are the revelations creator’s will in Kabbalah?! Dude, they totally named him in reference to that!”), or a simple thought about how Bimmy and Jimmy would have made for better hero names and you redubbed every other character in the game “__immy” to follow suit. The games we’re all playing are cool, but we really enjoy the magic of what’s going on while you play… the Side Stories you organically created that accompany the game.

As with all user-generated content the risk we run here is the strength of this will come from people willing to share. So if you have something and want to bring it over we’d love to have you. Multiple pieces are cool too. Only real guidelines we have are at least 300 words, a few words about yourself, and keep it personal. We’re not looking for retro game reviews as much as we’re looking for retrospectives as to why those games are lodged into your brain. This also means we’re looking to scale back how often we post so we can sustain a consistent schedule. Likely to be about one post a week is what we’re looking to do. So if you or someone you know wants to share with the world in this communal camp fire of video game adoration, to bring to the table their Side Stories about what’s going on within them while mashing those buttons to save the princess, send an e-mail to PunkrawkBbob@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter at @PunkrawkBbob and we’ll work something out.

In the meantime, Jon and I will continue writing to fill in the gaps when we don’t have guest writers. We thank you all for your support and look forward to spending more time reading and talking about how games keep making a lasting impression on all of us.

The Legend of Zelda (Series)

As all great things come to an eventual end, so does our celebration of Zelda here at A Wink to the Past. We had some great contributions from friends of ours here and strongly recommend you go back to check out any you might have missed…

As much as we covered there are countless more stories of everyone out there and their time spent in the various lands of Hyrule. While I loved sharing what semblance of peace Link to the Past brought me, I could have just as easily talked about Link’s Awakening on Gameboy where I gleefully stole it from a classmate… only to return it guilt-stricken after stealing from the shop in the game and being renamed THIEF on my save file. Then there was how A Link Between Worlds was so engaging both my wife and I finished it within a week back to back for the smoothest 20 hours of gaming either of us ever experienced. The Legend of Zelda has been around for over 30 years now, telling it’s tale across 10 platforms and 18 games (or 11 platforms and 20 games if you count those which are not to be spoken in pleasant company). That’s a lot of opportunity to reach a variety of players across it’s 75 million sales in the series.

Legends always vary slightly, as does Zelda herself.

We’re usually not big on talk about numbers at AWttP though. Data is cool and all but that doesn’t really give an accurate idea if anyone gives a damn. Remember the record setting film Avatar? Yeah, no one does. The cultural impact of this series isn’t something you just can’t ignore with the Legend of Zelda though. Step into any retailer that sells pop culture apparel and you’re guaranteed to find something marked with a Triforce or Master Sword design. I’d put money on the chance that a quarter of all game related tattoos bear the mark of a Hylian Crest, a flit of light with wings for a fairy, or any of the dozens of icons found within the series that are instantly recognizable. As we explored with the stories we had here there’s a connection that’s made between the player and the game that’s intrinsic to the journey you take with Link. Yes, I realize there’s a good possibility that’s why they’ve named him Link. He serves as our gateway to the world of Hyrule, our avatar in this fantasy realm of prophecies, despair, altruism, corruption, destruction, hope, and balance.

Speaking of Hyrule, that in of itself leads to something miraculous Nintendo manages to do with each entry. Reinventing the world nearly every single time, even if it’s one of the few instances where it’s a direct sequel in the timeline. Each time we venture into the world of Zelda it starts with a shifting of that power. Normally Ganon plays his cards in an attempt to steal the entirety of the Triforce which sets the events into motion that begin our time in Hyrule. If the world doesn’t already start in a state of ruin, it will enter it shortly after… yet somehow the game remains wonderful the whole time. With Link being the carrier of the Triforce of Courage it’s nice to know your quest is one of hope and restoration after nearly all has been lost. Seriously, in any other franchise it would be an oppressive grueling test of willpower to just make it through the to the next story beat. You’d have meters indicating your stress level, have to reclaim areas of land in bizarre turf wars, or maybe even just have every NPC you come across remind you how miserable existence is. Somehow LoZ overcomes the hurdle of a sulking on a fractured kingdom and embraces a world of potential, a future to be saved, instead of beating you over the head on how god awful everything has become. Either a calamity has ravaged the lands, Hyrule’s… rule… has been overthrown by Ganon, the entire kingdom had sunken to the bottom of an ocean, or the land is gripped in a state of engulfing digital nothingness. Railing against that broken world you have lush colors, upbeat music, a jaunty Link traversing the fields and mountains fully content knowing we’ll all float on alright. Don’t worry. (yes I’m listening to Modest Mouse right now). I’m genuinely impressed with how contagious the joy can be bleeding out from it all. It’s hard not to walk away feeling inspired and uplifted after putting in a good session of play.

Perhaps that’s the point of it all? An eternal struggle of influence in our life will bounce us from our personal golden age to bad times that become eventual emotional ruin. Yet if we keep on with a perky overworld theme to carry us on, to not be afraid to ask for help when we need it. Maybe we have to work a bit to rebuild what’s been lost. To help others in need to help rebuild a better world around us. The Legend of Zelda’s origin comes from the idea of “saving the princess”, which itself is based in altruism. Link has nothing to gain from these acts beyond doing what’s right and a shared interest in the world he lives in. If that isn’t a point we can connect with and take meaning from I don’t know what is. When I sit back and think about everything that’s good about this series 18 games deep, it’s that there’s good in each and every one of us playing it. As much as we’re drawn to shoving fairies into bottles or chasing stupid monkeys, I honestly think every one of us playing has the desire to save the princess and make things right above all us.

I really hope you’ve had an adventure with Link, Zelda, and Ganon at some point in your life. If not, the time has never been better with the sprawling epic of Breath of the Wild having just released. Beyond the latest entry in the series you can look to Wii U where you have access to nearly every console release (and several portable titles) within the series, serving as the ultimate Legend of Zelda machine. If you already own a 3DS you’re in pretty good order too as it serves as a gateway to all the portable releases and the first fifteen years of console games. Any way you want to ‘hyah huh HYAH’ your way into Hyrule at this point you have plenty of options. We hope you find an your way there when you need it most, because that’s when the Legend of Zelda series shines brightest.

A Link to the Past (SNES)

An opening scroll of text. A flurry of images suggesting lore. A young man thrust into a world much larger than himself. Thus began the Legend of Zelda and my descent into video games proper from that point on. Sure I had dabbled with the NES incarnations of Legend of Zelda and Adventures of Link, but at the time I was simply too young to understand what they were beyond some green dude running around with a sword that shoots lasers when you have full hearts. When I got my hands on A Link to the Past at a respectable age of like… nine years old, suddenly those stupid mazes and creepy dungeon hands falling from the ceiling were pieces of a larger tapestry that I could look over for days in awe and wonder at the richness woven into it.

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The World Ends With You (DS)

“This is a Square game… It looks weird, but I need a new RPG to play” rang through my head as I looked oddly at the stylized Tokyo box art. Clearly going for an edgy approach of teen punk with it’s anime characters. Some overzealous skater delinquent with a skull beanie, posh Harajuku queenie, dopey girl with a hot topic deal waiting to happen, and square in the middle some pointy haired DB with eyes closed and headphones on. “What an odd collection of characters…” I was working at Best Buy at the time and constantly looking for excuses to use my discount so I ended up grabbing this game on a whim. Most of my RPGs were “safe” up to this point. Generic fantasy setting of swords and sorcery, or saving the world from a purely malevolent force with no motives other than the ruin of all. Good is good, bad is bad. RPG-by-numbers if you will.

Enter the wild world of weird of The World Ends With You. Continue reading “The World Ends With You (DS)”

Discworld (PS1)

Back in the early days of PlayStation there were huge game cases, tons of horrible early 3D games like Battle Arena Toshinden and Kileak: The DNA Imperative clogging up space at the local rental store. Then there was the weird looking game with magic stuff going on with the cover. There was no YouTube to look up what a game was or how it played. Even if you were big on magazines back then buying one cost the same as renting a game, plus you have no guarantee by looking at your newest GamePro magazine that the cool games you wanted would even be available if you were renting. You were at the whims of Lady Luck if the store carried the game you wanted and it was available. So what you’re left with is a toss of the dice as you judge a book by it’s cover… or in my case of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, a game based on a book’s box art. A wizard riding a chest with feet and the grim reaper, flying away from a planet on a giant turtle’s back in space. Sold.

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Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2 (PC)

I’ve written elsewhere before, twice, about how much of an impression Jedi Knight made on me as a youth. The first link shares about how growing up when I did, I didn’t have a Star Wars trilogy for my generation and how video games brought me into that world. The second about how the online community for it was unlike anything you’d recognize today in FPS communities. Instead of rehashing on that though, I wanna go back to how I got introduced to this beauty of a game.

Back way back when (1997) my friends I loved to loiter as teenagers do. The local strip mall was filled with the normal fair of shoe stores, grocers,  women’s apparel, Target, and a coney island joint… Oh, sorry, you non-Michigan residents would call them diners. Within that dearth of personality there was one golden nugget for us in our midwest suburban sprawl for a short while though that had a bunch of computers and games set up. This was pre-GameStop as we know it. In a landscape where Babbages, GameStop, Funcoland, and EB Games were still in their infancy you used to see a lot more companies struggling to make it in the same space. For us, Egghead Software was our bastion of joy. Two friends and I would go up their and see whatever was installed on the PCs and doof around for a bit. Normally the pestering of the clerk who tired of us tying up their computers for actual paying customers would lead us out the door. Such is the life of pre-adulthood. No money, no hobby, and tons of empowered ‘tude because “you’re not a kid anymore”.

Well one visit in wasn’t like that at all. Popping in by myself as my dad was next door at a neighboring shop I opted to see what was going on today in there. They had two new games set up to play and both would win me over. Age of Empires, and Star Wars Jedi Knight. I remember it having the entire first level open for play at that point and actually spending several tries to get through it. Picking up a blaster, being chased by Rodians down halls for cover, searching for medpacks to get up enough health to face the weird alien dudes coming for me. At this point I had never seen a Star Wars film still, only familiar with the Shadows of the Empire on Nintendo 64. I thought that was cool and this was the same thing, sort of. Controlling with a mouse and keyboard was outside the norm for me and I kept dying. Over. and over. and over. I was enthralled though and wanted to keep exploring this weird space station thing.

Not… exactly as advertised on the cover art/header image.

The game was a thing of magic. It had live-action cutscenes! I realize they didn’t age well now and probably were awful back then too, having now seen YouTube fan vids with a better production value. For me then though it was just the coolest. Unfortunately I sucked bad at it. The store clerk felt pity on me and came over, chatting up and giving me tips. Then he did this weird thing where a prompt came up and he could just enter cheat codes. My mind was blown that it was that easy on PC games. Then completely sealing the deal on how much I needed this game, he entered the code “deeznuts”. I couldn’t help but think OMG, this is an actual code in the game by the people who made it?! HILARIOUS! Again, I was thirteen at the time. Between that and another code he put in called “yodajammies” it gave me a bunch of force powers and mana so I could wipe the floor with all opposition. Sold. For life.

Eventually I’d convince my dad to get me that game and I spent days of my life on both the single player and multiplayer aspects of it. Eventually I’d learn to not suck and was able to play through it without cheating, mostly from my desire to get better for multiplayer battles. Egghead Software would shut down the next year, but I’d go on to be a PC gamer for the better part of a near-decade from that point on. All because DEEZ NUTS.

What? I was thirteen. That’s comedy gold!

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (Genesis)

“Seeehhh guuuhh”

That soft welcoming chorus when you first boot up most Genesis games is how it all started. I had just gotten a Sega Genesis for Christmas in 1993, branching out from the SNES my family shared. My dad was always a techie. Long before I knew or understood what that was (which ultimately was passed down to me), I just reaped the benefit of constantly being surrounded with cool gadgets. I don’t remember what game(s) came with the Genesis, but I do remember getting Sonic the Hedgehog 2 as well that Christmas. What was cool about this gift was that it was the first console that was “mine”. Normally video games were a family present, a shared entertainment that none of us had claim to. Being the youngest of three though my brother and sister were over video games for the most part so they didn’t care about the cool new system I got with the super fast blue guy in red shoes. They definitely didn’t care about his little double-tailed fox buddy either. So all through that Christmas break at school I stayed indoors playing a bunch of Sonic 2 from top to bottom. I learned to hate Chemical Plant Zone and drowning. Despite that I was tickled pink from the blast processing experience that was unlike anything I had before on either of Nintendo’s systems.

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Final Fantasy VII (PlayStation)

So let us travel back to 1997. A young Chris can be found drooling over those infamous trailers that made players think games could run looking like a Pixar moviewith nothing but cut scene footage. It took about a month of begging before I finally managed to secure this massive three disc game. Since then it’s stuck with me through my life, giving me probably about seventeen different directions I could share with you how much I fell for this game. Instead I’ll stick with three oddball memories as it’d grow into the classic I’d love for years.

Back in gym class for seventh grade, sitting on the floor with a split in my pants waiting for the day to end (don’t ask) – I was talking to my buddy about video games. Scott was going on about Final Fantasy VII, how awesome it was, how much time he spent on it, etc. He had previously played FF3 on SNES and enjoyed it a lot. The series was mostly foreign to me, having just dabbled in FF2 (SNES) a bit but never taking it too seriously. All the cool places he was talking about… Magic, dragons, crazy guys with silver hair and swords the length of a Buick. I was awe in listening to him talk about it because I knew I wanted to get it already. It was akin to reading reviews for a game you already preordered, eager for any taste of it you can. The TV commercials had won me over and now I just needed to wear my mom down into buying it for me. The final piece of that came into play when I found a coupon in some game magazine at the time to save $10 when buying it at Target, so I knew it was almost mine. Scott then explained to me “Oh dude, it’s so good. I can’t wait til you get it and play it. Just don’t waste your time with the healer chick Aeris, they kill her off at the end of the first disc.” – Done. Just like that. A game I was so eager for, that would eventually go on to be one of my top five favorite games of all time – Spoiled in the eve of me acquiring it and playing it for the first time. One of the most heart-wrenching moments of gaming written off as a random point of data just like “contains 13 towns to visit, fully rendered in 3D!” would be blasted on the back of a game box.

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Streets of Rage 2 (Genesis)

Back in the early 90’s beat ’em ups were all the rage on the streets. There were Final Fights, Golden Axes, Double Dragons, some Bad Dudes, Power Rangers, X-Men, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Then you had your Streets of Rage smack dab right in the middle of the frenzy of pallet swapping enemy punch-a-thons with friends. While hard to stick out in that busy crowd of what seems to be a pretty well-tread genre, Streets of Rage managed to hold its own. In particular for me I had a soft spot for Streets of Rage 2, and it’s youngest hero, Skate.

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Mario Clash (Virtual Boy)

It seems like a life time ago – Back before there was a Wii or DS that gave Nintendo the ability to buy gold plated islands – They were at a place in the market trying to fight for their position in the games space. Sony was releasing the PlayStation, Sega Saturn was already on store shelves, and the SNES/GameBoy were fading platforms commercially. We’d be a year out from the Nintendo 64 or Pokemon. What they did have up their sleeves was a bold risk to follow up the beloved Tetris playing machine called the Virtual Boy. Chances are you haven’t ever played one, as by the end of it’s incredibly short life it only moved 770,000 units… or less than 5% of what the Wii U has sold at this point.

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