Thursday, January 8, 2009

Tribute to video games - Part 4 Children, GameCubes, and Windows XP

Good grief do I ever talk a lot! When I started this I was thinking 1, maybe 2 posts. Now I'm on part 4? Let us trudge on. I got a Pentium 100. There really isn't much to say about this computer vs. my previous one other than it was faster. My JetFighter jets suddenly went from Mach 1 to Mach 8. The JetFighter game was designed for older, slower computers so the planes now flew a wee bit faster. Almost too fast that you couldn't play it.

Again, I ask, what is a guy to do? Get new games of course. Let's see, I had 2 favorites on this computer. Star Wars: X-Wing was definitely one of them. I didn't like this game at first because the keyboard response was horrible and my old joystick was pretty worn out. It was even more frustrating because you had to qualify in the fighter before you could actually fly it for missions. I couldn't pass the tests because the controls were too sluggish. My oldest younger brother saved the day by getting me a Logitech WingMan II joystick for my birthday or Christmas one year. Thanks Jeremy! The game rocked after that! It was dreadfully hard though. I don't think I ever solved all the missions. I got so far and eventually just gave up because the missions got to be too difficult.

I'm ashamed to say X-Wing got the better of me. It was a great game but just too hard for my meager talents. Awhile later I got a helicopter game called Gunship 2000. I hadn't been much of a helicopter person until that game came along. I'm sure I would get into arguments with military aviators who fly jets for a living. But I have to say flying these Apaches and Cobras is just a little bit more challenging. My high school friend, Craig, who used to fly Apaches for the Army is probably saying. "Duh?" Obviously, I've never done it for real so I totally don't have a clue. I imagine both types of aircraft have their challenges. This was a sweet game! You could fly all manner of rotary-wing craft and had all sorts of missions from search and destroy to rescue. You could fly at night or in the day and all kinds of armament were at your disposal. As you increased in rank you got to command flights so you would go out with 4 other choppers in addition to the one you were in. The highlight was when the silver eagles signifying the rank of full colonel appeared on my uniform. This was the highest rank you could get in the game.

My youngest brother and sister, Brad and Kim, got a Super Nintendo around that time. Jeremy had purchased a game called Double-Dragon for it. Sometimes Brad and Kim would get bored with their Super Nintendo, and though I wasn't bored with my regular Nintendo, I really wanted to play theirs so we'd swap on occasion.

This was kind of a seedy game. The double-dragon's were two street fighting brothers and a rival gang had kidnapped one brother's girlfriend. So the Dragons had to wade through all manner of ugly characters with their fists, feet, and sometimes guns and knives to rescue the girl. What made this game so special was that it was one of the few games that Deanna actually played. Yes, that's right, my sweet innocent wife was a street fighting machine. Deanna is one of those people who just don't understand what is so great about video games. She thinks they are about as exciting as watching paint dry. But she got into this one. I was the blue guy and she was the red one and together we were unstoppable. At least until Jeremy got a Super Nintendo of his own and asked could he please have his game back.

I still have the Pentium 100 system collecting dust in the basement. I had too many good games for it, most of which no longer run on modern computers. I couldn't bear to part with the games so I have to retain the PC so I could still play them if I ever get the urge. Every now and then Deanna, in a cleaning frenzy, asks if I ever plan to turn that thing on again and needs a very gentle reminder why in the world we still have it.

Around this time we had our last child, a boy! Our family was finally complete, at least until we got the fish last Fall, but I must stay on topic. I was getting depressed with my job at the Game & Fish Department. I had applied for a couple different jobs in the department when vacancies got created and was turned down. I had applied elsewhere in the state, and was turned down. I was starting to stagnate and felt I had progressed as far as I could with Game & Fish. Don't get me wrong, this is the best organization I've ever had the pleasure of working for and I loved my job, but I didn't think I would love it so much if I would have had to do the same thing for the next 20 years.

At the time I didn't think I had any alternative but to go back to school for a master's degree in business administration. That seemed to be the resounding factor why I couldn't get the jobs I was applying for. UND has an MBA program through Bismarck State College where you take evening classes through an interactive video network. The instructor is in Grand Forks and teaches a class there as well as in Bismarck and Dickinson through video cameras and microphones. It is really slick for people who want to get advanced degrees and can't leave their full-time jobs.

Unfortunately, for me it was a disaster. After being away from college for so long it was not in my genetic make-up to return. Back then I was teaching night classes myself 2 nights a week and then another night involved going to my class. Don't forget we also had our 2 children by then who need and deserve family time as well. And I was a little naive. My vision of college was listening to lectures, studying, taking tests and doing homework. Graduate school is that plus much research, paper writing, and public presenting. It was too much to handle. I suffered emotions I had never dealt with before. I would wake up with cold sweats in the middle of the night, stressed out over one thing or another, feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness, not knowing when or how things would ever get better. I finished my first (and only) semester class with a 115% but it took pieces out of me I don't think I've ever gotten back.

If I would not have been teaching, I could have done it. The only way I could justify withdrawing from the program was to firmly convince myself I could have completed it if only... But my family and my health were more important. But one good thing that came out of it was a new computer. Through some kind of educational deal, I basically got an interest free loan to purchase a new PC. A Dell Dimension with a Pentium 4 processor and gigabyte of RAM (fairly respectable in 2002, especially considering I was still happily using my Pentium 1 and basically bypassed 2 intel upgrades) I felt a little guilty that I now had a computer originally purchased for educational purposes which was now a game machine, but not too much. I paid for that computer in more ways than dollars.

Again, I had so many great games it's difficult to pick what I liked best. I had a lot of fun with Star Trek: Starfleet Academy. You may have guessed I'm a bit of a Star Wars/Star Trek junkie. I searched high and low for screen shots but couldn't find any that didn't have the website plastered over the picture and I'm a little concerned about copyright issues so you'll have to make do with the box cover. Bear in mind, the images on the computer screen never, ever look like the cover art on the box. But it was great, 5 whopping CD's of cool graphics and music and the joystick given to me by Jeremy was still going strong. I started to have a little bit of trouble and had to break down and buy the strategy guide to go with it. Let the record state that I did successfully complete the game and graduate from the academy WITHOUT using the guide, but did use the guide eventually to get into the secret levels and bonus rounds. At the end of the game Captain Kirk himself offered me his original USS Enterprise he was so pleased with my results.

We also got cable internet for the first time and were able to disconnect the slow dial-up connection, finally. It was a long time coming with that. Now that I had a decent computer and a high-speed internet connection I checked out massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPG's). I used to think it was cool to dial up a buddy's computer and play head to head over the phone. Now you can get on the internet and play with and against thousands of people all over the world. As you might guess, I gravitate towards the space games. Earth and Beyond had just been released and I got a free beta test account. You got to play the game for free for a time before it was released to the public.

Oh my goodness! I had never dreamed graphics and game play could be so much fun. The space scenery and ship designs were truly stunning. This game got me in some trouble. I was playing way too much. I'm ashamed to say at the expense of quality time with my family. Nothing should become more important than your family, least of all a computer game. I did eventually get my act together and put myself on restriction and set limits for my playing time. Something I continue to do to this day. The phrase, "Everything in moderation," seems to come to mind. I'm very mindful of the time I spend gaming and make sure my family understands they will always come first. When they begin to doubt the truth of this statement, I know it's time to shut the computer off. After 2 years Electronic Arts shut the game down. I did mourn its passing, but not too much. It was getting a little stale anyway.

Around this time our kids got the Nintendo GameCube. I am not the type of person that has to run out and buy something the second it's released to the public. I also don't have to buy every version that comes out. After my original Nintendo, there was Nintendo64 and SuperNintendo before the GameCube was released and we didn't bother getting those. Even the gamecube waited until it had been on the market and the prices started coming down. With a little patience you can also get the package deals that include additional controllers and games. Here's a picture of a cube and controller, ours is silver instead of purple.

Easily my favorite game is Mario Kart: Double Dash. You get all the Mario Brothers characters and a cool selection of go-karts and you have races over various locations and terrain. There's also a battle mode where you essentially shoot things at other karts as they are shooting at you but I prefer the all-out racing. The gamecube was a lesson in humility for me as it is the first gaming device we had where the kids were able to beat me at. My excuse is they get to play it a lot more often and therefore get to hone their skills much more than me. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. We've got several other games for the cube, but I've given up even trying to win. But with Mario Karts I can hold my own. That is the best I can achieve playing against kids that have put in so many hours of playing time.

Well, it's 5:00 and my family is awaiting me at Pizza Ranch so I'd better sign off for now. One more installment and I'll close the story on video games. Thank you, my dear readers, for putting up with this not so interesting topic.


Steve at Random said...

At first I was going to write something like, "Gee, Randy, your family history can be categorized by the computer games you were playing." But really, that's no different from my family. My wife and I were on our honeymoon when the Kansas City Royals were playing the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. My family was in Alabama when the New York Yankees were playing the San Diego Padres, etc.

randymeiss said...

I know many people aren't interested in video games so I thought adding my family history would help ease the monotony a bit. We all have to have our hobbies, one of mine happens to be video games.

Ar Vee said...

Randy I have only played a couple nintendo games but I have confused these.I said Mario,with the horse guy but I think now it was The Legend of Zelda.I'll try to give you a link I found but it may come to you in several parts. couldn't get the picture to play on my computer at school,but if I could I think it would show me how to beat the horse.Anyway that explains why you have not seen it on Mario.

randymeiss said...

I know the Legend of Zelda games are hugely popular but I've never had the pleasure of playing those. I kind of got stuck in the Mario world and never saw any reason to leave. I'm impressed that you have actually played both. It sounds like you've at least got more gaming experience than your random brother.

Steve at Random said...

Contrare, Pierre...I've no entered the world of Wii. Belinda and Scott bought the game last night. I'm suffering from Wii shoulder today. Too much tennis, baseball and bowling. The funny thing about the Wii people is they no arms...just bodies and hands.

randymeiss said...

Congratulations on your new Wii! I had to laugh after people at work started coming back after Christmas limping or rubbing their shoulders all of them claiming Wii injuries. The worst I've ever had with our games is sore thumbs. Make sure you hang on to that stick. I wish I could remember the website showing pictures of busted TV's, broken windows, and holes in the sheetrock because that controller got away from them and really damaged something. I do recomend the Mario go Karts with the steering wheel. That game looks like a gas. I wish you many hours of fun. You'll have to let me know what grandpa thinks of the thing.

Steve at Random said...

If you look up "Will it blend" on the Internet, you will find a funny video of a man using a blender to disintegrate a Wii controller that his Uncle Leo was using without a strap. It's a funny video but all the "Will it blend" videos are pretty funny. As for Grandpa...we tried to get him to "box" using the Wii's but he said he gave it up 30 years ago. This has been kind of a sad day for us, though, as I took Grandpa to the doctor today and the prescribed some medicine for his heart. It's starting to enlarge,which means its working to hard. However, the medicines are supposed to reduce the stress on his heart so hopefully will help. Dad didn't feel good this morning and had no appetite for breakfast. However, he's felt better this evening and ate a good supper.

Steve at Random said...

Hey, Randy....time for a new post.

BismarckMandanBlog said...

This is where we part ways, videogamically speaking. I did get a P200 computer when Mac hit its slump, and got some cheapie games for it, but never really treated it as a game machine. When EA released MotoRacer and I found I could continue roadracing during the winter from my desk, I played that. But that was about the end of the gaming. Up until that point I'd done some beta testing for various Macintosh game companies, which was fun because I hacked the games I was testing...but around this time I ceased being a "gamer."