Sorry Mario, but your Princess isn't in this castle, as per usual
It's easy to forget in this day and age with the internets and the youtubes and the videogame blogs but it used to be really hard to get a sneak peak at videogames before they came out. I'll never forget back in Jr High huddling around a friend's television watching the VHS tape previewing "Donkey Kong Country." The graphics were leaps and bounds beyond anything we had ever seen. However, nothing could prepare our feeble little 16 bit minds for what Nintendo would unleash on us in a few years: 3D gaming!!!! And I'm not talking about the latest 3D gimmicks, I'm talking about the Nintendo 64 and the fact that it sucessfully moved gaming into the 3rd dimension. This is the story of the first time I ever experienced that world.
This kid has no idea what he's in for
Back in early 1996 the schoolyard was abuzz about the imminent launch of the Nintendo 64. We'd seen pictures in magazines and on primitive gaming websites and the fleeting images promised a magical world of polygons to explore. I didn't know what the hell a polygon was I just knew I had to get my hands on some as soon as possible. Luckily I would have an chance to play Super Mario 64 months before it was to be released stateside. That opportunity would be at a traveling videogame expo that gave gamers an opportunity to go hands on with upcoming titles, or in this case, upcoming systems. My friend got wind that the exhibit would be coming to the Pacific Science Center in Seattle and Super Mario 64 would be on display. I knew that my purpose in life was to go there and play Mario's latest adventure before anyone else.
The Pacific Science Center, usually an educational experience for kids' field trips but not today
The day finally arrived, my buddy and I braved the typical Seattle rain and high tailed it to the Seattle Center. I remember weaving my way through the show floor, brushing past kiosks with titles like Crash Bandicoot as I worked towards the centerpiece of the exhibit: Super Mario 64 running in all its glory on a gigantic screen. I'll never forget peeking between cabinets running lesser titles and catching glimpses of Mario running around, jumping on fully 3D Goombas and, *gasp* DID I JUST SEE MARIO BLAST OFF FROM A CANNON!?!?!?!?! Finally we made it to the front of the line, able to experience the glory of Mario in 3D for ourselves.
is an understatement. Gripping the controller, gently nudging the analog stick to move Mario around the screen, pulling off my first triple jump, I felt as though the neurons in my brain were being rearranged. This was the sort of thing we'd dreamed about since we first clutched an NES controller. Nintendo had created a 3D world and it was perfect. It looked perfect, controlled perfectly and was so beautiful I was enthralled simply wandering through the environment. After the initial wow factor I was taken aback by the sheer freedom the game offered. Want to climb to the top of that tree? Go for it! Think you can blast out of this cannon and grab a flagpole? Give it a shot! My few short minutes with the game were not enough, I wanted to live in the 64 bit Mushroom Kingdom. Walking out of there I felt as if my world had truly changed. The Nintendo 64 was going to usher in 3D games that would push the medium towards total immersion.
THE FUN MACHINE, or considering how much sleep it robbed me of it should be called THE CRACK MACHINE
A few months later my buddy got an N64 and we stayed up all night playing Mario 64. It was the first time I can remember being just as happy watching someone else play as when I was in control. Discovering things like the penguin race, flying to the top of the pyramid in Shifting Sands, the first time we grabbed Bowser's tail and flung him out of the ring; it was a transcendent experience. Sure, time has dulled the impact of first playing it but to this day Super Mario 64 has one of the most fully realized 3D environments ever created. The world is so expertly designed I will never get tired of exploring it. With each generation's subsequent upgrade of graphics and control types games are looking and playing closer and closer to real life but nothing again will ever leave me in awe like the first time I popped out of that pipe and took my first tentative steps towards Peach's castle.
Of course, it wasn't ALL perfect