Now that the gaming industry has been around for a couple decades, we have moved past the original state of games being a niche hobby. Gaming has gone from being something on the nerd level of Dungeons and Dragons to being the biggest media format in the world. Our once modest hobby is now run by huge corporations all vying for our entertainment dollars. In my time spent visiting Destructoid, I canít help but notice how differently each of us view this industry. I attribute this diversity in thought to the fact that each of us took up our gamepad during different eras of gaming. Weíve had both shared and personal experiences with our consoles of choice, but we all take something away from the hobby that is unique to each of us. Iím coming up on my thirtieth birthday this month, and am in the mood to do some strolling down my own personal videogame memory lane. If youíd like to join me, read on.
My first console was the Atari 2600. It was 1983, I was three years old, and it was my mother who purchased the system for herself. Little did she know that that one entertainment decision would color the rest of her sonís life. Something to note about the Atari gen is that first off, wood paneling was intrinsic to home electronics for some reason, as were poorly functioning toggle switches. The 2600 had a bunch of switches that really didnít do anything, except make you feel like a spaceship captain whenever you booted up Pitfall. Itís also funny to note that it used the old fork style connectors to plug into the tv, so if you want to do any retro gaming on an Atari, you better have a 70s/80s era tv. The Atari had tons of games, many of them good. Games like Circus Atari, Chopper Command, Missile Command, Moon Patrol, The Smurfs, Pitfall, Space Invaders, and many more that are long forgotten to me. It also had plenty of crappy arcade ports, such as Pac-man and Donkey Kong. The greatest thing about the Atari was itís ease of play. You had a joystick and one button, so it was never that tough to figure out how to play a game. You usually could figure out your objective quickly and get right to work, keyword being usually. As the Atari aged, the videogame glut of the 80ís took over. Games were coming out that didnít actually work, and it was very buyer beware. I remember going over to my grandmaís to play her Atari (she had way more games than us), and finding a new copy of ET in her game box. I had seen the movie, of course, and got really excited. Upon turning the machine on, I found a game where you fall in holes, get chased by the FBI, and stretch ETís neck. I spent hours over multiple play sessions to try and figure out how to play that game. Not how to beat it, which isnít possible, but how to play it. Iíll save you the description, but that game was the first time I realized it was possible for a game to be unplayable. I suppose itís only fitting that I learned that lesson through the most famous crap game there ever was. As a retro enthusiast, Iíd say that the Atari gen was a really rad time, but itís also an era that doesnít really stand the test of time. Only a few of the games weathered the ages very well, and you probably wonít be throwing any Atari gaming parties any time soon. In short, you had to be there.
After the Atari debacle and the gaming crash, I was around five. I had no idea that gaming was over, so I was still jamming the old wood box, broken toggle switches and all. Well, until my grandma purchased the NES, and the golden era of gaming commenced. To say that the NES was more advanced than the Atari is an enormous understatement. It was rare for an Atari title to even have a scrolling background, and usually the gamescreen was just a black backdrop. The NES had full fledged gaming worlds that contained colorful graphics and cool characters. The first time booting up Super Mario Bros, was a landmark event for me. It was literally the moment that I decided that videogames were going to be my thing for life. Also, instead of seeing the console age poorly, we saw the games get progressively better. We went from SMB, to Metroid, to Zelda, to Punchout!... and the list goes on and on. Along with the history making games that Nintendo produced, we had companies like Capcom, Tecmo, and Konami making games that rivaled the quality Nintendo. It wasnít like today, where we all know that Nintendo is unmatched in quality by the third parties. No, all the games were on an even playing field, and great games were made by many small companies. I understand that for those of you that didnít live it, the NES might seem like a rather simple system. You might not understand what all of the hubbub is about, but this is the reason why we aged gamers look back so fondly on the gaming days of yore. There were more games to play than we had time for. I made it a point to trade games with all of my friends, trying to be sure I had played all the greats. Ducktales, Bionic Commando, Battletoads, Batman, Contra, Megaman, Ninja Gaiden, and the list goes on. I had a collection of around 30 games, which was probably about average for my friends, and Iím still finding great NES games to this day. It also must be noted that Super Mario Bros. 3 was the biggest moment of the generation. The hype for this title was like no other. We knew about it months in advance, and were all foaming at the mouth for it. We didnít know what to expect from on the gameplay side of things, as the game wasnít marketed with screenshots. It was a secret that we were all dying to find out, how were they going to change Mario this time. The game launched, and everyone bought it. We all had the shared experience in World 1-1 where you said, ďHoly shit, Mario can fly?!? This changes everything.Ē And it did. I spent the next year of my life memorizing that game. I beat it for time, 100% completion, and every other way you can imagine. The game was EPIC. For me, no other gaming event compares to SMB3. It was the pinnacle of gaming during the golden age of games. I wish that all of you new school gamers could go back and experience that moment, because gaming hasnít ever been as awesome as it was when Mario learned to fly.
This brings us to the 16 bit era. The time when shit got real and Nintendo no longer ruled gaming with an iron fist. At this point, my father decided that he wasnít going to fund my gaming habit any longer. I didnít own my first SNES until after graduating high school. That being said, Iím kind of glad that I didnít get a SNES, because it meant that Iíd get a little more time with those great NES games. I did get to play plenty of games for both Genesis and SNES, of course. My friends kept up on the console side of things. I actually played more Genesis than anything that gen, being as my best buddy of the time had a Genesis before the SNES came out. Now at that time, Sega was positioning themselves as the alternative for older, more mature gamers (sound familiar?). For me, this was a bunch of BS, Sonic was (and still is) a one trick pony, and games like Altered Beast were just crap in my eyes. I was drooling over Super Mario World. Not only did they make nice changes to the flying mechanic, but they included effing dinosaurs, dude! I pretty much remained a Nintendo only gamer until one game changed my mind, Street Fighter 2. Now, at this time there was a resurgence of arcade games in America, arcades were big business. If you went to your local arcade, you were guaranteed to find greasy haired dudes wanting to rid you of your quarters on this game. It was a phenomenon. When SF2 hit consoles, there was a glaring problem, the controls. This is a problem that has plagued us to this day. How do you make six button controls work on a SNES pad? In my mind, you donít. Enter the Genesis six button controller. This was the deal breaker for us at the time, which console was going to play SF2, and later on, Mortal Kombat with the most ease. Not only did the Genesis have better controls for these fighting games, but they also allowed for blood in their titles, which made them much cooler than their SNES counterparts. With the advantage of hindsight, Iím able to say that the Genesis and the SNES were about equal in quality titles. Genesis had the SNES beat hands down for fighting games, but also had a better version of Shadowrun, as well as the Mutant League games (Football and Hockey). The SNES had great titles like Metroid, Zelda, Punchout!, as well as the late gen stuff and rpgs. This is why Iím kind of glad that I didnít actually own either system back then, as I wouldnít have had the balanced perspective without all that time spent on my palís Genesis.
Since I had no 16 bit system by this point, my attention kind of moved on to different types of games altogether. I was dabbling with D&D and Magic, and getting away from electronic games. Until, that is, I heard about the N64. Now everybody knows that the 64 is a machine that doesnít have many great games, but at that time, the possibilities were mind boggling. A machine with 64 bits? It had to be awesome. It just so happened, that Nintendo launched the machine (without a game, boo!) close to my birthday, and I was able to convince pops to hook me up. Just like everyone else, my mind was blown by Mario 64. Then, again like everyone else, I waited another year to play a good game. The 64 was easily the biggest disappointment in my personal gaming history. A system with loads of potential that we didnít get to see until far too late in itís existence. I also got to play all the greats that came out for the Playstation, as everyone I knew had one, and later two or three as the original PS1ís were apt to die off (something that recurred with the PS2). This is when gaming made another huge change, kiddy games were out, and polished cg games were in. Sony built their system on games like Final Fantasy 7, Cool Boarders, Tomb Raider, Metal Gear Solid, and GTA. Sure they had their Parapas and Crashes, but Playstation was the time of adolescence in gaming. It was about games that were scary or hardcore, but not cute. I really didnít get on that bandwagon. I wondered why youíd want to play games on a system that was so far behind graphics wise, and I couldnít grasp how people could be satisfied with the incredibly poor controller Sony offered. Really, a SNES controller with a wonky d pad that youíre supposed to play 3dish games with? To this day I canít get down with the sony gamepad. Back on point, just because I didnít understand the new Sony crowd, didnít mean that I wouldnít try out the games. I am, afterall, a gamer who enjoys games, not just Nintendo games, but games in general. I spent the endless hours needed to nearly 100% FF7, only skipped beating the Ruby Weapon. I had the experience of nearly shitting my pants when those damn dogs busted through the window in Resident Evil. Those moments are important, and are certainly landmark achievements. That being said, the N64 brought something new to the game. Analogue controls brought new possibilities for the industry. Even though it took forever to get any games on the damn thing, the last cart based console did happen to blow my mind with a few games. Mario and Zelda, of course, but Goldeneye really became the must have game. Shooters were only on PCs at the time (Doom being the standout title), so for many, this was their first experience with the FPS genre. It was, very much so, the beginning of gaming as we know it today. So, although no one really wants to go back and play the ďclassicĒ games of the 32/64 bit generation, that doesnít mean that it wasnít an important time in the development of the industry.
I could go on to talk about last gen, but I donít see the need. If you want to know what it was all about, you can visit any gaming store that sells used games. Titles from last gen are still plentiful. In the end, I hope this piece has been able to convey some of the experience of one veteran gamer. Maybe give those of you who didnít start gaming until later generations, a better idea as to the perspective of us old guys. When thinking back, Iíve got to say that Iím really glad to have been able to see the games industry from such an early time in itís development. As a person that hasnít ever really seen the point of most popular art, videogames keep me looking to the future and what could be. What sort of high tech device will be developed next? How will the next big game change the way I think about my favorite hobby? Videogames have always been exciting and I suppose thatís why we all devote large portions of our paychecks to our highly engaging pastime. Now if you donít mind, Iím off to fill the rest of my Sunday with the hobby Iíve kept with me my whole life, videogames.