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10:18 PM on 05.18.2010

Feels Like The First Time

The inspiration for this article came from my most recent nostalgia trip; I've been playing a lot of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night lately, and it made me think about what I like in my Castlevania games. Technically (even though I've got a PS1 copy of the game), SOTN is not a nostalgia trip for me, as I never played it until 2008, and that tells you something right off the bat.

This game took both my DS and Castlevania virginity

I started playing Castlevania with the (in my opinion) quite excellent first DS outing, Dawn of Sorrow. I had no background in Castlevania otherwise, minus I believe one run-in with the N64 game, and I didn't even recall that as being Castlevania until years later. I got my DS... well, right when Dawn of Sorrow came out. I was still in my hardcore Nintendo phase, believing everything the company pumped out was gold, and after seeing stellar reviews for Dawn of Sorrow all over the place, finally saved up the dough to purchase the handheld and game. As I spent many a night huddled under the blankets playing on a backlit screen (truly, the greatest thing ever to happen to gamers with a curfew), I fell in love with the game. The maze-like castle, with its twists and turns, in addition to the gorgeous sprites, and slick weapons and magic, this, this all made for a wonderful experience.

When Portrait of Ruin came out a few years later, I picked it up on Day 1, ready to reenter Dracula's Castle and be whisked away to grimy dungeons and obnoxious (but fun!) clock towers. However, what I got was not what I expected. There were different worlds I was transported to. The dual character thing was something I was okay with (hey, every game has to have a gimmick, right?), but the titular portraits threw me for a loop. I had read about how this was a harkening back to "old Castlevania," and the idea of stages. I still enjoyed Portrait of Ruin, but I longed for something like Dawn of Sorrow.

Such a quality bundle

I picked up all the GBA games shortly thereafter, and enjoyed them all thoroughly. The idea of one large castle... I liked that. The differences in gameplay between the three were all acceptable, though I preferred Aria of Sorrow the most, naturally. The years passed, and eventually I got a PS2 and subsequently bought Symphony of the Night. The level design in that game (not to mention the music, which is some of the best game music ever, in my opinion), was phenomenal, and that's probably now my favorite Castlevania.

Later that year (2008), Order of Ecclesia dropped for the DS, but I, being in college, took a while to get it. When I finally got down to it, I found that I didn't like Ecclesia. It wasn't the difficulty, because I'd had no problem grinding the hell out of Dawn of Sorrow, but I realized it was the world map system. I like having every part accessible to me from one large area. Stick a few warp points in there for maximum effect, but don't make a ton of little tiny areas. At least Portrait of Ruin's levels had substance and flare, these areas were all just the same bland "gloomy (insert locale here)." When I finally got to Dracula's Castle, it was a massive breath of fresh air, but not enough to save the game in my eyes.

Virtual Console, you are a god

The old Castlevanias, regrettably, don't click for me the same way the "Metroidvanias" do. They might as well be a completely separate series, which I understand is a popular viewpoint in general, but for me, it's also an inferior series. A good one, sure, but not as good as the Metroidvanias. And lord, don't even get me started on those 3D games. I've wondered about this for a while, and now I think I know why I have this viewpoint.

It's all about the first time. I think that really sets the tone for us as players. I'm this way about Castlevania. My brother thinks that Battle Network is the best Mega Man series (though he appreciates, plays, and enjoys the old-school games and 9 and 10 as well), because his first Mega Man game was Battle Network 3. I have friends who think Ocarina of Time and subsequent 3D Zeldas are the best because they played OoT first, and I have friends who think 3D Dot Game Heroes is the first "real" Zelda game we've gotten since The Minish Cap, because they played the original Legend of Zelda on the NES first. That first time makes such a dramatic impact on us. We evolve as gamers, sure, but that first time, I've found, leaves a lasting impression on how we view a long-running series.   read

12:14 AM on 05.09.2010

Community: Or, How I Learned To Stop Hatin' And Enjoy The Ride

I like to think I know a thing or two about communities. Key words there are "I like to think." We can't actually say for sure what makes any community tick, because a community could mean tremendously different things to any given individual. I may be in a community for competition, while someone else could be in it for friendship. While there are certainly individuals who overlap in their interests, not everyone does. Communities are very interesting things. If you'll let me, I'd like to share some stories and thoughts about the communities I've been a part of in my life. I'm not going to mention anything outright by name, but hopefully you'll get the gist of what I'm driving at.

Yes, I'm one of these

The first real group I identified with in high school (which is the arbitrary point in time I've decided constitutes the beginning of my real social development) was the anime club. I'd dabbled in anime and Japanese culture before, courtesy of a friend who was a rabid Gundam fan, but I'd never really "explored" the whole deal. When I did start exploring, though, I liked what I was finding. My first real anime "love" was Neon Genesis Evangelion, but my first exposure to serious fandom was through Naruto. Commence your judging. I was in high school, I loved big breasts, explosions, and, being a guy who got trashed on, loved to see the underdog win the fight.

I decided, my freshman year of high school, to attend the local anime convention. It was rather large for the time, and has grown even more since, but that was my first real "exposure" to the community. It was also where I first learned what I wanted out of it. I was doing cosplay that year, and it helped me realize something. I don't want to be an active participant in the anime community the way some people are. I'm content to be a "keyboard warrior" when it comes to that community. The next two years of conventions solidified that. I simply don't enjoy being surrounded by my fellow anime fans. I love an argument about anime. Anime is one of those things that I just enjoy arguing about. Intellectually, of course, I've moved past Naruto (though it did take about two years). Religious undertones, political jabs, social commentary, that's my jam. Moeblob garbage? Don't want nothing to do with that. And since I've found that the moeblob and generic-shonen fans are the ones who turn out in droves for the conventions, I've ceased to enjoy the large crowds associated with anime cons. I long for what I originally came into my high school anime club for. I want a small group of people that I'm close friends with, not people who run up to me demanding a photo. I want to be able to laugh, have an argument, and, maybe once in a blue moon, pop in Urotsukidoji. Just for laughs.

And yes, I played this

Being a weeaboo, WoW was of course not my MMORPG of choice. Ragnarok Online was. And what was interesting about this was that I separated the two communities. While I was into anime for casual friendships (bro moments, if you will) and arguments, I was into RO for serious relationships and venting. Back in the day, I would never call up one of my anime friends to vent, but I would instead take my complaints to the server forums. There, people really "understood" me, they were also angsty teens with problems. They were MY PEOPLE.

As such, I wanted to be the best I could. As the Heavy would say, I wanted to be "credit to team." I would put in tremendous amounts of hours to achieve the next level (I tended to play on fairly low-rate servers), and at one point, my grades began sagging because I was putting off (and not completing) my homework for the sake of Ragnarok. While I'm willing to sever a relationship if it gets too bad, I do want to do the best I can while I'm in that relationship, and for whatever reason, I considered RO to be more important than a "normal" relationship. It was something I was fierce about, and when all my (IRL) friends gave me a ton of crap for my obsession, I would fire back that at least my RO friends would listen to my problems and help me through. Ironically, several of my friends offered the same service, but I turned them down flat every time.

Eventually, I got fed up with Ragnarok. My aforementioned scrub nature kicked in, and when my effort ceased to pay off during the guild wars, I ceased to play. I was briefly lured back during college, when a group of my friends and I all played on the same server, but even that lasted only about a semester, before I dropped it. Why? Well, as Jay-Z would say, I had 101 problems. Moving on.

Disclaimer: I was never, and will never be as good as that man

Music has, and always will be my biggest love. Sorry gaming! As a saxophonist since fourth grade, and a pianist from kindergarten to fourth grade, I've always been enamored by music. Classical and jazz were my two biggest loves back in the day, and still are to a tremendous degree. That said, I was a huge band geek in high school. I was in band for a number of reasons, the biggest being simply that I loved doing it, but I was also in it because I enjoyed the company of my bandmates.

I've always found true appreciators of music to be some of the most intelligent people around. And these are the people I enjoy hanging out with. I surrounded myself in high school with other "bandies," most of whom also happened to be anime and gaming nerds. We would spend most of our time together (when I wasn't playing Ragnarok), and they were the closest friends I had. That being said, I guess the only thing I wanted out of the music community, and still want, is friendship. If you like and play music for serious, we need to hang out. We need to talk music, we need to just chill together and listen to some albums, and after that, we'll hit up Dairy Queen (or your preferred local ice creamery) and eat ice cream outside while listening to tunes from the car.

We are going to be FRIENDS. Not just bros, not acquaintances, FRIENDS.

This sums up most of the social gaming I did in high school

Outside of the internet, I gamed a lot as well. I spent most of my time in the later years of high school at a mom and pop game store nearby, and to this day, some of the people I met there are my best friends. This was interesting as a community, because it presented something new to me. I'll get that out of the way first.

Competition. Now, I'd never gone back to a place just to compete before. But man, did I want to win those Guitar Hero tournaments. Now, scrub nature kicked in eventually, and once the game switched to Guitar Hero III and everyone kept throwing out DragonForce and Raining Blood, I quit the scene, but that was a big reason for me coming back at first. Since matches were close, I didn't have to "train," but could just keep playing casually, the way I was always playing Guitar Hero. Luckily, Guitar Hero and Rock Band work such that by simply playing something over and over again, you get better and better at it. With other games, you might have to start adding new strategies and plans, but with those games, the goal is simple: hit more notes. Nowadays, I'm in gaming a little bit for competition again, as I find it gives me drive. I'm also training for the sake of training now, too. Interesting how we progress.

Eventually, I stopped going for the competition and started going because I just enjoyed the company of the people there. When I'm going to a store or event in person, I like to get to know who I'm playing with. Maybe we'll become good friends. Certainly a possibility.

Online communities are slightly different. Since everyone comes from all over the place, it's much harder to meet up in person (although next time DToidNewEngland does some in MA, I'm there), and that creates a bit of a distance for me, I think. What with the fiasco that was RO back in the day, I'm less willing to spill my personal problems and issues all over the internet for "strangers," and I find I'm in the community for people I can just "hang" with. People who are here to just play games and shoot the breeze all casual-like. And you know what? Sometimes that's exactly what I need to chill out. Some dudes (and gals!) just taking it easy and playing some games together.

YOU GUYS! (I guess US GUYS, actually?)

So what does that mean about Destructoid? Destructoid is a little interesting, because on the one hand, here I am talking OPINIONS and GETTING SERIOUS with you guys. On the other hand, I just said gaming's about chilling and the occasional competition. So I guess... I'm really not sure yet. I'm definitely looking for some of that competition and chill, heck, that's why I'm in the PS3 Fight Club, and why I participated in my first FNF last Friday. But at the same time... I'm looking for a little bit of what I got into anime for. That argumentative aspect. Destructoid seems like an intelligent group of folks, and I love to read the CBlogs and hear your opinions. The comments are some of my favorite things to read on front page articles. I love the way we can discuss things together, and I'm looking forward to seeing where else this community takes me. Unless it's out back behind the barn. I'd rather not go there, thanks.   read

4:55 AM on 05.04.2010

Growing Up Scrubby

I've always been a gamer. Since I was a kid, I knew it was something I loved doing, and it's still probably my largest past time to the day. When I was a tiny little thing, I played a lot of single player games, like Super Mario Land. When I was at friend's houses, I played a lot of multiplayer games, and I usually won. I would then proceed to talk some serious trash. We'd laugh, have good times, and this pattern carried on through high school.

Then I got to college, and was promptly taught just how much of a scrub I am.

Me and the rest of my ilk.

Y'see, when I was gaming, I was playing casually. I was never one to put serious effort into my multiplayer. For me, multiplayer was something where you took the easiest route to victory, and made it as quick as possible. Single player was where the real action was. That was the real time-investor, the real reason I bought a game. Multiplayer was always an afterthought. Something I wanted to win at, to be sure, but not something I was willing to put real time into winning at.

While it was great at the time, I realize now that my multiplayer patterns were not for the best. Since I grew up with kids who gamed considerably less than I did, it was understandable that I would have the advantage. What I failed to realize at the time was the larger scale. I thought I was a good Duck Hunt player because I was the best Duck Hunt player in the neighborhood. I did not realize that most people could successfully shoot way more than five ducks per round, because I'd never seen it happen. This was just the beginning.

In elementary school, Mortal Kombat was our fighter of choice. None of us had had any previous experience playing fighters, so when I by chance happened to discover how to freeze people with Sub-Zero, I was instantly the boss. No one could counter my deadly freeze-into-uppercut barrage. Again, I thought I was a master of Mortal Kombat. I could not pull off any Fatalities, but since none of my friends could either, I figured that they were something only the most elite of the elite could do.

And that was the thing. I never pinned myself to be "the best in the world." I've always known that someone better is out there. I just never realized how far down on the totem pole I really am. My first experience with this was in high school, and it was all about two games: Guilty Gear XX #Reload, and Garou: Mark of the Wolves.

This was my main. That tells you something.

Smash Bros. Melee was big in my school, but I was never a Melee fan. I was, and still am, a pretty big weeaboo, so I went straight for the anime fighters. Guilty Gear was the first one I went for, as there was a PC version... available in some form. I got thrashed by I-No at the end of the single player, and decided thereafter that I would only play Guilty Gear with friends during our lunch breaks. It was a popular thing to do, and I trashed on just about everyone with my Stun Edge abuse and low sweeps.

Except for one friend of mine, who was above me in every possible way when it came to fighters. He would thrash me continuously, and I was lucky to win a single round against the guy, much less a full game. I accepted that I was not the best in the town at fighting games anymore. It took me back a bit. Here I was, thinking I was the biggest hotshot gamer in town, and I had been shut down by a guy I had never played until just recently.

Now, most people would take this and realize "Wow, there must be a lot of people out there who are better than me. Guess I'm not as good as I thought." Not me. My thoughts were "Wow, he must be one of the elite! I know I'm not there yet, but I'm still pretty darn good." Yep, still thinking small world. Later on, I would play Garou with him as well, and he destroyed me in that too. I had the same thought process, since I could still beat just about everyone except him.

Fast forward a few years to my freshman year of college. I've been playing Guitar Hero since Guitar Hero 1 came out, and my campus throws a Guitar Hero tournament, on GH3. I win, but just barely. The final song is DragonForce, and my ability to altstrum consistently defeats my opponents ability to hit short little hammeron patterns. I again think I am a hotshot. In fact, I think I'm so hot I'm gonna take my skills to the online world. Boy howdy, did I learn something here.

Terrifying Expert players since 2008

In my first match online in Rock Band 2, I went up against some dude. He got first pick. He picked Visions. I was annihilated. At the time, I couldn't even pass Visions in solo quickplay. My delusions that it was something only "the best of the best" could do were proved wrong when I found out that all the guys I had played in that tournament could also pass Visions. One of my best friends could pass Visions. Suddenly, there were A LOT of people better than me at video games.

And I know exactly why. It was because I fell into the biggest scrub problem out there as a kid.

I didn't want to learn.

I never needed to. I won most of the time, and the times I didn't... psh, that's one exception, it doesn't count. It was some terrible thing that had been reinforced over time. I could put the bare minimum into my gaming effort and get a desired result. And rather than push myself to be all I could be, I was content with that bare minimum for about 16 years of my life. But that's changed since college started.

Today, I can look back at the way I behaved when I was younger, grimace, and realize that I've got a lot of catching up to do. Only now, I'm willing to work hard for it. I'm willing to practice. I'm willing to learn.


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