Ever since my dad held me up to a Pole Position cabinet to steer as he worked the pedals, I've been absolutely hooked on games. It just took me 25 years to figure out that I loved writing about them too. I don't have any particular genre biases, I'll play just about anything that involves pressing buttons (that's probably why I shouldn't visit hospitals...). This blog is just the thoughts of a guy who loves games, but is occasionally frustrated when they squander their potential.
In the land before time (the early 90's to be exact), before the Xbox was a twinkle in Bill Gates’ eye and a Playstation sounded more like something you'd shove a screaming toddler into, there was a company named Sega that made an indelible mark on gaming for years to come.
I was a Nintendo zealot at first, as most were during gaming's formative years. That was until a little blue hedgehog with sneakers stepped into the scene and stole my heart away. Ok, I'll be the first to admit it. My little sugar addled, 10 year old mind fell hook line and sinker for Sega's marketing. Nintendos were for babies with their pastel colors and goomba stomping. No it was gritty, realistic games like Streets of Rage and Altered Beast that put hair on your chest. Genesis does what Nintendon't, as they say. On that fateful December night as I peered through the crack of the door as my parents brought in gigantic bags from Toys R Us, only one thought entered my mind: “Santa's getting jacked tomorrow.”
The moment it all changed.
After several stern warnings from the parental units about staying far, far away from their bedroom closet, I devised a scheme to stay home sick from mass the next day and get a peek at my Christmas bounty (sorry God, a gamers gotta do what a gamer's gotta do). As I opened up that bag and saw the words: “Leader of the 16-bit revolution”, I lost it. Ten minutes later in a frenzy of plastic and cardboard, my ill-gotten prize was completely hooked up to the den tv. I slide in the slim black cartridge, flip the power switch, and a heavenly chorus fills the room:SEEEEGAAAAAAA!. It's funny how a simple compressed voice sample can still shake me to my core the same way it did 20 years ago. And thus, a Sega disciple was born. That day I only played for about 30 minutes, still in absolute fear of the repercussions of my dark deed. In the three weeks leading up to Christmas, I came down with a series of mysterious and debilitating illnesses that required me to stay home from school. I ended up beating Sonic the Hedgehog a full week before Christmas, but when the big day finally came I hammed it up and ran around the house thanking the heavens with the Genesis box over my head. No one was the wiser.
The next three years were probably the best in my gaming life. Sonic, Shinobi, Gunstar Heroes, Vectorman, Comix Zone, Ecco, Road Rash, Streets of Rage, the list just goes on and on and on. Sure it may have played a large part in their downfall, but Sega was NEVER afraid to innovate. Who remembers the Sega Channel, the crazily bold and revolutionary precursor to PSN and XBLA? Yes in 1994, 50 games a month could be streamed into your house for the low, low fee of $14.99! Of course not low enough for my parents, but my lucky SOB of a best friend got it, and that is where I practically lived for the next year. Despite these happier times, dark days were ahead.
"Daddy what are those carts doing?" "You see son, when a boy game and a girl game love each other very much..."
The true next generation of systems was coming and after the massive missteps of the 32x and Sega CD, my faith in the home team was fading. The $400 price tag of the Saturn was the last straw and I began saving up for the mysterious newcomer, the Playstation. Caught up in the relentless multimillon dollar hype campaign, and FAR short of the $299 needed with 9/9/95 right around the corner, I did the unspeakable. A deed which I still regret to this day, for which I may never be able to atone. I boxed up my precious Genesis and its cadre of games, and marched down to the neighborhood Funcoland. After hawking the system, 40+ games and a Menacer, the pizza faced cashier handed me $238.56. Yes I remember the exact price of my betrayal, down to the CENT. $238.56! I felt like Judas Iscariot. With a heavy heart and my 30 pieces of silver, I went home looking forward to the great gaming that was to come.
And what great times they were. The PS1 was a groundbreaking console; some of the best gaming I ever had was with that little gray box. Alas, I still had feelings for my old flame. At home I played games like FF7 that changed the landscape of gaming forever. But every time I had a quarter to spare I could be found at the local arcade, plunking my entire allowance into any cabinet with a SEGA decal on the front of it. Daytona, Virtua: Racing, On, Cop, Fighter, Tennis, Crazy Taxi, Dynamite Cop, Sega Rally, House of the Dead…I was broke as hell, but I couldn’t care less. Big Blue still had it.
It was then 1999 and there’s a ton of buzz about a new killer console that’s supposed to put everything else to shame. “128 bits!” The reports shouted. But despite the ongoing love affair I was having at the arcades, I reluctantly passed on the Cinnaboncast to wait for the PS2. That was until that ominous date: 9/9/99. One of my buddies had just picked up a Dreamcast, so our entire gang ran there directly after school to check it out. He pops in Sonic Adventure and proceeds to run through a breathtaking beach paradise while being pursued by a killer whale. It was then that something snaps in my brain. That familiar feeling that washed over me when I took that Genesis out of the shopping bag hits me yet again. This only meant one thing: if I didn’t get a Dreamcast immediately, I would die. I barely remember playing anything else that day save for a little Trickstyle and Ready 2 Rumble, because I was a man on a mission.
Being a fourteen year old with virtually(virtua, get it?…no? screw you guys then) no source of income, I did the only thing I could do. I begged. I pleaded. I bargained. Time after time I was turned down but I wouldn’t take no for an answer. The Sega lust had me completely. I then devised a way that was sure to get a DC under my tree. Hard work, with a heaping side of guilt sauce. For the next two months I was a machine. All my chores? Done before I was asked to do them. Floors: mopped, toilets: scrubbed, laundry: washed, dried and folded. I even started stealing chores from my brother to get brownie points. Being the great brother he was he begrudgingly allowed me to do his share. After those two months the basement and closets looked better then than they ever did the five years we lived there. I was even thinking about painting the house, but I couldn’t afford the damn paint. When Christmas rolled around, I knew I had it in the bag. There was no way I wasn’t getting my Dreamcast…and I was right. Too bad asking for it meant I didn’t get anything else that year, including games. Between the demo disk I played an obscene amount of times and the weekly Soul Calibur tournaments over my bro's house, I was in heaven.
The Dreamcast really was a special console. Four controllers, arcade perfect ports, and most importantly, it brought online gaming to the masses. Fortunately as consoles were entering the internet age, so was I. Between exploring the vast and futuristic world of Ragol in PSO, destroying all comers with my Jaguars in NFL2k1, and discovering the wonders of Napster, it’s a wonder my family got any phone calls through from ’99 -‘02.
And then there was Shenmue, the grandaddy of sandbox games that came out almost 2 years before GTA. Yu Suzuki’s open world epic almost single-handedly sank what was left of the Sega empire. It was said that in order to be successful, every Dreamcast owner would have needed to buy two copies. And goddamn it, they should have. Shenmue was that good. Compared to games today it still holds up very well. As usual, Sega was ahead of their time.
At the turn of the century, forklift simulators were all the rage.
So what am I thankful for? I’m thankful for a game company that was either too crazy or too stupid to know not to compete with the big N. I’m thankful for lazy Saturdays with my brother as we beat Streets of Rage 2 for the 1000th time. I’m thankful for the premature, but still vital Sega CD, which paved the way for all disk based consoles that came after it. I am thankful for the Model 2 board, which powered some of the greatest arcade games of all time. For games like Rez, and Jet Set Radio, which were quirky, stylish, and unbelievably fun. I am thankful for names like Suzuki, Naka, and Koshiro, for making games that are so very dear to my heart.
Thank You Sega, for making me the gamer that I am today.