As I mentioned yesterday, it is difficult to discuss the future without relying heavily on the past for inspiration. After blogging about this issue, I spent a few minutes today contemplating my own history in relation to video games. Everyone has their stories about what influenced them to follow after their dreams, mine is no different except that it is completely different and original. Other than that fact, exactly the same as everyone else.
For me, video games were a part of my life from a young age. I still remember when I got my Atari on my birthday with a full treasure trove of games. I was turning six, and I knew very little about video games at the time. I had played a little at my cousin’s house, but that was it. Having my own Atari was a dream come true (even if my mom did get it for me out of a bargain bin at Big Lot’s when the original Nintendo was just starting to gain ground). I had never seen such an amazing piece of equipment in my entire life. My brother and I were addicted. We explored the outer reaches of space in Asteroids. We saved my ape of a father in Donkey Kong Jr. We fought off evil aliens in Galaga (which I mispronounced until I was married as “Guh-lag-uh” instead of the proper pronunciation which sounds more like the word galaxy). We failed to protect our planet from a robot invasion in Robotron 2084 (finally learned how to play that game from Game Informer Magazine a couple months back). And we got completely confused playing Qbert (seriously, did anyone really expect little kids to have a clue in that game).
From my time with Atari, there are two games which stand out to me above all others for completely different reasons. /The first game was my earliest in depth introduction to the world of cooperative play in the form of Mario Brothers. For those of you who haven’t played this game before, this game featured both Mario and Luigi in what is assumed to be the sewers. Players must work together to defeat turtles, crabs, and wasps by flipping them upside down from below and the kicking them off the level. The game design was simple and repetitive, but that is what made it great. Years later, this game made a reappearance on Super Mario Allstars for the SNES by way of the updated “Battle Mode” on Mario 3.
I spent hours playing Mario Brothers with my own brother, Tim. It was as though the game’s designers had intended for the two of us specifically to own the game. Tim always took the form of Mario while I controlled a pixelized Luigi. I am still unsure whether Luigi’s name was known publicly at this point. Together, we were an unstoppable force in cleaning up the sewers. Nothing could stop us, well, nothing except the fireball which randomly appeared or my mom yelling for us to come to dinner. And even dinner was only a brief pause (which was actually a button on the console you had to push instead of today’s fancy start buttons). Tim and I always managed to plow through dinner like one of the Mario Brothers destroying an upturned enemy. Once we had both finished eating, we started communicating to each other across the dinner table. We developed a very complex code of hand signals so that we could inform the other of our intention to go to the basement which housed that old TV and, once again, save the sewers. Mario Brothers, with its basic design, lit a passion in my heart for true cooperative video gaming.
While the influence that Mario Brothers had on my life cannot be overstated, it still manages to pale in comparison to another game. My fondest memories from my days with Atari revolve around a simple little game called Food Fight. It may not have seemed like much of a game, but this game is what made me truly fall in love with gaming. The premise was simple: you moved your character around the screen to the goal while avoiding angry chefs who tried to stop you. You could fight off the chefs by throwing food that you had picked up which would knock them away from you. The idea of getting to throw virtual food was definitely appealing and tons of fun in action, but the enjoyment did not stop at that. The goal that I spoke of was no ordinary goal. It was ice cream. Who doesn’t love ice cream? My excitement was present from the first moment that the game instructed me to “Eat the Cone, Player 1.” The first time I saw this and followed through on the instructions, I was hooked permanently. But that was just the start.
While I struggled a little at first, I was quickly able to master the controls and become an elite ice-cream-cone eater. As my skill level increased, I was able to achieve something unheard of in my brief history of video gaming: an instant replay. It was a magnificent moment as I saw all my exploits from the last level replayed on screen as I relaxed for a moment. The only thing that made these moments better were when the replay wasn’t able to contain my entire playtime on the level and the character simply stopped part of the way through. While some people may have been disappointed by this development, I saw it as the highest compliment as I must have been better than the game was capable of displaying. This just served to inspire my obsession further.
By far, my most memorable moment with Food Fight came over the course of a single day. I had nothing else to do that day, no school, no church, no family obligations. I started playing early that day by myself in the downstairs living room. At first, I was just playing for fun, but, over time, my true goal began to materialize. As the three digit level counter rolled across 100, I began to realize that the ultimate level of 999 would be within my reach. No evil chefs could stop my, they were simple fodder for my achievement. I achieved numerous replays that day as I ate the cones, and the numbers began climbing through 200, 300 and 400. Around level 500 hundred, my mom came downstairs and told me that I had to come to dinner. No matter how much I protested, she insisted I came and ate right then. I had never been more thankful for that simple pause button on the console itself. After dinner, the numbers seemed to climb even quicker until I had achieved the ultimate goal of level 999. I can still remember playing that level and not knowing what would happen next. As I ate the cone for the 999th time, I watched as the level simply stayed 999 while I could keep playing. While this may have been disappointing for some, I reveled in the glory while I played level 999 over and over until my parents made me go to bed. It was glorious; I had achieved mastery of Food Fight. My love for video games was full blown during these Atari years. There was no turning back.