We’ve been playing Left 4 Dead for a few days now. As usual when we get into a game, we pretty much immerse ourselves in it until we finish. And by immerse, I mean we’ve been talking about nothing but zombies for four days. And we’ve played so much that when I got to work today and encountered a crazy little lady in the parking lot, my first thought was “I startled the witch!”
The best thing about Left 4 Dead, as with most games Todd and I play together, is the cooperative play. It’s fun to work together, help each other out, save each other’s lives. But playing together has also pointed out our glaring gaming differences.
I’m ten years older than Todd. This never, ever comes into play in our relationship except for when we are playing video games. I’m a gamer of the 80′s, an adventurer. He’s a gamer of the 90′s, a killer. I grew up on Zork and Zelda and I need to investigate every room, look in every corner and turn over everything I can. You never know where a secret door may be or when you’ll find something important underneath a garbage pail. Todd grew up on Mortal Kombat and Total Carnage. He shoots first. And second. And third. My gaming instincts tell me when to open a door or go up the stairs. His instincts tell him when to get into shooting stance.
Which brings me to thinking about my history with video games and how one game led me to where I am today.
Atari’s Adventure. It was simplistic and crude, but it thrilled me nonetheless. The thrill of slaying the dragon/duck, searching for keys, opening doors, finding the chalice – I had never played anything like it before. It had all the makings of one of those fairy tale adventures I loved so much when I was young. Well, minus the prince and the knights, but I had a good imagination. The best thing about the game was finding the Easter egg.
Select game 2 or 3 and enter the maze in the Black Castle. Move screen to the left of the first maze screen. At the bottom center of this room is a closed cubicle. Use the bridge to enter that area and collect the “dot”. Carry this item to the screen just above the catacombs, located one screen down and to the right of the Gold Castle. Note: The “dot” is the same color as the ground outside, so care must be taken not to lose it in transit. Drop the “dot” here, and bring two other items onto the same screen. Move through the line on the right side of the screen to view the programmer credits.
There were also little quirks like different ways to get around the bat or make it so the dragon can’t eat you. And really, was there anything more terrifying than the noise the game made when that dragon tried to chomp down on you?
I dreamed about Adventure. I played it in my head. And I thought how cool it would be if they would expand the game because I wanted more. More dragons to slay, more treasure to find, more quirks to discover.
Enter Nintendo. I clearly recall sitting in my living room one night with my sister Lisa, watching the Olympics. We saw a commercial for the Nintendo and made up our minds right there that we had to have one. An hour later, we were at the Video Vault buying ourselves a Nintendo.
I don’t remember how long we played for. I know our eyes probably glazed over at some point and thumbs were aching and our asses had gone numb, but we were hooked.
I described Super Mario Bros. as Adventure times infinity. It had all the magic of Adventure – the quest, the hero, the villains, the scrolling from screen to screen as you tried to find your way around. But it was so much more. It was that expansion I was looking for. More worlds. More hidden features. More surprises. You never knew what would happen next. Would this brick bring a star or a mushroom? What will happen if I crouch down on this pipe? You can go up into the clouds!! Every time you played, there was something else to find, another clever trick or hidden surprise.
And the graphics! No more was I running from a pixelated dragon! Everything was so well defined. The colors were plentiful, the characters had real shapes..this is the stuff I had been dreaming of!
It was not all about gaming, either. It was about life lessons.
“Thank you Mario! But our princess is in another castle!” That was awesome. That, my friends, is how you learn coping skills. That’s how you learn to handle disappointment. Put your kids in front of Super Mario Brothers and let them play their little hearts out until they think they won, and then those lowly mushroom retainers appear with the bad news and your kids will have learned one of life’s greatest lessons. Disappointment sucks, but you must go on! I taught my kids how to play SMB at an young age just so I could let them know early on in life what if feels like to have the rug pulled out from under you. It comes in handy later. “I know you completed the entire project on time and you did a great job, but I think I want you to write me a ten page essay, too.” THANK YOU MARIO! BUT OUR PRINCESS IS IN ANOTHER CASTLE!
I still have so much love for the 2D side scroll games. In fact, I prefer them over today’s 3D games that tend to be more about art than gameplay. I’m more interested in finding secret rooms and hidden weapons than I am looking at my heroine’s perfectly formed tits.
Which brings us back to zombies and Left 4 Dead. Yes, gameplay and graphics have come a long, long way. I sometimes just stare in amazement on what’s on my screen and think back to my days of playing Pong or Odyssey or Atari and I’m sure my mind then could never imagine what video games today would look like. I love Left 4 Dead and games like Halo because they are, more or less, Adventure. But with zombies instead of a dragon that looks like a duck.
That I can slay my dragons with someone else is the best part of today’s gaming. I get to go on my adventures, peeking in dark rooms, trying to find new weapons, and Todd gets to shoot everything in sight. And there’s always, always that lesson of our princess being in another castle.
Also: Great blog post on retro gaming here.