Gaming History 101

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Day 3

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On the 3rd day of Christmas my memories gave to me…

Three New Consoles

          

When you look up the Playstation 2 in either gaming history books or Wikipedia, you’ll notice a late 2000 release date that seems to suggest the PS2 had a year head start on the Gamecube and Xbox.  What they won’t tell you was that those who experienced its release in person knew better than to even suggest the PS2 was on store shelves in 2000.  In fact, it took until about holiday season 2001 for PS2s to reappear at retail and have a few decent games.  This resulted in the first time all consoles of a specific generation were initially available together, despite release dates.  Christmas 2001 was a wild cluster and there we were wrapped up in it and trying to presume which console would be the best.

Ironically this generation would end up with all three consoles having similar libraries save for the Gamecube versions of games being mildly stripped.  Given the scant launch selection, it really came down to what you thought the console could offer in the future.  Nintendo and Sony touted the strength of their first party titles while Microsoft had only one ace in the hole: Halo.  Debates among my friends waged for days, fanboys coming out of the woodwork and fighting with everyone because they didn’t agree on which console was worth it.  The only reason everyone cared what their friends were buying was because the college atmosphere thrived on borrowing your friends’ games and for the first time there was a lot of variety. 

In the end the Gamecube remained the outlier with its cheaper price tag, lack of a DVD player and no true Mario game in sight.  Of course I decided to ask my parents for it because it fit within the budget of a Christmas present and it was going to be the home of a Resident Evil remake and future series titles.  Although the PS2 clearly won the overall generation by a landslide, it was a pretty split world on college campuses.  Sure, you could play your old Playstation library and watch DVDs, but the Xbox allowed for Halo LAN parties.  In true hindsight, Halo aside, there was very little difference between each console.  With simultaneous launch windows being the ideal situation for competition, all that resulted was overall conformity within each console.  Funny, isn’t it?

<- Go back to the second day                                             Go on to the fourth day ->

Written by Fred Rojas

December 16, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Day 2

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On the second day of Christmas my memories gave to me…

Two Amazing Sequels

  

In the holiday season of 1988, the two biggest Nintendo properties released sequels at the same time.  Super Mario Bros. 2 was clearly more popular than Zelda II given that Super Mario Bros. was the pack-in game for almost every NES sold.  On the other hand, Zelda was a much deeper, and honestly better, game so those that had experience rightfully wished for Adventure of Link.  Unfortunately the print run on Zelda II was small and resulted in less than enough copies hitting store shelves.  On top of that, it released in December and at that time there was no gaming press and no official launch date for games.  Parents, kids and gamers alike had to scramble to adjust their holiday wish lists and plans in order to get a copy.  As a result, I’m sure there were at least a few parents that had to give a gift other than Zelda II despite many attempts to get their hands on it and a few tears from those that didn’t get what they wanted.  Below is my personal experience with Christmas, 1988:

My favorite Christmas had to be in 1987, when the NES had dropped to $100 for the Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt bundle and I finally received it as a gift.  Lucky for me, my birthday comes just after Christmas, on January 6, so I was able to get another game for my NES as a birthday present.  It was a tough battle between Castlevania and Legend of Zelda but most of my friends were exploring the world of Hyrule with Link so I went with Zelda.  For the next year I spent countless hours conquering Bowser over and over again and trying to find all the hidden rock walls to bomb until finally going on to tackle Gannon.  Even upon completing the Legend of Zelda, a second quest opened that was harder and moved everything around. 

As the year came to a close, I prepared to attack the holiday catalogs and somehow got my hands on an advertisement for Super Mario Bros. 2.  Well, that settled it, I was going to be getting the second Mario game for Christmas.  Then, on a random December trip to Toys R Us I saw an unfamiliar gold box art next to the first Zelda title.  That game was Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.  My mind was blown.  I had already asked for Mario 2 but I knew my birthday was coming up in January, so I figured I’d wait and get it then.  As I walked away a younger employee that was probably no older than 16 approached me.  He wanted to know if I was interested in Zelda II and if I had the first game.  I told him I did and even described beating the second quest, at which point he handed me the slip of paper for the game – back in those days you would buy the game with a slip of paper and a caged area at checkout would give you the game after you paid for it.  He told me that there were very few copies of the game in stock and if I wanted it for Christmas I should convince my mom to buy it that day.  I told him, all coy like I was at nearly seven years old, that I have my birthday coming up and I would have my mom get it for me then.  He turned to me like an idiot and said, “kid, they won’t be back in stock by then!  These games always take forever to come back.  Get it now and tell your mom to hold on to it for your birthday.” 

Had that guy never talked to me I never would have begun a long tradition of begging my mother for multiple holiday releases in December that I intended to get as both Christmas and birthday presents.  With some begging, we left Toys R Us with a shiny gold copy of Zelda II firmly placed in my mother’s grasp.  In the week that followed the buzz on the playground was all about which game everyone was going to get and how to find Zelda II for the admitted minority that sought it.  I was so pleased that this was not a problem I had, that is until my father took issue with my little combo plan.  My father was a traditional hispanic that held firmly to the belief that a gift is intended to be given both at the appropriate time and without the receiver knowing what it was.  Not only that, he said that he was going to take one of the two games back to the store and return it.  I knew better than to make a big deal out it, but I quietly went to my room while I waited for dinner and tried to decide which game I wanted.  I came to the conclusion that Zelda II would probably be the best route given that it may be hard to find and the fact that the original took much longer to beat than Super Mario Bros had.   Besides, if I only asked for Super Mario Bros. 2 for my birthday, what choice would they have?

I went to dinner and chose the appropriate moment to politely tell my father that I respected his decision and that I would like to get Zelda II and whatever happened for my birthday would be up to them, not me.  My clever father dawned a smirk that would have made the Grinch jealous and explained to me that I must have missed the part about a gift being up to the giver to decide.  He told me that he would be returning one of my games, but that he would be deciding which one it was going to be – and in truth, my father paid little attention to my requested games, especially the names of them.  That night he emerged from the bedroom with a single present wrapped up in the shape of nothing other than a Nintendo game.  I spent the next two weeks looking at that game, knowing that it would define the rest of my winter break.  As both a collector and a gamer it wasn’t that I didn’t want Super Mario Bros. 2, most likely I would be playing that title first, but rather that if my father returned Zelda II it may not be on store shelves until far past my birthday and I knew he wouldn’t give me money. 

On Christmas morning we opened our gifts and I was quite pleased with everything, but I saved the game for last.  I’ve always done this in life, save the best for last, which explains why I eat the center of a Oreo last or save all the cereal marshmallows in until the end.  I eagerly opened the game, ripping the paper as fast as I could and revealed the bright sky blue box for Super Mario Bros. 2.  It was weird, if I went over it in my head I would have probably worried about looking unappreciative or displeased with the gift, but instead I was overcome with the rush of actually being able to play Mario 2 right then and there.  I gave the expected happy response, hugged my parents and rushed out to play the game. 

My father called to me and told me to wait, he was glancing at the corner of the tree with heavy focus.  He asked me what that was in the back corner.  I was sure there had been nothing back there, but of course when I went to the corner there was another gift wedged somewhat behind the stereo.  It was the shape of a Nintendo game and I gleefully tore into the paper to reveal that shiny gold box of Zelda II.  It was a wicked trick, but like all my father’s efforts it taught me a lesson and resulted in an ecstatic child so I suppose it was all worth it.  Oddly enough both titles were completely different from their appropriate franchises.  It would take more than 20 years for me to eventually beat Zelda II, but the much easier Mario 2 was completed by New Year’s Eve.  Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the first sequels of my NES experience and can fondly remember that Christmas morning, even today.

<- Go back to the first day of Christmas    Go on to the third day of Christmas ->

Written by Fred Rojas

December 15, 2011 at 11:22 am

Day 1

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On the first day of Christmas my memories gave to me…

A Wish List Catalog from JC Penny!

Catalogs are definitely not the rage today.  Most likely those still utilizing them are the technologically inept or those that just cannot release their grasp on the past.  In the 80s and 90s, however, these little guides were responsible for hours of enjoyment to me and my fellow gamers.  If you were a good enough customer of certain departments stores – namely JC Penny, Sears and Montgomery Ward, although I’m certain there were others – a massive 500+ page catalog would adorn your mailbox around the end of November.  Within it was a virtual form of pretty much everything available in that specific department store, including video games.  I used to love going to department stores and bask in the glory of the video game section.  There would always be a line of youngsters like myself, all bundled up and overheating in winter coats, affixed to whatever the demo game was.  Unfortunately, being only like eight years old, going to the department store or toy store to peruse the video game aisle was not something my mother would do at my beckoned call.  On the other hand, the various department store catalogs were always available and waiting on my family’s desk.

If I haven’t made this clear enough, these catalogs were humongous, heavy books that rivaled War & Peace in size and featured glossy full color pages.  Most of them would have a high price tag printed on, like $15 or $20, although I’m certain my family got all of them free because even in the 80s we were no stranger to ordering items remotely.  Thanks to their massive size, these catalogs held nothing back even in the video game section, so most games on the market would appear in the catalog.  If you were lucky there would be a screenshot and a little paragraph that was nothing but marketing drivel, which I always cherished as gospel, otherwise it was just box art and a price.  Before Nintendo Power premiered in 1988 (and even then I didn’t have a subscription until late 1990), these catalogs were the only way to find out what great games were releasing for the holidays.  I would come home from school and scour those pages, initially trying to figure out what games I wanted to ask for. 

After the first week of browsing had passed and my want list written, the second function of the catalog was to create a list of all the items I would get if I were rich.  Since anything and everything was in there I could sit back and imagine I had money for the SNES (about $200 at launch, out of my budget), Turbo Express (around $300) and even distant dreams of a Neo Geo (a whopping $650).  Hell, even the games for the Neo Geo sold at ridiculous prices like $120, so there were times that I would list one or two of those titles and imagined I already had the system.  There was often a “coming soon” section that featured upcoming titles, some of which would never see the light of day, that allowed me to assess what games were worth saving gift money for.  After demand started skyrocketing for video games in the 90s, these catalogs would be excellent places to pre-order consoles and popular games as well as a last effort to grab items sold out in stores. 

Catalogs from department stores were my first exposure to video game coverage, albeit a one-sided consumer driven version, but game coverage nonetheless.  With parents who were against giving out personal information, even back then, I never got into the Nintendo Club by filling out a registration card.  Thanks to an active imagination and a lot of free time, Christmas was celebrated over and over throughout the month of December before the actual gifts arrived.

Go on to the second day of Christmas ->

Written by Fred Rojas

December 14, 2011 at 12:33 pm