Saturday, December 24, 2005

A night before Christmas

Everyone that has read my writings for any period of time should know by now that I've been a video game player for a good portion of my life. For most people, remembering their first experiences with video games wouldn't be a big deal in any way, but for me games were always something special. Games always took me to places that I didn't think I would ever be able to go. They told me stories about far away places, but the best part wasn't just the stories, it was the fact that I was the hero. I was the person that was running and jumping and saving the princess. I wasn't just another kid sitting alone in his room playing with his toys. I actually meant something to the characters in these games and it made me feel special.

On Christmas Eve 1987, I received the first gaming system of my own. My family had owned some other systems before that point, but this was the first time that I had a system of my own.

When I was growing up, my sisters and I were told that each Christmas we could ask for 1 big gift. For months we would scan through the Sears and JC Penney's catalogs and evaluate each of the items on the toy pages and agonize over the decision of what item we would put on our list for that year.

One of the worst and, in this case, best traits that I have is that I can be incredibly naive at times. On that particular Christmas Eve my naivete led me to the most surprising Christmas gift that I have ever received.

The evening began with a normal holiday meal, but after dinner my family decided that it would be a good idea to videotape the gift opening festivities for the evening. I didn't think anything of it, seeing as how we had just won our first video camera a few months before; it just seemed like the sort of thing that most families would do on a holiday. What I didn't seem to understand was the fact that my sister was only following me around the house with the camera.

After everyone had opened their gifts, I recieved my last gift, a small package. Confused, as I often was and still am, I opened it delicately and found that it had a riddle contained inside of it. The riddle led me to another room in the house, where I found another package, which contained another clue, which led me to another room, and another and another.

Never once during this whole scavenger hunt throughout the house, did I have any idea what I was being led towards. I would open each of the packages, read the clue, and then move onto the next one. Finally, after multiple difficult riddles that I had to solve, I opened the last package. "It's behind the couch," was what it read.

I walked into the living room and walked over to the couch and found a long rectangular box approximately 2 feet by 1 feet, by 6 inches behind it. As I began to pull back the paper, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. For a moment in time, I actually thought that my parents had played a cruel trick on me and had somehow obtained the box for the item, but something else was inside of it.

"You've got to be kidding me," was all I could say as I opened up my Nintendo Entertainment System. For months, I had gone on and on about how much I wanted one and somehow my mother and Dennis had gotten it for me.

Over 50 million people got an NES system before Nintendo stopped selling them, but I doubt that anyone had an experience nearly as special as mine when they got their system.

Ever since that day I have been a Nintendo fan. I have friends that have mocked me for my "alliance" with a company that doesn't put out the best looking or the hottest games, but for me my feelings for Nintendo go much deeper than the hardware or software that they put out. Whenever I see Mario or Zelda or Samus on my TV or handheld system, I think about opening the box for my NES on December 24th, 1987 and remember how special my parents and Nintendo made me feel that day.

Nintendo's next game could be a Mario plumbing and pipe cleaning simulator, but I know that I'll eventually end up buying it... not for what it is, but for what Nintendo meant to me as a kid and for what that memory means to me today.

Monday, December 19, 2005

My first gig

In 1993, one of my friends tried to convince me that we could start up a metal band. We were both listening to a lot of Pantera and Metallica at that point in our lives. Also, we were drinking a bit too much as well. So, one night when I had had a few too many, I decided that "getting the band back together" sounded like a good idea. He already had a guitar and had become quite adept at playing it, and considering the fact that I couldn't sing, it was a done deal that I was destined to be the drummer.

After a few awful sounding months, the experiment failed and “World Disorder” was put to rest. A few years later I sold off my kit on consignment at a local drum shop and bid farewell to my dreams of becoming a musician.

All of that changed a few months ago when my passion for gaming and poorly performed music combined with the release of a new game for the Playstation 2. I've mentioned this game in an earlier column. It's called Guitar Hero and it kicks all kinds of ass.

I've played more than a few games in my life but I can't recall one before that I've tried so hard to become great at. At this point I'm still playing the game on the medium level, because I want to perfect or "5-star" each of the songs before I move on to the final two difficulty levels.

Another way that I know that the game is great is because of an email that I got from a friend recently. Here's a quote.

"Cowboys from Hell. Four stars, bitches."

Now that is a concise and to the point email, people. Also, it rocks.

There aren't many games that I've played that have inspired me to jump around the room like a little kid when I manage a great score, but this game makes me feel like I'm 10 years old all over again.

So, the other day I'm walking through Best Buy, as I often do, and I see that they have a copy of Guitar Hero running on one of their TV's there. Sadly, there was a 20-something grunge kid just hacking away at the game and making a fool of himself. Seriously, it was just plain sad. Once the song, mercifully, finished I picked up the controller and commenced rocking for the entire retail audience.

After one (5-star) performance of "Spanish Castle Magic" by Jimi Hendrix, I had about 7 or 8 Best Buy employees all gathered around to watch me play. After the song finished, I had guys shouting out requests. Sure there was the one jerk saying "Play Freebird," but he was quickly hushed away by his fellow employees, who knew that they were in the presence of a rocker who could kick his ass for suggesting such a song. After a few moments it was decided that I should take on Symphony of Destruction by Megadeth.

In a performance that everyone present agreed that put Dave Mustaine to shame (not like it takes much to do so) I put down my axe and threw the sign of the goat as I walked away.

Next time I'm bringing a hat to collect tips.