Posted on December 5, 2014
I was a pretty damn lucky kid.
From the day I was born, my parents paid into a trust fund for my post-secondary education. Whenever the time came for me to choose a college or university, my only worry was making sure I chose a field I would actually enjoy studying. There was a bit of paperwork to fill out and faxes to be sent to and from the Registrar’s Office at STU, but when I eventually chose Journalism as a major, everything was pretty much paid for.
Because of this, I didn’t feel pressure from my folks to get a job while I was still in high school. I had friends working at restaurants and big box retail stores, and although they were making good money, they’d sometimes show up to class absolutely exhausted. My grades were only decent as it was, and I didn’t need anything to hinder them any further.
In the spring of ’02 after writing my last exam of the year (at university – I graduated high school in ’01), I decided that being 18 without anything noteworthy on my resume was not good at all. I applied at a few different places and landed a couple interviews, but being new to that process, I was nervous and stutter-ey enough that I didn’t get a call back from any of them.
I started my second year that fall, and it wasn’t long afterwards that I managed to snag a job at the liquor store in uptown Fredericton. I learned pretty quickly that having a job is a lot of work (duh), and that working 8:30AM to 10PM shifts was as hard on the head as it was on my feet and back.
Working on a regular basis was quite the wake-up call. I went from being a lazy kid who lived at home to being a young adult who had responsibilities. Crazy!
Six months into it, I was getting into a pretty good rhythm. I was well-trained, did a good job (I thought, anyway), got along well with my co-workers, and even decided to take a year off from STU to save money before going back a year later.
On one Saturday morning, I went to work feeling particularly good. It was nice and sunny, and my shift was only from 11AM to 7PM. This allowed me to sleep in in the morning then get home in plenty of time for that night’s NASCAR race in Charlotte, NC.
Almost immediately as I walked into the store, one of the assistant managers called me into the office with a serious look on his face… I was going to be asked to work an extra three hours until 10PM. I just knew it.
I had to put my foot down, though; I had some serious plans!
I took a seat and was promptly told that a fellow employee’s father had unexpectedly passed away, and that she was out for the day. I’m not sure how, but I was the only guy available to cover the time she was out.
Now, if you were to put me in this situation at 31, I would have said “yes” in a heartbeat. At 19, however, I had to “think about it”.
I went to the lunch room for a bit and mulled over missing at least the first part of the race, the very thought of which made me grumpy. I then thought about what the other person must be going through with the loss of her father, which made me feel awful about playing hardball at a time like this… I then walked back to the office and agreed to work until closing time.
It was a decision I wasn’t happy about, but at the same time, I knew deep down it was the only sensible decision for me to make. Having the job was evidently changing me more than I thought it would.
Back in the office, the “atta boy’s” and “thank you’s” I got from my superiors only made me feel marginally better. I decided to treat myself to a bit of retail therapy on my supper break, so I went to Zellers next door and bought myself a frickin’ Xbox.
I picked up Enter the Matrix and Star Wars: Obi Wan to go along with the pack-in duo of Jet Set Radio Future and Sega GT 2002. When I got home that night, I was torn between unpacking my new toy and watching the race… then this happened.
My favourite driver making enemies by spinning them out made my decision to stop watching the race a whole lot easier. I hooked up the Xbox and games well into Sunday morning, and I kept playing it the rest of the week as well… I could get used to this “making mature, adult decisions” thing.
Posted on November 18, 2014
As I drive home from work and listen to any old song my iPod shuffles to, I can pretty easily think back to the first time I heard it. At the very least, it’ll bring back a memory or two, much like playing games often does.
Not that I’d start another blog based on music memories, but I certainly could do that if I wanted to.
In the spring of 2000 I found out my friend Tom played guitar. I messed around with that red Fender of his as we listened to bands of the day, but I found that chords were not my forte… one string and note at a time was pretty much all I could handle.
Tom mentioned that that was basically (bass-ically) what playing bass was like, so I took the plunge and bought one used with a small amp so we could jam.
Playing music with other people proved to be way more rewarding than I could ever have dreamed. The simple notion that I could play along – not to mention keep up – with songs I was just discovering and finding a whole new appreciation for was a high I can’t even put into words. It was so damn satisfying.
Most of that summer was spent indoors playing Green Day, Metallica and Offspring tunes, or anything else I challenged myself to learn. I call it the “summer of the Mission: Impossible 2 Soundtrack”, due to me listening to it (pretty much) non-stop.
Tom and his family ended up moving out of his house and into an apartment that fall, so jamming together loudly and to our satisfaction was no longer in the cards. The idea of recording ourselves somehow – like we had planned to do while he still lived nearby – also went out the window.
By the next year, my skills had improved a fair amount. My friends Justin and Max played guitar and drums (respectively), and we would practice almost every lunch hour in one of the school’s music rooms. One of the teachers approached us and said a few students complained about the noise and asked us to turn our amps down, which we were less than thrilled about.
This prompted us to name our band “Quityerbitchin’” after a sticker on Justin’s guitar case… when it came time to perform at our high school’s Battle of the Bands in May of ’01 – the ESApalooza – that name seemed a bit harsh, and we were asked to change it.
“No Complaints” was the next name that came to mind, so we went with that.
In the fall of 2001, Justin and I got together just for a quick jam session at his house. It was a rainy and depressing Sunday afternoon, and I had nothing better to do. It was also raining at the site of that weekend’s NASCAR race in Martinsville (Virginia), and it didn’t look like they’d be racing that day. With no race on TV, I might as well go jam!
He and I had a list of songs we’d jammed with Max, but we also had a bunch of tunes Max didn’t like… we would jump at the opportunity to play those whenever we could, and on this day, Justin had another idea to make things even more fun;
“I have a mic hooked up to my PC – let’s bring our amps up to my computer room, record it, and see what happens.”
New songs we both knew but had never played together, songs we had already covered with Max, songs he had never heard, songs I had never heard, songs we taught each other on the spot… we recorded something like 25 tracks, and it was a blast. I even sang on some of them – not well, mind you, but it was all in good fun.
It was quite warm in the room, so we took a break at one point and opened the window. Instead of playing loud and annoying the neighbors, we stopped and played some PC games.
The first game he showed me was a one I had heard about, but never had any interest in seeing in action.
I just looked up footage of this game, and I remember even less about it than I originally thought.
It’s a third-person action game that combines hand-to-hand combat and gunplay. It was developed by pre-Halo Bungie and pre-GTA3 Rockstar Games. That’s pretty much the only noteworthy thing I know about Oni.
It wasn’t long before Justin switched over to a game I was much more interested in seeing in action…
At its core, Max Payne is a dark and gritty third-person shooter that feels like a playable graphic novel. Comic book pages replace cutscenes as a method of storytelling, and there are great voiceovers and sound effects to keep them interesting. It’s pretty unique, and it adds a bit of intensity to the whole thing.
One other feature in particular helped add to the game’s appeal; the ability to trigger slow-motion at the touch of a button.
Having been popularized in The Matrix a couple years beforehand, it was just a matter of time before games hopped on the “bullet-time” bandwagon. It’s not infinite, but everything goes into slow-mo whenever you need it to; it helps you dodge bullets, allows you dive through the air, and helps you take out hordes of enemies in one fell swoop.
Justin was in some sort of boiler room area and was busy dealing with enemies up above. As a nice cinematic touch, the camera shifted to follow the last bullet he fired as it went from the barrel of his gun to its intended target…
From that point on, I knew I had to own this game. I only picked it up about a year later once I got a job, but it was that day in Justin’s computer room that sealed the deal.
After playing Max Payne for a while, we shut the window and got back to playing and recording tunes. We ended up burning a CD with all the best stuff we didn’t mind sharing with friends, and deleted whatever we thought was garbage. We titled the album “2/3 of No Complaints” – not really all that inventive, but that’s exactly what it was!
I brought my portable CD player to campus that week and showed off our work to a few close friends. My friend Mike made a little drawing as he listened to it in the George Martin Hall cafeteria, so I decided to make it my album art.
Whenever I think of Max Payne, I can’t help but think of that recording session in Justin’s tiny computer room. It was an absolute thrill to be able to hear the “other side” of us playing music together.
That being said, here’s a world premiere 13 years in the making! Enjoy!
Posted on November 3, 2014
So after completing every mission on Portland, then Staunton Island, it was time for a quick trip over to Shoreside Vale to see if the old Purple Nines Glitch was still intact. Going through and deleting everything my Xbox had in its memory was a bit tough to do, but in the end… was it worth it?
YES! Finally! I can complete this silly little cutscene movie of mine without worrying about any skipped missions.
As much as I love this game, this is the third time in a few years that I’ve played through GTA3, and I think I’m done for a while. Much like Ocarina of Time, even the best games get tiresome after a while.
Playing through it again wasn’t all for naught, however. In capturing all the cutscenes, I also let the recording continue through gameplay. There were several things that happened that reminded me just why I love video games so much. It’s those moments that leave you genuinely laughing out loud, screaming at the screen in disbelief, or moments where you barely make it through alive.
I’ve decided that on top of my cutscene movies (mostly made for my own enjoyment, by the way), I’ll be putting together a variety of gameplay snippets from the games I play through. Nothing too complicated, and nothing that will blow your mind… just random moments that help remind me that playing games is fun, and that’s what it’s really all about.
Posted on October 22, 2014
I’ve mentioned it a time or two already, but editing video game cutscenes together has been a hobby of mine for a long time now. Not only does it give me an opportunity to unwind after a long week at work (I don’t know why it does, it just does), but it also gives me a chance to go through certain games as thoroughly as I possibly could.
The completionist in me would never allow myself to make a video knowing there was some kind of hidden cutscene I missed along the way!
With that in mind, I turned to one of my favourite games of all time – Grand Theft Auto III.
I’ve attempted to capture all the cutscenes from this game once already, but it didn’t pan out. The reason?
A bloody unfortunate glitch.
GTA3 takes place over three islands and has you associating with plenty of shady characters throughout the course of the story. On the island of Shoreside Vale, a gang war is brewing between the Red Jacks and Purple Nines. D-Ice, leader of the Red Jacks, contacts Claude via payphone and gets him to run all sorts of fun little errands to eliminate every member of the Purple Nines.
Here’s where the glitch comes in; once you complete the D-Ice missions on the PlayStation 2 or Xbox versions of the game, the Purple Nines are permanently wiped off the face of Liberty City. If you start a new game, complete all the missions through to Shoreside Vale and finally attempt D-Ice’s first mission (which has you doing drive-by shootings on dudes in purple), you will notice that there are only dudes in red that show up on the streets – the Red Jacks.
You can drive around all you want, but the gang members you’re looking to eliminate won’t show up. Even if you delete your saved game file, there’s enough data on your PS2 Memory Card\Xbox Hard Drive to “remember” that time you completely wiped the other gang off the map.
Thankfully, this glitch is a relatively minor inconvenience. The game’s main story missions will be intact, and you’ll still be able to finish the game’s main story.
Still, since I’m trying to achieve 100% completion, this glitch is tearing at the OCD part of my brain. I’d love to be able to re-play those missions, and not just because they’re among the best in the entire game.
Because I couldn’t get all the cutscenes I wanted, that last playthrough I did went unfinished. I deleted everything I had recorded and put the game aside for another day.
That’s when I got to tinkering… ugh, why do I always have to tinker?
Y’see, here’s something the true gamer in me has a rough time admitting now. These days, I’m a bona-fide collector of NES, Super NES, Genesis and Game Boy games. About 10 years ago, even though I was deep into all kinds of retro gaming, I was not big into spending money to pad my game collection.
Oddly enough, I had more money to spend on that sort of thing then than I do now, living at home rent-free and all.
In any case, the idea of doing a soft-mod to my original Xbox to load a bunch of roms and emulators on it wasn’t a big deal. I loaded a disc with hundreds of NES, Super NES and Game Boy roms and got my console loaded with 8-and-16-bit goodness.
It’s truly an amazing feeling to have all these games at my fingertips, ready to play at any moment. It changed my Xbox’s dashboard completely, and it allowed me to access components of my console that I’d never even seen before. It’s basically a PC that also happens to play Xbox games!
With the awesomeness, however, comes a slight pang of guilt. Guilt from playing roms instead of the real deal. Guilt that my Xbox is a mere shell of its old, original self. Guilt about the fact that even though it’s fun to play these old games, I can’t do it with the controllers they were meant to be played with.
And then… I encountered the Purple Nines glitch.
The collector in me isn’t exactly proud of having done the mod all those years ago, and I fully intend to either un-mod my current Xbox or buy another used console for cheap. However, being able to fiddle around with the memory on the system is a benefit when dealing with a glitch like the one I’m dealing with.
It took some digging, but I managed to find where the save files were located so I could delete them. Doing so came at a cost, though.
The save files that had been on my Xbox for more than a decade were all labeled as jumbled letters and numbers. I wanted to go in there and specifically delete the GTA3 save file on my hard drive and nothing else, but there was nothing to differentiate the GTA3 file from the ones for Halo 2, NASCAR Thunder 2004, Knights of the Old Republic, and other games I’ve played through the years.
Because I wanted to overcome the Purple Nines glitch in my own way, I went ahead and deleted them all.
Career Mode progress in all my NASCAR games? Gone.
Unlocked levels and ships in various Star Wars games? Buh-bye.
Progress in “Legendary” mode in both Halo and Halo 2? See ya!
That last one was very much a work in progress having not touched either game in about 9 years, but still… it was hard for me to just delete everything and start from scratch.
So with all that in mind, I’m not quite done the Portland missions in Grand Theft Auto III. I still have a while to go before finding out if deleting everything off my Xbox actually fixed the dreaded Purple Nines glitch, and the suspense is killing me.
If it ended up not fixing the glitch, my cutscene movie will just have to go on without that whole batch of clips, and my mass file-deletion will be all for naught.
I’ll be sure to post an update to this story once I get there…
Posted on October 9, 2014
From the age of 8 until I was about 15, driving around town with my sister was a fun way to get out of the house. Whether it was in her red ’91 Pontiac Sunbird or her black ’94 Honda Accord, we’d wander around anywhere between Oromocto and Keswick Ridge, usually stopping for a bite to eat somewhere along the way.
We’d sometimes end up at one of her friends’ places, or even more interestingly, she’d want to stop in and see people at work. Not necessarily *her* place of work, however.
My sister is in the RCMP, and much like myself at my current tech support job, she gets to associate with many people around the province. Dropping in to say “hi” to people you talk to every day is nice, and it helps give you that extra connection with the person on the other end.
I was always “Michelle’s little brother” whenever we stopped at a detachment somewhere, but I didn’t mind – these were all top-notch folks that were very kind to me, and I actually hoped to be a policeman myself, someday.
Even now when I stop at routine police checkpoints, they look at my license and say “Hey, you’re Michelle’s brother!”
There were so many people I met in those years that some of their faces are only brief, fleeting images in my mind. I remember the names and nicknames, but what they looked like is somewhat blurry in retrospect. For one person, however, the memory is quite clear.
Probably only because it pertains to video games, but it’s quite clear nonetheless!
On one of the last nights I can remember driving around with her in early ’99, we ended up visiting one of her longtime friends and her husband in Oromocto. They lived in a PMQ, and although I just had to Google what it stood for (Personnel\Private Married Quarters), it’s basically where members of the Armed Forces or Mounted Police and their spouses can call home. They aren’t big, but they’re cheap and comfy.
In any case, the guy had rented a Nintendo 64 along with a couple games, and Michelle brought me along to give him a few pointers. He was considering buying one himself, so I brought a couple games of my own to try and convince him the N64 was worth it.
The idea was that my sister and her friend would catch up and talk about whatever while he and I played games. That worked for me!
He had also rented Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire and Top Gear Rally. I thought (and still think) SOTE was an absolutely fantastic game. Exploring each level thoroughly yielded some cool secrets, and getting every Challenge Point in the game became an obsession of mine.
We played it quite a bit that night, but he didn’t seem to be sold on it. He listened intently when I talked about what the game was like in the later levels, but even though he dug the atmosphere and the flying stages, I don’t think he was particularly fond of the controls.
We moved on to Top Gear Rally for a little while, which was the first (and so far only) time I played that game. There were some unique vehicles and the controls were pretty good, and we had some pretty fun two-player races… still, it wasn’t long before we swapped it out and played some Mario Kart 64.
Michelle and her friend watched us play and laughed as we kept taking each other out with shells and trails of banana peels. I really thought that this was the game that would sell him on the console!
We had a blast, and I recall he was leaning towards buying one as we were leaving. “Don’t give up on Shadows of the Empire!” I shouted from the door. “Keep playing it, it gets better and better!”
He smiled and laughed and said “Yep, I will! I promise!”
I really don’t know if he ended up buying a Nintendo 64 or not, but playing SOTE that night re-invigorated my love for that game. I went to Wal-Mart with Michelle a few days later and bought it, and even though she said “Wasn’t that game not fun?”, I knew that wasn’t the case. There’s a reason it’s number #33 on my Top 100 list!
Being a police officer brings with it a different kind of danger than being in the Armed Forces does. Although the amount of craziness in this region pales in comparison to what happens in foreign countries, officers here still go to work every morning with the distinct possibility that they might not make it back home.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is an issue commonly associated with being in the Army, but it affects more than just soldiers; officers, paramedics, nurses, firefighters… even if you don’t have a job where lives are on the line, you could very easily suffer from it after a traumatic event. Unfortunately, it’s a very common thing in today’s messed up world.
The young man who I tried hard as hell to convince to buy an N64 would one day come to suffer from PTSD. His struggle was very public, and although he brought a massive amount of attention to people dealing with the disorder (and just how little help is available to those suffering from it), the court of public opinion painted him in a negative light. He had made some radical and controversial decisions, but at the end of the day, it was all just to bring attention to his cause.
All of what I was seeing about this person on the news such a far cry from the young policeman I played video games with, and “just one of the guys” I’d hear reference to from time to time in conversation.
He was a good man, and he went through something a lot of people go through. He did it in his own way, but in the end, it was all just too much for him.
I sincerely hope you’ve found the solace you’ve been looking for, Ron. Rest in peace.
Posted on October 5, 2014
I’ve already written a fairly lengthy love letter to racing games, so I’ll spare you the details about why I enjoy them so much. My current video project involves old Formula One games, and I’m so deep into it that my “video game brain” can barely process anything else.
That’s a poor excuse for the lack of posts this week and last, but hear me out!
There are a bunch of F1 racing games dating back to the 70’s, but I wanted to look at games from the 3D era. I’d try to look up YouTube videos of what certain tracks looked like in some of the older games, and instead of crystal clear onboard shots, I’d always get either unnaturally smooth-looking emulator versions or a handycam-recorded eyesore.
I have capturing equipment and almost all the official F1 games dating back to 1996, so why not just make the videos I wanted to watch?
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” Isn’t that a saying? I think it is. Pretty deep for what I’m talking about, though. haha
I also wanted to focus on console games, mostly because PC games have had countless mods and custom tracks created for them over the years. I’ve played some great PC racing sims and mods, so it’s not to say I don’t appreciate them… it’s just that there are TONS of those videos online already.
I find real-life onboard videos from any racing series to be fascinating to watch. Seeing masters like Senna, Schumacher, Hakkinen and Prost handle these finely tuned machines with such finesse is like watching Les Claypool effortlessly play the bass riff to Tommy the Cat, or Bob Ross hypnotically hiding his happy trees on that blank canvas of his.
Pretty intense, right? Video game onboards don’t really compare, but at the end of the day, I still find them quite entertaining.
Console-based F1 games have indeed come a long way. Formula 1 on PlayStation was actually a game I played just as I was developing an interest in all forms of motorsport, so the timing was impeccable. I’ve tried to keep up on “official” F1 games through the years, but since a fair amount of them weren’t released outside of Europe, my “retrospective” can only feature so many games.
I also wanted to explore as wide a variety as I could of games from different publishers without delving into the poorly-made ones. Games like F1 Pole Position 64 and Monaco Grand Prix might have featured F1 racing, but were really not up to par with others that have been released over the years.
That being said, here are the games I focused on;
Formula 1 – PlayStation (1996 – Psygnosis)
F1 World Grand Prix – Nintendo 64 (1998 – Video System)
Formula 1 ’98 – PlayStation (1998 – Psygnosis)
F1 Racing Championship – PlayStation (2000 – UbiSoft)
F1 Championship Season 2000 – PlayStation 2 (2000 – EA Sports)
Formula One 2001 – PlayStation 2 (2001 – SCEE)
F1 2002 – PlayStation 2 (2002 – EA Sports)
Formula 1 Championship Edition – PlayStation 3 (2007 – SCEA)
F1 2009 – Wii (2009 – Codemasters)
F1 2013 – Xbox 360 (2013 – Codemasters)
I basically wanted a representation from each season I could. For example, even though it was released in ’96, Formula 1 showcases the drivers, teams and tracks from the 1995 season. There was no game based on the ’96 season, but the ’97-2002 seasons are all represented before F1 games took a small break in North America.
Formula 1 Championship Edition was fairly hyped at Sony’s E3 conference in 2006, but after its release in 2007, no official F1 game was released until 2009 when Codemasters took control of the license. The last few years have seen a rise in popularity in the genre, and next month will see the release of F1 2014 on last-gen systems only (weird, I know). I decided not to include F1 2010, 2011 and 2012 because I found they all pretty much looked the same; if a track had a slightly different layout in those games, however, I went ahead and recorded a lap.
I’ve been playing all these games quite extensively over the past couple months to get my videos captured, trying my best to get clean laps on every track. Jumping from one game to the next – each of them having unique handling characteristics – has proven to be quite mentally taxing, and I’ve fallen asleep several times with laps playing through my brain over and over again.
Almost like Senna in the video above, I’m thinking about pushing that limit, even when I’m not playing the game.
Either way, I’m finally done with getting everything I wanted recorded, and I couldn’t be happier to be moving on to other games. That being said, here’s the “world premiere” of The Onboard Retrospective of the Hungaroring circuit in Hungary!
For comparison, here is a real life onboard from that track…
Also, in order to tie some kind of memory into this post, I feel obliged to bring up one of the more fantastic puns I’ve ever made – and it was related to the Hungaroring.
One morning before work last year, I was checking my Twitter, Facebook and Instagram feeds as I usually do. When the Red Bull Racing team’s Twitter account posted about the upcoming Hungarian Grand Prix, I couldn’t help myself. I saw a window of opportunity to crack a silly joke, and I took it.
The racing team retweeted it and it got seen by thousands of people around the globe. It might’ve only gotten 4 Favourites and 5 Retweets, but that right there is one of the proudest moments I’ve ever had on Twitter.
Posted on September 14, 2014
Every gamer has a list of “hidden gem” games they played growing up. For me, titles like Felix the Cat, M.C. Kids, Totally Rad, and Power Blade were the third-party games I’d show my “Sega friends” to prove the NES had what it took to compete with the Genesis’ ever expanding lineup.
Oddly enough, these were all games that not even my “Nintendo friends” had heard of.
After getting my Super NES, I was really looking forward to playing not only the mega hits like the Zelda and Contra sequels, but also those sleeper hits that would validate me wanting the console so badly.
As it turned out, I didn’t have to wait long before I played one.
Joe and Mac was the first game we rented after buying the Super NES. In fact, Mom rented it the same day she bought me my brand new console soon after I started the second half of Grade 3. I didn’t know all that much about the game, mostly because I hadn’t really paid attention to Nintendo Power’s Pak Watch section in the months leading up to the console’s release.
Owning a new console seemed like a bit of a pipe dream during those days. I had wanted a Sega Genesis, a TurboGrafx-16 and whatever else was on the market, but I always got the impression that my parents had better things to spend money on.
For my part, I could understand that.
When the Super NES was announced, I knew I’d probably have to ask for it for years before actually getting one. Whenever I’d flip through the pages of EGM or NP and see the great-looking new games coming from Nintendo, I’d try to avoid getting too hyped up. It’d be a long time before I’d ever get to experience these for myself, so I’d often just look at screenshots without reading articles.
To my great surprise, my mom bought me the spiffy new 16 bit console not long at all after it first came out. The pack-in game of Super Mario World was obviously incredible, but Mom’s seemingly random choice to rent Joe and Mac was also a fantastic way for me to ring in the new era.
I loved that it was a simple arcade beat ‘em up where cave dudes beat up on sasquatches and other cavemen. The bosses were huge prehistoric creatures, and my fascination with dinosaurs at the time didn’t hurt things. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and I played the heck out of it that night.
The next day, my parents had plans for supper with family friends of ours, so I brought my Super NES and hooked it up to the TV in their basement. I had plans on staying down there most of the day, mostly because they’d be busy cooking that evening’s meal…
It didn’t smell all that appetizing, but I felt adventurous enough to go upstairs at one point to see what a cabbage roll looked like. I was a pretty finicky eater, but if the smell alone was enough to churn my stomach, maybe if I saw them being made I wouldn’t be so grossed out.
Now, when cabbage rolls are cooked, they get this greenish-beige and translucent look to them. The sight of a cooked leaf of cabbage sitting in a sea of marinara sauce was a bit off-putting. I didn’t care that it was filled with meat and seasoning… it looked kinda gross.
Eating leaves raw in a salad was one thing; eating them cooked sounded like a soggy mess, and I wanted nothing of it. I headed back downstairs to play more Joe and Mac, and didn’t surface for a few hours at least. I remember getting to the final level, which if I remember correctly takes place in the inside of a dinosaur’s digestive system. Unfortunately, we had to leave before I had a chance to beat the game.
Whenever we went to their house afterwards, I could still smell the cabbage rolls. It was probably all in my head of course, but I could swear the smell had permeated the walls, carpet, and even the futon I was playing on.
These days, my wife is an amazing cook, and she’s opened my mind up to enjoy many things I didn’t eat as a kid – namely certain kinds of seafood – so I was more than willing to give cabbage rolls another shot when she had a craving for them a year or so ago.
As it turns out, they’re pretty damn good! The crunchiness of the cabbage, and the way the spices and the rice and the ground meats work with the tomato sauce, and beef broth… it’s one of my favourite meals now!
Not long after she made them, I purchased both Joe and Mac for Super NES and Data East Arcade Classics for Wii, which has the Arcade version on it. It’s called Caveman Ninja and feels a tad different, but it’s more or less the same.
Two big games purchased, all because of a smell that brought me right back to that day of playing brand new games in the Shannahans’ basement.
Posted on September 2, 2014
I can think of a few game-related birthday memories, but the one that sticks out the most is my 13th, which was in 1996.
Hitting my teen years was quite the milestone for me. Being a “teenager” was so much cooler than “just being a kid”, so I wanted to do something memorable. I hadn’t had a birthday party in a few years, but a bunch of friends and I got together and went to see the Kevin Costner movie Tin Cup.
I’m not sure why we chose to see that movie, but there were only four theatres at this particular cinema at the time – the only thing I can guess is that the other three movies being shown weren’t all that much more interesting.
In any case, it was just a typical romantic comedy with some golf action thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the awesome golf movie that Happy Gilmore was (which is what I was hoping for), but there was a scene in a strip club that had me thinking seeing this movie was a good choice.
C’mon. I was 13. Gimme a break.
Anyway, after the movie, we headed down to the same Greco restaurant I drive by each night when I come home from work. Although my taste in pizza has become more refined as of late, it was a damn good greasy slice at the time. I remember thinking it was a bit dreary weather-wise, but I ended up having quite the memorable day.
There were two games I got as a present that day, and both were for PC.
I had seen this game in the bargain bin at Zellers here in Fredericton, which was quite odd – not only were Street Fighter II games still coming out at that point (which made it feel like the game was still “current”), but the fact that there was a PC port blew my mind! A Super Nintendo or Genesis version of an Arcade game made sense to me, but a PC version of a fighting game did not.
Another thing I was intrigued about was the sticker on the box (not seen above). Apparently, there was a Mega Man and Mega Man 3 game included on the same disc as a bonus. With the memory of the whole Mega Man 3 debacle fresh in my mind (the one where my NES copy got lost), I asked for the Street Fighter II PC game for my birthday.
Initially, I was thrilled about getting it… and then I played the games.
It was still in the early days of the Internet, and we didn’t have it at our house. If we had, I would have been able to look up the horrible reviews that both the Street Fighter II port and the completely new and original Mega Man games had been getting.
The SFII game was the exact same game I knew and loved, but had some pretty serious frame rate issues. My PC was a 486, which was a pretty solid machine that ran Doom and Commander Keen games without any problems. For it to struggle with a game that ran smoothly on a 16-bit console was perplexing.
I also had a Gravis Gamepad to play the game with, but even then, the game lagged so much that pulling off the special moves that made the game so fun was nearly impossible.
And then there were the Mega Man games… *sigh*
Not only was I disheartened to find out these weren’t PC ports of the NES games I loved so much, but they also didn’t look and play anything like them. The trademark music was replaced with the dulcet tones of your own breathing (I.E., there was none) and the three boss stages to be incredibly long and uninteresting.
The Mega Man 3 game doubled the total number of stages to six, but kept the same awkward look and feel. To say I was disappointed with it is an understatement, and I actually felt bad about asking for it for my birthday.
I must have been on a PC kick in those days, because the only other game I got that year was for PC as well – Papyrus’ NASCAR Racing.
We had gone on our first trip to Pocono Raceway earlier that year, and I was obsessed with all forms of auto racing. Not long before my birthday and the start of the school year, we made a trip to Calais, ME to do some cross-border shopping. In the electronics section at Wal-Mart that day, I saw a PC game with my favourite driver’s car on the cover.
My fascination with the sport was still relatively new, but the game intrigued me. The only NASCAR-related game I had played at that point was Kyle Petty’s No Fear Racing, which was very much an arcade-like racer with nitro boosts and offensive weapons à-la Super Mario Kart.
This game looked about as realistic as it could get in those days, and although I didn’t flat-out ask for it, I dropped some not-so-subtle hints it would make a great birthday gift!
I didn’t actually expect to get it however, so it was quite the surprise when I un-wrapped it that day at Greco. Not long after installing (and then promptly deleting) Street Fighter II and Mega Man, I popped in the NASCAR Racing CD and installed the game to see what it was like.
Right off the bat, my impressions were mixed. I had a console-like controller hooked up and ready to play these new games I had gotten, but it really didn’t feel right with NASCAR Racing.
Was it the game? Was it the controller? Whatever it was, it had me feeling like absolute crap – I had asked for TWO games, gotten them, and then didn’t particularly like either of them. It wasn’t so much that I should have asked for something else (why oh WHY didn’t I ask for Super Mario RPG instead??), but the idea that games were big purchases. To have my parents buy a game for me, then have it promptly forgotten about was something I was always mindful to avoid.
As I went to bed in preparation for the first day of Grade 8 (which was the next day), my mom asked me “Did you have a good birthday? Do you like your gifts?”
I am an awful liar, so I couldn’t help but hesitate when I answered.
“Yes… um, I think so? Yeaahhh? I mean, to tell the truth, I’m really not sure.”
I don’t remember her reacting negatively to that answer, but I remember feeling absolutely awful, almost nauseated, as I attempted to fall asleep.
In the coming weeks, I did my best to find something, ANYTHING redeemable about this game.
I discovered that the in-game “paint shop” was incredibly fun and intuitive for making my own schemes. There were a ton of pre-made decals and brush tools, and I would always try to make the coolest-looking car on the track. If that failed, I’d give up and try to make the tackiest car on the track.
I discovered that turning the damage off and going full-throttle around each corner was way easier – and way more fun – than trying to navigate the corner legitimately. To do that without slowing down or without spinning out wasn’t the “proper” way to play the game, but it was challenging nonetheless.
I discovered that turning the damage back on and going the wrong way around the track to cause a pileup was probably the most fun I had in playing a game in quite some time. How many cars could I take out in a single wreck? I’d invite Josh and Jean-Luc over to see how big the crashes could get, and we’d have competitions to see who could wreak the most havoc.
And then, just as my interest was in the game waning, I got the Christmas gift that changed everything.
It was essentially just a hunk of rubber and plastic latched onto a rotating controller (which you can kinda see in the centre of the wheel in the picture above). Paired with the shifter and foot pedals however, it was the most amazing thing I had ever experienced.
No longer was this just a game, it was a simulator, and it was the way NASCAR games were meant to be played.
Whenever I’d watch a race on TV and there would be an onboard video from one of the cars, I’d always pay close attention to how drivers were using the throttle through the corners, how they’d turn the wheel abruptly to get the car to rotate in the centre of the corner, and how a car’s rear-end sliding through the turns could be on the edge, but fast…
I would soak up all the small details from the real thing, just so I could gain that extra tenth of a second per lap on the not-so-real thing.
I ended up buying three of the game’s sequels, a few other racing simulators, as well a couple “new and improved” steering wheels for PC. I’ve participated in countless online races against people from around the world, and I’ve been a part of a league comprised of drivers from around the Maritime provinces. I’ve been lucky enough to win my fair share of those races, and to have an absolute blast in doing it – even in defeat.
The night of my 13th birthday, I fell asleep thinking I had gotten a dud for a birthday present.
In retrospect, I can’t help but think it was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever gotten.
Posted on August 29, 2014
Most of my childhood memories pertaining to video games revolve around a person. Sometimes it’s a friend, sometimes it’s a loved one – usually, it’s someone I would have played games with, or someone who would have at least enjoyed watching me play them.
This post is not about any of those people.
Remember that feeling you had growing up, when you just *knew* the person you were talking to had next to no knowledge about a subject you knew TONS about, so to avoid any awkwardness, you just avoided the subject entirely?
That’s how I felt with both of my grandmothers and video games.
I ate, slept, and breathed video games, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and NASCAR racing for the longest time, but I never brought those subjects up with either one of them. I’d much rather talk with Mémère Joe about her beloved Toronto Blue Jays, or talk with Nan about boats – y’know, she had to like boats since she had to travel on one to get to New Brunswick from Newfoundland… right??
Whether it was family or not, my childhood conversations always seemed to go better when the other person didn’t have to pretend to know what I was talking about.
Oddly enough, I still manage to retain a game-related memory of both of my grandmothers.
It was quite rare to find unlicensed NES games at a massive chain rental store like Blockbuster Video, mostly due to their fear of facing backlash from Nintendo. I remember renting Tengen’s Super Sprint from Major Video once, but even then, I thought the cartridge was legit at the time… other than that, I always found the Camerica, Color Dreams, and even Famicom games at convenience stores around the province.
One such store was Baie-Sainte-Anne’s Day & Night Variété. Whenever I’d go to that little store in “la Grande Rivière”, I couldn’t wait to check out the various oddities they had to offer. Baby Boomer, Quattro Adventure, Crystal Mines and Bee 52 are the ones that stick out the most, although my discovery of Bio Miracle: Bokutte Upa was the one that left the biggest impression on me.
Camerica Games’ Quattro Sports was another one I managed to rent a time or two. The first time I rented it, however, it proved to be quite the struggle.
At first, I was attracted to the game’s shiny gold cartridge. If Zelda and Zelda II came in gold, and they were awesome, then Quattro Sports was going to be four times as awesome!
Unfortunately, the cart and my NES’ 72-pin connector had other plans. No matter how many times I tried, I just couldn’t get the game to start without those patented “glitched up” graphics.
I tried wiggling the cartridge. I tried inserting it at 95% and pushing down on it as the top of the cart scraped the front of the slot. I tried flipping the dip-switch on the back of the cartridge. I tried and tried (and tried) blowing on it until I was blue in the face… I’m pretty sure I blew hard enough some saliva came out a few times, which then had me worried I had somehow damaged the cartridge beyond repair.
Just as I was about to give up, I popped the cartridge in as delicately as I could, powered it up and BAM – it was crystal clear! I was so excited, I couldn’t even believe it. I even risked pressing the Reset button on my NES, and shut it off a time or two to see if it would keep working the next time I came back to play it. I was good to go, so long as I didn’t take the cartridge out.
I remember thinking it was quite a fun game at the time. There were pretty decent baseball, soccer and tennis games on there, but the top-down BMX bike game is the one I played the most.
Like any other game I’d rent, I’d play it for a while, get bored, then go outside. The next morning, I showed my cousin Hélène the cool new sports game I rented. She owned a Sega Genesis, so I took as many opportunities as possible to show her why Nintendo had the superior console.
After playing for a while with her, I left and went downstairs to do some coloring in an activity book of some kind. She came down about 15 minutes later, very excitedly saying she had just gotten to World 3 in Super Mario Bros. 3.
“Wait… Super Mario Bros. 3… YOU TOOK OUT QUATTRO SPORTS??? IT TOOK ME FOREVER TO GET THAT GAME GOING!!! NOW I’LL NEVER GET TO PLAY IT AGAIN AND IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!!!”
I was livid, and being quite loud about it if I remember correctly. Mémère Joe, who never raised her voice at me or anyone else, ever, stepped in.
“OKAY, OKAY, C’T’ASSEZ!! André, calme-toi, c’est pas la fin du monde. Mange ton poulet pis tes frites.”
As she put the chicken nuggets and fries in front of me (which she had been making for us as we colored and played games), it dawned on me just how rude I’d just been to Hélène in front of Mémère.
I made my grandmother raise her voice, and I had never heard her raise her voice with anyone. She was the nicest lady in the Baie, and anyone who ever met her would tell you the same… that morning, I felt like the biggest jerk of all time.
I ate my chicken nuggets in silence, apologized to Hélène, and ended up having no problem whatsoever in getting Quattro Sports to work again.
My grandmother on my dad’s side lived in Newfoundland, so I didn’t get to see her quite as much. After my grandfather died in the late 80’s, Lovetta would make the trip to New Brunswick every couple years or so. Everyone called her Lovie, but to us grandkids, she was Nan.
One day after school, I managed to embarrass myself in front of Nan.
Wal-Mart has been in my home city of Fredericton for 20-ish years now. It replaced Woolco, if you Canadians reading this can remember that chain. Even though my sister and mom were quite excited to finally have a Wal-Mart on this side of the US border, this store seemed like any other to me.
Eventually, they built a McDonald’s INSIDE the Wal-Mart. All of a sudden, this place didn’t look so bad.
I didn’t eat there all that often, but it was fun to try and convince my mom I could get away with eating a quick cheeseburger and still be hungry for supper. I was, after all, a growing 14 year old boy.
People would always say “Where are you putting all that food? You must have a hollow leg!”
In early ’98 or so, the restaurant got a small kiosk that held a few 14-inch televisions and a Nintendo 64 hooked up to each of them. Not only could I wait for my mom at McDickle’s and soak in the scent of burgs and fries, but I could also kill time by playing games on a console I didn’t own!
On one trip to Wal-Mart, my mom seemed to be in a rush. Nan was with us, and she gave me a few bucks so I could grab a bite to eat while I waited for mom to shop for whatever she needed.
Unfortunately, the service was quite a bit slower than I expected it to be because I just had to order a McChicken sandwich, which they had to prepare from scratch just for me. I was – and still am – a patient guy when it comes to waiting for food, so I went over to the N64 kiosk to play a bit of Bomberman 64.
The game wasn’t too bad – I hadn’t played too many N64 games yet at that point since I was a PlayStation owner, but I liked the overall look and feel of it. It was still pretty early in the days of 3D platforming, so it didn’t take much to impress me at the time.
It had only been a few minutes, but it still felt like a while in waiting for the food to be ready. By the time I walked back to the counter, they were just finishing up. I was about to rush to a seat to scarf it down before Mom got done with her shopping, but she was already right behind me and ready to leave as I got my tray of food.
For some reason, I had my panties in a wad that day. I’m not sure if I had a bad day in class or what, but when she suggested I should put it in a bag and take it on the road with us to the Big Potato (a local store that sells produce), I got angry. I wanted to eat it when it was nice and fresh!
After all, they had made it just for me.
After some disagreement between us at the counter, Mom asked for a bag to put it in, which the cashier handed to her. For some reason, I was beyond embarrassed about this. I was still mad as I walked out the Wal-Mart doors and to the car where Lovie was patiently waiting for us.
I ate my McChicken and fries in the car, but I still held some frustration for not being able to eat it in the restaurant. When we got to the Big Potato, I didn’t go in. I stayed behind with Lovie and waited in the car.
“Was your sandwich good?” she asked.
“Yes, but it wasn’t worth the embarrassment.”
“Ohhh Andre, you can’t sweat the small stuff, m’love. It’s no big deal when all is said and done.”
Once again, I felt like a huge jerk in front of someone I didn’t get to see all that often.
I’m still not sure what I was so embarrassed about – all Mom did was take the food off the tray and put it into a plastic bag – WHICH, by the way, was the first time I walked out of a fast food joint with food in a non-paper bag… that was weird.
In any case, neither one of those moments were particularly proud ones. The past few days have made me reflect on the days I spent with my grandmothers; Mémère Joe passed away in 2006, while Nan passed away in 2008, and although it’s a bit sad they’re both gone, I can’t help but have a smile on my face at the though of all the *other* times I got to spend with them.
Posted on August 21, 2014
I haven’t really written a straight-up review of anything since my first year at Saint Thomas University when I wrote album reviews for the Brunswickan, which was actually the newspaper for the other university on campus – the University of New Brunswick. They were just two-or-three paragraph blurbs about various nü-metal albums of the day, and weren’t exactly the most well thought-out things I’ve ever written.
In any event, this review of Majora’s Mask may get a bit long-winded, but it needs to be written. The game has garnered a lot of attention as of late – you know, because Internet – and I felt the need to at least get my opinions on the game out there.
The first aspect of gameplay I need to talk about is right there in the game’s title. Masks played the role of “fun little side-quest” in Ocarina of Time, and collecting them all really wasn’t high on my Give-A-Hoot List. Sure, you might’ve gotten some different responses from NPC’s when you spoke to them, but that wasn’t nearly enough to motivate me to seek out all eight of them.
After chasing Skull Kid through the forest in Majora’s introduction sequence, you’re given some not-so-subtle hints that masks play a much bigger and more functional role this time around. To begin with, you’re not Link… well, you are, but Deku Link honestly feels like something out of another game entirely.
At the end of a tutorial-like segment to get acquainted with your special abilities, you meet the character responsible for this whole shemozzle at the base of Clock Town’s main tower – the Happy Mask Salesman. Majora’s Mask was in that massive backpack of his before he was ambushed by the aforementioned Skull Kid, resulting in the evil mask being stolen.
The game’s title + assuming\hoping you don’t have to play as Deku Link for much longer + an introductory character with a huge bag of masks begging you to get an important mask back = “gee I wonder if masks play an important part in this game?”
So that’s the first part about this game that bugged me on my first (incomplete) playthrough – sure, the idea of changing into characters was kinda fun, but don’t take a sort-of-boring thing from the first game and make it the next game’s MAIN THING!
Anyway, counting the three main form-altering masks (Deku, Zora and Goron), there is a grand total of 24 wearable masks that Link can find which grant him special abilities. For example, one mask gives him the ability to bomb things by running up to them and pressing a button, while another alerts him to the nearby presence of fairies to regenerate health.
Some masks don’t serve much of a purpose, other than to help complete some side-quest involving an NPC. Collecting all of them can be quite the painstaking process, sometimes involving long waits (even with the in-game clock sped up), and the payoff at the end of the game is barely even worth it.
Unfortunately, I was already somewhat disinterested before changing back to Link’s normal form. Like I’ve done with many other games, I eventually came back to it and soldiered on. Surely, there must be more to it than that.
The other big thing about Majora’s Mask is its three day cycle. Clock Town and Termina’s residents are fearful of the moon looming overhead, and for good reason – not only does it have a freaky face on it, but it’s also getting closer and closer with each passing moment. In just three days, just as the “Carnival of Time” is in full swing, Mr. Moon will crash into the Earth (or whatever planet it takes place on) and end life as they know it.
The in-game clock is definitely one of the most interesting aspects of the game. At first, I thought it might be similar to a Mario game or any other platformer with a time limit, and that I’d feel pressure to complete tasks as quickly as possible and only succeed in the nick of time. Thankfully, that’s not the case.
Though the length of “one day” lasts about 18 minutes, there are two songs Link can learn on his Ocarina to change the flow of time – one to slow the clock down to half-speed, and one to speed it up to twice as fast. If you’re like me and enjoy taking your time to explore, you’ll be playing the “half-time” melody about as much as you played Zelda’s Lullaby in Ocarina of Time.
At the very end of the first act, you learn another song that saves the game and takes you back to the first day in the cycle. Here’s where it gets a bit weird…
From the very beginning of the game, you have a very clear goal – to save the world from impending doom. To do this, you must summon the “Four Giants” referred to at the beginning of the game… using past Zelda experiences, you can fairly easily deduce that each of the Four Giants are found at the end of four separate dungeons.
What’s strange is the side-quest-like things you have to do in order to get to these dungeons. For example, to get to the Snowhead Temple, you have to do the following;
Visit the Goron Village to trigger a conversation with Kaepora Gaebora…
Follow the talking owl on an awkward invisible platform chase…
Get the Lens of Truth at the end of the chase…
Go back to solid ground and use the Lens to talk to the ghost of the Goron Darmani…
Follow him on a chase all the way back through the way you entered the area…
Scale a tall cliff to enter the cave in which Darmani resides to get the Goron Mask…
Go all the way back to the Goron Village and enter the main hall as Goron Link…
Speak to the Goron Child and find out why he’s crying…
Seek the Goron Elder, only to find he’s encased in ice…
Look around for some kind of hot substance to melt the ice…
Find some, melt the ice and speak to the Goron Elder…
Learn the *first part* of the Goron Lullaby…
Return to the Goron Shrine and play what you know for the child…
Learn *the rest* of the Goron Lullaby from the child and put him to sleep…
Travel through the treacherous Snowhead Mountain path…
Use the Lens of Truth to be able to see the somehow invisible Giant Goron in front of the temple…
Play the Goron Lullaby to put the Giant Goron to sleep, who then falls off to the side to reveal the temple’s entrance.
While I certainly understand the concept of changing the way you progress and get to the next objective, they felt like menial chores that would normally be reserved for side quests. Once again, it was something that was once optional but was now necessary.
On top of all that, one of the most interesting aspects of Zelda games up until then was the dungeons themselves – Majora’s Mask has four fairly challenging and well thought-out temples before the game’s final act, and that’s it. The rest of the game’s fortresses in-between dungeons aren’t too bad, but feel a bit tacked-on; sort of like Ocarina’s Bottom of the Well and Gerudo Fortress stages.
Here’s the flipside to all that side quest-like stuff the game treats as the main attraction – in terms of the writing, the situations these characters are faced with and how you get to help and interact with them, it’s among the most heart-felt and emotional stuff in the entire series. No Zelda game does it better, if you ask me.
Sure, the gameplay in dealing with some of these situations can be a little on the bland side, but even those little and seemingly meaningless interactions with the Gorons give you that warm and fuzzy feeling inside. “I helped make the end of the world not-so-crappy for you! Hooray!”
Some of the subject matter can actually be pretty dark, which is another thing people enjoyed. Nintendo games have often shied away from topics like religion, and are quite well-known for censoring any reference to tobacco or alcohol. One challenging sequence deals with one of those things, albeit indirectly.
Romani Ranch is somewhat like Ocarina’s Lon Lon Ranch in that it’s where you find Epona (again). The Ranch is also the main provider for Clock Town’s “Milk Bar”, which is a nightclub-like area Link can only get into with special membership.
The Ranch’s caretakers are a little girl by the name of Romani and her adult sister Cremia. Romani says that her big sister won’t let her try the Ranch’s signature product – Chateau Romani – until she’s old enough to drink it.
However, if you visit them on the Final Day, Romani is delighted at the prospect that her sister is finally letting her try the Chateau Romani later that evening. Speaking to Cremia reveals that not only has the adult sister accepted that there is no hiding from the end of the world, but that there’s no reason to tell her little sister the fate that awaits Termina and its residents.
Cremia’s allowing Romani to drink Chateau Romani – an obvious nod to many wines from France having the word “Chateau” in them – allows the older sister to acknowledge the younger one’s passage into adulthood. Furthermore, it’s believed by some game theorists (yep, they exist) that Cremia intends to get Romani intoxicated enough that she won’t be able to feel the inevitable chaos that comes with the Moon collision.
My main gripe about these amazing little interactions is the fact that you constantly have to go back to the First Day. If you help someone out, get something out of it, then save the game, it essentially undoes everything you just did.
If you help Romani get rid of the aliens at the Ranch (long story) and then happen to visit her later on, she’ll tell you all about her plight all over again. It gave me a helpless feeling, one that came with the thought that no matter how many people I try to help, I just end up having to go back and un-do everything to help someone else – usually myself.
Majora’s Mask changes things around a bit from a gameplay perspective and makes you connect with its characters in a way that had never really been done in a Zelda game before. Truth be told, the only other time I felt an awww-inducing emotional moment was during Wind Waker.
When Link leaves Outset Island for the first time and his grandmother watches from his front porch, I’ve gotta say… that got me.
In the end, I absolutely suggest you play Majora’s Mask if you haven’t already. It has some of the best storytelling in any game in the series, as well as some of its most memorable music. It’s not for everyone, but there’s only one way for you to find out if it’s up your alley.
Verdict – DO IT UP!