What’s Your Console and Computing History

What’s Your Console and Computing History

What consoles/computers did you buy new, before you started collecting used ones?

For me it happened like this:

  • Commodore VIC-20
  • Commodore 64
  • Amiga 1000
  • Sega Master System
  • Amiga 1200
  • PC Intel 486 DX 66
  • Game Boy
  • Game Gear
  • Super Nintendo
  • PC Intel Pentium 150
  • PC Intel Pentium II 350
  • PC Intel Pentium III 650
  • PC AMD Athlon Thunderbird 1200
  • Microsoft Xbox
  • Nintendo GameCube
  • Sony PSP 1000
  • PC Athlon 64 X2 2800+
  • PC AMD Phenom II X4 920
  • PC Intel i5 3570K
  • Nintendo 3DS
  • Nintendo Switch

And that last computer is where I am today… I am in need of a new PC soon, as it’s starting to show its age. I’ve gone through 3 new GPUs, 2 power supplies, and a new case since buying it, so it’s holding its own, but I don’t want to fork out the money for another GPU without upgrading the rest of it.

All of the computers and systems up to the Pentium 150 would have been family or older-brother purchased. I was too young to afford that! The first computer I ever bought with my own money (and built myself) would have been the PII 350 at the age of 17 (1997). I’ve been building my own computers since then.

Choice Paralysis

Choice Paralysis

If you’re anything like me, then you enjoy buying games with the intent of playing them now or later. A common result of that, is that you end up with a large library of games to play, and often are unsure of what to play next.

“So what is it?”

Overchoice or Choice Overload is a cognitive process in which people have a difficult time making a decision when faced with many options. Overchoice takes place when the advantages of diversity and individualization are canceled by the complexity of buyer’s decision-making process.

Here are my tips on staying focused and making decisions about what to play next. Please add your own in the comments!

  1. Adopt a “Finishing Games” mentality. If you’re enjoying a game, work on finishing it before moving on. I enjoy the feeling of “going back to work” on a particularly tough game to do some more attempts at finishing it. Looking at you, retro 8-bit games. Obviously this shouldn’t be a hard and fast rule, but I find that once a game is officially completed, it really helps me to move on. You can put the game away, and look towards a new title to get engrossed in. This is a great prevention method for the problem of being half-way through a ton of different games.

  2. Keep a category in your spreadsheet (or other method of game/backlog tracking) for “Upcoming Games”. If you’re particularly excited to play a game you have, but don’t want it to get lost in the masses of your backlog, put it in a special category created for games you want to play soon. This greatly helps with paralysis of choice when you’re looking at 10 or 20, versus a couple hundred.

  3. When faced with Choice Overload, try having a friend choose for you. The funny thing about Choice Overload is: the effect is actually reversed when making a decision for someone else. Having a friend choose from your “Upcoming Games” list will ensure they pick something you’re already interested in. Your friend will also likely choose something they enjoy, or have completed themselves. This will have the added benefit of giving you a good conversation topic while you play through the game.

  4. Start using a good tracking or backlog tool to keep track of your completed games. Adding to that number of completed games becomes it’s own thing, and you’ll want to go back to certain games to check them off the list. I use backloggery, but there are tons of alternatives as well.

  5. Use a competitive multiplayer game as filler. Find a great multiplayer game that’s “never ending” to fill in gaps in your single player gameplay. This also works great with open ended games like Minecraft or Cities: Skylines etc. I try to keep to one competitive game at a time, so I can focus on getting better at one game instead of many. This keeps it interesting for longer, as there’s always a new rank to try and attain. My current game is Rocket League, and I’ve put in over 1500 hours!

  6. Play something that puts you out of your comfort zone. Sometimes what you need is a change of pace. If you find yourself looking at the list of 40 platformers you own, and wondering why you can’t make a choice, it may help to play something you’ve never gotten into. Try a rhythm game, or a genre-mix game, or maybe an art game like Mario Paint. Devil’s Crush on TG16 is a great example here. Break up that monotony.
That’s all I have for now. Good luck out there, and please add your thoughts and tips!
Stunt Racing Games

Stunt Racing Games

Let’s talk about stunt racing games!

Racing games have always held a special place in my gaming history, and I think it’s in large part due to the stunt racer and the love and frustration they bring.

I’m going to talk about a few of my favourites.

Stunt Car Racer (1989)

The feel of speed and the floaty physics lent itself to a game that felt dangerous.

This was my first stunt racing game. I would have been 9 or 10 years old when I first laid my eyes on what would become one of my most memorable Amiga games. Developed by Geoff Crammond (who fittingly has a physics degree), and published by Microprose. The game puts you on thin tracks closely resembling a roller coaster ride, and they get steeper and more difficult as you progress through the game. The feel of speed and the floaty physics lent itself to a game that felt dangerous. Your car felt heavy and lumbering, and as you raced around the tracks your car would creak and slowly tear itself apart due to the stresses put on the car by your driving. It was meant to be unnerving. It was punishingly difficult, and it made you really pay attention to how you landed your jumps, ensuring you got the speed just right to reduce damage.

There are quite a few tracks to master, and a whole host of unique racers to defeat on your way to the championship.

It’s a fantastic game, and I still enjoy playing it now. There is also a C64 port that is incredibly well done for the capabilities of the system.

Whiplash (1995)

Known as Fatal Racing tho the rest of the world, Whiplash was developed by Gremlin Interactive, who were known for creating Gauntlet, the Top Gear games, and many others. It’s a “modern style” racer with stunt tendencies in the early days of 3D games on MSDOS. Released in 1995, later versions would include Glide3D support for dedicated GPUs in the Voodoo line of graphics cards.

Mostly, the tracks were in cities and other landscapes, with features thrown in like loop-the-loops and corkscrews for the stunts. Not taking itself too seriously, there is an announcer that’s not too dissimilar to other racing games of the period. He’ll either encourage you when you finish a lap, or tell you when you’re going too slow. When your car launches over a corkscrew, you can hear the driver shouting “YEEEEE HAWW HAWWW!”.

The gameplay largely seems a little wonky and slow by today’s standards, but the game was a huge hit with me. It was a fun game that didn’t take itself very seriously, and I played through it several times before moving on to other games.

Carmageddon II: Carpocalypse Now (1998)

Carmageddon II was an arena style racing game where you are pit against a grid of other racers in a kill-or-be-killed race. The game was developed by Stainless Games, who went on to produce a bunch of Arcade remakes and MTG Card games before eventually returning to create a long awaited continuation to the Carmageddon franchise. The game takes its inspiration from the 1975 film Death Race 2000. Sure you can win by racing, but it’s much more fun to just kill all the other racers before the race ends (you can also win by wiping out every pedestrian on the map, and there are TONS).

This game has massive maps, tons of power-ups, and lots of hidden secrets to find. It’s not inherently a stunt racing game, but I included it because of its tendency to reward those who explore. There are high up places with special power-ups all over, that you can only get to by taking huge leap of faith jumps from some ramp off in the distance.

I spent entire weekends with friends at a LAN parties, laughing and having a great time with this title.

Rollcage Stage II (2000)

Rollcage Stage II was a futuristic weapons based racer where the main shtick was that your car didn’t really have an upside and downside. It could drive either way just fine, and this led the way to tracks designed to take advantage of the feature. Tracks that allow you to drive on the ceiling, tracks with areas that loop around in a corkscrew, etc.

Rollcage Stage II was developed by the infamous Psygnosis, who made their name by creating some of the most prolific Amiga games of all time. Shadow of the Beast, Lemmings, Ballistix, Last Action Hero, Barbarian, and many others. Later on they would develop the Wipeout and Destruction Derby series. Rollcage Stage II was also one of the first ever games to support a special bump mapping technology that was only available to owners of the Matrox Millennium G400 GPUs (which I had at the time).

The real lure of this game was the Scramble Mode. It’s a puzzle style mode where the tracks are purposefully difficult, and you earn medals based on your time to the finish. There are no other racers, just you and the clock. Tough obstacles and ever increasing difficulty meant you had to learn your car’s intricacies to stand a chance of finishing the tracks.

Trackmania Series (2003-Present)

The Trackmania series of games started with the original game back in 2003. It was developed by a then-completely-unknown French developer called Nadeo. The game features three different cars, each with their own unique handling characteristics, and own environments, with completely different track sets and obstacles. You primarily race against the clock, and when you do play online, there is no collision with other cars, so the clock is still your only real enemy.

Trackmania Sunrise came next, and it too, featured three (brand new) cars, each with their own handling characteristics and environments. Very much a basic sequel by the numbers, but Nadeo really took it up a notch with the number of tracks, and a brand new Platform mode, somewhat similar to the Scramble Mode in Rollcage Stage II. You have a start and finish, a number of checkpoints in-between, and the goal is to get to the end point with as little resets as possible, on increasingly difficult tracks.

With the growing popularity of their games, and a budding eSports scene, Nadeo released a new game with a new car/environment based loosely on F1 styling. They were ultra fast, had incredible handling, and looked the part. The new game would be free too play, and featured car skins for each country. The result was a massive following and a huge community of racers, mappers, youtube creators and later on streamers. There is also a thriving eSports scene that still carries on to this day.

Trackmania Nations earned Nadeo the credibility and recognition that caught the attention of Ubisoft. They were eventually purchased, along with the rights to the Trackmania series.

In Trackmania Nations, user made tracks are created with the built in track editor, and pieces of the track are placed on a sort of grid pattern. Track size is limited to a 32x32x32 area within the stadium of Trackmania Nations for a very long time, which would essentially allow for total count of 32,768 blocks at most when making tracks. That seems like a lot, but when you’re designing a track and want to do something in long stretch, 32 blocks can feel very limiting. That didn’t stop people from making crazy creations, however.


These limitations didn’t last forever. At some point, some very clever modders figured out a way to increase this limitation to a whopping 256x256x256, which allows for 16,777,216 blocks! As you can imagine, this can quite easily bring many PCs to their knees. Mappers quickly started to create unique ways to utilize this new freedom, mostly resulting in ultra fast tracks designed to test even the best racers, all the while keeping the speed at an absolute maximum. Some went horizontal, some went vertical! The tracks using this mod were aptly named 256³ tracks, and the ones at full speed were aptly named “full speed”. Put them together and you have something very special brewing.

At this point, I would like to direct your attention to an amazing video showcasing the top 12 most popular 256³ tracks.

"Are Trackmania games the greatest stunt racing games of all time? I definitely think so."

The thing I love about the Trackmania games is that they are difficult, but dead easy to start playing. What I mean is; anyone can play and race, and they will have fun immediately. The skill ceiling however, is unnaturally high. There are no assist mechanics in the game for steering, braking, and subsequently flying. It’s a proper physics engine, and It’s also completely free from any sort of motion blur or FOV changes, so the speed is blazing fast and completely natural.

Are Trackmania games the greatest stunt racing games of all time? I definitely think so. Greatest all around racing games of all time? I’ll stick with a maybe on that one.

Conclusion

Go play some Trackmania if you haven’t played the series. You owe it to yourself!

How Difficulty in Gaming Affects Enjoyment

How Difficulty in Gaming Affects Enjoyment

To set up the discussion about difficulty in video games, I’d like to take a look at two games I played back to back, and how it affected me.

I recently finished Mega Man 1 for the first time. No emulation or save states, and I didn’t look up any tips, tricks, or glitches. I fought tooth and nail and learned the patterns of the bosses, and I absolutely loved it.

Once I was done, I started right in on the all-fabled Mega Man 2. I was immediately disappointed… let’s talk about why.

Mega Man 1

Mega Man

At its core, I know Mega Man 2 is a better game. It has more complicated enemy design, better levels, better graphics, and more varied special weapons. The controls are less slippery and feel super tight. It also lacks a lot (not all, though) of that cheap artificial difficulty that’s derived from poor hit-boxes, unfair challenges, and huge difficulty spikes. Capcom learned a lot about development on the NES when they were making Mega Man 1, and it shows.

So what happened?

When I first started playing Mega Man 1, the very first enemies on the Cut Man stage (Bunby Heli) kicked my ass. “What the fuck? How am I supposed to kill them when they dive right at my face?!”

A few screens later, I was getting knocked off of ladders by erratic bullets from the red Blasters. Slowly I figured things out, I got better and memorized the patterns of the enemies.

Minutes later, I got to Cut Man, and he whooped my ass. He was jumping all over erratically, landing on my head, flinging his weapon at me. It took probably 4-5 tries, but I got him! I was now excited to continue on to the next stage. Elec Man was a hard wall for me, as I didn’t know that enemies had weaknesses to certain weapons. I fought and killed all the other Robot Masters before I eventually figured out that Elec Man isn’t actually utterly impossible, you just need to hit him with the Cut weapon (that took about 20 attempts of frustration before giving up and trying out all the weapons). I felt comfortable in killing most of the bosses, and I was ready for the end game boss. “I’m coming for you Dr. Wily!”


I felt I was getting the hang of things. I had this game figured out. As I worked my way through the next stage, and came upon the Yellow Devil, I was certain he was the final boss. Twenty or so attempts later, I had him! I killed the end boss and was ready to see the credits roll!

Nope.

Unbeknownst to me, there were much harder trials awaiting my arrival. Robot Master gauntlets, a copy of myself that will ruin my day, and even more painfully difficult levels. There was also a final trial designed to soften you up like a pillow before you face Dr. Wily.


By the time I finished the game, my 4 year old that had been watching me play was humming along with the music in the game. I jumped up and screamed when I finished the game, and scared the crap out of him. I was standing and fist pumping like I just scored the game winning goal in game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.

"HERE I AM YOU SON OF A BITCH! COME AT ME!"

The first Mega Man game sets you up to fail initially, but gives you all the tools to succeed. This difficulty is baked in, and you have no choice to endure. If you can’t figure out Yellow Devil, too bad… you will never see the end of the game. There is no difficulty setting, and it’s not shy about messing your hair up right out of the gate. Mega Man 1 stares you straight in the face and yells “Here I am, you son of a bitch! Come at me!”.

Mega Man 2 Logo

Mega Man II

Understandably, I was excited to get to Mega Man 2. It’s also understandable (in hindsight) that I was disappointed. Coming off the back of Mega Man 1 and the difficulty expectation that it had set. Not wanting to get my ass kicked so hard, I set the difficulty level to “Normal”. I flew through the first three bosses without a single death. What the hell is going on? What did they do? I restarted on “Difficult” setting and hardly noticed any difference. I was still flying through the stages, especially if I used the Metal Blade for everything. I could shoot in 8 directions, do more damage than the Buster, and I was getting enough power ups that I didn’t even run out of energy. I found myself putting the Metal Blade away to artificially increase the difficulty. Refreshingly, Air Man kicked my ass for a while.


Mega Man 2 felt so smoooooth! It looked and played fantastic. The music is incredible and lives up to all the hype! It was a marked improvement in 1 in almost every way, but I still didn’t enjoy it in the same way. The sense of uneasiness when you approach a boss that has crushed you previously, is sadly missing.

Later on the difficulty spikes in really odd ways. Enemies that seemingly hit you no matter what you do. Why was there a Sniper Joe in a hallway where you can’t jump his bullets?

image credit: Old School Gamer - Jogatina Clássica


Why did I find myself in a spot where I need special weapons to continue, but I didn’t have enough power to pass the area? I was running back a few screens to a spot where I could farm Weapon Energy. That’s no fun… the game had created situations that made me feel like it was purposely cheating me out of health, to artificially make the upcoming boss more difficult. Admittedly, I found out later that this was a result of me doing it wrong, but it didn’t change the experience I had.

Comparisons

Let’s look at the the mid-game bosses. Yellow Devil vs. Mecha Dragon, as I feel it showcases a great comparison that sums up the entire experience of each game.

Yellow Devil

This guy doesn’t mess around. Right from the onset, you’re bombarded with yellow blocks flying into you, doing major damage. You don’t know the pattern and it’s ripping you apart. He finally finishes building himself, then fires a SINGLE SHOT. No time to rest, WHAM, you’re hit with another yellow chunk as he spans the screen in pieces to the other side, repeating his method of building himself on each side. How the hell am I supposed to dodge all this?! He only has one attack, but he’s destroying me!

Yellow Devil is deceptively simple. He has one attack, and he breaks into pieces to move to the other side of the screen. He doesn’t walk around or jump. You spend time trying to learn the pattern… is it better to take one hit and try and stand behind him? No… that didn’t work. He will kick your ass until you learn what you need to do. You need a certain amount of dexterity to kill him. It takes patience, skill, and if you can’t figure it out, the rest of the game is off limits.

Mecha Dragon

This fight is set up beautifully with a really interesting auto-scrolling section, where you’re being chased by a giant dragon. The blocks are getting destroyed under your feet, and you’re running for your life! The screen stops the auto-scroll, and the fight begins. The build up to the fight is executed perfectly, and you’re standing on a block over a void… this is amazing! What happens next, is you figure out the simple firing pattern one one attempt, get him to 1/3rd life before he kills you. Jump up when he fires low, jump down when he fires high. Your next attempt you kill him with ease. Oh… that was a lot easier than you expected.

Conclusion

I’m no elitist. I believe people should play and enjoy games in whatever way they want. If you want to play easy games to relax & unwind, you should do just that. Some of the best gaming experiences I have ever had were “Walking Simulators”, which are games with vast worlds to just explore and experience a story-line. They often don’t even have enemies.

Perhaps this is a large contributing factor as to why Mega Man 2 was so wildly popular. Accessibility can often play a huge role in the legacy of a game, along with many other factors like graphics, marketing, series growth etc.

What are your thoughts on difficulty?

Do you enjoy difficult games?

What games do you think nailed their difficulty perfectly?

I can’t wait to dive into the rest of the series.

Games, And the Need to Finish Them

Games, And the Need to Finish Them

The Steam winter sales was another round of me buying a bunch of games for really cheap. Cheap enough in fact that it’s easy to buy way more games than you have time to play.

I decided that I should try and rectify that in a couple ways. I’m going to put more work into games before giving up to go play something shinier, and I’m going to start buying less smaller $2-$5 titles, and instead buy less frequent at the $20+ range. Hopefully over time I can sort of catch up to my growing library of games. I have no concrete plans to play through every game (230+), but I’m starting to work towards it a tad.

Recently I’ve played through Dishonored and found it to be absolutely fantastic. I liked it so much I played it twice in fact! That’s the first time I’ve literally sat through the credits and started a new game immediately. I finished off Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, and dubbed it as one of the best games ever. I also finished Bioshock Infinite, and also dubbed it as a favourite. I then started getting back into a few games that I haven’t played in a long while, in hopes of marking them as complete on my Backloggery list. I started Warcraft IIIBioshock, and Borderlands II, all games that I had played in the past and abandoned for various reasons. I’m done Borderlands II as of last night and I am getting *very* close to finishing Bioshock.

Best game as of late? Definitely Dishonored. It has amazing combat, stealthy goodness, and just runs and feels amazing. You choose how you want to play (stealthy and less murderous, or by killing everyone), and it effects the outcome and ending.