Video Games

Sat 5/11/2013

I was six years old when the Nintendo Entertainment System was released in the USA. I (of course) wanted one, but my father had a strict "no video games" rule for our home. At the time this seemed tragically unfair.

A year or two later the ONLY thing on my Christmas list was an NES. If my parents asked me what I wanted for Christmas I stubbornly responded "I only want a Nintendo." I did not get it, which barely registered in my consciousness when I was happily opening my other presents on Christmas morning, but years later my mother told me the the tragic true story of that Christmas Eve...

She had actually gone out and bought me a Nintendo! That Christmas eve, it was literally sitting in the trunk of my mother's car, in the garage just below where I was sleeping. I guess my parents got in an argument over it, and my dad won and the Nintendo never entered the house. I was completely oblivious about all of this, and my mom returned it to Toys R' Us a few days later.

In retrospect, I can respect my father's decision. I probably spent a lot more time running around in the woods, reading and drawing because we didn't have a NES, which is a good thing. I almost want to say it helped me become the creative person I am today, but I have so many creative friends who DID grow up with a Nintendo, I'm pretty sure I would have ended up where I am today either way. And besides, I just went over to Ryan Kirkby's house to play Nintendo anyway!

Ryan was way better at the NES than I was because he had unlimited access to the machine. At first this was kind of a drag because we'd try to play two-player games, but I was always holding him back. Eventually I became Ryan's video game "copilot" which worked much better. Ryan would play, and I'd watch while throwing in the occasional suggestion or tip.

At some point Ryan got Loom for his home computer. That changed everything for me. There was no dexterity involved, no timing or hand-eye coordination necessary. We just clicked our way through the story, and used our minds to solve puzzles. It was a total blast for me, and we spent many an hour in front of this game, trying to figure it out. All those hours really burned this art style of 256-colors into my brain. It still looks amazing to me, though much of that is probably nostalgia.

I caught bits and pieces of other adventure games while over at Ryan's house including Sam and Max, Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle. In high school, I got around my father's "no video game" rule by using the family computer and by buying the games with my own money. I remember playing all of The Dig and some of Dark Forces, which was more of a "real" video game. I was never very good at it, but I had fun walking around shooting Storm Troopers!

If you're asking yourself, "What's with all the LucasArts Games?" I'm not sure what to tell you... I was (WAS?) obsessed with Star Wars, so the "Lucas" name held a lot of sway with me. Plus, every game I played was awesome, so I didn't really feel the need to branch out.

In college, I met Frunch and GCB who had both grown up with video games. Quake was really in vogue, which they tried to get me into, but again, I could never keep up. I didn't stand a chance in the single-player games and in multiplayer games I was always goofing around, like running around, trying to kill players with an axe, so I could use the line, "Hey, can I AXE you a question?"

My sophomore year, we all moved into a quad together, along with our friend Sam. This was right when Quake 3 came out, so I installed it and tried to play, but again, I was no great shakes. There was also a Nintendo 64 in that quad, and an ungodly amount of The New Tetris was played. I was easily the worst player in the quad.

After college, I ended up living in a house with Frunch in Portland, Oregon. He played a lot of video games, and I was preparing to ease back into my role of video game "copilot" when Frunch stopped me cold in my tracks. Instead, he offered to TEACH me how to play video games! Frunch set up a course of study which took me from the humble beginnings of video games up to the (at the time) current state of the art. Here was what I had to do:

All of this I did, helped immensely by the fact that I was unemployed at the time. It was a great course. As I moved through the games, I learned to use each new controller - from no buttons to two buttons, to four buttons to however many buttons there are on the N64. I also learned to navigate increasingly complex worlds - from overhead to side scrolling to full-on 3D. I wouldn't say I was GREAT at video games after Frunch's course, but I at least now had the confidence to participate along with others, or to tackle new games on my own.

That was in 2004. For the next eight years, I think the only video game I played was Jedi Knight II. In general, I am much too busy drawing comics and trying to scrape together a freelance living to play video games, but I could not resist the idea of running around with a lightsaber. I never even got close to beating it.

Then, in 2012, I spent six months as the Acting Director of CCS. This was one of the most stressful times of my life. I was so busy that I only had an hour to script comics in the morning and then the rest of my day was spent working for the school. At night, I was utterly exhausted and burned out.

I needed some form of stress relief, and one night I thought "Maybe I should play a video game." I went on Steam and found that they had an old LucasArts Adventure Game pack for $10. I bought it and that night I started replaying Loom. It was pure nostalgia and I loved every minute of it. The art, the music, the story. I even had fun trying to figure out the puzzles again, many of which I had forgotten in the 22-year interval. I only played for an hour or two a week, late at night, but it definitely helped me get through that stressful time in my life.

Once Claire and I made it out to the West coast, I downloaded SCUMM VM and tracked down some of the old LucasArts adventure games, including Sam and Max Hit the Road. I've always loved Sam and Max (the comics, the TV show) and I had played bits and pieces of this game when I was a kid, but MAN! This game was so fun, I could barely stand it. The great characters combined with the totally off-the-wall puzzles made for a hilarious adventure. It's like a great animated cartoon, except you can PLAY it and make the decisions and figure out all the important plot moments for yourself.

So imagine my delight, when, RIGHT as I was getting back into Adventure Games, Double Fine started their Kickstarter campaign to create a NEW Adventure Game! I signed up in an instant, and was thrilled when the project blew past its $300K goal and raised over three million dollars.

I can honestly say it's the best $15 I've ever spent. Not only is Double Fine making this game from scratch, but Two Player Productions is making a documentary of their process. Each month I get a private link to an hour-long documentary about whatever's been going on with the game's production, including writing, concept designs, art, programming, music, sound effects, budgeting. It's been a fascinating process, and Double Fine head honcho Tim Schaefer is one hilarious dude. It's also great to see my pal Scott C. turn up every once in a while!

If you would like check this project out, and help with its creation, you can still chip in! $30 gets you access to all of the documentary content as well as the game when it is done. I promise you, it is worth every penny!

Speaking of the game, it is called "Broken Age" and it is coming along nicely! Visit the site to check out some art from the game and the teaser trailer. I'm super duper excited to play this when it is ready! Even more exciting than this one game though, is the thought that Double Fine has been working hard to create the game ENGINE from scratch. I really hope this means that they will be able to make more Adventure Games after this one is done. A second dawn of fun, "easy" games with great stories, characters, art and puzzles? Count me in!

I was having so much fun following Double Fine's progress on Broken Age, I decided to attempt to play their flagship title, Psychonauts. I've been chipping away at it, a few hours a weekend for the last few months, and today I finally beat it. It was pretty hard for me, I definitely couldn't have done it without Frunch's video game course, but it was worth the effort. It's definitely one of the most unique stories I've ever experienced. Clever and rad on so many different levels. I really hope they will make a sequel someday.

If ANY of this Double Fine stuff sounds good to you, there is an incredible deal up right now on Humble Bundle. For the next ten days, you can pay whatever you want and get a bunch of their games. $35 gets you Psychonauts, Stacking, Costume Quest, Brütal Legend AND access to all the Broken Age stuff. You're not going to find a better deal than that, and it's available on Mac/PC/Linux!

It feels kind of weird that I've been so obsessed with this stuff lately, because I don't think of myself as a "video game guy." But maybe it makes sense... Disney closed down LucasArts last month after the LucasFilm merger, so it's kind of like passing the torch. Schaefer worked on a lot of the adventure games at LucasArts, and now I'm playing his stuff from Double Fine. It feels similar to my experiences as a kid. I'm having fun playing the games, and I don't have a ton of time for this stuff anyways, so I haven't yet felt the need to branch out and explore more of the current video game landscape, which seems vast and somewhat terrifying.

Phew! Okay, sorry this post is so long and crazy. I have been thinking about this stuff a lot but haven't had the time to write it all out until today. Now that I've cleared out my backlog of thoughts on video games, I can write (MUCH) shorter posts in the future as I play more of these games. For now I better get back to the drawing board!

3 comments on this entry

Make sure you get your hands on Grim Fandango too! And this is going to sound crazy, but if you can get your hands on a DS and any of the first four Ace Attorney games, I'd highly recommend them. They're really fun, have a unique and fascinating puzzle system, and are a weird hybrid of comics and video games. Ghost Trick, another game by the same creator, is also quite good.

Hi Colin- Thanks for the tips! I've heard so many good things about Grim Fandango, I definitely want to check it out someday, if they ever rerelease it. Hopefully Disney will either sell the rights now that LucasArts is closed, or maybe their games division will realize what they have and rerelease it!

Alec May12

I really like the idea of that video game course! I'm always thinking about how fun it is to play video games but never have a lot of time to play them (except for quick ones on my phone). I never played those LucasArts adventure games ... I was more into Zelda, platformers, and JRPGs, but I might download them and give them a shot.

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