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5-10-15-20 [GO]
Jun 2nd, 2011 by Dan

Dan helps Tony with Pokemon

I got this idea from Kill Screen (who got this idea from Pitchfork) to talk about my gaming life in five year increments. Pitchfork does it with music and really it can be done with any media, but I’m doing games.

AGE 5 (1991)

One of my first video game memories is sitting in my parents’ living room in Hialeah watching them play a Bowser level in Super Mario Bros. I remember being scared of the creepy black castle level. This was the launch year for the SNES, but I’m sure we didn’t get it until 1992 or 1993. Instead we mostly amused ourselves with Contra, Mega Man 2, and Bubble Bobble.

AGE 10 (1996)

I’m pretty sure my brothers and I discovered the JRPG in 1995 or 1996. We would have played Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, and Super Mario RPG over those two years and changed our gaming landscape forever.

Of course 1996 also marks the genesis of 3D gaming for me. The N64 came out that September, but we didn’t open it until Christmas. Super Mario 64 would be the first of many great games I had for that system.

AGE 15 (2001)

Big things were happening in the gaming landscape on the PS2, but I knew nothing of that. A $400 system was way out of my price range, so I missed the launches of GTA3 and MGS2.

It was freshman year of high school and we learned partway through that we were going to be moving to Tampa. My dad got a new laptop from his job that I used to finally play the PC version of FF VII on road trips to and from Tampa. I remember breeding a Golden Chocobo and thinking that it wasn’t really all that hard. Don’t think I ever beat FF VIII. I think I also played a lot of Final Fantasy VIII that way too. More importantly, that year I got Civilization 3 and tons of Lucasarts adventure games including the Monkey Island series, Grim Fandango, and Day of the Tentacle.

We also got a Gamecube that year for Christmas and Super Smash Bros. Melee along with Pikmin, I think.

What a banner year for gaming, wow.

AGE 20 (2006)

By now I’m a sophomore/junior at university and I’ve got a job to help me pay for my video game habit. I picked up a PS2 in 2004 and started working through the back catalog of games I’d missed. Early in the year I remember playing two RPGs, Kingdom Hearts 2 and Shadow Hearts: From the New World.

They’re fun, but 2006 is a year of PC gaming for me. I spend WAY too much time playing World of Warcraft in 2006. I started the summer of 2005 and I end up quitting around Christmas of that same year, but I come back to it over the summer and it consumes a lot of my days and weekends as I try to power level my Horde character to join a raid guild with my friend Chris. It’s funny, I couldn’t remember why it was that I didn’t play so many console games this year until I remembered that my WoW habit started in force during 2006.

I also grew into the PC shooter this year with a lot of Counterstrike: Source with my roommate, Simon. We played that to fill a lot of our spare time and I also pushed through Half-Life 2: Episode 1 way too quickly.

Unfortunately I’m only 25 now, so I can’t really continue the feature until next year. I keep much better track of what I play nowadays, so it’ll be even easier.

Sharing [F/FB]
Mar 9th, 2010 by Dan

In a sense, doing this blog is a really strange thing for me. I’m more than happy to share my opinion with anyone about the music, movies, or games that I love, but I get nearly crippling anxiety when it comes to actually compelling them to sit down and experience the media I’m trying to recommend. It makes no sense, of course. Why would it matter if they like it or not, right? I mean, it’s not like it’s life or death or that they’ll stop being my friend, but I still get nervous.

The weird thing is that I don’t ever quite reach the point of comfort with even my closest friends. Recommending stuff to my brothers is usually pretty simple since I know them so well. It’s an uphill battle most of the time to even convince them that what I’m offering is worth spending time experiencing, but once they do, I’m right maybe 90% of the time about whether or not they’ll like it. There’s almost no stress involved unless you take away that family element…

If it was because of a specific, tragic event, I must have repressed it enough that I don’t even remember it, but I can honestly say that there are few things worse than that feeling you start to get in your gut when you can visibly see that they’re just really not feeling it. It was just a few weeks ago that I was in Chicago hanging out with a friend of mine who attends Northwestern.

“Duffy, you’ve got to hear these guys. This is the perfect music for warming you up in winter. They’re brilliant.”

The disc in question was Vampire Weekend’s latest, Contra. It’s this crazy indie rock album with these great worldbeat sounds. I don’t really understand why they call worldbeat worldbeat when they mean Afro-Caribbean, but that’s just me, I guess.

“Yeah, sure. Pop it in.”

It all goes south from there. Knowing myself, I know not to look directly at someone who is listening to something I’m making them listen to. It’s agonizing. The silence from her side of the car is deafening. I start counting the number of times that “Horchata” calls out that Koenig is drinking horchata in December. Her hands lower the volume knob twice during the first song. I try to shake it off.

“Eh…well I love it. It’s got a different sound to it and that’s really what attracts me to it, but I can see where you might not.”

She hadn’t even said a word, but I was defeated. The rest of the trip I let her control the radio as we alternated between country music, Lady Gaga, and Ke$ha (and the musical part of my soul died just a little bit).

I loved Sambomaster before I knew I loved Sambomaster, but when I read “changing the world in japanese“, a fantastic article about the band by tim rogers, I finally learned the band’s name and heard their best song. It’s hard to justify how much I love the band since I can’t understand a single lyric that Takashi Yamaguchi is saying, but the band’s music does mean a lot to me and I did my best to evangelize “Sono Nukumori ni Yō ga Aru” as best I could to my friends and family. Dave took to it instantly and even the difficult-to-please Duffy thought that the music was “alright”, but I was stonewalled when I sent it along to my good friend Min.

“Yeah, I just don’t like music in a language I can’t understand.”

I’m sure that part of the whole anxiety thing comes from your run-of-the-mill fear of rejection, but I think that it might also stem from the perhaps too extreme emotional connection that I make with my media. Many of my strongest memories are tied to the media I consume and I sometimes make these connections almost instantaneously.

One week before I went to Chicago, I was driving up to Ithaca with Min to meet up with some old friends. We were listening to podcasts and All Music Considered, one of NPR’s finest podcasts, came up with their Valentine’s Day episode featuring breakup songs. Each of the staff members presented a breakup song that had particular influence on their lives and one chose the Stars song “Your Ex-Lover is Dead”.

“Wow. That was amazing,” I told Min.

“Yeah. A friend of mine sent that to me in high school.”

I didn’t tell Min that the song touched me in a profound way, but I think he could tell from my reaction. If Min hadn’t been there in the car, I might have found myself crying. It just brought back so many memories about my long and damaging relationship with Ashley that it was overwhelming.

I’m not sorry I met you
I’m not sorry it’s over
I’m not sorry there’s nothing to save

It could be that my reluctance to share is preventing someone from learning about media that they’d never heard of before, (I think back to all the times I’ve successfully shared Arrested Development with friends), but then there are times when my nature is proven correct. I correctly balked at exposing my father to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, but he watched it anyway at the insistence of my brothers. He just didn’t get it.

There’s nothing like feeling that connection with someone over a shared experience. Having these interests in common gives us something to talk about and keeps conversation interesting. Maybe one day I’ll get over this fear of sharing. God knows I’m trying by writing this blog most days, even if I try to keep it a secret from most of the people I know.

Of The Blue Colour of the Sky and Contra [Feedback]
Jan 19th, 2010 by Dan

Should be a musical week here at IBNttT and I think I’m gonna start it off with my impressions on OK Go and Vampire Weekend’s new offerings, Of the Blue Colour of the Sky and Contra, respectively.

OK Go – This Too Shall Pass from OK Go on Vimeo.

It’s been ~5 years since OK Go released one of my favorite albums, Oh No, and started to find some mainstream success thanks to the music video for “Here It Goes Again”. A lot can change in five years for a band so I was curious as to how it would turn out (and sound), especially since I’d heard it was a result of them touring for so long they hardly felt like themselves. Sonic shifts can be completely disastrous or they can turn out like OtBCotS and turn out pretty well.

The sound shift comes in the form of an almost 80s funk-synth sound a la Prince, complete with Prince-like yelps and screams. If you’re like me, your first worry should be, “Can Damian Kulash actually hit those notes and sound appropriate for this style?” I’d say that the experiment was mostly a success, with his wailing only taking center stage during the song “Skyscrapers” where it’s used to both great effect and only one mildly annoying overdone part. Beyond that, the synth-y sound is actually pretty great and I’m positive that OK Go will only grow from this experimentation.

My main gripe with the album comes with the back third, which seems like a lot (and it is!). I understand why artists like to slow down the beat and bring us down slowly for the tail end of the album, but, of the last four songs, only the final song, “In the Glass” does anything for me while the other three just don’t fit in thematically. That said, the first two thirds of the album is absolutely fantastic. I’d say my favorite tracks are the first six, so just about half. Not perfect, but not bad either. The bass and drum work are especially worth noting, specifically in “Skyscrapers” and “White Knuckles”, but they’re great throughout the entire album.

If you’re a real fan of the sound OK Go had for their first two albums, I’d give the album a listen before you buy to make sure you’re not getting any unwelcome surprises. For everyone else, if you like your music with a little funk sometimes, it’s worth picking up.

Contra

I’m a little late to the Vampire Weekend party since I’d only heard of them a few days before both of the album came out. When I did some background checking to see what their first album sounded like, I was shocked, since Contra sounds almost nothing like their prior work. That’s not a bad thing, especially since I’m fond of just about every track on the disc, but I have to wonder what old fans might think of the shift to a more tropical, almost reggae-ish sound. Wikipedia calls it “worldbeat”, if that helps any. Anyway, the album definitely sounds Caribbean and tropical, which is definitely welcome during these cold winter months.

Ezra Koenig’s voice does a great job covering this varied sound and much acclaim needs to go to the rest of his band, Rostam Batmanglij, Chris Tomson, and Chris Baio, for coming up with a wholly natural-sounding, almost ethnic album created by a bunch of kids from Brooklyn. I’d be hard pressed to select a single track as the standout so I’ll just say that my favorites are “Run”, “Diplomat’s Son”, “California English”, and “Horchata”. The entire album is available to be listened to on their website, so check them out. Given how different this album is from their first and how good it is, I’m really excited to see what Vampire Weekend does next. This is a band worth keeping an eye on.

Game Overview: 8-Bit All-Stars
May 30th, 2008 by Dan

Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.

Due to some poor life decisions, I find myself stranded for five weeks without any video games. What’s a guy to do, right? Well, rather than just giving you some of the headlines from the week’s video game news in lieu of what I was planning to be gameplay impressions, reviews, and the like, I’m gonna start a five week “All-Stars” feature. Each week we’re going to look at a video game era and spotlight my top three games from that era. Each of these games will also receive a place setting at the prestigious “Table of Honor” feature that I’m working on. Here’s the weekly plan:

Week 1: 8-bit Console Era
Week 2: 16-bit Console Era
Week 3: Post-16-bit Console Era, Pre-Current Generation
Week 4: Pre-Current Generation PC Games
Week 5: Current Generation

Yeah, the categories are broad, particularly weeks three and four, but it’s how I want to do them, so get off my back!

The 8-bit era. According to Wikipedia, this is the third generation of video games, and what a generation it was. You see, it technically began before my lifetime. The Nintendo Entertainment System was released in the US on 18 October 1985, just under four months before my actual date of birth. Wikipedia lists its official end at 1992, but the 16-bit systems debuted much sooner than that, with the Sega Genesis launching in the US in 1989 and the Super Nintendo hitting North American shores in 1991. It was a tumultuous time for video games, with the Video Game Crash of 1983 seemingly spelling the end for video games. Thankfully, Nintendo came along and decided to show everyone there was a new sheriff in town. Games couldn’t be officially published without the “Nintendo Seal of Quality,” limiting the crap that could just be shoveled onto the system, but that didn’t stop a huge flood of relatively crummy games from hitting the system anyway.

Of those games, I distinctly remember three stand-out games from the era, my personal top three:

Here’s a hint for the first of the three, it was damn near impossible to get anywhere in this game without: up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, a. That’s right, #3 on my list is the original Contra

#3 Contra

While my family didn’t technically own Contra, I still have fond memories of visits to our friend Angel’s house where we either got our collective asses handed to us by aliens (apparently? I had to look it up) in their family room or wobbling around on Angel’s super rad water bed (DISCLAIMER: I no longer find water beds super rad). There was something about Contra that other games we’d rented or played just didn’t have. The controls were tight, we had co-op two player mode to help with the levels, the guns were wicked cool, and the levels were way varied. You started side-scrolling, but then you were in quasi-3-D and, before you knew it, you were now fighting from an almost top-down perspective. It all just clicked together so seamlessly. You want proof that this game is good? I don’t think I ever made it to the third level and I still think it’s great.

I’m not even going to comment on how long I’m sure this took this dude to do, but check out this AMAZING no-death run of Contra split into two parts. It’s sure to knock your socks off.

Man, it would sure be cool to be able to destroy that guy and then steal his video game prowess…If that wasn’t as blatant a hint as to the number two game on my list, I’ll just come out and say it: Mega Man 2

#2 Mega Man 2

Take a look at that box art in the above link. Does that make any sense at all to you? It sure as heck didn’t to me as a kid. Mega Man didn’t look like a real dude and he sure as hell didn’t hold a pistol. I guess I can understand the marketing boys not wanting to put what the actual Mega Man looks like on the box, but they did it with Mario, right? I’m sure it doesn’t help that real life Mario looks way scary

Anyway, let’s talk about the gameplay a bit. Mega Man was one of my first encounters with a non-linear game. I’m pretty sure we owned a golden Legend of Zelda cartridge, but the gameplay baffled me and I can’t remember if we had it before or after we got Mega Man 2. That’s all beside the point anyway, which is: How cool is it that you get to pick which Robot Master you fight first? My personal favorite first start was to hit up Metal Man, since he was easiest to beat (Wood Man was another popular choice of mine) without any of the other powers. After that, it was kind of a crap shoot of trial and error for the non-web-enabled gamer of the late 1980s/early 1990s to know where to head next. At some point, my brother somehow found out what order you were supposed to fight them in, possibly through a strategy guide, and we were actually able to see the final sections of the game against Dr. Wily. Those were definitely a challenge and way tough, but also lots of fun to play since you had Mega Man’s full repertoire of weapons at your disposal. Here’s another game that I don’t remember ever beating, although I do remember fighting a dragon for some odd reason or another. All in all though, a tight gaming experience with a creative mechanic to me at the time. Stealing powers and knowing that they were strong against another guy, just brilliant. I do have one thing to say though, I’ll be god damned if ever beat Quick Man. Those beams of energy were way cheap…

Below is some dude’s tribute to Mega Man 2

Man oh man, what could possibly be the best of 3 on a system like the NES. Which game could be first on my list, but 3rd at the same time? Ok, ok, enough lame hints, you probably already know I’m talking about Super Mario Bros. 3.

#1 Super Mario Bros. 3

SMB3 is, and always will be, as close as you can get to perfection embodied in 2-D platformer. Just about the only criticism I can come up with, and only after wracking my brain, is that the myriad of suits are sometimes very situational and there aren’t enough opportunities to get the cool ones like the Tanooki, Hammer Bros., or Frog Suit. Other than that, Shigeru Miyamoto proved not only that lightning can strike the same place twice, but that it can strike the same place twice more awesomely than the last two times it did. The innovative map screen was incredible, the tiny details, like sliding down hills, were intricately placed, you could fly, you could store power-ups, and you still retained some of the most vital Mario abilities, like warping from world to world.

My vivid memories of Mario 3, again at Angel’s house or rented, really just highlight how absolutely incredible the game was. I still, to this day, think of those days as a kid playing SMB3 when I see that opening red curtain. I still remember those days when I play the Mario Brothers mini-game. I still remember that time in my life when I see the opening to the first level. Having never actually owned the game and due to the lack of a battery backup system in the original cartridge, I never did beat the game way back in the day. I did, however, get a chance to come back to it with the release of the Game Boy Advance SP. The Christmas of my junior year of high school, there was a bundle available for Christmas: Buy the Game Boy Advance SP, get Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 bundled in and a rebate for headphones. I’d been wanting to pick up a GBA SP for a while at that point, since it featured a backlight, which all original GBA owners know the system DESPERATELY needed, and bundling in SMB3 made it a no-brainer. I resolved to never use a warp whistle and to play every single level available, regardless of whether or not I had to in order to reach the castle. It was beyond rewarding to finally finish it about 10 years after I started it.

This game is definitely tough, but I guarantee you that if you play through the entire thing, you will know what it is to have fun playing a video game. There’s no complicated camera, no objective set other than reach the end and basically almost no plot at all, and no maneuvers more complicated than maybe holding a direction and another button down, but in this way we see what it is to truly have fun with a game. Playing SMB3 I feel like I really do understand what Miyamoto talks about when he goes off about how games are too complicated nowadays and how we should refocus on what makes a game fun.

For more video game video fun, check out this speed clear of SMB3:

There you have it, my top three games of the 8-bit era. Many of you might be complaining about the lack of Sega Master System games (or anything outside of NES games), but, truth be told, I’ve never even touched a Sega Master System, much less played or even seen one in real life. I can’t have a favorite game I’ve never played, can I? Tune in next week to see my favorites of the 16-bit era. This time I’ll be able to include Sega games (will any make it?) and we’ll see games that are far more complex in almost every respect than their ancestors.

A few words on what will become my “Table of Honor” page. Basically, it’s a Hall of Fame page for the best examples of just about any category I talk about on this blog, including video games, music, movies, technology, and books. Once I finally debut this feature, I’ll be sure to post something about it.

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