Sunday, March 23, 2014

Anachronistic Gaming Experiences

                Very recently, one of my cousins started playing SNES ROMS in an emulator. He was asking me what games to get, which is an incredibly easy request because I have good knowledge about the lineup of SNES and SFC games. I recommended Demon’s Crest right away and watching him play it looked like too much fun, so I had to get back into gaming.
                The last time I played a video game was in early 2005. It is important to understand what I mean by the word ‘play’. There are two species of play for interacting with a video game. The first type is casual play, which is done merely to pass the time or to satisfy one’s habit or addiction. The second type is serious play, in which the intention is to complete the game. I consider online or multiplayer gaming to be casual play, since the purpose is to merely defeat another person, or many people. It is social gaming and is generally useful for passing time or to feed an addiction. Serious gaming, on the other hand, leads to one part of the game – the end screen or end sequence; that is the purpose of serious gaming. Serious gaming cannot be addictive because the game is no longer played once the ending is achieved. If a completed game is played again, then the purpose would be to play it better than a previous completion. If a completed game is played for nostalgic reasons, then that is casual gaming. A lot of my gaming in the past was of the casual kind; I often played them out of habit.
                Yesterday, I completed Gargoyle’s Quest 2 (it’s the second game in a series which consists of Gargoyle’s Quest [Gameboy], Gargoyle’s Quest 2 [NES] and Demon’s Crest [SNES], which are themselves part of the Ghosts ‘n Goblins series by Capcom) and it was not played out of habit, but for a desire to complete the game. After a 9 year break from casual and serious gaming, one would figure I’d be helpless. But that is not what happened. Without the manual, without any online guides, I completed Gargoyle’s Quest 2 in about 10 hours. If I had played this game when it first came out, in 1992, I would have spent weeks or even months with it. The reason why I completed it so quickly was due to playing it on an emulator, which offers the advantage of saving anywhere, at any time. I don’t have the luxury of summer vacations like I did when I was a teenager. I’m an adult with a full time job and summer vacations are the stuff of dreams. People without jobs or any schoolwork have the necessary time to memorize vast amounts of information about a game. They also have the time it takes to get that one “lucky” break at negotiating a stage or level, a break that gets them to the boss with enough health to have enough time to try to understand the pattern of the boss. Even when I was a younger person with summer vacations, I still found it quite difficult to get to bosses with enough health or lives to make any progress. Emulation changes everything. When I got to a boss fight, I saved right away. This removed the burden of having to play through the stage over and over and over and over and over and over and over again, ad infinitum, ad nausea, ad prickly pain, ad tendon torture, ad mental meltdown. What a relief that saving in the boss room offers! Never before have I had the ability to truly study and scrutinize the patterns of a boss. I beat the first boss on my first attempt, which is to be expected. With each subsequent boss, I naturally failed on the first attempt. Some of the boss fights took more than 30 minutes of trying, dying, trying, dying, trying, dying – great fun! The last boss in the game, oddly, was one of the easiest. The fight was made easier due to acquiring infinite hovering ability and that I found the perfect height for hovering. I just hovered, moved left and right, and fired continuously.
                I did not play Gargoyle’s Quest 2 in 1992, nor would I have played it. By 1992, I was strictly a SNES gamer. GQ2 is a NES game. I stopped following NES games once I got the SNES, so I missed out on many great games. I want to mention that this game was pretty thoroughly not anywhere in my mind. I collect video game music and have considerable knowledge about the music from games, even those I have not played. When I looked for the NSFe file of GQ2, I could not find it in my collection. I also couldn’t even find the NSF file! How did I miss this one? Somehow, I had never even listened to the music from GQ2. I loved the music from GQ2 while playing it and stopped very often just to admire it. Since I don’t have internet service at home*, I don’t yet have the NSF file. Once I get it, it will be listened to – frequently. A CD featuring arranged music from Gargoyle’s Quest (the Gameboy title) has been officially published and I have listened to it many times. I have also listened to the music from Demon’s Crest. Somehow, I managed to neglect the music from Gargoyle’s Quest 2, which was a crime.
                I wondered while playing GQ2 if I was cheating by using an emulator. Well, I did actually figure everything out and played through every part of every stage. All emulation allowed me to do was to save at any time, which has the side effect of infinite lives. Of course, one has infinite lives even while playing the cartridge on an actual NES. Have you ever thought about that? Well, it’s true. You really do have all the lives you want. The reality of infinite life is concealed by the time it takes to master a stage or a boss fight. Emulation reduces time and makes infinite life more apparent. The bottom line is that emulation allows mastering stages piecewise, unless you choose to save only after playing through the entire stage, which will nearly negate the advantage of emulation. Is emulation justified? I think so. I have a specific example. Right before the final boss battle in GQ2, there is a situation where an enemy respawns on a ledge necessary to jump from. If you kill the enemy, you can stand on the ledge and attempt the jump. However, if you miss the jump (it’s the hardest jump in the entire game, due to the angle), the enemy respawns and you have to kill it again, before an attempt can be made to jump again. That is not cool in the least. If I kill an enemy, then I expect it to not be there again unless I die. If the game is going to cheat and be cheap, then emulation is justified. Another justification is the price of acquiring the original cartridge. Gargoyle’s Quest 2 seems to have a median price of around $75 on ebay, in any condition. If I were to get the original cartridge, I’d also need a cleaned and tested original NES system, which is expensive and still wouldn’t work well. I’d also need an old CRT (cathode-ray tube) TV set, since NES games look strange on flat panel HDTVs. With the expensive original cartridge, I’d lose the ability to save anywhere, and lacking summer vacations, not have enough time to beat the game. I’d never beat the game, would have wasted money, and I’d just end up reselling it on ebay. Emulation is clearly the way to go.
                My success with Gargoyle’s Quest 2 makes me wonder how I will fare with Ninja Gaiden, which has more “cheap” situations than GQ2. I never did beat Ninja Gaiden as a youngster, even with entire summer vacations to work with. It was all due to enemies respawning, which made certain jumps difficult. I was able to get to the final boss, but I didn’t get there with enough life or lives to sort things out. Even in my ignorant gaming youth I felt there was something wrong with Ninja Gaiden. I didn’t see clearly how cheap that game is until I watched the Angry Video Game Nerd eloquently reveal its flaws. Ninja Gaiden 2 offered a huge improvement in programming and testing, obviously, because I was able to beat it (original cartridge – not emulation).
                The game I am working on currently is Sweet Home (Capcom). I found out about Sweet Home more than a decade ago. Mustin of OneUpStudios had asked me to make a list of all the Capcom games with published soundtracks and that task led me to discover a music CD titled “Sweet Home”. If not for that task, I would not have been interested in acquiring a CD with that title, but sweet it is (it has arranged music from the game). I’ve been playing the game Sweet Home for roughly 8 hours and I can see why people consider it the precursor to the Resident Evil series. The death scenes are indeed the most graphic I’ve seen for a NES (actually FC) title and the door opening animations remind me of Resident Evil. It does effectively create a sense of urgency, of hidden horror; it is unsettling at times. I never before considered the possibility that a NES game could be scary, but Sweet Home is scary. Since I have been familiar with the arranged album for Sweet Home for the past decade, finally being able to hear the original music in the proper context is amazing beyond words.
                I don’t feel that playing Sweet Home on an emulator is cheating because the original Famicom cartridge allows saving at any time, so using the save state option doesn’t decrease the time required. Sweet Home is not an action, or skill-based game, in which one is controlling a single character through various stages. There are no difficult jumps, or any jumps, (though people can fall!) and there doesn’t even appear to be any levels. The game, as far as I can tell, exclusively takes place in a large mansion (another similarity with the Resident Evil series, as mansions are quite common) that allows backtracking to the first room, if desired. The one significant disparity between Sweet Home and Resident Evil is that the former is an RPG, with random battles and level building, though without drop items. The strongest parity between the titles is the management of items; playing Sweet Home FEELS like playing Resident Evil when you can’t pick up an item because your inventory is full and have to remember where the item was as you progress and have space to pick it up.
                *I don’t have internet service at home because I disagree with flat rate billing. My internet bill used to be $57.99 per month, regardless of how often I went online. If I didn’t go online for 2 weeks out of the month, my bill was still $57.99. There was nothing I could do to make the bill cheaper. Imagine if automobile gasoline were billed in a flat rate style, with everyone paying, say, $300 per month. Driving more slowly or driving less would do nothing to curb costs; your bill would always be $300. If paying for gasoline were like paying for internet service, I could picture bicycle manufacturers making more profit than car manufacturers. Lots full of cars would vanish and would be replaced by lots full of bicycles.