Memories Under Glass: Super Mario Kart

This is going to be short, but it’s Father’s Day and one memory sticks out more than anything else.

When I was growing up, we didn’t have many games for the SNES that were actually bought and owned by us.  We were much more of a rental family, due in equal parts to a limited budget for gaming and the fact my three siblings and I could rarely agree on a game to get.  Countless memories of mine consist of us spending several minutes pouring over the selection of games at the local video store looking for a good game to rent that at least most of us could agree on.  Sometimes we’d switch off who would pick the games, even, allowing my sisters to choose a game one time and me and my brother would pick the next one.  It kept the peace, for the most part.

The games we did own ended up being games that had more general appeal, or at least were enjoyed by three of us.  A game we owned could generally be counted on to be a good game all around, or at least I like to think so.  One of those games is Super Mario Kart.

Super Mario Kart was probably one of our most played games.  It’s no surprise to me that the kart racing games took off.  My siblings and I would play this all the time.  It seemed to have a huge amount of replay and variety.  Each racer had their own strengths, whether that be fast acceleration, tight turning, or high max speed.  There were also a ton of tracks, separated into multiple cups, as well as multiple difficulties.

The game was just fun, really.  I’d team up with my siblings, trying to work out stuff like the boost start and how to properly skid around corners.  We’d laugh, cheer…all the things that are encouraged by a good game.  However, despite that, the real reason this game holds such a strong memory for me is this: it was one of the few games my dad would also play.

My dad didn’t play many games, at least not for very long.  For some reason he really liked Super Mario Kart.  He’d always pick Donkey Kong every time and play along with us, joking along the way.  Since it was two player, it really connected with me when I was on the other controller.  Having your dad take an interest in what you’re doing, and join in on it, has to be one of the greatest memories of any child, I swear.  Even the fact that he played Donkey Kong warms my heart.

You see…when I was a kid, we would go to theme parks and spend the day there playing around and doing all sorts of fun things, as you do.  Being a small kid, though, I always had trouble on things like rope net bridges, since my coordination on moving objects wasn’t the best at the time, and it was very easy for me to slip.  My dad would notice I’m having a lot of trouble and put me on his back.  Now, normally you might think he’d just go across as normal while carrying me, but nope:  He’d imitate being a gorilla, crawling along and jumping around the rope bridge while I rode on his back cheering and laughing.  He did stuff like this often, or at least I have a ton of memories of him doing it.  My dad must have seemed kinda crazy like that to others but he couldn’t have been more awesome to me.

So naturally, the fact he most often chose Donkey Kong meant something to me.  He’d joke that he liked how Donkey Kong looked like he was hunched over the steering wheel (even if he wasn’t really), and then imitate being Donkey Kong while playing.  Try playing Super Mario Kart when you’re falling over laughing, it’s extremely difficult.  It’s..really almost impossible to put into words just how strong of an impact all of this made on me. I loved him for it, and still do.  I only hope I can create as many memories for my kids in similar ways as he did with me.

Last year, Super Mario Kart celebrated it’s 20th anniversary.  Since then it’s gone through multiple iterations and versions on new consoles and continues to be a fun kart racer.  Super Mario Kart itself can be bought through the Virtual Console, even, and a new one is coming out for the Wii U.  It’s a great game, and great games make great memories.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go call my dad.

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Staying Ahead of the Curve

Over the past several months I’ve had computer issues, job issues, etc, and these almost always end up hitting just before a major content update.  This has gotten me thinking about a problem that has always plagued me: staying ahead of the content curve.  Specifically I’m referring to being able to complete all the available content I want to do before new content is added, and it’s an eternal pain in my side that has haunted me as long as I’ve played MMOs.

See, MMOs are essentially a living thing if done right.  Except for dying games, or some games pretty much on life support like Vanguard: SOH was until recently, the developers tend to release new content or updates for players to do.  Whether it be a new dungeon, new zones, or more quests, the point is to give more things to the players so they don’t get too bored and leave (a real problem for most subscription games).

Probably the biggest challenge here is that different types of players churn through content at different rates.  Some players can go through the tasks extremely quickly whereas others take years, and this reflects a wide range of variables such as time available, skill level, or just how much time they spend “smelling the roses” (ahem).  This means developers must strike a balance point on the amount of content to give enough to do, stereotypically between “casual” and “hardcore” players.  I refer to myself as more “time limited”, but that usually puts me in the “casual” camp.

I’ve always been behind the content curve, always playing catch-up.  It’s hard not to feel left out, which is a problem in what is supposed to be a social game.  Continue reading

The Lost Shores awaits…

One thing that may be apparent is that it’s been a while since I posted anything here.  It hasn’t been forgotten, I just have been involved in various things.

The main thing that’s been occupying my time (other than work and life as usual, obviously) is the Guild Wars 2 Wiki.  This is an official wiki that was set up and hosted by ArenaNet, but the content is updated and maintained by players.  It is far more informative than many other MMOs I’ve seen.  For my part, I’ve been involved mainly with the game release content pages, most recently the upcoming Lost Shores release.

Ain’t so lost anymore…

The Lost Shores is the November content release for Guild Wars 2, following on the heels of October’s Shadow of the Mad King release (seriously, the prelude for it began the day the Halloween content was removed).  Touted as almost a mini-expansion, there’s such a huge amount of content incoming for this release that I can only think part of it had been started months ago.  A new map, a new enemy, a new “infinite” scaling dungeon, a new PvP map, and a full weekend-long event to kick the whole thing off.  I’ve been very involved in documenting as much as possible on the wiki, so go take a look for all your Lost Shores info.

There’s a couple things I want to bring up, though. (Only text below, bring your reading glasses, though I promise it’s not bad) Continue reading

The Nature of Dynamic Events – ArenaNet’s Hat Trick

As stated in my previous post, Dynamic Events are the primary form of content in Guild Wars 2.  I say this with almost total certainty, in fact.  Primary content in an MMO should become more plentiful as you become higher level, because you are more capable and expect more.  As we learned recently, there are no renown areas in Orr (the majority of the high level zones in GW2 are in Orr), yet there are twice as many Dynamic Events in these high level areas.  In addition, there are far more Dynamic Events than other types of content (over 1500 events as of a year ago and still growing).

What are Dynamic Events though, and why move to this?  This type of content fascinates me, not only with the flexibility of the content, but also how events seem to take benefits of previous forms and remove the problems with those forms of content.  Everyone has probably played a game where there were some aspects they really liked, but it also had problems that really soured the experience.

There’s a pretty awesome video of a panel ArenaNet did in 2010 at GDC Europe where they describe the whole Dynamic Event system, how they came to this setup, and things they learned early on.  Give it a look, it’s really enlightening into the whole process even if one or two aspects may not have made it to current iterations.  Of particular value (to me, at least) is their descriptions of the first two eras of MMO content (starting at 1:05, or the Hunting and Questing sections), and their benefits and problems. Continue reading

Memories Under Glass: Gaming on the IBM PCjr

My earliest memories of PC gaming began in my grandparents’ house back in the mid to late 80s.  I didn’t really know anything about PCs at the time and they had their IBM PCjr set up in the living room.  We didn’t have a PC at home yet, I don’t think, so traveling 6 hours to visit my grandparents was really the only way at the time to mess with one.  Being a huge Transformers kid at the time, the computer fascinated me…albeit not as much as it would once I learned all about the inner workings later in life.  I have no clue what they normally did with it, but I remember the only thing I cared about at the time was the games.

Now, I’ll be honest, the games on the PCjr were usually nothing special, and most wouldn’t hold up today even if you ignored the obvious differences in graphics and presentation.  They were short little fun things you might find in a flash game nowadays.  That said, I was a very young kid at the time with little experience, so it didn’t take much to make me excited.  Lower standards and all that.  I could stay there and play game after game if I was allowed to do so.  Looking back, it was quite obvious games were Kind Of A Big Deal to me.  First, let’s take a look at the PC itself.

The IBM PCjr in all its splendor…as it were.

Continue reading

Norrath to Tyria: Professions – Classes on Steroids

One of EverQuest 2’s strengths is the huge variety of classes available in the game.  When the game launched in 2004 there were 24 classes available to use when creating your character (now 25).  These classes were split into 4 archetypes, each holding 6 classes.  Archetypes define your role in EQ2: each class is designed to be able to fulfill the role of their archetype, and the main differences between classes for this role in a single archetype is “how” you do it.

EQ2 Class Icons

The original 24 classes available at launch.

Every class in the Priest archetype, for example, is supposed to be able to heal well enough that generally it doesn’t matter which you bring.  Each, of course, has their specialty in exactly how they heal.  Clerics use reactive heals, Druids use regenerative heals, and Shaman use wards to prevent damage.  Alongside this, each healer has basic heals, and the intent being to allow them to provide similar healing but having to work it in different ways.  Now look at the Fighters.  Generally, each Fighter is supposed to be able to tank in different ways and have their own benefits.  Balance is always a tricky issue, since two of the six Fighters are avoidance tanks.

Obviously I’m being high level here and in actual practice some classes within an archetype are much more preferred over the others due to convenience or just how current balance is working out, but overall the system is at least intended to work this way even if it doesn’t in practice.  It is this archetype system that is most interesting to me, and most relevant to Guild Wars 2. Continue reading

Guild Wars 2 Primer

Don’t know what Guild Wars 2 is?

That’s okay, there’s a great many of you.  I suppose it would be rather inconvenient to start going into the differences between the two games without first providing some sort of primer on what Guild Wars 2 is all about.  Otherwise many of you would be wondering why you should care…and you should.  I decided to put together a quick primer to go over the major points and show why you should have at the very least a passing interest in Guild Wars 2, as well as clear up any inaccuracies.

I’ll be posting videos and articles for you to read and watch.  Please note that many of the first ones are 2-3 years old and locations or art seen may have been changed.  In particular, one of the races has been given a makeover. Continue reading