About three months ago, I contributed my first article to Nerdvana. The feature – over 2,000 words chronicling my experience with the Nintendo Wii U version of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – set up what became a regular gig as a retro gaming contributor. Since then, I’ve branched out into covering more topics – such as Dungeons & Dragons – and have begun working on another project, soon to be unveiled.
As of today, I am officially an intern on the site. I’m very happy to be working on Nerdvana and invite everyone to join me in congratulating the site on its ten year anniversary. It’s an amazing place to write for, visit and read. We’re hoping to provide a bigger mulitmedia experience in the future and appreciate the support of the community.
My most recent articles cover Virtual Reality and can be found in the links below. I intend to write more about VR and AR in the future, so stay tuned for that!
Over the past few days I’ve learned that >The Legend of Zelda, Kid Icarus and Double Dragon– among others – are now at least 30 years old. Playing these games as a youth, while certainly fun, was never something I saw myself thinking about as an adult.
Following the release of the Nintendo 64 in 1996, none of my peers thought about those older games. Whenever I would mention my Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo or Game Boy to my friends or
others in my age group, they would mock me and scoff at my lack of a modern gaming system.
“When are you going to join the 20th Century, man?” my old buddy, Joe, would say, “I can’t believe you still like those stupid, old games, anyway.” He was acting goofy, providing some levity to the afternoon. His joke was funny, in context. Others, who said similar things, however, were much more serious.
This response – the insolence of youth – narrows down to only one thing: the foolish belief that anything old has no value. To truly believe there is no value in older technology, games, content, books or otherwise is not only a foolish notion, but an ignorant one. It’s the same reason that for centuries, works of art and literature have been destroyed or lost: ignorance and impudence. But, that’s a conversation for another time.
Today, we’re here to talk about Nintendo! Not reflect upon the downfall of society past, present and future. Let’s have some levity! Keep things bright! Nostalgia is overrated! As Alex Lifeson of the band, RUSH would say, “Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah-dee Blah!”
Something interesting happened around the year 2006-2007. Suddenly, I began seeing so-called retro consoles all over the place: at flea markets, electronics aisles in big box stores and even at our local gaming shops. It was interesting. Then, so many websites popped up, extolling the virtue of ‘classic’ and “retro.” I began talking to some of my former peers and learned many of them not only had entire collections of Nintendo and Super Nintendo games, but were now avid fans and collectors.
Nintendo unveiled its Wii Virtual Console and that brought retro gaming back into the public eye. The popularity of this service has led to its presence on every Nintendo console since. Even Sony and Microsoft are getting in on the nostalgia game, with releases of arcade ports and retro game collections. While the Rare Retrospective was certainly nice, however, I would much rather prefer a way to play Battletoads again on a Nintendo Console.
I was quite the pro at Battletoads. I beat it fourteen times. I’ve been meaning to play it again. I’ve been saying that for five years, though, so we’ll see what 2017 brings into my gaming queue. At the moment, I have more games than time to play them.
Battletoads seemed unique for its time, an apt parody of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which themselves were a parody of Daredevil comics. I’ve always found anthropomorphic characters interesting: Bucky O’Hare, the four Ninja Turtles and Fox McCloud all seemed great when first I heard of them.
Then again, viewing those same characters through a different perspective shows that Star Fox the TMNT have become a bizarre, convoluted mess that is geared toward younger kids and I don’t want to talk about Bucky O’Hare. It is unreasonable to be upset by these realizations. The truth of the matter is simply that they are products of their time and any new iteration of them is not being made for me or my generation. I accept and embrace that and believe others should, too.
Nostalgia is weird. I think we’ve all heard the phrase, “through rose colored glasses” referencing something we enjoyed from our past. Time and perspective certainly make fools of us all, I suppose. Some things hold up well for me: take Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager, for instance. I can go back to those episodes and re-watch them over and over. The acting is (mostly) good, the effects are practical and the stories are usually compelling. Babylon 5, however, is a different story. While I loved the plot, characters and themes, the visual effects make it very much a product of its time, due to the use of nascent CGI FX. I can see myself re-watching it at some point, but it is highly unlikely.I cannot honestly say I would watch it again for any reason other than nostalgia. So, when I sat down to play some of my older Nintendo games, imagine my surprise when I ended up enjoying most of them just as much today as I did as a kid.
A few did not stand up to my self-described ‘time test,’ but many of them did, to my surprise. The original Super Mario Bros. and its three sequels, are certainly great fun. Games like Super Mario Maker and Super Mario Run wouldn’t exist if people weren’t interested in those older Super Mario Bros. games.
Dwelling in the past, being nostalgic, or simply just enjoying older/retro things is perfectly fine, so long as it isn’t taken to an extreme. Collecting has its value. Enjoying the games for what they are has its value. Retro gaming is – to me at least – a hobby more than anything and can be picked up and put away as I deem fit.
No longer is there a stigma attached to the hobby, thanks to my generation’s love of everything retro. I find that fascinating. To be part of the hobby for the fun of it, rather than for the nostalgia is a nice touch.
The games I always enjoyed have returned to the spotlight. Now, some of them are
prohibitively expensive. Then, in late 2016, Nintendo released the NES Classic Mini, a miniaturized version of the original system, pre-loaded with 30 classic games. Eventually, I may find and play one, but it is unlikely because the system is officially dead now. My original NES broke in 2010 and I’ve never found the time or funds to replace it, unfortunately.
That isn’t a problem, though. Several other options are available: there do seem to be a few other prospects. Retron has several different multi-cartridge units available, Yobo makes the FC Twin and the Raspberry Pi seems to be coming into prominence in the Do It Yourself gaming scene these days.
Another option is the AVS from Retro USB, which appears to be the most promising NES Clone on the market these days. The system has full HD capability, does away with the ancient NES power brick and plays most original cartridges (what, according to Nintendo Power Magazine, Nintendo once called ‘Game Paks,’ in an attempt to give them a separate identity from other gaming cartridges of the time).
Per the product page at Retro USB, the AVS also features firm ware updates and an online scoreboard. Why don’t I already own one of these? Perhaps I will pick one up soon, along with a handful of cartridges (Game Paks).
A Super Nintendo Mini is also on the horizon, for a 2017 holiday release, including the unreleased Star Fox 2, which I’m looking forward to playing…if I can find one.
Do you play games like world of Warcraft, Diablo 3, Neverwinter or other massively multiplayer online games? How about older titles like Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy?
All of these great games are based upon what we’re talking about today: dungeons and dragons, which I’ll be referring to as D & D for the rest of this presentation. D & D was and still is for many, an early form of interactive media. I’ve been playing for about 20 years and still run a weekly game. I even like to paint miniatures.
Recently, I created and presented a Pecha Kucha presentation for my MCCNM 336 class on the history of D & D as Interactive Media, which can be seen here: The History of Dungeons & Dragons
It all began in the 1970s when the fathers of d & d, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, created a way to enhance his table top miniatures wargame, Chain mail by adding dice and a role playing element to it.
This led to the creation of TSR, who took the game in new directions. Since then, the game has changed companies (WoTC), gone through five editions, hundreds of novels, several board games, numerous video games and a popular mmorpg. Then there’s the virtual tabletop.
The core rulebooks of the Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide and Monster Manual allowed interaction on a level rarely seen before. A game referee or dungeon master would describe a scene through interaction with the tables and rules presented in the manuals.
The players, having created characters by using the players handbook, would then react to the setup and often would need to reference tables, charts or passes in the phb.
The game eventually led to a series of novels and role playing books as well as two publications, Dragon (a magazine that featured suggestions and gaming culture) and Dungeon, such featured, well, dungeons.
The books, however, made things much more interactive. These books were very much like choose your own adventure, except that you played a character on an adventure or quest. You’d actually roll dice to handle combat and keep track of your character on a piece of paper. Some of the best modules, like the tomb of horrors, expedition to barrier peaks and temple of elemental evil came out during this era and are beloved by players today, with Tomb of Horrors even being used as a central plot point in Ernest Clines virtual reality novel, Ready Player One.
In the 80s, the game did run into some controversy with certain religious groups, but maintained it’s momentum with more books, a 2nd edition, a Saturday morning cartoon show, miniatures and interactive computer games.
With the release of computer games like pool of radiance and curse of the azure bonds, dragonstrike and dragons of krynn, d & d became a fully interactive computer game. You could create a party of characters, Dungeon crawl in real time, fight the monsters and play the entire adventure through simple commands on your computer. Unlike early BASIC games such as Zork, the D & D games had full color, VGA, joystick and keyboard support and played on both Apple and PC. Some of my favorite games of all time are what are referred to as, “the gold box games,” all of which can be purchased and run on modern hardware.
A suite of Core Rules software was also released for the 2nd edition of the table top game, compatible with DOS, windows 3.11 and Windows 95.
Later came Eye of the Beholder (Released for PC and Super Nintendo) featuring a much more graphical interface, seen today in games like The Keep for the Nintendo 3DS. Later, came Bulders Gate and eventually Neverwinter, D & D’s own mmorpg.
With the introduction of 3ed edition, a movie was released and Wizards of the Coast purchased TSR, thus acquiring the D & D game. During third edition, http://www.wizards.com created an entire web presence for the game, which continued into fourth edition. I never actually played 4e, so my knowledge of it is limited to checking out the books once from the library.
Additional websites, play by email games and chat rooms dedicated to playing the game emerged during the mid 90s as the web became more widely accessible.
D & D board games emerged prominently during fourth edition, with Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon, the legend of drizzt and the temple of elemental evil.
Fourth edition also saw an increase in users and content for the D & D Online mmo, which is still going strong today.
Finally, the current (5th) edition of the game arrived in 2014 with a new set of Core books and Adventure Paths.
Recently, there have been services such as Roll 20 or Fantasy Grounds which provide virtual table tops for players who may not be in able to actually meet in person. In a VTT setting, players sit at their computer with a microphone and headset. There will usually either be interaction with over players and the dm though skype or video chat.
With d & d having completed its move into the digital age, its popularity can only grow. It has already begun finding its way into popular culture through shows like Community, Critical Role and Stranger Things. All these years later, D &D is so much more than just that nerdy game you played in your basement.