A Final Reflection

So, this past semester has been interesting. At the start of this project I was ecstatic to be able to finally spend time learning more about video games in a formal way. I really want to do something related to gaming as a career so I wanted to see what I could learn on my own within the scope of the 90s Room project. I’ve ended up reading a lot of books, playing a lot of games, and honestly procrastinating far more than any human being should. Also, I forgot a lot of things. So there’s that.

One of my only regrets with this project was not having a whole lot to offer in terms of physical artifacts for the room. I have very limited funds and as a result, I didn’t have a lot of options in terms of acquiring items that would fit into our room and aid the project along. That being said, I did enjoy the smaller things I was able to contribute, such as the games I was able to procure and the decorating I was able to help with. I don’t think I’m going to forget the two hours I spent helping cover the game console shelf with Lisa Frank stickers anytime soon, if ever.

Most of what I was able to do has been recorded here, on this blog. It contains all my posts regarding the Nintendo 64 as well as the games I was able to examine over the past few months. I imagine I’ll be spending some time cleaning things up a little later on (as right now I’m worn out from finishing my bachelor’s degree) but as of the time of this post, you can consider this project officially closed.

I won’t even attempt to claim that this was an easy project to get myself through. To be honest, it was one of the worst experiences of my life. I enjoyed getting to study these games more than I can possibly say and I feel like a lot of my aspirations have been validated through the course of this work. I can easily say that I could see myself writing posts like the ones on this blog for years to come, even if I’m not quite perfect at knowing how to do them just yet. But, as I said, this semester was pretty horrible. One of my biggest hopes with this project was that I would finally learn some amount of discipline which would allow me to get work done on a nice and consistent schedule but alas, no dice. I procrastinated a lot and even though I knew what I wanted to say on a lot of topics, I didn’t end up writing most of my pieces until this past week. What’s worse is that I forgot I had this blog and also needed to post them so I’ve literally only just done that a few minutes ago. That was really dumb of me.

But, at the end of it all, I feel like I have a better grasp on gaming in general. True, this project was focused on things relating specifically to the 90s but a lot of what I investigated has implications for the modern gaming industry as well. In particular, spending time to learn about the various innovations the N64 provided gaming was fascinating. I had never really thought about the rise of the analog stick and such but it makes so many things make sense. Fun fact, my Dad stopped playing video games after the N64 specifically because the analog stick became standard on all controllers. Weird stuff.

Anyways, my point is that I would consider this project to be a mixed bag for me. I completed the tasks I set out to do, mostly, and was able to do them well, mostly. At least I think I did. What my professor thinks about all this is something entirely different altogether but we’ll see how that goes.


Supaman Plz

For my final assignment in this project, I’ve decided to take on a game from the 90s that I’m sure anyone who saw this project expected me to look at eventually. Superman 64 is notorious for being considered the worst N64 game ever made. Developed and published by Titus Interactive, this game was released on May 29, 1999. It has been absolutely decimated by critics time and time again and I, like so many others, have my own opinions on this game after playing it. They just might not be what people want to hear.

My verdict? This game really isn’t that bad.

That’s not to say this is a good game. Far from it. This thing is bad. Like, it’s really, really bad. And I’ll get to why that is later but for now, just know that I don’t think it’s irredeemable.

The entire plot of this game is that Lex Luthor has kidnapped a number of Superman’s friends and trapped them in a virtual world. It’s up to Superman to infiltrate this digital world and rescue his friends before Lex does something to them? I suppose? It’s really not very clear on that but it’s not really important. Playing through the game, it’s really easy to forget that there’s a plot at all. Most of the time you’re just kind of doing chores.

Gameplay is split between two different sections. In what I’m calling the “Chore” section, Superman runs around doing various tasks while a clock ticks down. I call these tasks chores because I have absolutely no idea how they relate to the plot of the game. In the first level alone the player is tasked with flying through rings, throwing some cars, flying through rings, flying a car to safety, flying through rings, freezing some tornados, and also flying through rings. There isn’t much mention of Lex Luthor and the only indication that this might be related to your friend’s situation is that Superman is there. The whole ordeal is fairly tedious and doesn’t result in a very rewarding feeling.

They’re even in a line! It’s not so bad….

Having said this, I want to take a moment to respond to one of the largest criticisms this game has. Namely, that the
ring sections are too numerous and too difficult. To this, I say that y’all don’t know how to play this game because I had no trouble with the rings whatsoever. There are way too many rings to fly through, mind you. Like, there is an absurd number of rings to fly through and I can’t imagine how they could be important to rescuing people. If Superman has a quota of rings he has to fly through before helping anyone in need then it’s no wonder Metropolis is always in such a state of chaos. It’s not that hard to actually fly through the rings once you understand how they work though. A common criticism of these sections is that Superman controls badly, taking wide turns and going way too fast to accommodate some of the sharp turns the game expects you to make. These people, I think, have been playing the game without knowing how to control Superman. See, both of these are valid criticisms but what steps can be taken to counter them? Every game has mechanics that work against you in some way and a player has to be able to adapt. In this case, I find that tapping the B button to continue flying at a steady speed rather than constantly accelerating to the maximum is much easier to control. Then, as far as moving Superman goes, you have to look at him as a car rather than a person. He’s got a lot of power to that flight and as a result you have to make small corrections when you get out of line. The N64 controller admittedly isn’t great for making such subtle motions but once you get the hang of it, the ring sections do become much more manageable.

Or, for people who like quick solutions, you can just set the game to easy mode in the options menu to completely remove the rings. I’ve been hearing about this game for years and I had no idea you could just turn off the rings. It’s arguable that having to remove content from the game to make it playable is ridiculous but I’ll get to that very soon.

The other main section this game has to offer is the more ground-heavy plot sections. Here, you’re encouraged to land Superman and run around fighting enemies and finding clues to rescue people. It’s also here where I had to give

up on actually trying to play Superman 64 by myself. While Superman’s flight controls are fairly fluid once you adjust to the learning curve, getting around on the ground is constantly jittery and annoying. He controls more like a tank here and having to reposition yourself over and over in order to land a hit on a bad guy is grating. Whereas the rings from earlier have a very forgiving hit box, the enemies require you to be standing right on top of them in order to do damage. However, their ranged bullets stop you for a moment as you try to move forward and there is no moment of invulnerability. This means that enemies can repeatedly fire at you, keeping you from getting close. Also, the bullets hurt you which means Titus has no idea what a Superman is.

No, seriously, isn’t he impervious to bullets?

Given that I could no longer progress in this game, I turned to online playthroughs to see what the rest of this game had to offer. It was at this point where I discovered the absolute best thing about Superman 64. When performing speedruns, most players use glitches in order to skip through entire plot-based sections. I watched with awe as one runner walked directly into a locked door in order to clip through to the other side and complete the stage in less than a minute. Clipping through walls to find areas where Titus’ design team clearly never intended for players to go is such a common strategy when playing this game that it got me thinking. In his book “Half-Real,” Jesper Juul claims that video games are a combination of rules and fiction. If that is the case, then does it matter who makes up the rules?

Obviously, Titus had some ideas in mind for how they wanted this game to play out. They included levels that were designed in specific ways in order to indicate to a player where they are meant to go and what they are meant to do. However, Superman 64 is actually so broken that players reject these indications and instead create their own rules, thus reshaping the entire experience of the game. As an English major, I often remind myself that authorial intent is inherently worthless in most works of fiction but here authorial intent is not only worthless, it’s actively worked against. It breaks down the barrier between designer and player, in a sense. By creating strategies that use the game’s flaws against itself, players are acknowledging a designer’s presence in the code of the game and deciding that they, as player, know best instead. It’s a fascinating process and, even more than that, it’s a fun process.

A perfectly analogy for this game in a picture.

By making a broken mess of a game, Titus removed a lot of the potential fun. Games are often fun because they give you constraints and goals to achieve and being able to work within the system set before you in a successful way can be a rewarding experience if done correctly. If the system is broken, then it’s much harder to achieve success due to having unclear rules. However, by imposing your own sense of order on this digital world you can realign the game’s goals and make the game in your own image. Thus, a game initially about Lex Luthor kidnapping Superman’s friends instead becomes about the player in the physical world attempting to reach the game’s end through whatever means possible. And that’s fun stuff.

Bearing this in mind, I dove back into Superman 64 one last time to try to find my own way of having fun with it and discovered that the practice mode is actually really great. As discussed before, I find the flying controls to be pretty nice and enjoyed flying through rings all the time. Practice mode is basically just a big open space of a city where you can fly around to your heart’s content, learning how to play the game and acclimating to things. When you don’t give yourself a goal though and you just allow yourself to glide around Metropolis (or, at least what you can see of it. The draw distance is terrible!) it’s possible to have a really nice, calming time. It reminds me of games like Minecraft where you are given a specific goal but you can ignore it if you like to just have a good long walk. It’s soothing and mind-numbing in the best way.

So, like I said before. Superman 64 isn’t a great game in the formal sense. It’s something akin to shattered glass sculpture that you can kind of tell the shape of. All the parts are there and you can see where it was supposed to be something in particular but really it can’t be called a “game” anymore with all the mess. Still though, when you put it into the right light, some really cool colors can still shine right on through.


Fun fact!

Did you know that out of the 45 top selling games on the N64, only 2 had female protagonists?

Because that’s true.

Perfect Dark and Jet Force Gemini are the only two games on that list to have prominent female characters who drive their games forward. Many of the other games on the list include women but they’re not the on-screen playable character who is given the most importance.

Furthermore, out of the top ten best selling games on the N64, five prominently include the “damsel in distress” trope. And the other five games? Four are plotless racing/fighting games and one is StarFox 64, which only has one woman involved in any way. The worst part about this? It isn’t news.

It’s been really frustrating for me to enjoy the games that I’ve been playing these past few weeks not just because they’re bad but because of how they portray women. Both War Gods and Mortal Kombat Mythologies had women characters but neither was content to just include them as fighters. Instead, they had to turn these women into sex symbols in order to entice straight male gamers to buy and play these games. It was a common theme to see when I was a kid and it’s still painfully common today. I hate knowing that within the community that makes my absolute favorite kind of media, my gender is still nothing more than a marketing ploy to be exploited.


How to Sell an N64

As we all know, advertising is a major part of the success of any business venture. Given this, I wanted to take a quick look at the ways in which the N64 was advertised back in the 90s. What strategies were expected to work on consumers? Who did Nintendo expect to buy games? What was supposed to look cool to people? I’m interested so let’s try to find out.

Okay so right off the bat we’ve got four white boys looking more 90s than anyone I’ve ever seen in my life. Fascinatingly spikey hair. I find it interesting that they specifically chose young men who can’t sing for this commercial. It’s as if they’re trying to appeal to average boys who have more important things to do with their lives than figure out how to hold a tune. Like playing N64!

“Get N or Get Out.” Catchy. I don’t fully understand what they’re implying with the whole “control” thing though. I know who’s in control and who has the freedom? Owning an N64 isn’t really the most revolutionary act guys but okay…?

This is a bad commercial because it relies on a man in a dress for a laugh. A man being in a dress is only funny if there is something wrong with dresses. It implies a man should feel shame for looking like a woman and that’s like nine different kinds of wrong. Sexist, transphobic, I hate it.

What did I just say about laughing at men being in traditionally feminine outfits???

Now this commercial reminds me of my childhood. Mainly the parts where I wasn’t encouraged to play games because I was a girl. The annoying little sister trope always hurt me because it felt like gatekeeping. I only existed in commercials as an obstacle to boy’s fun. Clearly, this commercial is aimed at average young boys and that’s falling in line with every other commercial here. Unfortunate.

Mario goes to jail. Finally, our streets are safe.

 

So, some overall notes. 1) These commercials contain almost exclusively white people. Seems Nintendo of America thought maybe only white people could sell games? This is weird. 2) These commercials also contain almost exclusively boys. Frustrating. 3) No, seriously, what is up with the men in feminine clothing thing? Why was this a repeatedly used marketing scheme?


Looks Bad, Feels Bad

THIS IS GOING TO BE A SHORT POST CAUSE WAR GODS AND I GOT BEEF.

War Gods was developed and published by Midway Games, the same people responsible for Mortal Kombat. It’s a bare-bones 1v1 fighting game where the only goal is to defeat every character in the game in a row and then to defeat two secret characters in order to become the strongest person around. That’s all very well and good except for the fact that this game is stupid.

Before getting into why I really, really intensely do not like this game, some positives are worth mentioning. For the N64, this game has some really detailed graphics. Textures in the environments are appealing and each character looks like they had a lot of time put into making them look realistic. This level of detail does lend itself to some choppy animations but it’s easy enough to look beyond that to see some really good work was done on this game. In addition, the controls are pretty standard for this kind of game, being really similar to Mortal Kombat. So it’s not something that’s too difficult to pick up and just play.

It’s too bad that everything else about this game is the worst.

PROBLEM 1: This game only has one mode. What I said earlier about defeating everyone in a row? That is literally all you do in this game. There’s no training ground or story mode or any such additional options that I’ve come to expect in fighting games. It’s just the traditional arcade style tournament.

PROBLEM 2: The story of War Gods is that there was a spaceship carrying space ore that fell to Earth and a bunch of people got exposed to it. Now these people want to fight each other to collect all the ore for themselves in order to be the strongest fighter out there. This is bare-bones, even for a fighting game.

PROBLEM 3: All the characters are garbage.

Now, to be clear, I don’t mean the characters are garbage in that they’re not good in a fight. As a matter of fact, there is a wide variety of characters and each plays fairly differently than the rest. Anubis in particular is really cool as he has a ranged attack that traps his opponent in a blue lazer pyramid that just looks amazing. What I mean when I say these characters are garbage is that they look bad and rely on stereotypes so heavily that it’s absurd. So, instead of discussing all the various nuanced bad parts of this game as I normally do because in honesty there isn’t a whole lot of nuance to be found in this game, I will instead be going character by character and explaining why their design was probably a very bad idea. That’s all this post is going to be. Have a good day folks.

Ahau Kin.

This guy was apparently an evil priest who heard about this space ore falling to Earth and sent countless slaves to retrieve it for him. They kept dying so he decided to go get it himself. He is an Aztec stereotype that rips your heart out of your chest and eats it as a fatality move. Unoriginal.

Anubis.

Has the most convoluted backstory out of all these characters. He was chilling in a pyramid apparently and his body was captured by the space ore. His soul was subsequently cursed to return as Anubis. So are we fighting his soul in the same? Or what? Also, good job taking the most iconic Egyptian god and making him a character in a fighting game. Boring, cliché, I hate desert levels.

CY-5.

His name is pronounced like sci-fi. That’s not even a clever pun. Also he’s a cyborg from the future who was implanted with ore to become stronger. Now he wants to become more human! Except he’s a cyborg which means he’s already human. If they wanted an I Robot narrative they should have made him an android. Get your psy-fie terminology together Midway.

Kabuki Jo.

The ore forced him to kill his men and now he wants to master the ore’s power so he can overcome his shame. Relies on the stereotype of Japanese shame and honor. His name implies his design was inspired by Kabuki theater but his design implies someone on the development team had a Ronald McDonald fetish. The combination of kabuki and samurai is just weird. Pick one and roll with it. Japanese textile art is iconic so you could make this character work with just one gimmick.

Maximus.

Is Spartacus. Romans are boring, overdone as anything.

Pagan.

Apparently some kind of witch who wants more power in order to be amazing. Wears a leotard to a fight and shakes her breasts at you when she wins. Sexist design. Makes me want to scream.

Tak.

Is the Thing.

Vallah.

Classified as a “Warrior Princess” and yet somehow thinks wearing a bikini to a fight is appropriate. Sexy poster child for this game. Sexist. Also, she’s supposed to rule over ice but her fatality move is throwing you onto a literal bed of fire so what is the truth?
Voodoo.

Evil “witch doctor” who is brought back from the dead by the ore. Relies on the “voodoo is black magic and black magic is bad” stereotype which is steeped in racism. Has Edward Scissorhands claws.

Warhead.

He fires nukes. That’s his whole deal. Boring.

 


A Soul Still Burns but Not in this Game

I’m not really a fan of Mortal Kombat. I grew up with one of those moms who made my brother and I turn off the blood when we played Tony Hawk games so too much violence was never something I was allowed. As a result, I ended up playing far more Super Smash Brothers and Soul Caliber than I ever did Mortal Kombat and so I don’t really know a lot about the series. I explain this so that when I say Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub Zero is kind of a mixed bag, you know I say so with no love or hate for the franchise on a whole. I just don’t really know what to make of this game.

Mythologies is a weird title. It was developed for the N64 by Avalanche Software and was published, of course, by Midway. In the first place, it sort of breaks genre in that it’s a fighting game with RPG elements. It’s a sidescrolling beat-‘em-up where you gain experience by completing combos and that experience allows you access to new moves to use in fights. There’s also a lot of items to use like herbs that heal you and keys that open doors, it’s all very typical RPG stuff. On paper, I realize that this sounds like an interesting kind of genre mash-up but in practice it doesn’t really work too well. The fighting itself it pretty fun as it mirrors standard Mortal Kombat style but other elements just don’t work super well with it. For example, starting in the second level you have to face enemies and do platforming segments in order to progress. The jumping in this game doesn’t feel like it was built for sweet stunts like in Mario titles, though. It’s stiff and goes in a huge arc, as though its main purpose is to jump over enemy fighters in small arena-like areas where you don’t run the risk of falling off the map. It’s like the development team took Sub-Zero out of Mortal Kombat, stapled him onto another game they were working on and then just left it like that. It’s not a graceful move from one genre to the next and it shows.

However, not everything was kept the same from the original Mortal Kombat control scheme it seems as the B button makes you change direction. I’ve honestly never played a game where you had to hit a button to switch from left to right and it is incredibly confusing. To reiterate, I don’t playso when I picked up Mythologies I was kind of stuck figuring out the controls as I went along. This turn button thing made that process incredibly difficult as any time an enemy jumped over me, which was frequently, I had to remind myself that I had to hit a specific button in order to reorient myself to continue the fight. It’s a clunky addition to the control scheme, requiring too much thought for a button-mashing fighter.

By far though, the strangest thing about this game is its story. Fighting games aren’t usually known for their groundbreaking storylines and Mythologies really isn’t any different in that sense. But the whole thing is just very bizarre for someone who doesn’t know anything about Mortal Kombat. This game is a prequel and takes place just before the whole Mortal Kombat thing. Sub-Zero is hired by some dude, Quan Chi, to steal a map. So he does. And then Quan Chi hires him again to infiltrate a temple and defeat four elemental guardians and steal an amulet that has “sentimental value” to Quan Chi. So he does. Except the amulet has the power to bring some god named Shinnok to Earth so he can destroy it which is not a good thing according to Rayden who just kind of shows up when Sub-Zero is in prison? So Sub-Zero has to fight his way to Quan-Chi, taking down the ghost of Scorpion and a trio of assassins on the way, and then has to take down Shinnok. After that, Rayden is happy with Sub-Zero and he gets invited to the Mortal Kombat tournament.

On one level, this story is weird because I have absolutely no context for anything that is happening and have no clue who these people are. I can’t really hate on the writers for this as I’m pretty sure this was a game made specifically for preexisting Mortal Kombat fans but even still, certain parts of the narrative are just…off. Like, who is Rayden and why does he just appear at random sometimes? In what way is Sub-Zero not a ninja? He tries really hard to claim he’s different from Scorpion and not a ninja but their in-game sprites are literally the exact same dude in 2 different colors of the same outfit. Could they not think of anything more creative than a “four elements” story? Everyone does that one it’s a cliché. And why is Scorpion’s ghost so mad at Sub-Zero? He talks about how Sub-Zero killed his whole clan but Sub-Zero…didn’t? I mean I was controlling him the whole time? Quan Chi killed Scorpion’s clan so shouldn’t he be helping Sub-Zero take him down? This might just be nit-picking but to me, when you decide to expand upon a preexisting story in order to give a character more of a narrative you should probably make it a good one.

The most disappointing part of this game is easily the ending. After you defeat Quan Chi, Shinnok appears and kills one of the assassins because she wanted to leave the Netherealm with you. Whatever that is. In order to defeat Shinnok you have to sneak up on him, steal his amulet, and then run into a portal. No punching, no kicking, nothing like that involved here. You just grab and go. It completely goes against the entire premise of Mythologies. This is a game where the entire point is to fight bad guys so you can learn cool moves to use on bigger bad guys. But at the end when a literal god shows up for you to fight the only way to win is by not fighting? This isn’t WarGames, this is Mortal Kombat! Literally the only way to win is to fight and then you take that away from the player?

Furthermore, none of this is conveyed to the player in any way that I could see. You just have to know that’s what you’re supposed to do and that’s not the only time that happens. At the start of the first level, for example, there are pillars that come down from the ceiling and instantly kill you. That would be fine except they only come down when you get close to them which means you have to very carefully inch your way towards the pillar and hope you don’t get close enough to get smashed by it in order to pass through. The first time you play, there’s no way of knowing that. Or, at the end of the wind level, you the boss does this tornado move at the end of your fight that kills you instantly unless you run to the far right end of the stage and crouch. That’s some Simon’s Quest red crystal teleportation levels of nonsense.

And if all this weren’t bad enough, two of the three assassins show up to fight Sub-Zero looking like complete idiots. One is wearing a bra and a skirt, one wears a halter top and what looks to be a pair of underwear with a loincloth glued to the front. The third assassin is smart and wears pants that cover all of her leg flesh, seemingly aware that her enemy is capable of blasting ice out of his hands and that having exposed skin is probably a bad idea. These women might be fighters but it is extremely clear to me that their designers didn’t really care how practical their clothes were. As is so often the case they just exist to look as hot as possible for the twelve seconds we see them.

So. Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero. I am not a fan. And I guess that’s great. I was trying to find bad games after all so I suppose this is what I asked for. Rad.


When Throwing Rocks is Your Best Choice

The thing about the Nintendo 64 is that it really isn’t a console that’s chock-full of RPG options. While in the past Nintendo had plentiful third party developers itching to make games for their consoles, the N64 alienated a lot of these groups. In particular, a heavy blow was dealt to Nintendo when Square Enix, makers of the Final Fantasy franchise, decided not to make games for the N64. Frankly, it made a lot of sense for them to be so reluctant. Every other gaming console on the market at the time was making use of much cheaper and more high-tech CDs to make games with. Nintendo was the only company that desperately clung to the cartridges of the past and that just wasn’t as interesting or exciting as the possibilities that consoles like Sony’s PlayStation presented. As a result, trying to find an RPG for this system was quite a challenge for me. Typically, I enjoy RPGs. They include vast worlds, interesting characters, cool fights that require skill and thought and I really wanted to find something for the N64 that could maybe come close to being halfway decent.

Instead, I got Quest 64.

Quest 64 was developed by Imagineer, published by THQ, and released on June 1, 1998. In it, you play as Brian, a small magic boy whose father has gone missing in the search for the Eletale Book. To make matters worse, there are four amulets representing the four elements (fire, water, earth, and air) that have been stolen from their rightful owners. It’s up to Brian then to find the amulets, return them to their homes, find the Eletale Book and his father. Really, it’s all painfully original and is a story for the ages.

…Probably. I’m only mostly sure that’s what the game is about.

I’m absolutely willing to say that I didn’t play this game particularly long. Or, rather, I played it far too long and then quit when I realized how pointless this game is on a whole. Like many RPGs, large swaths of time are spent running from point A to point B and fighting monsters at random along the way. Interestingly enough, the battle system is the thing that initially ruined Quest 64 for me. The way it works is like this: As you walk along in the overworld you experience random encounters with enemies. A large white ring encircles you and your opponents, denoting the field of battle. If you want to fight you stay in that ring. If you don’t want to fight, you leave the ring. Similarly, both you and your enemies are surrounded by individual white rings which show your range of motion on a single turn of a fight. You can reposition yourself within the battle “arena” but only by so much each turn. Attacking provides two options. Players can either 1) bonk an enemy with Brian’s staff or 2) use a magic attack. Either way, you hit the enemy enough and it dies, allowing you to move on. In a lot of ways, this battle system is extremely unique and interesting. The restriction of movement makes me think of Dungeons and Dragons in how it gives you a set movement speed as a variable to consider whilst going about a fight. In addition, deciding which spells to use on which enemies seems like it would be great fun. With four elements of spells to choose from it seems like the game wants players to experiment with different spells in order to gauge what works best in which situations. Unfortunately, none of this really works out well in practice.

One of the main problems that exists in this battle system is the idea of a dominant strategy. Dominant strategies are ways in which to play a game which more often than not result in victory for a player. Here, this is exemplified by the fact that only two elements actually seem to be worth a player’s time: Earth and Water. Earth spells are by far the most powerful and often have a wide attack range. Thus, you want earth spells in order to kill things. In addition, training yourself in earth allows Brian to cast the spell Magic Barrier which makes him immune to all magic attacks for three turns. Interestingly enough, all enemies only use magic attacks; Brian is the only one who things hitting others with sticks is fun. These spells then not only hit the hardest but also make you completely immune to taking damage. There’s no reason to not max out earth. Water, on the other hand, contains the more “support” oriented spells and specifically allows Brian to heal himself without the use of items. This is useful due to the fact that walking anywhere in this game is a nightmare so being able to heal at any time really cuts down on potentially needing to turn back to rest.

This being said, it must be understood that each element can only be trained up so much. Gaining strength in this game is determined by how many spirits Brian is able to find in the overworld. These are scattered about and require him to just pick them up. However, there is a finite amount of them in existence. So, even if you pick up every available spirit it seems to be impossible to max out all of your spells. Instead, you really have to focus on just a few elements which makes the above all the more annoying. Being strategic is fun but having your strategy determined from the start is much less so.

Beyond the problem with dominant strategies it should also be noted that aiming in this game is terrible. The interface gives absolutely no indication as to whether or not an attack will actually hit a creature and often I found myself repositioning over and over, wasting turns, in order to find just the right spot to hit an enemy from. It’s needlessly frustrating and should honestly have never been included in the game.

Despite all these issues with the fighting, which is the main part of the game where you spend the most time, the thing that drove me away from Quest 64 was the walking. Now, I’m not a person who is opposed in any way to walking simulation games. As a matter of fact one of the best games I’ve been able to play recently was Firewatch, a 2016 release known as being a walking game. The main difference here is that while Firewatch is a game that can support walking all the time, Quest 64 is not. The constant threat of tedious encounters with enemies puts a player on edge and induces groaning every time that battle music begins to play. The constant interruption of movement serves only to frustrate as battling doesn’t actually earn a player much of any rewards. The only things that can be gained are becoming sturdier by taking hits and by hitting enemies with your staff. These actions raise your defense and HP but only by minute amounts at a time. So, without regular feedback that fighting has any real benefits at all, a player is left with no option but to assume that they are pointless and only get in the way of reaching the next destination.

In addition, even if the walking didn’t take forever figuring out where to go is impossible. I have a naturally bad sense of direction and this game really doesn’t do me any favors. You have a compass as a part of your user interface as well as a map in the start menu but the camera in this game is a nightmare, as it is in many N64 games. You’re able to constantly move it and in cities where every building looks the same I found myself becoming disoriented and confused very quickly. It kind of puts a damper on my adventurous spirit when I have to stop every twelve seconds to figure out where in the heck I am.

Overall, I think it’s very sad that Quest 64 is as frustratingly boring as it is. Again, the N64 doesn’t have a lot of RPGs to choose from so this would have been a blessed change of pace from the other garbage I’ve had to play. Alas, this game has a far too annoying battle system and walking that would put Lord of the Rings to shame and so I have no choice but to consider it just another entry into the garbage pile.


Pobody’s Nerfect

In my last post, I feel like I spent the entire thing just stroking Nintendo’s ego and to be honest, that’s just not me. Innovation is important to understand and appreciate in order to understand how we’ve arrived at this particular point in history but I would say that it is just as important to be aware of the failings people have made in the past so that we might better avoid them in future. That being said, I’ve identified two pretty interesting failings on the part of Nintendo that came about as a result of the N64.

The first and smaller of these two incidents was the time when N64 controllers literally injured children so badly that Nintendo got taken to court over it. See, they’d released the very first Mario Party game and it turned out to be a huge success. People bought it and enjoyed the hell out of it but there was a slight issue when it game to certain mini-games. For those unaware, Mario Party mini-games include a wide variety of control schemes in order to keep play fresh and unexpected. In certain games, it was required that a player spin the analog stick as quickly as possible in order to win. Unfortunately, N64 analog sticks lacked the soft plastic shells all analog sticks come with nowadays. As a result, people playing these games would get injured while playing, getting anything from small cuts and blisters to full on friction burn. Nintendo was sued for damages and in order to settle the case they offered sets of gloves to anyone who got hurt in the process of playing their game.

Arguably more interesting was the failure of the N64 DD or Disk Drive that was promised to N64 fans worldwide. I mentioned in a past post that Nintendo decided to stick with cartridges because they weren’t sold that CDs would become the next big thing. They were wrong and in the late 90s they scrambled to offer non-cartridge based games. The solution Nintendo decided on was the DD, an add-on to the N64 that would allow gamers to play games off of floppy disks rather than cartridges. The promise for this add-on was big as Nintendo promised not only games from big name franchises such as Mario, Zelda, and Kirby but also the inclusion of online functionality. They claimed that you’d be able to answer emails, chat, and download game updates online using the DD. However, Nintendo took too long to make the thing and released in in 1999, right at the cusp of the next console generation. Interest in the add-on had dwindled to nothingness and it sold extremely poorly. Only 15,000 units were sold and it had a grand total of 10 games made for it. In the end, the Disk Drive tanked so badly that Nintendo only released it in Japan, instead focusing their efforts on making their next game console less of a flop than their last add-on turned out to be.


A Lil bit of History

The creation of the Nintendo 64 can be best described as being a process full of very strange business decisions that ultimately worked out decently for some involved. This story, interestingly enough, actually begins back in the 80’s with the development of the Sega Genesis. The company Silicon Graphics International went to Sega in order to try to make a deal. They’d made this graphics card that they thought would work great in the upcoming Genesis console so they pitched the idea to Sega. Sega was not into this plan so SGI had to leave with their tails between their legs. Fortunately enough for them though, this failure would not last too long.

Fast forward to a couple years later: Sega and Nintendo are in the middle of the bit wars and Nintendo’s making a new console. They’re looking for the best technology available so that their next console will be bigger and better than anyone else’s. At this point, along comes SGI with their super cool graphics chip and they pitch it to Nintendo. Nintendo is much more receptive and buy the chip, allowing them to use it in their super-secret project, “Project Reality.”

By the time 1995 rolled around, the rest of the gaming world had sort of moved from the NES and Nintendo was losing traction. Both Sega and newcomer Sony had released consoles that year and the Playstation in particular was killing in sales. Nintendo had to get their new console on the market in order to stand a chance against their competitors. Thus, the Ultra 64 was born! And then its name was changed because Ultra 64 sounds pretty dumb to be honest. The inclusion of “64” in the title was likely due to the fact that the Sega Saturn was running with 32 bits so Nintendo wanted their superiority to be blatant and clear.

One of the most radical decisions that Nintendo made in releasing the Nintendo 64 was their usage of cartridges instead of CDs. Both the Saturn and the Playstation made use of disc-based technology and it seemed as though cartridges were becoming outdated. They were, after all, much more expensive than CDs. However, making this choice did give Nintendo a bit of a monopoly on the cartridge market and allow them to make games with cool enough graphics and very quick load times. On the downside, a lot of developers didn’t see cartridges as being viable for very long and didn’t appreciate the whole monopoly thing. This played a part in the Nintendo 64 not getting as many games made for it as previous consoles did. Nintendo would end up learning their lesson pretty quickly though and would switch over to CDs starting with their next console, the Gamecube.

In the end, the Nintendo 64 achieved a decent amount of success given the market it was in at the time. On the plus side, they made over triple what Sega made on the Saturn ($32.39 mil and $9.26 mil, respectively), aiding in ending their console development. From then on, Sega published games instead of game consoles. On the other hand, Sony made more than triple Nintendo did with their Playstation, a grand total of $102.49 million. Sure, the gaming industry isn’t really a competition but, for the record, if it were they came in second with this one.


On Variables and Rugrats

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it on this blog before but the project I’m working on is actually a very small part of a much larger project being worked on by a bunch of people at my school. We’re trying to recreate a 90’s era bedroom and I decided that my part in that would be looking exclusively at N64 games made in the 90’s. Given this, I wanted the first game I looked more closely at to be a very 90’s game. Thought it would get me in the right mindset and all.

So, Rugrats Scavenger Hunt happened.

Here’s a quick introduction:

Cute babiesss

Rugrats was an animated TV show on Nickelodeon that started airing around August of ’91. It ran for nine seasons before being cancelled in 2004 and boy, was it POPULAR. It centered around four babies, Tommy, Chuckie, Phil, and Lil. These friends are in eternal play-date mode, having adventures, being tricked by Tommy’s cousin Angelica, and just generally having a good time. Even with the simplistic setup, this show exploded and the more the media built up, the more complicated Rugrats canon became. By the time the show finally ended, there were 172 episodes, multiple movies, comics, a spin-off based on a TV special, cross-overs, toys, and, of course, video games.

 

The game in question now, Rugrats Scavenger Hunt, was released in 1999 for the N64. It was developed by Realtime Associates, published by THQ, and has received mixed reviews that tend to be more negative than positive. This reaction is what initially drew me to this game, obviously, and after playing it through I have quite a few thoughts on what makes this game appropriate for the garbage pile.

Tommy, get Grandpa his narcolepsy medication.

As Tommy’s Grandpa explains in the game’s opening cutscene (the one that plays every time you return to the main menu), this is a board game! Or, it’s three board games. Except that it’s only really one game. But not in the sense that they’re all on the same cartridge. I mean, they are in that sense one game but they’re also one game in the sense that they’re basically all the same.

To clarify: There are three game modes. “Angelica’s Temple” has 1-4 babies running around a board to search for pieces of four statues with the goal of putting them all back together before Angelica can find the 4 pieces of hers. “Pirate Treasure Hunt” has at least 2 babies running around a board looking for 4 pieces of pirate treasure each with the promise of being Angelica’s first mate if they do. “Reptar Rally” has all 4 babies running in circles trying to collect a certain amount of candy because the game told them to. Also they’re all dinosaurs now. Because Reptar.

“Do you think we should make the map easy or hard to read? Hard? Yeah, I thought hard too.” ~Someone who worked on this game. Probably.

In certain senses, these different modes do provide for different styles of play. For example, “Angelica’s Temple” is a cooperative game type as players must work together against the CPU controlled antagonist. Meanwhile, “Pirate Treasure Hunt” and “Reptar Rally” both pit players against each other in a much more competitive game. In these games, players can steal treasure or candy from others in order to get closer to their goal, thereby incentivizing more cutthroat gameplay methods. Further, in “Angelica’s Temple” and “Pirate Treasure Hunt,” there are power-ups that the babies can gain like a magnifying glass that will permanently allow a person to search for items multiple times in a turn. These game modes also have a kind of shop system where players can trade cookies for toy cards which create a number of beneficial effects. Overall, it seems like this title has everything it needs in order to give Mario Party a run for it’s money. Or, at least it would be able to do that, if it had as many variables as Mario Party. Which it doesn’t.

When I talk about variables, I’m looking at them the way that Raph Koster does in his book, Theory of Fun for Game Design. Fairly early on, he discusses games as being “limited formal systems,” meaning that while games can be made up of many patterns, they are finite. At some point a player will run out of rules to understand, content to explore, and puzzles to solve. He goes on to make the claim that, “To make games more long-lasting, they need to integrate more variables (and less predictable ones)…” I think this idea of variables explains perfectly why this game just isn’t any fun.

Collect cookies. Get treasure. Repeat as wanted.

Earlier on, I was having a bit of a struggle trying to get across the idea that Rugrats Scavenger Hunt both does and does not have three different game modes. I think it would be easier to discuss the game modes in terms of variables. Three game modes would imply there are really three different ways to play this game and, hopefully, each would be radically unique and different. For example, and I do hate to bring out this example because it is painfully obvious but it is worthwhile here, look at Mario Party. The original Mario Party has eight different game boards that all hold the same objective: Get as many stars as possible. However, each board presents its own unique challenges to face as players compete. Scavenger Hunt has multiple boards that hold the same general objective of “find the number of things you need before other people do.” That is where the similarity ends though. It has less than half of the boards Mario Party has and each one isn’t particularly unique. The differences between them are mostly aesthetic as game spaces, challenges, and goals are virtually the same. The only major difference between the boards is that each has a bonus character walking around. “Angelica’s Temple” has Angelica going around, stealing your cookies and statue pieces, “Pirate Treasure Hunt” has Suzie giving you treasure in exchange for cookies, and “Reptar’s Rally” has Reptar, but he doesn’t interfere with your game. He just collects candy on his own, so far as I can tell. Beyond this singular difference, each game mode plays out exactly the same way. Once you’ve played one game mode, you’ve basically played them all.

Or, canonball-sword-flag? Whatever.

Now, this would all be perfectly acceptable if there were additional features to the game. Perhaps if the game kept a tally of how many cookies you got and once you’d collected so many on a certain board you could unlock additional characters to play as, then I’d want to play more. Or, if there was more than one mini-game (rock, paper, scissors, if you were curious) to play, then I’d yawn less while playing. But there isn’t. Everything is constantly the same and, frankly, it’s grating.

Having said this, I would consider “Reptar’s Rally” to be fairly unique when compared to the other two boards in that it does include some additions. This board includes no “searching” spaces as you collect sweets depending upon the space you land on. However, there are spaces on this board that stick your enemies to a space for a turn or that take away Reptar Bars from others, things like that. There’s an added level of messing with other players that could potentially make a much more interesting game. But, for everything that’s added in this level, equal amounts are taken away. As far as I could tell there was no Suzie to be nice or Angelica to be mean, there’s no mini-games, no bizarre moment of Dil riding through and scrambling the spaces, there’s just a circular board on which you loop endlessly searching for candy. Like, they literally made the board a bunch of circles. It’s like they were trying to make it tedious or something.

When you boil it down, this is a game that wants you to be excited about playing as characters from your favorite TV show but fails because the show is far more interesting than the game. In the time it took me to complete one full game on “Pirate Treasure Hunt” I could have watched a full episode of Rugrats instead; it only took me 15 minutes! This was definitely an instance where if a major brand hadn’t been slapped onto this game, it would likely have failed much more than it did. Really, the only part I genuinely enjoyed was the voice acting as each character was voiced by the same people who voiced them on the show, which is something that nowadays doesn’t always happen.

Not to be that guy but this game also looks bad. Look at that blurry JPG of a backyard. Oof.

So. Where does that leave the legacy of Rugrats Scavenger Hunt? Hopefully on the shelf with the rest of the bad games that you own but can’t really get rid of because Ebay’s a hassle and how much do you really think GameStop is going to give you for an almost 20 year old game that is quite bad. But, it does serve as a good lesson. If you want your game to last, make sure you put in things to do that change as someone plays. After all, if I wanted to walk in circles and find candy I could probably just go to the grocery store a couple of times. It would be about as fun as this game was.

Actually, it would probably be more fun because I’d have real candy. Unfortunate.



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