At the beginning of this year, it had been years since I really played a video game. Then I started TiVoing shows like XPlay and Icons on G4TV and realized how far behind I was and started in earnest getting up to speed on the latest and greatest. I played World of Warcraft (now since cancelled) and downloaded Half-life 2 from Valve - both cutting edge PC games in their own genre. That was a good start...
Then Diego bought his XBox and I was introduced into the world of console gaming for the first time in years (I owned a Dreamcast briefly in 1999, but didn't do much with it) and I discovered the joys of Halo and Halo 2. Wow. That's some seriously great multiplayer gaming. I've always enjoyed multiplayer more than most games, and Halo really brings back memories of the original Doom deathmatches we held after work in the Lotus Notes training rooms back in 1995. Halo has now become a staple... We all bought the PC version of Halo (or in my case, the Mac version) and played it online as well when Diego was exiled for a few months (he's back now...) and I found I was in full gamer-mode.
Then I went out and bought a Zodiac and discovered the Pure Absolute Joy of retro-gaming. Specifically my Super Mario Bros. obsession. I've been going through and playing all of the old games (which I wrote about recently as well). These are sooooo much fun. I was using the Zodiac pretty exclusively until they finally cracked the PSP to run "homebrew" apps (i.e. non-managed code) a few weeks ago and now I've been playing using the NES, SNES and Gameboy emulators on that console instead. Man, that's fun. The SNES emulator on the Zodiac didn't cut it, but the PSP is just good enough to play - which means I've been delving into Super Mario World for the past week or so and loving every level of it.
This whole foray into emulated games made me realize how much of a clue Nintendo has over it's competitors. Now that I'm playing, I realized why the Nintendo DS is doing so well in the marketplace. It's all about the games! Back a few months ago I compared the slick looking PSP to the bulky looking, lower resolution DS and thought Nintendo blew it - and I still think they could've put a little more into that design, but it doesn't matter. The games for that platform just look fun. The New Super Mario Bros. is coming out soon, Super Mario 64 already has been ported, and coming soon is a WiFi enabled Super Mario Kart - which I've been told by coworkers is one of the best games ever made, and more than enough reason to go buy a Nintendo Gamecube right now. I'm tempted to buy both, actually. I am now firmly in the cult of Nintendo. The games on their platform are just more fun. More colorful, more fanciful, more engaging. It took me a while, but I get it now: Shigeru Miyamoto is a god.
And that brings me back to the PSP. The games just aren't there yet and may never be. Yes, Mike and I are currently obsessed with Lumines, but I initially got bored of it. It was only after playing multiplayer that I realized how fun it could be and I'm now into it again, if only to internalize the patterns so I can beat him in head-to-head. But the other games I bought all lost their luster after a while. There's some games coming up which look like they could be a lot of fun - Death Junior and Daxter - but nothing gets me as excited as the idea of a New Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo DS!
I've been particularly disappointed with Coded Arms. I'm not sure if you've read a review of it, but it suuuuuuuuuucks. There's not really a story for one player mode, and the levels are all completely the same - small, boxy, random. Even if there was a great, compelling set of levels, the controls are wacky as hell. The PSP really needs two analog sticks for first person shooters, but even with one it'd be doable if the controls were better. I "reversed" the buttons so that the analog stick controlled the way I look and the buttons controlled the way I move (opposite from every other game and the default layout), but it didn't matter because there's not "analogness" in the controls. You're either looking up at full speed or you're stopped. That sucks. It makes controlling your guy like you're fighting a tank game. The multiplayer is a bit better as the weapons are pretty fun and real people fight better than the multitude of various robots the single player throws at you over and over and over and over again. But still, overall it's just a bad game.
The one exception to the general Nintendo Rulez rule is Winning Eleven 8. That is a killer soccer game and is the one game I've spent the most time on with Diego's XBox (which he'll be taking from me very soon now). I especially like the cooperative mode where you and two or three players can play on the same team against the computer. Soooo cool. Yeah, you can do that with Halo and other FPS as well (capture the flag, etc), but the teamwork on a soccer field seems just so much more real. When you're teammate makes an amazing last-minute dive to score a goal and win the game, you really want to slap him on the back and give him a high-five, much more so than in other games. Maybe that's just because I really like soccer, have played it and thus can relate better than being a space marine, but I think it's just the nature of the game itself.
I think the best thing I've learned from all this is how addictive and fun video games are, and how they might convert to mobile gaming. I'm particularly focused on the Casual Gaming movement of late (games that don't need much, if any, preparation to pick up and play and have fun). I think I may have dismissed this trend early on, but after realizing that Lumines is actually just a very well done casual game, I'm completely on board with the idea. Casual games don't need to be "short" games, just games that engage and challenge a novice user right away - and then also by their sheer design have more depth that you can explore as well. I played a "challenge" game of Lumines today and played for over an hour and 20 minutes, clearing out 1800 blocks - I'll tell you, that time just cranked by like it was nothing, even on a blistering hot afternoon. Bring that sort of experience to mobile phones and you'll have a serious hit on your hands.
Sooo... I'm still not done yet - though I can see the eventual end of this current obsession. First, playing games takes up a lot of time. Time that can best be used for other things. Secondly, I'm getting fat and need to get off my ass more and play *real* soccer, rather than virtually. Thirdly, this hobby is freakin' expensive! Games cost a ton of cash and the consoles as well - as much as I'm using ROMs off the internet, I'm also buying tons of shrink-wrapped games as well (two copies of Coded Arms, actually, before I realized it sucked). Lastly, many of the games are starting to become repetitive - even my beloved Mario. FPS, Sports, Platformers, RPGs, MMORPGs... Okay. Got it. I've got other stuff to do now... ;-)
Oh, and 53 blocks is my record in Lumines in the 60 second mode... beat that!