Warp Drive

Friday, August 9, 2019

Nintendo Rhapsody (World 7: The End of the Beginning)

I was a very reckless grade schooler one minute, and then the next, a high school graduate on his way to college. I was for the briefest of moments in time, as Ms. Davis said, "the man of the hour." It felt as if life were but glimpses. As I took my first glimpse of Cerritos College, I was filled with a fear of the unknown. The very same fear I had previously felt upon my arrival at California High School and every school before that. I entered into a large enclosed amphitheater. I was taken aback by the sheer scale of the college campus. It gave me such pause, I very nearly forgot the reason for my being there. I approached the front of the amphitheater to collect my entry exam before having a seat. I breezed through the multiple choice questions, but when it came time for the written portion, I struggled to think of anything. It was one of those scenarios where you have to write an essay response to a question. A very specific question designed exclusively for that exam. I consider myself to be a fairly creative person, but writing within those constraints always proved difficult. I had no choice but to take the entry exam over again. During the second attempt, however, I was given more time to wrestle with the question before me. I managed to pass the exam in the end and was thereby approved for three courses. An entry-level math class, a business class and a computer software class. As fate would have it, my computer software teacher was named Mr. Davis. No apparent relation to Ms. Davis. I found my mind a bit preoccupied those first few days in class. Squaresoft's Chrono Cross was set to release that week on Sony's PlayStation. A spiritual sequel to Chrono Trigger. I was eager to dive into the game having known of its existence for months.

On the day of my senior project presentation a few months earlier, I had some extra time to spare. I used this occasion to share the CGI introduction to Chrono Cross. It was downloaded from the Internet and then recorded onto a VHS tape via composite cables. I was nothing if not ingenuitive. Marlon and Israel were in the classroom that day. I knew that they would enjoy the Chrono Cross footage because they were the ones who introduced me to Chrono Trigger in the first place. Flash-forward to August and Chrono Cross was officially on store shelves in North America. I rushed over to Best Buy with dad, bought Chrono Cross and just stared at the case for a good long while. It was the first time I had ever bought a game for a system I did not own. I had only one option at that point in time. I would have to play the game on my brother's PlayStation. That is, whenever he was not busy playing Final Fantasy VIII. Serge, the new protagonist, awakens from his slumber in a small village. Not entirely unlike the beginning of Chrono Trigger. He eventually finds his way down to a beach where he meets with a friend. It is here in which Chrono Cross first demonstrates its new mechanic. Gone is any tangible form of time travel. It has been replaced by dimension hopping. Serge quickly learns that things are not as they appear following an incident on the beach. In fact, Serge would come to find that he is dead to everyone in this new world. A parallel to his own. His double had died at sea ten years earlier.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Nintendo Rhapsody (World 6: It's About Time)

In just three short years, I had made California High School my own. My performance in the classroom had afforded me the opportunity to choose an elective course or special task around campus. I chose to assist Mr. Hales, the physical education teacher, with his daily routine. I would deliver the sporting equipment to the field for practice, deliver the attendance sheets to the office and report any problems directly to Mr. Hales for inspection. More often than not, however, I spent this time standing around the basketball cart chatting with other students who happened to approach me. One of them was named Shalimar. Her boyfriend, Randy, had recently broken up with her and she was feeling quite down on herself. I would sit with her on occasion. I tried my best to lift her spirits. "Good things can happen out of the blue," I told her. I had personally experienced my own fair share of struggles in life, but something good always seemed right around the corner. I just had to believe in myself. She appeared to appreciate the sentiment. "Out of the blue" became a source of inspiration to her and she would come to remind me of that a few times. And then there was Jovani. We chatted about video games. One video game in particular. The then unreleased Perfect Dark for Nintendo 64. Rare's spiritual successor to GoldenEye 007. We would each comb the web for any clues we could find about the upcoming game and then report back in Mr. Hales' class. It would be quite some time before we actually got our hands on Perfect Dark.

With my school years dwindling to a close, I began surrounding myself with more and more creative-types. I met most of which through Ms. Davis' English course. Marlon was an optimistic, soft-spoken kind of fellow. He always carried with him a binder full of notes. His thoughts and ideas for stories he sought to develop. Most notable among them, a story entitled Tunchiza. A world in ruins; villages burning; three heroes embark on a quest to restore the light. An entity known only as 'Zendar' holds a vital key to their future salvation. When it came time to develop this story into a game, I would suggest a new name. It became known as Quest for Zendar. A rather blunt title, but it served its purpose. Israel was an energetic and often intensely enthusiastic newcomer to California High School. He transferred over from Barbara Dawson Educational Center. We had much in common. Having both attended that sometimes frightful school. Israel and I would chat about those days in our spare time. It felt strangely therapeutic to connect with someone else who understood. However, it did reopen an old wound I had tried ever so hard to forget. We eventually found other things to discuss. Israel loved Japanese anime and he often doodled his own characters on sketch paper. The Dragon Ball series was one of his most prominent influences. Akira Toriyama was like a god to him. While chatting with both Marlon and Israel one fateful day, they encouraged me to play more Japanese RPGs. But, and they were very insistent on this, if I play one Japanese RPG over any other, I needed to play Squaresoft's Chrono Trigger. I had long considered The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past to be my favorite video game of all time, but that was about to change.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Nintendo Rhapsody (World 5: Nintendo Strikes Back)

With Barbara Dawson Educational Center now firmly in the past, I began attending California High School. The adjustment period was somewhat less unnerving than Hillview Middle School. I credit my early enrollment in summer school. I had a whole month to absorb the campus before the overwhelming invasion of students in September. During this relatively quiet time, I became acquainted with one of the more interesting teachers on campus. Her name was Tamara, but of course, everyone knew her as Ms. Davis. Gone were the days of being on a first name basis. Fellow class members remember her best for her love of pumpkin seeds. I remember, from the moment I first met her, her sense of humor. Ms. Davis was a lighthearted woman, sure, but she also had a rather strict side. It was not wise to upset her. The months flew by in the blink of an eye. Christmas arrived right on schedule. Santa Claus delivered a very exciting present to my brother and I that year. It was none other than the Nintendo 64 and it was not alone. It came with Cruis'n USA, Killer Instinct Gold, Mortal Kombat Trilogy, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, Wave Race 64, but most importantly, Super Mario 64. It was not long at all before a debate was had to decide whose room the system would reside in. A few days later, we all contracted chicken pox and the two week quarantine period began. Let the games begin.

In just a few short years, video games had certainly come a long way. I never could have dreamed of exploring the levels of Super Mario Bros. 1-3 and Super Mario World in such a way as Super Mario 64. It was a whole new dimension. An exciting new third dimension in which the action could be experienced from all angles. Princess Toadstool had invited Mario to her castle for a well deserved cake party. However, once Mario entered the castle, he learned of her abduction by Bowser. Given her track record with the dinosaur king, it may be safe to assume she prefers his company over Mario. I should be thankful, at the very least, there was only one castle this time. There would be none of those "our princess is in another castle" shenanigans. Mario's life was also made a bit easier by the use of all new power-ups, such as the vanish cap and wing cap. Of all our fresh new Nintendo 64 games, I played Super Mario 64 the most amid that festive chicken pox season. My brother was especially into Killer Instinct Gold, what with its rad characters, stages and combo moves. I had a personal vendetta with Bowser and I intended to finish him. Upon collecting eighty power stars, the unending stairway atop the castle revealed its true destination and I set forth to save the Mushroom Kingdom once more. Bowser had, as usual, miscalculated the hazards surrounding his battle zone. With a few well timed tosses, King Koopa was prehistory. In the end, for his troubles, Mario received a brief kiss on the nose from Princess Toadstool. I never pretended to understand how that stuff worked, but a kiss on the lips may have been somewhat more exhilarating. Thankfully, the cake was not a lie. Luigi as a playable character, however, was.