Warp Drive

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.


Campland on the Bay: Israel and I


Marlon's Corner

What is time? We like to think of it as a straight line from past to present to future, but our hearts and minds often dwell exclusively in the past or future. We rarely exist in the present moment. Time, it would seem, is merely an earthbound construct. It was the year 2000 AD in actuality, but my mind was fixated ever in the past. 1995 AD to be more precise. I was trying to hunt down a copy of Chrono Trigger for the Super Nintendo. I was very unlikely to still find the game in any store, and virtual console services would not exist for another six years. Thus, I settled on an emulator for Windows 98. I downloaded Snes9x alongside a ROM of Chrono Trigger. I would eventually find and purchase the Sony PlayStation compilation with Final Fantasy IV and the Nintendo DS version of Chrono Trigger, but for now, emulation appeared to be my only option. Chrono Trigger begins with a legitimate sense of joy and wonder. Crono is a carefree boy just out to have fun with his friends on the morning of the Millennial Fair. A stark contrast from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past in which Link's adventure begins with a frantic quest in the midst of a storm. Both story techniques work effectively in their respective games, but Chrono Trigger does a far better job of building tension, and boy does it deliver on surprise twists. From the moment Crono's mother drew open his bedroom curtains, I knew that I was in for something special. Lucca, one of Crono's dearest friends, is a dedicated scientist and a rather talented inventor. Her latest invention, a teleportation device, was about to take the Millennial Fair by storm.

Lucca, despite her best efforts and intentions, did not take into account the effects of a very peculiar pendant. That which was worn by Marle, a strange girl Crono had befriended that day at the Millennial Fair. When Marle steps onto the teleportation device, it reacts to her pendant and creates a time gate. Marle then vanishes before their very eyes. Using her pendant, Crono travels four-hundred years into the past to rescue her, and the grandest time travel story ever told in a video game has begun. In Crono's quest to return Marle to her own time, her true identity is revealed, but not before Crono is nearly executed before a court. Having reunited with Lucca, the trio escape into another time gate. They came to find themselves in the year 2300 AD. The future had not been kind to civilization. In fact, it was a downright mess. Remnants of a once great republic littered the dark, barren landscape. Survivors had apparently taken shelter in domed structures. Who or what could have brought about such a future? The trio quickly turned their attention toward uncovering the answer. It came in the form of a video transmission. The world had fallen into ruin some three-hundred years earlier. A devastating cataclysm had shaken the planet to its very core. Lavos. Crono, Lucca and Marle would need all the help they could find if they were to defeat this Lavos. Their ongoing quest would send them to pre-historic times, the age of antiquity and a point in which time no longer existed at all. It is worth noting here that Chrono Trigger has multiple endings. The player is given several opportunities throughout the game to confront Lavos, and each one of those confrontations results in a different ending. If you were anything like me, you likely conquered The Black Omen in all three of its time periods. I was nothing if not thorough. In the end, Lavos was a far more formidable foe than any Ganon I had ever fought. I died too many times to count before I worked out a winning strategy. The future refused to change. No, the future will change. We are in the fight of our lives. Failure is not an option.

"All of our history... our art and science... All to meet the needs of that... beast." -Lucca


Chrono Trigger Collection

Space Ruckus, my first experiment into the field of computer game design, had given rise to Goalsoft. The developer handle I would come to use for all future releases. It was not long before Space Ruckus II emerged from the abyss of my mind. A mere two weeks after the first game. Space Ruckus III would follow two months later and Space Ruckus IV four months after that. With such a quick turnaround, these were often very sloppy projects. I was permitted, as luck would have it, to choose the fifth installment as my high school senior project. It encouraged me to take the time needed to make it something a bit more special. I would have the added benefit of presenting the game at the end of production. It had a somewhat rocky start. I feverishly sketched out all twenty-one stages on paper during or after class for a period of several weeks, but for the longest time, I sat on only three fully realized and playable levels within the editor. With the gracious support of friends such as Marlon and Israel, I was determined to see it through. And see it through I did. On February 14th of 2000, Space Ruckus V was complete. I presented the finished game before a captivated audience in Ms. Davis' class that following month. In my heart of hearts, I knew that they were just happy to skip out of classwork that day. Israel himself appeared within Space Ruckus V via a playable mini-game known as Super Israel World. A parody of the original Super Mario Bros. A few months later, I began to give serious thought to a sixth installment. I wanted it to be a fully-fledged 3D game. My video production teacher at the time, Ms. Tonkovich, had recently held a presentation in the small auditorium. It was there that I met one of her other students. A far more talented artist than myself. His name was Colin and he was presenting a 3D animated feature entitled Ant Wars using 3D Studio Max. Put simply, it was the finest work I had ever seen from one of Ms. Tonkovich's students. I turned to Colin for inspiration, and one day during lunch period, he volunteered a magazine on 3D modelling. I still have that very magazine. The future looked bright for Goalsoft.


Goalsoft 1.0


Space Ruckus V Poster

The proceeding report has been made public at the request of the Dark estate. Certain details herein have been withheld that could otherwise compromise an ongoing investigation. That fateful day had arrived at long last. The day in which I finally picked up Rare's Perfect Dark for the Nintendo 64. It differed somewhat from GoldenEye 007. The lead protagonist was still a secret agent, but she was tasked with far more bizarre cases than any that 007 had yet encountered. During Joanna Dark's first assignment, she is sent to dataDyne Corporation Headquarters to extract a scientist. Joanna learns that he is an artificial intelligence upon their successful escape. In a later mission, she is tasked with protecting the President of the United States aboard Air Force One. The President, at first, demands to see evidence of his pending danger, but eventually and perhaps reluctantly complies with Ms. Dark. After escorting him to an escape hatch, she is informed that a [REDACTED] has been shot down in the Nevada desert. Joanna would then find herself storming Area 51 for answers. She may be only one woman, but she has the gadgets necessary to get the job done. Joanna rescues a single survivor during her raid on the base. A sassy extra-terrestrial named Elvis. A name that my dad might appreciate. Elvis Presley being his favorite musician. Jovani, my Perfect Dark comrade from school, would stop by from time to time to play the two-player cooperative and competitive modes. It was some of the most fun I ever had on Nintendo 64. According to the in-game counter, I have just over two-hundred hours on Perfect Dark. More than any other game to date.


Jovani's Yearbook Signature

I came into this life a destructive force of nature. I was, in my own way, ever curious about the world around me. I just failed to show it in an appropriate manner. Most of my peers knew me as the 'Terror of Orchard Dale Elementary.' I would frequently throw over my desk, shout or scream in the middle of class. On a particularly bad day, I might even throw my shoes into the air. I found myself in the office more often than I was in class. It was there in which I first met Mrs. Grubbs, the school's principal. She wore beady eyeglasses, her hair permed ever so short. I will never forget her appearance. There are very few people to this day who still send shivers down my spine. She made me sit at a small desk in the corner while she did her paperwork. She really knew how to build suspense. Eventually, she would say aloud, "What are you doing in my office, Michael?" "My shoes had a mind of their own," I would respond. Mrs. Grubbs, with a slight grin on her face, would say, "Is that what you're going to tell your father?" I became as still as stone. I returned to class on my best behavior. Being the slow learner that I was, I would often paint my own version of reality based upon my then limited comprehension. Haugau was my imaginary friend and I would involve him in my school activities. As I once explained to an aide, Haugau is real only when he explodes, but that he can put himself back together again. Needless to say, I learned a lot from the school system, but much of it took place outside the classroom; on the playgrounds, in the lunch rooms, in the offices. It was the people, not the curriculum, that truly mattered. I came to the realization that I was not alone. There were students with far worse disabilities than my own, and there were staff members who legitimately cared for each and every one of them. It was a treasure trove of experiences, and at the end of the day, it matters not if they were good or bad ones. All that remains to be seen is whether or not something was learned from them. Life, itself, is an institution for learning. The ultimate school system. We pass on what we learn, and what we pass on gives others reason to learn.

Graduation day had arrived all too soon. During my freshman assembly four years earlier, a speaker had implored us to cherish this special time in our lives because the years would fly by in the blink of an eye. He was not kidding. As I approached the large auditorium to collect my cap and gown, I was filled with the same sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that I felt on the day of graduation from Barbara Dawson Educational Center. Mrs. Sones, my cooking teacher, was among those distributing caps and gowns that day. She appeared to have confidence in me. I was very much lost in thought for the moment. I had certainly come a long way from the destructive child of Orchard Dale Elementary, but I wondered if I had truly come far enough. While waiting for my counselor one day in junior year, I happened to notice an honor roll sheet on the office wall. I recalled my intense surprise when I glanced over my own name. 'Michael Haley' used to appear on lists of delinquents, and here it was listed alongside the best of the best. California High School had been a turning point in my life. One which I would not soon forget. I could still see myself sitting in Ms. Davis' class listening to the morning band practice just outside. The band was playing to a different tune on this most monumental of days. When my name was finally called forth, I knew that this chapter had come to a close. With my diploma in hand, I bid a final farewell to California High School and many of the friends I had made there. Dad was waiting for me. It was time to go home.

It was time to enter the fifth dimension.


Graduation: Dad and I


Graduation: Class of 2000


Raxlen Slice - Pomp and Circumstance (8 Bit Chiptune Graduation)
"You have come a long way, baby. Just yesterday you were a shy little 9th grader, and now you are the man of the hour. Good luck in the future w/ whatever you do. I know you will do great things." -Ms. Davis
"It's been a pleasure having you in both art and video! You are very talented. I wish you all the best. This year in video prod Per. 3, I really appreciated your sense of humor and mature attitude in the midst of chaos." -Ms. Tonkovich
"You are a fine young man and I enjoyed having you in class. Remember, you can cook anything if you just follow the directions!" -Mrs. Sones
"Thanks for all the help this year. You've been a great T.A. Best of luck in the year to come." -Mr. Hales
"Well, you're going to college. That's great. I am sorry that I can't write better stuff. Just to let you know, I will always be there to make more games for you and to work with you." -Marlon Castillo
"Have a very happy summer and hope to see you next year." -Israel Alvidrez
"Good luck with life, man. Keep working on those games." -Colin Fleming
"Hey, you. I hope you have a great summer!!!" -Shalimar Robles