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.

During his journey across the dimensions, Serge encountered a wide range of characters, and much to my surprise, many of them could be recruited into my party. The staggering number of playable characters seemed amazing at first, but as time would tell, it proves difficult to craft a meaningful narrative with so many characters to choose from. For example, in Chrono Trigger, Lucca is well established as a scientist from the onset, and when the party arrives in the post-apocalyptic 2300 AD, her talents prove most useful in ascertaining the truth about the calamity which befell the world. If I had the choice to swap her out with a circus performing skeleton, the narrative may have been perhaps weaker. I nonetheless enjoyed many of the new characters in Chrono Cross. One of them is a rock star who performs a rad musical number. I must have listened to that track hundreds of times in the fall of 2000. Chrono Cross also employed one of the most clever ideas ever conceived for a video game. Serge, at one point in the game, swaps bodies with the villain. As if his life were not bad enough being dead to everyone he ever loved or cared for, now he was the face of evil. Serge would ultimately meet back up with his party, but they wanted nothing more to do with him. FATE, it seems, is not without its cruel and unusual punishment. Alas, my brother had need of his PlayStation again. I think he was in the process of sending Squall to the moon in Final Fantasy VIII. That game was in serious need of some Aerosmith. I turned to my computer for entertainment. Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross had both filled me with inspiration. I intended to channel that inspiration into a game of my own.


Magic Dreamers - The Wind, Stars and Waves

Japanese RPGs had fascinated me for months now, but Clickteam's products were simply not built with deeper, more immersive projects like those in mind. Marlon recommended RPG Maker to me and the rest is history. I set out to design my own RPG. One about a mystical sword. Two special agents named Blade and Sis had just penetrated the gates of Omen Castle in the hopes of reclaiming a lost treasure. Their plans are soon thwarted by Zerch, owner of the castle grounds and leader of a group determined to possess every rare treasure in Iendom. Zerch reveals that he intends to take Ienlander by force. A sword that rests atop the highest mountain in Iendom. It is said that this sword can only be wielded by the chosen one. Any other seeker will bring doom and gloom to the planet. Outnumbered and outmaneuvered, Blade and Sis mount a daring escape from Omen Castle, take refuge in the Bay of Clouds and begin to consider plans for intervention. Meanwhile, in a small village named Warloona, a boy named Mathrol is sent out to collect groceries for his mother. If the player so chooses, they have the option to visit the designer of this very game through a vortex in the village. Marlon also makes an appearance. There are many other secrets to be found in Warloona, but those groceries are not going to buy themselves. Mathrol makes haste for the city. His quest is unfortunately cut short when two strangers recruit him into their party. Their names are Blade and Sis. Those two would-be heroes from earlier. Our newly formed team rushes toward Ienlander Mountain in an attempt to prevent Zerch from claiming the sword of swords. A long and grueling battle ensues. Zerch, in the end, is defeated. But in his defeat, he begins to chuckle rather maniacally. With his dying breath, he reaches for the sword above him. Zerch, and his followers, are reduced to mere skeletons. Darkness engulfs the mountain and the surrounding landscape. Tremors of unprecedented force and intensity divide the towns and villages below. It is the bidding of the sword that Mathrol and his friends be spared from the devastation. For, as you see, Mathrol is the true chosen one. They awaken to a new world. A world of ruin. They soon find that their quest has only just begun.


Sword Quest: World Map (Concept Phase)


Sword Quest: Marlon and I

I found myself with roughly thirty minutes of freedom on Tuesdays and Thursdays between business and math class. Most of the time, I simply sat outside the math building like a bump on a log. I used this time to stare off into space and reminisce about my past experiences at California High School. One day out of the blue, a Japanese foreign exchange student sat down next to me. She happened to see me sitting there alone and wished to invite me to her club. I was far less of a conversationalist in those days. I asked her the very first question that came to mind. Naturally, that question was, "Have you ever heard of Shigeru Miyamoto?" She gave out an innocent chuckle. Yes, she had heard of Nintendo. I could have sat around hopelessly trying to flatter a Japanese girl all day long, but I was already late for math class. I had said it before, but math was never my favorite subject in school. Math 20 was the easiest math course Cerritos College had to offer, and yet, I struggled to understand most of the things the teacher was discussing. I tried to jot down some of her equations on ruled paper, but more often than not, I used this paper to brainstorm ideas for future Goalsoft games and web site additions. I was preparing to launch a section in which gamers could submit their own game ideas. It was originally intended as a creative space for everyone, but one thoughtful gamer would eventually transform this section into his very own. His name was Merrick and he came to be known as Mr. Game Idea. He was especially fond of the Mega Man series. Quest for Zendar's section was undergoing a transformation of its own. Marlon had just recently revised the story. I was also in the process of finishing work on Sword Quest: The Legend of Ienlander. In Mathrol's ongoing quest, he would crash Fort Apocalypse in an attempt to restore the world, travel beyond space and time and come face to face with a rather deadly manifestation of fate. In the end, he would prove successful, but his adventures were far from over. Marlon complained about the sheer size of the ocean in the first game. It took forever to locate dry land. It was an intentional design decision on my part. I wanted it to feel like you were an actual sailor lost at sea. I factored Marlon's concerns into Sword Quest II: The Battle of the Galagas. It featured a more tight-knit world in line with Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross. As busy as I was with Goalsoft, I still found time to write into Nintendo Power for their September 2000 issue, and for the first and only time, I was featured in Player's Pulse. I see a bad moon rising. I see trouble on the way.


Nintendo Power: Player's Pulse

Humans are quite often vulnerable creatures. Rather than risk exposing their true inner selves, they adorn themselves with masks. A false representation of self. If a certain mask no longer serves them, they simply swap it out for another. Never truly knowing the person behind the mask, they become the mask. Upon my arrival in Termina, I learned of many such masks. One very peculiar mask in particular. Majora's Mask. A mask with the power to bring down the moon above. The Happy Mask Salesman had tasked our hero with its retrieval. There was just one small caveat. Link only had seventy-two hours to do so. Thankfully, he could rewind time if he found himself in a pinch. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask was the Nintendo 64's swan song. Termina, and its surrounding forests, swamps and villages were filled with troubled characters. Link had the option to help them if he so desired. It is here that Majora's Mask's true heart shines. These characters have full routines and Link can become involved in their lives at any point he chooses. Within the seventy-two hour time window, of course. As long as I live, I will never forget the Music Box House in the mountains. I had long suspected there was something strange about it. Once I finally managed to enter the house, I discovered a rather ominous closet. What emerged from that closet was a grotesque looking mummy. The game's music intensified suddenly. I had seconds to respond. I quickly slashed the mummy with my sword. Soon thereafter, I felt very bad about what I had just done. A young girl who lived there was keeping it in that closet for a reason. I returned later, and this time, I performed the Song of Healing on the mummy. It was no mummy at all. It was the young girl's father. Cursed by a wretched mask. They shared a long overdue hug. Clearly, they had some catching up to do. I decided to see myself out. Wiping a tear from my eye, I glanced up into the sky. The moon was still on a collision course for Termina. "Right," I said, "I still have to do something about that."

It appeared to be business as usual in business class. I was assigned to a group and instructed to coordinate with them on various projects. My social anxieties held me back on more than one occasion. I was suppose to meet with the group early one morning in the library, but ultimately failed to show up. Still, I had reason to believe I was on the right course. I was, after all, a talented young man with bold aspirations. But, as they say, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. One of the teachers pulled me out of class one day. She informed me that I would be failing the course. It was the beginning of the end for my college life. I soon learned that I would also be failing the math class, and most surprisingly, Mr. Davis' computer software class. I was distraught to say the least. I had no choice but to pull myself out of Cerritos College entirely. I painfully collected my books and began the journey home. What possible future did I have now, I wondered. The future. I rode my bicycle back to California High School in a bout of confusion. I hoped that I might find some answers there. I would come to be locked on the campus. With no other option, I phoned my brother to come down to the school. He peered through the fence. I could tell that he was disappointed in me. "What are you doing here," he asked of me. I responded in a panic, "I just can't be at the house right now. It's not the same. It'll never be the same." He remained silent for the briefest of moments before responding with frustration, "We're all grieving right now, but this isn't what dad would have wanted." I said with a bevy of emotions deep inside, "You weren't there when it happened. You weren't in that room." My brother looked at me with redness in his eyes and said, "I couldn't be there. I couldn't deal with that." He took a deep breath and continued, "I don't know what to tell you. You're going to have to find your own way out." As luck would have it, a janitor was still on duty that afternoon. I convinced him to unlock a nearby gate. I painfully collected my bicycle. Dad. Dad was waiting for me. It was time to go home.


Majora's Mask: Song of Healing