Warp Drive

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Nintendo Rhapsody (World 4: Trial Separation)

Nintendo Rhapsody is an ongoing story about how Nintendo, and video games in general, helped me through some of the harder times in my life. Each chapter, known as a 'world' in Nintendo Rhapsody, is rather self contained with introductions and conclusions.

World 4-1: He's Got an Attitude

Nintendo's undisputed reign over the Haley household was, for the time being, at an end. Just as Mario hung his hat for a well deserved rest, an edgy new platforming star was beginning his own adventure. Sonic, a mysterious blue hedgehog without a speed limit, was set to conquer far more than my television screen. In no time at all, I owned everything from Sonic the Hedgehog sleeping bags to plush toys to comic books. I would eagerly visit the nearby Ralphs supermarket each month to score a new issue. It was almost as exciting as the animated series. Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog aired Monday through Friday at seven in the morning. Once I began attending Hillview Middle School, I had no choice but to record them onto VHS tape and watch them after school. Hillview was a whole new experience. There were an unnerving number of fellow students. Having been enrolled in non-public schools for many years prior, I was not prepared for the often twenty something students per classroom - or the fact I now had six classes a day. It was quite a bit to process. In retrospect, I always found smaller classes more focused and therefore rewarding experiences. One of those classes was, thankfully, a more intimate environment and it was there in which I began to take computers seriously. Previously, I saw them as rather dull educational instruments. I was assigned a floppy diskette and a desk terminal. My assignment was simple: Build and maintain a town in Maxis' SimCity. A town which continued to function whether I was present or not. It was like Quintet's ActRaiser, but without the action platforming stages. Computers were rad and all, but I really just wanted to get home and play the Sega Genesis.

Pinball has always been a fascinating parlor game. The way in which the ball hit bumpers, bounced around the table and flew into and through ramps was pleasing to both the eyes and ears. If one video game captured the spirit of pinball in those early days, it was Sonic the Hedgehog. When the blue blur approached 360-degree loops and winding tunnels at high speed, he would morph into a ball and fly through with ease. It was more than pinball, it was a roller coaster. When Dad purchased our Sega Genesis, it included a mail-in rebate for a free game. I quickly sent away for Sonic the Hedgehog 2. It utilized a more powerful and chargeable spin dash. With a few other notable additions, each entry in the series was more exciting than the last. Sonic could now transform into Super Sonic and the villain, Dr. Robotnik, had even more dastardly plans. As if borrowing a cue from The Galactic Empire, he constructed a world decimating space station: The Death Egg. In its first appearance at the end of Sonic 2, there were no power-ups to be found. Just two nail biting boss battles. Used the Force, I did. Sonic 2 also introduced a second playable character, Tails, and up until the last set of single act zones, he could be played simultaneously via a second controller. I have no doubt my brother brought his usual A-game. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 would bring with it virtually seamless progression through acts and zones, the ability to save game progress and a new rival named Knuckles. It was initially on the short side, but with the release of Sonic & Knuckles just six months later, with its unique lock-on functionality, Sonic 3 became, in my mind, the greatest entry in the series. Although they may not have been as great as their predecessors, Sonic Spinball and Sonic 3D Blast were my Sonic the Hedgehog 4 and 5.

Home: Sega Game Gear

Hillview Middle School was a major improvement over previous non-public schools, and for once, I felt engaged in computers. However, personally, I was still a reclusive student with a penchant for trouble. I spent my lunches hiding out around the corner of the gymnasium. Strangely enough, I did eventually form one friendship and when I was feeling especially curious one afternoon, he and I wandered to the far side of the campus. We were on an adventure. There, we discovered a tunnel connecting Hillview with the elementary school. My first elementary school. We pondered crawling through to the other side, but we had gathered a following in the process. It was not long before I heard that unmistakable voice, and as I turned, my heart nearly skipped a beat. Those beady glasses. That short permed hair. It was Mrs. Grubbs, the principal of that fine establishment. I knew her all too well. She used to be the principal on the other end of that tunnel. We shared history together and she therefore monitored my every move. I dreaded my office visits with a passion. She held onto the very desk I once sat in during our meetings in her elementary school office. I halfway suspected it brought her joy when I again embraced its clutches at Hillview. We had a beautiful thing going. It is a shame it came to an end over something so seemingly innocent. One carefree day, I returned to class after a lunch in the nurse's office. I brought with me an unfinished soft drink. My teacher immediately insisted I discard it. I desperately hurried to finish the drink, but he insisted yet again. I was noticeably upset, but I finally complied with his order. I dunked the drink into the trash can, and to my surprise, he was more outraged than before. He felt as though the drink had splashed him. I was sent to the office where the endgame unfolded with Mrs. Grubbs and her office staff. Parting is such sweet sorrow. We had a beautiful thing going. I never laid eyes on that woman again.

I was certainly no diamond in the rough. It would have been in my best interest to avoid tunnels and caves, but there was just something tempting about them. I was in pursuit of the unknown. Sega Genesis, like the Nintendo Entertainment System before it, had its fair share of hard games. Sometimes, my brother's wizardry was not enough. If only there were a device that could help. If only we possessed a genie. I could, say, increase the number of lives and lamp energy in Disney's Aladdin. While we were at it, the ability to skip Rug Ride. Such a genie did in fact exist. I had never before had a friend like Game Genie. Just about anything I could imagine could be manipulated within the game, and though it was most often used as a cheat tool, it could also produce sometimes humorous results, access unused game data and even render games more difficult than they already were. I shall never forget about the "Moon Jump" in Super Mario Bros. I always wondered what, if anything, was just beyond the castle at the end of each level. All the unusual things the designers never intended for me to see. Game Genie may not have caused the princess to fall head over heels for me, but I was okay with that. I was perfectly fine without that sappy stuff. *famous last words*

Golf N' Stuff: Super "Mario" Kart with Melissa

World 4-2: Live and Learn

In the aftermath of Hillview Middle School, I returned to Barbara Dawson Educational Center. It was the one and only time I visited the same school twice, or as some may say, returned to the scene of the crime. Diane, my former reading and writing tutor, gave me a tour of the facilities changed since my last visit. The computer class had moved a wing over, but they still had their old school Apple IIs. A far cry from Hillview's modern SimCity fairing machines. Darlene would be my home room teacher. She taught middle school mathematics. I learned, among other things, how to multiply nines using only my fingers. Math was never my favorite subject, but it may very well be an invaluable trick to know. I wish I had studied for that which was to come next. I made two friends this time around. One of which was Irvin, a fellow player of Sega Genesis and Game Gear. Mortal Kombat II and Shinobi were among his favorite games. He taught me the following set of numbers: 19, 65, 9, 17.Every Sonic fan will understand. The other friend was Melissa. We never had quite as much in common, but boy, whenever she was around me, I would stutter up a storm. We often teased one another, and sometimes, it would result in playful fighting. It was heaven. We would occasionally challenge each other to an impromptu race to the end of the field and back. I may have let her win a few times. She was the only friend I ever truly missed during school vacations. I never could explain the butterflies in my stomach. What had Mrs. Grubbs done in sending me back to that place? In all the excitement, I had forgotten about an old friend. One afternoon, when Irvin and Melissa were not around, I witnessed James being dragged to the office, kicking and screaming along the way. On another such occasion, I spotted him sitting alone on a corner of the elementary wing. He happened to glance over in my direction with a somewhat upsetting look on his face. I had not the courage to speak to him. I still vaguely remembered the trouble I faced at Murphy Ranch Elementary and I desperately wanted to improve myself. Something, or someone, had certainly changed my perspective. I feel in my heart I failed him. I am truly sorry, Tails.

I had to work fast. I owned games spanning the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis and Game Gear, but I could only bring so many with me. Would I seriously leave home without Rareware's Donkey Kong Country, Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog or Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine? What would I do without Kemco's Top Gear - or Disney's World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck? Soon, it would be time to go. Our destination was a little place in San Diego known as Campland on the Bay. A beachfront camping resort with virtually every luxury. Everything from a heated pool and spa to an arcade, Campland's Game Room, filled with games of every genre. A market rich with snacks and VHS movie rentals. A café offering a wide range of barbecued dishes, hot and cold drinks and ice cream desserts. Just outside the café, the always majestic view of Mission Bay, with its sail boats and bright blue shimmering waters. That place was something else. It really was. The sand; the breeze from the bay; that all too familiar campfire smell. It was simply incredible. If only I had possessed the ability to fly; to see it from every possible angle. Campland would not have been half the experience it was, however, without the presence of Dad. He always had a wonderful sense of humor and it truly shined on these vacations. Some of our warmest family moments were shared by the campfire. I was always deeply saddened when it came time to break camp. I wanted to stay just awhile longer. My brother, fully absorbed in his SNES game aboard our RV, remained unaffected. It would not be long before we were once again home with our complete collection. Farewell, Campland on the Bay. If I should ever learn to fly, your shores will be my permanent destination.

Barbara Dawson Educational Center: Irvin and I

Sega's dominance was nearing its end, and with it, my time in the non-public school system. I was, at first, reluctant to leave Barbara Dawson Educational Center. I had seemingly found the one thing elusive to me in previous schools. Poets and musicians alike had written about it throughout history, but they likely never endured school after school. I needed to know once and for all how Melissa felt. That is when I turned to someone I perceived to be trustworthy. I told him how I felt about her and he offered to act as middle man. In hindsight, it was a terrible idea, but if it made the process less stressful on everyone, I would be forever grateful. He returned a few moments later. I was filled with trepidation as I awaited his response. He said and I quote, "Sorry, dude, she doesn't like you." There are few words which can describe the emotional pain that followed. I felt dead inside. It was as if a freight train collided with my heart. I slowly staggered to a lonely corner. A corner once filled with joyful moments. As much as I attempted to fight them, it was inevitable. I began to shed tears. I did my best to cover them before anyone saw. Just weeks before, a placement specialist from the school district had spoken to me about returning to public school; for those all too important high school years. If I had any reluctance in my heart before, it was now gone. Graduation day arrived soon thereafter and I bid farewell to Darlene, Diane and Irvin. Much like The Diagnostic School, I knew in my gut I would never see these people again, but we would always have our memories together. I could only hope happy times were ahead. A few months later, Dad drove me to Blockbuster Video to browse their selection of Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis games. I came across a very peculiar demo station that day. At first glance, I thought the game was Super Mario RPG for the SNES, but on closer inspection, it was a brand new Super Mario game on a whole other platform. Super Mario 64 blew my mind with its three dimensional graphics. I just had to have the Nintendo 64, but I would have to wait until Christmas this time. Dad was waiting for me. It was time to go home.

It was time to enter the third dimension.

The Verve's Bittersweet Symphony

Nintendo Rhapsody, World 4 Showcase (Super Mario Maker 2)
"Michael, you are very special to me. You were in the first class I ever taught. I'm so proud of you! Stay good, remember to try hard." -Diane Stepnitz
"I enjoyed having you as my student. Good luck." -Darlene (Room 41 Teacher)
"Best wishes to you, Michael, as you now adventure in life." -Carol (Office Staff)
"I know you will meet with success. It's hard work, but you've proven that you are a hard worker and that you don't give up." -Minda (BDEC Principal)
Additional Notes:
Mrs. Leary was my math teacher at Hillview Middle School, and due to my sometimes strange behavior, she was also my company for science, quest, art and keyboard class. While attending her math classes, I would often drift away from the problem at hand and begin writing down ideas for my own math system. I called this system Mothvision. In multiplication, one number is typically multiplied by another number. For example, two times two equals four. In Mothvision, those very same numbers would be doubled, resulting in this peculiar equation; 2m2=8. At least, that is how the system worked to the best of my memory. Needless to say, Mrs. Leary was not amused. I would still have to complete the original math problems as instructed.
My counselor at Barbara Dawson Educational Center, Dana Minovitz, knew more about game design than anyone else I had the pleasure of meeting while growing up. She was engaged to a developer from Interplay Productions. A developer who would later work as a producer on the Fallout series. During one of our counseling sessions, Dana questioned my use of cheat codes in games - everything from "19, 65, 9, 17" to "IDDQD." She wondered just how the game could be engaging for me if I was always taking the easiest route. For the fun of a video game should be in overcoming certain challenges. That oh-so rewarding sensation one has once they finally succeed after sometimes hours of practice.
Further Reading:
Nintendo Rhapsody (World 5: Nintendo Strikes Back)
Computer Love

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