Warp Drive

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Nintendo Rhapsody (World 8: Pros and Cons)

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 8-1: Home Sweet Home Again

With my unceremonious departure from Cerritos College, and the apparent end of my school career, I fell back on that which I loved. My ongoing endeavors with Goalsoft. In January of 2001, I launched my first ever online magazine dedicated to Goalsoft. It was no doubt inspired in part by Nintendo Power. The Goalsoft MAG featured monthly interviews administered by Marlon with the various Goalsoft web staff, release dates for upcoming game projects, short stories, poems and one very controversial comedy column. The latter of which was hosted by Dave Smith. Goalsoft's resident comedy writer and beta tester. In the span of time between January and April of that year, I released Sword Quest III: Dimensional Drift, Super Israel World 2 and Swashblood Isle. I had originally intended to develop Swashblood Isle in Glumol, but the tools were unfortunately not made available until much later. I would instead use Clickteam's The Games Factory. Much like Klik & Play, it left something to be desired when developing traditional adventure games. Everything, as usual, had to be created from scratch. That included an inventory screen and dialogue prompt for every possible scenario in the game. Timers were used to tell the game whether or not an event could be triggered, and when and where to display an item. As a result of these limitations and improvisations, Swashblood Isle was more than a little rough around the edges. Clearly, I had an awful lot of free time on my hands. It certainly felt strange being out of school, but I still had a teacher or two in my life. I became rather hooked on TechTV, a cable network focused primarily on the computer industry. Leo Laporte and Patrick Norton hosted a late afternoon show known as The Screen Savers. They covered every computer topic one could imagine, but my favorite segments were the ones where they built custom machines for gaming and whatnot. It would be several years before I attempted such a thing of my own. With 2001 rapidly drawing to a close, I had just one thing on my mind. Nintendo's brand new disc-based console. For the longest time, it was known simply by a codename. Project Dolphin. A name that left quite a bit to the imagination.

Swashblood Isle Poster

My dad had taken an early retirement from The Boeing Company due to a back injury he sustained while on the job. He would come to find more time for hobbyist projects around the house, and maybe even a little time to play Nintendo. Ready 2 Rumble Boxing was one of those rare games that seemed to capture his interest. A rather comical two player boxing game developed and published by Midway Games. Michael Buffer appears as himself before every match with his iconic catchphrase, "Let's get ready to rumble!" Ready 2 Rumble Boxing was followed soon after by Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2. Sooner than I expected, in fact. Dad surprised me with the game on Christmas morning of 2000. Round 2 featured a number of notable celebrity appearances including Michael Jackson and Shaquille O'Neal. They would become playable from the boxer selection screen once a few requirements had been fulfilled. Like the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System before it, Nintendo 64 matches often resulted in creating a somewhat competitive environment. Mastering complex button presses was not one of my dad's strong points. He may have even preferred a more direct control option, but such a controller would still be at least a few years away. The Revolution would have to wait. Project Dolphin was next to surface. It was now known by its final name; Nintendo GameCube.

It 'twas that most joyful time of the year again. A time of merry; a time of cheer. Dad had strung lights abound with great care. The stockings were nestled gently beside the marvelously decorated tree. While enchanting melodies filled the room with glee. One could only sit and wonder about that which lied beneath the tree. Once again, Christmas morning arrived right on schedule. A little blue box was among the presents that year. It was of course none other than the Nintendo GameCube, and it came with a few friends. Those being Luigi's Mansion, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II and Wave Race: Blue Storm. I found myself quite awestruck by the visuals in Luigi's Mansion. The advanced lighting and shadows were unlike anything possible on the Nintendo 64. Many of the mansion's objects and ghosts would cast their own shadows onto the background environment in real-time. It really set the stage for Luigi's spooky adventure. I ultimately played through Luigi's Mansion twice. I wanted to get the perfect mansion, and in order to do that, you have to collect everything. Leave no stone unturned, as it were. As for the other friends that came with the Nintendo GameCube, Super Smash Bros. Melee was like a dream come true. It gave me the opportunity to pit a wide variety of Nintendo characters against one another. Super Smash Bros. Melee would become my go-to party game for the foreseeable future. The game was definitely a hot pick whenever family came over. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II felt like being transported into the Star Wars movies themselves. It was fun playing through some of the defining moments from the original trilogy. And Wave Race: Blue Storm had some of the most detailed water physics that I had seen thus far in a video game. But at the end of the day, something was strangely missing from the Nintendo GameCube's launch lineup. A traditional Mario platformer. That would sadly have to wait until the following summer.

Home: Nintendo GameCube Unboxing

I always looked forward to the arrival of summer. When I was just a boy, it gave me a perfectly valid excuse to run through the sprinklers fully clothed. Slip and slides were also a blast, but boy did they chafe the skin. When I came of a certain age, I still very much looked forward to summer vacation, but my free time was more often spent fiddling away on various computer projects. I would always get the most work done in the summertime. Everything from short stories to homebrew computer games. I produced most of my early Goalsoft games during summer vacations. Summer also happened to be a time when I could play more video games, and I also had more time to visit the stores in which they were sold. I nervously walked into Toys "R" Us one day in the summer of 2002, and slowly approached the video game clerk to inquire about a game that had just recently released for the Nintendo GameCube. I had a bit of trouble bringing myself to say the name at first. After some hesitation, I said to the clerk, "Do you have Super Mario Sun...shine?" I just thought the "Sunshine" part of the title was a bit bizarre at the time.

Mario, like myself, was all set to enjoy his own summer vacation. However, upon his arrival on Isle Delfino, he is quickly arrested on the suspicion of vandalism. Mario is placed on trial for his alleged crime and later convicted. Convicted Felon Mario is then assigned community service. He is tasked with cleaning up the island while also attempting to learn more about the real culprit. Super Mario Sunshine differs from previous Super Mario games in that you are provided with a water cannon. An accessory which Mario wears on his back at all times. It is often used to clean the goop around Isle Delfino, but it is also used for traversal, whereby it acts as a jetpack. It can be extremely useful in many parts of the game. Perhaps not so much in that one particular pachinko machine level. Super Mario Sunshine also differs from previous Super Mario games in that Princess Peach is not kidnapped. For once in her life, Peach is simply enjoying a well deserved vacation. Not a kidnapper in sight. Wait, why is that shadowy figure approaching Princess Peach like that? As it would turn out, the princess does in fact become kidnapped, but not until later into the game. That shadowy figure eventually reveals their identity, and shares a story that is best experienced for yourself. Mario's unusual vacation would eventually take him to the lava-filled caverns of Corona Mountain where he enjoyed a not so comfortable dip in a hot tub with an old adversary. The lizard I once witnessed ground pound himself through the brick floor in Super Mario Bros. 3. The very same lizard I threw into the battle zone hazards in Super Mario 64. I had known him by two names. King Koopa and Bowser. On this summer's day, he had but one name. Turtle Soup. Mario ultimately saved the day, and in doing so, cleared his name of any wrongdoing. None of this was in the travel brochure. I may choose a quaint yet relaxing fishing village for my next vacation.

Fishing Trip with Dad

In the process of forging new friendships, we sometimes have to say goodbye to old ones. Goodbye can be a complicated word. It sometimes means until we meet again, and other times, it means forever. Forever is a mighty long time. What do we do with the pain we feel deep inside? Sometimes, we retreat into the world of make believe. I have my sights set on a small village far from the hustle and bustle of every day life. I like to call it Wenfork. It is a name that just happened to come to me. It seemed nice enough. Wenfork was a village with infinite possibility. It just needed the right kind of touch. I brought a few of my make believe friends from home. One of them is named Bill Grig. His portrait will adorn the door of my new house. Wenfork needs its own anthem. I have that covered as well. And what is a village without villagers? Wenfork is filled with townsfolk, and each and every one of them is a unique individual. But Sven was my favorite among them. He lived just one square to the left of my house. We swapped stories and exchanged rare gifts. On occasion, we even wrote letters to one another. He was my next door neighbor, but more than that, he was my friend. A friend who was always there for me rain or shine. Until one day, that is, when he finally said goodbye and moved away to another village. I could hardly believe my eyes. I went back to where his house should be, but found an empty lot in its place. Goodbyes are never easy, but we can always cherish the memories we had together.

Animal Crossing was a rare gem for its time. Utilizing the internal clock of the Nintendo GameCube, it became possible to experience new activities and events with each passing day. Likewise, the ability to forge long-term friendships with in-game characters. Sven was but one of many possible villagers. All of which featured unique personalities. However, to be perfectly honest, I wanted Animal Crossing for one reason and one reason alone. The inclusion of playable Nintendo Entertainment System games. These could be received through certain villagers, and sometimes as birthday gifts. I created a rather snazzy game room in the basement of the house and arranged the NES games there. On that particular New Year's Eve, I skipped Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve to be with my make believe village. A reward was promised for sticking around until midnight. Wenfork would live on for many years to come. With every installment in the Animal Crossing series that followed, I maintained the name. The adornments and anthems would vary somewhat, but the spirit remained the same. Sadly, Sven would remain a cherished memory. "If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” -Fred Rogers

Animal Crossing: My Man Cave/NES Collection

Animal Crossing: Portrait of Bill Grig (Space Ruckus)

In the waning months of 2002, I accepted the role of a moderator for Chris Cromer's AGI Web Site and Message Forum. It was a particularly slow period for Goalsoft, and I needed to find something else to occupy my time. I would be responsible for keeping the peace if and when a debate occurred. Thankfully, the debates were mostly trivial things about Sierra On-Line's Adventure Game Interpreter and nothing more. Those were simpler times. Chris also tasked me with testing out new features for his CBB board system on occasion. It was a message board system of his very own design. I would often frequent Chris' IRC chat room in order to have a more direct line of communication with Chris and the other moderators. One seemingly uneventful night in the chat room, a fellow contributor to Chris Cromer's AGI Web Site informed me that another moderator would be joining us. One with whom I had not interacted with before. His name was meelWORM. A somewhat peculiar sounding name to say the least. meelWORM was of course just his online username. His real name was Mark. From the moment that meelWORM first entered the chat, I could tell that our minds operated on the same frequency. We shared the same spark of creativity, and more than that, a common interest in mischief. Our minds were so alike, we often finished each others' sentences. We were, in short, diabolical together.

It was only a matter of time before meelWORM and I melded those special minds of ours and dreamt up a wonderfully mischievous scheme. Activity had recently slowed to a crawl on the message forum, and meelWORM and I were desperately trying to ponder a way to liven it up again. During one of our frequent all-nighters, we devised a rather simple yet complex idea. We would pose as a new user to the message forum. A user who confused various facts about AGI games in an effort to encourage others to engage with and correct him. A user who wrote like a raccoon that found a typewriter in the dumpster. His name was Conrad Sheldon. A name that meelWORM just made up off the top of his head. Within mere days of his debut on Chris Cromer's AGI Message Forum, he had published his own web site dedicated to various AGI games. Presented the way in which he remembered them, anyway. When the Conrad Sheldon experiment was said and done, there were, for the most part, no hard feelings. It was a wild ride and just about everyone took it in stride. I actually learned a few things while writing for Conrad Sheldon. My own grammar and punctuation skills were admittedly not the best at the time, and through purposely dumbing down his vocabulary, I came to realize where my own writing needed improvement. I began to closely study how others wrote. Especially journalists working for popular video game news outlets. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker had recently released in stores, and thus, many of the journalists were covering that. It was time to set sail and see where the winds would take me.

Conrad Sheldon's Tombstone

Akril's Conrad Sheldon Portrait

World 8-2: Lost at Sea

I was a sailor lost at sea. With the sun beating down upon me, recollections of my past adventures filled my dazed mind. All the places I had been and the things I had tried to do there. The things I could have done differently. I could have fired an arrow at that Like Like instead of trying to defend against it with my shield. Having eaten my shield, I would have no other choice but to buy another. I could have bottled more fairies when I had the chance. I could have just ignored that cursed house in Termina's Ikana Canyon. Just when I thought all hope was lost, a passing seagull gave out a loud squawk. It appeared to be a fairly young bird. They rarely fly very far from dry land. I reached for my telescope and had a quick look around. Sure enough, there was an island home to a small village off in the distance. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker begins on just such an island. Link, as usual, finds himself in a deep slumber at the onset of his adventure. He must be a real party animal. Link awakes to the sound of his sister's voice. She informs him that their grandmother is looking for him. She wishes to bestow him with a gift for his birthday. A very familiar set of clothes. The green outfit worn by the hero of legend. The Wind Waker differs from earlier Zelda games in one key area. Its use of cel-shaded graphics. Sometimes referred to as toon shading. At the time of its release, The Wind Waker actually put a number of people off. It was one of those games that simply had to be seen in motion to be understood. Looks can quite often be deceiving. An ancient evil was lurking just below the surface. One which I had confronted numerous times before. The demon king himself; Ganon. The game concludes with one of the greatest sword fights in the whole series. Ganon, wielding a sword in each hand, duels Link on the ocean's floor with the waters held back by the power of the Triforce. Link emerges victorious in the end. He plunges his sword, the Master Sword, deep into Ganon's skull. Ganon's demonic reign was finished. Until the next Zelda game. Until twilight is upon us.

While scampering through my grandmother's kitchen as a small boy, she said to me with an ever slight disdain, "Why don't you sit down for a moment. I'll make you a grilled cheese sandwich." She knew how much I enjoyed grilled cheese sandwiches. I could never pass up that offer. My grandmother and I were the best of buddies. We explored every local park we could find. My absolute favorite being the park with the giant steel battleship. I could lose myself for hours within its interiors. At the end of the day, my grandmother would be there waiting. After such a long day of playing in the battleships, the forts and the rocket ships, it would be time to leave. My grandmother was, in my eyes, known simply as Ma. There but for a precious moment in time, she was the closest companion I had. While I was busy saving Hyrule from flood waters many years later, I learned that Ma had become terminally ill. It would seem she had actually been sick since the previous Christmas season, and she chose to distance herself because she did not want us to see her that way. Ma passed away in the early morning hours of April 11th, 2003. It was not my first encounter with death and it would certainly not be my last.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker Collection

Super Mario Bros. taught me a number of things about life. Always eat your vegetables. Look before you leap. Be on the lookout for spare change; it has a way of materializing in strange places. But most importantly, more than any other lesson the game had to offer, I learned that the princess was in another castle. She was always in another castle. Throughout my high school years, I never truly felt whole. I often wondered if what that fellow student had told me about Melissa's feelings were in fact true. In his ever bone-crushing words, "Sorry, dude, she doesn't like you." It would only be with the arrival of Israel in my senior year that the truth began to surface. He was another fellow student of Barbara Dawson Educational Center. It turned out that other student was a chronic liar. Israel informed me that Melissa had moved to Texas, and I began a years-long quest to reach out to her. If for no other reason than to find closure once and for all. My quest would finally come to an end in the spring months of 2003. I located the number of the group home she was believed to be living in. I went through a rather rigorous review process with the administrator of the household. He then told me she would call back in a few minutes. I became weak in the knees as I stood there intensely eyeing the phone. I briefly thought about sitting down, but I was far too anxious at that point. Finally, after seven long years, I once again heard Melissa's voice. That feeling of pure ecstasy came rushing back to me. Though we were a thousand miles apart, it was as if we were standing in the same room together again. We talked about everything from those bygone school days to the name I had made for myself with Goalsoft. Sadly, it would seem that our conversations were being monitored by the group home. We intended to stay in touch, but our chats would often be limited to ten minutes. For the first time in my life, I decided to practice actual letter writing. I put my very best effort into those letters. I would include fun stories, pictures and even stickers. And I have no doubt Melissa enjoyed them. Her return letters would also include such things. For once, the princess was not in another castle. She may have been in another state, but she was not in another castle.

I had been hacking away on my own computer games for the better part of five years. It would seem as though time has a way of escaping our grasp. There was a time in which I was merely brainstorming ideas with friends for games that may never be. I would sit with Irvin at Barbara Dawson Educational Center while he played his Sega Game Gear. We had our own corner beside a set of poles on the far side of the basketball court. Irvin, always the perfectionist, would try to best his previous game sessions. He was a man with some mad skills looking to become a master. I just sat there in astonishment most days. Mortal Kombat II and Shinobi were two of his most cherished games on the system. He played Shinobi most of all, but his sessions with Mortal Kombat II provided me with enough inspiration for our own fighting game. One which would take place in that very school. In my imaginative game, Irvin would be the Raiden figure. He would be the protector of the realm. The wise one that everyone looked up to in times of trouble. And yes, per Irvin's special request, there would even be a cool staff. Those times were becoming ever more of a fleeting memory with each passing day, but Irvin remained in my thoughts all those years later. Goalsoft was nearing a critical juncture. A number of colleagues were slowly moving on to other things, and I was desperately trying to find ways of rebooting the brand. I would soon return to a series I had long neglected.

Goalsoft Workspace

I prepared to drop anchor. I had been lost at sea long enough. I found myself drifting from one project to another without a clear vision for any of them. Goalsoft had become a company known for prototypes more so than actual games. In the months following my exploits on Chris Cromer's AGI Message Forum, I worked on an adventure game adaptation of the Conrad Sheldon character with a small group of passionate AGI developers. The Big Con, as it was being called, was to be designed using AGI Studio. In an effort to save time, I used a pre-existing AGI character as the base for Conrad Sheldon's AGI cells. I slowly filled in the changes over time. Conrad Sheldon was given a pair of glasses that appeared to have been taped back together, an old blue striped shirt and a pair of gray trousers. I wrote a draft of the story that included the first three hours of the game. The finished game would have encompassed a total of ten hours. After a dramatic opening sequence, Conrad Sheldon is abandoned on the outskirts of town, and his primary objective is to find a means of returning home. Let me just say that Conrad Sheldon is kidnapped more than a few times along the way. The Big Con struggled to maintain momentum, and I eventually began to consider other projects. I collaborated very briefly with Marlon on a fresh prototype for Quest for Zendar. I spent most of my time building a rather complex menu system. One which could emerge from the right side of the game screen in real-time. It included options for sound effects, music, passcodes and even a fully functional sound test. I was actually quite proud of that menu. Space Ruckus VI: Return of the Grigs was another project in which I had been experimenting with ever since the release of Space Ruckus V: In Search of Joe Commer. I produced a number of 3D models and animations for the project. With the aim of creating a more professional game, however, I began to wonder if it might just be better to reboot the whole series. I grew increasingly worried about players going back to Space Ruckus I-V after playing Space Ruckus VI. It would be an understatement to say that they had not aged well. Thus, I eventually made the decision to shift my time and resources over to Space Ruckus: The Great Invasion. A 3D remake of the very first Space Ruckus game. I would have the help of a few other up-and-coming developers. My attention would henceforth focus on a single project. A project with a clearer vision. As I dropped anchor, a familiar voice called out to me from the shore. Dad was waiting for me. It was time to go home.

It was time to reboot.

Styx's Come Sail Away

Nintendo Rhapsody, World 8: Pros and Cons (Swashblood Isle II Machinima)
"I can still remember when Goal Soft was first starting out. We were just one little site with very few games. Now we have multiple sites and tons of games. We are expanding faster than ever before and have a vast community of visitors. In the future we will grow and grow and someday make professional games. I would like to thank all the visitors that made this possible." -Marlon Castillo
"I was at school and I just happened to see Michael Haley. One of my personal close friends. He started talking about our ex-school, Barbara Dawson Educational Center, which I prefer to call hell. We met through there. We started talking about other stuff, and then he started talking about his own company and then... I got in." -Israel Alvidrez (on the subject of joining Goalsoft)
"I've been a game lover since I was five. Ever since then, I wanted to be in the making of the game. It hit me that I should test games at about ten or eleven. That has been my odd dream job." -Dave Smith
"I don't know very many people who were able to say at a young age, 'I'm going to do this' and do it, and it just kind of all went that way. It's pretty much unpredictable and a random path. You can't really control the circumstances of your life, you can only control what you do with it, how you react, how you respond, how you hold it. What I do control is what I do with what happens, and I try to keep a positive attitude, not always easy, and I try to focus on what my mission, core mission is. And that helps you more than anything else if you know what your mission is." -Leo Laporte
"I don't think I can say that I miss those days, but I certainly have a lasting fondness for all of the projects I was working on around that time, and Conrad was without a doubt, one of the most bizarre and enjoyable of those projects."
-Mark Gillie (meelWORM)
"All that was said is gone and dead. Our hearts are full of sorrow. Who cares if he was Curt or Ed, Ethyl or Dirk or even Fred? All that matters is we were friends. Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow." -Patrick Schiess (in regards to Conrad Sheldon)
"Hey, how are you? I'm great. I got your e-mail last night. Tell your family that I said hi, okay. Are you glad that you're out of school? I'm glad that I'm out of school. By the way, I did like you back then. I can't believe that boy told you that. It's not true, okay." -Melissa Mercer
Further Reading:
From the Graveyard: The E! False Hollywood Story
Interview with meelWORM (Mark Gillie)
Nintendo Rhapsody Notes
Computer Love