Life Lessons from Video Games: Every Day Video Game Influences

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Video gaming has affected modern culture in strange ways. Many of the more recent ways spring from online/multiplayer culture, but surprisingly the games I grew up with, the ones from the 80s and 90s, have had a lingering effect. Things I do day-to-day still show the touch of the 8-32 bit era and just recently I thought to document the weird game references I do in everyday life and here are just the top ones…I’m sure everyone does something like this…

5.) Korobeiniki: I’ve found this to be more common than I realized. As someone with an advanced degree in OCDs and organization I’ve found that organizing anything, desk drawers, folders, shelves, U-Hauls, is always accompanied by this song playing in my head, and occasionally I hum it aloud. I never even played much Tetris because of how messing up lines made my OCDs want to eat my brain but I attached this song indelibly to putting things in order, in nice right angles, NEAT UND TIDY!

4.) Null sweat, chummer: Yes, yes I know Shadowrun was a pen-and-paper RPG before it was ported to the Sega Genesis and turned into an action/adventure masterpiece in 16-bit glory…but I never knew that in the 90s. I knew Shadowrun as a cool used cartridge I got with a very interesting futuristic landscape and creative lingo. Every now and then instead of the usual “No problem,” “sure,” or “My pleasure,” “Null Sweat, Chummer” pops out, much to the bewilderment (usually) of the person receiving this statement. I think if I ever say this to a girl and she responds “Keep running in the shadows” I’ll probably propose…

You say sure thing…he says “Null Sweat, Chummer”

3.) At Doom’s Gate: I spent more time running down the hallways of Doom than I spent in school I think. It’s a rare game I could put on godmode and not get bored. Thirty days in a row… To this day moving swiftly down hallways, corridors, or even through crowded mall makes this music pop into my head. Given how much time I spent blasting hellspawn in that game I wonder if I should fear for the crowd…

2.) Test Your Might/Flawless Victory/Fatality: Mortal Kombat…it briefly held our attention by being more cartoonishly bloody than contemporary games. Even beyond that it started its own mythos…you could find secret characters, see secret things, and half the rumors about it weren’t true. The fighting parlance of the game though far out-lasted the novelty of ripping people’s spinal columns out. I use the above three phrases a LOT in day-to-day life. “Test you Might,” any time I have anything to do really (not just breaking big blocks of steel, rubies, or diamonds). “Flawless Victory” is usually reserved for a better-than-expected result, with “Fatality” brought in when that result ended in total ownage.

1.) HADOUKEN: I use this ALL the time. It’s sad. I use it when I throw clothes across the room. I use it when I toss my phone on the desk. I use it when I drop a dish in the sink. I have no idea why but anything leaving my hand at any moment and any speed equals HADOUKEN to me. It’s probably from the ridiculous spamming of that move that came with playing any version of Street Fighter II… If I ever do figure out how to throw a fireball (I’ve tried moving down, then slightly down forward, then forward and yelling it…it didn’t work) the world would be in big trouble (see my comments on crowds in the “Doom Music” section above….).

 

Life Lessons from Video Games Versus Mode: SFII v MK Finale!

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There are two kinds of people in this world: those who prefer Street Fighter and those who prefer Mortal Kombat.  Yes we can love them both, but if you were stuck on a desert island which would you prefer?  We all have an answer.   This will be no surprise, I’m a Street Fighter person.

Part of it has to do with my introduction to it.  I learned it first so its moves in a one-on-one style tournament fighter became second nature to me.  I’m not a fancy or elaborate Street Fighter player, I keep things basic, but I also win a LOT (right Mike? >: ) )  Here’s why I prefer Capcom’s Street Fighter to Acclaim’s Mortal Kombat.  Keep in mind I’m only dealing with the 16-bit iterations of the games, not the later ones.

Longevity: I don’t mean one series has or will outlast the other.  We’ve seen bad versions and weird crossovers for both franchises, I mean the longevity of these 16-bit games themselves.  Street Fighter II is a fun game.  All the special moves, all the different characters and strategies, it still feels the same way as it did when I first played it.  Mortal Kombat has suffered the Duke Nukem effect for me.  Despite all its violence and cutting edge effects…it all seems somehow…childish.  As though maybe that kind of thing is only really cool to a 12-15 year old.  Mortal Kombat’s brutality actually feels like a gimmick now.

SPAM: I think we’ve all done hadouken-hadouken-hadouken-hadouken or TIGER (high)-TIGER (low)-TIGER (high)-TIGER (low) against the computer or a live foe.  I have.  Especially Zangief and Balrog (M. Bison in Japan).  But if you did that on a harder difficulty or against a competent foe you also saw a jumping roundhouse or a leaping short into a sweep.  You can only spam fireballs for so long.  I can beat Mortal Kombat by doing flying kicks and upper cuts.  And JUST flying kicks and uppercuts.  The flying kicks strategy is how I always beat Goro.  I could usually get a flawless victory on him too.  Even on tougher difficulties.  It seems easier to spam cheesy moves in Mortal Kombat to me.  So much so that I’d try to play fair then just say, “forget it I’m spamming to win…”  I’m sure the MK masters out there know ways to break those kinds of things, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating when some chump starts doing it to you…or any less lame when you see it work on the game’s hulking sub-boss!  One cause of this problem is reflected in the next item!

Diversity:  I mentioned this in my Street Fighter post, but it wasn’t until I did my Mortal Kombat post that I realized how diverse Street Fighter is in comparison.  Street Fighter had two characters that played essentially the same, Ryu and Ken.  In Mortal Kombat, except for special moves, they all essentially play the same.  And it struck me the reason why, no one really cared about the fight.  I never did as a kid.  I typically just rushed through the fight however I could…I only cared about fatalities and unlocking secrets.  In a way MK’s secrets and violence kind of trapped it.  By giving all the characters the same basic set of moves with the same range, speed, and strength, it made it essentially the same game over and over with different kills at the end of each round and those kills are what I looked forward to.

Fun: The most important thing to me.  To this day I can plug in Champion Edition or Super into my Nomad or CDX and pick up right where I left off as though it was 1992 all over again.  I can have just as much fun, find just as much challenge, and remember all my timing and moves through straight muscle memory.  I admit I haven’t played Mortal Kombat since I quit playing it in the 90s (though I have played the newer ones!)

All of this is not an indictment of Mortal Kombat at all.  I love the game.  I loved the time I spent with it and I still cherish the franchise as the brutal cousin of Street Fighter, the Asia-gothic-hellscape fighting game that still has plenty of room to grow and reinvent itself at every opportunity.  I just prefer Street Fighter.  All of these opinions are of course mine only.  I think Mortal Kombat fans also have good points as to why they prefer their franchise and I’d love to hear some.

Which do you guys prefer?

In my opinion it’s a clear win and a…

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…for Street Fighter!

My original strategy guides from the 90s.  Before the internet…books like these were the only way to get info!

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Life Lessons from Video Games Versus Mode: Mortal Kombat

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Mortal Kombat…  I admit I never played Mortal Kombat in the arcades when the cabinet first came out (though I remember it took some of the crowd away from my SFII cabinet at the skating rink…) What got my attention with this game were two things: word of mouth and the ad campaign.

I was already used to Street Fighter’s cartoon graphics and its somewhat Looney Tunes violence (even literally seeing stars when dizzy) but I heard a new game was out that upped the maturity level.  It showed real violence and blood and, rumor had it, you could even kill people in this game!  To a 10-12 year old this sounded amazing.  I couldn’t believe any of this could be true!  Then the ads came out for the home version.  The epic commercial featuring 90s techno music and the single shout of “MORTAL KOMBAAAT!” got everyone’s attention.  Followed immediately by the firestorm from parents’ groups and politicians saying the game was too violent for kids and should be banned.  All this did was make kids like me who didn’t pay attention realize “hey I gotta see this bloody game!”

Again I got it for the Sega Genesis, and in this case I was LUCKY.  While the SNES version bent to the will of parents’ groups and removed the bloody aspects, the Sega version just made you put in a code.  This was before the internet folks so, like all the codes I learned, I went to the local FoodMax, opened up GamePro magazine, found the code (down, up, left, left A, right down) and repeated it over and over as I  walked home.  Voila.  Bloody Mortal Kombat.

Mortal Kombat was like nothing I’d ever played before.  I half expected it to play like Street Fighter, it was what I was used to.  I was shocked when pressing back didn’t block, and finding that block button was tricky!  But once I got into it Mortal Kombat, and the superior Mortal Kombat II, sucked me in.  The digitized characters looked more “grown-up” than the cartoons of Street Fighter.  The flinging blood, the wild special moves, and the fatalities…oh the fatalities.  Finding these out was a gold mine of gaming information.  I couldn’t memorize them, I had to write them all down and then play the game over and over until I could execute each one.  Ripping out spinal cords (I was a huge fan of Predator so this was awesome to me), pulling out hearts, uppercutting off heads, skulls spitting fire…this was unlike anything I’d ever seen.

Again I felt lucky to have my 6 button controller and the Sega version on MK I.  I learned Mortal Kombat, not playing alone, but with my buddy Mike, who was far better at it than I was (I still trump you in Street Fighter though, Mike…)  We played it relentlessly and learned all the kills, environmental kills, and secret characters and levels.  They still stick with me, after all these years, and its etched into my adolescent gaming memory.

So what gave Mortal Kombat its legacy?

1.)    Maturity: Until Mortal Kombat the most “badass” game in the arcade was…Pit Fighter…shudder…  Street Fighter was full of cartoon characters and cartoon violence, all the beat em ups had a similar look and feel.  Mortal Kombat, with digitized actors playing the characters had a more “cinematic” ambience.  By now I was into Tae Kwon Do and I could recognize the realism in the basic combat moves and appreciated it as a step toward “growing up” in gaming.  The blood and violence just filled out what I expected as a maturing gamer to see more and more of.  Boy was that right…

2.)    Unique Control: After the success of Street Fighter many games copied its controls and animated style to varying degrees of success.  Mortal Kombat was the first game of its kind to use high-punch, low-punch, high-kick, low-kick uppercuts, etc that I ever played.  These moves were all designed to set up special moves that would do the real damage.  And the special moves themselves were terrific and memorable, “GET OVER HERE!” Raiden’s nonsensical babbling during his torpedo move, and Sub-Zero’s Freeze attack.  It didn’t FEEL like other fighting games at the time, but I’ve found, especially as 3D takes over the fighting game genre…the control scheme has become more popular.

3.)    Fascinating Characters: As far as standard attacks, all Mortal Kombat characters essentially play the same.  What makes them cool is their look and their special moves.  Kano was one of my favorites, he just looked wicked with that cyborg eye.  I usually played as Scorpion though. That vicious spear and 90s Ninja outfit made him a stand out option.  Even non-playable Goro still sticks with me as one of the most memorable bosses in video game history.

4.)    Marketing: Mortal Kombat hit at just the right time.  Gamers were maturing, violence in gaming was a hot topic, and the market was expanding.  All the noise people made in fear of Mortal Kombat just made it more interesting.  It stays true to the cliche, no such thing as bad publicity!

5.)    Secrecy:  This concept goes hand-in-hand with Mortal Kombat.  I didn’t believe fatalities were real until I saw one myself.  I just assumed it was talk.  I remember when a guy in my 7th grade class, Charles, mentioned Reptile the first time.  I didn’t believe the character existed…then he did.  For every secret proved to be true, two more theoretical ones appeared.  For every one debunked five more appeared.  If just ONE of all those proved to be grounded in some reality, it made us plug the cartridges back in again and buy the next sequel!

So there is my recollection of Mortal Kombat and why I loved it.  As I mentioned Mortal Kombat II was even better.  I never even tried to play the arcade of that one and just bought it when it came out (or got it for birthday or Christmas…yes kids…games have been 50-60 dollars for a LONG time…)  Playing as new characters, adding new fatalities, kinds of fatalities, and stage hazards made the game fresh and fascinating.  It, like Street Fighter has gone 3D, added new gameplay styles and mechanics, and even jumped genres (Shaolin Monks was an awesome game…), and while it didn’t retain the very basics of the original, they have generally felt true to the original, with secrets, wild characters, and crazy kills.

Next post will be my final comparison and why I prefer one over the other (I’m sure everyone can see where this is going!)

And for  bonus:

Life Lessons from Video Games: Versus Mode!

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I’ve been playing video games since I 4 years old.  My first “gaming” system was an Atari 400 and was replaced (actually it was added to by) an Atari 800XL in the mid-80s.  I was a military kid who lived in secluded base-housing and, essentially, only knew my family.  I just assumed that everyone was playing Centipede, Missile Command, Frogger, and  Pac-Man.  In addition I had loads of games that almost no one has heard of but remain my all-time favorites; Sea Horse Hide n Seek, Ducks Ahoy, and Movie Musical Madness.  It wasn’t until my father retired from the USAF and we moved into “civilian” life that I first learned of what kinds of systems were popular.

I had an Atari…but never heard of an Atari 2600.  My memories of Pac-Man are slightly different from most others…the 400 and 800XL computers I had played different versions that actually (to me) looked superior to the 2600 version.  I only ever saw Commodore 64s and Apple IIs in school.  I never heard of Colecovision until I saw it on VH1’s I Love the 80s and never heard of Intellevision until James Rolfe did a video about it.  I DID hear of NES almost immediately after my we left the military lifestyle.

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I can remember being in my elementary school cafeteria in my private school blue shirt and slacks and a vicious little rich kid snarling at me, “What?  You don’t have Nintendo?! What’s ‘Atari’?”  I remember telling my mom that and she said, “I bet our Atari has better graphics than their ‘Nintendo…'”  And I immediately agreed.  And the game was on.

Over my lifetime I’ve seen numerous competitions in video games, systems, and gaming culture in general that are all just as frivolous and subjective as this one.  Sega vs. Nintendo.  Street Fighter vs. Mortal Kombat.  Sony vs. Microsoft.  It’s been fascinating to see them come and go, and each generation of hardware and software customers act like it’s the first time these things have ever been discussed.  I’ve been thinking a lot about all these various, senseless wars I’ve witnessed during my gaming life and thought I’d start sharing some of the most memorable.  Since this is just a little intro I thought I’d start with a brief look at the Atari vs NES.

Of course the Atari 400, which came out in 1979, and even the updated 800XL had nothing, hardware-wise, on the NES.  The NES came over from Japan with a library of games that would become classics (and some hardware strangeness that would fall into pop-culture obscurity).  Since the NES clearly has the edge in nearly every technical sense, I thought I’d look at just one thing that strikes me as amusing in terms of my old Ataris compared to the NES.

I started watching AVGN when the new Ghostbusters game was set to come out on current-gen consoles.  I heard a funny online reviewer had reviewed the NES Ghostbusters game and I was intrigued, I didn’t know there WAS one.  I turned on his review and was alarmed to see him reviewing a game I knew…only I knew it from my Atari 800XL…I knew it on floppy disk……and I knew a MUCH better version!  Smoother gameplay, more “ghostbuster-y” graphics, and less idiotic additions (like the gas station…)  Granted it was still a monotonous “wtf is going on?” kind of game, but the NES version looks like a butchered port…of an Atari game.  The Atari version was no masterpiece…but it’s definitely competitive with the later NES version!

That little fact did indeed help remind me that, although the most popular system might dominate the market, the reviews, and rewrite the history, for the minority of us who lived with other brands…we might have found a nice classic gem.

In two weeks I’ll start versus mode in earnest, and will try to do one every two weeks.  The first one will be the most appropriate way to start such a contest and has been a heated debate for almost 20 years…ladies and gentlemen…it will be: Street Fighter vs. Mortal Kombat!

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