October 23, 2003

The Princess Is In Another Castle

Filed under: digital — mhoye @ 6:39 pm

If you happen to be peering into the dimly lit recesses of my mind, you’ll notice that the place needs a serious cleaning. Fortunately for me it’s hard to see the clutter through the fog and the undergrowth, but if you’re planning a trip down Memory Lane, for example, you’ll definitely want to bring your sturdiest footwear. If you think it might turn into a good sulk, I’d pack a lunch.

A recent newsgroup post concerning the surprising longevity-to-crappiness ratio of Nethack and the Child’s Play article that’s been making the rounds has dredged memories of old Commodore 64 and Apple games out of the muck of my distant youth, and it was good to have them back in the forebrain again.

Quick aside: if you’re hoping to turn your reminiscing up to eleven, the Big Wreck album “In Loving Memory Of” is bar-none the finest album for the job, a unique take on loss and regret that very nearly drives me to alcoholism every time I listen to it. In a just world would have sold a trillion copies. However,
I am not here to reminisce about a woman, what that album is really best suited for – I am here to reminisce about video games.

The games I was most heavily invested in back then were all longish quest games, Wizardry first among them; I don’t know how many times I’ve cast Katino or Milwa, and later Latumofis or Malikto, at some circus troupe of wandering ur-critters, but every dead WereRat was a tribute to my 3rd-level-Magely prowess. Nowadays, I’d say cut to the chase, Tiltowait, Malor to 3,4 and out with the amulet, but that’s just my age and cynicism showing.

Around that time, Electronic Arts and the now-defunct Strategic Simulations were the big dogs, and with good reason. I spent an astonishing amount of time and attention on The Shard Of Spring and Wizard’s Crown, arguably the finest quest games of that era. That era being the late eighties, of course, but
still. I pretty much gave up on the genre after wrapping up The Bard’s
, but if I close my eyes, I could probably still find my way
to the Mage’s Guild if I had to. “You face Death Itself in the form of:
1 Kobold.” Strange how some things stick with you.

Being only partly formed at the time, I wasn’t aware that the slew of recurring themes in these games, like the author’s name spelled backwards as the good king / evil wizard, oblique references to Tolkien and assorted Monty Python references were pandemic in the genre, and I got to discover all of these things in the wrong order: my party got destroyed by the Vorpal Bunnies in the Wizard’s Crown long before I ever got to see Monty Python’s Holy Grail, for example. So I’ve had a lot of wierd double-takes in my life as a result of this obvious pop-cultural mismanagement. Sometimes I think about taking another look at these classics, which I’ve recently discovered is possible thanks to the glorious tentacled power of shub-internet, but I think I’m going to let it go. There’s just no way that those games could have stood up to the slow erosion of time, or at least the slow encroachment of jaded cynicism. The particular brand of crystalline perfection that comes from the indiscriminate taste of the young or the misguided nostalgia of the old does not take well to critical review. And I’m mercifully not twelve years old anymore; I remember liking Transformers cartoons too, but a recent download of an old episode of that show made me wonder what the hell I was thinking; I don’t need to spend a ton of time finding out that my entire childhood was like that.

Still, I beat Werdna, got that amulet back, and it felt great. Nothing wrong with that.

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