Retrograding Weekend News Report

Hello once again my minions of darkness. This week we’ll be spreading the seeds of darkness amongst the herd that is humanity in a way that is so foul and depraved even the Prince of Darkness flinches at the thought. Using our control over Hollywood, the big show on NBC’s fall lineup will be a buddy comedy featuring Scott Baio and Sinbad as two ex comedians so obnoxious and hated, they have to take jobs as camping gear salesman. Muhahahaha.

What’s that you say? I’m not doing an article for It’s time for another 411mania spite filled commentary about video games? That’s okay; most people will just take the above paragraph and think it’s just ol’ Alex being a crazy nut again. That’s right. That’s all it is. Just Alex being a crazy nut.

Ia! Ia! Cthulhu Fhtagn!

Okay, I’ve just got back from a week of training in both St. Cloud MN and (ug) Fargo, North Dakota. Let me just say the former was pretty and the latter, well…It’s FARGO! But this now means I’m going to be even more of a wandering gypsy than usual. Like fleeing England after telling them, So, you guys ever learn to COOK?’ wasn’t enough… A week from Sunday I’m going to be in Mount Shasta, California. So if any of you readers are out there, feel free to drop me an email so I won’t pull a Willie Lomax.

I made a lot of good friends out of the deal, so as I promised three of them, here’s Alex’s CHEAP AND BLATANT PLUG FOR HIS FRIENDS SO ALEX CAN INCREASE HIS EVER GROWING LEGION OF ACOYLTES HERE AT 411! First I’d like so say hi to Stacee, who manages to be evil incarnate and a source of mirth at the same time. And she understands the symbolism behind a pair of clear plastic pants. Then there’s Ryan who is by far one of the coolest guys I’ve ever met and hopefully we’ll still be trading now hand signals and making weird faces behind our friends backs 20 odd years from now. And he eggs on me to do constantly crueler acts to stupid people. You can’t beat that in the quality of a friend. And then there’s Beth who I can’t go into a physical description of because most of my readers obsess about video games, comic books and most likely get into debates over whether or not Picard could have gotten the job done properly in the Second Star Trek film to the point where personal Hygiene is on their things to do list just after Give the snake its weekly rodent’ and thus don’t deserve to know how pretty she is. Plus she’s good with the occasional Arthur Miller and Shakespearian references as well, so there’s a little geek in her as well.

Just kidding. I’m sure no one actually thinks Picard is better than Kirk.

(We temporarily interrupt this column while Alex goes to cleanse himself after actually lowering his standards enough to make a Star Trek joke.)

Okay. But this longwinded discussion about my new kliq (In the 411 Kliq, I’m obviously HBK, threatening to lose my smile to Chris once a month unless we get a new HANDHELD section at 411, while Bebito stands behind me menacingly in black leather and shades and Lee Baxley is jumping up and down pointing at himself while buckets of Crisco drip from his hair. And Bryan Berg threatens that when he’s the only one left he’ll start holding all the other workers back, sleep with Widro’s dog and eventually take over all of 411mania.) is a very, very long suegueway into this week’s topic: Multiplayer games.

Now way back in the day when there were only two slots for controllers in video games, no one minded. Most gamers only had one friend to begin with. Now the technology was there, it just wasn’t profitable until the late 90’s when video games became something everyone did. Then those lonely gamers became snobs and decried the new influx of casual gamers for ruining gaming as a hobby for hermits.

But even before the Dreamcast set the standard we now take for granted, where systems have four controller plugs, there were multiplayer games, but they were a bitch to use thanks to the multiplayer adapter. Gee, Sega revolutionizing gaming? Who have ever believed that? That’s a column in itself baby!

System: Atari 2600

Yep, we’re going in Mr. Peabody’s wayback machine, to the days when Pong was impressive. Warlords. A four player game involving the use of the very archaic paddle controllers. Remember those? You plugged a set of two into one controller slot and another two in the second controller slot and BLAM! Instant four player game. Warlords was one of the most impressive games for the old Atari system. It was simple. Yet if you didn’t play it with at least one other person, it was a pretty boring game. With three of your friends, it was your first journey into massive video game profanity.

Warlords consisted of having each player defending a big blocky fortress with some nondescript thing you had to protect inside. Hey, it’s was the early 80’s. We were happy to have any video games. Remember, this is back when people were actually making porn games like “Beat em and Eat Em,” the fun oral sex game for the whole family.

In Warlords, you used your paddles do defend against the pong like ball randomly aimed at one of your fortresses. If you blocked the ball it shot off at an angle towards one of your opponents. If you missed, it hit your castle and took part of it out. Eventually it would bore its way into the castle, hit your weird little crown like graphic and you’d die. As I said, it wasn’t the most fun game in the world when you were simply playing the computer. But with your friends, you were able to team up, laugh and swear at each other and the game became a lot of fun. Sadly, there were very few Multiplayer games after this one for the Atari 2600. And the same was true for paddle games as well. We had Breakout, Pong Super Breakout and umm….There was probably a porn game. God knows why people tried to make porn games for a system, that couldn’t even play Pac-Man properly, but they did…

And for those of you looking for a little Retro-Magic, an updated version of this game is hidden on the PSX version of Lunar: SSSC on the Making of Lunar’ Disc. It’s still only fun with multiple players, but now you have cute Lunar graphics inside your damn blocky castle.

Swords and Serpents
System: Nintendo Entertainment System

Okay. Many of you who are in their mid twenties or later will remember all those wacky gaming inventions Nintendo tried to innovate gaming. Virtual Boy? Remember that pile? Or the Robot that came with deluxe Nintendo’s? Ah Gyroscope, we hardly played ye. And the original DDR pad for Nintendo’s attempt at a Track and Field game. And then there was the four player adapter. Yes for a mere 50 bones for an adapter, and another 25 bucks a joystick (in other words 100$ and you hadn’t even purchased a GAME YET) you could get the chance to play four player games on the Nintendo. When it was first announced, most people overlooked the obvious, like none of the older games people wished were four player (Tecmo Bowl for example) were backwards compatible. They’d always be 2 player games. And that meant you’d have to wait for new games to come out for the system. With all new technology, no one wants to be the first to try it, just in case it fails horribly and they look like schmucks. Sure Atari had a few games that one could play with friends, but that seemed like a lifetime before.

So to win over fans with the new system, Nintendo decided to release its own games for the 4 player adapter. And the one that was promoted the most was Swords and Serpents. And to increase the unusual factor of the game, S&S was going to be a four player RPG. Even back then RPG’s were a niche market. So this raised a bit of eyebrows. A four player RPG just seemed odd. But Final Fantasy and Castlevania 2 had sold like hotcakes, so maybe there was something to Nintendo’s madness. Then after production started, the game was revealed to not be a turn based or even an action game RPG, but a first person real time RPG similar to the SSI Dungeon and Dragons games. Now even more people were skeptical. The way to test a new enhancement to gaming now is to take a classic character, whip him onto a game in the same format that usually sells to every Tom, Dick, and Harry, and let the name recognition carry it away. But Nintendo made the repeated mistake of thinking the best way to test a new piece of technology that would involve spending a lot of money before you could even play it was to create a game so unique and out there in concept, that only a small hardcore following of fans could be counted on to play the game. Then those fans would love it so much, they’d convince others to play the game and then buy it as well.

This sort of strategy is why add ons to systems other than the Super Game Boy and Xbox Live have usually killed a system dead instead of increasing their market share.

Still, you have to admire the old days of Nintendo when they would try crazy crap. They held such a near monopoly, they could have released a controller in the shape of an anus and they’d still have had money to spend on marketing the Power Glove.

And guess what people? I was one of those little kids who kicked and screamed and threatened to tell the neighbors my mother touched me in naughty places until I got this game. Yes, even back then I was both an RPG nut and also a real f*cking jerk. But I got it. And had a sleepover so myself and three friends could be Wizards, barbarians, and thieves against 3D enemies and attempt to user our combined single digit minds to navigating mazes.

I could just sum up the game by saying that it was Superman 64 bad, but that would deprive you of hearing how miserable it was, and also force me to go through a twisted flashback through repressed memories.

First of all, you needed a Wizard. Now I don’t mean need like “You Probably Should Have One,” like a healer in any RPG. But I mean you could not beat the game without them. It was preferable that you would have two. You needed them for certain spells to advance in the game, but they were otherwise useless. Attack spells in the game sucked royally and the only way to hurt anything was through Warriors. So you had two friends doing all the fighting and the other two sucking and usually dying right away so when you actually need them they were rotting in the grave. What a fun game.

No. No it wasn’t. The game was crap. Total and utter crap from graphics that made Atari games look good, to play control that took forever to respond. It’s a real time RPG. So when you press attack, the game should not sit for a few seconds, let some goblin beat you up and then finally register your attack command. And god forbid, any of you hit the button to attack at the same time, as your attacks WOULD CANCEL EACH OTHER OUT! The game was one of the worst ever made for the NES and was never spoken about until today as a reminder of how lucky we are to have the current state of Multiplayer games.

Eternal Champions
System: Sega Genesis

Although multiplayer games rather passes the 16 bit generation by, there were attempts at group play. And Eternal Champions was my personal favorite. One of the cheapest, most dastardly fighting games ever, Eternal Champions pitted 8 people from throughout time against each other with the winner being returned to life moments after their death so they could change time for the better. The gameplay was excellent, the graphics were damn good for a 16 bit system, and the characters and backgrounds were all unique and well thought out in terms of back story and moves. My personal favorite was Larcen Taylor, and the game was so popular it spawned a Sega CD sequal and also two Game Gear games featuring Mr. Taylor and Shadow the Ninja. But what really made this game stand out were the death scenes. Remember this was right after Nintendo cut out blood and fatalities for the SNES version of Mortal Kombat, so Sega’s exclusive gorey fighting game turned up the idea of brutally murdering your opponent up a few notches. In the 1920’s the Maffia would perform a hit on the loser. In the 1640’s, your opponent was burned alive at the steak complete with scream and popping eyeballs. In Caveman times, a T rex ate them and spit out part of them for insult. Great great game.

However, as I said before, the game was a cheating bastard. The first problem was humans had a limited supply of their special moves that they could use. While computer controlled players had no such problems. The second horrible thing was the end boss, the Eternal Champion. He was one cheap mother f*cker. 4 different forms. When you beat him once, he’d come back to life with full health and new moves, while you gained no extra health at all. The last boss was also super cheap and frustrating. I broke many a joysticks against him and still was only ever to beat the game with Trident and Slash. Evil evil game.

Thankfully, multiplayer mode prevented any of you from having to encounter the Eternal Champion. This fine game included two tourney modes (Single and Double Elimination) and up to THIRTY TWO people could play. Sure it wasn’t multiplayer in the form we all know today, but you could fill an entire day with over a dozen friends taking names and kicking ass without spending ten dollars at the local arcade getting their ass kicked by me at Street Fighter 2. It was a fighting game on par with Capcom and SNK’s classics, and it was free. You’d have a ton of friends come over, each putting a dollar into a pool, and by the time you were done, someone would have made 25-30$ bucks having fun with a mindless horde of friends. Now that’s entertainment.

A lot of you are probably wondering why I included this game in the history of multi-player games. As I said before, the 16 bit era of gaming had a severe glut of Multi-player games. After the Nintendo fiasco with Swords and Serpents, very few people wanted to have anything to do with the idea that more than two people would actually play a video game outside an arcade. But games like Eternal Champions made a lot of us want games where people could play all at once. Sports Games like NBA Jam made a lot of people realize multiplayer Basketball, football and baseball games could work. Games like Eternal Champions made people want Multi-player Fighting games. Eternal Champions, because of its cult following and tournament mode, convinced Sega and a few other companies to take some chances by creating all sorts of multiplayer entertainment for what was the most revolutionary system in the history of gaming: THE SEGA SATURN

Now don’t get me wrong. The Saturn had a lot of problems. But it was also the testing ground for everything we love about gaming now. The PSX was simply a games machine with old tried and true platformers and other assorted crap. The Saturn made every hardcore gaming fan come alive, and also gave us the evolution in gaming we wanted. From Shining Force 3 to Panzer Dragoon, the Saturn did more for the world of video gaming than any system since the NES and that still holds true today. Too bad Sega marketed the sucker horribly, was still trying to recover from the 32X fiasco and made the thing a bitch to program for.

The Saturn was the first system where internet console gaming first became a reality. With games like Sega Rally, Bomberman, and even a web browser, those few who actually invested in Sega Net found a series of games that played without any real lag or server problems. Finally, you could have multi-player gaming with friends that lived on the other side of the country! If you had just moved from Macon, GA to Quahog, Rhode Island, you were still set as you could pop in any online game for the Saturn and play the shit out of it and thus never have to socialize in your new strange and spooky community. You could grow old and be know as The Shadow Person’ by the local schoolchildren.

It was also the system that gave birth to SIX PLAYER GAMING. That’s right. Only the Saturn had a six player adapter. Those crazy bastards. Like the NES attempt at an adapter, Sega forced you to pay 50$ for an adapter and 34.99 a head for each licensed Sega joystick. And 32 gaming started a new cheap trend that games hated: Only including ONE joystick with a system. So you were forced, yes FORCED to pay another 35 bucks just so you could have a friend over. The old NES and Genesis came with two joysticks fresh out of the box and we loved it. A little customer kindness went a long way and I miss that.

Okay. Back on track. Unlike the 4 player adapter for the NES, a LOT of companies took advantage of the 6 player adapter. Okay, a lot in comparison to Swords and Serpents. But people were buying the adapter and reveling in how well it worked. Now, thanks to the Saturn you had three choices. You could play one game with a friend, you could buy an adapter, buy some joysticks and have a party, or you could play online. Arcades were no longer the only source of multi-player gaming, and that began the descent into the dark ages of Arcades we are still in and probably will never recover from.

But there was one game. One nearly perfect game that stood out from the pack and made every other game for any of the 32 bit systems look like total suckage. Yes. EVEN Panzer Dragoon Saga. EVEN Radiant Silvergun. And what was this game you ask?

System: Sega Saturn

And yes, it is made by the same company that gave us Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga. You know, the review you all loved because I came off like the Charlie Manson of import gaming?

I’m Treasure’s whore. I admit it. A big stinky man whore. They make the best games ever with old dead Human, the creators of CLOCK TOWER (not that new crappy brand name ruining fan base alienating Capcom piece of shit) and FIRE PRO WRESTLING. And Guardian Heroes will always be my favorite of the lot.

How to describe it? It’s a multiplayer side scrolling action RPG with choose your own adventure elements, over a dozen endings, and you have to play the game nearly 2 dozen times to unlock every single playable character. And that doesn’t include the fact you can play the game as a standard RPG or like a Street Fighter game by doing special moves with quarter circle back + B button. The game was also multi-layered, could hold 2 dozen characters on the screen at once without an lag, and just broke a lot of ground in terms of story and customability. It is my second favorite game of all time, and I could never, EVER get sick of it. It’s that near god status in my twisted little world.

The normal Story mode only allowed for two human players and your computer controlled undead golden knight for a total of three on infinity fighting action. But it was Gladiatorial Combat mode that paved the way for multiplayer wrestling games like we know now, was the only 6 player Fighting game ever, and also created a lot of homemade Guardian Heroes wrestling federations like how we now see e-feds and games like EWR. Truly, anyone with a Saturn who doesn’t own this game, doesn’t deserve their Saturn.

As I have said, there was six player Fighting action. You could set any rules you want, from six man tag to 5 on 1 handicapped matches. Any character you defeated in Story mode became a playable character in combat mode. You could set any level that you wanted, any rules and there was an unlimited amount of combinations you could do in battle mode. My favorite character would later be stolen by Nintendo, turned from it’s natural white into yellow and given Electrical attacks instead of fire ones. I’ll let you guess what became of him…

For two years we ran a wrestling federation using Guardian Heroes. We had singles, tag team, and six man tag team titles, complete with records and win loss records. It was stupid fun, but better than feeds as you actually competed instead of let some booker decide who won. The better man would always win in a Guardian Heroes gladiator match, and it was also fun to sometimes just watch six computer characters rip the ever living shit out of each other. It was a great great game, and you can still find it for a good price on Ebay.

And that brings us to the days of the Dreamcast. Not much to say there. Sega just increased its online and multiplayer strategies, other companies stole them and improved them with much better marketing campaigns and Sega was reduced from being a company that actually cared about hardcore gamers to dispensing whatever they could onto whatver system would have them and allowing Acclaim and THQ to do some pretty crappy ports of their classic DC games to other systems. Considering this was all 3 years ago, no one should need a refresher on the downfall of Sega…unless someone wanted that for NEXT WEEK’s Retrograding article. :-P

Anyways I’ll leave you with three thoughts as I spend this weekend dreading the THQ version of the Original Space Channel Five for the GBA. Why can’t Sega be involved??? Sigh..

1. Anyone miss Ron Yip? I sure do…

2. Wouldn’t a Batman/Superman game voiced by Christopher Lee and Adam West just rule?

3. Why did they have to ruin an excellent RPG like Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance by including platforming elements? ARRGH!

Sorry, total inside joke. A week of being stuck in a world of total and complete insanity does that do the lucidity of ones brain.