Orphaned Computers & Game Systems

Vol. II, Issue 5    August 1998

Perspectives and Counter-Perspectives On Gaming

by Chris Federico and Adam Trionfo


by Adam Trionfo

The whole point of gaming for me has become sharing the experience. I could never go back to playing a one-player game that might take weeks to complete. Not only do I not have the time for such an ordeal, but it would not be as enjoyable as it once would have been.

Most players agree that the best games are multiplayer games. The more people competing, the better. A perfect example of this is Hudsonsoft's Bomberman series. It can be played alone, but is transformed into a death match with more players. Playing against four people (On the Turbografx-16) is an unbelievable experience. There is more to share than the actual game-play itself, though.

One of the lessons that I've learned, and one of the reasons for this article, is that a game that I would never have given a second look turns out to be enjoyable -- a fact that I might never have discovered, if it weren't for our infamous co-editor, Chris Federico. He will put himself through the initial torture of playing a game, on any system, to discover what the "fun factor" is. There is a reason for which every game is released. Chris takes it upon himself to find that bit of fun in every game. This is where perspective comes into play. As an example of this, I am going to use 2600 Berzerk.

I never really liked Berzerk. It always struck me as having poor design. Hasn't anyone besides me questioned why the game is top-view but the players are seen from a side perspective? That doesn't make sense. Isn't it stupid that if you run into the wall, you die? The explanation is that the walls are electrified. Whatever. The game turned me off right away. I never gave it a chance, beyond my initial first few plays. And by no means was I comparing its graphics to those on newer systems; I first saw and played it around 1983. I just never had an appreciation for it.

So when I picked up Frenzy for the ColecoVision, I knew that I would hate it. I plugged it in, had the same reaction as I did to the VCS version of the prequel, and never looked at it again. If you read this newsletter on a regular basis, you know that I recently gave Frenzy a very positive review. What was it that changed my mind; what was the new perspective?

Like I said, Chris has a wonderful way of deciding if he likes a game: He plays it! If he doesn't like it, he plays it again. If he still doesn't like it, he keeps playing it until he at least glimpses what keeps it from being fun. Sometimes, while torturing himself in this way, he discovers that the game actually has elements that shine through the badness. On very rare occasions, he finds that a game's bad elements are actually not so bad after all. Some of this has rubbed off on me. This is why I gave Frenzy another look after Chris insisted that it was a great game.

It turned out that he was right. The game is quite incredible. I never would have known this if my tunnel vision had not been expanded by another gamer's point of view. So now I have an obligation; I must go back through all those bad games and decide what is good about them! The task has proven much more enjoyable than I ever expected.

But Chris isn't the only one who has broadened my horizons. Who would ever think that Data Age could release a good game for the VCS? Not me, that is for certain. I had played the games that people have claimed began the downfall of the industry in the early eighties. Games like Airlock and Journey Escape are perfect examples. Even after attempting Airlock under Chris's watchful eye, I was at a loss for words; no game could be this bad! So why was it that Digital Press said that one of the best games for the VCS was a Data Age game? Was it some kind of sick joke? I had to find out. I dug out the object of their praise: Frankenstein's Monster.

I had played the game before, but had given it, at best, five minutes of my life. If you are familiar with the Data Age label, you probably don't blame me. This time, I was looking for the entertaining elements. I was expecting to have to delve deeply in search of the fun factor. It didn't happen that way. I discovered quite quickly that Frankenstein's Monster is one of the best games for the 2600. I was amazed, and I felt just a bit stupid besides.

It was for the same reasons that I took another look at Super Mario 64. I had played it like mad the first day or two, thinking that it was incredible. But after gathering about fifteen stars, I was turned off by the difficulty caused by the 3-D environment. The game was well-designed and had great control, but I was finding myself in situations in which I could not see my character. I was usually dead before I had a chance to change the camera angle. I put the game aside. But was I missing the point? Very recently, I tried again. Next Generation did rate this game as the best of all time. There had to be something I was missing.

I plugged it in and played some more. I gathered thirty-five stars before becoming frustrated for the same reasons as before: poor camera angles, plus my thumb slipping off the tiny analog controller just when I needed it there most. Super Mario 64, despite all of the contributions it has made to the industry is, at best, a mediocre game. It is a mediocre game I can enjoy, but nothing more than that.

The lesson learned is that every game player has a different perspective. If we try to see from an opposing point of view, we might discover a perspective that gives us heightened enjoyment of a game that we might otherwise pass over. But this is not always the case, as I learned with Super Mario 64. Every game needs some frustration; it is what makes a game addictive. But when frustrations obscure the goal of any game, entertainment, then no one's perspective, no matter how brilliant or deep, can change my view of a poor-quality game. But, to be masochistic, I will often try anyway! -- AT


by Chris Federico

The only difference of opinion I'd like to offer concerns the first part of Adam's article. I don't like multiplayer games very much; I never have. Sure, I had a little brother to whip at Combat when I was younger; I could be persuaded into playing the other cannon in Space Invaders with a neighbor's kid. But my favorite games have always been isolated experiences. I like being wrapped-up in a world that lies solely on my shoulders, and I don't like to share the experience with anyone. I can't get as involved when there's another X/Y and set of statistics to consider (the other player's).

For example, I love Gauntlet clones. What's kinda funny about that is that I've never played the coin-op Gauntlet itself. But Electronic Arts's Demon Stalkers: The Raid on Doomfane on the Commodore 64, Atari's Dark Chambers for their 2600 and 7800, and others have always seemed to me to be logical enrollees in the school of Adventure, my favorite game of all time. It's more fun for me to explore these worlds alone; I have them all to myself, I'm the hero, and I'm the center of the action.

When I first get a game for any system, I have more fun discovering its nooks and crannies alone than with someone else. I mean, I don't even like anyone to be in the room! I want to become enveloped in this new environment, and I can focus more passionately on it, feeling its thrills, more easily than if someone's there offering comments or lending support.

There are some games that are better with two people. It's just that they're never terribly good, as far as I'm concerned. Mario Bros. and Warlords are simply made a little less dull when Adam's playing simultaneously. An artillery game is always more fun with someone else in the other turret(s), but that's a different kind of game than an action or adventure outing. Yes, it necessitates strategy, and can turn out to be very funny; but there's no exploration or viscerally urgent combat. A strategy game always indicates a second player vs. a microchip anyway, whether it's already fun in one-person mode or not.

One rare case in which a great game continues to be great with another player is Doom. You can network two Atari Jaguars or Sony PlayStations and have each player wandering the same level, free to shoot at each other or utilize teamwork. But when I first got Doom for the Jag, I simply had to explore this great new world alone. Same with the PlayStation CDs. Adam probably thought I was a selfish weirdo. But now, one of the most fun things in the world is networking with him. We would easily play for days if we didn't have to sleep or work. That reminds me, Adam, we oughta do that again this week. It's been a while. It must be a gas for you to sneak up on me with the rocket launcher and blow me to pieces, considering that I'm addicted to the game and consider myself quite the guru-type.

It might stem from my initial fascination with 2600 Adventure, Superman and Raiders of the Lost Ark; or it might just be because I'm not the most social person in the world. Either way, I like playing alone more. At the most, I don't mind playing an alternating game, but we both have to be good. I don't wanna play for an hour and make the other poor person wait around for me to die. He or she might fall asleep on my console and drool all over it or something. -- CF