Today is a very special day in the world of sports. It's Super Bowl Sunday! And I, myself, am especially excited. That's because my second favorite team, the Atlanta Falcons, are playing today and they have a very good chance of finally winning their first Super Bowl! (Yes, I have two favorite teams. Get over it.)
In all honesty though, being a fan of watching football is a fairly recent thing for me. Growing up, I was never really all that into it. I did enjoy playing it, however. Particularly the video game versions. As a matter of fact, I've been enjoying them in one form or another since the late '80s. Here is a list of 6 of my favorites.
We all know the classic story of Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, after all it is the basis for countlessreinterpretationsin all sorts of media, but did you know that it all started with an NES game in 1988? When Japanese film company Toho, best known for its kaiju movies, created the game, they knew that it was too bad to sell by its own merit, so they decided to create an elaborate backstory in an effort to sell the title to unsuspecting victims.
In 1987 Toho commissioned a book based on the games story, but they couldn’t let just anyone write it. Secrecy was paramount and so we meet Robert Louis Stevenson, the supposed “author” of what should become a stable of English literature. But who is Robert Louis Stevenson? If we take a closer look at his name, it becomes apparent: Robert Louis Stevenson is an anagram for Subservient Lone Torso and he was the first Cyborg in human history. Toho created him with the sole intention of writing a novelization of the game, never expecting that he would retain fragments of his former self which would manifest in his writing. We don’t know for sure who the human part of this Robert Louis Stevenson was, some say it was the torso of the recently deceased Liberace, some think it was Andy Warhol’s, but his tale of two souls in one body would act as reminder of the dangers of cybernetic engineering for generations.
And this is how we ended up with two very different works of fiction. One about a guy taking a slow stroll through a city filled with maniacs and demons, one about the struggle with dissociative identity disorder. While the novelization was a huge success, the game never made an impact and so it is no surprise that all reinterpretations were based on the book. This is going to change soon however, thanks to a certain James Rolfe, better known as The Angry Video Game Nerd. Not only was he responsible for uncovering this relic of awfulness, he is also currently working on the first movie based on the original version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, more than 25 years after it was released and we have the trailer for it:
Disclaimer: Everything I wrote is of course true, minus the movie thing. It’s a stand-alone trailer, no movie coming. Sorry everybody.
Fear not! The New Nintendo eShop Releases post is finally back from hiatus. I was regrettably unavailable that big day when Super Mario Maker dropped, but I had intended to jump right back in the week after. Unfortunately, what followed were two straight weeks of garbage releases. Yes, I'm talking to you, Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer! Come back when you've "designed" a complete game!
Finally, this week I have something good to cover. Namely, River City Ransom. The legendary early '90s high school beat 'em up has come home to the Wii U NES Virtual Console. Also out this week, Pumped BMX, Toto Temple Deluxe, and the incredibly overrated Freedom Planet. "BARF!" Proceed further to see more of this week's new releases.
Long, long ago. Back when computers were new and gaming was just a twinkle in Nintendo's eye, the music that computers actually made was...well, atrocious. It sort of depended on which computer you had, of course, but the IBM PC - my gaming platform of choice - largely went silent in those years, because it was a pretty binary choice. You either enjoyed the sounds of silence or you had to contend with the PC speaker. And oh God. You did not want to contend with the PC speaker.
Capable of only outputting one tone - a high pitched bleep - composers would try to wrangle the PC speaker into making music that would make you grit your teeth. Some folks managed semi-interesting sounds: The opening of Xenon 2, Megablast, wasn't terrible on the PC speaker. The same is arguably true of Maniac Mansion, but by and large, most people's reaction to PC speaker music was "TURN IT OFF."
So, when sound cards came along, I bought one immediately. And it changed my entire perspective on gaming.
And Sierra Said "Let There Be Music" And Lo, For There Was
The first few companies to seriously embrace music on the PC did so at great cost: the only sort of electronic machinery capable of playing the sounds that the original developers wanted to hear were expensive, costing easily into the $500 realm. This, of course, simply wouldn't do. So Sierra helped usher in the era of the cheap FM-Synthesis card in the form of the Adlib. And from there, things took off at a swift pace.
Cryo, masters of beautiful, somewhat confusing games, threw their hat in the ring. The Dune soundtrack is - to this day - a marvel of FM Synthesis. However did their composer get that card to make those noises? No one but he [and some professionals who know that hardware very well] knew what he did, but it was magic.
It was the first game sound track I fell in love with and it opened my ears to a world I'd - quite frankly - formerly ignored.
But There Were Many Machines And They All Sounded Different
While I'm talking - most specifically - about the IBM PC, because that's what I got to know the best, there were a bunch of other machines out there - and they all sounded a little different, because they all used very different music chips. The Amiga, for example, used the Paula sound chip to great effect, allowing composers to use samples as part of their songs. A game that perfectly showcased this ability and that made a lasting impression on anyone into gaming music was Shadow Of The Beast 2.
But then, too, there were the consoles. And each console was created differently - because nobody could settle on standards at that particular time and place - and we were grateful of it, because it allowed us to hear so many different soundscapes.
On the NES, for example, there was the awesome, proto-rock of Contra. You couldn't help but bob your head along to the music of the first stage. And while it wasn't quite the same as the sounds coming out of an arcade, it was of a vintage all it's own. Something you soaked up and listened to long after the game was over.
As time marched onward and music chips got better and better, so too did the sounds. The 8 bit frontier gave way to the 16 bit land of Utopia and with it came a new plethora of sounds and songs that could get pretty dense if listened to in the right atmosphere. I remember the very first time I heard the slow, pulsating electronica of Stickerbrush Symphony and being absolutely blown away by how complex that piece of music was - how many different layers of sound were bubbling just underneath the surface of such a simple song.
The Most Important Thing: Every Machine's Sound Was Unique
One thing that - I think, anyway - is missing from modern computing and modern gaming is how different each of these sound chips were - what they could do, how they would sound, which musical genuis would learn the ins and outs of this specific hardware. A lot of that mystery has fallen by the wayside as we reached the pinnacle of sound in the form of CD-Quality music.
Sure, you can get a symphony to record your soundtrack now, but the problem with that - for me - is that anyone can do that. There's no real mystery in what I'm hearing anymore. No interesting finessing of the hardware to produce something radical and interesting.
On the other hand, this has given me some of my favourite more modern soundtracks. While there are only a handful of real "songs" in To The Moon, each song [with vocals - something that was difficult to achieve in that long-ago time of near-silence] is special in it's own particular and beautiful way.
And - to be fair - modern composers might find the soundscapes of the NES somewhat stifling - having to only work within very particular constraints to produce very particular tones means that there are limits to what you can do. While - for example - the soundtrack of Shovel Knight was amazing, I imagine that the composers for that game might have been genuinely taken aback at first with what they could and couldn't do, given their desire to slavishly emulate the NES.
So, you win some and you lose some. But I am just grateful - in the very long run - that we moved away from the sound of silence. The mystery of music is far better.
Mario Golf (64) is now available for the Wii U Nintendo 64 Virtual Console! The first of the "modern" three-dimensional Mario Golf games, Mario Golf was also released over 12 years after the previous, NES entry (Nintendo never made a Mario Golf game for the Super Nintendo). Also out this week, the never-before-released outside of Japan, 2-player, Vs Excitebike, and an HD-upgraded Wii U combo-pack of two previously 3DS Western indie games. Fore! Proceed further to see this list of new releases.