Hey Everybody! This is an introduction to Rikki Piaser, who will be doing some guest writing with me every now and again. This post just gives a background on his Video Game history and what his interests are in terms of gaming. Looking forward, there will be reviews with just him, reviews with just me, and reviews with both of us. Anyway, check out his introduction! -Steve
Two summers ago, I was at a job interview for Huntington Bank. It was nothing special, just for a teller position until school was back in session and I could start subbing again. The interviewer asked me what my biggest passion was. I had to think for a few seconds. I love teaching. It gives me the feeling that I’m making a difference. But it’s not my passion. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 12. That’s over half of my life. Still not my passion. I love football. But being a Cleveland Browns fan has a way of making Autumn Sundays feel miserable. I had to keep thinking. Then it hit me. “Video games. That’s my passion.” Needless to say, I never heard back.
Some of my earliest memories are of forcing my parents to take me to the arcade so I could pretend to play Primal Rage. I was three or four and too stupid to realize I was just pressing buttons while the demo footage was rolling. Kids are stupid. But I loved dinosaurs at the time (who didn’t?) and seeing something where you could battle with them was a revelation. It was the beginning of something that would stick with me for the rest of my life.
Watching something and actually participating are two totally different things. Around the same time as when I would stare at an arcade cabinet, my older cousin gave me three floppy discs. One had a Commander Keen game, which I liked playing in spurts. Another had Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure. I played that one quite a bit. But the last… It had Wolfenstein 3D. Sure, it was only the first episode, but that was all it needed to really get the ball rolling. For successfully surviving my first day of kindergarten, I was rewarded with the full game, plus three prequel episodes, the Nocturnal Missions, so I could single-handedly gun down the Nazi Regime as a five year old. It was the first real video game that I would own. By the way, is giving a kid something for their first day of school a thing? Did anyone else get a gift? Whatever.
While shooters like Wolfenstein 3D (which I inexplicably referred to exclusively as Wolf 3D), Duke Nukem 3D, Heretic, Doom, and Doom 2 made up a big chunk of my early years of gaming, they weren’t alone. One day. the same cousin who gave me those floppy discs brought something over that I’d never seen before. It was Battle Arena Toshinden on a Sony Playstation. I’d never seen anything like it. He’d brought over an NES before, so I’d seen video games played on a TV. But this was three dimensional. There was depth. It was a different beast than Dunk Hunt. I needed a Playstation. Low and behold, for Christmas of 1997, I received just that, along with Beast Wars: Transformers (I loved the show and toys). My first console. And, after playing the Beast Wars game for roughly ten minutes, I realized I also received my first shitty game.
By mid-third grade, a Nintendo 64 and SNES were added to the collection and I was playing the standards of the day. Crash, Spyro, Tekken, Mario, Donkey Kong, etc… The 90s classics just about everybody my age grew up with. My little 8 year old brain didn’t know it, but all of those games I spent hours on end with were missing something; a story. Sure, most of them had a small plot, but it was just to give you an excuse to jump on koopas or headbutt gnorcs. The goal was to beat each level, not to move the story along. But things were about to change for me. For good.
For a solid six months, I thought the most important gifts I got for Christmas of 1999 were a Gameboy Color and Pokemon Yellow. I mean, it was basically everything a third grader could want at the time. But the present that made the biggest impact was a stocking stuffer. A borderline throw away gift. Back in the day, you couldn’t download demos for new games like kids can now. Instead, you had to buy discs that had a collection of short previews for upcoming releases. The series I remember most was Playstation Underground’s Jampack discs. My mom would usually get one for me every Christmas and Easter, so by this point, getting one was a formality more than anything else. I thought nothing of the Summer 2000 edition I unwrapped. I went about my business of trying out the games over the next few days and eventually I came across something like nothing I’d ever played before.
There was a group of real characters having real conversations with a real plot. I wasn’t jumping or gunning my way through levels. I was progressing a story. It was so different from anything I’d experienced. I knew exactly what I wanted for my ninth birthday; The Legend of Dragoon. And so my love of JRPGs began. A love that was so strong, it took until the beginning of fucking 2015 for me to fully open up and play single-player games of different genres again. That’s a solid 14 and a half year run. You’d think I’d hit every JRPG ever made during that span, but I swear I didn’t even play THAT many. That’s because there was another force at work. From 8th grade until finishing high school, two games really hogged most of my playing time.
If Legend of Dragoon revolutionized how I played games by myself, Halo 2 did the same for playing with friends. No more needing to find a ride to someone’s house. No more screen peeking. No more inconveniences. Just hop on Xbox Live and you’re good to go. It didn’t feel real. Play a game with someone who wasn’t sitting next to me in my room? But that’s what I was doing. And Jesus Christ, was I doing it a lot. Every day after school, you could almost bet I was playing some Team Slayer with jnwaller, Sanoskay, chosenalexrain, harley rules, or any other friend whose Gamertag I’ve forgotten over the years. Other than being unreasonably upset over a girl, nothing is as synonymous with my teenage years as Halo 2 and Halo 3.
A lot of time has passed, but it doesn’t feel like much has changed. I still play all the games I grew up with from time to time. I still play as many JRPGs, old and new, as I can get my hands on. I still play with friends online, though the Halo days of yore ended long ago. After so many years though, coming across video games that take me back to those early days of awe and wonder has become rarer and rarer. There are only so many stories and gameplay mechanics out there. But when I do find one that brings back that magic, I remember why I fell in love in the first place.