What Spring is like on Mars

So today is (or, yesterday was) the day when the first episode of Evangelion takes place. You know, fictionally. Ish. What follows is 26 episodes of, at the time, unprecedented mind-bending. Rather than the robot punching anime people at the time might have expected, it was a deep dive into human psychology and one depressed young boy’s coming of age. Heather Anne Campbell wrote a great piece on it, and this blog entry is me knowingly and without shame following her example with my own Evangelion memories post.

While yes this is the 20 year anniversary of a fictional date, it’s also the 17th anniversary (within a week) of me walking into the comic book store with my grandparents’ graduation money, grabbing an entire row of 7 anime VHS tapes, and walking them to the counter. I bought dub, so my splurge was a hundred dollars cheaper than Heather’s, but it was a big deal nonetheless. Three or four weeks earlier, I had a spare 20 spot and was wandering through Suncoast when Evangelion caught my eye. I’d heard about it and knew it was “important” so I thought, why not check it out? Two days and 3 more impulse trips to the mall I realized I’d have to stop at tape 4 as I couldn’t responsibly keep spending money on this series. But I wanted to. So bad.

(for those doing the math, Tape 13 had not yet been released as they were waiting for anime expo. Fortunately my friend had a less scrupulous friend who worked at the UCI (shoutout) library where they’d received it early. So I’d completed the series in a short matter of days later)

Eva was nothing short of a revelation for me. I was an avid movie watcher, game player, comic reader, and so on. I was well versed in all the heroic archetypes and aspired to most. But this… this was an anime about me. A screwed up little kid who had no place in the world. Not that I was all that screwed up – but I think there’s a degree of Shinji in all of us. That’s why so many people hate him. Shinji would certainly balk at watching 26 episodes of Shinji.

I was starting to come out of my shell a bit in my Senior year of high school. Still horribly shy, self-doubting, inexperienced and a little pathetic. But more outgoing and friendly than I’d ever been. I was finding more media to consider “my own”. 1984, Nausicaa, and others. I’d even gotten a job at Target where I felt completely lost and underwater. They often told me to smile more, and I was paranoid that I wasn’t doing enough work, or doing the wrong work, and the security guys were watching me and taking notes about my ineptitude.

Then came Evangelion. It’s not that the show has any aspirational messages. Shinji doesn’t really grow all that much, and things don’t really “get better” for him. While Misato slowly coaxes out his ability to feel happiness, the bad parts of life keep mutating and getting insurmountable to the point they completely overshadow any good that might have ever existed. It’s a neverending circus of pain and suffering, perceived betrayal, and monsterous revelations. But what Shinji learns–what we all learn–is that he’s not the first or the last person to feel this way, to experience life. He accepts those are just the rules. In fact, when offered the chance to become the literal first and last, he rejects it. We need others, with all the baggage that entails.


What resonated with me was the heart behind Eva–Hideaki Anno. That man has been through some things. He’s struggled. He’s felt pain. It’s all there on the imperfect canvas for us all to see. He poured out his soul on broadcast television and what did he get for it? Death threats. Did he hide? Did he run away? No, he spent several hours of cinema flipping fanboys the bird. He WAS them. How dare they reject him. If someone else could feel the things I felt at 18. If an adult on the other side of the planet could put that into words (pictures, emotions)… I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t crazy. I was a human being. I was flawed just like everyone else.

The characters in Eva are screwed up. Every one of them. Even the likeable ones (they’re all the likeable ones). Shinji is pathetic and heroic. Asuka is bold and insecure. Misato and Kaji are disgusting but beautiful. The characters in Eva–especially the adults, the “role models”–are disturbingly flawed. Flawed to the core. And they’re AMAZING and I LOVED them. Kaji is like the smoothest guy on the planet, and Gendou is a fountain of cool disguised as history’s worst dad.

Really, Eva was like a window to the world. A world I’d peeked at through books, film, and television. One I thought I could watch but not wade into. A world I’d been inside the whole time without realizing it. It’s a big warm hug from a celestial giant spewing blood through a punctured artery that says “Welcome. Congratulations” It confirmed my growing suspicion that the people around me had no idea what they were doing–especially the adults. Successful people were only pretending to know what they were doing. The only cure for imposter syndrome is to fake it until you make it. So I followed their lead.

Before Evangelion, I felt depressed and beaten down by the teasing of my peers. Defined by them. 3 months of missed school to pneumonia the previous year had me feeling like an outsider. I had hopes and dreams that felt impossibly far away. The only high school milestone I participated in was Prom, and that felt like an obligation to my future self.

Evangelion is just a television show–it didn’t alter my DNA or make my problems disappear. But after watching it, and waking up a bit, I appreciated my friendships more. I went to grad night. I talked to people I’d been afraid to talk to before. If I was interested in a girl I talked to her instead of awkwardly hiding in video games. I started my own game development company. I interviewed for jobs I wanted. I worked on a stream of dream projects and traveled to Japan, Germany, and other countries not prominently featured in Evangelion. I cast Spike Spencer–the English voice of Shinji–in video games. I have a Gendou beard.

It was only the second moment in my Triforce of Creative Inspiration (Nausicaa, MGS), but it was an intensely big deal to feel that much less alone in the world.

So if you’ve seen Eva and didn’t care for it, and wonder why older fans talk about it like it’s a huge deal, it’s because to us it IS a huge deal. To ape Heather Campbell’s blog one last time, after 17 years Evangelion has become my story–our story.

To all the children, Congratulations!

Literally* the first picture I thought to take when I went to Japan a decade ago.


Preying for More

So Linkin Park’s latest album, The Hunting Party was released this week, and several people have requested I share my thoughts on it. I didn’t realize I was known as a guy with Linkin Park opinions, but fair enough! Let’s do it!

Let’s start with a BIG GIANT DISCLAIMER though – I am not writing this post because I think I am right. I am not implying I have refined taste in music. I do not think Linkin Park is the greatest band of all time (the Beatles, however, are), but I do like them. So if you disagree with my opinion below, great! (If you paid money for the album, I actually hope you do disagree with me).  I would love to hear YOUR thoughts.  We’re allowed to disagree, so be polite about it.

Additionally, if you want to let me know that you think Linkin Park TOTALLY SUCKS and is a HACK BAND for WANNABES – save your breath.  I sincerely do not care. I’m not embarrassed about my likes and dislikes, and this isn’t middle school.  This goes for friends of mine who I know are reading this right now and really really want to write a stupid comment ESPECIALLY because I wrote this paragraph.  I won’t think it’s cute. I am really sick of the internet snark machine.

So, The Hunting Party… I had high hopes for this record. Like several of you have mentioned, I thought Living Things–while decent–was just kind of a bland watered down version of what I go to Linkin Park for. HP actually snuck up on me, as I only found out about it three weeks ago! And when I did some research, LP was calling it their heaviest album in a long time, and returning to the roots of their sound, and the bands that inspired them. Awesome. Sign me up.

So let’s jump back in time so everyone can follow along with my expectations. Hybrid Theory. We all remember when “One Step Closer” came on the radio, with its screaming and it’s very repetitive lyrics. In fact, I remember complaining to multiple friends that “Shut up!” is not compelling lyrics. But it was stuck in my head all the same. “Crawling” on the other hand, was great. (Writing all this in 2014 sounds incredibly trite and terrible… these songs have been so overplayed at this point it’s practically meaningless). The first time I heard “In the End”, it was over. I went immediately to purchase the album.

I was not disappointed. It opened immediately with “Papercut” and blew my mind. Hybrid Theory was exceptional in that despite the weak radio start with “One Step”… nearly every song on the album was single-worthy (appropriately enough, nearly every song became a hit single). Incredibly tight stuff. I loved it. Every so often you hear a song or band or group or singer that just vibrates your mind bones. It isn’t necessarily the BEST thing, or your FAVORITE thing… but it resonates on an internal level. It speaks to you.

I’m not much more than a guy who is passionate about stuff and loves video games… so it’s not surprising that Chester screaming over electronic noises struck a chord.

I listened to Hybrid Theory a lot. I started every session of Phantasy Star Online with it (200 hours played), had it on loop in my car, and of course the near constant play on KROQ.  There wasn’t a single track I ever wanted to skip, the album is so perfectly cohesive.

The band took their sweet time creating Meteora (3 years!!!) and of course I was looking forward to it. I remember the night before release, KROQ debuted the first four songs off the record and I was late to work, sitting in my car listening to every one of them.  On the documentary disc that came with the album, LP spoke a lot about their insane OCD-dedication to making everything sound perfect. Well it paid off and they did the impossible… Meteora was just as tight as Hybrid Theory.  I walked around my college campus with headphones on, gazing around and feeling moody and brooding and such.

There were a lot of complaints from critics about it sounding exactly like Hybrid Theory. To an extent that’s true. If you ignore “Foreword” they’re the same length, with the exact same structure and a second-to-last track that’s just scratch bragging.  But that was Linkin Park and it’s exactly what I (and millions of others) wanted. My best friend pointed out how brief both records are as their main flaw… so we crammed them both on a single disc and that became my new go-to disc. (He still refers to their first album as “Hybrid Meteora”). I wore them the heck out. I listened to that music so much it lost all meaning.

So naturally I was excited for Minutes to Midnight and their promised “different sound”. I was sure it would be amazing.  even if it was a drop in quality… it would still be incredible. LP hadn’t done anything less than amazing in my eyes, so it felt pretty safe.  I had to wait FOUR YEARS, but the day finally arrived, and I bought it before work so I could hear most of it before my day started.

And it was Minutes to Midnight. It seemed to alternate between “classic LP but with a keyring instead of a keyboard” and then… songs I would never want to hear again. I think there’s 2 songs KROQ occassionally plays from this record, and that’s all of it I need to hear. I haven’t listened to this album in some time.

Roughly 3 years later, I was at a lunch meeting with some people including someone from a record company, and they said “Do you want to hear the upcoming Linkin Park single?”  Well yes, yes I did.  What they played for us was ”The Catalyst”, probably the best song LP’s ever done in my opinion. All the weirdness of MtM vanished, and I was excited out of my mind for A Thousand Suns. It was like old LP but edgier, more electronic, sharper. I was in for a ride!

Thousand Suns was NOT that. Not remotely. It was a concept album through and through, with a lot of deep meandering tracks that weren’t really what anyone expected from LP… so that vanished even faster than Minutes

…until about a year later, when I was doing some writing for fun on a novel that doesn’t exist, and I popped the disc in just because. I discovered Thousand Suns is PERFECT for background music. It’s just as cohesive as Hybrid Theory… it’s just an entirely different album so rather than charge me up, it give sme the nice Linkin Park jab I like when writing or creating, without the distraction of lyrics jumps in tone (except for the abysmal “When They Come for Me”).

So Thousand Suns is not what I normally want from LP, but I can appreciate it.  A scant two years later, they released Living Things–again, with a very promising single. To its credit, my brain parses the cover image as a bandaged Evangelion so… props. But as I related above, it’s just not what I was hoping for. It’s back to their roots ENOUGH. It’s cohesive ENOUGH. But the songs just aren’t standout (but for a few…standouts). It feels like Linkin Park not trying. It’s what people accused Meteora of being–watered down Hybrid Theory.  Except where Meteora was still hard hitting and passionate, Living Things feels just kind of there.

It’s just as effective as background noise for when I’m working as Hybrid or Meteora–but that’s only because I wore out those first two discs.  it’s like I was tired of Living Things before I’d ever listened to it.

Which brings us again–another scant two years later–to The Hunting Party. A harder, more experimental record than Living Things.  I tracked down the first single apparently, “Guilty all the Same”.  It’s very solid, but unremarkable.  But that’s not terrible, I wasn’t all that fond of “One Step Closer” after all.

So on release day, after getting several requests to write this very blog, I fired up Spotify and went about my day, with Linkin Park in my headphones.

About 35 minutes later I had to remind myelf I was listening to Linkin Park, unfortunately.  (Just in time for an excellent instrumental featuring Tom Morello, to its credit).  Now there were a few eyebrow perks.  They channel Offspring a little bit in “War” (as if to bribe me), and there are some Yamaoka-esque touches here and there, but overall I’m not into it.  I keep trying–I’ve listened to it probably 20 times through at this point, and it all just mushes together into a pile of angst and yelling (which is what the critics have always accused LP of).  If Living Things was LP just not trying… Hunting Party is a different band trying really hard to be LP.

I do like several tracks. “Keys to the Kingdom” is good, but not as strong as their usual “come out swinging” opening tracks. As mentioned, “Guilty” is solid and catchy. I absolutely adore “Until It’s Gone”. Best song on the record. Half the time I enjoy “Rebellion”.  But the other tracks vanish at best and just grate on me at their worst.  Every LP record since Minutes has at least one track that is just “off”.  It’s technically Linkin Park but they’re trying something different that maybe should have been a B-side or something away from an official studio album. Your “Valentine’s Day”s, your “When They Come for Me”s, and “Lies Greed Misery”.  Hunting Party feels like an entire album of those songs.

Which is maybe great. Maybe I’m the only one who dislikes those tracks and most people see them as promises of what LP COULD be – those people will probably enjoy Hunting Party.  For me, “Until it’s Gone” is extremely prophetic, following the lyric “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” with some trailing electronic beats.


Happy Mother’s Day

Joystiq published a really cute article for Mother’s Day and it got me to thinking what my mom would have answered given the same questions.  So I asked her and am reprinting them here in a complete black-market version of Joystiq’s article.  So make sure you go read that too.


What do you think of when I say “video games”? Do you think they are good or bad?

  • Learning, Fun,Creative and entertaining  I think they are good if parents make sure the games their children play are age appropriate and are familiar with ESRB the site that rates games.  Good as long as Children and Adults take time out to appreciate the real world where life really happens.
Do you play any games? What are they and why?
  • Yes, My favorite is the original “Animal Crossing”. That’s the first game I really could play and I love everything about it. Fishing is very relaxing.  I play Wii, bowling, golf etc..then there is “ZooKeeper” I love my puzzles. The  games are fun and challenging if you pick the right ones.
What is a memory you have of my playing games? Could be either good or bad.
  • All good memories of you  playing games, frustrating when I tried to play Mario Bros. with you and I could never get to the next level (2).  Still don’t know why I can’t get far in “Trauma Center” and you go through Surgery’s and everyone lives. “Silent Hill” well I keep trying, but I still can’t get far.  Loved watching you play ”Harvest Moon” , but wore me out watching you do all that work.   Oh, and I will never be content until you turn on  ”Sea Man” again and I can see if he is still speaking to us.

Describe what I do for a living.

  • Through the years you have Localized, Produced, Designed and Developed ”Video Games” :)


So she kind of cheated on the last question.  For context she means Super Mario Bros. and the original Trauma Center game. I just want her to get to the part where Derek talks about the advice his mother gave him.  Also, the Silent Hill she is referring to is Shattered Memories.

And I will never turn on Sea Man. I can’t handle Leonard Nimoy chiding me for letting him die.

Happy Mother’s Day to Mom and all the other moms out there.

In my restless dreams, I see that town.

Silent Hill turns 15 today.

Source: rodrig321 (link in pic)

A few days ago I saw a thread on a forum that asked “Has a game ever changed you?”  Responses were pretty sarcastic all around, as the concept is a little weird to contemplate. Media rarely changes people, at least in a way they would say so seriously.

However my response, which I didn’t post, is that Silent Hill most definitely changed me–both as a player and as somebody making the games. It’s fairly unbelievable to consider that, but since the series is celebrating a birthday let’s talk about it a bit.

I got the original game for my birthday, which is in a month, and my mom had been suckered into buying the strategy guide as well. GameStop employees were good about that, and it wasn’t the first or last time they’d tricked her. However, I never looked at guides until I’d completed the game, so I didn’t expect it to affect my view of Silent Hill. Imagine my surprise when I did check the guide (the unofficial Prima guide) and discovered they didnt’ know what the Channeling Stone did. They openly admitted they didn’t understand the purpose of this item!  This game was so mysterious and deep that it eluded even its own strategy guide!  Incredible.

Silent Hill taught me what a scary game could be. I’d played Resident Evil 2 with its effective jump scares–but that opening to SH is still unmatched, with the freaky camera angles and forcing the player to die.  These are real actual cinematic tricks, but in a video game. Of the people I knew, I was the only one brave enough to play beyond the school–several of my friends had declared the game too dark, too evil to continue.

Silent Hill 2, a few years later, taught me several things as well. First, it taught me that horror games never show well on the floor of a convention like E3 (something only disproven once–by Climax–with Shattered Memories, which supported constant play on 8 kiosks). I remember coming across it and giving it a shot.  There were 2 kiosks devoted to it and both were empty. The player before me left off during part of what I later learned was the Blue Creek Apartments… and there were no enemies to see and no mood to appreciate, given the loud noises and bright lights all around me.  I knew the game would be great (after SH1 how could it not be?), but I was saddened imagining what other showgoers might think of it.

It also taught me, through its plot, to appreciate the perspective of other people. Not to simply be aware that other people have their own perspective and baggage and beliefs–but to understand how that shapes their perception of the world around them. This is a very powerful theme of SH2 that is often ignored as people are absorbed by James and his grief, but it’s there and it’s important.  Speaking of James’s plot, at the time it was unprecedented and it elevated what game narrative could be.

Silent Hill 3 – I gotta be honest – didnt’ teach me a whole lot. It’s my least favorite in the original four, easily. Sure, Heather is a great character, the graphics are amazing, and that drive to Silent Hill is wonderful. But it’s got a huuuuge stretch at the beginning with no driving force (“Get home, kay?”), and at the end of the day it’s just a story. It doesn’t have the emotional resonance of SH2 or the sheer “what is going on” of SH1. It’s a story in a series–and that’s fine!

If anything, I guess SH3 saved me a little bit? When I got the game, my girlfriend had come over to hang out and we didn’t communicate very well. She played coy like she didn’t want to hang out, so I kept on playing SH3. She broke up with me not long after and a while later she teased me about choosing SH3 over her. So for all you folks who think I couldn’t possibly love the series as much as you because you’d choose it over the opposite sex… there you go.

(It did have some great tableaus, and it did create the carousel, which meant years later on the set of the second film I got to RIDE the carousel, surrounded by fire and everything. So I can’t be too disappointed.)

Silent Hill 4 is (was?) an under-appreciated gem. It locked its most powerful scares into a single room and then forced you to return time and time again, always uncertain what you could be faced with during your visit. It taught me how much the fanbase hates change. Despite its shining moments (the apartment complex level, the Room, Walter himself), everyone focused on the shortcomings. They desperately searched for an answer–anything at all to separate this…thing…from their beloved franchise, and they quickly accepted the idea SH4 had never been intended to be a Silent Hill, and Marketing basically placed it in a Silent Hill box and released it onto an unsuspecting public. This was a warning of what was to come.

While I’ve always been a fan of Silent Hill, I’ve never been “part of the fanbase”.  I was very active on the internet when the original game came out, but it never occurred to me to seek out like-minded fans. I never even really considered there was a growing “base” of fans until an acquaintance on 1up told me how much she hated SH4 and what an abomination it was. For some reason I’d only talked to the few personal acquaintances who played it, or random strangers at parties (oddly enough).

This is really weird considering I read plenty of forums about Final Fantasy games (earlier on), Metal Gear Solid, Zelda, Mega Man, etc. I think the differences is how personal the Silent Hill games are. Their stories and themes, unlike any other game, really approach you as an individual, and your interpretation and your experience are valuable parts of the whole. With Mega Man and Mario you experience levels–obstacles to overcome that thousands like you have also overcome.

Silent Hill is different. Silent Hill has a conversation with you. A long, disquieting conversation, and that conversation is unique to you. It’s a personal thing. And discussing that with others is revealing a part of yourself.

This is part of the reason fans are so precious about it.

This is the reason I was honored and intimidated when a few scant weeks after starting at Konami, I was giving feedback on Origins, getting glimpses of Homecoming, and pitching a Wii version of the game.  If this thing was going to be developed in the West, in the same office where I worked every day, I was sure as anything going to put in my two cents.

Being a Silent Hill insider taught me to trust my gut. Reading this, you will never know the concerns I brought up. You will never know the arguments I started, the battles I won, or the battles I lost. You likely have your own opinions based on who-knows-what, but the one thing I most definitely learned was that my gut–which told me how the fans would react–wasn’t wrong. Not once.

This definitely does not mean I was always arguing for what the fans wanted. Silent Hill is personal. It was personal to me as a player, and it was personal to me as a guy making the games.  This is because to the original creators, Ito and Yamaoka and so on, it was also personal. You don’t get resonance by giving people what they expect. You get it by communicating ideas that you feel, that you care about.

I argued for the fanbase as often as I argued against it (and again, won and lost both types of arguments)–but I always let everyone involved know exactly what the fans would think. Whether or not they listened was up to them.  But once those decisions were made and the games came out, my expectations were proven accurate.

What my gut DIDN’T foresee was the degree of those reactions.  It’s one thing to know “people are going to hate this” and it’s another to have a 2 hour video devoted to hating whoever made that decision (which was always assumed to be me, whether or not it was).

And so, while the first half of the series had taught me the power, the beauty, and the cruelty of humanity’s darker emotions; the second half of the series strung me up as a target for them, like some weird performance art version of Silent Hill itself.  Of course, there are many fans who do like (or appreciate, or tolerate) the recent games, and I love them all dearly. When you put out a personal thing (even when it’s your personal thing mixed with a hundred other peoples’ personal things), it’s nice to get some acknowledgment that, yeah, your thing is okay. There is value in what you did.

I never got to tell my Silent Hill story, the one that SH2 planted, and grew inside me in the years since. I pitched it twice, and I hinted at it in a joke ending, but it remains untold (but you know, if you read Edge magazine……). Instead, the stories we told in Shattered Memories and Downpour were the works of many different people, all with different opinions, and all with different stories to tell. This is the same magical cauldron from which the original games sprung. And yet, the fanbase as a whole didn’t like these games much, some even offering opinions having never tried the games.  These personal stories were offered up to the masses only to be spat back out again.

It’s a very discouraging cycle. Especially to have a hard-working dev team essentially snubbed by the public because your name appears above theirs in the credits. Being “right” about fan reaction is little comfort when the games are left unplayed. I wrote a story about it, actually. This guy finds a book that lets him rewrite the world. It doesn’t go the way he planned. Really, it’s a lot less subtle than you’d think, reading the forums.

Because if they were making me create a Silent Hill that felt nothing like the series… I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to put a personal story into it.

It ends with a song that you could have listened to instead of reading this entire post. As is their way, Troy and Mary say it best of all.

Happy 31st birthday, Silent Hill. The world is better for having you in it, and I hope dearly for your continued existence.

Video killed the kid who ran around doing Yosemite Sam impersonations

I saw some stuff on the internet along these lines today and it inspired me to talk about my history with video games. So let’s get started, shall we?

I remember a rainy day when I was probably 6 or 7, I was probably acting up or something, and my mom pulled out a dusty relic from the family’s past: an Atari 2600.  She put on Space Invaders and handed me a controller, saying something like “You’re the spaceship and you have to shoot the aliens.”

So I, the space ship, shot aliens. I thought it was so cool–moving around onscreen and doing things just by pushing a button. It was like a TV show I controlled! Mom probably did not know what she was sparking here, I imagine she thought I’d get bored of video games soon and move on to something else–but for the moment she had a reprieve.

It turns out that’s exactly what happened with the rest of my family; after a brief case of Pac Man fever, my folks and their friends had collectively gotten over gaming and relegated the 2600 consoles to their children. In the case of those friends, the child was a daughter with MS who used the games as therapy and a way to socialize (with me). I used them as therapy for whatever was wrong with me.

See, contrary to the genesis of our Atari, and the experiences of a lot of kids my age, my parents didn’t game. Sure, my mom would join me for a round of Mario every year or so, and she watched me play Harvest Moon (and in my college years she got addicted to Animal Crossing), but I didn’t have a Tetris Mom. I never came downstairs to find my older sister absorbed in Dragon Warrior. My dad didn’t help me through difficult moments of Zelda. Games were entirely mine–a language spoken by children, like TMNT in the same era. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Between our house and my parents’ friends’ I learned a number of games, from standbys like PacMan and Donkey Kong, to more obscure fare like Swordquest (which I swear was called Aquarius). I also developed a lifelong love of Dig Dug. A little later, my best friend picked up a Texas Instruments gaming computer, and had his own games: Parsec, Munchman, and Tombstone City. True classics, right?

But we were growing up and so were the consoles. Kids around me started getting NES’s, and my parents told me one day we were going to pick up a new video game (which meant system). Here it was–finally the moment I knew would change my life forever!

…I tried to be excited about the Atari 7800 (which I now know was on clearance–I’ve got the box), after all, it came with Pole Position 2! But I knew it wasn’t an NES. My parents remained resolutely on the “fad” side of the fence, probably put there by articles about how video games were dead and the last gasps of the fledgling industry came in the form of astronomical Nintendo hardware ($100!? For a VIDEO GAME? For that price it had better play movies or something).

With the new console came the ability to buy new games with my allowance, and hey at least they were cheap (but why were they all randomly thrown into a bin without organization?), so I picked up amazing new games like Adventure and Vanguard. Sure, my friends all had Super Mario, but at least these games were *mine*.

Speaking of Mario, he sure was everywhere. Suddenly whenever I went over to a friend’s house, instead of standing around asking if they’d ever played a video game like Space Invaders, they were invariably engrossed in Super Mario and barely looked up to say hi when I got there. Tim and Stephen, two kids in my class, were the main source of NES before my best friend picked his up. I mainly watched, as the few times I attempted to play Mario I died on the first Goomba.  I saw sprawling 1-1′s, dank 1-2′s, underwater levels, and even a platoon of flying fish!  While my friends and their sisters (or both Tim and Stephen in a power pair situation) battled through the Mushroom Kingdom, I busied myself reading the manuals or “How to Win At” guides. “Those fish are called Cheep Cheeps” I informed nobody one day.

Then came Zelda. The LEGEND of Zelda. I’d only heard its name whispered on the playground, and the commercials weren’t doing much to educate me. I knew it came in a gold cart, but when I asked other kids what Zelda was, their answer was something like “It’s… Zelda.” Tim wouldn’t even play it–he told me he had to wait for the Nintendo Fun Club News featuring Zelda to arrive, as the game was really complicated and he didn’t understand it. Tim was in a different class and crowd when Dragon Warrior came along, but I am curious what he made of that cryptic beast.

Once he did understand it, he let me play as a third save file–but I couldn’t name my character Link. Even though that was his name! “Link” was reserved for Tim alone. Thus, “Linked” was born. I’d love to say there’s some symbolic tradition where I forever named my Zelda files “Linked” but that’s stupid. I paid for them, *I* get to be Link. I do think of Tim every time, though.

(I’d also like to make a clever Ocarina reference where Link is the Hero of Tim, but we’ll skip it)

So for the first year of Nintendo’s reign, I wasn’t actually playing Nintendo much. But that only added to its mystique. Here was this console, with these huge sprawling worlds inside it, and I could only catch small glimpses and then eavesdrop on kids at school as they talked about how to defeat Mummy Men and if anyone had even SEEN Dracula before. I do remember at Tim’s I was eventually able to pass that Goomba, only to be repeatedly thwarted by the moving platforms in 1-2. I thought I’d NEVER get past them. I totally sucked at these games…

…until one day we were visiting other friends of my parents, and their daughter took me down the street to a neighbor’s house (oddly enough, within 5 miles of where I live now). Nintendo finally “clicked” and I blew past those platforms. This coincided with my best friend getting his NES as previously mentioned, and I secured a firm “Player 2″ spot in all his adventures. Or, in one-player games, as manual-guy and also official keeper of his Official Nintendo Player’s Guide.

But while most of my friends only had Mario, Zelda, and a smattering of launch games (Ice Hockey, Pinball), John Paul got a new game every few weeks (in kid time–was probably every other month), so I learned the ways of Metroid, Castlevania, Ghosts & Goblins, and Commando–which made my slick Atari 2600 version seem blocky and terrible. In fact, Commando would be my final purchase for the system, and the final straw. I took matters into my own hands and began writing Santa a letter. I threw open the Sears wish book and wrote “Santa, I would like a Nintendo, and if I get one here are games I would like…” and proceeded to list every single game in the whole darn book.

Except Karnov.

Because nobody wants Karnov, not even a kid desperate to claw his way out of the Atari era that predates his birth.

So on Christmas morning, certain Mr. Claus wouldn’t let me down, I snuck downstairs and looked for a box the right size, measuring the candidate in the only way I knew how: the console would fit here… and two controllers go here… and the zapper gun would fit here, leaving this space for Mario/Duck Hunt! It’d have to be this one!

The other suspicious box turned out to be Zelda.

And thus, after years of hard labor on inferior consoles it was here–my very own NES. My very own portal into Hyrule and beyond. So after christening the system with a run to 4-1 (ended, as always, by Lakitu) I entered the name Link and set out on my odyssey.  Take that, Tim.

(the next day Tim showed up with his own Christmas haul: Super Mario 2! Making me once again painfully out of date–but December 25th belonged to me!)

Just Explore the Dungeon, Okay?

Today’s a pretty big day! My first released game as Director is out now–Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON”T KNOW!

You can watch a trailer by clicking on this link.

It was really fun working with series creator Pendleton Ward and bringing his universe to life with thickly-spread fanservice… but that’s not what I want to talk about today!

I want to talk about the very first enemy I ever remember creating. Back when I was nine, I played a little game called Mega Man 2, and it convinced me that making games was my destiny. Even before I’d actually PLAYED it, I set about creating my own version based around the screens and art in Nintendo Power. I could tell this Mega Man was something special.  My own version, of course, was Mecha Man–a brave (green!) robot who battled the vile Dr. Willy.

Well, Mega Man had these little hard hat guys (Mets) who were somewhat of a series mascot, and I knew I needed the same. But I wanted mine to be a bit more dangerous. Why wear a safety hat when you could BE the safety hazard!? And so, Dyna-MIGHT was born! (This is also my first recorded pun)

Dyna-MIGHT is a cute little stick of dynamite who is super buff and sports a wicked pair of bancho shades to ward off potential threats.

Why do YOU care?  Well, because obviously Mecha Man never existed. But I held onto DynaMIGHT for years, intending to use him in Mythri (which also didn’t come out)… and now that I’m an official Director, DynaMIGHT finally came to life in Adventure Time.

Pen Ward didn’t just want the game to have Adventure Time cameos in the monster department–he wanted some original stuff too. So, along with Fairy Convict, Harming Bird, and Elec Snake came… DynaMIGHT!  And since these needed to be prisoners in Bubblegum’s dungeon, he got a sweet striped shirt and prison tattoo (it’s hard to see in the sprite, but in the official art it clearly reads BOM*)

This was pretty neat! It was nice seeing a little guy I’d imagined nearly 25 years ago come to life (so I could kill him… over and over and over again).

So check out the game–I hope you like it!  And special thanks to @_swammi who drew an actual good version of him, Gustav Kilman who modeled him in glorious pixels, and @johanvinet who brought him to life. You guys rock. To the max!

*as in Mario 2′s early screenshots, not Book of Memories

PS2 bosses, gang

Zelda bosses, everyone

Gross bosses, kids

Pursuit bosses, y’all