Posted in Nostalgia Lane

Nostalgia Lane: Mario Bros. for Atari 2600

Out of all of the stories I have playing Atari 2600 games, this one may be the longest. Indulge me, however.

So it’s the summer of 1986, and I am in deep envy as some of my friends got the new Nintendo Entertainment System and were enjoying titles like Excitebike, Zelda, and — of course — Super Mario Bros. The second I got my hands on SMB over the previous Christmas at a friend’s house, I was absolutely head-over-heels in love with its design and platforming fun. I played it at anyone’s house who had it and in the occasional arcade or Pizza Hut (although those versions were tougher).

But we weren’t getting an NES, at least any time soon, so my options for home Super Mario Bros play were limited. However, I thought I might have a shot, because I saw that the Atari 2600 had “Mario Bros” on a game shelf at my local toy store, and so I asked for it for my birthday.

Now, keep in mind that I didn’t have the internet or even magazine reviews. I just was hoping that, like some other arcade ports, Atari was able to come up with a crude but workable version of Super Mario Bros. There was a lot of denial in my head — even the titles were different — but I clung to hope. I celebrated my birthday in Florida at my grandparents’ home and unwrapped Mario Bros there… which did me no good because the console itself was back up in Indiana.

But I had the manual, at least, and once again tried to fool myself into thinking that this may be Super Mario Bros even as the very game documentation said otherwise.

When I got back home, the truth finally settled in: This was no Super Mario Bros. But after I got past that crushing disappointment, I found that this was actually a fun game in its own right. Mario Bros is a one-or-two-player game on a static screen where you try to flip critters, kick them to their doom, and grab the occasional flashing rainbow cube-thing for extra points. There was a yellow power bar that could be smashed to knock over all critters on the screen, or else you could jump underneath them and flip them that way.

You did have to watch out for a fireball that would go back and forth between the tiers. There was also bonus stages where you could grab lots of coins within a time limit.

Unlike Super Mario Bros, there were no power-ups and no jumping on top of critters to kill them. But it was decently fun, especially when someone else joined you. It was a frantic race to see who could get the most points — and also who could betray the other. You see, you could un-flip the critters through the power bar or jumping beneath them, so if your opponent was closing in on the critter, you could un-flip it and kill your friend that way.

Good times.

Anyway, it wasn’t that complicated, but I always liked the design of Mario, Luigi, and the crab and turtle dudes. Maybe it wasn’t the game I’d hoped for, but fun was had even still.

P.S. — Many years later, some fan actually made a fairly decent SMB port for the 2600, which is so impressive that I can’t believe it actually works.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: After darkness, light

Minstrel report

This week, my level 63 Minstrel moved into the Drownholt region of Mirkwood. It’s a fine bog, with easy navigation and lots of floaty lights. Plenty of “please kill 10 of this” type quests. The only frustrating part of it is the oppressive gloom, which makes it hard to see what’s ahead. This is when I find that alt-tabbing between targets is a better indicator than sight.

That quickly done, I moved over to the decaying castle of Ost Galadh. Even in the daytime, this place is pretty glum. Perfect for any Halloween rave, but unfortunately, all we have are business-type elves. Here, you can eavesdrop on the elf commanders talking about trying to forestall the huge force of the Enemy moving toward Lothlorien by savaging the local garrison.

If there’s a place I genuinely don’t like in Mirkwood, it’s the Scuttledales. It’s not so much the spiders-and-undead combo (I dig that sort of thing) but the fact that it’s a big ol’ maze in the dark. It’s the MMO equivalent of navigating a room while stubbing your toes a lot on furniture.

Captain report

I began the week diving into the barrows of Car Bronach. It’s been an… interesting? Interesting zone. I’m really not sold on the landscape as a whole, but the ensuing quests and landmarks have proven to be more surprising than I first thought.

Up in the mountains, I had to make my way slowly through a garrison of giants who were living on the side of a cliff. It was pretty slow going, what with the giants being elite and prone to knocking me off said cliff. I’ve never really found the creature type or their chunky stone dwellings that captivating in LOTRO, but it’s certainly a change of pace when you do encounter them.

I did get to hang out with a lone exiled giant who was spending his days taking care of goats. I mean, good for him. That’s productive work and I don’t kill people for goat-caring.

The quests I had in that area abruptly petered out, so I picked up another thread and started to venture into yet another new Gundabad zone, Gloomingtarn. First impressions? I like the wide-open space and the basalt-style of rock formations on display. Also a big honking lake in the middle.

Posted in Fallout

Fallout 76: If the cannibals don’t get you, the moths will

Level 31. Nothing like zoning into an area in Fallout 76 that is crawling with super mutants wielding automatic weapons. And there’s nothing like realizing another player is there and happy to team up to take the mutants down. It was a fierce fight that killed both of us once apiece, but in the end we prevailed. It’s just too bad I couldn’t do more than emote my appreciation.

I have so many quests at this point and don’t know which ones are more important. So I don’t let the clutter get in my head; I clear my quest tracker and select just one at random and go for it. In this case, it’s helping out the crazy Raider robot Rose make in-roads with that faction. At least it’s led me to some interesting places, such as this mining monument (which comes with an audio tour, no less!).

It’s post-apocalyptic movie or game law, that sooner or later you have to have an inn where people are trapped into becoming meals for local cannibals. I actually only discovered this one during this playthrough because they don’t show up unless you sleep in a bed for a bit.

Fallout 76 has fun with dialogue options! Guess I haven’t eaten anyone yet. That’s probably a good thing.

Following the questline led me to one of the two big Wastelander factions, the settlers at Foundation. I guess if you’re going for nice people with sane architecture, this is the way to go.

I came upon a Vengeful Mothman, and unlike previous encounters with his kinder siblings, this dude kicked my butt so hard that I didn’t even have time to get off a stimpack before I was dead. So maybe don’t go ticking off any plus-sized moths? That’s a good life lesson.

Posted in RIFT

RIFT: An infestation of hellbugs

This week in RIFT found me at level 18 and still working my way through Silverwood’s many questlines. These zones never skimped on quests, let me tell you that!

Silverwood’s a great zone if you want to start out your heroing career by beating up on elves and faeries. It’s coming at me with a flower! Quick, kill it with extreme prejudice!

It was always a tradition of mine to get the achievement for climbing to the highest point in the zone, so I made sure to add that to my RIFT bucket list. I can see my dimension from up hereeeeee

Defiance may be dead, but you can still fight their hellbugs in RIFT. Away with you, you cranky beasts from the netherworld! Or at least have some decency and put on pants!

Scotty growing big and getting revenge on his schoolmate bully is a fan favorite moment. “Scotty, you’re so mean!”

I’ve never heard people talk much about the mob design in the game, but I’ve always found RIFT’s creatures to be wonderfully (and strangely) detailed. Lotsa personality in them, even in a lowbie goblin. With a spike hand. And ear-antlers? And one blind eye.

Even as I hit level 20, I’m still not done with Silverwood. A few final setpieces remain, including this organic fae fortress that can’t withstand the awesome power of my duck.

Level 21 and the final fortress of the zone. Have I mentioned how brilliant I think Silverwood’s quest flow is? It takes you all over the place but always feels organic. In any case, I complete the (easy) puzzle and wrap up the place. Thanks for the memories, zone!

Posted in Blaugust

Blaugust 2022: The secret benefit from writing a gaming blog

Whether it’s crafting novels, jotting out love letters, or blogging about games, writing takes time. It’s a patently obvious fact, but I wanted to drag it out into the open because that’s where a lot of people stumble when they try to get into a routine of regular writing of any kind. Day One? Writing is no problem because you’re excited and it’s all new and novel! Day Twenty? Not so much.

So if you’re going to write regularly, you need motivation and good habits, because the words aren’t going to magically appear. They demand you sacrifice some of your time and don’t promise amazing results. It certainly helps if you love what you’re writing about (which, ideally, is all blogs).

But hey — I’m going to share a secret today. A little bit of encouragement to help you through those rough days of writing gaming blogs. And that’s the fact that blogging can be a great asset to your gaming life as a whole. For all of the time that you give to writing about games, the blog can and does give a bit back beyond fame and community connections.

The secret is that a gaming blog helps to give your actual gaming more purpose. Now, I don’t want to hold this up like the Lion King and declare that this purpose will one day rule over all the lands the sun touches. It’s a small-p “purpose.” Got me? But it is real. Because when you’re gaming and happen to be a gaming blogger, no session ever has to be wasted.

What I mean is that you can always turn your gaming experiences into a future post if you’re thinking about it that way. Try out a game that’s just flat-out awful? If you weren’t a blogger (or a YouTuber, etc.), you just blew a chunk of time on a disappointing experience. If you are a blogger? Now you’ve got great fodder for a post. You can spin gold out of that pile of poo!

No matter what MMORPG I play, I know I can get blog posts out of them, so I don’t feel under pressure to make that time and game selection count as much as I might have otherwise. For example, right now I’ve been spending a good chunk of time in RIFT — a game that many people are avoiding because it’s in maintenance mode and there are assumptions of its imminent demise. But as a blogger, I know that I get a two-for-one deal: The fun experience of playing it and the satisfying experience of blogging about it. I am documenting memories to preserve this game for the future, and to me, that gives those gaming sessions more purpose.

Gaming certainly wasn’t meaningless or pointless before blogging, but since I started writing about them, it’s given a nice heft to my time spent in games. Whether I’m about to have a great, mediocre, or terrible night playing titles, I can always take that and use it to entertain others. That’s not nothing!

Posted in World of Warcraft

Winding down in WoW Classic while mourning the mobile WoW that never will be

You know, on general principle I don’t mind the color purple. I don’t. It’s not my favorite, but it’s within spitting distance of colors that I am fond of (burgundy, lavender) so I put up with it. But WoW Classic’s Netherstorm really puts my tolerance of purple to the test. Too much of any one color, frankly, can wear out its welcome fast.

As I work to quest my way through this Purple Kool-Aid zone, I gave myself a secondary objective, which was to build up my stock of leather. I don’t care super-strongly about my Leatherworking, but I have invested a lot of time into it and should probably top it off so that I can carry it forward into Wrath. And hey, if nothing else, the armor kits are highly useful.

Hey, it’s ghost cow! Ghost cow, do you have any words for our readership? “MOOOOve along, nothing to see here.”

While I was prepared to keep playing WoW Classic right up through Wrath Classic, I couldn’t ignore that after a few nights, I was just logging in out of habit and obligation rather than desire. That’s not a good sign. There’s more excitement in Classic starting up a new character, but trudging through Burning Crusade was getting old. I’m not saying I’m abandoning it for good or forever, but I have other games I’d rather be playing right now, so they get my time.

One game that I — and you — won’t be playing is a mobile World of Warcraft MMO that reportedly was tanked after three years (!) of development. I have really mixed feelings on this. On one hand, mobile WoW sounds amazing (and I am still holding a torch for Arclight Rumble). I really would’ve liked to see the end result of that team’s effort and for another MMO to come to market. On the other hand, this was being done with Netease, and after the absolute mess that this partnership made out of Diablo Immortal, it’s probably a good thing for the two studios to part ways.

It’s probably the closest that we’ll ever get to seeing a WoW 2 come out, and it was gone pretty much right when we learned about it. That leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

Posted in Nostalgia Lane

Nostalgia Lane: Radar Lock for the Atari 2600

When people talk about playing the Atari 2600 back in the day, they usually aren’t referring to “1989.” By then, the NES was already the dominant console pretty much everywhere and the 2600 was this incredibly old relic from 1977 (when I was just a year old).

But it was a little different in our household. From start to finish in the 1980s, console gaming in our house was just with the Atari 2600. Discussions with our parents about upgrading to an NES went nowhere (“We already have a video game system!” would usually be the response), and we were still a couple of years away from getting our SNES. So believe you me, my brothers and I played the heck out of the 2600 when we couldn’t go over to a friend’s house to play something newer.

That meant we were also on the prowl for newer games in the late ’80s that featured better gameplay and graphics as Atari tried to extend the lifespan of the system as long as it could. This hunt resulted in part with the acquisition of Radar Lock, a title from 1989 that I’ve never heard people talk about.

And that’s a shame, because Radar Lock quickly became one of my top-five Atari 2600 games ever. On the surface, it wasn’t anything that special: You piloting a fighter jet around the sky, blowing up enemy planes before you ran out of fuel and/or ammo. Also you had a handful of missiles and proximity mines (which, unfortunately, were accessible via the second joystick because of that “only one button” thing the 2600 had).

What it lacked in complexity and depth, Radar Lock made up for in superbly solid gameplay. It was a fast-paced arcade fighter sim that had you dogfighting over an endless ocean. The sounds of the machine guns were weighty and the satisfying explosions of enemy craft kept my butt planted in my seat. Along with titles like Asteroids and River Raid, this game was a perfect “zone out and play for long stretches of time on autopilot” experience.

The graphics were also a highlight: Bold, crisp, and colorful. You jet’s tracers did a neat gradually disappearing effect as they arced out and then down. I always liked the “taking off” sequence at the start, as well as the point in the missions where you had to dock with an airborne tanker to fuel up. I learned later on that making the horizon tilt left and right was actually a very difficult thing to do for the 2600 and required a lot of cheats to make it look smooth.

So while other kids had Top Gun, I had Radar Lock — and spent so, so many afternoons after school blasting my way through waves of bad guys.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: The impossible architecture of Middle-earth

Minstrel report

You know how there’s “Netflix and chill?” For me, it’s “LOTRO and a movie.” If a day’s been stressful and long, and if I don’t want to spend the evening bouncing between games, I’ll instead put on a movie to review off to the side and get into a nice stretch of LOTRO gameplay. It’s so comfortable and relaxing, and I feel like I’m getting two things done at the same time.

The Haunted Inn quests in Mirkwood may be among the most interesting in the zone, especially the chain where you investigate Murders Most Foul that happened in the nearby town a while back. Once I uncovered the full truth, the final quest turn-in actually dinged me right into 63.

Captain report

Now sitting pretty at 140, my Landroval Captain left the confines of Gundabad for the cul-de-sac zone of Car Bronach. It’s not a particularly pretty zone by any stretch of the imagination — mostly melted glacier paths with lots of scree — but it’s nice to be underneath the sky even so. I’m getting to the point where I’m honestly ready to be done with Gundabad as a whole and move on. The Dwarf vs. Orc storyline is functionally fine but not that exciting, a sentiment I’ve heard a lot over the last couple of years.

I got a small chuckle out of the fact that here I am, hundreds of hours and 140 levels later, and I’m still doing menial work like clearing mold off of rocks. Never change, LOTRO, and I mean that.

But there are still some epic moments. I particularly liked climbing the Dearspire — a “vertical labyrinth” of stairs and twisty paths that kept going up and up and up. It’s pretty linear, even still, and offers some fantastic views of the surrounding area. Of course, the logistics of building something like this are pretty much impossible, but when has that stopped MMOs?

While the whole quest chain was long, it wasn’t frustrating. I actually was engrossed by the interior of the tower, which was divided into three or so thematic levels. The plant one was unexpected but pretty cool.