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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

To all the games I've loved before...

Posted on June 4, 2010 at 12:34 PM

Being just miles away from the impending oil spill/wash-up while in Destin, Florida this week, you are constantly hearing about the efforts  lame-ass attempts by BP to stop it. "We are attempting Top Kill." "Top Kill is underway." "Top Kill is working!" "Top Kill has failed..."


All this talk about Top Killing has me thinking of the videogame, Halo, which has a deliciously wicked play on words that gets cooler and funnier as you rack up more and more kills. There's Double Kill and Triple Kill and Killng Spree, of course. But for the truly gifted, where killing is more a well-honed and practiced art form, there is also Killtacular, Killtrocity, the beautifully painful Killamanjaro, and Un-frea-Killing-tastic. Makes me want to open a bottle of Killian's Irish (blood) red.


As someone born in the '70s, video games played a giantly important part of my life growing up. Even before the Atari 2600, I had a Pong (a machine that literally only played Pong), some other Sears branded game that featured a digital pinball, and an even more other bizarre game (I think by Magnavox) handed down from a great grandparent where you would actually place these large mylar sheets over your TV screen (held in place by the powerful radioactive static produced by pre-HD era CRTs) that would then determine what game you would play. These games were painfully rudimentary, with titles like "Maze" "Race Maze" and "Maze Chase" but that didn't stop us from playing them for hours.


For me, videogames were always WAY more exciting when shared with another person. While solitary gaming was a great way of passing a couple of hours, two player gaming was a way that boys born in the '70s built lifelong friendships. So, here is a list of my greatest two player games. As always, I welcome your comments... (I'm arranging this list in chronological order to the best of my recollection....) You'll also notice that my list is painfully short on modern titles, reflecting that I've (sadly) grown up and don't have the same time for games I once did.... Hopefully, one day Lauryn will enjoy gaming, and we can rekindle that love together.


1) Atari 2600 - Combat. This was the pack-in cartridge with the 2600 and while you would buy, sell, trade other games, this was one that you kept returning to over and over. But only when your friends came over. While Combat included a variety of different versions (biplane, jet, giant ass impossible-to-win-with bomber versus 3 jets...) it would always be tank battle that you would return to. This game proved you didn't need fancy graphics or sound effects to make a brilliant 2 player experience. Two tanks, a few obstacles, and then some variables (steerable shells, invisible, bouncing shells). Stir, mix, let simmer for hours!

2) Sega Genesis - Herzog Zwei. This German game (loosely translated, I believe, as "Supreme Commander Number 2," because even the German's weren't willing to concede that a gamer could ever be Supreme Commander Number 1) was probably not very successful because no 12 year old in the history of time could figure it out. With a rule book that would rival a college text on particle physics, it involved strategy, planning, and resource management just slightly less complicated than preparations for the 2012 Olympic games. You got money. You built things. You sent those things off to kill your opponent. All while he was trying to do the same to you.


3) Commodore 64 - Archon. This game was played on a chess board, with black versus white. Except, instead of chess pieces you had a variety of warriors: unicorn, shape shifter, barbarian, djini, etc. And when you landed on someone else's space, you had to fight and kill them to take it, or be killed and lose it. The board constantly shifted colors, with black stronger on black squares, white on white. You could summon elementals and case magic. Dan and I went through a period of MANY weeks when we played this game. I remember during one specially tough battle, Dan's joystick broke. He said, "That's it. Come on," and we hopped in his truck, drove down to Toys 'R Us, bought the best joystick they had -- an unimaginably expensive (to me at the time) $60 model -- then returned home and kept fighting. Awesome.


4) NES - Metal Gear. This is really a cheat, because it is TOTALLY not a two-player game. In fact, it is single player only. However, I'm including it because this is the one game that ever truly sucked-in my cousin, Chris, and we played this game together with all the passion, gusto and intensity of a two-player game. Together we solved the riddle of beating Big Boss and getting past that (seemingly invincible) giant tank, etc. So, even though only one man hold the controller, it was such a team effort that -- to me, at least -- it felt like a two player game. Even now, more than 20 years later, it is impossible to differentiate Solid Snake from Chris.


5) Super Nintendo - Baseball All Stars! There are baseball games with fancier graphics and baseball games that have actual commentators providing play-by-play. But there is still no baseball game that captured that feeling of fun that was a 9 inning stretch of BAS. Plus, this is the first game (at least that I experienced) where you were able to build  your team. Win a game, earn some money. Use the money to level up your guys. Better throwing, faster running, more powerful hitting. Craig and I would play this game for HOURS. I tried recreating my favorite ball club ever, the '75 Big Red Machine. Seriously....I miss this game -- and playing with Craig -- the way that more well-adjusted people look back on old girlfriends.


6) Super Nintendo - Mortal Kombat 2, 3. Nintendo was kind of a bitch about the first Mortal Kombat game for the NES system, saying it was too violent and too bloody. They replaced the blood with "sweat," eliminated the finishing moves and basically got their ass handed to them by the Sega version. They learned their lessons and produced arcade-identical ports going forward. Pierre and I would play this game until our match counts were in the hundreds. We would perform every Fatality, Mercy, Animality and Friendship we could figure out. Then we would look up cheat codes and use those, gleefully pulling out our character's spines or exploding them from the inside or, you know, handing them a flower. This was a game that you would literally play until you performed a Fatality on your own thumbs, where you would just hold your hands out in front of you in a "show me mercy" manner. Of course, mercy was for the week, so we'd just suck it up and start a new round.


7) 3DO - Return Fire. 3DO was a shortlived system, probably because it was SO frickin' expensive that the only person who could afford it was my friend Pierre. (For one sweet bit of time, Pierre and I actually got to go an playtest 3DO games.) Again, a painfully simple, capture the flag concept. You had 4 vehicles at your disposal, tank, helicopter, Rocket Launcher/mine layer, and jeep. You had one of each vehicle; it died, it was out of play. Each vehicle had it's own strengths and weaknesses AND it's own classical music theme song. The music was one of the biggest things about this game, and was totally an extra character, adding an unbelievable heightened tension and panic. This from Wikipedia: Also notable was the game's soundtrack, composed exclusively by classical pieces such as Richard Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries when using the helicopter (in homage to Apocalypse Now), Flight of the Bumblebee when driving the jeep, Holst's Mars from The Planets when driving the tank or the William Tell Overture by Gioacchino Rossini when riding with the flag. When driving in the Armored Support Vehicle, Edvard Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King plays. The greatest thing about playing this game was that Pierre and I were unbelievably well-matched, locked in a mortal death struggle that could play out differently each time.


8) Nintendo 64 - Golden Eye. This first truly great first person, multi-player shooter. With James Bond. Run around a James Bond locale, grabbing a variety of weapons -- OK, really just looking for the sniper rifle so you could hole up in a long hallway somewhere and drill people mercilessly over and over in the head as they ran past -- and just laying waste to your friends. While this was fun with two people, it was insane with four. And, at about this time, I was getting old enough to drink, so when you added liquor to the mix, this game became an instant classic.


9) Xbox - Halo. Halo took everything that made Golden Eye great, and made it even greater-er. Better graphics. More locations. Cooler weapons. Plus, of course, the possibility of pulling off a Killtrocity. And if you liked playing with 4, how about playing with up to 16! While I never had a 16-way death match, I did host a couple of 8 way death matches---two Xboxes, two copies of Halo, 8 controllers, 8 friends. Down at Custom Theater we played on two back to back big screens (a 100-inch and an 80 inch). Once, at about 3 in the morning after an especially awesome marathon match, Byron said, "I say we just keep playing. I'll just leave from here and go straight to work." That was the power of Halo.


10) PC - Command and Conquer: Red Alert. This was the first on-line multi-player experience I ever had, and that is probably why I loved it so. In the days before any T1s or high speeds, I would pick up the phone, voice call over to my friend Jon and ask if he was ready, hang-up and then call his computer and we would command and/or conquer. For hours. Very much like an updated version of Herzog Zwei and Return Fire, you mined for resources, built weapons, fortified your base and attacked your foe. Repeat over and over for hours.

Categories: June 2010, Top 10 List, Computers

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Reply Byron
7:43 PM on June 15, 2010 
My experience with video games growing up was a little bit different. I really did not play games a lot with my friends early on. Instead, I battled my older brother for home supremacy on a daily basis. He was over four years older than me, but I developed hand-to- eye coordination at a faster rate. This led to some truly epic battles. Our machine of choice: Intellivision circa 1981 (sorry Atari 2600, but you were dominated).

My cousins from Myrtle Beach (we lived 80 miles north in Wilmington, NC) also had an Intellivision which would allow for my brother and I to take the fight to them. We would have amazing tournaments of skill that only Medieval Times would later rival.

As I grew older, I got married, moved to Myrtle Beach, but refused to grow up. I continued to play games with one of my cousins there who followed the same path. We had some amazing battles on the NES, Super NES, Sega Genesis, and the PC.

Those days are gone. But, I still enjoy getting together with my cousin and other friends to occasionally play on the Wii, the system of choice for old people. Truth be told, it has been a great system to unite the ages. I love to play with my 8 year old daughter who gives me a run for my money bowling.

1) Intellivision ? Triple Action. I believe this came with the game system. It sounds similar to Combat on the Atari. We had dog fights with WWI biplanes, tank battles that would make Rommel blush, and Pole Position like races.

2) Intellivision ? Any sports game we could get our hands on. NFL Football was my favorite. I think it still has a cult following today. Next was Major League Baseball. It was the only baseball game where you could be thrown out at first after hitting a grounder to the right center fielder, but we still loved it. After that was basketball, hockey (I?m half Canadian), tennis, and even soccer (my cousins? father is German).

3) Intellivision ? Utopia, the grandfather of sim. You were in control of a tropical island (think Tropico with terrible graphics) while battling another player who also controlled a nearby tropical island. Points are accumulated based on the welfare of your island people. You can choose to be a benevolent ruler or an aggressive dictator. You started out fishing with little boats around your island trying to earn money to buy necessities. You could buy your people houses, factories, hospitals, schools, and plant crops. The best parts of the game were the unpredictable tropical storms and hurricanes that could ravage your island or hopefully your opponent?s island without warning. You could even invade your opponent?s island with guerilla warfare, but we seldom did because payback was a ?

4) Intellivision ? Great games that had 2 player options or single player games where we took turns, but really sucked if you didn?t go first and the first player was really good. It took forever to get your turn and when you did, you were so frustrated, you lost your concentration and died prematurely. Astrosmash (think Space Invaders without the license), Donkey Kong, Frogger, and Shark Shark to name a few.
Reply Byron
7:45 PM on June 15, 2010 
5) NES ? Super Mario Brothers. This could be added to the previous entry, but it was such a phenomenon, I didn?t care if my friend (one of the few games I played with my best friend growing up) beat the game with a single man.

6) NES ? RBI Baseball, RBI Baseball II, the greatest baseball franchise of all time. I would rather play this game today than any other baseball game. I could write a dissertation about these incredible games that would get me an honorary doctorate at most schools around the country. It was that amazing. My cousin lost a no hitter to me (a moral victory) in the 9th inning thanks to lefty John Kruk (the game used real ball players). That was unusual because we were normally very competitive with one another, but it stands out. I pitched a perfect game against a friend who told me I should ?watch out? before we play because ?he?s pretty good.? I could go on and on, but if you?ve never played the game on this level, it?s moot.

7) Super NES/Sega Genesis (I played on both systems) ? NHL 94. My cousin and I battled one another in this game on par with RBI Baseball. I could sing similar praises, but my love of this game was cut short thanx to the 94-95 strike shortened NHL season. My love for real hockey has never been the same, but this game will also have a special place in my heart.

8) PC ? PGA Golf. This includes all the great real golf courses that were brilliantly simulated on the PC during the mid to late 90?s (pre Tiger Tiger Woods y?all). My cousin and I would compete in some great tournaments together that would result in a down to the wire finish.

9) PC/Xbox ? I played this great game over the internet with friends, but the most memorable bouts involved Custom Theater and a 100 inch Runco projector.

10) Wii ? Rock Band. How can some over the hill people relive the glory days and still bond with their kids? Nothing better than singing vocals on "White Wedding? while your 8 year old daughter and her friends accompany you on drums, guitar, and base.

Honorable mention ? PC ? Jedi Knight. The first game I ever played against someone online. Incredible lightsaber duels to the simulated death. The best Lucas Arts had to offer.
Reply John Sciacca
10:30 PM on June 15, 2010 
Thorough reply(s) as always, Byron! My cousin, Brandon, owned an IntelliVision so I am somewhat familiar with it but not anywhere near you. I remember playing baseball on the telephone-like keypad; I did *love* that you could pick any player for any play instead of being forced to let the computer choose the closest guy. I also remember REALLY wanting the IntelliVoice module to play B-17 bomber. "Bombs away....."
Reply Craig
12:15 PM on June 16, 2010 
Honorary mention: Blades of Steel...well, I think that was the name of the title. It was the hockey game on, I believe, SNES. I cannot for the life of me tell you how the actual hockey play was on the game, but, as we all know, hockey is not what makes hockey great. Fighting is what makes hockey great and that was the greatest part of the game. John, when you and I played, I think all we were trying to do is collide our players into each other so that they would get mad and take the gloves off. And then, it was, of course, ON!!!! Punch face, block face, punch stomach, block stomach. Grab other guy so he can't punch. Those fisticuffs were so grueling that after one of us had gone, even if I were the victor, I was so exhausted, I didn't even care about what the actual score of the game was!!!
Reply John Sciacca
12:32 PM on June 16, 2010 
Of course I remember! Oh, the fighting. That sweet science! Good times. Good times....
Reply John Sciacca
2:13 PM on June 17, 2010 
This is from Pierre, who didn't want to put it up himself:

Ah yes, 3DO. In retrospect, a huge waste of hard earned cash. However, Return Fire remains as one of the best games ever produced. It's combination of split-second decision making and tactics, the deceptively simple gameplay and controls, and the classical soundtrack pushed this one into the mystical tier of games that went beyond gaming. Nearing the finish line in the jeep with flag in hand, only to run over a perfectly placed mine still ranks as one of the most suspenseful moments in my gaming career.