Much Ado About Dragons

TSP Spyro

Spyro, my favorite little dragon, was the only one of his kind to survive a mass dragon-freezing by the Gnasty Gnorc (mostly because he was too short and the spell shot right over his head).   To save all his buddies, Spyro has to travel between the five dragon worlds to un-freeze the dragons, collect the crystals that Gnasty Gnorc turned into minions, and protect clutches of dragon eggs.   Fortunately, he was gifted with abilities like breathing fire, gliding (and sometimes flying!) and headbutting, as well as a tiny guiding dragonfly buddy named Sparx.

This game turned me from a somewhat normal 4th grader into a basement-dwelling, glassy-eyed, button-mashing maniac.  Ignoring my scattered adventures with Mario on the Nintendo 64, Spryo’s quest was the first time I really sat down and played through a game’s story, start to finish.  Granted, before Spyro there weren’t really any appealing 3D games of its kind, especially on the Playstation… but this was also a demonstration of my heretofore-unchallenged attention span.

Before Spyro, my gaming time came in spurts.   I would load something up, play for an hour or two, and then get bored and walk away.  It was through Spyro that I developed my patented sit-in-front-of-the-basement-TV-until-my-eyes-bled headache-inducing marathon gaming style that would go on to serve me greatly at weekend-long LAN events such as NVision 2008 (the ability to play Team Fortress 2 for days straight without sleep meant that when our 1am tourney was gradually pushed through the night to 8am, my team still rocked it).

I also think I earned a bit of respect from my 5-years-younger brother through Spyro.  We would get home from school, race to the basement, and he would sit faithfully beside me as I fumbled through levels and painstakingly collected every little gem or treasure.  Nick appreciated the entertainment and we both enjoyed the company.


It’s A-Me! Your Childhood!

TSP Mario Kart

Mario Kart was and still is one of the best games you could play with a group of people.  Players can choose from main characters in the Mario universe and race against or battle each other in colorful go-karts.  There are endless versions out now that let you pair up, get super power-ups and what have you, but nothing compares to nailing gophers on Moo Moo Farm or flying off into space on Rainbow Road after a well-placed banana peel (even if Rainbow Road was notorious for inducing headaches).

It was always an exciting night when my little brother and I got my parents to play.  Mom was surprisingly good despite her protests and Dad liked to be Toad despite being named “Luigi.”   Likewise, when friends were over, we would fight over who got to be Yoshi and race until our eyeballs ached.  Then came Battle Mode.  That was always a bit vicious, driving around trying to knock balloons off friends’ cars with bananas and explosives.  Aside from my many Pokemon games, Mario Kart probably got the most play time in my early gaming years.

TSp Super MarioSuper Mario was a totally different story for me.  My little brother used to like to watch me play, but the open-ended adventure game made me nervous and frustrated to the point where I would space out play sessions by a couple days to calm down after a particularly upsetting bomb-omb attack.  It took me the better part of a summer to collect all the stars needed to win and then for what?   A cake?   Why do games always promise cake?  I can’t eat it.  Mario certainly doesn’t need it.

Perhaps my assessment is a bit harsh, especially considering how many awards and accolades the game has accumulated.  Looking back now, I’m glad for the experience, if only to be able to say that “I did it, I beat Mario 64 too!”  And sure, I did have lots of fun putting on the winged cap and flying into the clouds for hidden stars or talking to toad people and dinosaurs… But overall is was a game that made my heart race until I was physically uncomfortable.  Like Pac-Man.   Go figure.

Branchburg Basements to Chengdu, China


My update comes late this week after a very exciting and productive few days in New York City.  This past weekend was the national level competition for the World Cyber Games where teams competed in CounterStrike, Gears of War, Virtua Fighter 5, and more for a chance to represent the USA at the world finals in Chengdu, China.  Also present was most of the cast of WCG Ultimate Gamer, a Survivor-style reality series search for America’s best gamer.  For three days, we nerds raged on, gaming and partying and sometimes doing the press coverage we were supposed to.  There was even an open bar VIP party for WCG gamers and press in the ESPN Zone in Time Square with unlimited arcade games.  My boyfriend and I were already having a great time, but on Sunday…. things got AWESOMER.

Samsung is hosting a Mob!le Challenge for cell phone games at the WCG World Finals and they held two walk-up tournaments this weekend to decide who would represent Team USA in Asphalt 4, a racing game, and Wise Star 2, a puzzle game.    Wise Star 2 is a lot like Bejewled if you’ve ever played the flash game; just matching like items to clear a board.  Anyway, I coerced Trevor into giving it a try even though he’s never played a cell phone game before.  Sure enough, the jerk wins, and now he’s got $500, a new phone, a team jacket, and a trip tp Chengdu, China in November.  I’m hoping to tag along with him and our friends in the Ultimate Gamer cast, but only money will tell… Either way, I’m super proud of my boyfriend and his inhuman game-perfecting skills.  Watch his dorky interview here:

This of course brings me quite naturally to a discussion of

TSP Pong


TSP Goldeneye

For you, these two games might not have a lot to do with each other.  For me, however, they both represent my early fumblings with a Player vs. Player format.  Also, they were two games that I didn’t own (or own at); they belonged to my neighbors, Donna and Dominic.  When those two would come over, or even just Donna, we’d run right into the basement to the Nintendo 64.

Secretly, I hated Goldeneye.  The entire game was a first person shooter free-for-all and I was god-terrible at it.  Aiming a gun with my thumbs, being aware of the maps, knowing when and where weapons  or players spawned… these were all concepts I wouldn’t become aware of until I started play Battlefield 2.   This meant that I spent a lot of time in-game looking at the floor, grenading myself, and generally failing to achieve a positive score.  No one seemed to mind or expect much from me though so I left to my own misguided devices.  To this day I resent anyone who suggests a couple rounds of Goldeneye.  No matter how much I’ve improved as a gamer, this game and I just won’t click.

Pong was a bit more my speed.  Two paddles, two dimensions, one ball.  For a while, the only way Donna and I could play was on the original Gameboy, a device of roughly the same dimensions and handling as a brick.  We took turns passing the game/weight back and forth, only able to play against the computer.  Later, Donna would bring over a Nintendo 64 version that allowed us to play against each other.  Fortunately for our friendship, I won about 90% ofthe time. Competing, playing against someone to get a higher score or a better time, made me nervous.  Losing to someone made me very, very upset.

Little did I know that one day I would embrace the challenges of competition and be able to put my self out into the world as a competitor.  The love of the game and of winning  (as well as the skills and fortitude)  were things Trevor dragged out of me and supported with his own quest for glory long after my basement-dwelling days.  It was his dream first: to be a professional gamer, and now we’re both on our way!

Gaming Vision Network – Summer Bash 2009


The Gamer Vision Network ran a small fighting games tournament in Philadelphia on Saturday, August 22nd.  Being new to the console and fighting games communities, my partner TorcH and I were hesitant to attend such an intimate event.  Fortunately, we got the news that the rest of the crew would be attending, along with WCG Ultimate Gamer participant, Jamal Nickens, and winner, Mark Smith, to light a fire under our butts!

As soon as we got to the hotel where the event was being held, we found our friends;  not a  difficult feat because the room was small!  Every wall was lined with consoles and televisions of varying shapes and sizes.  In the middle was the largest screen, observed by the NOC and the live web feed.  Dudes with fightsticks filled up all available space, punctuated by celebrities like the lovely CGS Fighter ladies Phoenix and Kasumi-Chan, our Ultimate Gamer guys, and a few well-known console personalities like Chosen1.

I got to experience first hand how intense the competition when Jamal and Mark signed me up for a Team of Three competition in Street Fighter IV.   (I am not proud to admit that the three of us lost in the first two rounds.  I am, however, proud to say that my Cammy held her own with both pros!)

TorcH participated in the singles tournament for Street Fighter IV and lasted well into the final rounds with his Zangief.  We were both a little disappointed about not ranking but, to quote EvilRyu, “It’s not all about winning.  Just getting tournament experience is invaluable.”

And GVN’s Summer Bash was really a great experience.  The event was a great example of a neatly-run event, especially considering the size restrictions of the venue.  The community that attended was pleasant, social, and very willing to offer help and suggestions.  GVN runs several events throughout the year which you can track at their site:  With such a great team behind them, you can count on a good time!

The Poor Man’s Mario

TSP Crystal Caves

In 1993, my family relocated to another part of the neighborhood into a larger house.  The new arrangement of furniture brought our family computer to the attention of my 5 year old self.  It was a Gateway, as big and clunky and grey as ever made.  My mom would keep a long tray of floppy disks with sticker labels nearby and one of those was Crystal Caves.

I liked shoving the disk into the floppy drive and feeling it catch.  With other floppies, I would pull back and snap the spring-loaded shutter over and over, but I would never risk such a thing with Crystal Caves.  The mechanism was as mysterious to me as the codes my mother had to type into DOS (though she wrote them down for my benefit over and over, I was always baffled) to run the game.   Nevertheless, when that grinning man with his purple overalls appeared on the screen, I knew this was a product aimed right at me.

The gameplay was simple and fun, with your expected requirements of jumping, item collecting, falling spikes,  and minor battles with creatures that left behind poisonous lumps of residue.  There were some early attempts at in-game physics with low gravity and reverse gravity, a revolutionary development in games that I took for granted.

I don’t remember the first time my mother and I play, or even the day we beat it.  All I can remember is standing behind her, eyes glued to the computer screen, so into it that I would make my mom anxious with all my fussing, and she would tell me that I had to calm down or we would stop playing.  It’s a blur in my mind of brightly colored crystals and purple snakes and the unending patience of a loving mother, but it was the first video game I can remember, and it left a strong impression on me of good times and exciting challenges.

FUN FACT: After years of reminiscing about how great this game was, I downloaded a freeware copy last semester.  It is every bit as awesome as I remember, sans having my mother to play it for me.

The Long, Sad History Of A Demented Obsession

My first clear memory of a video game was when I was five.  We had recently moved to a new house and I was in my mom’s office, sitting on a chair behind hers, watching her play Crystal Caves.  It came on a floppy disk and largely involved jumping over snakes/tentacles/bullets/monsters/etc and shooting much of the same to get at colorful diamonds.  The game made me too anxious to play personally.  Instead, I recruited my mom to work the keys, leaving me free to startle and shriek.  Mom was always a good sport.

Since then, Nintendos and Playstations and Gameboys appeared in our household at seasonal intervals, each with their own array of games.  It’s a miracle I still retain my sight the way I bleached my eyeballs, squinting at a failing TV screen in a dark basement night after night.  Gameboy changed my life when it came out with its back-lit screen: no flashlight necessary when I wanted to play under the covers at night.

Needless to say, I was never one of the cool kids.  My encyclopedic knowledge of Pokemon and notebooks full of Monster Rancher notes didn’t score me many points beyond the internet.  It wasn’t until I met Trevor, my heterosexual life partner, that I felt understood.  The first time we conversed, over fondue at a friend’s house party, I let slip that I had tried playing Final Fantasy VII on a Dance Dance Revolution control pad.  He looked at me like I just farted.

“You play Final Fantasy?”

And a romance was born.

He brought me to experience new games, new playstyles, and new levels of competition.  Each game we play, together or alone, marks a new chapter in my life.  Now, as I train on multiple platforms in multiple titles for a chance at going pro, I want to take a moment and look back on each game I’ve played, what it has meant to me, and how it has helped me get to where I am today.

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