Remember your summer breaks? Those months of long, hot summer days where you spent all your time outside having fun? If you do, what are you doing reading this? Clearly you're not a gamer! Those of us who are spent their summer indoors, hidden away from that horrible yellow thing in the sky, working on whichever game we'd just spent our pocket money on.
Were you one such person? If so, which games do you associate with your summer vaccations? We'd love to hear your memories. In the meantime, here are ours:
When I think "summer games," I think of Epyx's Summer Games. And then I think about how boring that game was because it was all the standard track and field events that make me fall asleep during the Summer Olympics. So then to make myself feel better, I think about Epyx's World Games, which was objectively awesome.
World Games, which introduced me to caber tossing. World Games, which let me delight in cliffdiving, which I would alternately play as if it were a cliffbellyflop competition and then a cliff-dashing-your-body-against-the-rocks competition. World Games, which used log rolling as the representative Canadian minigame instead of the safe/lame choice of curling. World Games, which was how I spent my first few glorious months with a 386 PC that had a clock speed of 10 MHz (but only when you had the "turbo" button pushed in) and a four-color CGA monitor.
I also think of the summer I spent playing Final Fantasy Legend on the Game Boy, but we talk too much about JRPGs here and that one was pretty no-frills, so let's move on.
And to prove Brendan's point, I often think of Japanese RPGs like Chrono Trigger and EarthBound when I think of "summer games." Partly because summer is when I had the free time to play such involved adventures, partly because they tended to come out during the summer. And also, the scratch from summer jobs helped fund them. You see how it goes.
But most of all, the phrase "summer games" denotes escapism, and I can't think of any greater escape than those provided by an RPG. You immerse yourself into another world with games like that, venturing to faraway lands for dozens of hours at a time.
That was especially true of Chrono Trigger, which came out toward the end of summer 1995 and had me hooked immediately. That summer, I was toiling away at one job during the day and slogging on to another at night, trying to store away enough cash to fund my way through the coming semester. When Chrono Trigger came out, I needed to find a way to clear some time and play more. So… I kind of didn't show up to my evening job one night. And then the next. I meant to call in sick, but forgot, and after a few days I felt too guilty. So I stopped going altogether.
A few days later, well into a New Game Plus playthrough, I bumped into a coworker. "Hey," he said, "the boss wants to know if you're planning to come back to work."
"Ummm," I said. "I guess not? Because... classes start up soon."
He shrugged and wandered off. I lost my job and a few hundred bucks of pay for hours I skipped… but it was worth it.
Like Brendan, the first thing that came into my mind when Summer Games was mentioned was indeed the classic Commodore 64 game, Summer Games. I loved all those old-school Epyx multi-event games - whatever season it was. And now I'm thinking about them again, I'd love to see a modern re-release of those titles. What I particularly liked about them was their simplicity, making them fast and fun to play, and generally more entertaining than some of the more modern multi-event sports games I've played more recently. But anyway, I digress.
The second thing I think about when it comes to gaming in the summer is arcades. I grew up in a seaside town in the UK, and while I frequented its arcades all year round, during the Summer when school was out, I'd spend every day and most of the night there. The place was always heaving, since there were so many tourists, and oftentimes when was going for a record score, I'd end up with a big crowd watching me play. Back then I couldn't quite understand why someone would want to watch somebody else play a game - but these days nobody thinks twice about it with millions now watching people play on Twitch TV. Shame it wasn't available back then, I'm sure I'd have garnered a good following!
When I think of gaming in the summer today, I'm not thinking of the same thing that most people think of in terms of summer. I live in San Francisco, and as anyone who's been here at this time of year will tell you, it's freakin' cold, because it's fog season. You can always spot the tourists, because they're the ones wearing newly-purchased "I love San Francisco" hoodies, shivering and wondering what the hell happened to the legendarily moderate California climate they'd heard about. Yep, as the oft-quoted Mark Twain mis-quote says, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."
So in that sense, my summer gaming is a little more like everyone else's winter gaming, which suits me just fine. I get an excuse to stay in and play whatever new stuff I happen to have, and not feel guilty about being outside in the sun getting all healthy and stuff - because it's freezing bloody cold and I can barely see the houses on the other side of the street.
What is more "summer" than kicking back at a tropical locale and making new friends? My favorite "summer" game is Avalanche Studios' Just Cause 2. The game drops you on the fictional island of Panau somewhere in Southeast Asia, and asks you to cause as much trouble as possible.
Just Cause 2 is one of those open-world games that I'll never beat, and that doesn't bother me. The game has a permanent spot on my hard drive and whenever I feel like it, I load up and wreak some havoc. It's light, brainless, and the wanton destruction feels so good. Just Cause 2 doesn't want much from you; the game is relatively slim when it comes to different gameplay systems. It's you, your grappling hook, a parachute, a bunch of vehicles, a bunch of guns, and your targets. After that, you just let the imagination ride. The only other game that hit that same sport was Mercenaries for Xbox and PlayStation 2. Ah, the memories.
The Steam Summer Sale is coming soon, meaning Just Cause 2 might be even cheaper than its $14.99 price tag on Steam. If you don't have it, pick it up and have some fun.
My summer gaming memories revolve primarily around tying up the phone by playing X-wing vs. TIE Fighter at all hours of the day. In those days, I was a member of a squadron called the Obsidian Order, and I spent most of my time challenging other pilots to duels on Microsoft's Internet Gaming Zone. Believe it or not, I was pretty good! At one point, I was even in the Top 25 on Case's Ladder. My skills stemmed in part from building custom furballs against Top Ace level AI opponents and working on my accuracy in a TIE Fighter. After a few months, I could snipe an opponent at range without a problem. It was just like Beggar's Canyon back home.
Of course, all that time spent on the computer had a slight impact on my social life. Trapped in the suburbs with my parents gone at work for the entire day, I had little to do except hang out and play PC games (despite my parent's best efforts to sign me up for things like tennis). Eventually, my friends had stage and intervention and showed up at the door to bodily drag me outside to enjoy the summer (no seriously, this actually happened). But I'll always cherish those hours spent downing TIE Fighters while avoiding the hot, humid Minnesota summers.
So, EarthBound! I'm one of the privileged few that can say I've been on board with this cult RPG since day one—and you can thank Nintendo Power for that. Nintendo's propaganda machine gave EarthBound months of in-depth coverage throughout the spring of 1995, and I couldn't believe what I was seeing: All of my favorite RPG stuff, but set in (then) modern times? Over the coming weeks, I slowly accumulated the necessary $72.99, placed an informal pre-order at my local Software Etc., and counted down the days until EarthBound's release—well, I would have the game had a concrete release date. (Simpler times, folks.)
I was so primed for EarthBound that disappointment could have easily overtaken me, but its captivating weirdness grabbed me from the first minute. My most vivid memory of the game involves playing it that very first afternoon, as my window-mounted air conditioner hummed along steadily in the background. My mom came into my room, asking if I wanted to join the rest of our family in the pool, and I had no choice but to decline. Thankfully, she's always been supportive of my interests.
And it was this day I learned to appreciate games instead of just having fun with them. While I could have easily pulled an all-nighter on yet another aimless summer vacation day, at some point during the night I forced myself to stop playing, just so I could savor the experience. On the whole, EarthBound didn't last me more than five days, but during that summer of 1995, I'd end up playing it a half-dozen times, and it would eventually become one of my favorite video games ever. So please, don't hassle children for wasting time inside during summer vacation—these experiences can be very formative.