This week it's time to dig deep into your past and talk about the moment that represents the very pinnacle of your gaming prowess. Perhaps it's finishing a particularly hard game. Maybe it's an old-school highscore. Or perhaps it's a more recent actual Achievement - something you're especially proud of.
As you ponder your moment of greatness, here are Team USG's proudest moments.
Back in 1997, I bought a PlayStation. This was the time when 2D games were clearly not much longer for this world; the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation pushed familiar franchises into the third dimension, and while I was all for this evolution I also wasn't quite ready to say farewell to sprites and bitmaps. So when word came down the pipeline that the astounding-looking Castlevania: Symphony of the Night probably wasn't coming to the U.S. for being too dated and ancient, I decided to shift my developing interest in learning a bit of Japanese from anime to video games and imported Symphony. And I somehow managed to finish it, bumbling my way through the story with only a rudimentary comprehension of what I was reading (and a little online help to find the secret ending). I soon began to grow more and more adventurous, importing more and more complex games — I even managed to make it well into the third disc of Final Fantasy VIII, despite the insane quirkiness of its design and mechanics.
When Chrono Cross launched in Japan, I went ahead and imported it, obsessed as I was with its visuals and music. But this time, in order to goad myself into actually playing through the entire game and justifying having paid a hefty import premium for an RPG that would launch in the U.S. in my native language a few months later, I decided to write a FAQ for Chrono Cross as I went along. This is obviously a pretty dumb idea for someone who could mainly read menus and key terms, but actually Chrono Cross was kind of better that way — I was spared the nonsensical plot twists toward the ending.
In a testament to how much determination and, even more so, how much free time I had in my 20s, I pulled it off with occasional tips from people who were playing through the game alongside my FAQ. I finished the game, writing up pretty solid tips, tactics, and pointers as I went along. I explored the branching story paths, found alternate New Game + endings, broke down combo techniques, and even figured out the deal with the musical chimes during the final battle. I even played through the import version of Chrono Trigger as a preface to this odyssey, learning the original untranslated terms and key kanji to make the sequel easier (which, it turns out, didn't really matter, since Chrono Cross turned out to be more of a sidestory anyway).
This isn't really a feat of skill so much as a willingness to learn foreign alphabets and basic plot terms, but when it comes to RPGs, pig-headed persistence is essentially the same thing as ability. It's certainly something I don't have time for these days, as I'm quickly reminded anytime I pick up an appealing import RPG to work through in my slow, dictionary-accompanied way only to find that a million other life concerns are eager to get in the way. Getting old sucks, folks. Don't do it.
I'm going back many years for my proudest video gaming moment. It's not like I haven't done anything I've been proud of since then - I just like this story in particular.
It happened in 1982, decades before achievements became a thing, when the closest thing approaching one - at least, when it came to playing arcade games - was notching up a highscore. And as a kid, that's what I was obsessed with. Whether it was Pac-Man, Asteroids, Galaga, Pole Position, Crystal Castles or whatever else had just been wheeled into my local arcade in Aberystwyth on the cold, rainy west coast of Great Britain, I spent many hundreds of hours practicing so I could hit the highest of high scores.
In the Summer of 1982, I'd gotten on a Defender kick. I'd played the game a few years before when it first came out, but it was pretty damn hard, and I'd ended up playing other games around it - particularly Asteroids, which I was able to play all day on a quarter (or rather, 10p, since this was the UK). However, I'd recently gone back to the infamous Williams machine, determined to clock it. After weeks of practice, I'd reached a level of expertise where I could do just that. Basically, it was a case of being proficient enough to get to the 256th screen, whereupon the game would "clock" and start over again from level one. Being able to do that meant that, theoretically at least, you could play it forever. And that's what I wanted to put to the test - at least, for as long as I was able.
So I talked to the arcade owner, and they let me enter the arcade at just after 7:00 am on a Friday morning when the cleaning crew arrived to vacuum the floors and give the machines a buff. One person turned on the bank of machines in which my favored Defender machine was situated (a newer machine with the nicest controls), I slipped a shiny 10p piece into the coin slot, and started to play.
I was mostly alone up until about noon, when a few friends started trickling into the arcade. They started fetching me drinks, and about halfway through the afternoon at a specific point in the game where you could essentially take a breather - between 990,000 and 999,975 points (just before the score reset to zero) where the machine gave you an extra life for everything you hit - I made a mad dash for a bathroom break. And so I kept going, grabbing bites of a burger between levels during the early evening and taking yet another bathroom break later on until finally at 2:00 am, the arcade owner said that they'd be shutting down the machines fairly soon because the attached night club was closing, and that meant everyone was leaving. So I kept on playing until I hit 999,975 for the 18th time and ran down my extra lives so I could register that as a high score, while the arcade manager very kindly waited for me so he could finally turn the machine off. That total score of 17,999,975 wasn't a world record, but I knew that very few people had achieved that in the UK - if any. I'm still proud of that particular feat of endurance: some 18 hours of solid play, standing in front of a machine playing on a single quarter. The thing is, I knew I could have kept on going given the chance, and maybe, just maybe I could have hit the world record were the arcade to stay open through the night so I could continue playing the following day.
By the way, as I walked away from the machine and headed to a nearby friend's house where I was staying the night, I had the most insane "vision game overlay." Like when you drive all day and when you close your eyes and all you see is road. It was like that, only it was layered over reality. It was really quite bizarre, and I've never had anything like that before or since. By the morning it had faded away, but not without me having the craziest "Defender dreams" I've ever had.
Damn, compared to everyone else, my proudest gaming moment is complete chump change. I previously talked about tanking Karazhan back in my World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade days, but honestly my proudest moment is utterly shutting down people at Mario Kart 64. I know, I was kind of a dick back in the day.
I used to play Mario Kart 64 incessantly. Day-in, day-out, I was there on the Nintendo 64, jamming out with that game and the rest of the system's lineup. (This was prior to getting deeper into playing the PlayStation.) I played so much Mario Kart that I could smoke pretty much anyone in my dorm. Yoshi and I had mastered each course: I knew where to power slide, when to hop, and when to veer off course to get big shortcuts. Mario Kart 64 was my jam.
When I played Mario Kart 64, I'd also occasionally listen to music. I was just getting into anime, so most of my music covered Japanese songs from various anime series that we could get our hands on. My Mario Kart Danger Zone music was "Give A Reason", the opening song for Slayers Next. (If you don't know what Slayers is, don't worry. I'm old.)
The time that I won the Super Bowl in Madden NFL... in a league with 31 other teams.
A little context: In early 2013, I was a pretty good Madden player, but I was struggling to actually win a championship. See, I could always make the playoffs; but once there, it became a game of inches, since my competitors were roughly at my skill level. Previously, my two best runs had ended with fumbles on the final drive. I had played well, but the breaks hadn't gone my way.
In Season 2 of our Madden 13 league, I had a very good Minnesota Vikings team helmed by super quarterback Mcleod Baltazar "Highlander" Bethel-Thompson, but I was stuck behind the Green Bay Packers, who had beaten me four times in a row at that point. I just couldn't get around Jermichael Finley and his pesky corner routes. So right before I was set to meet the Packers in the playoffs, I basically locked myself in my living room and practiced until my eyes burned, determined to put an end to their reign of terror once and for all.
Then, when the big day came... I utterly destroyed him. It was a stunning fall for a team that earlier in the season had been on the verge of going undefeated. I went through to the NFC Championship Game, where I dealt the same treatment to the San Francisco 49ers (helmed by another Packers fan), and I suddenly found myself in the Super Bowl for the first time ever.
Waiting for me was Joystiq's Mike Suszek (yet another Packers fan), who helmed a powerful Houston Texans of Milwaukee team. It was a tough and somewhat contentious game, but my Vikings eventually came out on top, and I watched triumphantly as Highlander and his coach Prince lifted the Lombardi Trophy. I've been back twice since in smaller leagues, but nothing will top that dream run through a full league stacked with competitors at the top of their game.
And yes, I did save the video of the Super Bowl for posterity. And you're right, I am a tremendous dork. This is probably as close as I'm ever going to get to seeing my actual team win it all, so I might as well enjoy it as much as possible.
This has been your Kat Bailey Sports Minute.
Final Fantasy VI--known as Final Fantasy III during its American release--is, without a doubt, one of my favorite RPGs of all time. Yet, for a while, I had no idea the second half of the game actually existed. Yes, you can chalk a lot of this up to me being twelve, but Square certainly intended for the mid-point of this game to act as the ultimate fake-out.
If you're not completely familiar with FFVI, allow me to set the scene. The first half of the game culminates in an epic battle on Kefka's (the villain) floating continent, and, if you're twelve, and only played a handful of RPGs to date, this section appears as if it might as well be the finale. I'd just played and loved Final Fantasy IV a few years earlier, and part VI seemed to be wrapping up in roughly the same amount of time--who was I to know?
I can't quite remember what had me so stuck in this dungeon--if I had to guess, it was probably the boss, Nelapa. Whatever the case, something completely halted my progress, so I shelved FFVI temporarily, thinking it was no big loss since I'd essentially finished 99% of the game. Fast forward to a few months later, when I spy a massive (and unauthorized) Final Fantasy VI guide sitting at my local game store. Even if I was only buying it for the sake of finishing one boss, just owning another Final Fantasy-related thing was a complete novelty in 1995.
Since the guide divided enemies, bosses, items, etc. into their own sections, I got home, loaded up the game, and used the information contained within this guide to finally make that last bit of progress. I put the book aside, and only assumed the credits would soon be rolling--and I distinctly remember thinking, "Why's this guide so big, anyway?" shortly before FFVI's biggest surprise.
Contrary to my assumption, Final Fantasy VI didn't grind to a halt as soon as Kefka's Floating Continent fell. As soon as this scene fades to black, the game's Mode 7 camera begins panning across a new world map, before settling on a solitary island, and throwing the player back into the role of Celes. I flipped to the walkthrough section of the guide, and suddenly realized I still had half of the game to go. Even writing this 20 years later, I'm still feeling residual excitement from knowing this thing I enjoyed so much wasn't ready to end quite yet.
In retrospect, I should have seen it coming: FFVI originally shipped with a world map that completely gives away the twist, but I can only assume I didn't give it a look for the sake of RPG purity. I don't think I'd be nearly as happy these days if an RPG surprised me by suddenly doubling in length, but when I was 12 years old--with no Internet, no money, and only cable TV to waste my life on--Final Fantasy VI's little trick did exactly what it was supposed to.