It was the summer of 2004, and I was poor. Poor enough that I didn't have cable or even internet. Poor enough that my walls were alive with bugs that came into my garden apartment from the nearby boxelder tree.
I was done with school for the summer, but wanting to stay within walking distance of my job, I stupidly opted to rent an apartment just off campus. I spent the bulk of that steamy summer watching Family Feud and Just Shoot Me on fuzzy broadcast TV; squashing boxelder bugs, and walking to the nearby library to surf the internet.
Weirdly, I mostly look back on that period fondly. True, I was subsisting on Easy Mac and free pizza from my partner's canvassing job, but I was a long way from real poverty. And reading Nadia's summer memories made me remember what a formative impact those few months had on my gaming tastes today.
That summer I had a GBA and a Gamecube, but almost no access to actual games. I could barely afford to rent games, let alone spend the $35 to $55 required to buy new ones. Browser games were primitive and mobile games were non-existent. Mostly, I hung out in a Pokemon chatroom on IRC, which I discovered through the IGN Pokemon boards.
This particular chatroom was interesting because it had a bot capable of simulating Pokemon battles. You would manually input your team along with the moveset and EVs, then challenge people in a separate window. Battles consisted long streams of colored text, a throwback to the early days of PC adventures like Zork.
It was primitive, but also novel. Pokemon was still several years away from introducing proper online play, and fan-created bots were the only way to find real battles. They were also the only way to access many of the original monsters, who were cruelly locked away in Ruby and Sapphire.
I quickly learned that I wasn't as skilled and knowledgeable a battler as I originally thought. Unfamiliar with Ruby and Sapphire's mechanical changes, I threw together a team of monsters I knew from Red and Blue, plus a few new additions from Hoenn. I was swept immediately. Thankfully the other members took pity on me and showed me the ropes, and I subsequently improved rapidly.
It was through IRC that I learned for the first time about EVs, IVs, proper team composition, and why it was a bad idea to put both Fire Blast and Flamethrower on the same monster. When I scraped together the money to buy a copy of Pokemon Fire Red a few months later, it motivated me to properly hatch and raise my monsters using the methods I had discovered. Many of the monsters I raised that year are still kicking around on my copy of Pokemon Ultra Sun today.
When I wasn't on IRC at the library, I was playing Advance Wars. Bored of watching Cops, I had downloaded an emulator and a handful of ROMs, including Intelligent Systems' classic strategy game. It was illegal as hell, but piracy was pervasive in those days, and I definitely did my share.
Up until that point, I had been kind of afraid of turn-based tactics games. I associated hexes with complicated PC strategy games like Battleground and Pacific General. Final Fantasy had gotten me to warm to turn-based RPGs, but I was still far more interested in StarCraft than I was in Final Fantasy Tactics.
Advance Wars changed all that. It gently guided me into the world of turn-based wargaming with anime-inspired graphics and easy-to-gasp mechanics. I spent a good chunk of that summer obsessively playing through Advance Wars' War Room, which fed into my OCD need to get S ranks on every map I could. Not long after that, I fell madly in love with Fire Emblem, which paired the accessible strategy of Advance Wars with a story and RPG mechanics.
I ended up playing a lot of games that summer. I borrowed and finished Ocarina of Time and Metroid Prime for the first time, and I spent a torrid two weeks with a rented copy of Tales of Symphonia. But it was Advance Wars and Pokemon that really made 2004 my personal summer of discovery.
My situation is obviously very different now. I have all of the consoles, a pretty solid gaming PC, and more games than I could ever play. Online Pokemon battle simulators have long since evolved into browser-driven experiences with full-blown GUIs. I'm a long way from the days when I had to go to the library to play games online.
Still, I often think about that summer and the impact it had on my life. And in a way, I miss it.
Looking Ahead to the Rest of the Week
- Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (Switch) [July 13]: Nintendo EAD's puzzle gem is the latest Wii U port to make its way to the Nintendo Switch. We really enjoyed it the first time around.
- Octopath Traveler (Switch) [July 13]: July's biggest release is a retro-style JRPG for Switch. Octopath Travel has enjoyed positive word-of-mouth since its initial announcement; and with little else to compete against it, it has a chance to be a sneaky hit. You can hear our initial thoughts ahead of the review on Axe of the Blood God.
Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Fight Against Bowser (Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars)
There are a lot of good things to be said about Super Mario RPG, and most fans of the game aren't hesitant to say them. That said, I feel like the game's stellar soundtrack doesn't get all the love it deserves. It's kind of excellent.
I guess I understand why Mario RPG's music isn't as readily celebrated as some other iconic RPG soundtracks: We're talking about a follow-up act to Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, after all. But Super Mario RPG's soundtrack often melds classic Mario tunes with original sounds and ideas from Nobuo Uematzu and Yoko Shinomura, making for an RPG soundtrack that's like no other (even follow-up Mario RPG soundtracks don't have the same fingerprint, though they're excellent in their own rights). The fight between Mario and Bowser in the game's opening moments is a perfect demonstration of the marriage: We have Super Mario Bros 3's Bowser Battle theme with an added Square Flair.
There. It's nice to highlight Mario RPG music that isn't Beware the Forest's Mushrooms, even though Beware the Forest's Mushrooms is kind of amazing.
Mike's Media Minute
Marvel Studios' Ant-Man and The Wasp bowed this weekend, taking the #1 spot on the domestic box office chart with $75 million. That might seem low if you follow Marvel movie movie numbers, but it's fine. That's around $20 million ahead of the launch of the first film, which ended its run with a worldwide total of $519 million. Assuming Ant-Man and The Wasp holds up, it should take in around $700 million worldwide.
That's a fine number for a film with a reported budget of around $130 million. Doing rough napkin math, Ant-Man and The Wasp only needed around $260 million to each profitability, which the film will easily cross. This is frankly why Marvel is fine with doing these smaller films, they're easy profit.
Budgeting is a key factor in a number of movies of this size. For example, Solo: A Star Wars Story would've actually been a success had the film stuck with its original reported budget of around $120-130 million, but reshoots meant that film needed much more just to see a profit. The First Purge, which also opened this weekend, landed at #4 in the domestic box office with a take of $17 million. It's current worldwide total is $43 million, which feels small until you realize it's a Blumhouse production, so the budget is only around $13 million. That means it's already a winner. Budget is important.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom made $28 million for the weekend and the film's worldwide total crossed a $1 billion. Incredibles 2 is still going strong as well, with a worldwide take currently sitting at $772 million, with $503 million coming from the domestic market.
We're right around the corner from San Diego Comic-Con, so expect a lot of comic, television, and movie news to start dropping in earnest. Marvel is skipping a Hall H presentation this year, but other companies will be filling the spot left open for sure. Especially Warner Bros, who should be showing off Aquaman, a teaser for Shazam, and perhaps some Wonder Woman sequel stuff.
Caty’s AltGame Corner
I first played IO Interloper at GDC this year, which was nominated for Best Student Game at the Independent Games Festival awards. IO Interloper tasks you with a hacker, rummaging through an employee's desktop to uncover some unsavory business. You attain access to chat logs, webcams, and more on your quest, piecing things together with the information you're sifting through.
I've always been a sucker for games with interactive faux-desktops, and IO Interloper is no exception. I had a great time with it at GDC, and now you can too: its pre-alpha demo is now live on itch.io, warts and all. And I promise you, it's a case of corporate espionage you won't want to miss. IO Interloper's demo is available for free on itch.io for PC and Mac.
This Week's News and Notes
- "[I]t's devastating that a company talking all that talk folded like a cheap card table the first time their values were actually tested," former ArenaNet writer Jessica Price told Polygon today. Price was fired alongside colleague Peter Fries following a heated argument with a community member on Twitter, and her dismissal has become yet another flashpoint in the neverending online culture war. Price's exchange was unprofessional, but ArenaNet's handling of the situation has unfortunately brought out the most toxic elements of the gaming community, making it truly the worst of all worlds.
- Nintendo wants 20 to 30 indie games on Switch per week, executive Shinya Takahashi told investors. Indies have helped fill the gaps in the Switch's library and propel it to success, with Stardew Valley and Hollow Knight being two notable examples.
- What's the best Zelda game ever made? We went and updated our Zelda rankings last week and added in Breath of the Wild. Is it number one? You'll just have to see for yourself (it's not).
- One of this generation's most successful free-to-play games will be making its way to the Nintendo Switch. Warframe has grown rapidly since its initial release on PS4 and enjoys a massive fanbase. We haven't covered it as much as we would like on the site, but this is a good opportunity to make amends for our oversight.
- Monster Hunter: World has a August 9 release date and will run at 60fps/4K. Unfortunately, it's unlikely to have mod support and cross-platform play appears out of the question. It's also confirmed to utilize the Denuvo anti-tamper software, which is unpopular with fans.
- God help me, I'm playing Pokemon Go again. I recently decide to accompany my partner on a Pokemon Go walk, which prompted me to update my copy of the game for the first time in more than a year. I was hooked again as soon as I saw my first Treecko. I can't escape.
- Here's something a little more fun:
- Axe of the Blood God: Our Top 25 countdown continues with Nethack. Plus, Nadia shares her initial impressions of Octopath Traveler. Subscription info here!