Thursday, October 21, 2010

Captain Skyhawk, Faxanadau and Baseball Simulator 1.000

An average person spends three years of their life at stoplights. A third of their life is spent sleeping. I think. Or maybe it's six months at stoplights and three years in the bathroom. Those are some of the numbers you often see when people inform us just how much of our lives are spent doing nothing.

I wish a researcher could figure out how much time I spent in my parents' basement. Five years? Six? God, seven? But they weren't wasted years and I don't regret any of the time down there, unless the radon finally gets to me. Everything happened in the basement. It's where I became a self-proclaimed ping-pong god, a title I cling to on every trip home. I improved my fielding skills by spending hours throwing a worn-down tennis ball against the yellow cement wall. I hit the same tennis ball off the same wall with a racquet to improve my forehand. I played basketball with a big ol' Nerf hoop and didn't really improve any skills, except for learning how to dunk on a five-foot hoop. It's where I watched semi-dirty movies with my buddies on Showtime, a poor man's Cinemax. I watched the Twins win Game 7 of the 1987 World Series down there, while ignoring an Industrial Arts school project. I watched countless Lakers games, including Game 4 of the 1985 Finals when Dennis Johnson hit a game-winning jumper at the buzzer and I had to listen to my dad's taunts. I got my revenge two days later. I often ate down there and occasionally slept down there. I played Strato baseball for 576 hours down there.

One time, I even brought a girl down.

And starting in 1990, I spent countless hours in the basement playing video games on my Nintendo, usually in the company of my cousin Matt, next door neighbor Brandon and friend Mike. The basement was my home and over the years it became their home away from home. They came for my mom's Sloppy Joes, but stayed for the cable and video games.

I no longer play video games. I've purchased a couple of PlayStations the last 10 years but I stopped playing about a week after getting them and I eventually tossed them out. I'm not any good at them and they're too complicated for a brain raised on Nintendo. But I'll always have the 8-bit NES memories.

So pop open the game console, grab a cartridge, blow the dust off of it, insert it and hit power. Then hit power again. And now hit the console, no on the right side, because if you hit it there the game eventually starts working. Gently. All right, smack it a little harder, on the left side this time. Use your palm. Curse at it. Okay, maybe try hitting it on the top. Here, put this crusty sock on top of the game, it stabilizes everything. Perfect. Now, hit power again and go back in time, to the days of thin storylines and shaky graphics.

The cause of more fights between our small, sad group than any other subject. Baseball Simulator 1.000 wasn't the most famous Nintendo baseball game. That's probably RBI. But it was the best.

Many people who played it insisted on using the "Ultra" teams, which turned the mild-mannered video game guys into behemoths who were capable of hitting 700-foot homers or throwing 200-mile-an-hour fastballs. Or they could pause a ball in mid-pitch. The Ultra abilities became the video game equivalent of Balco's The Clear. Weaklings became Supermen. Supermen became gods. These abilities were ridiculous and we never used them. Really, if you're trying to determine who's the best video game baseball player, why sully things with the "tremor hit," which caused an earthquake on the field when the ball hit the ground.

So we kept it simple. Creating the teams often proved to be more entertaining than actually playing the games. The game allowed you to name your players, but you only had four letters to work with. So someone named Richard might be Rchd, Rich, Rchr, or maybe just Dick. Kirby Puckett became Puck, or perhaps Krby. We put more thought into our teams' creations than we did our homework from accounting class. I employed a team of JWP teachers called, simply, The Educators. Matt invented the team called People and filled the roster with, well, people. Like Norm from Cheers. We had teams of rock stars - Mick at the plate and Clapton (probably called Clap) on the mound - and one of my greatest creations, The Animators: Bugs Bunny, Wile, Elmer, etc.

Keggers, farmhouse parties, barn parties, girlfriends...we avoided almost all of that, as we pursued the perfect video game baseball team.

Matt came the closest. He called them the Guidos - named after the moniker Matt went by in Spanish class - and they wore green uniforms. If the Celtics didn't convince me that green was the devil's favorite color, then surely the Guidos did. He took the names provided by the computer. The names have haunted me for two decades: Eric, Carl, Ian, Dan. Matt scratched thousands of numbers down in a small notebook until he came up with the perfect formula for his team. The damn notepads looked like something John Nash used. As you edited the rosters, you gave each player specific numbers: Homers, speed, etc. It was all a guessing game, except for Matt and the Guidos. He's had the same lineup for 20 years. We played 5-game seasons, 30-game seasons and 120-game seasons. Didn't matter how long the season lasted, he almost always prevailed. He wasn't gracious in defeat and certainly wasn't humble in victory.

The stadiums were always part of the game's greatness. They had a stadium in space - the players somehow managed to play in their regular uniforms and also avoided floating off toward Pluto and other non-planets - and one along a harbor. They had a well-maintained grass stadium and a boring dome.

Here's a couple of guys playing the game. Unfortunately, they're in Ultra mode. But you get to see some of the frustrations that any player can identify with. The guy with the blue team makes numerous fielding mistakes and at one time the controller messes up, or so he says. I believe him, because I know how it felt to hit the down button to throw home, only to watch in horror as my supposedly fundamentally-sound third baseman fired to first instead. They play in space, which is always cool, and one guy hits a homer near Skylab.

An incredibly frustrating adventure game. When we finally triumphed over this game, there wasn't even any joy. There's one section in the game when a player has to keep going back and forth to get enough gold to buy the proper goods and weapons. Matt would come over to the basement before basketball practice and we'd spend 90 minutes accumulating gold. Factory work along an assembly line provides more mental stimulation. But we trudged along, repeating our mantras - in the game, not in the basement - and fighting evil. Matt tried recently playing this game again but quit in frustration. If we'd done the same 20 years ago, both of us might have had more dates.

Only Faxanadau groupies should watch this entire video. The music alone is enough to drive a man to madness.

Pretend to be Maverick. Go into a flat spin and pretend to be Goose. Captain Skyhawk didn't have much going for it. Players controlled a fighter jet and fought an alien invasion while flying past pyramids and palm trees. You dropped bombs and bullets, while avoiding mountains and tracer fire. Occasionally the game put you into a dogfight. That's it, that's the game. I enjoyed this game much more than Matt, whose apparent lack of hand-eye coordination would have kept him out of the Air Force and certainly kept him out of the Captain Skyhawk Hall of Fame. The guy reviewing Captain Skyhawk in this video is entertaining, probably more entertaining than the game itself.

Total Recall was a confusing, if occasionally entertaining movie, which centered around a pre-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger going to Mars to help out some mutants while fighting a pre-Basic Instinct Sharon Stone. The video game Total Recall proved even more confounding and not at all entertaining. There are impossible scenes in the game, places where your player has no hope advancing. We'd spend hours in the basement, debating how to get past a section where Arnold fights a woman and then attempts to avoid a gun-toting maniac. We eventually gave up and went back to playing Simulator. This guy does not like the game. Warning: vulgar language.

Enjoyable game, even if it was another one Matt dominated. You only had four players: Lee Trevino (or, as he's called on the game, Super Mex), the redundantly named Big Jumbo, Miracle Chosuke and Pretty Amy. Super. Pretty. Miracle. Big Jumbo. Huh. Double entendres and double bogeys ruled. Big Jumbo was a precursor to John Daly, minus the alcohol and ex-wives. Matt took Jumbo and routinely won our head-to-head battles, as I preferred Miracle Chosuke, who was apparently named ironically. You played in the U.S. or Japan. Not much variety there (and how many tournaments do you see from Japan?). On the tee: Pretty Amy.

And there you go, some Nintendo in the early 1990s.Of course, that's just a small sampling. There's P.O.W, Bomberman, Mega-Man, Mario, Hoops, Racket Attack and countless more. And where's Tecmo? Tecmo football is too big to share a post with other games. That will have to be by itself one day, in a 25,000-word post. And then you'll read about Lawrence Taylor's dominance, Steve Grogan's greatness and wretchedness and why Bo Jackson is not the best offensive player on the game.

Younger people reading about these games or watching videos of them and hearing guys like me talk about them must get the same feelings I get when I hear Baby Boomers reminiscing about watching test patterns on the first TVs. These games have almost nothing to do with today's selections, which is one reason I'm completely incapable of playing anything that was made after 1995. I'm getting old and my reflexes have dulled. I'm stuck in the past. I need simple graphics and simpler storylines. I need Simulator. Or a life.

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