February 2007 Archives

My Year of NES, Week 1: 1943

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My Year of NES has gotten off to a painless start with Capcom's 1988 arcade conversion 1943.

1943 is a video game re-imagining of the Battle of Midway, if the battle of Midway were fought exactly as though it were a generic space shoot-em-up from a mid-80s arcade game. You fly a P-38 Lightning fighter in a series of vertical-scrolling levels. Each level is structured as a mission to destroy either a ship or a large aircraft. Missions generally come in two phases, a high-altitude flight to your target followed by an attack run. Bosses tend to be giant platforms covered in turrets; you blow up the ship by destroying all of its guns.

If you strip away the Midway theme, 1943 is barely distinguishable from any other vertical-scrolling shooter. If you replace the sea and clouds in the background with ground and the planes with space ships, you've got Xevious. Each mission begins by giving you orders that tell you the name of the ship you're to sink (accompanied by a morse code sound effect), but the ships are just random names made up by the Capcom staff; none of the targets were actual ships in the Battle of Midway. As is the case in all shoot-em-ups, you're flying a single plane, apparently the last one in the Air Force, against thousands of Zeros, all flying in neat formations that never deviate from pre-defined flight paths. You have a special screen-clearing lightning attack that you can use a limited number of times (taking the P-38's nickname quite literally) and you can upgrade your main gun in a number of ways, including a spread attack. Needless to say, in creating 1943 Capcom did not feel constrained by the theme when making design choices.

I had a lot of fun playing this game last week. You turn on the system and you're shooting down planes within 10 seconds. It has a distinct pick-up-and-play factor that's sorely missing from modern games. I can be half-way through the first level in the time it takes me to boot up my PS2 or Wii and navigate to the game start section of the user interface. I can be done with the first boss and on my way to the second before I would have started playing the average current generation video game. It's a challenging game, but it never gets frustrating. The screen never gets flooded with planes and bullets, so it feels like more a test of skill and less a test of ability to memorize where exactly you need to go to survive the bullet hell.

This game also raised my self-esteem to the heavens before crashing it down to earth, like a wrestler executing a gorilla press slam. I was able to master the first level with relative ease. The second level was a bit more troublesome, but after a few tries I was able to beat it, and I can now finish the level consistently. The third level has given me more trouble, but I figured I was fairly close to beating it when the week ended. Since this is a Nintendo game, and bound to be short, I figured the game had five, maybe six levels, about standard for shooters in general. I was making good progress towards completion. In preparing to write, I looked the game up on GameFAQs.

It has 24 missions.

The more I play the game, the more I like it. Browsing the walkthrough on GameFAQs I discovered that there were a lot of aspects of the game that I had missed (you can hold down the B button to charge attacks, by upgrading your Special Weapon ability you unlock new weapon upgrades for your main gun, etc.). The game's seemingly simple gameplay belies its considerable depth.

A final interesting fact about 1943. Capcom is a Japanese company. The game is about the Pacific air war during World War II, and specifically the Battle of Midway, a major defeat for the Japanese Navy and arguably the turning point in the Pacific Theater of Operations. This led to an intersting schoolyard rumor: The game, as released in the US, was a pallette swap of the original Japanese version. In the original, you piloted a Zero against the American fleet, shooting down P-38s and sinking American battleships and carriers. Capcom had changed the names and swapped the images for the American release in order to make it palatable to an American audience. It was intuitively obvious. Capcom's a Japanese company making games for a Japanese audience, and Nintendo of America was very heavy-handed in censoring games brought to the US. How could Capcom possibly have made a game about blowing up the Japanese Navy?

But it's all nonsense; you're an American fighting the Japanese in the American version, and you're an American fighting the Japanese in the Japanese version. Realistically, it had to be that way. The goofy lightning special attack makes some kind of crazy Nintendo Logic sense if you're flying a P-38 Lightning; it makes no sense if you're flying a Zero. Capcom made a game about the American side of the Battle of Midway and, whatever led them to make the game, that's what it is, here and in Japan.

So, much fun was had this week. 1943 is a good game, particularly if you're a fan of older shoot-em-ups. I'd highly recommend buying it if you should find it and have the means of playing it.

I'm going to try rating games on a dollar scale. I'll be setting the maximum amount I'd be willing to pay to own the game, if I didn't own it already. I would say $10 is a fair price for 1943. Considering that NES games on the Wii Virtual Console cost a flat $5, $10 is a pretty strong endorsement.

Next week: Batman by Sunsoft. Like 1943, it bears only the loosest resemblance to its source material. Unlike 1943, it isn't worth $10.

Finally, here's a MIDI file of 1943's first level music, courtesy of VGMusic.com, created by user JILost.


I have a pseudo-philosophical question: what makes something a Game? That is, for a given set of activities what criteria would you use to distinguish whether those activities are a Game or Not A Game?

Let me start by narrowing the discussion so as to eliminate sophistry. First, I'm not looking for a hard-and-fast single criteria the presence of which makes something a Game and the absence of which makes something Not A Game. I'm willing to say from the beginning that there are probably multiple elements that create Gameness, and that something we call a Game may not have all of them, and another thing we call Not A Game may have some of them. Similarly, I'm not interested in the Sorites Paradox. I'm willing to accept shades of gray and don't care to have a discussion about how much of Criterion X something has to have before it has a binary switch from Not A Game to Game.

What I am interested in are what criteria we would use to distinguish a Game from something that isn't a game. Multiple people playing the game? Play over a limited time with a defined endpoint? Winners and Losers? Rules? Some means of measuring the quality of a player's performance? Conflict?

The question get more interesting the more I think about it, because while a lot of criteria go into a game there are some that seem more important than others and there's also a sense in which the absense of one of the criteria can be compensated for by the presence of another. Example: Solitaire. Solitaire lacks multiple players, yet it's still what we'd call a game. A player sorting through a deck of cards and organizing cards by suit and rank value would not be playing a game, as far as most people are concerned. But a player who is trying to accomplish that same goal by following certain strict rules regulating card placement is said to be playing a game.

I would say that, as a criterion, Multiple Players is very weak. It isn't sufficient (Any number of activities can involve multiple people without being called a Game) and it isn't necessary (solitaire, numerous video games, etc.). Still, it's a sort of buttress to something's gameness; I would say I'm vaguely more likely to want to call something a Game if it involves multiple people than I am if it doesn't. Rules of conduct I would call a more important criterion; it's hard to think of anything we would call a game that doesn't involves some form of rules (even things like Fluxx, Mini-Mao and 1000 Blank White Cards offer a basic structure of rules to order play even as they allow extraordinary fluidity in terms of the creation of new rules). At the same time, rules can't be enough on their own because there are a lot of things that have rules but that we would never call games. Winning/Losing/Measurement of Performance strikes me as another important aspect of gameness, though I'd allow that you can have something that's a game without it.

Thoughts? Additional criteria? And here's a question: Right now I'm having a difficult time with the example of trials at law. That is, a trial has strict rules, multiple players, hard-and-fast winners and losers, competition, and it occurs over a strictly defined period with an end point (it might be a long time coming, but all trials end eventually). So why isn't a trial a game?

Introducing: My Year of NES


If there's one thing that I enjoy unabashedly, it's grandiose projects undertaken for little or no reason. This love of pointless struggle inspired me, three years ago, to attempt to watch every blockbuster movie released during that summer. The effort failed in mid-July, largely because Hollywood went the entire summer of 2004 without releasing a single watchable movie. Before I gave up I had subjected myself to, among other cinematic suppositories, Van Helsing, Chronicles of Riddick, Troy, The Stepford Wives, The Day After Tomorrow, and Garfield. Now I've had another idea for a long and pointless endeavor.

I recently cleaned my room (somewhat), which led to a reorganization of the various media on my bookshelves. During the process I noticed that I have 51 games for the original Nintendo Entertainment System here in New York with me. 51 is a number that is very close to 52, and 52 is the number of weeks there are in a year. Bam! Why not, I said to myself, spend a year playing your NES games, playing one game each week for 52 weeks? And so my new project was born. Bonus: There's a book called My Year of Meats, so I can call this project My Year of NES and it would be almost pseudo-clever.

The idea is simple. I'll pick one game per week every week for the next year. I'll spend the week playing that game. Ideally, I will have a session playing that game every day of the week. In the best of all possible worlds I will beat the game that I have chosen before the end of the week; in the world we live in, this is highly unlikely. The first day of each game's week will be Sunday and the last day will be Saturday. After each week is done, possibly Saturday night or Sunday morning, I'll write a post about my thoughts on the game. And at some point I'll buy another NES game to bring my total up to 52.

I'm optimistic about my prospects of sticking to this. I enjoy video games, so presumably playing these games won't be a chore. Most old NES games have a pick-up-and-play feel that isn't present in a lot of modern video games, so if I'm busy it shouldn't be a problem to have a quick 15 or 20-minute game session without feeling like I'm just fulfilling my minimum obligations. Plus, and I don't mean to brag here, I have a pretty awesome set of games. Bionic Commando, Mega Man 2, Contra, Castlevania III, Kirby's Adventure, and so on. Moreover, this will give me a chance to actually appreciate a lot of the games I've been hoarding since childhood. I've spent a lot of money building a nice collection and getting my hardware in order so that I can play these games, but I hardly ever take advantage of it.

My plan, though I reserve the right to modify it at any time, is to play through my collection alphabetically. That means that the first week's game will be 1943, Capcom's vertical-scrolling shooter based on the battle of Midway. Are you excited? 'Cause I'm excited.



Since everyone I read is jumping on the bandwagon, it seems worth pointing out that I've been hating phones for years. I am, as it were, an OG phone hater.

I hate calling people because I'm always worried that I'm interupting something important or otherwise harassing them at a bad time. Yes, I realize they could just tell me they're busy and hang up, but I know that if I get a call from someone I'm always too polite to get them off the phone unless I really urgently can't talk. I'm always worried that if I call someone and they claim to be not busy they are still, secretly, annoyed at the call and too polite to say anything.

I hate receiving calls because I don't have adequate time to prepare myself. I'm minding my own business, playing a video game, reading, watching television, doing homework, when suddenly with a piercing shriek I am thrust head-long into an unanticipated conversation. I find myself at the wrong end of the element of surprise. This is why, when you first get me on the phone, I will tend to stammer a lot; I have been thrust out of bed into battlefield conditions and am still trying to get my wits about me.

This is why I don't own a cell phone. It's bad enough having a phone in my room. The idea of having a phone ready to strike at a moment's notice, at any time, day or night, wherever I might be, is utterly horrifying.

Given a choice, I would always, always prefer to transact business through some form of electronic text, be it e-mail for long, thought-out conversations or IM for faster coordinating-future-activities type communication. Talking on the phone is a barbaric relic of the Twentieth Century that we would do well to put behind us.

My First A+ in Law School...

...And I got it in Anthropology and the Law, a class that will have essentially no impact on my future career and that will impress precisely 0 future employers. I begin to worry that I may have chosen the wrong career path...


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A short list of things that sound like a better idea in theory than they are in practice:

Bagel sandwiches
Airline food
Angry/Spiteful e-mails/blog posts/comments
Classes taught by famous professors
Most movies by Sam Raimi
Most video games by Troika Games
Most books that you read because it's a book that you should read rather than a book that you want to read

Any other suggestions for the list?

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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