Friday, July 21, 2006

Ninja Guidin'

Sometimes I imagine going back in time and giving my younger self (a real piece of work, that kid) a little limited preview of his future life. Like most kids I was pretty mopey, and hearing something like this would have gone a long way:

“Hey, cheer up, punk… through most of your twenties and into your thirties, you’re going to be making a big part of your living writing about videogames! Also, check out these graphics!”
Of course, I don’t tell him all the details of how depressing that cool-sounding life actually is; the nerd-ass little punk will figure that out for himself soon enough. All I need to do is keep him dreaming, gaming and away from acquiring legitimate skills so that he’ll grow up to be me and thus actualize my primary time-stream. Or something. I don’t know how all that shit works; I just keep an eye on my party pictures, and when I see myself starting to fade from the photos I hop in the deLorean.

As much as I enjoy making myself feel good about my life by viewing it through callow teenaged eyes, every now and then I feel things flowing the other way as my more-or-less adult tastes retroactively justify youthful inaction. I’m talking about a cure for the syndrome known as Gamer’s Guilt: that weird, empty ache that lingers as a result of unfinished games. Thanks to the internet’s overstuffed tubes, I can see the ending to pretty much any game I might have played and put down; I can get closure.

Like, fucking Rygar? Man, I’m glad I didn’t finish that shit – a door opens, you get to watch a bird (maybe a dove?) hovering forever, and that’s it. Wizards & Warriors is the same way: “Thou hath rescued the princess. Thy search hath ended. 100,000 points.” Weak. I can see that, appreciate it, and totally forgive my younger self for not bothering to grind his way though the insane impossibility of Rygar, the sword-twiddling tedium of W&W. Somehow, with the canny instincts of the suburban teen, he knew that shit just wasn’t worth it.

Ninja Gaiden, on the other hand… now there’s a Nintendo ending I would have loved to have earned in the day, paid for with blisters and cathode burns rather than broadband bills. First, a dying-dad scene; heart-wrenching, yet brief and manly. Then, a wicked disintegrating evil castle, all earthquakes and crumbling towers and explosions and shit… it looks like it’s going to all come down but it sort of ends up half-disintegrated, and into the silence comes the haunting strains of the immortal Love Theme From Ninja Gaiden. Then, betrayal! Sequel setup! Creepy love! A sunrise!

Just beautiful, what those 80s Japanese dudes – the “Art Works” are credited to Runmaru, Parco, Uma, Naga, Wild Tagou and Niwakamaru; I love NES credit names – could do with eight bits and some false parallax. The forced economy of the tech specs meant that a game artist who wanted to end a piece with something more satisfying than “100,000 POINTS” had only elegance as an option. I could spend an entire workday poking around the ‘net, watching endings and cutscenes from that era…

… and so, I did. That’s your rat-race of the Year 2006, kid: getting out of bed around ten, making a pot of coffee, going back to bed to read your morning news on a computer you wouldn’t fucking believe, then maybe taking a quick nap before devoting the afternoon to professional nerdism. And did I mention your computer also plays every NES, Atari and Intellivision game ever made? And that it’s also a constant wellspring of crystal-fresh pornography?

Keep it real, kid, and keep on not killing yourself; the future’s totally rad.

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