Hey Harvey!

Posted on Apr 13th 2020 at 02:43:14 PM by (slackur)
Posted under Gaming, COVID 19, Neo Geo Mini, TurboGrafx Mini, Evercade

Should have suspected survival in the future requires extensive use of Imperial Shuttles.

By now you have probably read quite a few gaming articles (including on here) about how folks are doing during these tough times.  In light of this moment, there were a handful of topics I tossed about when considering what to expand into a full write-up, and ultimately it seemed best just to take a few ideas and breathe them out a bit.  While this may read more like a journal entry, or really a series of rambling and disjointed thoughts instead of a concentrated article, it is my hope that constructively sharing thoughts right now may be more useful and connecting than one of my gaming lists or reviews.  Well, more helpful to me at least. Tongue

If you were gaming in the late eighties and early nineties, you remember a completely different set of gaming release date expectations.  Without the internet, or even in the internet's nascent early lumbering years, all we pretty much had to go on were paper gaming publications for our gaming news.  When a video game was to be released was sometimes anyone's guess; even after Sonic The Hedgehog 2's then-novel global release date (of November 24, 1992 to make you feel old) games still had a tendency to be listed in magazines alongside what quarter or season it was to be expected.  Rarely were titles announced too far in advance, as the modern hype machine and marketing budget just wasn't a thing so many decades ago.  What that often meant was frequent trips to the big department stores and a lot of hope and surprise, if not often disappointment and lots of back-of-the-box curiosity for new titles.

-Imgaes from the catalogblog.com.  I still keep these around, this is cultural art to me.

That's unknown now, with our by-the-second news-cycle and new titles announced pretty much as soon as a developer or producer gets an idea.  Release dates are often moved and games delayed, but in general we have a predictable method of game releases.  Until recently, of course.  The recent pandemic now means several high profile delays, some indefinitely, and countless indie games are big question marks as well.  Even new hardware such as the PS5 and XBox Series X are on shaky ground, not to mention current-gen systems are being marked up and still selling out.

While I wasn't necessarily day-one on the next gen, I was greatly looking forward to two other hardware releases: the Evercade portable and the TurboGraphix-16 Mini.  I had both reserved long before 2020, and while I have plenty to play I had a little personal hype for each of these.  My interest in the TG-16 Mini is pretty obvious as I've really enjoyed the 'mini' console craze and the TG-16 is packed with much harder to find games.  As for the Evercade, it also looks right up my alley with its dedication to physical media, portable design, and promising eclectic library (including a Piko collection of rare oddities and a promising Atari Lynx game compilation forthcoming!).

I'm the exact fanbase this thing was made for.

With everything going on and such items rightfully being the last real concern on most folk's mind, who knows when this stuff will become truly available (although some have trickled out to a few fortunate folks.)  While physical release dates and shipping times are now reminiscent of my childhood era, so too has the virtual delivery slowed and at times halted.  With everyone online even more now, bandwidth and download speeds are following their physical counterparts in slowing down if not stopping altogether on occasion.
That also means online play is a little worse than before, meaning at best missed headshots and at worst dropped connections mid-match.  I'm normally quite happy with our internet speeds (we live out in the country but because of a few big corporate satellite locations in our region, we have pretty good internet) yet our network has frustratingly ground to a halt more than once.  I am admittedly amused at folks who call gaming like this "unplayable," as I remember the early days of playing Dreamcast online or even early XBox Live almost 20 (!) years ago.  Frustrating, certainly, and it is not like I miss how problematic internet-centric  gaming used to be, but it reminds me of modern gamers that call certain early games "unplayable."  Well, when it was all you had and all you knew, you just rolled with the punches.  Some of my best gaming memories came from that era including Phantasy Star Online and Moto GP, both of which had online experiences that would be considered "unplayable" by many a modern gamer.  It is frustrating, no doubt, but I wonder if some of us old timers forgot how fun those early times were.  Speaking of checking expectations and enjoyment...
My interest in the Evercade and TG-16 Mini is even stronger after being let down by the Neo Geo Mini International I picked up a few weeks ago.  I had read the middling-to-poor reviews so my expectations were set pretty low, but I found one on clearance and used an additional sale to convince myself to grab it.  It is an interesting curio for the price I paid so I don't overall regret it, but I sure would have if I paid more.  First, the tiny controls on the thing are as awkward as they look, and I just cannot get comfortable with them.  These games need precision, and there is just no comfortable way I could play them on the console itself.  Despite USB-C ports for alternate controls, the only things that work are the expensive name-brand gamepads.  However, there is a workaround through the third party MayFlash Magic NS adaptor.  I grabbed one of those because it was made to work as a sort of skeleton key adapter for modern console controllers and at least that I can recommend that as it works great.  Besides the awkward controls, other issues include the built-in HDMI out looking soft and washed-out, like a composite signal.  Finally, there is no battery in the thing- it only works with a USB adapter.  The best thing I can say about it is the International version does come with a respectable collection of games outside of fighters including shmups and action games.  For better or worse though, at this point the Neo Geo library is getting nearly as ubiquitous as Namco collections, so there are quite a few other, better options to play these games.  I still have our Neo Geo X, and while that rascal also has a number of problems, at least it is fully portable and the controls are much better.  Even all that said, as a playable, inexpensive toy, the Neo Geo Mini is kinda fun to putter with and I can see having fun modding it.

-Can't say you were not warned.  Well, so was I.  Still, looks neat on a shelf.

Struggling with the Mini's controls reminds me of my fascination of how much the gaming setup factors into how we play.  For example, I have many variants of the original Tempest, but after replacing the spinner on our Arcade1Up cab I have no interest in playing other versions.  (I placed the Tempest cabinet in the laundry room, which just seemed fitting since I connect arcade machines to laundromats from my youth.)  Something about that setup makes the game infinitely more appealing and draws my attention every time I am near it.  If indeed the Neo Geo Mini was the only access I had to such games I would be overlooking my gripes and learning how to play Metal Slug with cramping wrists and squinting eyes, but because I can load these games up on a big screen with a big arcade stick, there is no interest to do so.  We get used to what we have, yet often when we are introduced to something we like better it can be so difficult to continue being content.  There are personalities that are more readily satisfied, and then there are folks who will tear down something that works because they will not be satisfied if they do not try to improve it. 

Having so much time at home recently, I've had a chance to focus more on our game-space and the mental and physical obstructions to more comfortable gaming.  Much to my Beloved's surprise, I took down three entire shelving setups because they were clunky and un-intuitively displaying games.  Now they not only look better but it is easier to scan across, pick up a game, and load it up.  As my kiddos tend to create more and more chaos in their living spaces the longer they have to stay there, I desire to create more order; to make sure everything around is as accessible and purposeful as possible.  Choice overload is a consistent thing in our gaming space, but when everything is visible and reachable, it makes gaming not only easier but more relaxing.  I have found it makes a notable improvement on not just play-ability, but also on the mental state when playing.

And in these moments, protecting one's mental state is of utmost importance.  I'm not saying this is universal and please don't take my thoughts as necessary advise, but some games are probably not great choices for the general mood right now.  I've wanted my Beloved to play through Soma, but that game is designed for (and in my experience, succeeds at) putting the player in a state of existential dread.  It is a game meant to elicit a gamut of emotion, including depression and nerve-wracking tension.  N.E.R.O.: Nothing Ever Remains Obscure, Observer, Amnesia, The Last Of Us, This War Of Mine, anything that sets a dark mood that is oppressive and sets a tone that stays with you, may not be a good idea for gamers who are sensitive to such mental states.  Some of us are aware of our own sensitivities, some of us may have to just trust others if they let us know it may not be a great idea.

I'm just going to assume playing this does not put you in a happy place.

Some games, like the new Doom Eternal, put the player in the apocalypse but do so in such a cartoony, over-the-top way that it doesn't necessarily connect the player's head-space to the end of the world.  It certainly will affect some folks, but others (like myself) see it as so far removed that it doesn't seem to have that oppressive mental reaction.  That being said, I think I may agree so far with Zophar53, the direction of constant combat-puzzle for every encounter has taken away a bit of that gun-everything-down glee the series is known for. 

Before turning to Doom Eternal, I had just finished Control and its first expansion.  That game does have an interesting, well developed atmosphere but not in an armageddon way.  (Although the plot does at times threaten such a potential threat.)  Instead, the game is mostly contained in a supernatural location that is mainly filled with early-twentieth century Brutalist architecture.  The monolithic, drab, grey concrete blocks that make up the majority of the game environments felt incredibly stuffy and claustrophobic.  It is brilliant in terms of conveying mood and atmosphere and Control uses excellent artistry in its environments, as developer Remedy is known to do.  But interestingly, it had a more stark and depressive emotional effect on me than Doom Eternal's bright, open, colorful end of the world.  Nothing severe, but there were times I stopped playing Control for a bit because I needed to get my head out of the "oppressive office" world, where for Doom Eternal I'd just take a break because the game wanted me to play out every combat encounter to a specific tune and it wasn't the song I was into.

I'm pretty protective of that emotional head-space, and I have to be; not just out of responsibility to myself, but also because in my home I have two folks on the spectrum that pick up on such negative mental energy very easily.  My youngest may not understand or know how to express it, but he really picks up when I allow myself to be in the doldrums.  With the current shelter-at-home quarantine, that sensitivity is magnified.  Still, I assume that my kiddo is expressing a connection that is real and prevalent everywhere, more than many families realize.

The gaming in our lives is now, as always, an extension of who we are and what we do to enjoy, to relax, to compete, to express, and to explore.  Like any media it is both a creation and a reflection of our cultural moment.  Video games are a wonderful and very recent gift to our culture, and I hope we are able to rise above the extra frustration and difficulty of gaming during a pandemic enough to receive in full how much better it can help us cope with where we are.

And if nothing else, this trying time brought out a memorable quote from my Beloved while playing the new Animal Crossing: "...and now my fishing rod exploded."

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