Sunday, November 15, 2009

10,000 Years in the Fire is Long Enough (Adventures of Lolo)

When my grandfather on my mother's side died, I was playing Doom 2. The final level, which took me ages to beat without cheating (and which I've still only beaten once or twice total). My father came up behind me and put his arm on my shoulder. It took me a moment to notice. I paused the game, and he just said "It's over." Within moments, the ensuing silence was broken by my sister, who was not quite five yet, bursting into tears.

I was asleep at 7am this morning when my other grandfather died.

Today, though, I felt like I should give him a game. And as I've been badly neglecting this blog, the game was picked as The Adventures of Lolo series, a set of three NES puzzle games that are one of my all-time favorites. The concept is simple enough - it's a jazzed up Sokoban where you push boxes around to block enemies and collect hearts. You can also shoot enemies sometimes and turn them into eggs that can be pushed around. Get all the hearts, get out of the level, rinse, wash, repeat.

I confess, I slanted my time around a bit here - having beaten both of the first two games in the series within the last year or two, I put in only token efforts on them before plowing into Lolo 3 more wholeheartedly.

The game is genuinely pleasant. The puzzles start easy but have a pretty quick ramping up, with the game getting to the solidly tricky before level 20, and quickly attaining outright deviousness.

Were I to outright pick video games to play based on associations with my grandfather, he'd get a bunch of stuff that I played on a computer I cannot actually remember what was. It was an old, old computer, green-only display. I may have played Oregon Trail on it. I remember a game involving rocks. Clearly these were not formative moments.

Here are formative moments with my grandfather:

1) When I visited him in Texas, he would take me to get a haircut, and "bribe me with ice cream" subsequently.

2) He would, when I visited him in Texas, take me daily to a playground, generally cycling among several during my stay there.

3) When I was in Texas, my time was occupied primarily with audiobooks I would get from their library in Texas and books I brought with me. Doctor Who books one or two years, Wizard of Oz books another. As my taste in books was not that well developed, mostly I listened to Douglas Adams while I was there, and the entire Hitchhiker's trilogy, which I've read many times, is still more associated with their house than anywhere else.

4) Mexican food. Which I had a lot in Texas, as you might imagine.

5) Pickles. This is a strange one, I know. But my grandfather would sooner die than not have his daily happy hour (that was an unfortunate choice of metaphors). And at those happy hours I would enjoy snacks of pickles and olives. I mostly just liked olives for the pimentos, which I in no way realized were not naturally part of an olive.

I can think of a few individual stories here and there to tell of Granddad - him helping me move out of my dorm at Wooster against everyone but my father's advice. Him helping finance more than one computer my family bought because he was a bit of a gadget geek.

But I can remember more of Nintendo games than I can of my own grandfather. Or, perhaps more accurately, I feel as though Nintendo games form more points in what I remember of my childhood - which is already more a series of disparate points than anything else. I can mulch my brain and dredge up occasional things - I remember a trip to Texas where I was briefly obsessed with magic tricks, and bought props for many, several of which were actually fairly neat.

But most of my relationship to him is buried in odd and scattered memories that do not form a whole. I am well short of understanding.

Much of what I remember of my childhood is Nintendo games. They occupied much of my life through fifth grade. From middle school through to high school the focus slowly shifted towards PC gaming, and I had my period there, but for my out and out childhood, it was Nintendo. And it is there that I have my memories.

By the time I came to the work of understanding my family, my grandfather had already suffered two strokes. They left him mostly blind. He retired early to golf, read, and paint. Only reading was left to him, and that only through books on tape. And since then it has been a slow fade, with points of steeper decline and points of optimism. By the end, it was mercy.

I came to know him late, then - through a family reunion in Iowa that I confess I had little interest in, but came to appreciate in the end. And through the paintings of his I slowly acquired. There are four. Three hang in the living room - a forest at night, a barn on a lake in grayscale, and an autumnal lake. Above my desk hangs a fourth - a stream running through woods in the winter. These last two I asked for because I wanted things that would remind me of winter and fall when I was in Florida, and did not really have either.

I have an SD card with every Nintendo game ever released on it. Much of the rest of my childhood is coming out on DVD, or is available in massive torrents of comics. I can go back to these things that I am already so rich with memories of.

But my grandfather is, now, well and truly gone. And has been for some time. Scattered memories that do not form a whole, and four paintings are the whole of it.

I love puzzles because they are solvable. Adventures of Lolo is no exception. If that is all I remember of my childhood, perhaps this is not as somber a fact as I make it out to be.

Forgetting is as cruel as it is merciful.

I do not know that I believe in the afterlife. But it is my fervent hope that something, whether it be my grandfather's soul or simply some small corner of existence, will remember this:

I miss you, Granddad.

Tomorrow, I think that I will get a haircut, treat myself to ice cream afterwards, and order Mexican food for dinner.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Banality of Adventure (Adventures in the Magic Kingdom, of Dino Ricky, and of Bayou Billy)

There are thirteen games for the Nintendo Entertainment Series that begin with Adventure. There are a further 11 or so that contain the word Adventure somewhere in the title . And there are two games - Metroid and Kid Icarus - that were branded as part of Nintendo's Adventure Series. So a total of 25-26 games that explicitly claim to offer some sort of adventure. And the alphabet being what it is, we have hit that main trove of 13. This will be a three post series, therefore. This one will cover three - Adventures in the Magic Kingdon, Of Billy Bayou, and Of Dino Riki. The next will cover the three Adventures of Lolo games, followed by one covering whatever the last three are - Rad Gravity, Rocky and Bullwinkle, and Tom Sawyer, I believe. Adventure Island is filed 3/4 under Hudson's Adventure Island, so will surface with the Hs. There's also supposedly a Gilligan's Island game that I need to see where the ROM got off to, because it's not where I expected.

When defined, however, one wonders why there are so many. The OED defines adventure as "Chance of danger or loss; risk, jeopardy, peril," or as "any novel or unexpected event which one shares; an exciting or remarkable incident befalling any one."

The former definition is remarkable in a large part because it sounds utterly undesirable. Risk, jeopardy, and peril are not generally things we seek out.

Certainly at this point in my life I have little desire for jeopardy and peril. I want nothing more than to keep my head down and stabilize my life.

This entry has been sitting for a while. And by the time I hit post on it, it will probably be Monday. Tuesday will be November 3rd. Which, as I am not divorced yet, will be my second wedding anniversary. I somehow do not expect a cake.

The recessional in my wedding was a song by K's Choice entitled "Favorite Adventure." The irony is not lost on me, given the degree to which my entire marriage turned out to be based on a massive lie (the lie, in this case, being that old classic "I love you"). So, yes, I suppose that ended up being the OED definition. Except for the utter banality of it all.

Inasmuch as the adventure is something extraordinary, my marriage wholly did not count. Left abruptly and without a chance at reconciliation during the second year - an extremely common place for marriages to fall apart. A flat-out banality.

Here is something else that is banal: Disneyland. And yet we have Adventures in the Magic Kingdom. Which is a game that is in that strange position of being neither bad nor good. You have to wander the Magic Kingdom and find six missing keys. These keys require the playing of six minigames - two side-scrollers, one through the Haunted Mansion, the other through Pirates of the Caribbean (well before Johnny Depp ever set foot there). One "push the buttons when you're told" game, one car race, one exceedingly annoying "pick which route to go" down a mountain that gives you nothing resembling clues as to what will and won't kill you, and one Disney trivia game. Of these, about three and a half are fun - the trivia and car races are both solid, while the side-scrollers and button pushing are at least not embarrassments. The game captures neither the feel of adventure nor of going to Disneyland, but it is not clear to me that this is a problem as such. The game tries, and at times succeeds, and the fact of the matter is that it's rare, in any generation of video games, to see a game try something new.

Dino Riki and Bayou Billy fare rather worse in the course of their adventures. Bayou Billy is forced to trudge through a standard beat-em-up with the added nuance that the difficulty is completely out of whack and he just gets the tar pounded out of him. Dino Riki is, somewhat more inexplicably, in a shooter despite apparently wearing lead boots as he walks along while being attacked by hordes of enemies that he cannot possibly dodge or shoot fast enough. Both games are outrageously hard and utterly unrewarding in their difficulty. Warmed over cliches done badly, without entertainment, satisfaction, or any chance of accomplishment.

If those are adventures, perhaps the adventure is a better metaphor for my marriage than I had assumed.