For me, Galaga has some very personal connections.
One of the more common things I read about older games is that we tend to view them through rose tinted glasses. It’s often said that it’s best not to go back.
Games are never as sharp, or as smart, or even as fun as we remember them. It’s sometimes even true. Advances in technology and just the way that games are designed, as well as our own refined taste means that the games that could captivate us for days when we were youngsters seem horribly primitive and in some cases unplayable now.
Of course, we’re all markedly more time poor as well, something I addressed in last week’s column.
I generally rail against this kind of thinking. Yes, there are indeed games that haven’t aged well, like the original Tomb Raider for example. But equally there are plenty of classics that still play as well if not better than modern alternatives.
Still, I’d be lying if I said I never played some games purely for the warm nostalgic buzz they give me. Sometimes that’s a deliberate matter of playing a game that I loved and still love, such as dropping the N64’s Goldeneye into a console. At other times, it’s simply me picking a cart at random to play.
My recent buy of the NES Classic Mini reinvigorated my love for Nintendo’s 8-bit console. So while there’s plenty of games within its tiny cute body that I do in fact own, I’ve been playing them via the Mini simply for convenience’s sake. Games like Super Mario Bros 3, Punch-Out and The Legend of Zelda are classics, but they’re classics for which I don’t have particular personal reminiscences associated with people.
I can recall playing Punch-Out on the demo machines in Selfridges in the late 80s. I first played Super Mario Bros 3 via Super Mario All-Stars on the SNES in the 90s. Despite owning a copy since I picked up a second-hand NES in the late 90s, I only finished The Legend Of Zelda for the first time a couple of years ago. I’m still a little lost how anyone managed that back in the day without some kind of assistance.
Then there’s Galaga. A great quick arcade game, and an excellent port to boot. Great stuff for cleansing the retro palate between more serious fare.
But also a game that I will always associate with a particular person and a time in my life.
I guess I probably did play a few games of Galaga back in the arcade in the late 80s, but it was never my favourite title. A decent little shooter, to be sure, but I tended to play Elevator Action, Exciting Hour, Ghosts & Goblins and, of course, Bubble Bobble if I had the choice. At 20c a go, you chose your games carefully in those days.
And this was my game of choice. I have nostalgic warmth for it, but it hasn’t aged terribly well. Mind you, there’s no home version of it. None. A crime in my view.
Fast forward to 2002, and a young(er) journalist by the name of Alex Kidman takes up a role as reviews editor at ZDNet Australia, a subsidiary (at that time) of CNET Networks (which is now part of CBSi, but that came later).
I went from reviews editor at ZDNet, and ertstwhile editor at Gamespot.com.au after Ed Dawson’s departure to being the first editor of the relaunched CNET.com.au, but first I was handling reviews at ZDNet.
At the time, having come out of a career in magazines, and just after the dot com bust, the concept of going to work for a website was seen by some I talked to as a weird step. Websites had taken their shot and they had crashed.
Hindsight. It’s a funny game, isn’t it?
Anyway, it was a decent job and a nice crew of folks to work with, headed up by a guy called Cass Warneminde.
Cass was a lovely bloke, and, as I later learned, one who grew up not that far from where I grew up.
He was also an exceptionally good Galaga player. The office had a couple of arcade machines. One was permanently running Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, and almost always busy. The other, less heavily patronised machine was running the 20th anniversary Namco set of Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga.
These had the updated versions of the games along with the classic arcade modes. Bu it was classic Galaga that Cass would gravitate to and play. Being young, competitive and cocky, I challenged him to a high score competition.
Which I lost.
Again, and again, and again.
I was a decent enough player, but Cass was simply better. He could well have been cocky about it, but he wasn’t. The challenge between us was a fun rivalry, not one that was designed to stress anyone. While I honed my skills, every time I would figure I’d have him beat, he’d simply top his previous high score.
Tragically, Cass Warneminde passed away in the office one day.
Specifically, on the 20th of December 2002, which will be an astonishing 14 years ago in a bit over a week and half’s time.
This time every year I think of Cass, one way or another. Usually it’s something he taught me, including the single best bit of journalism advice I ever got from anyone, hands down. Actually, it’s great advice for life, so I’ll share it now:
You never stop learning, and should never assume you know everything.
This year, though, it’s Galaga that has brought Cass to mind.
So as I’ve been blasting away at the aliens this week, I’ve been thinking of those days. 14 years ago we’d send each other quick messages to let each other know that the high score table had just been updated. My name was never on top of it for long, but that didn’t matter. The thrill was in the chase, and the game was happily played.
Naturally of course, I’d give up every high score just to be able to challenge Cass again.
Retro recollections are just random musings on retro subjects, usually whatever I’m playing at the moment.