So I’m sitting here, watching Owen play our newly downloaded Dark Forces (Jedi Knight is in the pipeline). It is at once (for both of us) an incredibly nostalgic and an intensely primitive experience. We marvel at the level design, sound design (which, despite the old tech, is irrevocably Star Wars), and graphics, equally joyous and derisive. Every Stormtrooper who yells “get him!” or “stop Rebel Scum,” or “surrender immediately,” is an awesome dude. It’s like those parties where everyone who loves The Rocky Horror Picture Show gets together and dresses up and yells shit at the screen. Every switch and timed door invokes a Pavlovian response: dislike (those damn Imperial Officer closets), delight (the “Briar” pistol is back!), and laughter (the flashlight).
As he keeps on drunkenly insisting (and as I keep on drunkenly affirming), “this is so awesome.” We marvel at the way gameplay used to be: secrets, enemies, walls, doors. At how the awful graphics make every encounter iconic: an Imperial Officer is instantly, recognizably an Imperial Officer. Valve may be all about character silhouette recognition, but these guys were doing it first. And those damn secret doors. Some kind of wicked, dark shared memory tells us when we’re near one. He’ll start pressing “e” on walls, swearing that there’s a secret door nearby. And I know he’s right! We both reflexively know where switches, doors, secret elevators, and enemies are. We’ve played these maps so much, and heard those bad guys tell us that “we’re not authorized to be in this area” so many times, its like riding a fucking bicycle.
So we sit here, drinking our gin and tonics, listening to Rodrigo and Gabriela, marveling at (of all things) the immense amount of effort that went into exposition in this old game. It makes most modern games look terse. My previous Rocky Horror reference was, for me, surprisingly apt. What if we got a room full of maladjusted types like us, raised (as our parents direly predicted) on Dark Forces, Doom, and Wing Commander, and embark on some collective reenactment of those good old days. Of course, for me, it’s different. This is his childhood, this, and Doom. I inherited his love for them but for me, my first (and best) taste of gaming was Wing Commander (by the way, Steam, give me Wing Commander and I’ll give you my firstborn).
Now, he’s comparing it to Rise of the Triads (not as good, he says, it just allowed you to shoot out lights, while Dark Forces allowed you to shoot out more lights). Of course, he now says that Dark Forces‘ increased light-shooting capability blew him away as a child. I feel like I should be recording his words, as if he were the elder scion of my hideous brood, a man who has been places and seen things there I couldn’t see (or that I saw with different eyes). One thing we agree on: the Dianogas were scary as hell.
I suppose there’s more to say, but for now, we’re happy that some suit at Lucas Arts saw fit to make a bit more money of fools like us.
On a different note, this experience reminds me of something completely different. It reminds me of the days when we had the one computer, the 386, and I was too scared (Dinogas!) to play games like Dark Forces and Doom. Despite our intense (and I mean vicious) brotherly hatred, I would watch, in awe, as he adroitly navigated these corridors, killing monsters I always had trouble dealing with. It was, oddly, in no way a symbiotic experience. I would watch, and keep dead quiet, so as not to annoy him into kicking me out of the room for “watching him play ” (a villainous offense).
[a break, to point out that the Briar pistol is the best way to make long range accurate shots. Don’t forget]
It’s an especially strange set of memories, since my gaming experiences with the other (younger) brother were so completely different. For a period (before and after we hated each other), we would play every single game as a group activity. Sure, you took turns, but you were always there when the other person played, helping out, soaking up the game. It was better than any co-op experience I’ve had since, but it was also inexplicably less memorable.
There are people (you know the kind) who will tell you how there was that one summer (probably the summer of 80-something) that “defined them.” Fuck that. Watching another person play terribly simple shooters and sims (and occasionally playing them myself) was my childhood.
Now, he’s finishing the “Tak Base,” which houses the mysterious Dark Trooper arm. Oh Dark Troopers. And he just died. They had autosaves even, it would seem. Oh well.
It’s interesting how our responses to this game are so strong. My response to the original Monkey Island was something like this: “oh. That’s rather nice.” I wonder what our response to Jedi Knight will be. That was, as Owen says “the quantum leap” in FPS design, for us. Sure, there was Quake, but Quake was like a really nice set of tools (it resulted in CTF, after all). Jedi Knight, for us, represents the modern FPS as we think of it now: story-driven, full of complicated puzzles and levels. Bring it on.
[P.S. And I will love Mysteries of the Sith. I will love it so much. Bring on the Rancor!]