(I originally intended for this to be just one post, but it turns out I’m writing a whole lot more than I was expecting, and am already at 2400 words so far, and my hands are getting tired and bored. So yes, this will come in two parts.)
Contents of Part I:
1. Before Internet Access
2. Windows XP Games
3. Shortly After Internet Access
[Deferred to Part II:
5. AoPS, and Forum Games
6. Minesweeper, and the Seeking of Affirmation
8. Dorm Life at MIT
I have decided to, like betaveros, write a blog post reflecting on my gaming history. I will annotate this history with my gaming situation in childhood, why gaming has become an important part of my identity, and the things that make me feel that “gamer” is a weird term for me and that I’m too far from the gaming mainstream to feel normal calling myself a gamer. My post on minesweeper linked above discussed the second item in this list a fair amount, but I will talk about it again here within a larger context.
1. Before Internet Access
My parents first allowed me to use a computer at home in second grade. They didn’t allow me to use the internet until two and a half years later, though, so until then whatever gaming I partook in was literally the Windows XP games of FreeCell, Hearts, Minesweeper, Pinball, Solitaire, and Spider Solitaire. My parents also capped my computer usage for playing games at 30 minutes, and took away time from that based on “bad behavior”. As I grew older, they would encroach further and further into my game-playing allowance, eventually pushing me to the decision it was more worth it to play games when they weren’t watching.
2. Windows XP Games
I very quickly found myself lacking in interest in FreeCell and Solitaire, mostly because they were too hard. They were, however, games that I actually had explained to me by a friend, and back then, my reading comprehension skills were abysmal enough to pretty much not understand the help pages for Hearts and Minesweeper substantially enough that I did not understand basic mechanics of the game. (My manual-reading skills are still not very good. I still suck at finding the information I want out of manuals, for instance, documentation for coding.) Spider solitaire I understood though. I played that game when I felt like not using my brain whatsoever, as (at least in easy mode) it was easy.
Because of the above, I learned how the rules of Hearts and Minesweeper worked by trial-and-error.
After I noticed the scoreboard indicating I was Last Place when I had the highest score, for instance, and seeing some more results, I concluded Hearts was a game where you wanted as low of a score as possible. It took me a while, though, to realize that the Queen of Spades was something that mattered, after which it dawned on me what the cards displayed next to each playing at the end of a round meant. I found Hearts a fascinating game and have somewhat delighted in playing the game both with humans and with computers for quite a while. Eventually, I achieved a final score of 0 for an entire game of Hearts in XP, and several years later achieved the like for Vista Hearts (the Vista AIs are generally fairly better than the XP AIs, but are more delirious of moon-shooting attempts), and stopped playing Hearts on a computer and rather only with humans.
Minesweeper was a substantially longer experience in learning by trial-and-error. I picked up clues like that 1s in the corner seemed to go with mines at the corner inside the 1, and that 3s in a row at the side of an opening indicated mines in a row next to them. It really took a startlingly large number of clues and working with them before I finally realized what the numbers mean. By the time I actually learned the rules of minesweeper and understood the rules in the manual, I have already won a Beginner game purely out of attempting to extrapolate from pattern matching.
Neither Hearts nor Minesweeper, though, were games I played nearly as much as 3D Cadet Pinball, the pinball game included with Windows XP. It was a game with substantial possibilities that was very conducive to trial-and-error learning. One tries to keep the ball up, and one uses the buttons for the flippers to work towards that. Most things you quickly learn from seeing what pops up on the dashboard, and you decide what things are the things you want. I really liked 3D Cadet Pinball’s mission structure; thought it was excellently designed. I never made it past Lieutenant rank, though, so I resorted to cheat codes that I learned about to check out what the missions in higher ranks were like (this was after my parents allowed me internet access, but before I realized that internet guides were a thing). I also did not realize until it was pointed out to me that in higher ranks completing corresponding-level missions earns more mission lights. (I never realized that after one got promoted from Cadet to Ensign, the number of lights the player got for completing a mission started being 7 instead of 6 (and for the special mission, 10 instead of 9). Of course, since the number of lights one needs to get promoted is 18, there is no situation where replacing 6 lights with 7 and replacing 9 lights with 10 matters. If I ever made it to Captain rank, when the 7 once again got upped to 8 and the 10 got upped to 11, I may have noticed once I realized that I don’t think I did enough for a promotion (but also because 8 is 25% off from 6 and is probably a difference I would’ve noticed just by itself).)
3. Shortly After Internet Access
Eventually, my parents granted me internet access, and the first internet games I played were on funbrain.com, because that’s a site our school’s computer lab teacher had us use for something (I forgot what). Eventually, influence from friends at school led me to start playing games on neopets and a bit later to maintain a neopets account and take care of neopets. It was the first online account I’ve ever made; the username I chose is very embarassing and I won’t share it here and the password I chose was 5 characters long. Very secure. I don’t feel a problem divulging this as I recently decided to go and see if that account was still there and neopets indeed denied its existence, confirmed when I went to check its terms of service which stated that it deletes accounts inactive for more than 18 months. I actually tried to make a new account because I had several friends that were encountering a resurgence of neopets activity, but decided not to continue after huge frustrations finding a password neopets was willing to accept and then not being able to get a confirmation e-mail.
Eventually, my main source of online games moved from neopets to miniclip.
But while that happened, something else started. After visiting a friend who had a game of DDR (Dance Dance Revolution), my parents became okay with buying me an actual video game console (a PlayStation 2), purely for the purposes of DDR. (It was a game they were willing to admit as “exercise”, as opposed to games where I would be pressing buttons on a controller which they would universally eschew as a waste of time.) (They originally wanted the I spent on DDR to come out of my 30 minutes of computer game time, to which I replied that in that case, I’ll just only play computer games. That convinced them to drop that restriction.)
With DDR as my only console option, I spent a fair amount of time on it. I got, over time, Max, Extreme2, Supernova, Extreme, and Supernova2, and those were all five games I’ve ever had to play on my home console. Eventually, a normal DDR pad wouldn’t do for the vigorousness of DDR songs at the level that I played at, and I had to convince my parents to get me a red octane pad. They really complained about it, and would not believe that other pads were so indurable (undurable? nondurable?) until I demonstrated to them the extent to which their flakiness affected gameplay.
Back when I only had Max and Extreme2, I remember as I was moving up in hardness in DDR Max I found I was reaching a wall midway through 9-footers. I could do some of them, but had a really hard time with others, and also the Challenge Mode (battery-lifemeter courses) was way too hard for me; despite really practicing the songs in them a lot, I wasn’t able to finish even the easiest course (although after a huge amount of practice I did eventually make it to the final stage). Thus, at this time, I decided to shift to Extreme2, which has a substantially better spectrum of 9-footers. More importantly, Extreme2 came with a mission mode (“Dance Master Mode”), which moved through progressively harder songs but also with progressively harder missions, and that got me to learn not only passing harder songs, but also passing harder songs with few mistakes. Eventually, I got pretty stuck in Area D.
I didn’t feel a change over in Extreme2, but when I returned to DDR Max, I found that through my time working with Extreme2 Dance Master Mode I have managed to reach a proficiency where I completed every single course in Challenge Mode on the first try (yes, including ‘Hard Core’, the course with three 9-footers in a row). I thus went back to finishing up the last patches of Heavy I’ve yet to conquer in Max, and eventually passed everything, including the 10-footer MAX 300, which I completed with a C initially, and soon bettered to a B, but for a long while couldn’t get up to A.
By this point, going back to Extreme2, by some magic once again, the points at which I was stuck previously instantly became a smaller problem. I slowly but surely (it was quite ‘slowly’, though: the last few missions were really tough) beat the rest of Area D, Area E, and Mission 00, completing Dance Master Mode.
Extreme2, unlike Max, also allows one to play courses not in battery-lifemeter mode. Despite this, I still often played in battery-lifemeter mode, as even though it would’ve helped me before I actually was good enough to play in this mode now. Supernova had the like, and while playing a Supernova course I reached my highest combo ever of 5610.
After working a lot with other games, I continued to be surprised when I came back to Dance Master Mode in Extreme2 that there were so many hidden connections to be uncovered. I of course can’t be sure I’ve found all of them, but I did find a whole lot. I, in fact, eventually uncovered the hidden connection from Mission D-48 to Mission D-47, which was speculated to exist online but for which no one posted a confirmation. I wanted to help update that, but this was still back when I was little enough to be scared of talking to people I don’t know online. Eventually, I was no longer scared of that, but then the topic became too old to seem unweird contributing to. (Just for the sake of reference, I unlocked the connection by getting exclusively PERFECTs on D-48.)
My opinions on the song selections of DDR generally decreased as the mixes moved forward. I played Supernova and Supernova2 just to have more variety and to see what their parallel mission modes to Extreme2’s Dance Master Mode were like. I eventually completed the first ten planets of Supernova’s Stellar Master Mode to 100% and the extra planet “Pizza Box” to around 50%, and yellow-completed all missions in Areas A-J and most in K and L in Supernova2’s Hyper Master Mode. Supernova2, incidentally, has the best victory music.
Here’s another important thing about Supernova2: even though getting a B or an A was a lot harder than in previous games, getting an AAA was easier than previously: you no longer had to get all PERFECTs and could afford to get a tiny number of GREATs depending on your MARVELOUS quantity. I didn’t like this (as opposed to, uh, see Digression below), but it landed me my first AAA. I have since forgotten what the first song I got an AAA on was, but eventually I got good enough to get actually all-PERFECT AAAs, and thus AAAs on previous DDR mixes. The first AAA I achieved on a song that was all PERFECTs and where the MARVELOUS rating was not available was Sandstorm, in DDR Max, which I did in Light. (I would eventually go on to score at least AA on every single song of DDR Max on every single difficulty, including MAX 300 in Heavy, my first 10-footer AA excepting DDR Extreme2’s SAKURA, which was a song DDR rated 10-footer but was definitely noticeably easier than the 10-footer standard and additionally quite clearly easier than several 9-footers.) The first song that I all-PERFECT AAAed in Heavy was Extreme2’s version of Boom Boom Dollar, which was weird because that’s an 8-footer, and I didn’t manage to achieve this on any 7-footer or 6-footer Heavies before (it’s not that I didn’t try, either). I guess the beat was that important.
(Digression: For a long time, I thought the score cutoff for an AA on Extreme2 was 9,000,000 points. This turns out to not actually be the case; I’ve managed to get an A on a song ending up with about 9,100,000 point from getting all PERFECTs except for one BOO. I think the cutoff is probably on 9,200,000, but really, Extreme and Extreme2 are just draconian with their policy of no-AA-if-you-get-anything-worse-than-GREAT-on-any-step.)
Although I eventually passed every song on every difficulty in Max, Extreme, and Extreme2, there were some songs in Supernova and later that I never managed to pass:
MAX 300 (the Supernova version) (in Challenge)
Fascination MAXX (in Heavy and Challenge)
Fascination eternal love mix (in Challenge)
Trim (in Heavy)
NGO (in Challenge)
Paranoia Hades (in Challenge)
(And because I probably am never going to play DDR seriously again, they’ll probably stay that way.)
Oh, also, Extreme has the hardest mission mode, far harder than the corresponding modes of mixes after. There were over a dozen missions in Extreme’s mission mode I couldn’t pass.
I’ve probably burned off a huge number of calories playing DDR, especially in terms of proportion to other exercise I partook in back in the day (read: barely any).