The Last Game I Will Ever Need or Farewell Nukezilla <3
It’s Sunday night and I haven’t really written for Nukezilla for over eight months. We had just wrapped up our second Mobile Games focused Nukestravaganza and I offered my services to write the January 1st 2012, don’t worry readers we still love you – now go away, post. Since that time some awesome stuff has been happening on our site. We have lovely, shiny video reviews, Hans and Meagan are keeping the dream alive with their great news and opinion pieces, Simon’s letting me know where I can find cheap games (God, I love discount software), Jenny and Jon are on the music tip and we’re still getting great writing from the rest of our contributors. For everyone on staff and for our regular readers, I say thankee sai (it’s from a book, look it up)! Nukezilla is like an irradiated cockroach – an indomitable force of nature that will persist no matter how many rads penetrate its hard carapace or how many stompy boots come its way, a’stompin’.
My life has continued to curve and twist at work, home and otherwise. We’re well into the toddlerhood of my son, Gabriel, who continues to amaze me with his every breath. It’s not just because of the whole Y-chromosome thing, but because he’s my boy and I really didn’t think we would have a shot at that. Unless you’re a mom or a dad, that last sentence may have sounded like hypocritical nonsense, trust me it wasn’t. My oldest daughter is getting ready for 1st Grade. Wow, that’s so weird to say/type. Olivia factors into the main point of all of this, so I won’t go on. But if I don’t say so later just know she is amazing (smart, focused, stubborn, neat, messy, creative, creative, creative and a beauty to boot). Naomi is my funny girl. She will be a comedian if I’m not careful, so let this be the last time I say/type it. She is also a gorgeous little girl; a magpie and a clown with the biggest heart in the world…yes, I have more to say that doesn’t involve my kids. Please, keep reading.
For over a year, plus I have been indulging my kids (who are we kidding here, myself) in all things Lego. Star Wars, Cars, Creator, Atlantis and now Monster Fighters. If you were into Legos as a child and think it would be fun to see what they’re making nowadays, STAY AWAY! I won’t quantify the investment, but needless to say when I sold most of my video game collection this year it was to pay off my debts to Denmark. When I have had visitors in everyone freaks out when they see the Death Star. It was our big present for the kids last Christmas and is the only set that remains on display. I refuse to dismantle what probably took me 30+ hours to construct during many sleepless, post-Crimbo eves. The rest of our stash is now carefully Ziploc’ed and stored in bins, which kind of defeats the purpose of the Lego ‘build anything’ concept, but satisfies my irrational mania of not losing pieces or mixing the sets. We bought several pounds (yes, some folks sell plastic blocks by the weight) from thrift stores and as the girls will tell you these are the “build whatever” sets.
My (video) game time has been reduced down to must-play releases only. I lost sleep playing the third release of both Diablo and Mass Effect, but nothing else has been able to deprive me of my eight in 2012. Work has been a bastard. True, I don’t work with my hands, breaking my back digging ditches in the hot sun, but there are other ways to get your ass kicked by a job and mental stress is a bitch. I still love it though. Part of the challenge is trying NOT to travel, which is next to impossible with my new position, hence the lack of alone time with my consoles/PC and my redoubled effort to spend quality time with my family. To satisfy my former habit while on the go I tried building a small library on the Vita and my 3DS is a very functional Super Mario Brothers 3D Land machine, but there’s not much magic left in either one at this point in time. Maybe something remarkable will come out soon, otherwise it’s looking like 2013 or bust for both.
…which brings me to the real point of this, why this is my final Nukezilla post and my last game.
Today we were working with our build anything bin and I noticed something odd about our bricks. One of the sets we acquired from strangers must have started life as a red-roofed, white house with a picket fence. Usually the girls (Gabe’s too young for such choking hazards and caltrops, of course) just work randomly though the pile; Olivia building a version of Yoda’s house (he came with one of the sets, you see) and Naomi taking only the most odd-shaped pieces and making creations that Tim Burton and I love her for.
Lego time is when I build yet another new set for a few weeks of play with the kids and display before they go into storage for weeks or months. Today though I decided I would make something…valuable with these white and red bricks from the whatever pile. First I made a house, which sucked and Olivia destroyed as only she can with an accidental force push that caved the roof in and sent the walls flying. We both laughed a bit and I nearly gave up, but seeing most of the walls still up gave me an idea. I suggested we make a maze for R2-D2, the orphan and Yoda’s only companion.
In Lego Batman 2, Traveler’s Tales added a top-down camera for several maze-lite sections. They are fun/frustrating to play with kids in co-op mostly because like all levels in the “Lego” games by TT, progress is made by constantly alternating interaction between both players. This does build communication skills with my girls, but I’m used to playing games at the speed of thought and the kids are just trying to learn the controls and make some of the more frustrating jumps. If this was a game of ping-pong, I would have time to make a cup of coffee between each return. However, I try not to tell them what to do; learning and problem solving is part of the exercise. Why don’t they just play together you ask? Let’s see how long four and six-year-old sisters can play a metaphorical game of ping-pong when there are thugs beating up on player 1 and player 2 is flying to the next section of the level as Clark Kent’s invulnerable alter ego.
When I made the suggestion I just figured Olivia would try to make something once and give up or Naomi would move onto something else entirely, but they were hooked on making mazes inside this two foot square box of plastic for nearly an hour. Dana and I were doing housework and watching m’boy in the other room, so I came by to check in and help construct a controller. They know they don’t need one, but video games is where they learned some of these mechanics, so I wasn’t about to be a jerk about it. I think they did three full layouts of the maze, each one getting more complex and challenging as the next. R2-D2 is their avatar and his goal is to get to a car hidden in the maze. Since George Lucas gave “Artoo” (really, George?) jets and the ability to fly in Episode 2, I don’t know why he doesn’t just use them to blast to where he needs to go, or use his well-worn wheels, but a car it is.
Before dinner Olivia asked me to make them one that was really hard and that would be their fourth level. “A boss level, you mean?” I asked. “Yes” she replied, beaming. Olivia has been designing games on and off via drawings since she was two or three. One time she made me the case, instructions and disc for “Mass Effect 2″ out of printer paper. I asked her at the time what she thought the game was about and her description didn’t include reapers, gravel voiced Krogans or a universe that needs savin’. I prefer her version.
I took time to try to make the maze long enough that it would take them a few minutes to “play” the level. R2 needs three (no, four actually – duh!) empty slots to move around in, so I made sure to allow for un-cramped movement. When I discovered my error, I just tried to wrap it up in style. I rebuilt the car with an added third axle, a nod to the Mako – suck it haters! Finally, I gave our hero what every fearless adventure needs: power-ups. Bombs make the player answer a dastardly riddle (“Your riddles are too easy, dad” Olivia tells me) and red flowers give you immunity from one riddle. If you answer the riddle wrong and don’t have a flower, it’s Game Over! The flowers were strategically placed before the bombs, so Naomi’s first go with the concept would be a confidence building success. Next time the riddles will be just as corny for Naomi and downright evil for Olivia (MUHAHAHAHAHA!).
We played a couple of rounds, each time the girls won and loved playing the maze. They were delighted when they diffused the bombs and Gabriel pulled in his breath when R2 jumped on the car and sped around the maze, onto his belly, up his head and back into the box. I have learned a lot of simple lessons about game design tonight. If you’re going to make the game easy, don’t make it stupid easy – even young kids find that patronizing. Also, make the power-ups easy to get at first and require more effort each time so they’ll have to consider the risk of playing without a safety net.
Look, I know this is just a stupid game and I don’t have any delusions that the magic of “Artoo’s Maze Too” (or whatever we ended up calling it in the end) will fade, but this afternoon game offered more thrills, anticipation and joy than the last few years of gaming has rewarded me with, despite the child-like dedication I have maintained. Writing about games re-kindled my passion because I wanted to try my hand at the craft and join my voice to the din of online games writing. When I was writing 2x more than I was playing games for fun, I started to lose my drive for both. Nukezilla is my home, though I won’t be adding logs to the fire any longer.
John, you build this lovely cottage in the woods for all of us tired, weary old souls to make the destination of our pilgrimage for renewal. Justin, Jenny, Sam, Pete, Dan, Gavin, Sean, Jon, Chelsea, Ben, Andy, Mark, Phil, et. al. we should re-visit this holy site daily, weekly, monthly even yearly, if that’s all you can spare.
I am many things and an optimist is nearly at the top of the list. When I came to the site, I pitched ideas at John and everyone about ways to blow the doors off Negative Gamer and grow our readership by the thousands. Come to find out I never had the time to deliver on nearly any of those high ideas and yet the site remains in-tact, frequently changing and ever deserving of more hits, more regular visitors, more passionate optimism, just no longer from me, I’m afraid. I love you all, but whether it’s catching z’s 30,000 feet in the air or changing diapers while on conference calls, life has other plans for me and being an engaged dad has made it hard to do the rest of what I had in mind.
With love and sincere optimism for the future,