HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns

November 20, 2006

PS3? . . . give me the 8-bit any day

By Jesse Menden

Many sports fans are traditionalists. They yearn for the days of outdoor baseball and football at Metropolitan Stadium. They want to relive the days of great athletes, such as Harmon Killebrew, Walter Payton, and Larry Bird.

People want the days when everything in sports wasn’t marketed like it is today, back when it was just about pure sport. Everything from the Metrodome’s “Baggie” to the starting time of Chicago White Sox games (starting in 2007, Sox night games will start at 7:11) is sold to companies.

Okay, so I’m not old enough to be a true traditionalist in sports, but I am for something else: video games.

The industry started with the Atari in 1975. And then came the 8-bit Nintendo in 1985. It was the greatest thing, ever. For the first time, a kid could sit in the house for hours and not get bored. It marked the beginning of the end for the great outdoors.

Video games have come a long way. Last Friday marked the release of the latest and greatest video gaming system, the Playstation 3.

People waited in line for hours for a chance to get one. Hundreds are listed on EBay, and they are being sold for thousands of dollars.

The new gaming system has everything from a removable hard drive, a Blu-ray Disc player, and Internet capabilities.

Everything is so complicated these days. It is near impossible to just sit down and play a quick video game. What happened to the eight plays you could choose from in NES Football? Today’s football games, like Madden, feature several hundred plays.

When it comes to video games, I am a bit of a traditionalist. Every so often, it feels good to use a controller that consists of only two buttons and a directional pad.

And just like a hard day’s work, it’s good knowing that you could get the Nintendo to work after blowing in the system and game for an hour. It gives you a sense of accomplishment, even if there are some lines still on the screen.

Today’s sports games are too complicated. It used to be that if I wanted to run a race in the NES Bill Elliot’s Racing game, I could do it right away. In Playstation’s NASCAR ‘07, I have to practice, qualify, set the air pressure in my tires, and mess with the rear spoiler, if I want to compete.

But I guess modern technology isn’t all that bad. Video games go way beyond the game itself. It is fun being able to build your own baseball stadium, like in MVP Baseball ‘05. A gamer can also schedule promotional days and set the price of hot dogs sold at the games (I have it set at $1. It’s my way of getting back at the man).

Another novel thing about today’s games are the graphics and detail. In NHL ‘07, a person could be tricked into thinking the game was on television. The players look just like themselves. Unfortunately, the makers did not spend enough time on the game itself. Manny Fernandez can’t stop a soft backhand shot from the blue line, but his goalie mask looks impeccable.

On the recent Madden games, the stadiums are so detailed that you can find individual seats in the stadium. Every seat that is in the Metrodome is accounted for in the game.

But isn’t this too much?

Some days, I dig out the old NES because it brings me back to my younger days and gives me a sense of having fun, rather than having to try just to do well.

Nintendo, in many ways, was just like a good friend because you knew it well. A lot of times it would let you win, and it wasn’t perfect.

Glitches are an important part of playing Nintendo games. It is a good feeling knowing that certain things will always help you win, and that you are smarter than the computer.

It’s comforting knowing the big guy will always knock down the small one in NES Hockey. It is also good knowing that if you are that small player, using the ‘A’ pass button to shoot rather than the ‘B’ button in front of the net will almost always beat the goalie.

On Bases Loaded 3, it was always comforting to know that taking the Houston team would result in almost certain victory. By some glitch, an outfielder named Brodie was so fast you were guaranteed at least a few runs because he could steal any base at any time.

The first Major League game had a level of predictability to it also. Start a left-handed pitcher and move him all the way to the right side of the mound. Throw a sinker on the corner of the plate for a strike and the computer batter will never swing.

Another fun secret is to bean the third or fourth place hitter in the third inning; both benches will clear and brawl. On today’s games, every time a batter is hit you can start a brawl by just hitting a button, which is not nearly as challenging.

Sure, if you want something new and exciting, go buy the new PS3. But if you want that old, reliable friend, dust off the 8-bit Nintendo. It will never let you down, but it might reset itself once in awhile.