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Video Game School

Each weekend I play video games with my son. The session last 30 minutes, and I let him choose.

For a long time it was Plants vs Zombies on the PC. For awhile Minecraft. Then Plants vs Zombies 2 on the iPad.

I then started introducing some of the classics. I had small handheld atari emulator that had pacman, digdug and some other older games, and he had a lot of fun dying over and over playing those.

I then constructed a raspberry pi based MAME controller based on this Adafruit design with some custom modifications to do away with the keyboard. He has enjoyed watching those games as well. Moon Patrol is one of his favorites.

I've moved onto NES games. We played through all of Zelda, which again, is one of my favorite games of all time. It is a sandbox game where you wander around, trying to find dungeons, you get a quest to climb a water fall and find a new sword, you get new weapons, find secret treasure troves, etc...

I then tried Super Mario Brothers, and while I still vividly remember the first time I layed my eyes on someone playing that when I was in first grade, I uttered my first oath to myself on that day, that I would someday acquire that magic machine that let you play with moving cartoons.

Super Mario Brothers doesn't hold up well. It is very repetative, and just kind of a bitchy game. Speaking of bitchy games, we then started playing Megaman. This has been *very* popular, to the point where I read him the comics and bought him a guide to every robot master. This game is clearly harder than SMB, but enough so where it feels like an achievement to pass it rather than a chore.

I skipped Super Mario Brothers 2, because it really isn't a true Mario game at all, and went onto Super Mario Brothers 3. Which is a great game, but is still "NES Hard". I sweated my way through several levels, and ended up having to restart several times after running out of guys, which is a thing I had forgotten happens in Mario games.

Then I introduced him to his first SNES game, Super Mario World, which really is a superb game. The world is big, and you immediately do things that can alter the world. Every other level has a fun and challenging "secret" path in it and they really mastered making the same gameplay feel different, from haunted houses to timed side scrolling pressure jumping to tricky castles with a one-off mechanic (e.g. a snaking platform you have to ride over a lava pit). It also has Yoshi, who you ride and can eat enemies and different things happen. The game really is just a joy to play, and one of the first SMB games with a "modern" difficulty curve, where you can just enjoy playing without sweating too hard.

I can't wait to show him Link to the Past.

I've also reverted back to my "difficult platformer" roots as I've been playing pretty much nothing but Spelunky lately. Spelunky is an indie, 2d platformer in a fondly remembered Indiana Jones styled world. The trick is, that everytime you die, a new world is generated. Each world shares several themes, and some static bits always appear just at different times or places. It is also wicked hard. But unlike a Megaman type game where you play a difficult part over and over until your muscle memory adapts enough to a certain allowable percentage of error, instead in Spelunky my deaths are teaching me that I need to slow down. To be more careful, to plan my actions more carefully.

My first game of Spelunky ended in approximately 5 seconds as I jumped off a ledge and was brutally shot in the stomach by an arrow shot from a gargoyle head, my body was tossed like ragdoll, and as I layed stunned, a spider fell on my face and killed me.

Next game, when I saw a Gargoyle arrow trap, I picked up a nearby rock, dropped *that* instead, and watched as the arrow bounced harmlessly off the wall...

One key thing that the enforced random generation does, is it shifts the anger. In Megaman, the fuel in my furnace was my anger at myself for not being fast or accurate as I knew I had to be. When I die in Spelunky, I have an out. The specific situation that slew me is gone, forever now, never to be faced again. The only thing left is to reap what I can learn from my frustrating death and reload, into a fresh new adventure with different bullshit that is going to kill me.

In any case, I'm very impressed with it overall, and I find myself returning it trying to uncover the secret nooks and crannies I missed during my first few hundred play throughs.