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Saturday, February 04, 2012

Nick Arcade - Life-Size Video Gaming

Before I kick off another week of blogs, I just want to take the time, and thank everyone who took part in the Spread <3, Not Hate event yesterday.  It was fantastic to read everyone else’s blog entries on the subject, and I admit that some of the stories really moved me.  Not necessarily because they gripped at my emotions (although the vast majority of them did just that), but because I showed me that I wasn’t necessarily alone.  Like myself, a lot of people who took part in the event shared their stories, and told of their experiences of being bullied.  I had no idea that so many people had been affected by bullying.  It shocked me, and yet saddened me at the same time.  I think I can speak for all of us when I say that bullying in our schools and workplaces needs to stop, and we need to stand up against the bullies in our world.  There were even a couple of people who blogged about how they wished they could do more, or how they witnessed someone being bullied, and didn’t know how to stop it, and they felt terrible for not being able to do more.  We even had a couple of bloggers turn over control of their blog to their own children, who spoke out against bullying, which was great.  At any rate, I think the message really got through to a lot of people, and once again, I wish to thank K.C. Neal and K.M. Parr for allowing me to be a part of the blogging event that they spearheaded right from the beginning!

Now, let’s continue on with the blog.  And, have I got a topic for you today!  But first, a question.

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to star in your very own video game?
I don’t mean having your name on a video game box, or having your image immortalized as a character made up of multicoloured pixels (although I do admit that would sound cool).  I mean actually living the life of a video game character.  You’d jump from platform to platform, collecting coins and treasures, and defeating any enemy (or bully) that may cross your path. 

To be completely honest, I think that life as a video game character would have its pros and cons.  For pros, you’d be able to do things that you normally wouldn’t be able to do.  How many times do you jump from building to building with ease in your day to day life?  Not many, I bet.  How many times would you be able to drive a car, accidentally smash into something, and NOT get arrested for it?  I’m guessing that unless you are a career criminal, that would never happen.  Yet, in video games, both of these happen and more.  In video games, once you defeat an enemy, they stay gone for the rest of your game.  If only it were so easy in the real world.  In video games, especially in role playing games, you can make a lot of money in such a short time.  The catch is that in order to make the money, you have to steal from people, rob their houses, and other criminal activities...things that in the real world could get you sent to prison for a very long time.
(Not that I advocate this, of course.)

There’s certainly many pros to being a video game character.  But there are some downsides as well.  In a video game, you only get three chances to get what you want to get done right, because one false move, and you get a trip to the pixellated heaven in the sky.  And when the video game finally ends, you’re eventually doomed to repeat those same actions over and over and over again.  Come to think of it, living life as a video game would sound a lot like the film ‘Groundhog Day’, where Bill Murray relives the same day over and over.
So being a video game character would have different, but similar struggles to your life in real time.  There are some perks, but there are also some hardships.  But, until 1992, there was literally no way that anybody could find out whether or not they could live life as a video game character.

You see, in 1992, a children’s game show premiered on Nickelodeon that allowed children to walk through a portal and actually become players inside a life-sized video game.  The players would have to move around three levels to collect items that were crucial to finishing the game.  If all three levels were completed, they’d win the game.
(Okay, the video game simulation was really just the contestants playing in front of a blue still looked incredible.)

Today’s blog topic is the Nickelodeon game show “Nick Arcade”, which originally aired for two seasons from January 4, 1992 – March 12, 1993.  Hosted by Phil Moore, the show was the first one in America to regularly use blue screen technology, and the theme of the show had to do with video and arcade games.

I watched the show myself on YTV, and I admit that I would have loved to have gone on the show as a contestant.  I think I would have done well, as I was a decent video gamer as a pre-teen.  However, I was also a husky, tall, pre-teen who probably would have failed miserably in the final round.  Still, it would have been cool to try it, at least.  If you like, you can watch an episode below.

There were two male/female teams of two.  One was the yellow team, the other was the red team.  Each game was made up of two rounds, and each round kicked off with an original video game face-off session, where one member of each team would play a thirty second challenge game.  The games ranged in style and difficulty, and many of them were inspired by classic arcade games, such as “Paperboy”, “Pong”, and various shooter-type games.  Whoever won the face-off would earn 25 points for their team, and would play first in the main round.

The main rounds were various grids of puzzle squares, eighteen on each grid.  And your goal in each round was to move the little guy directly below this paragraph to the finish square.

This is Mikey, the Video Adventurer (who strangely resembles the main character of the 1990 video game StarTropics).  And, Mikey lives in a rather strange neighbourhood.  Sure, there are houses, playgrounds, and a shopping mall.  But in some cases, you can take Mikey on a trip through a medieval setting, underwater, through a haunted house, and even through a portal that can make him time travel!  Each episode of the show took place inside one of eleven different locations, but the game was played exactly the same.

And each one of the eighteen squares contained one of several games, activities, and surprises.  There were squares that offered up instant prizes, as well as instant points that could put teams in the lead.  There were also some bad squares that contained enemies that would automatically make the team lose a turn.  So teams really had to exercise caution when it came to deciding which way to move Mikey across the board.
The majority of the spaces were puzzle spaces, each of which contained either a quiz question, or a challenge.  Most of the quizzes were visual in nature, where teams had to watch a video clip, and answer a question based on what they had just seen. 

Some examples of such challenges included the following;

Video Repairman – a music video was shown scrambled up like specialty cable channels that weren’t paid for, and teams had to guess the artist.

Credit Crawl – a bunch of clues describing a person, place, or thing would scroll up the screen, and teams had to guess what they were describing.

Hidden Camera – a camera was placed in a secret location, and teams had to guess where the camera was based on the background area.

Mixed Signals – a video would be playing, but have completely different audio, and teams had to guess what activity was taking place in the audio clip.

Then there were the Video Challenge squares, where teams would have to play one of five arcade games to try and accomplish a challenge associated with each game.  It could be something such as collecting 25 rings in “Sonic The Hedgehog” in thirty seconds, or beating a stage in “Bonk’s Adventure”, or something similar.  One team member would take on the challenge, while the other one was given a Magna-Doodle.  The team player with the Magna-Doodle would have to risk an amount of points up to the total amount they had accumulated.  If the team member successfully completed the challenge, the amount wagered would be added to their total.  If they failed, that amount would be taken away.

TRIVIA: Each arcade cabinet was represented by one of five main game consoles that were available during 1992.  The five consoles were Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, TurboGrafx-16, and Neo-Geo.
It was a neat idea.  Admittedly, the companies did use the game show to promote their latest products, but for kids, it was a fun way to preview some of the hottest video games.  I’ll readily admit to renting a couple of games that I had seen on ‘Nick Arcade’.  And, considering that all the video game consoles were represented meant that each one had equal airtime, which I thought was great.

At the end of two rounds, whichever team had the most points won the chance to play the bonus round, which was where the blue screen technology came in.  Have a look at this montage of ‘Nick Arcade’ bonus round levels to get an idea as to how they worked.

It looked amazing...or, at least it did twenty years ago.

The way the bonus rounds worked were that they were split up into three rounds.  The first two had one team member running around a screen that took place in a variety of locations.  From jungles to Mayan ruins, mountain tops to winding rivers, city streets to cafeteria food fights, players needed to collect three items within each round to progress to the next screen.  There were bonus items which could slow down the action, kill every enemy on the screen, or refill the player’s energy bar, but if players lost all five units of energy, they would have to start again from the very beginning of the screen.

If players were lucky enough to make it to the third screen, both team members would work together to defeat one of three bosses at the end.  The three bosses were Scorchia, Merlock, and Mongo, and they could be defeated if both players grabbed three floating orbs.  But with flames, lightning bolts, ghosts, and other traps in the rooms, the challenge was difficult.  Even the random hourglasses which could freeze time didn’t necessarily guarantee victory.
Oh, did I mention that teams only had ONE MINUTE to beat all three screens?  I recall a few teams conquering the challenge, but I remember seeing a good many teams fail as well.  But if teams ended up winning the whole game, they could get a nice vacation out of it.  Cash prizes were awarded for each item collected, and teams would get a prize for completing a screen.  Nothing fancy though.  It would be something like a pair of roller blades, or a portable CD player.

Still, it was at the time, the only way that video game players could get the authentic video game playing experience.  And, you know what?  At the age of 30, I would do ‘Nick Arcade’ in a heartbeat...though with me being six foot two, I would undoubtedly fail the final challenge no matter how slim I get.  J

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