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by Jason Whong

[Andrew on Harley]

My favorite games

Andrew is gone away on vacation, and he told me I could do whatever I wanted with the president's letter for this issue. He was going to write a detailed column about modems, latency, and cool new alternatives like cable modems and ADSL. While I'm a bit of a geek myself, I'll leave that to him. Remember, though, that he is still the president, and I am still the Marketdroid.

Instead of writing about modems, I'm going to write about my favorite games. No, they're not made by Ambrosia. No, they're not even available for Macintosh. Or for Windows. Before you shoot me for being a traitor to the cause, give me a second to explain.

I've been playing games for ages, starting with the Atari 2600 just before the great Atari crash. I've owned a 2600, a 7800, a Nintendo Entertainment System, a SNES, and of course my trusty Centris 650. I've played a lot of games on all of these. I bought a Nintendo 64 soon after my employment here. (as well as a PowerBook 3400 and a Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh) And, while I've enjoyed lots of the games I've played recently, I think I've clocked the most hours of fun on my original Nintendo Entertainment System.

The NES made all kinds of contributions to gaming as we know it. Legendary Japanese publishers like Capcom and Konami, as well as Nintendo's visionary Shigeru Miyamoto brought life to the system with amazing titles. In the earlier years, understandability of translations wasn't really important ("Oh?! Oh?! The truck have started to move?!" is a notable quote from Konami's Metal Gear), but that improved with time.

"Jump and Shoot" Side scrollers were hot back then. Some were blastfests, some were interesting adventures, and some games were especially poor. But gaming changed for me forever with the release of four important sequels. I'll call them the four twos: Castlevania II, Super Mario Brothers 2, Zelda II, and Mega Man II. And before I forget, let's throw in Bionic Commando, which was in some ways a sequel to Commando. I must have wasted the best of my teenage years playing those, but it kept me off the mean streets of suburban Washington.

The reason I spent so much time with these games was because they almost weren't games; they were digital stories, with me at the center. These titles didn't rely as much on how quickly I could twitch -- they were reasonably challenging, but not impossible.

SMB2 (Originally Doki Doki Panic in Japan) was notable because it offered 4 Characters to play, each with different capabilities; The Princess could hover for certain periods of time, Luigi didn't fall as quickly as other players, and Toad was really strong. Mario rounded out the bunch as the well-rounded (although arguably the most difficult) character. Each problem had multiple solutions, some more creative than others. A nice musical score completed the fun experience.

Bionic Commando was another one of my favorites, particularly because the story grabbed me, and pulled me in. I was infiltrating a hostile country, and listening in on their internal communications in order to locate and rescue Super Joe. The bionic arm was unprecedented, and made for all kinds of interesting solutions to problems. If you didn't like shooting the enemy, you could always force them off of a cliff with your bionic arm.

Zelda II was fun, although I don't think I ever finished it. In fact, I don't think I made it very far at all. I still liked the extensive character development, which made me feel like my real name was Link. It also didn't have the obscurity problems that the original Zelda faced ("What? I was supposed to but a bomb there?").

I enjoyed Castlevania II because it was winnable, and because it was nonlinear. You didn't have to beat all five houses before closing in on Dracula. If you did this, you'd get a happy ending, but with grey skies. However, if you went to the trouble of beating the entire game, you'd find a different happy ending, with blue skies. There was even a red sky ending, in which Dracula's hand rises from its grave, but I only saw it once, and couldn't get it to reappear.

Lastly, Mega Man II was a significant improvement over the original Mega Man, both in terms of translation and playability. And, since it was nonlinear, you could defeat the levels in any order, with a unique upgrade for your character each time. It was one of those feel-good games, in which you're smashing robots instead of killing beasties. And it had a certain magic, which inspired a bunch of sequels. Around the office, people have heard me humming a Mega Man II theme from time to time.

You're probably wondering why I've spent so much time talking about these great games, since Ambrosia didn't make them. Admittedly, the only game we have that comes close is Harry the Handsome Executive, which is certainly a fun game in its own respect. But it's not a "jump and shoot" game like the others I've mentioned.

That's all going to change with the introduction of Ferazel's Wand, another game developed by Ben Spees. I'm really going to like being involved with the prerelease versions of this game, because it's Ambrosia's first entry into the "jump and shoot" sidescroller genre. It'll have more character development than you can shake a stick at, as well as elegant hand-drawn sprites. All of this on a high-res Mac monitor instead of on a cruddy NTSC TV.

I'm not one to play favorites. Slithereens is also an awesome game. There's an interview with Slithereens developer Jesse Liesch in this issue. Cythera is gonna rock the house, and there's no Mac RPG like it. Manse is coming along quite nicely as well.

So, whether you're into Jump and Shoot sidescrollers, maze games, roleplaying games, or first-person shooters, Ambrosia will take care of you. We've got a few tricks up our sleeve for the coming months. And you can bet they'll all have the Ambrosia quality that you're accustomed to.

[Andrew's Signature]

Jason Whong
Ambrosia Software, Inc.

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