It’s Saturday night. We’ve finished our weekly D&D game, and have decided not to squander the evening rhythmically tapping the “Stumble” button as we did last weekend. That is, we decide to find some productive way to waste time.
I’ve been meaning to play Final Fantasy VI, and I even have vocational justifications for doing so. The (still unannounced on this site) project I’m involved with is a Nintendo DS title that is descended from the FFVI visual aesthetic. Imagine if, instead of moving to polygons, the makers of jRPGs had simply continued to refine the established gameplay and presentation. We’re talking about something that looks like some sort of “high res” Super NES level graphics here, as if it came from some alternate dimension where technology advanced along a different vector. In any case, the game I’m going to be working on draws from the same chibi-style fixed-angle orthographic presentation concept, and so to avoid making an ass of myself I really should familiarize myself with the medium.
The other three guys with me have all been through the game multiple times and are excited about the prospect of me experiencing the game for the first time. So much so that they’re actually anxious to sit and watch me play the game. I have the Final Fantasy Anthology (which includes FFVI) for the Playstation(null), which I plan to play on my Playstation 2. Except, my memory card doesn’t seem to be working.
We try the usual folk remedies: Blowing on the contacts, moving it to the other slot, and muttering various childish expletives at the thing. Surprisingly, none of this works. Not even the cussing. Eventually one of the guys gets around to noticing that I’m using a PS2 memory card on a PS(null) game, which, not that anyone ever told me, doesn’t work. How was I supposed to know? I’m new to all this old technology! I usually just plug the thing into the other thing and it it does whatever its supposed to do! Why can’t it just use the PS2 memory card? This last question has apparently been an imponderable among PS2 owners since the arrival of the platform eight years ago.
So it’s eight in the evening and we need an old-school PS memory card. Oh yeah. We’re in the midst of a snowstorm. Still, this is important and clearly an endeavor worth risking our lives over. We pile into the car and head for EB Games at the mall.
EB Games doesn’t have any Playstation(null) stuff. Apparently customer demand is such that we now need to dedicate an entire wall of the store to Halo, like a shrine to some pagan god of incoherent stupidity, but we can’t spare a couple of cubic centimeters for the diminutive PS memory card. We didn’t risk our lives in this storm to just go home empty. We now have a collective need to partake of FFVI. Clearly the only rational course of action is to risk our lives some more. Off to Gamestop.
Now, it doesn’t really make any sense to go to Gamestop. It’s run by the same company as EB Games as part of some corporate branding shell-game that probably looks fantastic on paper but makes no rational sense to the consumer. If one doesn’t carry Playstation goods, the other is going to have the same policy. This is like asking a guy if he’s Irish, and when he says “no” you ask his brother.
It continues to snow as we drive all the way to the other side of town. I’m pretty sure even the guys who drive the snow plows and salt trucks have given up and gone home to play with their XBox 360’s, leaving the four of us to slide all over town on this ridiculous quest.
Gamestop is similarly bereft of original Playstation hardware. Oh sure, you can buy used games for the platform, but you can’t buy any of the stuff required to put those ancient disks to use. I wonder if they have thought this through?
The last place to check is Wal-Mart. On the upside, they are in the same plaza as Gamestop. On the downside, getting over there and parking might quickly turn into an impromptu game of bumper cars in this great field of snow on ice on slush on asphalt.
Once inside, the brilliant white light illuminates the vast rows of consumer goods stretching off to the horizon. This is one of those “super” Wal-Marts that contains other, smaller outlets within its cavernous volume. Restaurants, pharmacy, photo development. In between these anchor stores they have everything imaginable, from running shoes to scented candles to tater tots. I wonder how long it will take them to realize that if they put up a few walls they will have come full circle: The place would be a mall.
This is stupid. I need a card to store 16Kb of data. An amount of data so miniscule it would not be big enough to contain even the HTML text of the webpage you’re now reading. The brave little Commodore 64, which first appeared a quarter century ago, had four times as much memory. I’ve got a memory card in my phone that is so tiny that the words “2GB Micro SD” printed on it are almost to small to read, yet it has more than a hundred thousand times the space of the thing we’re trying to buy.
We sit in the car and sulk while the savage wind flings snow around and dares us to try going someplace else. Its taunts are pointless: We’re out of stores.
My attention turns to my compatriots. Hey, waitaminute… You guys own this game, don’t you? You’ve played it before? Don’t you have, like, exactly the item we’ve been risking our lives for, probably laying around gathering dust somewhere? It turns out that each of them does indeed have several memory cards, but they are all packed with precious data that cannot be erased, or indeed looked at without first undergoing certain cleansing rituals. Cards that are not full are untrustworthy. For whatever reason, PS memory cards seem to go bad after a time. There is a long conversation where the guys list all of the memory cards they own, what games they have on them, and how awesome they are. Eventually somebody remembers a memory card they loaned to this one guy that one time that probably has some free space available.
We visit The Guy. He’s not home. But his friend is, and is apparently fine with strangers coming in and helping themselves to his anachronistic hardware. My friend presses the prize into my open hand – a 16k memory card. The word “sketchy” has been engraved on the grey plastic cover using some crude tool.
Super. We’ve been at this for two hours, and the fruit of our labor is a sketchy memory card that may or may not be able to recall any of the data entrusted to it.
We get it home without being killed by the weather or other drivers, who are all clearly insane for being out on a night like this to begin with. We crowd into one corner of my office and fire up the game. The memory card works. The good guys win. Cue the Final Fantasy victory music.
What is this silly word, why did some people get so irritated by it, and why did it fall out of use?
Could Have Been Great
Here are four games that could have been much better with just a little more work.
Starcraft: Bot Fight
Let's do some scripting to make the Starcraft AI fight itself, and see how smart it is. Or isn't.
Let's ruin everyone's fun by listing all the ways in which zombies can't work, couldn't happen, and don't make sense.
So what happens when a SOFTWARE engineer tries to review hardware? This. This happens.