Thought I’d share a letter I just wrote to a couple of developers who make a nice podcast…
I’m in this right alongside you guys. Last night I managed to find my 50th star. This is my first time playing the game, and… oh man! That camera… I don’t need to tell you two how moody it is. Sometimes I really don’t know what Lakitu’s thinking!
There’ve also been so many times I’ve made it up onto the apex of some hellish verticality, only for Mario to slide off the edge, whilst I fall into loud spells of swearing. This may be an issue of inertia, and also the directional responsiveness of Mario. (Notice how he can turn 180 degrees instantly if you flick the stick just so, but will do a kind of meandering turn with his feet if you don’t. I could mention Dark Souls 2, here, which has a similar problem; but I won’t.)
These are just trivialities. Like that other game, Mario 64’s imaginative content more than makes up for things. The whole premise of being in a quiet castle filled with painted portals is just delightful! I can only imagine how a child would have felt about it, at the time of release. Bitter-sweetly, I wasn’t one of those children. Back then, in late ’96, my twelfth birthday saw the bountiful gift of a Saturn with Tomb Raider. Which I in no way regret. My cousin Catherine and I would have scary sleep-overs, delving into that subterranean world well into the night. (And as I said to Tim on Twitter, it’s almost unbelievable that a team of six devs in England could have made that, with no similar game to learn from, in about a year.) And even though Catey and almost all my friends would get an N64, none of us felt like playing Mario 64 together. Perhaps we intuited that it was a game of trials to be overcome alone. Or perhaps the multiplayer to be had in other titles was too irresistible.
And in early ’98, my dad decided we needed a PlayStation. (Which, before the year was out, would lead us to Spyro – the game that surprised everyone by how 64-ish it was.)
Anyway, back to my point (which I do have)… I think you two and I are really lucky to be going through this journey almost fresh in 2017. Tomorrow I’ll be 33, and I’m so grateful to be experiencing this. I find myself alternately appreciating every aspect of the game historically, and then being overcome by wonder or delight at some unexpected turn; brought back into the moment.
On the occasional morning, when still half-asleep in bed, when there is no-one else in the room, I have heard someone breathing. The sound comes from very close-by, as if they are lying on my bed. Their breath adopts the same cadence as mine, but they inhale as I ex. Maybe mimicking.
It’s not scary when it happens, though. It’s scary to think of now, but when it happens it’s just a little weird. Not even weird enough to shock me out of bed. I only think, “They’re here again. I don’t know why.” For some reason a question never forms.
Yesterday morning I was lying on my stomach when it happened. It was as though they were lying across my back, weightlessly, resting their chin above my shoulder blade, breathing across the back of my neck. ■
But after that, perhaps towards the end of 1993, I did spend a year’s worth of pocket money ($2 per week) on the $99 Sega Master System (with in-built Alex Kidd in Miracle World!). As I said, we were on a little island of time, oblivious to the industry’s history or where it was headed (after all, the Sega Saturn was due to come out in Japan only a year later). Yet here I was, absolutely delighted by a game that had been released some seven years earlier, on very nearly obsolete hardware. But I think, up until I bought the Master System, I had had no console experience.
If I remember back to how I felt in those days — the effect that the Mega Drive’s colour palette had on me — the skies were indeed lovely. As was everything else. Flowers rotating, tropical trees, spiky grass, and distant cascades over crags above a vast ocean lake. All this set against music that was so inspired! As Dad would sometimes comment, it was “quite proggy” , with a bass-led interlude very reminiscent of the progressive rock band Yes.