If you’ve been gaming over the past twenty years, you’ve noticed more than a few changes in the way things work. Going beyond the obvious “the graphics look better,” there are things you don’t think of that have vanished over the past two decades. Some of these may still linger in some capacity, but newer gamers today and beyond will never know what it feels like. Check out our list of eleven, and feel free to add your own in the comments section!
Blowing In/Cleaning Cartridges
Ask anyone who has ever played an NES, Genesis, or Super Nintendo to turn on one of those games today. Chances are, before they put the game into the slot, they will flip it upside-down and blow vigorously into the open-end of the cartridge. The justification we always gave was that dust was somehow accumulating over top of the part that connected with the system, but in actuality, there wasn’t much that the actual blowing did; it was likely a bad connection that was corrected by simply reinserting the game.
There were other rumors that came from all kinds of different sources, but for some reason, you always believed whatever method the kid on the bus or in class told you. The oddest part is how these methods spread across the world without internet, or why it only worked on your NES when you did the proper method. To this day I still instinctively blow in my copy of Super Mario Bros. 3 when I decide to play the actual game instead of my Wii Virtual Console version.
Hearing rumors about cheat codes and wondering if they were real or fake
Riding the bus and talking video games was always risky business when it came to cheat codes. From rumors of being able to play as Luigi in Super Mario 64 to how you can access Hyper Sonic in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, cheat codes were the first urban legend I ever knew. I firmly believe that every school bus had that one kid that swore he could input the code fast enough, giving him invincibility or infinite lives. You knew it was an impossibility to have fingers fast enough to input that code before the main menu showed up, but that didn’t stop you from trying. The alleged codes weren’t even that great, but it made you feel like you were breaking some law by discovering a cheat code that you didn’t know about before.
Not being able to figure out how to beat a game at any time
There was once a time where every piece of knowledge in human history was not readily available by turning on your computer. Whether you wanted to know where you’ve seen that actor that just had a cameo on the show you’re watching (they guested on Seinfeld for an episode, in case that’s still driving you crazy) or you were just wondering who won the baseball game last night, you had to just sit and wonder, or actually seek out the answer in person. The same rule applied to video games. There was no GameFAQs.com. If you were stuck on a level of a video game, you had three options to choose from: You kept pouring your hours into it until you resolve it through luck, you called a friend up who may have played the game at some point and tried to work it into a non-awkward conversation, or you went and spent actual money on a tactile strategy guide.
Imagine my delight when my parents finally signed us up for AOL and I discovered that I could just type “N64″ into the AOL Keyword field and be magically taken to a Nintendo 64 message board where I could have any question I ever had answered by people who probably had less knowledge about the game than I did! Ahhh the joys of the early days of the internet.
Oh wait… it’s still that way.
Having to wait for a magazine to arrive to learn about game release dates
Along those same lines, when you wanted to know about which games were coming out soon, you had to wait for a physical copy of Nintendo Power, GamePro, or EGM to arrive. There was no way, outside of calling up a store (which, let’s face it, most stores had no idea about video games back then, anyway), for a kid to figure out when a game was coming out unless he/she had a trusty magazine. Luckily, I could disguise my habit of checking out upcoming releases by telling my parents I was “going to go up to my room to read.”
Searching for a store that carried the game you wanted
Before Wal-Mart and GameStop existed, there was a time when you didn’t know if your store of choice would be carrying the big release of the day. Nowadays there’s a chance you’ll get there and the store has run out for those who didn’t pre-order (or at least that’s the lie Gamestop feeds you), but with big releases in particular, it’s rare that you stumble upon a shortage of games.
The game I can remember not being able to find for weeks was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. I must have searched six or seven major retailers trying to find that game on launch day, only to receive puzzled looks from electronics section employees. Instead of waiting for the retailers to receive their shipment of A Link to the Past, I decided to be persistent and find a movie rental place that had the game in stock for rental. That week saw me playing it religiously, violating any sense of “bed time” that my parents had ever tried to institute… after all, I only had one of the greatest games of all-time for one week!
Saving up quarters for the arcade
Quarters were magic when I was a kid. Not only did that mean I wouldn’t have to wait in line at the change machine, but if I told my mom that I had a few dollars in quarters, it almost guaranteed that I had secured a trip to the mall’s arcade. The death of the arcade has left an enormous hole in my childhood memories. I pumped hundreds of dollars into arcade machines like Area 51, Mortal Kombat II and Daytona USA, and even if kids want to go to the arcade, chances are they’re going to Dave & Busters, where you don’t use quarters. All they have to do now is load up a card with credits and slide it into their favorite machines. This may be about a thousand times more efficient than carrying around so many quarters in your pocket that your pants fall down in the middle of playing The Simpsons Arcade, but there was just something satisfying about hearing that quarter fall into that slot… unless of course the machine spit it back out in the coin-return slot or just outright ate it; then quarters stunk.
Figuring out the best way to untangle the wires of two controllers
My two Super Nintendo controllers were somehow always figuring out ways to tangle with each other. I don’t know how it happened, but the wires seemed to magically form the tightest knots I’ve ever seen overnight. It didn’t matter if I was playing Donkey Kong Country co-op or Super Mario World alone; even the most well-wrapped controllers found some way to come unwrapped and tangled while I slept or attended school. One positive that came out of this, however, was that there was about a ten-year period in my life where I could untangle anything, game controllers or otherwise.
Being able to put a game in without having to download patches, enter codes, and agree to things before playing
Having to manually update rosters in sports video games
Today, when you turn on a sports game, you’ll typically receive a notification that a roster update is available for download. For me personally, that might be the #1 greatest video game innovation of all-time. Perhaps the most time I’ve spent playing video games has involved updating rosters of some kind. Back in the day of games like Triple Play ’97 and World Series Baseball ’98, I obsessed over getting each roster move just right and current with real-life teams prior to starting any seasons. I would compile each of the sports sections of the paper and on the weekends, I would compare with the transactions section and make the teams in my game reflect the real rosters as best as possible. I would even create the rookies using the character creation. I think my proudest/saddest moment came from playing Tony La Russa Baseball 2 on DOS, where I went through every team and, since the real player names were not licensed for use, I actually edited each player on each team’s roster to make them accurate. Yeah, I had a serious problem. But now, I can just enjoy games like MLB 12: The Show, since I just turn on the game and say “Why yes! I would LOVE the opportunity to download the latest roster update for free!” Thank you technology, for saving me from my own obsessive compulsiveness.
Needing to have your friends come over if you wanted to play games with them
This may be the most obvious item on this list, but you really had to have friends come over if you wanted to play games with them. There was no Xbox Live or PSN; there was only one system, two controllers, and one TV. Literally cutting your screen in half was a huge deal when you were playing on a 20″ console TV from the mid-80s. Imagine my dismay when games like Star Fox 64 and GoldenEye 007 only ended up giving me a tiny corner of the TV. Combine that with the fact that people would always complain that I gave them the “bad” controller when they played on my system, and the advent of internet gaming just seems all the sweeter. Of course, there’s no greater satisfaction than trash-talking your good buddy in person as you celebrate over his virtual corpse in a first person shooter, but certain luxuries are worth sacrificing that joy.
Running out of lives and, subsequently, continues
Believe it or not, but back when you weren’t able to figure out a particular level, you only had a certain number of tries before you had to start the entire game over again. Yeah… I know! Video games were ruthless back in the 80s and 90s! Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles didn’t care that you finally got through that water level where you have to disarm those bombs in a lake full of radioactive seaweed; if you died the moment you emerged and you didn’t have any more turtles to use, it was back to the beginning for you. The evolution of games has made it so that titles are so long that they require save files, rendering the lives issue less effective. Some games have had “Hardcore” modes where only one life is bestowed upon the player, but it is definitely the exception rather than the rule, as even games that still use the “lives” system, like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, just make it so that when you run out of lives, you lose your checkpoint on that level, not in the entire game.