Monday, January 24, 2011

A salute to my XBOX

Ever since as a kid when I first saw an Atari console at a friend's place, TV video games always fascinated me. However they were quite pricey then and I didn't dare ask my dad for one.
Even when I got my first computer while in college. I had to convince my Mom that I was going to use it strictly to supplement my engineering education (i.e. programming, research etc).
With computer a whole new avenue of education and entertainment (mostly the later) opened up. Soon enough I found myself fighting with my brother over usage of the computer. Both of us were completely hooked on to computer games (mostly strategy and simulation). Given that we were in our teens we also used it for educational purposes (perhaps not the education that my Mom intended .. but you get the point).

Years passed, I graduated with flying colors (i.e. managed to clear all subjects and got a job). The gaming hobby was now in my blood but being away from home meant I was away from my dear computer as well. Soon enough I found myself in an "Electronics City" store in the US staring at a whole bunch of different gaming consoles. My research had already narrowed the choice between the Playstation II and XBOX. There I was staring at all those consoles with a look of "the kid in the candy store". It was the day after Thanksgiving sale and while rest of my roommates were busy coming up with strategies to lay their hands on the best deals on their electronic gadgets (cameras, mobile phones, laptops and so on). Here I was in the gaming section, staring at the XBOX (being sold at its regular price), a 10 year old kid caught inside the body of a 23 yr old me. Finally the temptation, to own the only gaming console in the neighborhood, won (definition of neighborhood here is limited to the few Indians who lived in the same apartment complex and worked for the same client).

On day one I got my first controller and a Star Wars game. Of course no one else among my roommates were interested in Star wars itself, let alone being interested in seeing me play a unskilled Obi-Wan on the only T.V. available in the room. So I had to struggle to get hold of the T.V. for games. I figured the only way I could play games on that T.V. if they were all interested in playing the same game as me and I had to have extra controllers.

Thus I got Dead Or Alive III and one extra controller. Soon enough everyone found that with human opponents button mashing the controllers, the fighting games provided far bigger challenges then the ones they had scene as kids. When I returned to India, it was even easier to get my roommates hooked onto games. Soon we found ourself planning new strategies, learning new attack - defense combos to beat each other. Of course DOA was not only about fighting. The beautifully designed female fighters added to the visual treat - of watching the ladies gracefully execute the moves. I think we eventually got over the visual treat and were all interested in beating each other fair and square. Although the best fighters - Jan lee, Hayabusa and Brad Wong (think mostly due to the ease of controlling them) were all male, who can ignore Helena, Kasumi, Leifang or Ayane.

I think the funniest fight I can remember was a day before leaving Bangalore for good. Me and two of my dearest roomies most of us drunk to the point of being emotional. Then we got in to a discussion about who amongst us was a better fighter. Obviously being the owner of the console, I had to bet on being the best. While being a few pegs down and barely able to keep my head stable let alone being half asleep, I was betting against all odds. More so because the other guy who used Hayabusa to very good effect, had already beaten all of us and he had not been drinking that day. Since I was drunk, it had to be Brad Wong, the drunken master who was my character of choice. After all this way I could feel one with the character that I was playing online. I don't remember how many fights we had decided on, but half way through my only supporters (the other two drunk guys) fell asleep. Then it was only me, with no cheering concentrating as hard as I could. The only other sane person in the room (chacha) was having a hearty laugh watching my butt (or rather brad wong's behind) getting kicked as also watching me move in the same way as my character moved on screen. After a lot of effort I did eventually I win (or was it that Hayabusa let me win). However all the effort meant that I stayed away from drinks for a long while after moving from Bangalore.

My second trip to US brought with it a few more new roomies and opportunity to improve my portfolio of games (which was limited to 2 at that point). So the famous Halo - a game largely considered the reason for the popularity of the XBOX itself, made its debut on my console. Soon enough I found myself playing the Mithun da / Rajnikanth of gaming aka Master Chief. Master Chief provided me with several hours of the vicarious thrill of shooting several evil Aliens. Most missions typically started with a few supportive fellow humans (computer controlled dumb soldiers who usually died long before a particular mission was accomplished). However soon enough, I would find myself the lone soldier taking on hordes of Aliens.

Halo's music track was quite engrossing, the alien opponents were quite smart and switched their stance between being aggressive to being stealthy depending on the situation. While first person shooters have improved drastically over the years, I think the strong story line, engrossing sound track and most importantly the relatively smart AI really helped Halo gain its cult status. Once I had completed a significant number of levels, the challenge started to become redundant and only the number of aliens increased. A few new and hardy aliens came up to improve the challenge, but by now I realized that I needed to involve my room mates for lasting fun. Soon enough two more controllers were bought and saturday afternoons or friday nights became battle time.

After trying different battle configurations we found that all of us were pretty slow shooters and not meant for a fast deathmatch. However we all loved to play the hide and seek using sniper rifles. Again it is not really hide and seek if you can see through the eyes of all 4 players (i.e. 4 way split screen), but every now and then we managed to sneak into places that the other 3 guys wouldn't know and then the battle was on. I remember a short battle where me and one my roomie aka "Master Chef" (note the missing I) were literally facing off. Thanks to the split screen we could both see each other. One guy hiding in a den somewhere in the mountain and the other guy hiding behind a distant tree. We both kept moving and shooting at each other for a few minutes without a single bullet touching each other (so much for being good snipers and all ). During this whole battle we felt like those cowboys from the movies. Those few minutes we were pretty much in the same hiding place and those gun shots felt like taking an eternity to get close to the other guy. Yet when the fight was eventually settled, it had only been a little over a couple of minutes (I think). I think the Chef eventually won, gaining his crown as the best with the Sniper rifle, but we had just fought an epic battle (at least for epic for all the roomies).

Not all good things last and neither did our Halo battles. I had to move to a different location on project deputation and was now at a place where I did not have half a dozen friends or roommates. Then I discovered the fun of XBOX live with DOA2 Ultimate and Halo 2, the live versions of 2 of my favorite games. Playing over internet had its advantages and disadvantages.
On the bright side, I was never a lone player and with just a few clicks could play online and face off against world's best.
The disadvantages however outweighed the advantages. I was good at beating the computer and would often feel overconfident and decide to go online for a real test. Only then did I realize that the world's best were true pros. So not only that I lost, almost every time I suffered humiliating defeats sealing my status as an amateur at best. Besides having gotten used to playing on split screen, the lack of it meant that I couldn't see through my opponents eyes, which only made my situation worse. Even so I think I managed a decent amateur ranking later on in DOA. While playing on internet provided a challenge, the fun of beating roomates and teasing them in face was definitely missing. Nevertheless I still remember those good times of playing on internet.

Years have passed since those fun days. The live version DOA2 has been stopped for ever and replaced by its successor (DOA4). The XBOX console I used is now two generations (by gaming console age) old. My own console is rusting in peace underneath a cloth that hides it like a kafan. The few wires hanging from it serve as the reminders of those good times. Those memories itself have started fading in my mind. So I thought it would be best to post them online. It feels as if I am writing an eulogy for a dead pet just before doing its last rites. As I sign off, I have found a store which claims to be able resurrect my dear XBOX. So I sign off with the hope that I will be able to let it live an after life and maybe even relive some of those memories.


  1. Nice blog...reminded me of those good old times as well. You used to be hooked onto the XBox the entire have a true passion for playing video games. God bless your XBox! :)

  2. Nice blog. I agree with Abhijit, this blog brings back memories of 2005. Bahuth aish ki.

    I can still picture you lying on the floor teda and playing your XBox all night :)