Ask A Gamer: Alex McHotstuff
Welcome to Ask A Gamer! Each week I post a series of questions and answers from gamers to show just how similar or different we all are. My aim is to highlight the positivity in the gaming community and share what we love doing most: gaming.
This week’s gamer is: Alex McHotstuff
Introduce yourself and your blog/social media page
Hi, my very totally real name is Alex McHotstuff and I write stuff over on mcwritestuff.com. Most of my content is stories and satire, but I also write about video games. I have a segment called “Dear Video Games” where I address a passionate letter to either a loved or hated experience. I’m also the co-host of a new podcast, “Fandom Fantasies”, where we fantasize and casually chat about our favourites. If you’re bold enough, you can get a taste of my snarky commentary by following me on twitter @mcwritestuff.
Where did your love for Gaming begin?
I don’t think video games had a huge impact on me when I was a kid. My parents were very stingy with buying new toys or spending any “unnecessary” money on me and my brother. I was always behind on the trends and ended up spending more time playing outdoors. Back then, video games were a fun pastime but I wasn’t engulfed in them. It wasn’t until my early 20’s that I devoted more time into gaming and dove deeper into the storylines of each game. When I stopped playing and sat there still thinking about what I experienced, that’s when my love for video games truly began.
What is your earliest gaming memory?
My parents got an old-ass PC for free or for cheap from a friend. It was ancient even for the 90’s. Three games came already installed on the machine. They were in black and white, although in retrospect I am absolutely positive this was only due to the PC’s limitations. Despite the incredibly shitty hardware, I was amazed by how things were moving on a screen that I had control over. I don’t think I could have ever imagined a combination of watching a movie and playing with toys. I bet that’s what people felt like when they first experienced movies with sound.
What was the first game you remember playing?
Bouncing off of my previous answer, one of the games on that crappy PC was “The Secret of Monkey Island”. This is why I’m sure it was the PC that was lacking colour and not the games, because I’ve seen the original in colour later in my life.
I had quite the challenge playing this game, though. I couldn’t beat it and there is one out of two possible explanations for it: Either I was too young to understand the intricacies of the puzzles in order to solve them and advance in the game at a certain point, or the text was still in original English and my German child brain could only get me so far through the game by guessing. All I know is, I didn’t understand a word. I have not played Monkey Island since, because I’m actually not a fan of point and click adventure games.
What was the first game you ever purchased with your own money?
Ah, money. I’ve heard of other kids having some of that back in the day. My parents gave me an allowance of 5 Euro a month. If you convert that into your currency it comes to about jack shit and a quarter. If I wanted a new game I would have to wait for Christmas, my birthday, or try to save up. So you bet your ass that I was careful with picking my first game to buy.
I had a friend with a Gameboy Colour and Pokemon blue who let me borrow both for a week. He didn’t allow me to overwrite his save file, of course, so every day I had to restart from the same old save point, never really progressing. But I got a taste of the game and couldn’t put it down. So naturally when it came time for me to purchase a game, I wanted to play Pokemon. Trouble is, I didn’t have a Gameboy Colour. Did I mention my parents didn’t like to waste money on new tings? We still had the original Gameboy at that time, which is already a crazy miracle, but my mom loved playing Tetris on it, so I guess it was a good investment for the household. I had to find a way to get both a Gameboy Colour and a copy of Pokemon Red (so I could trade with my friend who had Blue). So I saved up around 50 bucks and planned my mission accordingly: Go to the game store on my birthday and tell my parents I wanted to buy one thing with my own money and choose something else as my birthday present. When I was there I pointed out Pokemon Red behind the safety glass and told my dad this was what I wanted to buy. The cashier was already ringing it up when my dad realized I would need the Gameboy Colour to play that. It was too late for him to talk me out of it, and of course, it was my birthday. The Gameboy Colour was expensive, at least about 100 Euro, so it wasn’t entirely for me alone and was meant to be shared with the family. My mom would enjoy Tetris on a slightly more colourful screen anyway. The important thing was that I got to play Pokemon Red, the first game I bought with my own money. A game I played to death and even collected all 150 Pokemon. Well, 151 if you count Missingno.
Which is your preferred platform? (No judgement here!)
Is this a post about gaming or a post about my parents? Both, because they had quite the impact on my childhood, almost like they were supposed to raise me or something. My parents had this mentality of “you can’t get something new if you still have the old thing”. For example, I couldn’t get a cat while I still had a hamster, and couldn’t get new clothes if the old ones were still intact. This meant that if we wanted to upgrade to another console, we had to get rid of the old one. The PC was the only thing that stayed simultaneous to whatever console we had, because it was a multipurpose machine and not just a gaming device. But for the rest, my brother and I had to decide if upgrading to a new generation was worth losing the old one. We got a NES, and waited until the PS One came out for our first upgrade. From the PS One we jumped onto the Xbox bandwagon. At that point my brother developed a Xbox loyalty and since he was a pain to negotiate with, I just rolled with it and gave in to the Xbox 360 as our next upgrade, despite me wanting to see what the Playstation was up to at that time. My brother was the kind of guy who would kick a hole into the door when he lost at MegaMan or rip his copy of Pokemon Silver out of the Gameboy and completely trash it because, and I quote, “Primeape used Doubleteam”.
Finally, when I lived on my own, I thought of the PlayStation days and my heart ached for all the games and franchises I missed out on through all the generations. So I bought a used PS3 (in 2013, when the PS4 was released) and bought a bunch of games, both digital classics from the PS One era and “new” releases for the PS3. I fell in love with the games and preferred the system over all the others I experienced in my life. It wasn’t until 2016 that I purchased a PS4 despite being broke as fuck, and it quickly became my favourite console, which it still is to this day…until maybe the PS5 comes out.
By the way, don’t tell my parents, but I did not get rid of my PS3.
What is your all time favourite game and why?
Like I mentioned, I was not in the best financial situation when I bought my PS4. But I had enough money set aside for the console and one game. All I had to do was pick a game that would last me a lifetime. And boy, did The Witcher 3 not disappoint. All previous games in my life have been fun and I have fond memories of them. But none made me dive so deep into the lore as The Witcher 3 did. I never played the previous Witcher games and all I knew about it was that it got great reviews and was an open world action RPG. I thought a big and popular game like that would keep me occupied until I saved up enough money to buy another game. Two years later I was replaying the whole thing for the third time, I started reading the books, and I bought merch from the developer’s official store (something I haven’t done with ANY other game before). Hell, I got the soundtrack on CD last year and I still listen to it every day in my car. Any quick trip to the grocery store becomes an instant adventure when you get serenaded by a Polish folklore band.
The game was so fantastic, that the Witcher is always on my mind…although the tattoo helps as a reminder, as well.
What is your favourite genre of game?
In a broader sense, RPG’s are my favourite, from turn-based combat in Pokemon, to real time action in the Witcher. I love it when customization is involved, whether it’s creating an entire character from scratch or just deciding which branch to follow in a skill tree. It’s so much more fun to play a game that offers multiple approaches or allows you to find your own way to mold the story.
What Game(s) are you most looking forward to this year?
There’s a large number of games on my list to get when they’re released, but most of them aren’t scheduled to come out in 2019 for certain. So I’ll keep my Death Stranding and Ghost of Tsushima excitement at bay and instead highlight a game I’m looking forward to that might be overlooked in the stream of new games to come: Biomutant. It’s a game that has the elements of an action RPG that I love with customizing your character’s abilities. It also brings a bit of a throwback to the mascot days and it’s a brand new IP. Ever since Horizon Zero Dawn I got excited for developers to end the recycling trend and work with new ideas. I want Biomutant to succeed just like Horizon did, because it would boost the confidence game developers need when it comes to being more creative with their ideas.
Which game made you realise that video games are a powerful storytelling medium?
Long before the Witcher there was a game that captured me like no other. It was the forerunner of all cinematic storytelling: Metal Gear Solid. I remember first watching my brother play the demo that must have come with one of the Playstation magazines. My brother made it sound like a difficult game and intimidated me before handing the controller over, guaranteeing my failure due to the psychological warfare. But when we got the full version I had a chance to play it by myself without his influence. The story was confusing and intricate, but it pulled me in. Personal dramas enfolded right in front of me, pulling me deeper into the game. I didn’t try to stop the terrorists and save Meryl because the game told me to. I did all those things because I wanted to. The plot and the characters wouldn’t let me go, keeping me captive for every entry in the series, including the handheld spin-offs. Well, except Metal Gear Survive (a very ironic name for something that let the franchise die).
What, in your opinion, is the most important aspect of a game (level design, music, story etc)?
This one is almost impossible to answer. You need at least a little bit of all of them. Level design, controls, and game mechanics are necessary for it to function in the first place. Music sets the mood and helps with immersion. But the one aspect I’m most interested in is story. I’m not very musical, and if something is off with the soundtrack I hardly notice. If a game plays horribly I can always watch a playthrough and still get enjoyment out of it. But if the story is boring, stupid, or doesn’t make sense, I’m out. The only times I can excuse the lack of story is in multiplayer games. I like how Overwatch creates a huge amount of lore, but in the end it’s unnecessary and sometimes even in the way. Tracer fighting alongside Black Widow against Winston and Genji doesn’t make sense in the way Blizzard set up the story, but it’s an online game, so nobody cares.
If the story is shit, I usually abandon the game. I do sometimes just skip through the dialogue and ignore the plot if the gameplay is too much fun to pass on.
Which game would you love a remake of?
Sorry, did you just say “talk more about the Witcher”? Doesn’t matter, I’ll do it anyway. Like I mentioned before, I bought the Witcher 3 together with my PS4 and haven’t played the previous two installments, because they don’t exist on Playstation. I don’t have a gaming PC or an Xbox, so the best way for me to enjoy those games would be a remaster on the PS4 (and all other platforms, of course). Remastering games has been quite the trend lately and while I’d rather see new IPs come out, I can’t pass on the chance to play the original Witcher games improved with graphics and gameplay of similar quality as the third installment.
Which game do you feel not enough people know about?
I had two games in mind for this question and chose to go with a PS One classic I can’t even find in the PSN store anymore. It’s called “Jade Cocoon” and is a 3D JRPG with turn-based combat. It is similar to Pokemon in that you can capture monsters by playing the Ocarina of Time. Wait, no, you play some kind of flute that traps them in cocoons. There’s only four elements and you can usually tell by the colour of the creature. The twist is that you can combine monsters into even stronger creatures, and they change appearance depending on who you mush together. So it’s basically a playable version of the Pokemon Fusion Generator. Oh hey, ever wanted to whoop a Pokemon yourself instead of sending out your own monster? Well, you can fight as the “Trainer” in this game as well, with an array of weapons.
I believe Jade Cocoon had a sequel, but I never got to play that. If you like stuff like Pokemon or Digimon, have a PS One, find a copy of the game somewhere at a flea market, or if you somehow stumble upon it on the PSN store after Sony suddenly released it, grab it immediately. That’s a lot of hypotheticals, but it’s worth it.
What is your favourite video game movie?
The Street Fighter movie with Jean Claude Van Damme. I know it was a stupid movie and they tried to cram as many characters in it as possible. But it has a certain charm to it that other movies like Dragonball Evolution or the Super Mario movie were lacking. Watching it as a kid, I thought it was dope how my favourite video game characters were portrayed by real life people, performing their super cool moves; and as an adult, I think it’s hilarious. To you the release day of Street Fighter might have been the most atrocious video game disaster in history that only created an avalanche of more garbage adaptation. But to me, it was Tuesday.
If video game movies were largely good, which game would you like to see on the big screen?
The Witch- nah, I’m kidding. I’m getting a Netflix show of that, which is much better considering that there is more time to develop the story of an entire franchise in a series rather than a 90 minute movie.
I think the best way to go about creating a good video game movie is choosing a game that has a linear storytelling. If you go with games that let the player decide where the story leads, you will end up disappointing anyone who chose a different approach. Stick to something basic and linear with presentation being the only thing you’re changing, or pick something that doesn’t have much of a story that can be told better on the big screen than in-game.
A video game franchise that comes to mind is Phoenix Wright. I love the games and their mysteries are often fun to unravel, though I often find myself stuck in some of the “search the area” sections. These often kill my enjoyment when I spent forever clicking every single pixel on the screen trying to figure out what the hell the game wants me to find, just so I can go on with the story.
Now imagine a Sherlock style movie with a crazy murder plot and some anime magic sprinkled on top. In the Phoenix Wright movie, you don’t have to solve the murder case in order to see the story unfold. It is always fun to think along with that kind of film and might be a good change of pace of the usual “beep boop, level up, high score” video game movie mentality.
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