Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Friends List

Ever since I was a little kid, I've always enjoyed multiplayer gaming.

It doesn't have to be a competitive game (although that's fun too)...sometimes it's just fun to share the experience with someone. Whether I was playing Combat against one of my sisters on the Atari 2600, or dropping quarters into the latest arcade game with a friend, nearly all of my favorite gaming memories have involved more than one person.

For the last 15 years or so, there was one person in particular who I played the bulk of my multiplayer video games with....and last weekend, my friend John passed away. While I'm not interested in eulogizing him on the internet, I thought it might be appropriate for my 365 Games in 365 Days project to discuss some of the great times we had together playing video games.

I can't begin to count the number of Mario Kart sessions John and I played against each other (especially on the Nintendo 64), but it's in the thousands for sure. Whether it was from the comfort of a couch at home, in a tournament, in line for a movie or game launch, our "Bowser vs. Toad" rivalry was a constant over the last 15 years. We played every chance we got, even sneaking some wireless multiplayer action on the Nintendo DS during a flight from Seattle to Comic Con this summer. That game was definitely one of our favorites. We played against our friends, each other...or just the computer, memorizing every secret of every track along the way. I still remember that on a few particular marathon nights, our VS. scores got well into the triple digits.

Although we were console gamers primarily, we also played hundreds of hours of Starcraft, Quake 2 and Unreal Tournament on the PC together. When combined, I probably lost several weeks of sleep to those games over the years, but those were great times. We got into Star Wars Galaxies for awhile, but never really dove into Warcraft or any of the other big role playing titles. I'm glad we didn't, because I'm sure if either of us had started one of those, the other one would have too. On behalf of my free time, I'm glad we left the modern world of MMORPGs alone.

Many of our other friends are gamers, and we attended (or hosted) at least two dozen different Halo parties with them over the years. The first Halo party John and I ever hosted was held back in 2002, and we had a full house of people playing on 5 different screens. The last one we went to was earlier this year at our friend Jay's house in Seattle...with my nephew joining us remotely from California over Xbox Live. We played all day long and didn't leave until late that night, taking breaks only for snacks and game recaps.

Even though it wasn't his best game, John was a big Halo fan. We waited in line together to buy it at the launch of the original Xbox in 2001, and in subsequent lines for almost every other Halo product launch there was. These lines were important gaming events in themselves, and I have fond memories of all the different launch night midnight lines we waited in over the years.

Speaking of gaming events, from the first year they held it in 2004 until this September, John and I attended every Penny Arcade Expo ever held in Washington. Every year we went to PAX, we spent countless hours in line, waiting to try the newest video games that we'd be buying in the future. Over the years, PAX has become my favorite convention to attend, surpassing even Comic Con. This summer, I got to go to both events with my friend John.

John and I were roommates for many years in our twenties, and that's probably where a majority of our gaming time took place. Years later, we mostly used online services like Xbox Live to keep the late night gaming sessions going even after we had purchased our own homes and moved in with our girlfriends. Lately, we weren't doing as much Xbox Live gaming as we used to, so the bulk of our multiplayer gameplay was focused on playing Rock Band in person at my house. Even though they weren't as frequent as I would have liked, Rock Band nights were the best.

Rock Band was John's favorite game, and from the very first time we played Guitar Hero together at our friend Greg's house, John was pretty much hooked on music gaming from that night forward. He was always a pretty skilled gamer, but he really found his calling with Rock Band. Everyone has one game that they're the best at, and this one was his. He truly excelled at it. He routinely played at expert levels at Guitar, Bass and singing...and could play on the Hard level while drumming. When we would enter Rock Band tournaments, he had no problem playing on a team with people who could only play on medium or hard....he just liked playing the game with his friends. Together, we've gone through the "Endless Setlist" (all 80+ songs on the disk) for both Rock Band and Rock Band 2....and both times, John played guitar or bass in almost every song.

For one of his birthdays, we had a surprise Rock Band party, and he got to play Rock Band 2 for the first time ever that night. It was a great night, and I have no doubt that we would have been having a similar party next week. John was really looking forward to playing Rock Band 3, and had planned to use it to learn to play the real guitar. He'd been looking forward to the release of Rock Band 3 since the day it was announced, scouring the web for announcements of which bands might be a part of the next game. Although he didn't live to see the retail release next week...he and I did get to play an early version of it on stage at Comic Con this summer in San Diego. Although the line took over an hour...we both had a great time waiting in it, watching other people play...and an even better time on stage playing the game.

According to Xbox Live, the last video game he played online was Halo Reach, and as it turns out, I was playing alongside him during those final matches. Thanks to Bungie.net I can see that he and I were on a team with my nephew, and that we played a round of custom team slayer online against a bunch of our other friends. The final score was 42-36, in our teams favor. He went out a winner.

For the last week or so, I haven't been interested in playing video games....because my best friend is no longer around to play them with. I know he would probably think that was stupid, and he would tell me so. Video games are my favorite way to relax and unwind, and I'm actually starting to feel like I might need to fire one up to get my mind off everything else going on right now. Who knows, it might actually help.

One way or the other....I know that gaming is never going to be quite the same without him.

Nothing will.

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