Technology is an ever-shifting and rapidly evolving beast. People around the world once communicated via letter or telephone call – now you can FaceTime your lunch with your grandmother in Lithuania. Then you can share the details on Snapchat, complete with superfluous emojis. Nana would love that.
It stands to reason, then, that terminology becomes antiquated in a short span of time. You may have to be over a certain age to recognize some of the jargon below. If you’re feeling wary, never fear – no microtransactions lie ahead. There’s a term you’re bound to be familiar with.
Regarding save states, early games operated in one of two ways. In some cases you would have to pick up your progress through the use of a cumbersome password. Typically these would contain so many characters and numbers, you would take up an entire page frantically jotting them down in your notebook. If just a single digit was off, it was useless. And so were you, for being so ineffective at recording passwords. Other games tested your mettle by making you play the whole thing in one sitting. Were you up to the challenge?
Then, battery-backed saves emerged and made our lives much easier. So celebrated was this innovation, several games even boasted about it right on the box. All you had to do was tap that nifty little ‘save’ option, and the game would store your data right there on the cartridge, ready to roll next session. In 1981, one gaming magazine denounced this demon craftwork as being for ‘cowards to retain their hard-earned position in the game before making some dangerous move’. Despite their distaste, it’s become industry standard now, albeit directly onto hard drives, or tiny little chips that store more data than a million copies of Zork.
The unfortunate truth, however, is that these batteries have a finite amount of charge on them, and we’ve entered the era where some 80s and 90s carts have bit the dust, no longer recognizing the data they once held so close, nor recognizing you, in your ripe old age. The second generation of Pokemon games were particularly notorious for this, with their battery-hungry internal clock sucking them dry at an accelerated rate. Pour one out for all the lost Quagsire out there.
Nintendo have long had a fascination with making the jump to 3D. The ill-fated Virtual Boy was a particularly bold foray into this venture, while the far superior Nintendo 3DS rendered 3D graphics without the need of a cumbersome headset or eyes made of literal cast iron. Rumor has it the red graphics of the Virtual Boy were actually caused by internal bleeding.
Before all this, there was mode 7. By rotating and scaling graphical elements, the Super Nintendo was capable of creating environments that appeared to be broaching the third dimension. Children around the nation were gob smacked – racing games like Super Mario Kart and F-Zero looked cutting edge as you tore about the courses, while Super Castlevania IV used this feature to chaotically spin the whole stage around the player, adding another layer of danger to Count Dracula’s castle of OH&S hazards.
In addition to the spectacle of mode 7, Nintendo was also dazzling us with the Super FX chip, most famously implemented in that wild little title known as Star Fox. A flurry of polygons darting and whizzing about the screen in ways we had never seen before thanks to the extra oomph provided by that dandy little chip. We felt like we were really in the cockpit of the Arwing, fending off Andross’ army and saving Corneria from the brink of destruction. Playing it now seems more like a matter of ‘grey object launching yellow projectiles at bigger grey object’, but for its time, it was something to behold.
NOTE: Originally, we erroneously claimed that the graphics in Star Fox were powered by Mode 7, as opposed to the Super FX chip. Thank you to Nick London for pointing out this mistake. He uses bombs wisely, you know.
Not to be outdone, Sega had its own graphical innovation to unleash upon the world. Mode 7 may sound cool, but nothing is more radical/gnarly/tubular/mondo/cowabunga than blast processing, baby. Incidentally, cowabunga isn’t an adjective, but it totally worked.
What did it mean? Was the Sega Genesis actually blasting graphics out of the console? Was it a veritable blast against their bitter rivals Nintendo? Or was it inspired by repeated listening of the Stevie Wonder classic ‘Master Blaster’? As it turns out, none of these are true. It was merely a coding trick that they happened upon that made the hardware push sprites at impressive speeds.
Despite this rather minor discovery, Sega were quick to smother it with as much marketing jargon as they could. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was touted as being the fastest game of all time, with the titular speedster occasionally moving so quickly, he was literally running off of the screen itself. As good as Sonic was at spinning, he had nothing on Sega’s marketing executives when they coined a largely nonsense phrase to make their console appear bigger, better and meaner.
If blast processing didn’t hook you in, gaming’s buzzword of Christmas 1994 surely did the trick. It’s hard to quantify exactly how massive the advent of lock-on technology felt when it was first unveiled. By placing copies of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 or 3 into the slot atop the Sonic & Knuckles cartridge, you were not only able to unlock more levels, but retroactively add Knuckles into existing games. Even ignoring the fact that your cartridges were precariously stacked into the Sega Genesis like a perverse game of Jenga, we were convinced that this was the future of gaming.
Alas, nothing more eventuated from lock-on technology. Inserting other games into the slot results in an error screen, wherein Sonic and his cronies would mock you for your misdeed. Inputting a code allowed you to access Sonic 3’s special stages, but nothing more than that. So if you had bold ambitions of using Knuckles in Street Fighter 2 or Splatterhouse, you were going to walk away disappointed.
Expansions are still doing the rounds of gaming to this day, breathing new life into games that are otherwise past their expiration date, a la the decaying husk of World of Warcraft. But it was never quite so spectacular as it was back when Sega showed us that two is always better than one.
So you’re stuck on a particularly tricky level. Texting a friend? Not possible. The Internet? Never heard of it. Ask your parents? Your mom probably tries pressing up on the d-pad to jump. Don’t waste your time.
That’s why it was up to the professionals to guide you towards glory, and all it would cost you was the low, low rate of $9 a minute! You may be on hold for most of those minutes, but you were paying for knowledge – it was worth it, dammit.
One could only imagine the sheer scope of the job these brave employees were tasked with, effectively having to know every minute aspect of any title that was ever released; from the staples of Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, all the way down to the dregs of Hudson Hawk or Kid Kool. Trying to extract information about a player’s location or attempting to relay instructions to a dopey ten-year-old sounds like a recipe for disaster, and many mullets were no doubt lost to frantic hair pulling.
Is there a way to get out of the dungeon without using the wizard key? Only they truly knew the answer to that age-old question and countless more. Bless those hotline geniuses. They can call us any day.