Zombies Ate My Neighbors | The Game That Defines 3PStart

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introduction

Welcome to day five of The Games That Define Us! You’re in for a treat this week, as we’ve got some absolute beasts in the writing realms presenting some outstanding contributions.

Just a brief summary if this is your first time here: This collaboration is a 34-day long adventure through video games. Each piece is its own unique audiovisual experience, complete with artwork, designs, music, and (most importantly) amazing works of prose by brilliant bloggers around the world. This adventure will take you through nostalgia, joy, ambition, self-discovery, regret, anxiety, frustration, mourning, and every human experience in between. Video games exist as fragments on the timeline of our lives, and each one of us have chosen the adventure we feel most defines us.

And the award for most fun to design goes to… this one! At least for now. What is it about quirky zombie books, films, and video games that can always be counted on to capture our collective imaginations?

Today we’re joined by The3rdPlayer from 3PStart for a very surprising pick: Zombies Ate My Neighbors. I remember playing this 16-bit cult classic a while back, and it just oozes with quirky undead charm.

Here are a couple of 3PStart pieces you should absolutely pick up after finishing here. Also, kudos to those awesome blog post titles:

All right, enough from me. We hope your braaaaaain enjoys this chapter of The Games The Define Us!

– Matthew, Normal Happenings

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Audio

Well, at least we managed to work in one Zombies Ate Me Neighbors remix into the playlist. After that things began to get a little crazy.

 

 

The Games That Define Us features carefully chosen music and remixes from the franchise of the game represented. Music is a key component of sharing the emotions one feels about a game, so we hope you will press the play button if you’re in a position to do so. 

starring

DmRZQAuU8AANmR1

The3rdPlayer3PStart

Twitter: @the3rdplayer

For the neighbors!

Game: Zombies Ate My Neighbors
System: Sega Genesis
Release Date: July 19, 1993

3pstart

Zombies Ate My Neighbors is satisfying candy. It’s a game that I can pop in to start the distraction that will lead to me feeling better. While it’s a fantastic game, there is no story to speak of that will snap me back to reality.

It would be an understatement to say that the early 1990s forged my pop culture tastes. I was preoccupied with horror movies and finding the next great game to play. When I came across Zombies Ate My Neighbors at the tender young age of 10, I only knew two things — the cover looked like a cheesy black-and-white horror flick and the back sounded goofy and entertaining. After convincing my mother to buy it for me, I went home and popped the game into my Genesis, eyes wide and white knuckles on my controller.  

Needless to say, my mind was blown.

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Around this time in my adolescence, I was still playing at games in the backyard over at my best friend’s house. If we were playing a game that would normally involve guns, it was Super Soakers or Nerf guns in lieu of the real thing. Shields were inner tubes or plastic garbage can lids. If we were using magic or superpowers, we found a dodgeball or something less damaging than rocks to lob at one another as spells. While 1993 was the time when reality was setting in inch-by-inch during our hangouts, we still incorporated things like squirt guns and other props into our more frivolous moments.

Zombies Ate My Neighbors is a crucial element and persistent reminder of those definitive times for a number of reasons. In a very straightforward way, it was a go-to game for me whenever I had someone to play it with. Whether it was my best friend or my mother, it was a bonding experience laced with the frustrations and joys of cooperative gaming. Growing up as an only child, it was one of the first games I really played with friends rather than alternating one controller, spawning my love for couch co-op and eventually online gaming with friends. There’s so much more to how this game really defines me, though.

I’ve told a few folks, if they want to get to know me as a gamer and a person, play Zombies Ate My Neighbors. Plenty of gamers have a specific game or two that they resonate with; it truly feels like the game was made for them. It reminds me of a prominent concept that people talk about with music — if you listen to their favorite song, you’ll understand them better. This game — from the case, to the manual, to the actual game experience — has always felt like my game in that sense. Heck, growing up, I’ve spent two Halloweens as Zeke from both the original game and the sometimes maligned sequel, Ghoul Patrol.

Above everything else, the game is quirky and doesn’t take itself too seriously. The only real direction that you get outside of the instructions comes in the form of level introductions, all of which are some play on pop culture from all over entertainment history. Fighting giant babies, tourists-turned-werewolves, and chainsaw wielding stalkers with soda can grenades and silverware felt reminiscent of movies like Monster Squad and The Goonies where kids had adventures full of danger and resourceful solutions. While there was the fear of Game Over screens, the horror always felt light and tongue-in-cheek. Rather than the game feeling like it was punishing me, I felt like it was there to entertain and challenge me. Much like the films I mentioned, it also gave me the desire to go outside and be active — in between gaming sessions, of course.

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I also learned how important having interesting game design is. At the base of everything, you’re doing the same thing over and over again. The undeniable allure for me comes from the touches that are so easily overlooked. I still remember finding all kinds of secret passages in the pyramid levels and tripping across the secret lair of the questionably named Dr. Tongue in a solid nod to Frankenstein’s monster. I remember getting lost in the hedge mazes strewn throughout a couple of levels, but never being so frustrated that I gave up trying to navigate them. Even the scope of the levels felt different with neighborhoods always feeling like sprawling fields compared to office buildings and cave systems that appropriately felt claustrophobic and a little tougher to navigate but easier to strategize around. Among plenty of other examples, these pushed my interest in game design and intention. Each level just feels custom-made to give a great experience, once again prioritizing my experience as a player rather than a need to pad out the game to justify a price tag. The construction of these levels and small touches cultivated my opinions on what makes a great game so great.

On the deeper personal side of things, Zombies Ate My Neighbors has always been my failproof mental health enhancer. As a huge fan of RPGs growing up, I have plenty of games to go back to for that warm and familiar feeling that bring me back into the positives when my mood is low. Those games, though, have beautiful stories with conflict, self-discovery, and grandiose adventure. They also tend to bring up reminders of the issues that have gotten me into the negative place I’m in, so there can be fluctuation as to whether they can be a positive influence on me as the experience goes on. During a the few devastating events in my life involving relationships and family, I could only get so much mileage out of returning to games I love like Final Fantasy VI and Secret of Mana.

Zombies is satisfying candy in this sense. It’s a game that I can pop in to start the distraction that will lead to me feeling better. While it’s a fantastic game, there is no story to speak of that will snap me back to reality. Levels are short so there is always some sense of achievement and the game really is just goofy fun laced with exploration and reflexive interaction. There are more than a handful of specific memories that I have of racing around as a teenager, straining to make sure I took all of the right precautions to swoop in a retrieve that last cheerleader before some axe-throwing killer doll could, all while I felt like my life was coming down around me half an hour before.

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Like me, this game is nostalgic, quirky, full of esoteric trivia and references, and just a little bit long-winded. Much like an important part of my own philosophies, it also feels like, despite its difficulty, it wants everyone involved to have a good time; developers, programmers, designers, and most importantly, the players. LucasArts has always felt that way, as anyone who has played Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle or any of the Monkey Island titles can tell you. The fact that this game is my go-to for hard times is completely incidental, but I’m glad it has been. Zombies Ate My Neighbors suits me and my tastes to a near-perfect T from the humor to the references and everything else that it has to offer.

adventure map


WordPress Reader viewers, please consider enjoying this post again on the site. While we designed with you in mind, you miss some of the nuances of the piece by not enjoying it in its original form. 

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This collaboration took an overwhelming amount of time and dedication from 34 exceptionally creative, incredible makers! Help us with the resources to make more, even better, collaborations in the future! We also have aspirations of developing a podcast called Normal Talks about optimistically appreciating everyday life! Please consider becoming a patron of Normal Happenings and help us try to make the world a better, more positive place!
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Sonic the Hedgehog 2 | The Game That Defines Me

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Audio

In my quest for the perfect soundtrack to this post, I discovered one of the finest ambient remix albums I’ve ever heard. Please enjoy this playlist from the marvelous Ace Waters.

 

 

The Games That Define Us features carefully chosen music and remixes from the franchise of the game represented. Music is a key component of sharing the emotions one feels about a game, so we hope you will press the play button if you’re in a position to do so. 

starring

Dq2rTXAVAAAV1gM

Matt @ Normal Happenings

Twitter: @normalhappening

For all creatures of West Side Island

Game: Sonic the Hedgehog 2
System: Sega Genesis
Release Date: November 21, 1992

Just a brief summary if this is your first time here: This collaboration is a 34-day long adventure through video games. Each piece is its own unique audiovisual experience, complete with artwork, designs, music, and (most importantly) amazing works of prose by brilliant bloggers around the world. This adventure will take you through nostalgia, joy, ambition, self-discovery, regret, anxiety, frustration, mourning, and every human experience in between. Video games exist as fragments on the timeline of our lives, and each one of us have chosen the adventure we feel most defines us.

1P Start

Anything is possible with enough planning and determination, but to accomplish my goals I must strive to improve constantly.

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As you read this, you are breathing. You are thinking, feeling, and experiencing. This is not news to you, who are almost certainly old enough to understand and process the complexity of human emotion. When you were very young, however, the enormity of existence was like an overwhelming light piercing the darkness. The world was so big, and there was too much to process and consider. Time heals you from this predicament; like wading into water slightly cooler than expected, you are surprised as to how quickly you get used to the once-incomprehensible sensations of everyday life.

A funny thing happens as you get older: it takes more to impress you as adolescence fades and adulthood worms its way into your heart. As time begins to close in on you, the years of experience surround you like fractals on a snowflake. However, this is no cause for alarm. Seven, 27, 67 rotations around the sun – those are just statistics, and while I take great comfort in statistics, a number does not define how you choose to experience a life of wonder.

Instead I chose to find happiness in the small things, looking back at them as a trail of breadcrumbs leading me to this point. One of those small things was, in fact, measurably so: 108mm (4.25in) long, 68mm (2.68 in) high, and 16mm (0.63in) wide – the size of a Sega Genesis cartridge. Specifically, that cart that contained a copy of Sonic the Hedgehog 2: the game that defines me.

The Architecture of a Soul

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I often imagine my life as a bar chart; as I said, statistics comfort me. Charts are the source code for my life, something thematically appropriate as I program the CSS for this collaboration. I have learned that, if there is something I don’t like about who I am, I often just need to reallocate sections of my chart to accommodate my goals. For example, right now physical activity is a segment of my life which I am steadily working to increase for the betterment of my future. But like the half-life of chemical elements making up the microscopic world, nothing is ever truly gone. Hidden are the memories sometimes, sure, but never gone — even as I write this, childhood memories of being fascinated by standing between two mirrors flood my brain. I would often contemplate if those refracted images went on forever, and how many I could count before losing the ability to envisage just one more layer.

With such an active imagination and curiosity, those few pixels of my life between where Sonic 2 begins and ends may not seem like much, and indeed there are certainly things in my life which comprise far more real estate. I am an adult now, not the shy kid who came home everyday to his grandmother’s house, popped in a copy of Sonic 2, and started barreling through Emerald Hill Zone. But the residual effects of my experience with this game means that tiny portion will never blink out of existence. Sonic 2 will always reside there, sandwiched somewhere between my love for the science of cooking, my peculiar interest for the 1960’s marionette show Thunderbirds, my determination to remember all the song titles on Sufjan Stevens’s masterpiece, Illinois, and my obsession with filling up all available character spaces on Twitter. (Five characters left? Inconceivable!)

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I can close my eyes and play Sonic the Hedgehog 2 — every track, every zone, every branching path memorized in acute detail. I did it, in fact, before writing this piece. My mobile phone (with a brilliant copy of the game, interestingly, downloaded on it) far away in another room, I rested on my bed and pressed the power button on the Sega Genesis of my mind. Zoned in, I gripped the familiar Genesis controller as I would in a dream or a trance. The ubiquitous SAYYY-GA chant, love it or hate it, greeted my ears. The sparkles and chimes, unique to the title screen, soon broke the black – Sonic and Tails jumped into the frame like total goofs, and before I knew it I was off to the races. Removed from my much more pleasurable life with an amazing wife (plus two cats), intriguing education, good career, deep spiritual life, and pursuit of writing, I would make a good Sonic 2 speedrunner.

Inadvertently Speedrunning Life

As a kid, through repeated playthroughs, constant mistakes, and critical failure, a pattern began to emerge. Sonic 2 taught me, more than strict parents or a highly, highly challenging social life, that nothing ever comes easy.

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At first, unable to comprehend the finer mechanics of game design, I looked at this as a curse. I comprehended that the goal was to make it to the end of the act as quickly as possible, but it took an enormous amount of practice to dodge all of the enemies, an intelligent grasp of the physics of the game to build a sustainable pace, and a lot of good luck throughout each run. Why didn’t they make the game easier? I constantly asked myself this as a nine or ten-year-old, without noticing all the while I was shaving seconds off of my total time.

Those questions paralleled very similar ones in my own life. Why must individuals constantly go to blows with each other just to get what they want? Why couldn’t we live in a utopia where people are free to explore their naturally artistic hearts unrestricted? I was starting to get to the age where I noticed nature’s constant competition, while at the same time I was learning the skills needed to be competitive. At some point — I feel like I may have been doing a quiz in my fourth grade classroom — my daily adventures through Sonic 2 and my real-life desire to learn collided and I had a revelation.

Anything is possible with enough planning and determination, but to accomplish my goals I must strive to improve constantly. This realization marked when I became stupidly good at Sonic 2 — imagine an eleven-year-old blasting through each act of the first three zones in under a minute. I would consult online guides, which were still in their infancy — usually text-based on GameFAQs. I would use debug mode to analyze each branching path, attempting to crack the code of how to access a new, faster, section of the course. I would doodle sketches of the levels in class, planning with architectural precision how to bypass a slow section as quickly as possible.

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Something else happened as well, something wonderful. The attitude of knowing that anything is possible translated one-to-one into real life. I began applying the lessons I learned to all aspects of daily experience. I viewed every math problem and every multiple choice quiz question as an obstacle to overcome, as if in a video game. By fifth grade, I was reading at a twelfth grade level, understanding the works of Bradbury, Tolkien, and Rowling with great cognizance. And, while I struggled mightily with the social aspects of life as a child — it would take until university to unlock that part of myself — the gamification of obstacles is an element of my childhood that has only been strengthened and fortified in the present.

My parents would often laugh at me as I desperately tried to explain that video games improve lives. My dialectic discussion of how they helped improve spacial orientation, reaction time, and problem solving skills — Sonic 2 is a master class in all three — must have sounded outlandish coming from a child. I do not necessarily blame my parents for this short-sightedness, as culture often passes off new technologies as harmful. However, I do wish they had cross-referenced my perfect grades with my passion for becoming remarkably efficient at games for my age.

Pulled Into Focus 

My dad once said, “you have got to stop living in this ‘Sonic-world’ of yours.” I’m forced to disagree, the “Sonic world” gave me my sense of aesthetics. It may seem a little strange, but there is one final feature of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 that defined my life: this game is drop-dead gorgeous. It does not even matter that it the game will be celebrating its 26th birthday this month, it will always be one of the most aesthetically appealing games to my brain which so fondly values geometric precision and vibrant colors.

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These are not glamor shots or tech demos, but rather screenshots of the original game. In modern games, I’m completely unconcerned with spectacular graphics, but Sonic the Hedgehog 2 far exceeds any game that had ever come before it. Still, it’s not the technical impressiveness of the graphics that I adore so much. Rather, the style is what blows me away. As a child, the exhilarating speed and gameplay of Sonic 2 defined me. But as an adult, the graphical style of the masterpiece is what truly adds to the substance of my life.

Some may say all of the bright colors look gaudy at first, and removing myself to become an independent observer, I completely understand why. When not invested in the game, the constant input of colors can be overwhelming in a very similar manner to the aforementioned blinding light that pierces the darkness. That sensation quickly subsides, however, as you rub your aching eyes and truly invest yourself in the experience. I am a graphic designer by trade, and the straight-line geometry and color coordination that went into the game continues to impress me. Each stage has little details and patterns that fit together like an unforeseen art piece. The skill in which the visual elements of this game are assembled always put my mind at ease and gave me a strong sense of stability when I had few other sources.

My final takeaway is this: those pixel size portions of your life on your bar chart mean more than you know. It may not seem in the moment like something so non-essential as a video game can be instrumental in providing foundations in essential elements of identity, but until you scale that mountain and look down from above, you don’t realize how important your little adventures are. You envision the things you’ve accomplished in life spread across the landscape below, and with them you see the assemblage of small things which bring you to those milestones. When I look down at my life, I see a tiny amount of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in most of the things that have happened to me. Therefore, because of how influential the game is to my development to this point, I would not trade those lightning-fast romps across West Side Island for the world.

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adventure map


WordPress Reader viewers, please consider enjoying this post again on the site. While we designed with you in mind, you miss some of the nuances of the piece by not enjoying it in its original form. 

patreon

This collaboration took an overwhelming amount of time and dedication from 34 exceptionally creative, incredible makers! Help us with the resources to make more, even better, collaborations in the future! We also have aspirations of developing a podcast called Normal Talks about optimistically appreciating everyday life! Please consider becoming a patron of Normal Happenings and help us try to make the world a better, more positive place!
become_a_patron_button

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