A Conversation With 1998

Dear 1998…

[author]In a sleep that was deep yet somehow restless, on a night that was both the coldest and hottest of my life, after which I would wake up feeling like I'd slept for weeks yet the clock would only show mere minutes gone  by, I stumbled into a time loop and spoke cordially with my old friend, 1998.

Heath: Oh hey, 1998, how's it goin'?

1998: Oh you know, stuff's good, internet's getting popular, Metal Gear Solid is putting holes in the atmosphere with the radiation it makes people emit, yadda yadda, good times. Thinkin' bout giving you guys a visit some time.

Heath: What? No way, visiting us right now is Bad Idea Jeans. Just… let's just keep our thing long-distance.

1998: Wait, what? Why? I don't get it. You don't want me around or…?

Heath: Don't get me wrong, man, you're great. Everyone loves you and we'd welcome you back, trust me. There's just…I dunno…we worry about upsetting you.

1998: But you're in such a cool place with games and systems that are gonna blow my mind — you even said so yourself with all your talk about how easy it is for you to play games online and all that jazz.

Heath: Again, don't get me wrong, man. I've got tons of great things to show you. I'd love for you to check out some of these games that my neighbors and I have. You know that Final Fantasy Tactics game you just cranked out? Guy a couple doors down from me revolutionized that whole subgenre.

1998: For real?

Heath: Totally. It's called Valkyria Chronicles and it's amazing. That's just the tip of the iceberg, though. A couple PlayStations after the one you've got, we've got these pretty cool franchises rolling; this adventure series Uncharted is gonna blow your mind. Microsoft even made some consoles and–

1998: Get the hell out of town.

Heath: Seriously, and they've actually got some good stuff going for them, almost all of it involving guns.

1998: What about portables? Spoil it for me.

Heath: They're unbelievable, both Nintendo's stuff and the one Sony ends up making. And you know the Metal Gear series you bring up?

1998: Yeah?

Heath: Keeps on cranking out the hits. Persona gets awesome, Mario keeps on keepin' it real, Gran Turismo will bring your jaw to new depths, Tomb Raider falls off the map but makes a comeback, online RPGs score some beautiful environments, and Grand Theft Auto goes from being stupidly obscure to mainstream almost over night. A lot of great things you've got keep getting better.

1998: Nice, and I'll bet this RPG Xenogears that I've got cooking really takes off and gets huge.

Heath: Mmmm, see that's… that's one of the things I'd rather not talk about. You… don't wanna know what happens to that brand.

1998: We've still got Mana, right?!

Heath: No, we don't. *grabs a beer*

1998: Suck. Aw well, for JRPGs, Final Fantasy has really taken off now. With the momentum it's got, I'll bet the audience gets huger and the quality of the games goes through the roof.

Heath: *chokes on drink* Yeah, ah… *cough* about that….

1998: Oh, come on.

Heath: It doesn't necessarily "suck", but every game sets the world on fire with the duality of love and hate. The whole situation's kinda messy.

1998: The reviews don't tell the people what's up?

Heath: HA HA HA. Oh, wow. Yeah, game reviews. Oh, 1998, just do not ask about those any more.

1998: I can't imagine the problems. I'm not saying that in exasperation, I'm saying I literally can not imagine them because I am the freaking past.

Heath: Which makes this awkward. OK, you know that "internet" that's been getting so popular?

1998: Yeah.

Heath: Well, it eventually gets a lot more popular and, for better or worse, easier to set up a website. Any twerp can throw together an online journal, fake some credentials, and start reviewing games in half an hour. They're partly responsible for a lot of score inflation that's happening. Places are rocking out-of-ten used in Olympic gymnastics but using a scoring system like it's high school. [I give this a C-. ~Ed. Nick]

1998: That doesn't make any sense.

Heath: You're going to say that about a lot of things.

1998: I don't get it, tell me why the–

Heath: No. Look, in a lot of ways, we need you back where I am, 1998. We really do. But you're you and I'm me, and that's just the way it's gotta stay. You've got amazing things. You've got consoles that play games. They just play games — any game with that system's logo can just be inserted and played, completely, without having to wait for a firmware update.

1998: A firmwa–

Heath: Nor do you have to put up with knowing a game got gimped by a company making a smaller game at launch and releasing more pieces gradually for five bucks a pop.

1998: How is that even poss–

Heath: You've got pre-merge Squaresoft. You've got Ocarina of Time. Dude, some cool Zelda games come out in between me and you but virtually every human being keeps coming back to that one as being the best in the franchise. That and your Metal Gear Solid are going to pop up on virtually every Best Game Ever list for years and years — at least a decade, I can testify.

You have lots of games with same-screen multiplayer that actually works. Most of our multiplayer has moved to either online or nothing. So many aspects of today would frustrate the hell out of you if we dumped them on you all at once. You'd probably give up gaming and do something stupid like take piano lessons or learn a new language or go to med school. You don't want that. No one wants that.

1998: I still say I want to check it out. I'm wildly curious.

Heath: Like I said, there's plenty to love. But just as many things, you've already got the best of it. In terms of sheer impact, there might never be a single year of gaming better than you, old friend. Just enjoy what you've got and we'll talk later. If you walk straight from where you are now into my hood, you'll freak out. Best to just let things roll out naturally. Far be it from us to mess with the way of the universe and abuse time travel, especially when you're just going to walk away confused and angry. Just hold on to what you have and let things happen as they will.

1998: You've got a good point. I've only got a short time to stockpile some games into my Y2K bunker anyway. Have you heard about Duke Nukem Forever?

Heath: We've got a lot to talk about…