Wading back into familiar waters.

I’ve been playing video games since I was about five. For the majority of my life, games have been a hobby, an obsession, a field of study, a diversion, and everything in between. For the past few years, I’ve been far less active in gaming culture, and that’s due to a variety of changing conditions in my life. Helping to grow our company, buying a home, and having a child have all in some way played a role in leaving less time to think about gaming. I’ve also chosen to spend my free hours in other pursuits as well, so that’s not a condemnation, but rather just an acknowledgment of the change in my situation. I could go into the depths of my previous video game depravity here, but that’s probably for another post.

Thanks in part to the exceptional new podcast Directional, with Myke Hurley and Federico Viticci, I’m now once more really thinking about gaming. The time I can devote to games is still at a premium, as there’s many things that legitimately require my attention, but I think having been out of the current scene for so long, I’m ready to slowly make my way back in and I’ve chosen handhelds as my entry point.

I love all platforms and have never held allegiance to any one over another. I always felt a true lover of gaming wouldn’t limit him/herself that way. As such, I am faced with a choice between the 3DS/3DS XL and the PS Vita. As luck would have it, Myke and Federico touch on this very same topic in this week’s show in response to some listener mail, and they made some terrific points. But I’m also asking anyone else who’ll listen for their thoughts. While I could probably buy both, I think I just need to start somewhere. To help solicit good feedback, I’ve put together my basic criteria.

  • I’d like to play some games that have a more forgiving difficulty curve, since I won’t be able to spend long stretches figuring things out. I may have frequent short opportunities to play, but extended play sessions may be tougher to come by, and I’d like to feel like I’m getting somewhere.
  • My love for classic games has never wavered, and I’d love to be able to play older titles as well. That could be NES stuff or perhaps PSX-era, or anything else in there. Open to all suggestions.
  • I have iOS and Android devices already, so this will truly be a dedicated piece of gaming hardware. I don’t care about checking email, Skype calls, Twitter, etc. I want a gaming machine first and foremost.
  • I know I’m getting in well into the life cycles of these handheld consoles, so what’s coming up on the horizon is something I can take into account as well. If a new Nintendo handheld is right around the corner, let me know. (As I said, I’m really out of the loop on so much, it’s truly saddening… but I’m turning that around!)
  • Finally, all features, bells, whistles, and stuff aside: which is more fun? Super subjective, I know, but I’d love to hear about what you all think.

Those are my starting points. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, so I’m ready to get started, but I really would appreciate any feedback you’d have to offer. My history is deep and storied in the world of gaming, but I’m re-entering it now with somewhat fresh eyes. Share your thoughts on App.net and Twitter. All suggestions are welcome, and thanks in advance.

Happy birthday, Dreamcast.

Ten years ago this week (9.9.99), the arrival of the Sega Dreamcast in the US marked the last attempt Sega was to make at owning the home console market. While it had its day in the sun, it was ultimately destroyed by the juggernaut that was the PS2, and its massive install base. Aside from the NES, which has extreme sentimental value to most people in my immediate age group, the Dreamcast was my favorite system of all time.

It came out at a great time in my life, when I was a year out of college, still young enough to make excuses for myself, but not too old to realize that this practice wasn’t a good idea. I hadn’t yet found my path in life, so I had a lot of free time to spend playing video games, and my God, what games these were. Graphics that would make your eyes melt right out of your skull, but so beautiful that as it was happening, you didn’t even care and were prepared to spend the rest of your life as a blind fool. Some really incredible gameplay innovations were made during this time, too, with Soul Calibur dominating (at least in some people’s minds) the fighting space, and games like Jet Grind Radio (Jet Set, if you were outside the US) changing both aesthetic expectations and introducing new gameplay coupled with fantastic music.

Sure, there were stinkers, and a lot of them, but the smart kids figured out how to either mod their systems or use boot discs to play other games. I started buying all kinds of games and related DC paraphernalia from around the world. Mostly from Japanese eBay sellers, these items became so exciting to find and bid on, I spent almost as much time online looking for them as I did using them when they finally arrived. I think I actually have more import titles than domestic ones at this point.

I could go on for days, but I won’t bore the non-gamers out there with more nostalgic nerdery. This year, 9.9.09 is already marked for an annual Apple iPod event, and people are expecting a lot of things to happen there. But I’ll be thinking of another special day, one when the gaming landscape really did shift to the next level. Dreamcast, I love you.

You can purchase Dreamcasts, new in box, as well as other Dreamcast-related accessories at ThinkGeek. And to hear from the man himself, follow @segadreamcast on Twitter. He’s started a campaign called #therealsept9, to remind people that he was the “OG” of 9.9, back in the day.

A belated thank you to ThinkGeek.

In stumbling across my action shot that I sent in to ThinkGeek after getting my new-in-box Dreamcast (my third system, it was my favorite console of that generation), I remembered that I was going to post a public thank you to their impeccable customer service division, and never got around to it. So I’m doing it now.

The reason I had to deal with CS at all is because some of the Dreamcasts had that not-so-fresh feeling, you know? And instead of being douches (wordplay!) about it, they were exemplary in how they handled everything. After a bit of an outcry on the Internets, they offered to replace them, no questions asked, and I was among the few who needed new systems sent out. It came before I even had a chance to put my laptop on standby, and they were awesome throughout the experience, in constant communication through Twitter DMs and emails, and even offered me a gift certificate to the site.

So in a nutshell, ThinkGeek deserves crazy respect, in this day and age of absolute garbage CS, with people rushing to get rid of you so they can post their numbers. Thanks, ThinkGeek. You rock.

And here’s the awesome shot of me with Declan, enjoying the sheer glory of the most underrated home console ever.