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August 17, 2011 / jwaxo

Battletoads (Emulation)

This is seriously one of the hardest games ever, and it’s about big frogs.

Middle school (and by extension junior high) is a lame, stupid place. It’s so lame and stupid that I at first tried to describe it with a word that doesn’t exist: torgid. It’s… it’s like turgid? Except that middle school is only metaphorically “fat and bloated”. And it doesn’t really cause torsion of any kind, although in combination with later parts of this post that’ll cause horrible images in your mind. But this new word seems perfect to describe middle school: it is a strange and awkward word that doesn’t really fit anything, which describes middle school, the classes taught there, and the people that inhabit it.

Seriously, what’s the deal with the whole middle school/junior high thing? Is there seriously that big of a jump between sixth graders and seventh graders that they need to be separated into different schools, thus causing ninth grade to flit between the two later schools? Why can’t districts decide which model is the better one? This was one of the most confusing things that plagued me in middle school that still haunts me today.

I liked about three whole classes in my three years of middle school, and two of those classes were taught by the same person. The rest were dull, boring affairs that went over things I either knew a lot about already or were shoehorned into schedules too thick with other stuff. My knowledge of the history of France is still limited to pretty much Joan of Arc and the knowledge they had a revolution that Les Miserables covered, somewhat.

Plus there was the whole “starting puberty” thing which none of us need to get into, the budding jocks and cheerleaders, the cliques and clubs that didn’t exist in elementary school. Combine all of this with the teachers constantly telling you that it would be even harder in high school and you have some pretty heavy loads for 6th, 7th, and 8th graders.

Aside from those classes I enjoyed and the few friends I kept for the three years, the most I remember is Computer Class, taught by the legendary Mr. Pick-and-Flick.

I can’t even remember his real name at this point. This image is too ingrained in my mind.

I remember Computer Class because I was over repeated asking if we needed to turn off Num Lock by this point and had learned pretty much everything about computers that public school was going to teach me for the next four years. Instead, I, and a whole bunch of other kids, spent most of Computer exploring the school’s computer system to see what we could find. What we found was a program called NESticle.

Now, I’m laying this out plain: it did not occur to me for three years that the name of this program was in any way a dirty pun.

I thought it was something like tentacle! Seriously. Not until my brother and I downloaded it on our 56k modem and peered closely at its abstract icon to realize oh man that’s a weird drawing.

So, for the uninformed: what was NESticle? It was an emulator of the classic game console NES. It could be used to play old NES games, like Zelda, Mario, and Ninja Gaiden. It was the worst kept secret in the entire school, and everyone knew about it within a matter of weeks. It was also a lesson in the power of tools that work like signal converters, allowing you to interact with software and programs that you normally cannot interact with.

How emulators work is by taking a digital copy of a console game, which normally is a self-contained engine built to be specifically read by the hardware of the console, and converting it to a signal that the computer can then run. Because of the way that console games are optimized for their individual consoles, this is a very tricky process that still isn’t perfected on some old engines (like the Playstation 2, although I hear they’re getting pretty good).

Years later I would realize that booting Windows on a Macintosh or converting WordPerfect documents to Word documents or even decrypting a coded signal were all similar to that dirty old program, NESticle. In sixth grade, though, I just loved playing those old games, no matter how glitchy the emulator was.

Living in an emulator is probably pretty freaking creepy, what with the glitches.

And the game I played the most on NESticle? Battletoads. The most infamous of Nintendo Hard games. We’re talking a game famous for being impossible to beat, that few people I have ever met have gotten past the first few levels. A game that requires memorization of most of the levels just to survive long enough to say you’ve been there.

Emulation made it a bearable game. This is the second trick of emulators: they often give you additional tools that aren’t in the original hardware. Sometimes they can improve the graphics with better resolutions or texture replacements, or by allowing you to speed through boring sections with a fast-forward control. NESticle didn’t have many options, but it did give you something powerful: the save button. You could save the game at any time, in any place, and it would let you pick right back up there, the same number of lives, the same score.

With Battletoads this was a necessity.

Heck, even with all that, I’m still dead certain I never beat it.

This blog is doing a little too well at chronicling my defeats. Stupid, torgid middle school.

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One Comment

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  1. 8BitRhythm / Aug 17 2011 5:17 PM

    It’s a good thing you weren’t playing co-op with Battletoads. My fondest memory of that game was its friendly fire feature that got my friend and I nowhere and was an early source of ragequit.

    Then again, I don’t recall if NESticle ever allowed multiplayer in the first place.

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