# Intro to Videogames – Trace Memory

I’m a girl of nearly fourteen years traveling to Edward Blood Island to meet my father. Until recently, I falsely believed he was dead. My aunt tells me I was protected from the truth but I feel betrayed. Though I may learn what really happened to my father, the reminders of the years with him I lost, will only bring me more sadness.

Welcome to Trace Memory a mystery adventure title for the Nintendo DS. The game is text heavy, mostly dialogue, that keeps me engaged in the mysteries on the island. Solving simple puzzles moves me from one area to the next with opportunities to backtrack. Just when I begin to think Trace Memory is too easy, I find myself stuck just inside the mansion with no idea how to progress further. Before I become too frustrated, I return to the previous area and suddenly see the solution. I’m on track again and that feels good but I wonder if the puzzles will be difficult going forward. And if they are, am I curious enough about the island mysteries to stay persistent and solve them?

# Understanding the Equal Sign

Challenge

Some children misperceive the equal sign as an instruction to compute rather than understanding the equal sign as a symbol that shows two expressions have the same value. These children will often place a 5 in the blank when given 2 + 3 = _ + 4. Practice with addition facts may actually strengthen this misconception if children are repeatedly given left to right “4 plus 2 makes 6” formatted facts. This can become a significant stumbling block in a child’s development of algebraic reasoning.

Teachers

• Explicitly teach the equal sign means “the same value as.” In lower grades you may say, “6 marbles is the same as 4 marbles and 2 marbles.”
• Avoid the input-output model to describe equations. Numbers are not placed into a machine with the answer spit out. The equal sign is not an operation that “makes” a number.
• Use a variety equation formats. For example: 3 = 5 – 2 or 9 = 9 or 2 + 6 = 10 – 2

Students

• Represent a variety of equation formats with concrete objects and pictorials.
• Describe their own representations of equations using “same value as” to express equality.
• Solve for unknowns in equations such as 8 + _ = 3 + 9.

Source: Teaching the Meaning of the Equal Sign to Children with Learning Disabilities: Moving from Concrete to Abstractions by Ruth Beatty and Joan Moss at the University of Toronto. Published in The Learning of Mathematics, NCTM’s 69th Yearbook, 2007.

# Masters of the Universe: New Champions of Eternia

This 25-page picture book (1985) presents a mystery that reveals the origin of Queen Marlena and three of Skeletor’s evil henchmen. The reader can solve part of the mystery by decoding these names written as anagrams: Nyvelli, Abstanem and Potskril. These three and Queen Marlena are from a planet far from Eternia (which happens to be Earth). They were traveling in a spaceship and fell into a “portal” leading to Eternia. Marlena was rescued by King Randor and became his wife. The other three, Evelyn Powers, Biff Beastman and Dr. Scope joined the evil side and were transformed into Evil-Lyn, Beast Man and Tri-Klops, respectively.

# Golden Sword of Dragonwalk

Golden Sword of Dragonwalk is a Twistaplot gamebook by the prolific R. L. Stine. It was published in 1983, nine years before Stine’s Goosebumps series began. I sped through the first few choices, skim reading and this was the end of my pathway:

“In a few days, Grandma Carmen’s once quiet neighborhood is overrun by evil. Dragons roam the sidewalks, chewing up the hedges and swallowing pedestrians whole. Sorcerers change babies into toads…” (18)

Well yes, only children and rather silly adults would enjoy such nonsense. Being rather silly myself, I started again from the beginning. On page 5, I find a Morton’s Fork with one choice sending you directly to page 8 and the other having you read page 11 before sending you to the same page 8. You then have to choose which order you will fight the big dragon, middle dragon and little dragon. Six paths to choose from. Here are my choices and their results in the order I chose them.

1. middle, big, little – I’m DEAD but it seemed to give a clue to fight the big one first, so I try again.
2. big, middle, little – I’m DEAD but the wizard says never fight the big one first. Sigh.
3. little, big, middle – I kill the little one. I kill the big one. Then this happens:

“… the look in the dragon’s eyes is not one of anger, but of grief. With its two companions gone, the middle dragon has lost all its fight. It offers no resistance as you plunge the Golden Sword through its heart.” (29)

Thanks Mr. Stine for making me a murderer.

# Videogame Notes: X-Men

X-Men is a 1993 platformer for the Sega Genesis that cleverly brings many superheroes into the action however, awkward level design and clunky controls keep the game from being satisfying.

INTRODUCTION

“Sometimes… You have to crush your enemies where they live!!!” says a menacing Magneto as this title opens. He then sends a beam that controls the X-Men training facility, the Danger Room. Aztec-ish warriors begin throwing spears your way and annoying bees are slapping you down. But you are one of the X-men! These adversaries aren’t worthy of you. Well, in the Danger Room, they might be. So dodge spears, knock out hives and soon you will be getting your butt kicked by more infamous baddies. Gambit is fun to play and the game would be better if he was the star with several lives. Instead, there are three other main heroes (Cyclops is blah, Nightcrawler is niche and Wolverine is just sad) and you will have to make do with one life each. There is a nice supporting cast of heroes (Rogue, Storm, Archangel and Iceman) that come into the game for one-offs and Jean Grey makes her presence felt, as well.

GETTING STARTED

• After choosing the difficulty level (I strongly suggest amateur), you are asked to select a hero. There are four choices but the images are too small to tell who you are selecting. However, after pressing Start, you may cycle left and right to see the choices more clearly.
• During gameplay you may switch between the four main heroes and call upon support heroes. You do this by pressing Start, selecting your hero, then pressing Start again. The new hero does not appear on screen until you press the A button.
• Between levels or after one hero’s demise, you can find and smash orbs that give you extra health and power.

# Videogame Notes – Wings of Wor

Videogame, Sega Genesis, 1991
A winged man and magic make this horizontal scrolling shooter an interesting departure from the norm, but it’s the strange varieties of creatures and the threats from all sides that make this game a killer shoot ’em up.
OPTIONS
• Difficulty Levels: Easy, Normal, Hard, Hyper
• # of Lives: 3, 4, 5
• # of Button Configurations: 10
GAMEPLAY
• Hold down “normal” shot button for continuous fire
• Use “magic” shot for offensive and defensive spells
• 7 power ups not including magic scrolls
• Each of the first 5 rounds has 2 bosses
• 6 rounds total
• “Continue” places you at the beginning of the last round
NOTES
This shooter has a multitude of surprises and hairy situations so begin with the safe options: Easy, 5 Lives and use button configuration 10 (B to shoot, C to turn on special effect). The story in the manual is short, weak and doesn’t jive well with the game itself but it’s a shooter so that matters not at all.
JOURNAL
The box for this game has a beefy Boris Vallejo cover that is a mix of pulp fantasy and tech. The creature on the cover attacking Wor, our winged protagonist, is a flying, 3 nosed, sharp toothed worm with no wings or limbs but with metal tubes and mechanical eyes instead. Wor looks fearless with his blaster firing from his right hand and his left fist outstretched towards the grotesque creature as if some powerful effect is imminent. Box covers aren’t always a good representation of the game itself but this one is. Boris portrays well the unnatural amalgam of the enemy and the angelic strength of the hero.
He also foreshadows, unintentionally I’m sure, my difficulty switching between regular attacks and both offensive and defensive magic effects. On the cover, Wor may be able to prepare for a special attack at the same time as he carves holes in the enemy forces with his blaster, but not me – not yet anyway. That may explain having 10 different button configurations with game designers thinking at least 1 will work for each player.
The problem is that the “normal” shot button is held down for continuous fire and you must release or slide your thumb in order to press another button to use a special effect. You may say… so what? Well, it’s a shooter so the continuous flow of fire allows you to focus on movement, both dodging and positioning to destroy enemies. You must change your focus to thinking about which special effect you will use in addition to when, where and how you will use it.
Am I being overly dramatic? Yes, of course, but it’s one thing to lay off your fire in order to release a destroy-all bomb (as in many games) and reset yourself for the next wave than to seamlessly toggle from blaster shots and offensive and defensive special effects. I know that you can press more than one button with one thumb on the Genesis gamepad. I don’t use that technique much but maybe this game will inspire me to. It’s not that it’s a bad thing to learn a new, more complicated battle system. It’s just that it loses something as a shooter, at least until I get a handle on it. I have fewer zen moments that allow the game to come to me. Instead I’m calculating whether using special effects will actually do more harm than good by taking me out of my creature shredding zone.
That has led me to button configuration 10, which often uses the effects wastefully but takes the least from my flow of the game. One button press will turn the special effect on and then use it continuously until it’s gone rather than using the effects at will with a “magic” select button and separate “magic” shot button. It’s not as complicated as it sounds but complicated enough. So I suggest using configuration 10 until you get a feel for the game and then testing out other button assignments.
The creature art and environments in Wings of Wor are quite creative. A big part of the fun is seeing what’s around the next corner. As a result, sometimes the transitions are a little jarring like when a giant steampunk engine drops in front of you after fighting nothing remotely similar to that point. However, there are other moments in which the transitions are smooth and make almost perfect sense, in a weird way, like when you descend into the underwater world to fight creatures with wonderful methods of locomotion. The better you are at the game, the more creatures you get to experience and, of course, annihilate. That’s pretty good motivation.

# NBA Action ’95 Starring David Robinson

There are many NBA licensed retro videogames. Which one is the most fun to play as the Spurs?

[updated July 26, 2019]

Did Vlade Divac approve of this opening screen? After playing 17 games as the Spurs, I’m 5 – 12. I’m usually good at basketball videogames but very little success in this one. In fact, I may be getting worse after winning only 1 of my last 8. So Vlade, I feel your pain.

This game has a vertical orientation that took a few games to get used to. The controls are simple and the Spurs should be a good team so why am I so bad? No idea but until the last few games I was having a great time playing. There are a ton of features and ways to tinker with your team. And the stats! The game saves team and player stats for each game and compiles them as you go through a season. There’s a lot here to be excited about.

Minor issues: Rather than turn off, the shot clock stays at 24 seconds when the game clock is less than that which can be confusing. Marv does announce when time is running out, if you have him turned on; the rebound button is the same as shot button so you will sometimes accidentally shoot the ball from the opposite end of the court.

Play Session 1

NBA Action ’95 Starring David Robinson

Season Mode, Veteran Difficulty, 4 min. periods

Game 1: Warriors 77, Spurs 56; Assists 17, 3; Rebounds 13, 17; Steals 9, 4; Blocks 11, 4; Turnovers 6, 12; Fouls 9, 7; FTs 5/7, 8/11; FG% 71.4, 47.1; Trey 2/7, 0/0; Run 11, 12; Spurs Most Pts. Scored – W. Anderson 19, D. Robinson 14, D. Rodman 10

Spurs 0 – 1 Trying to get used to controls and vertical orientation. There are three difficulty levels so I chose the middle one, “Veteran.” I got clobbered in the first period, then mostly held my own the other three periods. I subbed some players in the second half but I think that was a negative. Perhaps I don’t need to sub with 4 minute periods.

Game 2: Nets 85, Spurs 50; Assists 21, 4; Rebounds 13, 6; Steals 18, 5; Blocks 13, 5; Turnovers 5, 21; Fouls 10, 7; FTs 5/7, 6/10; FG% 72.2, 52.4; Trey 2/6, 0/1; Run 10, 7; Spurs Most Pts. Scored – D. Robinson 21, W. Anderson 15, A. Johnson 10

Spurs 0 – 2 If it seems like I played even worse in Game 2, then I’d say that’s accurate. It was very sloppy. I can’t get Elliott going and Rodman is very mistake prone so far. I was trying to be aggressive but I think it was just out of control. Next game, I’m starting Chuck Person instead of Rodman.

Game 3: Jazz 68, Spurs 57; Assists 16, 5; Rebounds 11, 12; Steals 7, 4; Blocks 10, 4; Turnovers 7, 10; Fouls 8, 8; FTs 0/0, 7/12; FG% 64.2, 61.0; Trey 0/11, 0/0; Run 8, 6; Spurs Most Pts. Scored – W. Anderson 25, D. Robinson 19, S. Elliott 6

Spurs 0 – 3 Much better. Actually tied 16 – 16 after the first period. Person didn’t do much but also didn’t make a lot of mistakes. I moved Elliott to the 2 spot for a few minutes and got him a couple of buckets but he still wasn’t impressive. It’s an Anderson/Robinson show on offense. Maybe I caught a break since the Jazz were 0 – 11 on three pointers but even that wasn’t enough for a win.

Game 4: Knicks 64, Spurs 71; Assists 17, 2; Rebounds 19, 16; Steals 5, 5; Blocks 3, 1; Turnovers 6, 11; Fouls 12, 8; FTs 2/3, 12/15; FG% 52.5, 69.0; Trey 0/6, 1/2; Run 8, 7; Spurs Most Pts. Scored – D. Robinson 24, W. Anderson 16, C. Person 16

Spurs 1 – 3 Wow. We got one. Elliott scored in double figures and played the 2 spot some. Moved Anderson to 1 spot for awhile. Person was fantastic. Rodman came in for a spell in the second half and grabbed some critical rebounds. We played better defense and relaxed on offense. For the first time it felt like we had some smooth sub rotations forming. I’m not really getting assists. I have a feeling that may be more important when I decide to increase the difficulty level.

Play Session 2

Game 5: Nuggets 73, Spurs 74 OT; Assists 18, 3; Rebounds 15, 24; Steals 15, 6; Blocks 12, 4; Turnovers 8, 17; Fouls 18, 8; FTs 1/5, 14/20; FG% 58.1, 56.6; Trey 0/13, 0/2; Run 6, 7; Spurs Most Pts. Scored – D. Robinson 34, W. Anderson 18, S. Elliott 11

Spurs 2 – 3 It’s been a week since the first play session so I was bit rusty. Mutombo was blocking everything but fouling too so I kept going into the paint until he fouled out in the 3rd period. I was down one point with two seconds left in the game, Willie Anderson on the line for two shots. It felt kind of real so I got nervous and missed the first. Then with the pressure really on, I sank the second free throw sending us into overtime. My team was a little sluggish in OT but we pulled it out.

Game 6: Bulls 88, Spurs 73; Assists 20, 2; Rebounds 19, 8; Steals 8, 3; Blocks 10, 5; Turnovers 5, 12; Fouls 13, 7; FTs 9/9, 15/19; FG% 63.3, 64.4; Trey 3/7, 0/1; Run 8, 6; Spurs Most Pts. D. Robinson 26, W. Anderson 18, J.R. Reid 9

Spurs 2 – 4 This Bulls team has no Jordan but they didn’t need him. They have Luc Longley (22 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks, 3 steals). I started game with Robinson and Johnson on Tight Coverage but I fell behind 15 – 9 and changed both back to Normal. I subbed J.R. Reid for Robinson and he did a nice job. Otherwise, this was a pathetic game for the Spurs.

Game 7: Kings 76, Spurs 61; Assists 17, 4; Rebounds 13, 14; Steals 12, 6; Blocks 4, 4; Turnovers 6, 16; Fouls 12, 5; FTs 1/4, 7/18; FG% 65.5, 71.1; Trey 3/11, 0/1; Run 8, 4; Spurs Most Pts. D. Robinson 21, W. Anderson 15, D. Rodman 6

Spurs 2 – 5 Sad. Tried Press and Tight Coverage late in the game when losing by double digits to no avail.

Game 8: Knicks 58, Spurs 62; Assists 17, 0; Rebounds 9, 14; Steals 12, 7; Blocks 6, 10; Turnovers 8, 16; Fouls 8, 4; FTs 4/4, 4/8; FG% 52.9, 70.7; Trey 0/2, 0/0; Run 6, 10; Spurs Most Pts. D. Robinson 19, S. Elliott 19, J.R. Reid 10

Spurs 3 – 5 Patrick Ewing had a monster game for this 16 minute game format (28 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks, 2 steals). I rested Robinson during the third period and J.R. Reid played outstanding scoring 10 in the period. Sean Elliott was the star though with his 19, mostly from the 2 spot as Anderson played point. We are finally out of the Midwest Division cellar with the Timberwolves slipping to last place with a record of 3 – 6.

Play Session 3

Game 9: Blazers 53, Spurs 70; Assists 10, 4; Rebounds 13, 15; Steals 5, 11; Blocks 10, 7; Turnovers 12, 13; Fouls 10, 4; FTs 5/5, 8/12; FG% 46.2, 66.0; Trey 0/6, 0/1; Run 8, 9; Spurs Most Pts. D. Robinson 23, S. Elliott 10, A. Johnson 10

Spurs 4 – 5 This is the first game I’ve felt dominate from beginning to end. I’m still starting the game with Robinson, Person, Elliott, Anderson, Johnson. Then I make some spot adjustments in 2nd period, usually trying to get Person and Elliott a bit of rest with Rodman. I rest Robinson and Johnson in the 3rd, playing Reid, Rodman, Person moving Elliott to 2 spot, Anderson to point and subbing with Cummings as needed for Person.

Game 10: Supersonics 77, Spurs 52; Not worth the trouble to copy all stats. Most Pts. D. Robinson 12, S. Elliott 10, J.R. Reid 8, J. Haley 8

Spurs 4 – 6 How quickly things change. After being down 20 in the third, I emptied the bench.

Game 11: Suns 74, Spurs 67; Most Pts. D. Robinson 33, W. Anderson 17, J.R. Reid 7; Avery Johnson had 4 turnovers

Spurs 4 – 7 Only Robinson could find the basket early and we fell too far behind. Anderson eventually started hitting but defense wasn’t strong enough to catch up.

Play Session 4

Game 12: Timberwolves 68, Spurs 64

Spurs 4 – 8 Well I’m clueless at this point and feel like I need to start from scratch. I’m not improving and I’m not even playing at the highest difficulty setting. Ugh.

Game 13: Supersonics 83, Spurs 84; Robinson 47, Elliott 11, Anderson 10

Spurs 5 – 8 Started the game with Robinson, Rodman, Cummings, Person, Anderson to change things up. It took 47 points from Robinson, a clutch “and one” from Terry Cummings and double overtime to get this win.

Game 14: Blazers 47, Spurs 46; Robinson 23

Spurs 5 – 9 Slow, defensive struggle. I had the game in hand, just needed to run out the clock to a few seconds and throw up a shot. Instead, Johnson threw the ball away and they had a fast break to win it. My fault for passing in that situation.

Game 15: Mavericks 78, Spurs 47

Spurs 5 – 10 Elliott hit a three pointer. Otherwise…

Game 16: Jazz 63, Spurs 54; Robinson 23

Spurs 5 – 11 Third period – Reid, Haley, Cummings, Del Negro, Whitney held their own and each player scored. Whitney was injured (bruised foot). First injury of the season. I felt outmatched the entire game even though it was a close game until I jacked up some three point attempts at the end.

Game 17: Rockets 71, Spurs 47; Robinson 26, J.R. Reid 9

Spurs 5 – 12 I expected to be much better at this game by this point. I’ve lost 7 of the last 8 games. Time to take a break!

Play Session 5

Game 18: Bullets 55, Spurs 51; Robinson 20

Spurs 5 – 13 Decided to jump back into this game after a long break only to lose to the lowly Bullets. That leaves me tied with the Bucks for last in the entire NBA.

Game 19: Celtics 75, Spurs 76 OT; Robinson 40

Spurs 6 – 13 I only made 6 of 19 free throws and had some poor clock management but was still able to pull this one out by giving Robinson the ball each time he was open down the stretch.

Game 20: Lakers 61, Spurs 66; Robinson 35

Spurs 7 – 13 We got behind early but stayed calm and made some minor adjustments until the game came to us.

Game 21: Nuggets 59, Spurs 44 OT; Robinson 22

Spurs 7 – 14 Based on the score it might be difficult to believe this was an overtime game but it was a strange overtime. Mutombo, who I had been avoiding all game because of his blocking ability, fouled out early in OT so I decided to be more aggressive offensively. But turnovers, missed shots and Robinson fouling out put us significantly behind. So I threw up 8 three pointers off the dribble, missing them all and losing by 15 in an otherwise intensely close game.