I was recently reminded of this blog when I made a new friend, let's call her M, at work, and showed it to her so she could get to know me better.
My last post was over a year ago. I felt I really should update it, give it some love and a fresh lick of paint.
Besides, it's been a while since I've written anything for my own enjoyment. Writing is now my job, but I want to rediscover the joys of doing it for its own sake as well.
So when inspiration struck in the form of a sudden wave of nostalgia brought about by experiencing an old childhood game in a totally new way, I decided I'd take advantage of this four-day extended weekend to pump out a new post.
Let's start from the very beginning, shall we?
The light of mana
A ball of yellow flame burst from the adventurer's hand, striking the mer-monster square in the chest.
The mer-monster, which had the tail of a fish but a hideous-looking body, staggered in pain, then retaliated, blasting the adventurer with a water spell.
The adventurer recovered and readied another ball of yellow in his hand.
"No no no, why you keep using 'Light of Mana'? This monster is weak to energy, so you should use energy spells, not light!"
A voice cuts in. A hand grabs the cursor and positions it over the "monster attributes" section of the screen, causing a popup to appear.
It displayed a dizzying array of numbers.
That was the moment I fell head-over-heels in love with computer games, especially those involving the Skinner box design philosophy of "big numbers getting bigger", with a bit of RNG thrown in for good measure.
The owner of the voice, and the hand, was my classmate.
Now, please remember that this was a long time ago. We were in Primary 3, and it was a post-exam period so we were all left to our own devices in the school's computer lab. But I'm pretty sure his name was Isaac, and back then he lived in Jalan Tiga.
He was a short, chubby boy with big, round, black-framed glasses. Exactly the sort of quiet, geeky kid who would be suffering wedgies every day at the hands of the jocks if we had been in a typical American school. Fortunately, this is the nerd capital of the world, Singapore.
We were sharing one of the school computers. He had offered to show me a computer game. I had not played computer games before that day, because I was quite deprived of life beyond academics.
"It's called BattleOn," he told me breathlessly, his eyes twinkling with excitement.
He logged into his account and showed me the basics. Click "Attack" to attack with your primary weapon, click "Spells" to choose a magical attack, click "Weapons", "Shields", "Armor", and "Pets" to change your loadout. Seemed simple enough.
I played on his account for a while, during which he taught me more about the game mechanics, such as why it's not a good strategy to spam 'Light of Mana', which was the spell he had used when demonstrating the game to me, against every monster.
Basically, most monsters conform to a certain element, which makes them weak to the opposing element. So for example, the mer-monster, whose exact name escapes me, I was fighting was a water-based creature, so its weakness was energy.
Similarly, fire creatures are weak to ice, darkness creatures are weak to light, and so on. You should tailor your attacks to exploit your opponent's weaknesses.
Eventually, Isaac popped the question.
"Do you want your own account?"
I answered yes. Less than ten minutes later, he had me all set up.
Jonathan798 was good to go.
The marijuana of computer games
I like to say that for '90s kids, BattleOn was the "gateway drug" for those of us who would eventually become hooked on computer games.
It was simple enough for our tiny, kiddy brains to handle, yet complex enough to introduce us to fundamental game mechanics and concepts such as the rock-paper-scissors approach that the combat systems of most games essentially boil down to.
And it had that potent combination of monster variety, quests and lore, and "just one more level before bed".
I've always had an addictive personality, so that "just one more level before bed" effect was very strong on me.
As I tend to do, I flung myself headlong into the game, grinding the levels day after day.
Every recess time, I would proudly report back to Isaac what level I had achieved the night before.
I think I got a bit tiresome, because one day he got a bit irritated and said: "This is not a competition."
I eventually graduated to bigger games like RuneScape, but I always kept Jonathan798. Every couple of years, I would revisit him and play with him again for a while.
The feeling of familiarity, of homecoming, of simpler times, never fails to bring a smile to my face.
When work stress got to me a couple of weeks ago, I took Jonathan798 out for a spin again.
I posted about it on social media. M's husband saw my post, and immediately recognised the game, declaring it a "legendary game". Damn right it is!
He said that when he was a kid, he had a Guardian account with the Blade of Awe!
WTF... Jonathan798 was about 15 years old, and level 80+, but he was not a Guardian, nor did he have the Blade of Awe.
I had wasted hours as a kid, jostling with the other free players around the world for the very limited 8,000 server places available to us.
I remember, with a tinge of disgust, repeatedly being greeted with the all-too-familiar message that the server was full, and if I really wanted to play, I should become a Guardian so I wouldn't have to queue like a poor person.
I felt like such a pleb. The situation was unacceptable. How would I remedy this?
A quick Google search later, I had my answer. A one-off payment of US$19.95 would make me a Guardian, while a one-off payment of US$24.95 would make me a Guardian with X-Boost, which is essentially a bunch of cool upgrades over the regular Guardian account type.
I thought about the fact that RuneScape is costing me just under a hundred bucks a year on a recurring membership. BattleOn's Guardianship is a permanent unlock for a single payment, and the price is very low by today's industry standards.
My mind was made up. "Go big or go home," I said to myself as I bought the higher tier. "Look who's back, to buy the thing he couldn't afford as a kid."
Breathing new life into an old hobby
First order of business: acquire the Blade of Awe. It's essentially a very powerful weapon only available to Guardians.
To get it, you have to collect five pieces of the weapon. These will spawn in rare treasure chests which randomly appear as you play.
Once you have all five weapon components, bring them to Valencia, a rare item hunter in the main city, who will assemble them for you into the complete sword.
I was expecting a long, RNG-based grind to find and collect all five pieces, but when I spoke to Valencia, she immediately said I had everything I needed and she promptly made and presented me with the Blade of Awe!
Apparently, free players are able to find the weapon pieces, just that they can't put them together, and at some point over the last 15 years, I had successfully collected all five of them.
Presenting... the Blade of Awe!
It's a very pog weapon. For me, regular attacks hit in the high two-digits or low three-digits, and it has random special attacks which can hit in the high three-digits. It also grows stronger with the player's level, and I've seen veteran players hitting thousands of damage with it!
Of course, the Blade of Awe is not the only thing Guardianship has to offer. There are lots of new classes of combat to train in, and I can also go further in depth into the older classes that were available in free-to-play on a restricted basis, now that I'm no longer subject to those limitations.
My X-Boost also netted me extra Z-Tokens, the game's premium MTX currency. So I bought a cottage.
Apparently the cottage comes with several plots of real estate for me to build stuff on for resource gathering. I'm still figuring out this part.
And of course, I now have unfettered access to every single item, quest, and location in the entire game.
Jonathan798, my trusty BattleOn account that Isaac helped me create when I was nine years old, is reborn.
A new adventure is just beginning!