When I was attending university, my roommate Taylor and I were almost inseperable. We shared similar tastes in just about everything, which I suppose is why college dorm life went on without a hitch. Taylor and I were ravenous fans of Nintendo, spending all our free time with his Super Nintendo, playing through the Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario titles. Well, life carried on for the both of us. He went on to video game design with some relatively low key American developer, and I went on to my writing. Just recently, some sad news came my way. Taylor had committed suicide via an aspirin overdose.
It came as a shock to me, thinking that the chipper and eccentric man I once knew could have taken such a turn, but a lot can happen in the better half of two decades. We hadn't spoken in years, and a part of me wished I would have kept in touch, maybe I could have helped him.
In any case, Taylor lacked many close relatives aside from his sister and his parents, both incredibly old and feeble. I got along well with his sister for almost as long as I knew Taylor, and she had asked to help me move his things out of the house. I went along, attempting to do the decent thing and help her out, and on an overcast September afternoon, I arrived at his house.
The house looked almost too large for any one man, which was confounding as his sister knew of nobody else lodging with him, and Taylor always seemed to prefer snug urban abodes to this quiet home on the outer suburbs. Inside, the house's many rooms had fallen into disrepair, surfaces caked with a uniform coating of dust. It looked as if no rooms had been used save for a small study stacked with computers and file cabinets, his kitchen, and a living room he had haphazardly converted to double as a bedroom. I found it curious that he seemed to avoid travelling up to the second floor altogether, an assumption supported by that same unbroken dust on the stairs.
Packing was a breeze with the little clutter Taylor had lying about. Amazingly, I had found a small box tucked in the corner of his living room containing that old treasure trove of SNES titles we had played. Alas, any of the nostalgia I could have held was soured by the poignant realization that Taylor was gone, that this hallowed memory I held was made sad and incomplete by his untimely end. I was once again haunted by the sheer confusion of why he would do this, not telling anyone or reaching out for help. I worked past the sadness and anger, forcing myself to close up the cardboard flaps of the box and carry them out to the trailer we had hitched to his sister's truck.
His sister, when faced with the games, simply insisted that I take them. Nobody else had any use for the things, and she felt out of all the people Taylor knew, he would have wanted me to have them. She gave me the SNES games, as well as a second box of games for the PC. I accepted them begrudgingly. I had no intent of playing them for fear of having a breakdown once the full brunt of his death hit me, but it was the least I could do, I suppose.
Bringing the boxes home, I sighed to myself in exhaustion, setting it alongside my relatively meager collection of wii games (my preoccupation with my writing made me less and less of a fervent gamer, so almost all of my titles were casual games or kid games for my nephews during their visits). For days they had barely crossed my mind as I carried on my work, but on one night in particular, my curiosity simply piqued at the thought of what was in the other box of games.
Opening it, I saw games like Roller Coaster Tycoon and the old Quake Games mingling with games like Crysis and Bioshock. I thought they all looked fairly neat, though many would have been simply too taxing for my computer. It was then that I saw it; a small, blue, USB thumb drive tucked into the corner of the box, as if it had fallen between the cracks of the other games' boxes and dug into this small niche. I assumed it was for any games he had no physical storage for, given all the memory dedicated to his game devlopment work.
My curiosity driving me even further, I dared plug the thumb drive into my computer. On it there was simply a Super Nintendo emulator and a file named "MarisasStory". Hm, it must have been some game he couldn't find a physical copy of, perhaps a rare game or something not released in the US. I booted up the game after putting in the time to move the files onto my computer so they could run properly.
What I was welcomed with was the opening of Yoshi's Story. This perplexed me, because I could swear I already saw a copy of the game in the box of SNES titles. Pressing on, I adjusted myself to the unfamiliar WASD keyboard setup (I am by no means a PC gamer, mind you), and selected one of the three new files.
The game started me off with the typical level select screen, foregoing the introductory level altogether. I selected the first stage and started. The game appeared unchanged, except for the fact that every bottomless pit was covered up with blocks I could not break, so I could only die from contact with an enemy and losing Baby Mario for too long. I also noticed I was on my last life, so I felt compelled not to allow Baby Mario from straying too far. Upon swallowing an enemy, I found that I could not lay eggs with them, so I had to make due with spitting enemies at obstacles in lieu of throwing eggs. As I kept playing, I also noticed the color scheme was strangely more pastel and washed out, and between levels my yoshi never changed colors, but stayed the same pistachio green color.
I progressed surprisingly easy through the next few levels. I remember playing bits of Yoshi's Story when I was younger, and though I remember it very little, I could tell things were off. Enemies seemed slow, rare, and harmless (some, like the Chomps, were absent altogether), with the few I faced hardly causing me any problems. Mario's cry when I got hit sounded even more shrill and grating than normal, layered with a harsh computerized droning, as if it was damaging my speakers to play them. The games color scheme also pulsed back and forth between it's soft, pastel tones, and a harsh orange hue at a pace reminiscent of a pounding heartbeat. I could not put my finger on it, but getting hit made me feel exceptionally anxious, the unsettling noise and abrupt change in atmosphere spurring me to rush as quickly as I could to get Mario back, which was no easy task given my lack of eggs.
One way or another, I pressed to the final level before Burt the Bashful's Fort, and was met by another Yoshi. This time, the other Yoshi, an odd magenta colored one, had Mario, and ran slightly ahead of me, following what looked like a preset path to the end of the stage. While she avoided a good majority of the enemies by jumping or swallow/spitting them as I had done (it appeared that this other Yoshi lacked eggs as well.), she would occasionally get hit, spurring that same, awful sequence. Both myself and this other yoshi would pursue the baby, but he would always travel to the other yoshi when retrieved.
After completing what seemed like an escort mission after an incredibly long time, I started off on Burt's Fort. While the level title came up normally, I was startled by what followed. The colors had gone from their very pale pallette, to a darker one. It almost resembled the color of the normal game, but everything was darker, as if in shadow. The stage was comprised of collapsing blue rocks, and the background was a stormy sky. I still did not have Baby Mario with me, but the other Yoshi was nowhere in sight. The normal fortress theme droned on, but it seemed to carry an odd sense of urgency, as if something was wrong. The tempo had increased almost to match the same rhythm as the orange pulses when Mario was in his bubble. I pressed my Yoshi to run as quickly as possible.
I finally reached the end of the stage. At the end, there was the magenta Yoshi and Baby Mario. Kamek flew overhead, and delivered his usual spiel. However, the text was different this time.
"You were too late. This is all your fault."
Kamek flew back and forth across the screen, but he didn't drop any particles of magic this time, he just flew off. The game was playing that same musical jingle as when he powers up an enemy into the fortress boss, but there was no boss, just the screen shaking. It was then that I realized that the rock the Magenta yoshi and the baby were on was faling. I was still immobile for the cutscene. I had no choice but to watch as they plummeted off the screen. I heard Baby Mario's cries, still droning and horrific, but they gradually went quiet as the screen went dark.
I was back at the level select screen, but the music had stopped and all the levels I had beaten were locked up, as if I hadn't gotten to them yet. I played the only level I could, and entered the strange second act of the level.
Every color was muted almost to grayscale, and the sound seemed distan and muted. My Yoshi was now grey. His sprite was edited, his face looking drawn out and weary, his head lower than usual, his whole body sunk down as if carrying an immense burden. Baby Mario was once again on his back, but details like his eyes were etched out, leaving what looked like an inanimate thing shaped like a baby. Yoshi moved slower now, and enemies were back to their usual difficulty. When Yoshi was hit, however, the "baby" didn't go up in a bubble, but simply fell limp to the ground. There was no crying, no star meter, nothing. You could pick up the thing when you pleased, and it simply reappeared on Yoshi's back when I touched it. I noticed that without it, Yoshi moved normally, but the screen would no longer scroll, forcing me to pick it back up. Whenever it seemed like it would go over into a bottomless pit, it simply stopped midair and landed on the end of whatever platform it was on, giving me no means of a game over.
After slogging through a few levels of this morbid version of the game, I got to the castle. The castle's title was completely blank now, but the level itself played normally. My strange fake baby Mario once again avoided descending into pits or pools of lava, and I finally reached the boss room. This time the boss room was totally empty except for what looked like an egg block, its green spots replaced with a glitchy mess of pixels. The boss room's background also contained a lot of abnormalities, with messes of pixels scattered about. Kamek returned, this time stating.
"Now you can hurt the one responsible. It is time to face punishment."
He once again flew back and forth without emitting any magic, and left. There was no boss theme, just the muted noise of Baby Mario crying incessantly. At times it seemed to fade between being almost inaudible to disturbingly clear, as if Mario should be on screen. Unfortunately, there was nothing to do but spur the egg block to dispense its contents. The eggs looked odd. They didn't have spots, and instead of being egg-shaped, they were simple, uniform ovals of an off white color.
Growing frustrated, and with nothing left to do but see what would happen, I began to throw the eggs at the walls. They bounced back and forth several times, until one hit the yoshi. He flashed abruptly, and the screen went a bit darker. I did this a few more times, until the screen went completely black. Yoshi went into an animation of him spinning and keeling over, and the game went dark.
Immediately after, the game crashed, refusing to be run again despite my best efforts. I couldn't help but wonder what it meant. Why would Taylor play such a horrid game? This couldn't have been what drove him over the edge, could it?
I went back to his sister as soon as I could, and I asked her if she knew anyone by the name of Marisa. She looked distant and sad for a moment, before reflecting back, "Marisa was Taylor's fiance a few years ago. They were engaged to be married, and Marisa was even pregnant with their child. One day, Taylor and her got into an argument, and she drove out. There was a traffic accident shortly after, and Marisa and child both passed away. Taylor was never the same since. I began to figure that the guilt was too much for him. He kept working and living, but he wasn't himself anymore."
It had hit me like a train.
Taylor designed the game, inside and out, as a look into his own life, his guilt, and his death. It was a suicide note in its own twisted way. Taylor was focusing all of his rage and pain into programming that terrible thing. The first act was a dream sequence, a perfect world of pastels and simplicity broken only by his fear of losing his child. The Fort was the night of Marisa's death, and the last levels were the years leading up to Taylor's suicide; a long, painful road of hardship and isolation. I thanked the sister for her time and apologized from the intrusion. She said it was fine, and that she was glad to get it off her chest.
I regret not being there for him, not helping him. I wish I would have known, would have stayed close. Maybe he would have been okay. I guess there's no point in complaining about what I cannot change. If I stay clinging to the past, it might slowly eat away at me as it did with him. All I can really do is move forward now. I hope all of you reading this won't hesitate to take some time to stay connected to old friends, so that this might not happen again.