It is no surprise that games have played a large part in my life, though it may surprise some to learn that the games which have had the most impact on me were not the usual suspects – partly because of location, and partly because of finances, the early nineties wasn’t the Nintendo era for me – it was when I was getting into the classic games of the eighties. I had an Amstrad and a Commodore from as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until the notion of coding my own games that I really started to understand the appeal of gaming. Being in control of the world as well as the character on the screen was a massive step into the immersion. The first game I wrote was a horrible, truly awful side-scroller with half of the code lifted from the games around me – all in BASIC, with a number of gameplay issues which would take me a few years to fully understand. Aside from being completely broken, unimaginative and rather rubbish, that first game was exhilarating.
I’m probably going to reveal just how long I’ve been gaming when I say this, but the Batman game which came in the big box with two cassettes and a poster (I think it was the Joker and the Penguin, the villains of the game) was probably more instrumental in getting me to keep playing than any other. It wasn’t a pretty game, by any means, though it was probably the first I completed all the way through to the end. I worked my way through the back catalog of games from the 80s which I could pick up in small newsagents – and the thought of those spinner-racks full of games cassettes holds serious nostalgia value – then looked for something to fill the need for more complexity. I think I’m missing a generation there, but there wasn’t that many games on floppy for the BBC – or, I should say, I didn’t have that many of the games. One thing people might not remember is the long loading times, which I spent gathering together paper and pens for conspicuous note-taking.
Round about the time Windows 95 rolled along (though it would have been a year or so after release that I actually got my hands on the giant desktop) I went looking for games which would test me. Most of the searching was in vain, though a few games came close to appeasing the growing need for something more than shooting and jumping. Puzzle games have, for the longest time, irritated me as much as they have entertained me, and some of the worst offenders *cough* Tomb Raider *cough* fall firmly into the “PITA” category. There was a clutch of games released in the late 90s and early 00s which reaffirmed the notion that new things could be done with gaming, and – as joyful a kid who has found a new toyshop – I was back to playing for three or four hours a day. Hostile Waters, Thief, Half Life, Red Faction, and the sublime Deus Ex. Of all the games of that era, Deus Ex rose to the position of the game I would play when I needed cheering up.
Of course, with the addition of consoles, my collection of games required that (once again) I was putting things in storage whenever my apartment got too crowded. I’ve still got a lot of the games I bought, but I rarely look back to the older titles unless, as now, I’m writing about them. Deus Ex still holds up as an amazing achievement – moreso than the middling Invisible War – and it is one of the handful of older titles which I still play. And yes, I started on a mod for it. The complete conversion never quite got to the finished state I had planned, but that was more to do with the awkward toolkit than a lack of ambition. Over the years I have spent as much time tinkering with the games themselves as I have playing them, and the beautifully simple Half Life was the game which cemented my skills putting ideas to work. Lousy graphics, in retrospect, but oh what a joy to mess with.
My own game – the one which has been burning away for nigh on ten years, through several incarnations – is looking more and more like a side-project now, with the increasing complexity required to put together a decent game making it difficult to imagine completion, never mind a solid release date. As I add more details to the script (a hefty document with multiple pathways as it is), I get the feeling it may be easier to write “choose your own adventure” book rather than expend more energy on the increasingly futile effort of putting the whole thing together. But that, right there, is what being a geek is – it’s not the necessity to go build a game, but the enjoyment of all the stuff which happens when getting there. It’s the fun of making sound effects, and recording dialogue, and playing through the wireframe working builds with friends. Again, the community aspect of geekery is at the forefront of everything.
Oh, and all those notes I used to take while playing? Those came in handy for a few different reasons. I learned how the storytelling in games worked, and wrote more walkthroughs than anyone should ever consider writing.
All those words, and I didn’t get to the boardgames, or the fan videos, or the ARG’s.
Remind me to cover those next year, when Geek Week returns. I may even have come up with a nifty graphic to celebrate the occasion by that point. Don’t expect miracles.