Reading about beije’s never-ending gaming session got me thinking about how gaming has contributed to shape who I am. Well not just me obviously but then again, this isn’t a blog about other people so…
Join me as I go back to the early 90’s and look at where and how it all started.
Picture the scene. It’s the summer of 1992. Bill Clinton has announced Al Gore as his running mate in the presidential election in the USA. The Bold and the Beautiful has only been on the air for 6 months and is still in its first season, making Finland approximately 5 years behind. Boris Jeltsin has just visited Finland, paying his respects to our fallen heroes and promising that Russia will never interfere with our internal affairs like the Soviet Union did. But for an eight year old boy none of this matters. What matters is that it’s summer vacation from school for about another month and we have a Commodore 64.
Now you might be thinking, “A Commodore 64 in 1992?!” but keep in mind that our household was a little behind in the gaming scene and that the Commodore 64 was an enormous hit in Finland, outselling compared to anywhere else per capita1.
We have a Commodore Datasette and cassettes with games like Epyx Summer Games and Operation Wolf. Despite not actually remembering much of my childhood I can still remember that burning sensation — and that noticeable lack of skin — the Suncom TAC-2 left in the palm of my hand after a session or two of Summer Games. That joystick ensured no one ever played too long. Much like how the Kinect nowadays reminds players to take a break by asking “Feeling tired or sore?” but less… you know… polite about it since the TAC-2 just chafed away your epidermis until you couldn’t take it any more.
Operation Wolf was more forgiving when it came to eating away your skin but not when it came to difficulty. That or I just sucked at it. Come to think of it. I did probably suck at it, looking at the fact that I still suck at most First Person Shooters. Somehow the act of shooting people — albeit virtual ones — has never been my forte. Maybe it would be easier if they were real? Or if I could at least hold a gun shaped object instead of a controller shaped object.
Operation Wolf does however have an extra warm place in my heart so much so that a couple of years back I managed to track down an old arcade cabinet with Operation Thunderbolt — Wolf’s sequel — that didn’t have working guns any more but I was going to refurbish it and hopefully get the guns working again. That would have been so awesome and it saddens me a little that life had to be prioritised differently which resulted in the project getting scrapped. Well, until I can track down another cabinet here in the UK instead of Finland. Don’t get me wrong though, I don’t regret the decisions I made, it just would have been so interesting to get my hands — and brain — on a project like this. Especially since Operation Thunderbolt added two-player simultaneous play meaning I could have played together with my son, introducing him to a once popular and thriving form of gaming that — aside for the Asian gaming industry — is now quite extinct. Consider this a project I would very much like to still do, should I stumble on an opportunity again.
For my next vivid memory as a gamer we fast-forward to 1998 and a trial version of Age of Empires that is still available from Microsoft’s website. I might complain about Microsoft — especially about their fugly logo — but it is very impressive for a company to still host the trial version of a game they released over 15 years ago. Seriously, take a moment to inhale the incredible awesomeness. And then do like I did and download that free trip down nostalgia avenue. Age of Empires not only taught me that the real-time strategy genre is fickle pecker that requires a lot of clicking and multi-tasking but also that history is awesome! Two life lessons I took to heart and still stand firmly by. Ensemble Studios and Microsoft also got loyal customers when we later — my brothers or I — purchased the Gold Edition of Age of Empires and the rest of the sequels in the Age of Empires series.
Having downloaded the trial version again — a measly 23,6 MB by today’s standard — I am going to have to see if I can get it working on my Win7 64-bit laptop.
Fast-forward again, this time to 2001 and my first introduction to a studio — technically a division of a studio but still — that would later in life be a big part in moulding friendships and creating late weekends of LAN-parties2. The — mixed reviews — game I’m talking about is Oni. And well… the studio is Bungie. Oni was received with mixed reviews for good reasons, the game was uneven and lacked a LAN-based multiplayer component that had been in development for the game. I remember the occasional game-breaking bug that riddled some levels. But for its many flaws there is one thing where it stands shoulders taller than most games — even by today’s standards — Oni’s combination of gunplay and melee combat was pretty awesome. Like Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Asylum and its sequel awesome but also with… you know… guns. And although critics felt the story was underdeveloped I remember really enjoying it and not even expecting the twist at the end.
After all of this it shouldn’t be so difficult to imagine 24h marathon sessions of Civilization II Gold or weekends filled with nothing but Unreal Tournament (’99).
Right now I have multiple devices within arms reach that enables me to play — more or less — any game I can think of. Whether it’s Angry Birds on my smart phone or Fallout: New Vegas on my laptop, I can have my gaming fix whenever I need it. I sometimes talk about how amazing the future could be/will be and whilst I still believe there are a lot of awesome technologies yet to be made, times like these I just have to step back and… well just go “Fuck yeah! The future is already here, and yeah… it’s pretty awesome!”.
Here’s how awesome the future is. The Commodore 64 is/was 8-bit computer. Someone has built a 32-bit computer inside the game Minecraft. I can install a Commodore 64 on my smart phone. It won’t be perfectly accurate obviously since my smart phone has too much ram compared to the C64’s measly 64 kB but you get the idea.
Had someone travelled back in time to 20 years ago and told me that in the future I would have a 4″ handheld device that was essentially a large piece of glass I touched to use, I would have had a hard time believing them. That I could also “install apps” on this handheld device and that amongst 700,000 apps I would find an app that emulated the very same home computer I was playing Operation Wolf on. Not only that but that this 4″ piece of glass would be more powerful than any home computer ten years from then. And porn. Lots and lots of porn everywhere. It would have been pretty difficult to believe.
Had it been me travelling back to meet myself I would have obviously also then told myself that “Hoverboards? Yeah, you would surprised how many people are still working on that.”