This Magic Moment
By Dwip December 14, 2007, 4:09 am Comments (2) RSS Feed for this post

I’m coming fairly late to this, having found in roundaboutly via Scalzi, but for the gamers in the audience, I encourage you to go here, and download the audio of Wil Wheaton’s keynote speech from PAX ’07. Because he fairly effortlessly sums up why I’m a gamer, and also because it’s cool to have somebody say “You have died of dysentery” and have a crowd full of people roar in approval. He talks a lot about great moments in his life that are tied to games, and the social aspects of games – arcades in his generation, LAN and console parties and online gaming in mine.

And, as I do from time to time, I got to thinking about my own great gaming moments – those points in my life that are indelibly burned into my mind and just so happen to have a game in them, too. I’m going to do this in terms of video games, since the physical games list would end up being just as long, and I don’t think you want to read all that. But I’ll throw out a few anyway.

1. In, let’s call this 1991, my Mom got my Dad a copy of Ultima VII: The Black Gate, a title which readers of this blog will have previously heard mentioned. One early morning in the weekend, as was our custom at the time, I crawled into bed between my parents, and Dad tore open the paper, and here was this solid black box. And it looked COOL. And then we installed it, and started it up (or Dad did. I was probably playing with the cloth map). And there was an intro movie, which was big doings for 1991 (never mind the SEVEN floppies it took to install the game), and we found ourselves in this town, and the first thing we see is this brutal murder scene.

And my life has never been the same. I’d played RPGs before, of course – we had the original Wizardry, and the like, but here was a game that had monster killing, yes, but coupled with a real plot (and a good one, too, even now), and graphics that were unbelievable by the standards of the day, and are pretty good even now. It says something that, a decade after I last played, I picked up the game again, and I remembered EVERYTHING. And so many years later, playing it again was just as good as it was the first time.

2. Speaking of games and Dad and I, there’s a picture in the archives, I think June or July of 2005, showing me at all of 2, sitting on my Dad’s lap playing what is probably that copy of Wizardry I mentioned. So I got started young, and it was great – really the main bonding experience between my father and I. For many years, until I left for college, most nights we would grab dinner, retire to the computer, and proceed to slay monsters, or conquer the world in Empire, or solve the puzzles of Myst. Back in the old days of easily graphed RPG worlds, I used to sit there with colored pens and graph paper, drawing our world. For those of you who’ve figured out that I love maps, this is probably why. There were other side effects of this, too. One fishing trip, we got to talking about how great Empire was, but it could really use a little enhancement. Over the course of that trip, we drew up a design for an Empire-like game. We never did do much work on it, but that’s how I started learning Basic and Visual Basic.

3. And speaking of maps, there was a moment in early 1996, on a MUD I had started playing about a month before called the Crystal Shard, when some guy named Samson mentioned he had some maps of part of the world he’d email to anyone that asked. Being the total newbie that I was to the internet, I gave him my email password instead of my email address, but we figured it out. Rather shortly later, I asked him if I could join his Cartographer’s Guild, and it changed my life again. I don’t have the room to regale you with all of the legends (the time we mapped the mages’ tower still ranks among my most tense experiences), but we boldly went where nobody had gone before, died in places nobody had ever heard of (did you know there’s a very slow-timed deathtrap on the way to New Thalos?), and went on to not only change the face of Shard, but to create Alsherok and its world, and the Afkmud codebase. I’ve had a title for almost 12 years now that says [The Cartographers’ Guild], and I’m intensely proud of that.

4. There are a lot of memories built up around that old desk made out of a door in what was once Mom’s office and then became my room, and the various computers thereon. We used to gather to play Fantasy Empires, still one of the greatest games of all time, thrilling at the mighty exploits of my level H dwarf as it mowed down armies, cursing Dambreville for kicking our asses. There were endless days of Heroes of Might and Magic II, where we battled each other for fantastic worlds. We even turned Sim Farm into a group experience. In later years, as we began to have more and more computers available, we joined the first real online multiplayer experiences, though looking back at how hard Age of Empires was to get going, I’m amazed we stuck with it. Later still, we blew each other up in Mechwarrior 4 (Winter War is STILL the best map ever).

5. And on the console side of that, our weapons of choice were the original NES and the N64. Want to make a group of 10 year olds cry? Give them an NES and a copy of Metal Gear. Those were the days when boys were men, and games were HARD. On the other hand, I can think of few things as purely great as Jason’s birthday party where we rented Rampart and played it nonstop for a whole day, never mind going to Tilt (back when Tilt was cool) and playing it on the arcade. Ten years later, Rush 2 for the N64 is still more fun than words can describe. If they gave degrees in stunt mode for it, we’d all have PhDs by now.

Yes, we all used to go over to my house after school and play games for hours at a time. Yes, of all possible ways to grow up, this one worked out really well.

6. Speaking of Ages of Empires, most of us are pretty aware what a great game Age of Kings was. Not only did it get me out gaming in the wilds of the internet, its how I joined Tonto Clan, an organization that has not so much changed my life as seized hold of it and reshaped the entire essence of it. I am now living thousands of miles from my birthplace, I know and associate with an entire group of people, and I think and operate differently than I ever did before, because of this game. Also, it was pretty fun to play. There was nothing like a good game of Fortress Shimo with a group of Tontos and gOfs.

7. I came pretty late to the FPS scene, to be sure. Battlefield Vietnam didn’t, say, change my life, but it was the spark for a lot of really great times. 2 humans vs 30 bots in Quang Tri 1972 is about as hard as anything ever played, but the satisfaction was vast. Hue 1968 may well be the best map for any game ever made, including the rest of the BFV maps, which are uniformly excellent. How cool is it to be running through the open to defend your base, watching bots drop because your friend is back with a sniper rifle covering you? In particular, I will long remember a night in Michigan, that lasted all damn night, fueled by vodka and Dr. Pepper. Watching myself ram a jeep into a wall and go a hundred feet in the air from the fireball? Priceless. Purely priceless.

8. Going back in time a bit, I’ve been excited about games coming out before, of course, and you’ve seen enough “Even the box is beautiful!” posts here from me in the past, but two moments of note. The first is the wait between the announcement of Serpent Isle, and its release. 15 years later, and I can still feel how bad I wanted that game to be out. I wanted it to be out so bad I could taste it. For something like a year, every fiber of my being WANTED that game to be out. It was a time of agony. But if you’ve heard me talk about Serpent Isle, you know that it was worth it for me. I regret nothing.

Back to Empire, I don’t think I actually realized Empire Deluxe had come out. I remember standing in the EB Games in the mall one day, and I saw it. And it was like my dreams had come true. It expanded Empire in all the ways I wanted it expanded. It RAN IN WINDOWS. It LOOKED RAD. Thankfully, Dad was an even bigger Empire fan than I was, so of course we bought it.

Actually, one more. Fall of 2000. Baldur’s Gate II was coming out. Once again, I wanted this thing so bad I could taste it. One weekend, I came back from school, and we went to Eugene, and I bought it. I didn’t just buy it, I bought the fucking collector’s edition. Could I really afford it? Probably not. Did I catch hell from my parents for buying it? I sure did. But there is little more satisfying than having this thing that you want so much, and racing back to the car, and tearing the plastic off, and rooting around inside and reading the manual and planning all the fun you’re going to have.

As it happens, BG2 was so fun, I almost flunked out of college. But I’m ok with that.

Alsherok, Computer Games - Baldur's Gate Series, Computer Games - Battlefield Series, Computer Games - Uncategorized, Dungeons and Dragons, Tonto Clan Comments (2) RSS Feed for this post
Comments on This Magic Moment
avatar Comment by Samson #1
December 14, 2007 at 8:51 pm

Ah yes. Those wonderful gaming moments.

That day when the C64 arrived, and my parents made the mistake of letting *ME* play with it. They never could figure that thing out.

Getting my hands on that limit pushing game in BASIC that took up all but 500 bytes of the computer’s memory. And old Avalon Hill thing called Telengard. I don’t know how they pulled it off but it had essentially unlimited vertical levels and each one was something like 4000×4000 squares. And I was foolishly attempting to map every last one on the first 50 floors :)

They day The Bards’ Tale came out, it went on my Christmas list. As the only thing I wanted. Period. Santa was good to me and granted me the wish. The year 1986 never knew what hit it. Then again, I think I got so absorbed by the game that there might not have been a 1986. If you happen to find it, let me know?

As many people know, I too am a huge fan of the Ultima series, despite not having finished all of them. Black Gate was by far my favorite. Right from the start, plot was everywhere. I got a great deal of satisfaction at spending 7 solid months poking my head into every last little thing – and still not discovering it all. And part of this was on PCs that weren’t my own. Beleiev me, dedication is being willing to install 7 floppies on a computer lab PC every week for 4 months straight before being able to afford my own. I’m surprise I was never caught misappropriating lab computers :)

The next really big thing for me came around the tail end of 1995 upon discovering Crystal Shard. I was all “so, it only has text? but 50 people are on all the time? Dude. I’m so there.” Good times had by all. I met a lot of cool people, and some not so cool. The Cartographers’ Guild was easily one of the most fun times I’ve ever had in any game, anywhere.

I’m also a huge fan of the Baldur’s Gate games. Who knew that you could get such richness and diversity – and replayability – from a CRPG? I must have played BG1 some 20 times, and every time I did I found things I’d never seen before. I suspect if I played again today, there’d be more things I never found.

Star Control 2 left me in stitches most of the time. And when the plot line needed to be serious, it did a wonderful job of it. Even the arcadish space combat sequences were really well done. Almost like having an RTS within your RPG. Great plotline, great humor, and an all around excellent experience. I’v never had another game before or since come close to matching the special place it holds.

Fallout 1 was also a great experience. Rising from an insignificant little whelp fresh out of the vault to a battle hardened defender of the wastelands. The entire game had the suspense factor to hold my interest the whole way through. Sadly, Fallout 2 fell far short of that mark and was a huge disappointment. Bethesda better not drop the ball on Fallout 3.

Last, but certainly not least, The Elder Scrolls series has been nothing but top notch, and they get better and better with each chapter and add-on. I don’t think much else can compare to the quality of the games, other than the Ultima series.

I’ve played a lot of other games in my time but many of them were just something to pass the time. Nothing much else sticks out, and I find that sad. So much potential, so little realized. And in this age of subscription MMOs, I don’t ever see this improving.

avatar Comment by Whir #2
December 20, 2007 at 12:32 pm

What was better was watching you hit the wall and fly into the air off the jeep (this was probably only 30′ in reality, but you were medicated).