My life as an Avatar
30 Years of Gaming
This is an evolutionary step of my last article, “20 years of gaming” in an attempt to expand upon the world and worlds I have discovered and explored most of my life. There is no need to find the old article as I will including all past references, notes, pictures, movies, and reveal even more!
I was born in Tampa Florida, grew up in Orlando and my teens years in a small, boring town (at the time) named Clermont. With only three places to go in town, it’s no wonder I got lost in many worlds built of ones and zeros.
My first exposure to gaming was with an old Atari 2600 which hooked up to a TV with a funny composite to coaxial connection which displayed a wondrous variety of colors and sounds. At the time, the block figures that represented a human was all I needed and my imagination did the rest. Lost in many games such as, Xevious, Battlezone, Phoenix, Asteroids, Combat, Super Breakout, Cosmic Ark, Space Invaders, Defender, Star Raiders, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Vanguard, Missile Command, Centipede, Warlords, Joust, Solaris, Maze Craze, Robotron:2084, Pole Position 2, Outlaw, and Video Pinball. It didn’t matter what it was, I was hooked on all these things I could make my TV do. It was far better than any movie could ever be because I was in control of these characters.
Little did I know as a child, the computer age was in full peak and personal computers were becoming more and more common. I remember seeing my first computer at Radio Shack, most likely one of the Tandy’s. Once I understood what a computer could do, I had to have one. I got my first computer I believe around the age of 8, which would have been 1987. It was a IBM Compatible 8086 with x2 5.25 360K floppy drives, no hard drive, 4 color CGA graphics and monitor. Many games could be bought at the local Babbages in the mall for about $5-$10. Graphics improved quite a bit from the Atari and I had to learn a lot of DOS commands to get some of these games working.
The most popular games I played on this were Covert Action (4 floppies). It was a spy game — you had to pick locks, crack safes, gather intel, and take down crime bosses and international terrorists.
Many popular games game from Lucas Film Games, like Maniac Mansion, Indy – The Graphic Adventure (based on Indian Jones – The last Crusade), Money Island, Loom, and Full Throttle. Lucas Arts Adventure Museum Online has some interesting screen shots and info.
Later I got really into a lot of the Sierra games such as, Quest for Glory (my favorite series) and Kings Quest. Quest for Glory was my first introduction into role playing games; you have a character or avatar with stats or abilities which you improve and built along with exploring new worlds, creatures, and people and to top it off, a great storyline.
That’s what was best about a lot of these types of adventure games, you got to explore strange new worlds that you couldn’t even dream up if you tried and had command of it all. The dialog and story were built like some of the greatest novels of all time and combined with the sights, sounds, music, and full control of the story and you’re gone, hooked, immersed in another world. A lot of these games are re-released on Steam and can be bought for a good price. They still hold their own today!
Computer Age II
With time, computers become slower and obsolete so bigger and better was needed. I think it was around the age of 12 when I got my next computer, which would have been 1991. A 486DX/50 mhz with VGA graphics had enough horsepower to run some great games. Now along the way, I did my share what I learned of DOS 3,3.3, 5, 6, 6.3, Windows 2, 3, 3.11, 95, 98, XP, lotus, word perfect, word, etc. when they all evolved and came out, but this is all about gaming baby, I will save that for another article.
With much more computer power and graphics capable, many more games became available. Nintendo had been around about for 5-6 years and getting ready to release SNES. At this time, the computer world was so far ahead of any console game for years to come. The amount of games might have been less, but it was light years ahead of anything else on the market.
May 05, 1992, ID Software changed gaming forever when they released Wolfenstein 3D, the first, first-person-shooter. Although it wasn’t true 3D polygons, it gave you the sense of a 3D world and one of the biggest hits.
Another great advance in the computer world was the Soundblaster card by Creative, it was king when in game out. Games went from beeps and buzzes to near movie quality effects and music. I still remember hearing the mini-gun in Wolfenstein for the first time through the Soundblaster. Many RPGs now had great sound effects and MIDI music to enhance the experience. The Kings Quest series evolved into a great colorful series, as well as others from Sierra such as, Police Quest and Space Quest. The Quest for Glory series was probably the most popular as it often threw you into an unknown world full of mystery and wonder as a lost wanderer seeking glory, fame, and adventure.
In thinking back to some of the other many games I played, one that really sticks out is a game called Syndicate released in 1993. It was the most futuristic I played featuring a top down view of your 4 characters that you control and you had various tasked in each mission which was in a country you were trying to establish control over. You had a wide variety of weapons, cybernetic implants, and all sorts of futuristic wonders.
There was also Lands of Lore which was a D&D style action RPG with a great story and many levels to get lost in. You had control of 3 characters in a first person point of view, each with different stats, spells, and abilities. It was quite mesmerizing.
Also in 1993, ID Software released its next biggest hit, the most talked about in all of history, DOOM. Another first person shooter with not much of a story line, just a lone player killing demons spawning from hell one shotgun shell at a time.
As this was going on there was yet another world I had yet to explore, an online world, or worlds where you can connect with other real players. Somewhere between 1990 and 1992 I got my hands on a 2400 baud modem and started exploring local BBS’s or Online Bulletin Board Systems. Most BBS’s around town were setup for sharing information about computers, files, and games. Most would only allow you to connect up for about an hour a time, do what you needed to do and that was it for the day. Conversations could takes weeks or even months until the next user logged in and answered you. But the fact that you could talk to a complete stranger from your computer was unthinkable! Online games on these BBS’s called DOOR games became very popular because you could play with other users, not in real time, but when they logged in next they continue there adventure. A very popular one was called Legend of the Red Dragon. It was basically a text based RPG with minimal ANSI graphics if you had it turned on. You could build up your character in levels, fight or kill other people who played on your BBS and eventually get good enough to slay the dragon.
Many MUDS, Multi User Dungeons were quite popular, but very limited graphics, mostly text so I never really got into it. On October 25, 1996 3DO released Meridian 59, the first Massive Multi player Online Role Playing Game, MMORPG for short. This was the first Graphical Massive Multi player game out. I was fortunate enough to beta test it months before it game out and played it for a year or two after release.
The greatest thing about this game is that was a community. There were about 150-200 people per server and we all knew or knew of most everyone. If someone started killing others like crazy, it got reported across the world pretty quickly and we all would go on a quest to put an end to the madness. There were many events we had including feasts, frenzies, weddings, token quests, etc. Many people had to work together to get some things done, and the game encouraged that.
This same year, ID Software release Quake, the “first” truly 3D FPS. It may have not been the very first, but the most widely known and accepted. I was quite disappointed in the lack of polygons and very unrealistic characters. Its like we took a BIG step backward. We had very high quality graphics called sprites, that’s all characters used to be, is many pictures that changed to make them look like they were turning. It made it a little jumpy, but it still looked good. 3D models were truly the way to go because you could do so much more with a full 3D model, but computers could barely handle a few polygons. This was a dark year in gaming for me, I felt we had taken three steps back just so that we could have this true 3D world. It was kind of like the early 90s “VR” Virtual Reality craze, with the helmets and gloves, it was a great idea and movies like “The Lawnmower Man” made it a fantasy everyone wanted. Unfortunately the computer processing power just wasn’t there and the dream was lost. I hope we see those days again with today’s processing power.
As time passed and computers got faster, polygon counts went up and got better. It took us about 5 years to recover and get 3D models to the sprite equivalent quality, but we made it!
After M59 I moved on to Ultima Online. It could have been a good game, but PKs (Player Killers) ruined it. No community, too many people in the same world, and the interface made it hard to interact with other players, find guilds and such.
I Moved on to Everquest for about 2 years, it was good for awhile, but games have their popular time and then move on. I guess for me it’s more about building a character, exploring, and relationships. Once you max out a character there is less to do and once you have explored everything, there is even less. Although some can still stay hooked in these worlds for years and spend time repeating the same actions over and over. I think my primary goal has always been to learn and explore, and once that is done, I move on.
And then to Star Wars Galaxies which was a major disappointment. It was also a game with great potential, but it was very buggy to get started and very unbalanced. Some view it as balanced and that’s okay, but the developers started changing the physics and balance of the game even months after it went LIVE. This is a big no no. What would happen was you would learn how to play the game a certain way and got your character good, but then they would change the balance, so it put your character back to the drawing board. You had to change professions in many cases because of bugs that they created to fix others and you spent a LOT of time LEARNING the new bugs, changes, balances — it just became aggravating. Graphics were definitely a big step up in the computer world.
Back to Quake – The Mod World
One problem with Quake was that the Multi-player didn’t work too well until they released QuakeWorld about a year and a half later. After that, a MOD explosion happened. Great mods like Team Fortress and Action Quake came out and gave all new possibilities to gaming. With Quakeworld you could finally play up to 32 player multi-player games over the internet. About this time Playstation was very popular, but Internet gaming blew everything else away. And then when mods like Team Fortress came out, it got even better. It wasn’t just killing people over and over, you had different classes with different weapons or support functions. Engineers could build sentry runs and repair armor. Medics could heal or poison the other team. It made it much more interesting and team members had to work together.
Another big hit game was Half-Life which used the Quake 1 Engine and as with Quake and Quake 2; many mods followed including Team Fortress Classic which was almost as good as the original, Natural Selection, and Counter Strike. Natural Selection was one of my favorites — Aliens vs Human action, building, eating, flying aliens, sentry guns, and much fun.
Computer Age III
Somewhere I lost track of all my computer upgrades, from my first CD-ROM to my constant upgrading of my graphics card and then entire PC. My steps were rather large, from the 486/50:
686 200 Cyrix, big mistake
Intel 233 MMX, very stable
Diamond Monster Video Card 8 MB? What a difference
Monster II 16MB
AMD 1.2 Ghz, 2200+, 5200+ Duel Core
Nvidia Geforce 4600, 5600, 6600, 7600, 8800 786MB
Yep, 8MB video card to 786MB in what 6-8 years?
A Company called Blizzard makes some really good games, first one I played being Diablo. An Isometric top view fast action RPG. It was a hit dungeon crawler with many multiplayer capabilities. Diablo 2 still holding its own today in 2010 on Battlenet and many are anticipating Diablo 3 soon! Starcraft was arguably one of the all time best (RTS) Real Time Strategy game produced. Its fine tuned balance and carefully tested, as with all Blizzard games made it quite popular. Probably one of the biggest and most addictive games produced and worldly known is World of Warcraft. And yes, I became an addict and I admit it!
The problem and reason these are so immersion is that the game never ends. There is always quest to do and always something new to get. With a full-on ecosystem and economic system, the possibilities are endless. You share the world with thousands of other players and join guilds from dozens to hundreds of players. There are many dungeons and challenges to explore with these people you meet and call friends or guild mates. Some are up to 40 player dungeons with all the players connecting to a voice conference system to organize these raids. Some of these raids are so complex and difficult it requires 100% attention from all characters, if one falls short, the raid get wiped. There are many classes that are required to do certain tasks in certain orders for each boss and everyone has to know there role and perform when needed. Some heal tanks, some heal casters, some heal the main tank, some slow the bosses, some AOE heal, some are all-out damage givers, some lower defenses of the bosses, some lay totems that help the whole raid. Its too complex of a system to explain in a simple paragraph, but you get the idea. And each boss has different special abilities that sometimes require a specific lineup of classes in your raid.
There are many different guilds and many don’t make it to see all the content of the game. I was fortunate enough to be in one of the premiere guilds on our server called “Fallout.” After being in many guilds, this one was by far the best one. I remember a previous guild not being able to take out a boss in 10 minutes, which was the timer you had for this particular boss and yet this guild downed him in 2.5 minutes. They kept me on my toes, always learning how to play my character and make him better. I think that’s what made it so addictive — the always growing, learning, and improving, and meeting new challenges every week as we did raids about 3 times a week. But after about 2 years I was pretty burned out.
So that’s pretty much my story in the virtual worlds and gaming evolution I have explored over the past 30 years. Some of the gaming I see on the consoles I see today are very different and someone disappointing. I don’t feel there is enough control element to the games and a lot of pre-scripted events takes place. Could just be my lack of interest lately from being burned out in general, but they seem so different, they don’t let you think for yourself. I would be interested if anyone else has felt that way. In closing, its been a fun wild ride growing up with PC gaming.