As mentioned in a previous post, I decided to run a Barcamp Berkshire session on the computer games I had enjoyed throughout various times in my life. The below is a blog-version of my talk.
As an only child I spent a fair amount of time at weekends and during school holidays playing on my Dad’s computer. The above game, Sleuth, was a text-based rip off of Cluedo, but with the addition of some incredibly basic graphics. As a detective you had to navigate your ‘avatar’ (if you can possibly call the small cluster of pixels an avatar) around the floorplan of a large mansion, interrogating murder suspects.
As time went by, my Dad got a better computer with a better graphics card, which allowed me to play more sophisticated games like Commander Keen. (N.B. Dad – if you’re reading this and remember it differently, just go with it ok? No one ever expects accuracy to get in the way of the narrative.)
It was playing this game, frantically hammering on the keyboard to avoid the green, googly-eyed monsters, that I realised my motor skills left something to be desired. I needed a computer game that didn’t rely quite so heavily on precision key-strokes.
Enter my primary school friend Emma, her Dad’s rather better computer, and a wannabe pirate by the name of Guybrush Threepwood. The Secret of Monkey Island marked the start of a long and happy relationship with Scumm games. The point and click puzzle solving was fun, cerebrally challenging but required little in the way of hand eye coordination.
A couple of years later I went to boarding school and took the prudent measure of befriending a chap named Alex who had the Scumm game Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis installed on his machine.
As I grew older I learned that the best way to make friends with teenage geeks was to talk to them about gaming. There are those who swear mid 90s FPS games hit their apex with Duke Nukem or Wolfenstein, but for me and my mates it was all about Doom 2. Killing a Cacodemon with a chainsaw in God Mode was one of life’s purest pleasures.
Learning the art of conversing with geeks was a skill which would stand me in good stead for going to university, where I would meet the love of my life, Terry.
Terry moved in with me and my student housemates in 2002, and one of our first decisions as a cohabiting couple was to set up 2 computers in our respective rooms, with an ethernet cable running between them, taped to the ceiling. It was here that I discovered the world of the PC-based strategy game series Command and Conquer. We spent hours playing together, sometimes against each other, but more commonly in collaboration against a computer generated enemy. We started off with Tiberian Sun.
Graduated onto Red Alert 2
And really hit our stride with Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds.
I was a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, and was wildly excited when Terry got me the Xbox game. This was my first proper introduction to console gaming. Since my days of button-mashing on a PC my manual dexterity had improved a bit, but not vastly. Jumping puzzles and boss fights would sometimes get the better of me, and Terry would on occasion have to help me out with the trickier bits.
The sequel Buffy game: Chaos Bleeds was more my speed, incorporating more puzzle solving than its predecessor. Additionally I loved that you got to play as different characters, in particular the welcome return of Sid the Dummy.
In 2005 I decided to do a 3 year part-time MA in Philosophy through the Open University. Although it’s still one of the best things I ever did, it was incredibly hard going. One unexpected challenge I faced was what to do with my diminished leisure time. Reading no longer held any pleasure for me and watching TV & films felt too passive. To this day I am convinced that playing The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess kept me (just about) sane. The game looked gorgeous, the puzzles were challenging enough to keep me interested but not so tough I gave up. Best of all, the new, intuitive, style of gaming introduced by the Wii meant that rather than having to press lots of fiddly buttons, fighting with a sword entailed swinging a Wiimote. Suddenly I had a console game where I wasn’t unduly punished for having poor motor skills.
So absorbing was this new world of Hyrule that I happily played a couple of older Zelda games from the Game Cube days, although button mashing on a Wavebird was definitely a step down from the Wiimote swinging. I was delighted by Windwaker, even though the bright primary colours and youth of its protagonist made it felt a little babyish compared to the sombre tones of Twilight Princess. When it came out, Skyward Sword became my favourite Zelda experience to date. Delving further in the Nintendo back catalogue, Ocarina of Time felt pretty blocky and clunky next to the later games, but I still enjoyed playing through it. Mostly…
That bloody jumping puzzle!
This dude is trying to kill me with six swords. Six!
Oh the tears! Oh the swearing!
Last summer I mentioned I rage quit Ocarina of Time for 3 and a half years. This was due to my failure to execute the above jumping puzzle (or if not that exact one, a very similar one.) On occasions my frustration at my own ineptitude can get the better of me. It’s generally not pretty.
Although I loved Zelda, I needed a new kind of game which punished user error less severely. The Lego franchise hits this nail on the head. Aimed squarely at the family market, the game brilliantly realises the Star Wars universe in Lego bricks. The other main draw was the drop-in, drop-out collaborative play which carried through to similar TT games.
Such as Batman
And Indiana Jones. The games weren’t flawless, but losing a few points each time you ‘died’ as opposed to getting the dreaded Game Over screen was a welcome change of pace.
Several years ago Terry wrote a post about our quest for games which supported collaborative play. Friends suggested we tried the House of the Dead series. As one commented “Beating off a swarm of zombies together is a great experience!” How right he was! Additionally, House of the Dead: Overkill had (in 2009) the dubious honour of having the most swear words of any computer game to date.
While I’m not adverse to adult content by any stretch, I do seem to have more affinity for the more child-friendly games. Although quite how the title ‘Boom Blox: Bash Party’ made it past the censors I don’t know.
As the first decade of the 21st Century drew to a close I faced up to the fact that years of a rather sedentary lifestyle had left me significantly, if not severely, overweight. Having had less than successful encounters with gyms in the past I decided to see what gaming could do for my BMI. The Wii Fit pack proved a sound investment and over the course of about 6 months I lost a stone in weight, predominantly doing the cycling courses.
At last year’s Barcamp several people mentioned how awesome Portal was, so much so that we bought the game and I duly blogged about it last year.
The past few months have been a bit rubbish. Work hasn’t been going so well, and I’ve been feeling pretty strung out. I decided to replay Skyward Sword, and in so doing managed to finally win the Hylian Sheild on the Boss Fight Rush Challenge, a feat I failed to accomplish the last time I played. For every game I play there is usually a part where I eventually give up because it’s too hard. But then there are the occasions that I get over my rage quit, I try again and I succeed! And that feels pretty damn good!
My original talk finished with this slide, designed to prompt a bit of discussion for the rest of the slot. However as I mentioned in my previous post, part way through my delivery I realised that I was using an old version of this presentation. I ended up not discussing these types of games I have never properly tried. Instead at the end of my talk I went back into drop box, found the right version and went over the parts I’d missed out. So I never got to hear from anyone as to whether I should try out a handheld console like the Nintendo 3DS.
As mentioned above work hasn’t been going too well recently, and so when I wasn’t replaying Skyward Sword I was spending my time looking for new employment. As of the weekend when I went to Barcamp I’d already had one unsuccessful job interview, and had another scheduled for the following Thursday. Knowing how I struggle to occupy myself when waiting to hear the result, Terry bought me a shiny new Nintendo 3DS, so I could distract myself from the waiting and the possibility of rejection. He presented me with this toy on the Thursday evening after the interview, which was an incredibly sweet gesture. Except that by Thursday evening, I’d already been rung up and offered the new job! So it seems I’m not going to have much opportunity to play my new game, as I now have to move house, which is likely to take up a fair amount of time. But that is a post for another day!