A Love Letter to Games
I’ve been a life-long gamer.
I began my gaming career as a child, when my parents acquired an Atari 2600 in the early 1980s. Shortly after their divorce, we acquired an Intellivision, which I now consider the single greatest console of all time. The Intellivision captivated my interest in gaming until the mid 1980s, when I was gifted an NES around winter of 1986. I instantly fell in love with Mario, Contra and Punch Out on a little 13″ color television that I had in my bedroom: I’d sit on the edge of my bed, mere inches away from the TV, fully absorbed in squishing goombas.
It was a great time to be 8.
Computer-based gaming caught my attention around 1987 when my mother purchased an Apple IIc. I was hooked on public domain games that she would bring home from school. For the first time, I wanted to know how these games were made, and so I began reading up on programming Applesoft BASIC. Later, a kids magazine (and I can no longer remember the name of the magazine) began publishing code snippets for Applesoft BASIC. This was programming gold, and I remember the frustration of transcribing line-by-line the code that let you inflate a balloon by repeatedly tapping the space bar. If only a single character was incorrect, it wouldn’t work. A valuable lesson, for sure.
I moved to PC gaming in the late 1980s. I became hooked on Sierra adventure games in 1989 (and I still posses boxed copies of the Colonel’s Bequest and Conquest of Camelot). 1992 rolled around and I became obsessed on Wolfenstein 3D, followed shortly thereafter by Doom in 1993. I have fond recollections of downloading Doom from a BBS and subsequently sending it to my friend over ZMODEM on a 300 baud connection.
It took all night.
Meanwhile, I had picked up a fully-licensed copy of Borland C and began the slow, agonizing process of self-learning the low-level details of the hardware and software. At the time, I had no idea what I was doing.
Between 1991 and possibly 1995, I had access to a shell-based internet connection provided by Nova Southeastern University. I ended up writing graphical “games” in no time, following tutorials I found online on something called the “world wide web” over an application called Lynx. This stuff was awesome! And few of my friends understood.
I wanted to make games like Doom.
Sometime around 1995, during a high school programming class, I wrote my first complete computer game in Pascal. It was a Space Invaders-style ASCII-based shooter, complete with powerups. The code was terrible. I wish I still had it.
PC games held my attention for over a decade. I didn’t return to console gaming until 2005 or so, when I purchased a (possibly used) Xbox. Then the Wii, then the Xbox 360.
By the mid-2000s, I was deep into a programming career. I had cut my teeth professionally on PHP, Visual Basic, and C#. Somehow, I ended up becoming an applications developer, not a game developer. But that’s okay, it’s what I wanted, really: Stories from the trenches of game development were always unpleasant, with tough deadlines and missed releases and late night and weekends and stress. It would have been fun, I think.
Looking back at what I’ve accomplished in my life so far, it’s really the classics that helped nudged my career and shape by interests. Luminaries like Shigeru Miyamoto, Roberta Williams, Christy Marx, John Carmack and Will Wright became my heroes.
Indeed, my software career began in the early 1980s, with those first awkward button mashes on the Atari 2600, followed by a fascination with gamepad inserts on the Intellivision, followed by the simple elegance of Super Mario Bros.
Pitfall, Astrosmash, BurgerTime, Lock ‘N Chase, and Armor Battle all paved the way for my lifelong fascination with computing. Without Punch Out, the Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros. or Contra, I doubt my interests in PC games would have blossomed.
Without Quest for Glory or Space Quest, Conquest of Camelot or the Colonels Bequest, I may never have had an interest in Wolfenstein 3D or Doom. I would not have had the desire to learn the low-level details of the machine. I would not have picked up Borland C .
These weren’t just games.
They were gateways.