Making Pew Pew Noises

Gaming Means a Lot to Me, Part 3: Video Games – The Formative Years

I know, it seems like an obvious statement coming from someone who is typing an article for a gaming blog and also making videos about my miniature hobby efforts. This goes well beyond occupying my free time, and consuming as much of my disposable income as possible, like a good hobby is meant to. Through gaming, I found the opportunity to express myself, then I found out who I am once I opened up and along the process, I found some lasting friends. 

Let’s talk about my long history with video games and in some cases the decades-long love affair with a few specific franchises. 

It all started in a previous age, when AOL was still distributed vigorously via floppy disc delivery. My parents got a computer for the family, because that was a thing you did in the mid 90s. Fate was on my side, as unlike the Nintendo, the “family” computer was placed in my bedroom. I wonder if my parents ever realized that I barely got a full night’s sleep after that? I suppose they do now.

I don’t remember much about that PC, but I do recall that it had a small amount of dedicated video ram and a CD-ROM drive, both of which were a big deal at the time. Up until then, I used the encyclopedia series that my family had for whatever reason, all of a sudden I had one on CD. I digress…

Included in the box was a 3D adventure game, Journeyman something or other. Anyway, I spent many an evening playing through what are now computer gaming classics like the original Warcraft, Command and Conquer and some iteration of MechWarrior that I found in a bundle that included a flight control style joystick in the electronics section of BJ’s. That was only the beginning.

copyright Electronic Arts

I cannot be certain any more, since, well, this was all almost 30 years ago, but I believe I found Syndicate there at BJ’s as well. Man that was a game; you controlled 4 agents of a corporation from an isometric view rampaging through a cyberpunk near-future cityscape. You would go on missions, fight other syndicates. Between missions you would upgrade the cybernetic bodies of your agents. My favorite piece of gear was the Persuadatron. You could walk around with the mind ray and “persuade” civilians to act as your meat shield. When rival agents attacked you, the mind controlled people got killed first, and then any survivors would pick up the guns from dead agents. Next time someone attacked your agents, all the civilians with guns would shoot when you did. In clown-car style, you and all your mind-controlled minions would somehow pack themselves in a little hover car and drive across the map as you clicked away with your mouse. Good times.

As a side note, when the second game came out, I was captivated by the fact that you could research nuclear grenades before you could research arms strong enough to throw them. So your own agent wouldn’t die in the blast. When you threw said ludicrous grenade, you could blow up a skyscraper, reducing it to a pixelated pile of rubble. 

During those evenings in a cold camper playing Cyber Generations, I was introduced to the original Doom. Doom came on four 3.5 inch floppy discs, you know, the “save” icon on modern programs and millennials think is the Honda icon. Yeah, that’s a floppy disc. That was some crazy-ass shit at the time, moving smoothly through a facsimile of a three-dimensional environment and blasting demons to per-rendered bits. These days, even smart refrigerators are powerful enough to play Doom on, but, it was astounding at the time. Later, I purchased DOOM 2 for myself, and my free time was never the same again. Doom 2, in the dark, headphones on, murdering demons while my family slept. 

Copyright Blizzard Entertainment

Speaking of destroying free time, rampaging through the random dungeons of Diablo was quite efficient at consuming my life one hour at a time. Diablo was purchased at a stand alone computer game store; ah, the 90s. It didn’t last long, but I frequented them often during the short window of time that they were capable of paying the rent for the store. I remember having to get my mother to come in and give permission to buy a game that might have had a little too much gore in it; she had long ago given up trying to stop me from watching R rated movies and the like.

Descending down the layers into hell below the town of Tristram and battling ceaseless waves of demons was amazing. For the time, it was fast paced and intense. It was during my time with Diablo, having realized it was made by the same company that created Warcraft, that I came to appreciate developers and would pay attention to that aspect of gaming from that point on, much like I had with franchises and directors in those R-rated movies I shouldn’t have been watching. But, that’s another article altogether.

The next Blizzard game I dedicated myself to was Warcraft 2, and it improved on the original Warcraft in many ways. The story was great, the missions were varied and for the first time, the humans and the orcs didn’t appear to have parallel unit options. I played the crap out of that game, including competing against other players all night; this was before you had to listen to people bitch and insult you over a headset, so I hadn’t decided to give up multiplayer games yet. Even though I would later discover that it was started as a 40k real time strategy game, I never really got hooked on Starcraft or its sequel. Warcraft 3 would come out when I was in college, and once again I would dive straight in but by then I had a lot of other games to enjoy and never put the same amount of time into it as the second game gleefully stole from me. 

Then I discovered an isometric game that looked a lot like Diablo but turned out to be a turn based roleplaying game where you control some lonely jerk that is stuck on the wrong side of the locked vault door. The humor was dark, and I found myself laughing all the time. I got killed by giant irradiated scorpions. It was the first time I met Dogmeat. I discovered Fallout at just the right time in my life and I was hooked, like forever. I survived a literal shotgun wedding. In the game I mean. Then I got addicted to combat drugs and began pimping out my wife to pay for my expensive drug habit. War. War never changes. Nor has my sick sense of humor.

We already owned all these, but, the Bomb makes noises! I had to buy them again.

Games like Doom and Duke Nukem were made to appear three-dimensional, but in truth were all flat images that were made to fake the look of being 3D. All of sudden the studio that made Doom put out Quake. It was dark and moody. It had a kick-ass soundtrack created by Trent Reznor, and the ammo for the nailgun had the Nine Inch Nails symbol on them. It was actually 3D, and looking up and down became necessary, not a luxury. Seems funny to think of now, but it was so amazing to experience at the time.

Baldur’s gate was my first foray into a Bioware game, a company that I would spend a lot of time with in the future. Also played part two, and the Icewind Dale series later. I found myself spending hours on end designing parties of adventures, creating their backstories in my head based on the simple pieces of art you could assign as the image of that character. I don’t even recall if I ever finished the game, I enjoyed theory-crafting the characters so much. 

Then I bought my first console. 

Oh, wait. Hold on. We have to crawl back to an even older era, in the dark ages before the internet, before I was even in grade school, when I was given my first console. 

My journey with video games would start right here with an Atari 2600 that belonged to my parents and a 13 inch black and white television that I watched G.I.Joe cartoons on. It sat on a short square table that I used to use to draw Ninja Turtles and the like.  The games I had were Pacman, Space Invaders, Centipede and other classics. 

I recall dying from dysentery during the infrequent computer usage at the grade school I was wedged into against my will. That they presented to us on a limited number of Apple 2 desktop computers. Late 80s/early 90s education at its best, clearly.

This this has held up better than I have.

My parents got my sister and I a Nintendo for Christmas, which was the fashion at the time. I had the usual Mario games, Zelda and Metroid, and a few Megaman’s. But we also got some weird games, the ones that weren’t as expensive as those others and quite frankly they turned out to be amazing. Games like Guardian Legend, Journey to Silius, Clash at Demonhead and other crazy games were way more original.

That was also the era where you could rent VHS tapes and Nintendo games from a grocery store. The popular games were always out, but to this day I am trying to get the games that I rented frequently (so frequently that it was like we owned them) and they are worth so much these days. Go look up Bucky O’hare, Metalstorm and Gargoyle’s Quest 2 on eBay, I dare you. Yeah; I wanna buy these games now but they go for hundreds of dollars. 

The Nintendo era was a pleasant time in my childhood. One of my fondest memories with my father is the infrequent but hilarious bouts of playing Super Mario Brothers together. My crowning achievement was beating Final Fantasy, yeah, the original one, as a kid. Just the thought of going into the final dungeon to fight all the bosses again with only 99 potions gives me a bit of PTSD. Seriously, they hadn’t even thought up more powerful healing potions yet. 

For a short while there was an Arcade in the center of town. I would walk there with a pocket full of quarters gangling about and piss them all away in an hour and then walk home. The first arcade didn’t last long, nor did the second one that opened up on the other side of the plaza. By that time the family PC had been purchased and placed within my bedroom and my allowance went to computer games instead. 

So, to continue from where I so rudely interrupted myself. Using the medium-sized bucks I made working part time at a grocery store, the same job that supplied my Warhammer and music habits, I bought my own Playstation. This was after spending some fantastic time relaxing in Isaac’s living room watching him playing  Final Fantasy 7 or passing the controller around the group while we played 30-second bouts of Bushido Blade.

You end up with Greatest hits versions when you trade them and re-buy them later.

The Playstation was remarkable. There were so many types of games, and they all ran seamlessly. I had many roleplaying games like FF7 and Parasite Eve. It was also great for fast paced action games like Nightmare Creatures and the Ghost in the Shell game, which I really wish I still had (along with Parasite Eve). I traded away all of these console games to my then favorite store Electronics Boutique, which I always liked more than Gamestop.

I managed to buy some of them back when I realized years later how much my gaming history means to me. The Playstation was also great for stealth games and I have a newer copy of Metal Gear Solid and a reissue of Tenchu Stealth Assassin. I fuckin’ loves those games; they were action games seated firmly in a situation where you needed to use your mind instead of brawn (or rapid button mashing I suppose).

So I was bound for college in the year 2000. Old. I was excited, I was going for graphic design and it was easy to justify getting a kick-ass PC. Well before it would become the norm I custom ordered a Micron, and waited impatiently for my new computer to be delivered that summer. It was enormous. I swear I could have crushed a family pet or small child with it. On accident of course. I am not that much of a sociopath. It was dangerous in other ways: the video card in it was top-notch for the time and it had a DVD drive in it. No one else on my dorm floor could boast both, and I went to a tech school. I ended up starting a DVD collection that still occupies unnecessarily large chunks of wall space throughout my apartment to this day. I also had a tendency to play video games instead of doing school work. I literally uninstalled Diablo 2 during the school week and reinstalled it when I was done with my homework for the weekend. 

There was also far too much time dedicated to watching anime. Like lot’s, mostly fan-subbed. It’s a miracle I even made it to classes.

My neighbor across the hall had a Playstation 2 from Japan. He also watched anime. I was jealous and got myself a system when it was released here. The PS2 was a great era for Final Fantasy games, and I also discovered Disgaea, which was a tactical game akin to Final Fantasy Tactics from the PS1 days but took place in an anime hell. I got more metal gear games and got hooked on Grand Theft Auto, just like everyone else.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, having been released only days before, was purchased with birthday money in the morning before class that day. My friends/roommates ruined the fuckin’ disc before I got home from class that night. Bastards. I had to buy a disc re-surfacer the next day before I could play it.  

That school year I was in an on campus apartment with Ezra and a couple other friends. It was a great year for gaming and music. I don’t remember who owned the XBOX. I do remember nights of beer with crazy loud metal music playing while getting the warthog into places it was never meant to get into in the original Halo.

I spent some good time with the mind-fuck known as Eternal Darkness on the GameCube. That game could mess with you: need a healing item, open your inventory and its EMPTY. I even remember shooting myself with a shotgun. There was also a Dreamcast,  but honestly it was only used to leave a disc with all the NES ROMs on it. Absolutely no other reason, period. End of discussion. 

My college years were almost up and so were the early years of video games for me. Kera (my then girlfriend. Now wife) moved in with me for my final year of college, and we found the money for our own XBOX. Knights of the Old Republic was my favorite game on that machine. It used Baldur’s gate system, from a more action oriented view point and re-ignited my love for Star Wars. It was Bioware, and I loved every bit of it, especially being able to play a light side or dark side character. Bioware also released Jade Empire, a martial arts action RPG and I quickly played that all the way through.

Another great RPG that both Kera and I put lots of time into was Fable. It may not have quit lived up to the self-generated hype of the developer (actually none of the fable games, or any of Molyneux’s other games ever did, but he was in charge of Bullfrog, the developer of Syndicate way back in the day) but it was good clean fun kicking chickens and murdering people until you grew horns and such.

And after many, many years I finally got Doom 3, along with other great shooter games, such as the Halo sequels. But that’s enough reminiscing for now. 

Many of the genres of fiction and movies that I would enjoy for decades to come were found during those formative gaming years. I found fun in the darkly humorous post-apocalypse of the Fallout franchise and movies like the Road Warrior, Book of Eli and the Road would always have a place in my heart. 

Both the intense action and the sci-fi/horror aspect of Doom would influence my movie choices to this day, with such titles as Aliens, Terminator 2, Predator and to name a few forever on my watch list; I could watch T2 any day, every day for that matter. 

That is certainly not when my love of science fiction started, I have Mom to thank for showing me Star Wars and Star Trek. It was, however, the beginning of the more mature stories. Aliens in particular became a long running if not overly intense fascination for years, including making aliens and colonial marines out of LEGO, and even creating a graph-paper based “board game” in grade school. I still have some action figure collectibles, and would likely have more if my available space wasn’t confined by apartment living. 

The first novel I enjoyed reading.

While I had learned of cyberpunk from the tabletop roleplaying game that I have already written about, Syndicate left me wanting more and helped me find interest in reading at a time in my life where it was not an interest. Novels such as Neuromancer by William Gibson, and the rest of his Sprawl Trilogy were instrumental in showing me that I could love books at an age where all I wanted was to read and draw comics. Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, which is still one of my favorite novels ever (alongside Shogun, Dune and a few others), was a monumental task for me at the time and I was better off having it. Read that satire on modern society sandwiched into a ridiculous cyberpunk story.

I didn’t really start enjoying books until college, but along with Dungeons and Dragons which would come after, video games like Final Fantasy, Diablo and Warcraft were instrumental in helping me enjoy fantasy as a genre. Before, I only enjoyed science fiction and cared not for tales of elves and furry-footed halflings. I read the Lord of the Rings, and enjoyed it enough to move onto other fantasy series, including the Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever series. Stephen Donaldson wrote a more modern and adult version of a Tolkien epic with darker themes and it really stuck with me. 

Many of these franchises still make games today but were birthed in this era. I still play Diablo, Fallout, Doom and the like. More franchises would join my old school obsessions, but I will write about them later. 

Let’s not forget about Super Mario Brothers; my fascination with eating random mushrooms and my incessant need to jump on turtles had to come from somewhere, right? These were formative years and video games helped me find my passions that persist to this day.

At least I didn’t become a plumber…

[This post was originally published at Otherverse Games & Hobbies]


Obsessive and neurotic collector of little plastic men, novels about the same little plastic men and paints to make the little plastic men pretty. Married to Kera, who puts up with him and pretends that she doesn’t hear him speaking to the little plastic men in between making pew pew noises in the hobby room. Requires adult supervision. A menace to himself but rarely to others. More beard than man

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