My Personal History with Electronic Games: 3 of N

Previously on Game Restart: [it’s a series]

Many people invest a lot in how their games are viewed and played. 

I did not. At least, not for a long time.

I played games on the computer. I mean, I displayed the console games on the computer, via video in on a frame buffer, the same way I displayed output from a VCR. Ammonite was my CRT, but at a certain point, the lab grew to accommodate more SGI gear for the render farm, and one of the new workstations, an Indy, had default NTSC and PAL composite and S-video input, and I switched to that. Video floated in a window, and a simple speaker system accommodated the stereo out from whichever system was in use.

I also kept adding additional—typically used—graphics workstations to either serve as render nodes or for making my job easier when it came to modeling work:
Carcharodon: a teal 200 MHz R4400 SGI Indigo 2, Extreme gfx (1280x1024), 20 in. display, 384 MB RAM, 4 GB HD, acquired for service in 1998 (still in possession). 
Helicoprion: 180 MHz R5000 SGI Indy, XGE gfx (1280x1024), video in, no out, 256 MB RAM, 4 GB HD, acquired for service in 2000 (also still in possession).
And upgrading Paradoxides to stuff like Elan gfx and more RAM, faster CPU. Disk space was never a real issue—I had a server for that—but adding RAM and faster CPUs never went amiss. 

By now it must be fairly clear that I regarded most of my electronic entertainment as fairly secondary to work. It turns out that finding good work-life balance is an issue I still struggle with.

But back then it was worse. Day job was a thing, but when I returned home, I spent waking hours mostly working on my own projects, with, ultimately, limited success. And I would sometimes take a second job, sometimes working for 80 hours at a stretch in order to fund my “education.” Depression took its toll, and I was overextended in other ways as well. In spite of the picture this may paint, and even if I’m not always proud of what little I was able to accomplish, I’m not exactly sorry I struck it out alone. Going to a specialized school is monstrously costly, and the other colleges I’d surveyed observed inconsistent to incoherent offerings when it came to what was then a practically new art and technology. (Unless you committed to a single platform—which I didn’t/couldn’t—the state of that art/tech was in a perennial state of chaotic free-fall, with innovations that spanned from the significantly groundbreaking/game changing to the inconsequential appearing on a nearly monthly basis.) Even so, it’s sensible to think that the structure imposed by school would have been better; as it was, I set deadlines, and then I broke them, personal milestones fell by the wayside as I spent months churning only to realize I lacked a key bit of knowledge or skill, and would have to begin again, properly this time. But perhaps there’s value in even failure, if you root through the difficulty.

Even weekends could be spoken for, since I secured memberships to Woodland Park Zoo and Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in the area and made myself take video, photos, and did drawing sessions. I was seldom idle. While on the bus or at cafes eating lunch (or dinner), I plowed through manuals for everything but programming (except for shell scripting, which made post-processing batches of rendered frames simpler—though I often had outside help).

UNIX (and the Mac) dominated my OS time. Paper reading was nonfiction (software manuals, Computer Graphics Magazine, and a bunch of IT-specific industry rag subscriptions I received for free), and in the late 90s, this broadened to include natural history, specifically dinosaur anatomy, history, and language. Going to aquaria and zoos probably constituted my more exciting days out. 

How I usually started my second shift:
/usr/people/selyard $ maya &

As a result of all of this, some electronic games made escaping into some sort of escapism more alluring.

Apart from the demanding requirement of being skilled with certain genres immediately—shooters, for example, require younger reflexes and better hand-eye coordination than I possess and first-person shooters are only playable minutes at a stretch because they induce nausea—I was certainly able to find plenty. 

The Spyro the Dragon games also helped get me through some really rough times. In a sense, these games were therapy. (I finished all three of them for the PlayStation.) There were a few other games, MediEvil, Heart of Darkness, but I had difficulties in completing them, and tended to lose interest. (I retain them just because I find the art in them compelling.) Games did not cure depression, they just helped me through in ways other media didn’t or couldn’t do.

The year 1999 came and went, 2000 was transited, 2001 rolled around, and I think that’s when I bought my PlayStation 2. 

A year later, I bought a game for it. Admittedly, it’s not a great beginning for a game console when it’s being primarily used to replace a DVD player and does the heavy lifting of playing movies, and buying more than one game console felt like an extravagance (I think I even donated away the original PlayStation I’d purchased, but kept the games, since they still ran on the PS2). I picked up Ico and Ratchet and Clank when I was able, and later, Myst III: Exile, but that was the high-water mark of my participation of the console.

Back then, I defended it against all comers. I still legitimately think of it as one of the best consoles of its generation. But the truth is, it made a better DVD player than a game machine. I even bought the Sony remote control for it.

So what happened? Nintendo.

<insert GIF/image of puny author shaking a tiny fist at the sky, impotently shouting the hanafuda card-maker’s name at an uncaring universe>

How? How could a company I’d spent so much time outright ignoring get me to fork over cash for one of their offerings? Even the Nintendo 64 provoked nothing but indifference in me, and that was with the knowledge that it was essentially an SGI console for the home. (Seriously.) I ignored literally everything Nintendo had ever produced. I didn’t hate them. But I only understood their existence in abstract terms that had no pull or influence over me. But Sony had lain the groundwork of getting me receptive to the idea of buying consoles again.

It took 18 years, and Nintendo finally got my money. Apart from Sony, what was the critical trigger that made it possible? A compelling game? Sort of. A third party title? Yep. An event or character which made the Nintendo a must own device? Oh no, not until later did Nintendo give me that.

It was some rainy days, staying at a KOA campground in Orlando Florida sometime in the 1980s, playing an arcade game before we moved to Japan.