Gaming Made Me: Tim’s Touchstones

By Tim Stone on July 12th, 2009 at 12:16 pm.

Just when you thought you’d survived RPS’s week of shameless nostalgia along comes another backward-looking bastard keen to share his gaming milestones with you. Will this mawkish memory mining never end?

 

Dr Sepulveda’s Clive Sinclair’s be-rainbowed brainchild cast a long happy shadow over my boyhood, but I’m struggling to single-out one game as a personal landmark.

Should it be Arnhem, my first computer wargame, or Fighter Pilot, my introduction to flight simulation. Should it be Battlecars, in recognition of the afternoons me and Matt spent chasing each other round autodromes in oil-pissing, flame-spitting death sedans? Or Blockbusters, an improbably moreish quiz game ‘won’ by my sister when she competed on the TV show of the same name? Maybe Atic Atac, Arcadia, Deathchase or Wheelie for just being so utterly brilliant?

Football Manager

No, I think I’m going to have to plump for Football Manager. Though my interest in Association Foot-to-ball has long since dwindled to nothing, in the early eighties it was fiery intense, and Football Manager was bliss on a cassette.

Where other games were puzzles to be unravelled or hand-eye challenges to be mastered, FM was – uniquely at the time – a magic porridge pot of epic tales. No two seasons or cup runs were ever the same. No rise from fourth to first division, without its moments of tension and air-punching jubilation. I loved the mind-boggling ambition of the thing. Some bloke had taken British football – the clubs, the players, the agony and ecstasy – and jammed it all inside that little hunk of plastic in front of our telly. Amazing. Plainly, anything was possible.

Hind

The bond between a simmer and their favourite conveyance is a beautiful thing. For a spell in the mid-nineties my vehicular soul-mate was a misshapen Russian combat helo called a Mi-24 Hind. I’d been flying flight sims off and on (mostly off) since Spectrum days, but Digital Integration’s Hind was the first sim steed I encountered that had something approaching a character.

So many years on, it’s hard to remember exactly what that character was, but I do recall the moment  when I realised I was deriving as much pleasure from flying as I was from rocketing the shit out of the Mujahideen. The not-so-simple acts of taking off and landing, following winding river valleys, or lurking behind ridges, gratified. I reached a point where I could make that hovering hoodlum do almost anything and that proficiency generated profound joy.

My affection for the Hind probably also owed something to its unapologetic Russian-ness. The strange blue cockpit dotted with Cyrillic labels, the Nagging Nora with its thick Slavic accent… in a genre awash with American hardware my constant companion felt as exotic as any X-wing or TIE fighter.

The sorties I came to enjoy most were the ones where I was asked to ferry fresh troops out to the front or medevac back the wounded. In fact I enjoyed these outings so much I spent days hex-editing the mission files to create new ones. It was a mad Sisyphean task. I’d change a likely-looking number then fly the file (assuming it ran) to see exactly what I’d altered. Lunatic, but the sort of thing you do when you’re head-over-heels in love.

 

Unreal Tournament

If you told me I had only 24 hours left to live and must spend one of those hours gaming, for old time’s sake I’d have to spend it bouncing between the triple towers of DM-Morpheus. UT had me by the throat/plums the minute I tried the demo. The moody maps, the brutal weapons, the frantic pace, the jibes, the gibs… I loved every offal-strewn inch of it.

Looking back, its timing was impeccable. Increasingly hacked-off with intrusive narratives, stagey set-pieces and eejit AI, all the millennial me really wanted from an FPS was to be able to run and leap and strafe and project projectiles in the direction of worthy adversaries without some overbearing designer sticking his oar in every few minutes.

UT gave me all that and more. I sprinted down passages globuled with explosive snot, head shot lizard men while falling backwards into terminal abysses, impact-hammered fools into pools of corrosive goo, and used ricocheting razor blades to winkle-out anyone that dared to hide. Whatever  tribulations the day had brought, were swept away in a foaming torrent of kill. Darting through Deck 16, Turbine, or Phobos, I was liquid, I was inspired, I was UNSTOPPABLE.

 

Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord

To understand the impact this WW2 wonder had on me circa 2001 you really need to be aware of the following three scenes:

Scene #1. A small boy crawling into a bed strewn with Victor and Commando comics, after staying up disgracefully late (thanks Dad) to watch A Bridge Too Far on the telly .

Scene #2. That same boy, a little older, sprawled on his bedroom carpet (conveniently composed of green carpet tiles) conducting a WW2 skirmish with Airfix 1/72 soldiers and tanks, lichen bushes, a ruler, dice, and a set of homemade rules inspired by a Donald Featherstone library book.

Scene #3. The boy, now full-grown, boring his workmates rigid with an account of how he’d managed to insert a self-drawn BMW motorcycle combination unit into the Close Combat 2 demo.

CMBO was the game I’d been waiting for my whole life. It took the rich, resonant combat drama of the-game-that’s-currently-scowling-at-me-from-the-shelf-because-I-didn’t-include-it-in-this-selection and made it 3D and twice as truthful. Here, finally was a game that delivered engagements like the ones I’d read about in extraordinary war memoirs such as Ken Tout’s Tank! (I’d moved on from war comics by then). The confusion, the mistakes, the cruel twists of fate, the fearful suddenness of death… it was all there unfolding right in front of me.

The fact that I could only dish out orders every sixty seconds only made the experience more engaging. The enforced pauses followed by the minute of hands-off action, forced me to study the battlefield, plan ahead and , best of all, sweat. Like a real commander I couldn’t instantly intervene when a new threat appeared or a new opportunity presented itself. I had to trust my men to think for themselves. Remarkably, they usually did just that. Scouting armoured cars stumbling on enemy armour would withdraw or pop smoke. Troops lashed by HMG fire while advancing across open fields would hasten, hit the dirt or make for nearby cover. It didn’t matter a jot that a 10-man section was represented by three stiffly animated, balloon-headed mannequins, or houses were crude boxes, because the behaviours felt so real.

My Dad, one of several people I infected with my CMBO enthusiasm, insisted on playing the game from a top-down perspective which used to annoy the hell out of me. That third dimension was a big part of the magic and there for a reason. It made finding those crucial hull-down positions simple and sharing the travails of your troops possible. Nothing beat Tab-ing to the eye-level of the bazooka team you’d just spent three turns sneaking into position, moments before they launched their last rocket at a skulking Tiger.

 

Dungeons & Dragons

Talking about the games that made me without mentioning the daddy of pen-and-paper RPGs would be like talking about the history of British sitcoms without mentioning Mrs Slocombe’s pussy. Being Methuselah-old, a significant portion of my childhood was spent without electronic entertainment of any kind (though naturally we had our steam-powered monkeybots). Into this desert, sometime in the early 80s scuttled something so vivid, so life-invertingly outlandish, I’ve been searching for a comparable gaming high ever since.

I can’t quite remember how it happened, but I know it happened rapidly. One day we were dawdling home from school as-per-usual, the next the pavements were empty. We were huddled round a table slaying skeletons, defusing traps, haggling with innkeepers, and watching breathlessly as gem dice tumbled. How those gem dice tumbled. If you had bound us in enchanted chains, and imprisoned us in an enchanted tower in the middle of the most enchanting forest in Enchantria, we couldn’t have been more enchanted.

At the risk of sounding disloyal, it was AD&D rather than any videogame that first exposed the boy Stone to the True Majesty of Gaming. Through it I saw how fragile reality was, and how incredibly intoxicating it could be to move and act in a virtual world. AD&D blazed the trail, pc games came along later and did the colonization.

 

Colonization! Damn, there’s another one I should have talked about.

__________________

« | »

, .

44 Comments »

  1. Dreamhacker says:

    D&D! Knowledge of this masterwork is what separates geeks from casual gamers!

  2. PC Monster says:

    Unreal Tourny is in my list too. Quite certainly the best demo ever released for anything ever, before or since. Morpheus. 32 Bots. InstaGib.

    OH YES. Doom convinced me to become a PC Gamer. UT was the game that convinced me to buy a new PC.

  3. diebroken says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever loved a DM map as much as Morpheus, once you get into the grrove and start predicting where bots will appear you can just let the rockets loose… :D

  4. Kieron Gillen says:

    Morpheus was quite the level.

    KG

  5. Tom Armitage says:

    Donald Featherstone – there’s a name I’ve not heard in a long while… mainly since the county library, I think.

  6. Petethegoat says:

    Nice to see that D&D gets a mention, but why has no one noted Deus Ex? Or System Shock, 1 or 2? Heresy, clearly.

    Quickly, someone get Quinns to fill in the gaps! ;)

  7. Haroshi says:

    Oh man I remember playing the CMBO demo for ages when I was younger.

    I have no idea why, I was useless at it. :P

  8. Horza says:

    Hind was the first (and I think only) helicopter sim I played. I remember loving just the challenge of takeoffs and landings. Having enough firepower to level a small village didn’t hurt either.

    Helicopter sims (or flight sims in general) are the type of game I’d kind of like to master but probably never will because of the steep learning curve and an obsession to always play on full realism.

  9. M_the_C says:

    Loving the Morpheus love.

    For me it was the shock rifle all the way, long range shots + pushing people off the edge = one happy gamer.

  10. Jonas says:

    Huh Unreal Tournament and Dungeons & Dragons were oddly unexpected to find on your list, Mr. Stone, considering your never is so firmly attached to wargames and simulation. Very interesting! : )

  11. Jonas says:

    *your name (okay that was a weird typo)

  12. FunkyB says:

    UT was the first game I could ever claim to be good at. I was vaguely competent as part of my Quake 2 clan ([CwF] – Cows with Fluff!), but UT was something else entirely.

    And the flak cannon ruled.

  13. FunkyB says:

    Did any UT fans actually like UT2003/4? It just felt all wrong to me, and the whole American Sports theme didn’t do it for me.

  14. Kwanchu says:

    I agree, it was not any video game that got me into gaming, it was AD&D. I remember watching some friends play and thinking what rubbish, but once i was allowed to sit at the table I was in love.

  15. jamscones says:

    I was thinking about my own GMM list last night, and Battlecars was on it. Much underrated speccy classic. The car designer utility was on a different side of the cassette to the maps, which all had to be loaded in separately. There was a traditional racetrack, an arena, and Slug City, which was a city. The car to beat was one of the premade cars, called The Nuke, and almost all the best cars were variations on this design. I think I spent an entire summer holiday playing this.

  16. Chis says:

    FunkyB: Tell me you tried to ignore the ball game and actually tried some of the other gametypes?

    UT was great, UT2004 was even better for those of us that liked team games. Onslaught had ME by the short and curlies for years, though I finally retired it for good last year. TF2 took over! And UT3 was far too meh. Digital Extremes are sadly missed, replaced with oafish louts, far too many shades of dark-, and chest-high-walls.

  17. dspair says:

    UT was a blast, and it was the second and the last game with that True Unreal Feel in it. However I think Quake 3 stood the test of time much better, just look at how brillaint Quake Live is.

  18. wyrmsine says:

    I’m still getting into arguments over why I preferred UT to Q3. The demo alone clearly communicated that Epic really wanted my money, and was going to work hard for it. The ful games just cemented that perception. A choice between endlessly gray/brown levels or pirateships, low-grav industrial decay, skycastles and spaceships? No contest.

  19. dspair says:

    Unreal has always been about level design. I recently replayed the original game and was again blown away by some of its maps. That huge (I mean HUUUGE) Nali tower that you have to climb up and up for an hour – my God, this is what I call a level design. Quake, however, is more about competitive side of things – its maps might not blow away visually, but some of them are just perfect for competitve play and wonderfully balanced. The game is much darker and gloomy, in id’s traditions. And I think Quake (and id games in general) has much better movement and physics, that make the game feel almost like a parkour. Unreal is much slower.

  20. ChampionHyena says:

    I suppose this is an indictment of how much of a really “old-school” gamer I’m not, but… well…

    Unreal Tournament might be my favorite game of all time.

    At the very least, it’s the one with whom I’ve clocked the most hours. Downloading tons of maps, mutators, player models, playing the game exactly as I wanted to play it. It wasn’t a completely pure deathmatch experience, the way Quake III was (and, as someone mentioned, the way Quake Live still is), but it seemed to ooze personality. More than that, there was just so much STUFF.

    I think that’s what bothers me about most modern, popular games. There’s streamlining, then there’s monotony. When we started getting new weapons and maps and gametypes for Team Fortress 2, for example, I was elated. Just to have the options. You don’t have to use the flare gun, but you can. If you want.

    Here’s the kicker: What’s Epic doing nowadays? Gears of War, a game whose core mechanics are extremely competent and whose periphery–the extras and the options–are nearly nonexistant, forcing the solid gameplay to sit uncomfortably in a room with abominable narrative and yammering morons on Xbox LIVE, and Unreal Tournament 3, an utterly soulless and stripped down facsimile of the game I first fell in love with in 1999, rife with monochromatic visual clutter, moronic characters, and bundled with a tiny fraction of its forerunners’ maps and mutators.

  21. Timofee says:

    Instagib on Deck 16. Ahh good times. I really liked both Quake 3 and UT but in terms of vanilla gameplay UT always edged it for me because the bots had a lot more personality and I was stictly limited to offline play due to having a trusty 56k modem and pay per minute dialup.

    UT felt so competetive even with just the bots and I thought it was brilliant how some were noticeably better than others; Loque and his amazing aim and that filthy camping Tamerlane.

    I still wish they had progressed UT down the sport-type path they hinted at in 2k3, with the teams and transfers etc. They really just needed more of the WWE inspired stuff that the intro hinted at with a mix between entertainment, sport and downrght cheeseyness.

  22. Warren says:

    That last paragraph re: D&D (well, minus the one line ending); such truth. Sometimes I feel sorry for the younger folks who missed those times. The PnP play of the mind where anything seemed possible on through to today’s graphically rich and stunningly yet still somehow constrained worlds … the perspective that comes from having lived in both eras makes everything just a little bit richer, a little bit more amazing. At least as far as my own experience.

    Of course, the younger folks also have their unique experiences that inform and enrich their perspectives in ways I will never truly and viscerally understand too.

    Thanks for making me think about all that. Kudos, Mr. Stone!

  23. LionsPhil says:

    “Did any UT fans actually like UT2003/4?”

    I do like me some Onslaught, and some V-CTF. And although the vehicle physics are generally shoddy, ah love ma truck. It has lasers.

    But, no, UT is DOMINATING when it comes to everything else. It’s flak cannon is just so much meater, the flow is so much smoother, it’s got an amazing set of maps (AS-HiSpeed!)…I never really understood why people would go for Quake 3 instead, unless they absolutely had to have minimalist DM, and Instagib didn’t quite tickle their raingun fetish enough.

  24. LionsPhil says:

    Oh yes: why UT2004 for VCTF, and not UT3?

    BECAUSE THEY TOOK OUT THE CHUFFING ABILITY FOR THE FLAG CARRIER TO RIDE SHOTGUN! Honestly, way to sabotage teamplay, Epic. Being getaway driver in 2K4 is awesome; drive to flag, handbrake turn, power off again because by now your teammate has bounced to the flag and back. Cue chase back to to your base with raptors in hot persuit and possible tanks up ahead. None of this namby-pamby surfboardery where the big macho men fall off every time they have an owwie.

    Also, because the Hellbender in UT3 only seats two and handles like a hamster ball.

  25. Norskov says:

    I’m just hoping the Make Something Unreal contest spawns some great mods like Air Buccaneers and Red Orchestra..

  26. zak canard says:

    Wheelie was awesome more games these days should feature bouncing hedgehogs and jumping over double decker buses on motorbikes.

  27. GCU Speak Softly says:

    Are you me? That’s almost my life, with the exception of UT…

    Oh, and all hail David A. Trampier!

  28. rod humble says:

    “and a set of homemade rules inspired by a Donald Featherstone library book.”

    Excellent.

  29. Paul Barnett says:

    On AD&D

    Back in the early 90′s I hunted down all the old artists to get them to do some pen and ink for my computer game.

    Curiously Mr Tampier dropped off the face of RPG drawing, off to drive a bus for a while. But I had more luck wth the others. That Jeff Dee (and his flares) popped up in computer games so he wasn’t too hard to find.

    DSL made maps and is a really nice chap. He had a stack of original artwork from not only AD&D but also the first printing and chainmail (cough old person, old person!) that he had somehow kept hold off from the old days, its all interesting is a little painful to look at because it was early days.

    Erol Otus (at the time Off doing art on Mechwarrior computer game) was a gem to work with. Jim Holloway (at the time was off making marketing packaging) was wonderful, He is realy into collecting books about bikes drawn by patterson, I managed to track down an out of print copy.

    Eastley did a nice set and that man Elmore put a few licks down for me. Parkinson as well, though in the end I move to just buying the original painted covers because I liked them so much.

    One of the great lossess I have with computer games is that you just don’t get original painted art that much any more, I love the digital work but there is somehting about them painted bits of board that is somehow more magical for my 20th century brain.

    I just picked up the covers to fourth edition, not that I play that much but that Wayne Reynolds guy (another one who used to work in computer games, Gremlin in Leeds as it happens). Well that Wayne guys puts down some serious paint.

  30. mihor_fego says:

    Ah… Tim got it right there on the last paragraph!
    For me, video games had shown the way to tabletop rpgs, after countless hours of playing Eye of the Beholder on the Amiga500. It was ’92 that I got into AD&D 2ed and while my video gaming history has a gap of about 5 years or more during my teens, I’ve never stopped rolling dice with my friends…

    At 30, it sounds geeky to still play D&D I guess, but for those that haven’t really tried tabletops, let’s try and give you an idea what’s about: It’s like a co-op sandbox social game, where you got the design & development team in one person, creating content as you go!

    The only downside to playing tabletop rpgs is that you can’t ever view their video game counterparts as such. I don’t really believe leveling and stats make up what an rpg game is about, even with mmorpgs’ inclusion of social interaction. Perhaps these open worlds or those of Bethesda’s games are the closest to the experience, but they can only let the player participate from the player’s side.

    More than half of the fun in tabletop gaming is being a game master. Creating whole living worlds out of your imagination and running myriad characters at once… To experience that in a video game, you’d have to actually create an online mod and then perhaps even run the npc and monsters yourself… Which of course is impossible.

  31. Owen says:

    Another great read. Brilliant stuff Tim. Hind really brings back memories and reminded me of my first flight sim joy, F19 Stealth Fighter. Keyboard overlay and joystick in place I would rule the silently dark skies.

    AD&D for me still holds the crown for strongest memories of characters and events (and story to some degree). I don’t find it surprising though as with AD&D you can created the most detailed of worlds and because 90% is in your mind, it’s understandably going to more incricately detailed than any computer game. Incredible times though, happy times and times that I still think of and yearn to this day.

  32. Owen says:

    here’s the missing/corrected words from that post :)
    “create”
    “be”

  33. Johann Tor says:

    I prefered Gary Lineker’s SuperStar Soccer to Football Manager.
    Let me just grab my coat.

  34. zipdrive says:

    With regards to D&D et al., I was wondering how many people who have played in their teens still play?
    While many people reminisce about playing “when we were young & beautiful” it saddens me they leave it there, in the past.

    Roleplay now, people!

  35. Pod says:

    How DARE you not include Close Combat?!

  36. croiz says:

    FunkyB…. still playing?
    btw, moo!

  37. mihor_fego says:

    @zipdrive
    We’re still playing with my group, having now more than 15 years of D&D history together. Not to mention we’re still recruiting younger members…
    The thing is, it’s hard to find people who like the game at your wavelength. Through the years there have been many that joined us but we later had to leave behind.
    We now have a steady group of 5, with DMing rotating among three of us in 7 or more ongoing campaigns, from classic fantasy settings to modern.

    Actually, as I’m growing older I enjoy the game even more for being quality time away from the fuzz and worries of everyday life and work…

  38. Fumarole says:

    mihor_fego

    Have you not played Neverwinter Nights? It enables exactly what you are looking for.

  39. Brass Gerbil says:

    @Horza

    Try DCS: Black Shark. It models the Ka-50 Hokum in extraordinary (some would say excruciating) detail. If you like realism, you’ll love the ten minute cold ramp starts. I say that fondly, because I do love it. =)

  40. mihor_fego says:

    @Fumarole

    Hm… I’ve really never played that game, even though I’ve bought it. It belongs to this big stack of “to play someday” games I own. Your comment convinced me to place it on top!

  41. Edgar the Peaceful says:

    Ah D&D. My sweet mistress from the divorce of my parents through to dope and girls.

    In early-eighties Britain the D&D module was an alien, beautiful artifact:
    http://home.flash.net/~brenfrow/dd/dd-x2.htm

    I really think these will be looked back on as the root of modern gaming – PC or otherwise

  42. veerus says:

    And still no Syndicate…… :\

  43. Novotny says:

    I’m saddened by the lack of love for CMBO :(

  44. Smarmy says:

    This was hilariously, brilliantly written. I’m serious. Thanks for sharing your memories.