Part of a miscellany of serious thoughts, animal gifs, and anecdotage from the realm of MOBAs/hero brawlers/lane-pushers/ARTS/tactical wizard-em-ups. One day Pip might even tell you the story of how she bumped into Na’Vi’s Dendi at a dessert buffet cart. Today, however, is not that day. Today is the story of the worst Dota setup known to man. Worse than Fear’s desk in the Free To Play movie.
Whenever I go traveling for work I have my trusty laptop in tow. It’s an old Macbook – old enough that persuading it to do anything useful feels like the digital equivalent of dragging a recalcitrant cat through a river of molasses to a vet appointment.
It wheezes and whirs and can’t hold battery charge for the length of time it takes to write a Dote Night column. At one point, though, it was my main gaming machine and I forced it to run Dota 2.
I remember lying on my tummy on a bed in a previous apartment trying to figure out how to bootcamp the damn thing for that express purpose. There was the vague idea I might play other games on it too but I’d only just started to dabble with the idea of paid videogames writing so that felt like quite a remote concern. I mean, at the time one of my sources of income was making paper puppets of Jedward for MTV. True story. It didn’t occur to me that this was a financial investment or that I would eventually write about Dota as part of my job. I just wanted to play the game.
I don’t remember the specifics of the bootcamp process as I was nursing a horrible headcold at the time. The sort you end up medicating through a mixture of Lemsip, naps and microwaved mugs of shop-bought mulled wine. It wasn’t my finest hour, nor do I recommend it as a course of action for anyone in the universe. But I did still end up with a laptop capable of running Windows XP.
Playing Dota on that setup was a singular experience. It was also the start of my reputation for accidentally playing games on a hard mode of my own devising. The laptop could run Dota just fine but it couldn’t run anything else at the same time without slowing to an unplayable crawl. That, in turn meant all third-party voice communication software was out of the question. Or at least, using them on the laptop was.
I installed Skype on my phone. We tended to favour Skype as a group. In-game chat was available but problematic when grouped with strangers. Plus the people I played with just preferred not to use it. Having Skype on my phone solved the voice problem but added another one of which I wasn’t immediately aware. Putting my companions on speakerphone led to complaints because of the echoey effect. Muting myself was better but it meant I couldn’t say anything or be part of the conversation. A combination of headphones and speakerphone seemed like the best solution. In fact it was great except… well…
“It’s just positioning” said a friend sounding frustrated. I’d just taken a wave of spectral horses to the face thanks to Keeper of the Light. The latest of many horse waves. He couldn’t understand why I was always in the way of the wave.
“But you have to go forward sometimes to get anything done,” I said, reasonably (I thought). “It’s just that you guys seem better at avoiding them.”
I can’t remember the exact phrasing of his reply but it was something along the lines of “It’s literally as simple as getting back when you hear the sound cue from the ability.”
“There’s a sound cue?”
Several questions later and he had worked out I had spent months playing Dota with no sound. That was the Skype trade-off. I had my headphones on and speakerphone active so I’d had to mute the game itself. I’d made that work for months before the KotL thing came up.
Hard mode by accident.
But that’s not the half of it. Let’s add in that I didn’t have space for a desk in that flat so was playing on the bed with my laptop balanced on my knees. The phone would balance somewhere over to the left while on the right was a USB mouse – one of those really cheap ones where the buttons stick and some clicks don’t register properly. To use that mouse I rested it on a special edition Where The Wild Things Are box. I think I still have it somewhere. It’s supposedly a collector’s item but the bottom and right edges are scuffed white after hundreds of hours of being rubbed by my wrist. The PC gaming equivalent of a well-worn path across a field.
Oh, and on top of all this the alt key which you use to ping things is directly next to the command key on a Macbook keyboard. The command key crashes Dota.
It was a terrible way to play an unforgiving game and it added extra handicaps and problems to a title which needs extra of neither. But that setup was the point from which so many current friendships – even my present job – grew.
There was also a singularity of purpose to the setup for which I have a lot of residual affection. My current PC is a home to many other games, to work, to photography projects, to my inbox, and Netflix and takeaway food ordering services as well as to Dota 2. The Windows partition of my Macbook was reserved purely for Dota and when I booted into it I was signing out of the rest of the demands on my time.
It’s still there, actually. That partition still exists and it still contains a version of Dota. I never update it because, for all the nostalgia for those early day of Dota, I’m not an idiot. It was a horrific way to play. There’s also a part of me that loves the idea of having a Dota 2 time capsule that’s stuck in the time when that way of playing was my only option.
I opened it up on the train a little while ago out of curiosity, knowing I had no wifi connection and wasn’t risking an update. Over there, in that feverishly bodged-together partition, it’s always Wraith Night, you have to run Skype on your phone, Techies doesn’t exist, nothing has sound and Blink Daggers cost mana to use.
How did we live like that?