Friday, November 30, 2018

Remember the Days of Kill Ten Rats?

I remember playing through my first toon on SWTOR back in 2012, a Smuggler/Gunslinger, and thinking that Bioware didn't hesitate to show the grey morality of the Republic, particularly on Ord Mantell and Belsavis. SWTOR pretty much hit you over the head with that in Ord Mantell with the woman looking for her locket, and the Cathar woman stealing medical supplies for the refugees, not to mention the embedded videographer you're supposed to "rescue" from the Separatists. However, the one thing that I believe SWTOR did shy away from was the usage of tragedy to propel a story forward.

It's not that the Star Wars Universe is incapable of tragedy as a plot device --the television shows and the "Star Wars Story" films show that in spades-- it's just that the emphasis of SWTOR is more on heroism and getting to be the hero in a galaxy divided between Republic and Sith Empire. Despite all the gray, you do have moral choices to make (Light vs.Dark) that are baked into the system, and one of the choices the Bioware devs decided when working on SWTOR was to simply not use tragedy very much.*

Given the nature of the backstory, I expected more of this in Age of Conan, where in Robert E. Howard's stories the secondary (and frequently major) characters would meet untimely ends in the same way that people in H.P. Lovecraft's stories did. The Sword and Sorcery ethos of "magic = things that mankind was not meant to meddle with" pretty much demands it. On the flip side, when major players died in WoW it would frequently feel forced, and for a while most of the major deaths happened offscreen in the novels. The most notable exception for this was the Wrathgate event, which turned everything in Northrend on its head, yet the full event was so well done it felt completely organic to the situation. Anyone with a brain could see the Apothecaries were working on their own "secret projects" since Vanilla, that long game they were playing finally came to fruition two expacs later.

All that being said, The Elder Scrolls Online hasn't really hesitated into utilizing tragedy --and borrowed from a lot of Sword and Sorcery ethos-- to propel a story forward.

Having played the Main Questline through to completion, it was notably absent of much in the way of sacrifice. Yes, I'm aware of the ending, but even then it wasn't much of a sacrifice if you ask me, because I wasn't so invested in those characters. To be honest, I was more invested in their voice actors than the characters themselves. But the zone stories are an entirely different animal.

It is here that I differentiate between the Main Questline and the entire Coldharbour questline. While I suppose it might count as part of the Main Questline, it certainly has more in common with the other Zone Questlines, as the utilization of tragedy is much more common there than in the Main Questline.

I was thinking about the utilization of tragedy as a plot device last night, as I entered into Stormhaven the other day and was finishing up some quests on the western part of the zone. There I ran into yet another tragic outcome (sorry, no spoilers) which got me to thinking that the Elder Scrolls Universe has absolutely no problem utilizing tragedy, particularly when Daedra are involved to any extent. For all the Mary Sue-ism that your toon embodies, and believe me there's quite a bit of that,** the ESO zone stories temper that with things that you can't control and events you can't stop. Even when you're given a quest to make things right, events are never so simple as it seems.

Kill Ten Rats this ain't. More like "Kill Ten Rats, and oopsie, the original questgiver had that wrong, and you really need to do a Fetch and Carry, and uh-oh, maybe this is an Escort quest as well because the original questgiver decided they couldn't wait and got themselves in a crap ton of hot water (sometimes literally). Oh, and there's also a pretty decent chance that the subject of the quest is either in cahoots with the Daedra or is going to be killed by the Daedra or the Daedra had that subject's buddies killed. Rocks all; everyone dies."

ESO Rule for NPCs #1: Unless the Daedric Prince's name is Merida or Azura, don't even bother. Just don't. And if someone promises to make your problems go away, you're screwed, because it's likely a Daedra. Unless it's your toon doing the promising, of course.

*No, I don't have a pipeline to the SWTOR devs, but looking at the result shows that they did avoid tragedy. It's not like Bioware won't use tragedy as a plot device; after all, look at their other games --including KOTOR 1-- as proof otherwise.

**One questgiver says at the completion of a quest that she will erect a statue in your honor, which is more than a wee bit over the top. And really, your toon is trusted by people (commonly known as "your betters") who ordinarily have no business whatsoever trusting a random person who just happens to show up on their doorstep asking if they can help out. From my perspective, that is the laziest part of the writing in the ESO universe; I shouldn't be able to simply waltz up to a Captain of the Guard, much less nobility, and have them simply accept that I'm going to help out and do their heavy lifting. Even the Jedi get less initial traction in SWTOR than your toon does in ESO.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Farewell, Nexus

I won't be seeing this guy again.
The Caretaker zapped him along with
the rest of Nexus

I managed to get online with 5 minutes before shutdown, but my screenshots never took. I wasn't surprised, as the servers were overloaded with people trying to say goodbye.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Slow Creeping Onslaught of the Bean Counters

Jason Schreier has been busy, following up the Diablo mobile game announcement at Blizzcon 2018 with an indepth article about Diablo, and by extension, Blizzard itself.

The Past, Present, and Future of Diablo dropped on Wednesday, right before Thanksgiving in the US, so it is understandable if you happened to miss it then. But go and read it, then come back here.

I'll wait.


Pulling the Diablo expac from development speaks volumes to me. It tells me that upper management was feeling the pressure from the lousy D3 release, and they didn't have confidence that the first D3 expac would right the ship. That was a big departure from Blizzard's previous behavior, where they were willing to wait and work on something before it was good enough to release.

As much as Titan was considered a "failure" by many internally because they never got it across that goal line, it does provide a big peek into Blizzard's thought process. Because Blizzard had the WoW money coming in --as well as a lot of customer goodwill-- Blizzard could afford to throw money at something that ultimately became a "failure", although the release of Overwatch from the ashes of Titan proved that Blizzard could still make a fantastic game from the leftover pieces. I realize that people would argue that Blizzard could afford to do that because of the WoW money, but that ethos was baked into Blizzard's culture from the get-go. The WoW money only allowed Blizzard more space to try to make a failure work.

However, once Activision Blizzard struck out on their own, there was bound to be a culture clash from the two entities as to which vision would ultimate win out.When A-B was part of Vivendi, this sort of clash wasn't necessary because A-B was a small part of the Vivendi conglomerate. When A-B went solo, however, they couldn't afford "poor sales" like they could in the past. So how would this end up?

Well, we do have a previous merger that provides look into the dynamics of how this would work out, and ironically enough it involves two major computer companies, Compaq and Hewlett-Packard.


In one corner, there was Compaq; the maker of the first PC clone that challenged the IBM for dominance in the PC space. In the other was HP, which built its reputation first on lab electronics and calculators, and then later on PCs. The two were big players in the PC market, and when HP's Carly Fiorina first announced the merger the business analysts weren't so sure about how the merger would work out, suggesting that the companies didn't complement each other very well. However, in spite of a revolt led by Walter Hewlett, son of one of the two founders Bill Hewlett, Carly got her wish and the merger happened.

The two corporate cultures, however, couldn't be more different. Compaq was very much a "fly by the seat of your pants" outfit that would throw products against the wall to see what would stick and then patch things to make them work, while HP was more ingrained in a slower, methodical, make-sure-it-works-before-releasing style of development, based on openness and trust, the legendary HP Way. (Does this sound familiar?) Perhaps bruised by the revolt and stung by the criticism from analysts, Carly used the merger to throw out most of HP management and replace them with Compaq people, leading to the eventual loss of the HP corporate culture within its own company.

With Activision Blizzard, we are seeing a similar fight appearing. Activision is very much a "release every year with some changes but with a formula that doesn't vary very much" type of outfit. Blizzard works on things until it is perfect enough to release. Alas, the signs don't look good for Blizzard in the long run, as the killing off of the second D3 expac was the first unofficial sign that Blizzard's management was starting to feel the "what have you done for me this quarter?" that seems to infest publicly traded companies the past 3-4 decades. The end of the article, where Blizzard's new finance person has started talking about "cost cutting", is another ominous sign that Blizzard's management is starting to lose its battle to remain independent from direct control by Bobby Kotick's and the bean counters from the Activision side of the company.


In my personal opinion, I think it's time for Blizzard to spin off and become a privately held company. They may not need to do it to develop games, but if they want to develop games the way they've always done it, they'll need to be free from the influence of an alien corporate culture (Activision) and the pressure to perform by shareholders (publicly traded on the market). The freedom to fail is a powerful thing, because it leads to risk and innovation. If a company becomes risk adverse and settles for churning out products that vary little from year to year, they may make money but their dreams become smaller, concerned with focus groups and earnings per share and not rocking the boat. If Blizzard wants to continue to dream big, they need to control their own destiny.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Steam [Don't Call it] Black Friday Sale has Arrived

You know a big sale is going on when I open up my email and find a "25 Items From Your Steam Wishlist are on Sale!" message in there.
I wish the Autumn colors looked like that around
here. It was hot until way late in Fall, and then
suddenly switched over to cold weather, with the
leaves not giving much color at all.

I'm personally debating as to what to do with Steam sale; whether to wait for the Winter Sale or pounce on this one. There are a few games I'd like to nab when they're on sale, such as Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire, but there are also some others that I know I'd be tempted to purchase for the mini-Reds.*
Deadfire, because chasing after a rogue
god can be fun. From GameRevolution.

There is the Pathfinder: Kingmaker game out there that I'd really like to try, but I keep saying I'm going to wait until the release is a lot more stable. It seems to be getting there, but I'll likely wait until December before moving forward with P:K.
Well, I'll have to wait a bit longer before
having Pathfinder Barbarian Iconic character
Amiri in my party. From the Kickstarter.
Then there's also a discount on ESO: Summerset, even though I'm likely not to reach there on my ESO main for quite a while.
Because you can't have an ESO expansion
without everyone's favorite Morag Tong
agent tagging along for the ride. From

Or maybe I'll go purchase a game I'd purchased ages ago for a PC back in the Vista days, such as Total War: Medieval, that no longer plays on current machines because of graphics code changes.** Before you ask why I'd want to play the first version of The Creative Assembly's Medieval games, it's because Medieval 1 is a completely different design than Medieval 2. Medieval 2 follows every design after Total War: Rome and has armies roaming through the maps in fine detail --you can go across terrain and roads, for example-- while Medieval 1 is an area control game in the same way that Risk is. Sometimes you want to play one style, and sometimes you want to play the other.

Sometimes you just wanna slam down some
armies and say "Egypt is MY territory!"

But you know, I realize that whatever I choose I'll have time for playing later, as we've got the Steam Winter Sale coming in about a month. And I'm fine with that.

*Well, except for the fact that they don't need distractions heading into the final weeks of the Fall semester.

**When that first arose when I'd replaced the graphics card on my old Athlon system, both NVidia and The Creative Assembly pointed fingers at each other, but it turned out that it was NVidia at fault, as they chose not to support an older graphics ruleset. The net effect was that I was no longer able to play the first Medieval: Total War (before they changed the name around) until the Steam version appeared.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The End Comes for Nirn

I finished the endgame for the original portion of The Elder Scrolls Online yesterday. While the final battle at the endgame --and afterwards, your personal story-- took about 8-10 hours of playing time* for a player experiencing it for the first time, the overall storyline for ESO from your initial starting zone through to the end was much faster than I expected. By comparison, my original toon on SWTOR** took probably about 4 months of steady play, and WoW.... Well, lets just say that WoW took considerably longer to get to L60.

But I now know the reason why the opening up of the other faction's zones was so critical to ESO's future: the original game was too short compared to other MMOs.

Believe me, I'm not a "I'm bored, there's nothing to do!!" person, because MMOs by their nature have a lot of side items such as crafting and whatnot, but when I finished the original game I thought, "Huh. That really was too short!"

The story did have a taste of Mary Sue-ness to it at the end, especially given that your character pretty much came out of nowhere to do some amazing things at the end. However, to Zenimax's credit they weren't afraid to let some NPCs die in that final assault. Oh, it wasn't George RR Martin level of bloodbath, but a couple of NPCs that I really kind of liked didn't make it at the end.***

ESO did use a heavy amount of what I'd call personal phasing --where the story provides phasing while in plain sight of other toons, who obviously can't see what you're seeing-- to make the final assault more interesting. This is a grade up from what WoW implemented in Wrath through Mists, and it really takes some virtual sleight of hand to pull this off. Kudos to the dev team for doing just that.

Choice did have a bit of an impact on who shows up in the final assault. If you chose one group over another in the Coldharbour zone, that group was the one that showed up. (Sorry, I'm not giving spoilers away.) That happened numerous times in Coldharbour, and in at least one case making the "right" choice meant a critical quest sequence went a lot more smoothly. But whether it was the right ethical/moral answer, that's a different story.

The one thing that I found most interesting, however, was the impact that the so-called "good" Daedra have on Nirn. I'm pretty much used to Molag Bal, Sheogorath, and company having an impact, but the good Daedra have a pretty large impact as well. I kept wondering just where the Aedra are, and why they're not very active. In that respect, I felt that the world of The Elder Scrolls was more akin to a Swords and Sorcery setting --such as Age of Conan-- where the gods really don't seem to give much of a crap about the Conan's world, but the demons and demon gods certainly do.

Is it worth it to play? Yes, it is, if for nothing else than the voice acting alone. I was geeking out when I heard both Kevin Michael Richardson (Sai Sahan) and Jennifer Hale (Lyris Titanborn) as companions in the same way that their characters in SWTOR were (Jace Malcom and Satele Shan, respectively).
The two in the middle....
...are the same as these two.

The one thing I'm not exactly sure of is just how active the game really is. It certainly seemed active, but there's apparently only one Megaserver for North America, so I don't know how active it truly is. Besides, I'm not playing in Summerset, which is the current expac, so there's that as well.

Anyway, I'm seriously glad that Zenimax opened up the other alliance zones, because otherwise I'd find myself in an uncomfortable situation of saying "this was way too short for me".

*That also included a few extra side quests in the final battle zones --in the same zone as the vampires-- which didn't take terribly long. Maybe it was an hour combined for those side quests, as the delve was fairly straightforward, but I tend to lose track of time when doing some of these side quests.

**This was 2012ish, and that meant all the original side quests were firmly in place and pretty much a requirement if you wanted to gear up your companions.

***And in true MMO fashion, the moment you walk out of the last phased story zone, there were all the NPCs back doing what they were doing.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

More Consolidation is in Order

In other CRPG news, Obsidian Entertainment agreed to be bought out by Microsoft.

I'm not sure what to think of this. On one hand, it's nice from Obsidian's standpoint to not have to worry about where the next set of paychecks is coming from, but I do wonder at the cost to independence and culture.

Obsidian's forte is the CRPG, having been involved with the genre for 20+ years*, so I'm not sure what Microsoft is expecting out of Obsidian, given that the XBoxOne's (and PS4's) forte is more heavily graphically oriented than what Obsidian works with. Don't get me wrong, an isometric CRPG can work well in a console format**, but that's more the exception than the rule for console games. And, truth be told, console gamers aren't exactly clamoring for a CRPG design style that dates back to 1998 and Baldur's Gate with the original Bioware Infinity Engine.

Still, what CRPGs like Pillars of Eternity and Tyranny have is story, and if Microsoft wants to take Obsidian's world building and storytelling, throw in some current-gen console magic, and whip up a new CRPG franchise, that's fine with me.

All I ask of Microsoft is to let Obsidian do what Obsidian wants to do also, because that independence will reap dividends in the long run. Yes, yes, I know Microsoft says that they will, and I'm sure that they'll try to at first, but the thing is that very few companies retain that independence over the long haul. By giving Obsidian the chance to fail without fear, Microsoft will be giving a software studio a chance to dare to reach even higher.

And who knows, maybe that'll provide Microsoft with the next Dragon Age or Witcher franchise.

*Obsidian was formed by former members of Black Isle, who'd created Icewind Dale, Planescape: Torment, and Fallout 1 and 2.

**Just look at Blizzard's D3 port to consoles for an example.

EtA: Fixed a confusing grammar error.

Monday, November 12, 2018

A Life Well Lived

The end comes for everybody, even Stan Lee.

Stan passed away today at the age of 95.

Stan with some of the X-men.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Made The Big Time At Last

Watching the world go by
Surprising it goes so fast
Johnny looked around him
And said "Well I made the big time at last."
--Shooting Star by Bad Company

I was watching some college football yesterday* on ESPN. If you've ever seen a sporting event on ESPN, you'd know that a staple of ESPN's coverage is the ubiquitous ticker at the bottom of the screen that every other sportscast seems to have added to their own coverage. The ticker covers all sorts of sports, and a measure of a sport's popularity in the US is whether it gets a line on the ticker. For example, about 20 years ago you'd never have seen soccer on the ticker outside of MLS scores, but now there's coverage of the Premier League, La Liga, the Bundesliga, and Italy's Serie A.**

Even knowing this fact, I was surprised to see this on the ticker yesterday:

I know that eSports has been broadcast on ESPN and other channels in the past, but this took me by surprise. Oh, not that FNatic lost --I don't follow eSports enough to know whether FNatic had won any LoL Championships since xPeke left the team-- but that League of Legends was even on the ticker at all.

Well done, eSports. You've now made it to the big time.

And I'd love to have been in a bar somewhere watching a bunch of college football fans when THAT showed up on the ticker for the first time.

*Yes, American football. And "watch" is a relative term here, as I was cleaning and doing the laundry.

**As a measure of soccer's penetration into the US monolith, NBC broadcasts the Premier League, FOX Sports the Bundesliga, and ESPN will show the occasional Serie A and La Liga match. ESPN and FOX also share broadcast rights for MLS, and ESPN streams the second tier US league the USL over its ESPN+ service. Even the National Women's Soccer League gets airplay on ESPN, and anyone who says that the women's league doesn't have quality soccer hasn't watched a match. Quite a few players on the US, Canadian, Brazilian, and other national teams play in the NWSL. While I doubt that soccer will ever displace American football in the national consciousness, soccer is rapidly closing the gap in popularity between it and the other "big four" American sports leagues: baseball's MLB, basketball's NBA, football's NFL, and hockey's NHL.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

So, When Does Drusera Show Up?

In addition to the announcement that Her Universe will be designing clothing for Overwatch in additionto WoW, Blizz introduced another Overwatch character, Ashe.

The animated short, Reunion, I found fascinating because while there's a lot of Blizz in the short, there's also quite a bit of Wildstar. I was not expecting to get that Wildstar vibe as much as I did, but the short was a Western / SF mashup, so maybe that's it.

Regardless, here's the short:

Friday, November 2, 2018

At the Intersection of WoW and Fangirls

Ashley Eckstein, known among Star Wars fans as the voice of Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker's apprentice*, is also known for the geek clothing company Her Universe. She saw a need for clothing for fangirls, and she built Her Universe into a globally recognizable brand. Although Hot Topic now owns Her Universe, Ashley retains creative control over the brand**, and she remains its most visible champion.

As such, when this dropped on the Her Universe FB page, I sat up and took notice:

From the Her Universe FB page.

This is going to happen sometime today (November 2nd, 2018), so this should prove to be a very interesting panel discussion at BlizzCon. I may not play WoW any more, but I really love this. (Besides, I'm banking on WoW Classic to pull me back in.)

If you want to skip anything about the panel and just go check out the WoW gear Ashley and Co. have designed, go to the Her Universe website.

Oh, and Happy BlizzCon, con-goers!

Sure, stick Saurfang next to the Devil.
Because Orcs, I suppose.

*Sorry, no spoilers here.

**I'd asked her FB page about that when the buyout was announced, and she said she explicitly wanted control if Hot Topic acquired the company. She was excited about the prospect of teaming up with Hot Topic over geeky stuff going forward.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

What Was That Magic Word Again.... "XYZZY?"

A long time ago, I played a video game on a teletype machine.

During the summer after my 5th and 6th grade years, the younger brother of a neighbor would visit from New York City for a few months. While he was a year older than me, his sister was significantly older than him, as she was married with a toddler. I suppose geeks recognize each other, no matter where they're from, and he and I became fast friends. While I was reading Lord of the Rings, The Sword of Shannara, and The Belgariad, he was reading Dune and X-Men. He introduced me to the Elfquest comics, which were unlike anything I'd seen before then.* We'd often take bike rides down to the local strip mall to spend a few hours playing video games wherever they could be found, or we'd spend time playing with his brother-in-law's Atari 2600 and collection of games.

One day, I stopped by their house to find him sitting at the dining room table with what looked like an electronic typewriter in front of him. As both his sister and her husband worked --and his nephew was in daycare-- he was frequently alone for the day. But what surprised me was that he wasn't reading or playing around with the Atari**.

"Hey, you have to see this," he said as he pulled me upstairs and sat me down in front of the machine. It looked like an electronic typewriter, much fancier than the manual or IBM Selectric typewriters I'd been exposed to before now, only that it printed on rolls of thermal paper.

"It's a typewriter," I finally replied.

"No, it's a computer."

I raised an eyebrow.

"Okay, it's not a computer by itself, it connects to a computer over the phone."

"What do you do with it?"

"You can do stuff with it, like play games."

That caught my attention. "What sort of games?"

"An adventure game."

"Oh? Can you show me?"

He shuffled his feet. "It costs money to connect, so I'm only allowed to play for an hour. Okay?"

"Got it."

Reaching across me, he flipped on the power switch and typed in a command he'd written down on a pad of paper next to the machine. I heard a screeching sound, an electronic "bounce bounce", and then the machine sprang to life, printing out a "Connected" onto the roll of thermal paper.

"Now, we do this...." he typed in the command "adventure" and suddenly the following popped out:

From the wikipedia page. I finally gave up
after spending a few hours trying to find the roll
of paper I kept from that session.

Now, I have to explain that this was before my exposure to Dungeons and Dragons; this was sometime in the Summer of '81, and I was first introduced to D&D in the Fall of '81. I knew and loved the Atari 2600 game Adventure, even though the "dragons" looked a lot like ducks.***
The player, carrying a sword, having just slain
the green dragon.

Still, the concept of a written adventure game, where you can interact with a computer just like you were writing your own novel, was amazing to me.

I quickly discovered that what I thought were some pretty basic ideas, such as "cage bird", got me a "What do you want to do with the cage?"**** The words "kill snake" resulted in "Attacking the snake both doesn't work and is very dangerous."

"Aaargh," I grumbled. "It's not doing what I want to do! Why won't it just capture the bird?"

"Yeah, my friend replied. "I've found that a problem too."

Due to our scattershot attempts to figure out how to get the bird in the cage, bypass the snake, and then not get killed by the dwarf (trust me, this makes sense in the context of the game), that hour passed by very quickly.

My friend reached over and turned the teletype machine off.

"Oh man," I pleaded, "another five minutes?"

"Um," he began, and looked at the gigantic pile of paper that we had hanging off the machine.

"Oh. Whoops."

"Yeah," he replied. "I think I'm in trouble."

He ended up getting grounded for a few days because of all of the paper that we used up, not to mention that he'd already played for an hour before I got there, so we technically played an hour longer than he was supposed to play. But I did get to keep the roll of paper, so somewhere around the house is a record of that game session, my first true adventure game session.


I bring this up because I've been reading a book titled A History of Video Games in 64 Objects by Jon-Paul C. Dyson and Jeremy K. Saucier, who founded the World Video Game Hall of Fame out of The Strong Museum of Rochester, New York. The 64 objects in question stretch from the precursors of video games up through the present (yes, including Pokemon GO), but for me the objects of greatest interest were from the early days of video games.
The cover may not look
like much, but it's a fascinating
read. From Amazon.

The book didn't include Colossal Cave, but it was referenced in a couple of the articles, especially the one about Zork. Making an engaging game utilizing the 70s era tech --or, in the case of Pong, essentially 50s era tech-- was amazing. The genius behind those games, forging ahead into the unknown and creating the modern software industry along with Lotus, Oracle, IBM, and other heavyweights of IT, can often be obscured when looking at those days from our current perch: an era of smartphones, VR, and multiplayer online games. There's more power in my 4-5 year old smartphone than can be found in the cutting edge Athlon PC I had back in 1999, and the amount of computing power that these early video games consumed is infinitesimal by comparison. But what they lacked in pure computing power they made up for in cleverness and replayability.

Sure, when you finish a game like Colossal Cave or Zork, the game is over, but so many games of that era utilized randomization to an extent that no replays were ever the same again. You select the third option on Atari's Adventure, and you're never sure where all of the pieces are. Hell, you may even end up in an impossible victory condition, because the lack of computing space meant that the developers of Adventure couldn't spend precious lines checking to see if you could actually access some of the areas where the items were hidden. But far from it being merely a "feature" of the game, it meant that there were going to be times when you simply couldn't win. To a player now used to customizing D&D encounters and devs constantly tweaking raid and instance bosses in MMOs, the concept of "sometimes you just won't win" is pretty alien. And also refreshing.

I remember playing Santa Paravia --an early country simulator game-- back in 1983 on the Tandy TRS-80 Model III. While I figured out how to manage my way to victory, no two games ever started out the same. Having several years of drought early on meant years of difficult choices, while several years of plenty allowed me to splurge on beefing up troops and walls in preparation for attacking my "friendly" neighbors. The game prepared me for more advanced play with Sid Meier's Civilization series as well as team management games such as Age of Empires or Starcraft. I actually have a printout of the source code for Santa Paravia somewhere, and I occasionally thought of converting it to a language I know, but I never really did. I just enjoyed playing it too much to want to dig in and "ruin" the game by tinkering with it.


What do those games have that make me so nostalgic for them?

Well, not much, really. The gameplay isn't that deep, and there's nothing spectacular about the games in the same way as when I walked through the Dark Portal in WoW that first time and ended up in Outland. Sure, I played them at an impressionable age, as I did with other games such as Asteroids or Pac-Man, but no arcade game held my attention like these early computer games did. I may have loved Galaxian, but Colossal Cave made me want to program for a living. I certainly sucked at Defender, as I also did at Car Wars*****, but Car Wars held my attention that Defender never did.

Nostalgia is pretty strange in that there are no set rules as to trigger nostalgia. Things that I am definitely not nostalgic for, like parachute pants and disco music, bring people out of the woodwork. Some people --my wife for one-- love-love-love Ms. Pac-Man, while I'm kind of meh about it. But you know, that's fine. I'm nostalgic for games such as Colossal Cave because they changed the way I looked at things. Because of that day and that teletype machine, I'm sitting here typing away on a blog about gaming. I work in IT partly because of the path that began with that game. Other people may have their own lives changed because of some game that they began playing for the first time today, and I'm not being trite or melodramatic about it. This sort of thing does happen.

I remember when the oldest mini-Red was about 10 or 11, the entire family went to the symphony. We went about 4-5 times a year#, but this particular concert seemed to really catch the attention of the oldest mini-Red. After the concert ended and we were waiting for the crowd to clear out before we got up and left, she sat in her seat with a very serious look on her face. Her eyes never leaving the musicians, she said, "Someday, I'm going to be playing on that stage."

She claims she doesn't remember that moment, but I do. It was a game changing moment for her. I know, because I've been there.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm trying to not cheat and look at a FAQ on Colossal Cave while I'm trying to get that bird in the cage.

*Mainly Star Trek, The Avengers, and Spider-man.

**Or watching cable television. Being in the throes of puberty, cable was our access to what we considered "adult" entertainment. Our local cable at the time had HBO, The Movie Channel, and Cinemax and my friend's sister got all three. We disdained HBO, because they only put R rated content on in the evening, but we got to watch plenty of Mel Brooks movies and all sorts of what they called "sex comedies" or "romantic comedies" back then on the other two channels during the day. My mom in particular was very prudish, and anything not rated G (or PG that wasn't Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, or whatnot) was very suspect in her eyes, so seeing all of these movies were a revelation to me.

***The mini-Reds used to call Atari's Adventure "The Ducky Game", which had "the mean ducks" in them.

****This was how I was first introduced to one of the main rules about computers: they do what you tell them to do, not what you want them to do.

*****It's not only a card game by Steve Jackson Games, but also a pencil and paper RPG and a computer game for the Commodore 64. The latter is what I played, and boy was I bad at that game.

#I still say that symphony or pops concerts' tickets are incredibly cheap for the experience, particularly if you're comparing them to rock concert tickets. Believe me, when I saw The Who in 1989, I thought paying $20 for a ticket was really expensive. How naive I was back then....