Stuff That I Like: PC Gaming (Part 1)

Buying things, much like blogging, can be a fickle friend. Depending on what it is and how much it costs (or what you’re blogging about) it can take a lot of time and effort to muster up the energy to go forward with it. Other times, you need to slow yourself down and think carefully about a purchase (or a blog post) before blundering on and looking like an idiot.

Within the last 24 hours, I’ve juggled all of the possible scenarios mentioned above. I’ve wanted to write a blog post badly but also felt uninspired to put words down. More mentally taxing then that has been my struggling to decide whether I should buy the parts to build a new computer. Let me explain.

PC gaming and I have a long, storied history. In essence, it is a lifelong love that I lose touch with for years at a time, before stumbling upon it again and savoring its sweet embrace. Like many gamers born in the late 80’s, I was practically weened on PC gaming. My first games were text-based adventure games without any images at all, followed by Sierra adventure games and Doom; however, as the only gamer, and youngest member, of a household, getting the family computer regularly upgraded to play new games isn’t really going to happen. It was for this reason, around the age of 7, that I moved on to console gaming for a while.

GAH, ONLY IF I HAVE TO.

Aside from occasional forays back onto the PC, when my aunt would upgrade and fix our computer and throw a few PC classics my way, I mainly gamed on my SNES through early elementary school. After all, consoles were cheaper than PCs and I was allowed to rent a game from East Coast Video on the weekends. Eventually, towards the end of the 16-bit generation, I was given a Super Genesis as well, granting me access to an entirely new library of games (Multi-platform games weren’t much of a thing until the 32/64-bit generation).

From there, I moved on to a Nintendo 64, PSX, and finally a PS2. My only real ventures onto the PC were at friends’ houses. We would spend countless hours taking turns playing the latest games. I still vividly remember when my best friend got a new desktop with a NVidia TNT2 that could play Soldier of Fortune 2. I was awful, but it was a darn good time.

A bloody good time, if you will.

During the summer of 2002, I began hearing about a game called Battlefield 1942. Unlike the other first person shooters that I had spent a ton of time playing, such as Medal of Honor, it was a large-scale, multiplayer-only game. Even better, it would let you drive jeeps, fly planes, drive boats. Promotional footage showed people crouching on the wings of flying planes to parachute in to capture a base and landing craft bearing down on bloody beach heads. In short, I needed to play it.

With my birthday approaching at the end of the summer, I began lobbying my dad. I pulled out all the stops. I reminded him of how my brother got to go to Space Camp and a slew of other activities that I missed out on. I insisted that having a modern computer was a necessity. Finally, he agreed to allow me to have a custom rig built. Thus began a month or two of rigorous research into the best computer parts available for a reasonable price. It would have RDRAM, a proprietary memory format that was twice as fast as the competition (which also became obselete and impossible to upgrade 2 years later). It would have an NVidia Ti4600, the fastest mainstream GPU available. Ahhhh, the memories. My dad gave me the number of the computer guy that his company used, who I contacted and reeled off the specs to. By August, the computer was ready for pickup, along with a 19″ CRT monitor and a set of Klipsch 5.1 Promedias. To this day, it was the biggest gift I’ve ever been given.

Whoops, sorry. Second biggest.

With everything setup in my room at home, I waited patiently for the Battlefield 1942 demo to release. I spent my time playing Operation Flashpoint all night, eating leftover Chinese food and my mom’s iced tea and sleeping late. I left my room so rarely that when I showed up for the beginning of high school, my friends asked if I was sick since I was so pale and thin.

Sick? More like sick awesome.

When Battlefield 1942 finally launched, I was smitten and wasted even more time playing it. Entire weekends were lost that fall to the game. Eventually, I impressed a clan that I had been owning enough to get an invite to try out. I dominated the try out, was offered a spot, and joined. I’ve been in ever since.

This marked my first return to PC gaming. This post is WAY longer than anticipated, so I will clue you all in to where this is all going tomorrow. Godspeed.

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Musings: The End is Near

Honestly, I really do want to tell you all about my lovely trip to California; however, this week has been quite hectic and I want to make sure I bore you all with excruciatingly long winded descriptions. There simply is no time for that right now. Our lives are about to change forever.

Tomorrow at midnight (well, Friday at midnight for the Hermione’s of the world), the final Harry Potter film is being released. All of my most avid HP fan friends and I bought tickets well in advance, of course. We will be seeing the film in Chinatown tomorrow evening. In many ways, this movie marks the death of my childhood.

Like this...but dead.

That may not be completely true, actually. My childhood has been dead for a while now…cheerful, I know. As most of you know, I much prefer the HP books to every single one of the movies. Yes, I somehow manage to prefer the Order of the Phoenix book to the Half Blood Prince film, if only barely. For that reason, I’m more inclined to think that my youth ended when I finished reading the 7th book.

Fittingly, my time reading the Deathly Hallows was probably the most involved I have ever been while reading any of the HP’s. It was over a summer during the middle of college and none of my friends were around when I was reading it. In preparation for its release, I went to a Scottish restaurant and ate Cornish Pasties and scones. I sat at home by myself, reading it late into the night with massive pots of tea. I would occasionally google castles when I took breaks. The only time I wasn’t at home reading it was when I visited my parents at the cabin they were renting…in the mountains…on a lake. So yeah, I was pretty much in the zone.

Ohhh to be young.

Things are obviously different now. It’s still the middle of summer, but I work 40 hours a week. If you count the commutes, it’s 55 hours a week. I’ll be up late into the night tomorrow, but I’ll pay for it at 5:30 on Friday morning. Still, I’m extremely excited for tomorrow. Why?

Like a tiny fraction of Voldemort’s soul, my childhood is still tucked away, almost entirely unbeknownst to me, somewhere inside. The movie tomorrow will probably mark the last time that I gather with friends for the beginning of something new regarding HP, whether its a book release or a movie premier, and I refuse to take it lying down. I’m going to make butterbeer after work. We’re going to go to an Irish Pub to get in the mood. If the enormity of the event seems too overwhelming, then bring on the firewhiskey. We’ll cast a patronus to fend off the melancholy of the end, because I demand one last summer night with the man with the lightning bolt scar.

It's been real.

Formative Years: Goldeneye 64

If I were to pick a single moment in time when I was most excited about video games, it would have to be around the launch of the Nintendo 64. There was something about the introduction of 3D gaming and being 9 that had me unbelievable stoked for the console. When I finally got my grubby hands on the thing on Christmas of 1996, I was beside myself. Despite following the library of launch titles extensively through EGM (once the greatest publication known to man), there was no way to fully prepare for how different things were going to be.

I still vividly remember hauling the console to my grandparent’s house (where we go for Christmas dinner every year) so that I could continue playing Mario 64 in their bedroom. That game deserves its own post; to this day, it may have the best designed gameplay ever found in gaming.

Not to mention being synonymous with Christmas.

It was during the summer of the following year that I was given a copy of Goldeneye. Although I had played FPS’s before, like Doom and Hexen, this one was different. First, it wasn’t set in some sort of sci-fi alternate reality like most other FPS’s at the time. Second, it was based directly off of a James Bond film, which is more than enough for any elementary school aged boy. Finally, and most importantly, it offered a full blown 4-player multiplayer mode.

Chills.

At this point in my life, I was constantly hanging out with friends. At my Mom’s house, there was always someone from school coming over to hang out. At my Dad’s house, I had two good friends and 4 cousin-in-laws that were around all the time. It quickly became a Friday and Saturday night ritual to hole up in my room with the lot of them, surrounded by snacks, and stay up the entire night playing. Whenever there were more than 4 players, the lowest scoring player had to give up the controller. No Oddjob. There was just something about learning the nuances of each level, finding a favorite gun and a favorite character, and blasting the hell out of your closest friends. Online gaming, while great, isn’t the same experience.

Nowadays, people always seem to throw in an obligatory line about how dated Goldeneye feels whenever they mention it. This always gives me the overwhelming urge to smack them upside the head. The game is 14 years old, of course it’s going to be rougher around the edges than games with over a decade’s worth of improved technology; however, calling it “terribly dated” makes it sound like it’s unplayable these days, which is simply not true.

The thing about Goldeneye is that almost anyone born during the 80’s was at the prime age for that type of game when it launched. Whether someone was a Nintendo or Sony fanboy, literally everyone played the game as a kid. Now that I think of it, that’s what makes the Nintendo 64 such a great console for me. Everyone that I went to high school and college with were at the perfect age for that generation of consoles; they were old enough to have a console, but no one had grown out of gaming yet. It’s why every band practice ended with Bomberman 64, or Wayne Gretzky’s Hockey, or Goldeneye. As I was saying, I really can’t accept that Goldeneye feels overly dated, because it was the one game that we could always pull out during college and be guaranteed to have a blast with.

Although I’m a pretty avid gamer, I’ve come to find that in retrospect, there was only ever one or two games that I was really into at a given time. Whether it was a few months, a year, or longer, these games capture a slice of my mindset at different points throughout my life. For Goldeneye, it was that point of my life when I was just starting to feel independent enough to stay up late into the night, but was still extremely close to a fairly large group of people. It was a blip of time when life was devoid of stress and pressure. A time when happiness was a chocolate cake and a RCP90 in the Complex. And let’s be honest, that will NEVER feel dated.

TAKE THAT ADULT LIFE

Musings: Worried Waldo

After writing my post yesterday about being good at problems solving, I started to ponder my greatest flaw. While I’m sure I have many, the one that immediately comes to mind is my penchant for worrying about anything and everything. Well, that and my inability to make decisions, but that’s derived from my incessant worrying, so it doesn’t count.

Ever since I was 5 or so, my mom has always commented on how incredibly nervous I make myself over mundane things. By the time I was 6, I insisted on wearing a life jacket at the beach at all times, just in case a huge wave came. I clearly never thought of how I wound fend for myself when the rest of my non-life jacket wearing family was swept away, but it was half of a good idea.

In elementary school, I’d get pretty stressed about being prepared for school. One time, I left my homework at my dad’s house (I spent the weekends with my pops and the weeks with my mom). I freaked out so hard that my parents had to drive an hour each way to make sure I had it for school on Monday. I even made my them take me to school during the summer to find my classroom so that I would know where to go on my first day.

It wasn’t until high school that I found a bit of relief. It was somewhere around the beginning of 9th grade that I realized that I could either endlessly worry about something or decide to not give a shit at all. To this day, those are my only two mechanisms for coping with anything.

This sums things up pretty well.

I took the slacker approach throughout most of high school, doing the minimum amount of work while maintaining straight A’s (which takes a shockingly small amount of effort). I didn’t read a single assigned book, solely because they were assigned. At the same time that I was ignoring my work, I was stressing myself out about swimming. Whenever we would have meets, I wasn’t capable of thinking of much else for the entire day. I still get butterflies when I smell chlorine. Conversely, I never got nervous about playing shows with my band. No matter how bad we were, it just never affected me. For no reason in particular, I couldn’t be bothered with worrying myself over getting on stage.

My paradoxical moods became even more extreme in college. Months of procrastinating, avoiding work, and generally neglecting my education would give way to obsessive study streaks and unsafe levels of stress. 30 seconds after walking out of exams, I completely abandoned any emotional connection with the test, regardless of how well or poorly I thought I may have done. By my senior year, when I was worried about getting a job, stress took over for completely. From September, when it was clearly too early to be trying to find something, until I got my job offer in April, I couldn’t help but stress about unemployment, day in and day out.

Ohhhh shit...how am I ever going to get this ring back to Mordor?

I was sincerely hoping that this whole thing would subside once I got into the working world. WRONG AGAIN. I still flip-flop from irresponsibly low levels of caring to intensive worrying about dumb things. Right now, I like to stress myself out about the logistics of moving all my stuff into my new apartment…in the end of July. On the one hand, this is why I’m always well prepared for this type of thing. On the other, I’ve probably taken a few years off my life already. I’m just glad that the grays haven’t started sprouting yet. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think that I’ll return to not caring about anything for the rest of tonight. See you tomorrow!

Musings: Problem Solving

A friend of mine recently asked me what I think my greatest skill is. After thinking about it for a few moments, I realized that I am best at solving problems. I’m not sure when I became good at it, but I’ve definitely come to rely on it at my job. As the only person who isn’t working on a well defined, very specific research project, literally everything outside of said projects falls on me. Fedex billed us wrong? Find out why. New incubator that I’ve never seen before isn’t holding temperature? Fix it. We’re in need of a new subzero freezer? Find the best one and get us a good price on it.

I was thinking of labeling this post as “Stuff That I Like”, because in a lot of ways, I like being the problem solver. I get a unique sort of high from rapidly putting a wide range of issues to rest. At the same time, I’m not sure that I actually like solving the problems. If anything, it has become more of a compulsion. It’s like some practical, real world version of a MMORPG, where I want to progress further and further, proving how much I can fix, without much of an endgame.

Speaking of video games, my compulsive desire to solve problems has seriously affected the way that I game. I’ve found more and more that in any non-repetitive game (as in, not a multiplayer game where the same basic tasks are repeated), I keep pushing myself to finish the game, sometimes at the cost of actual enjoyment.

As everyone will find out when I get around to writing about all the games that I’ve really, truly, seriously loved, I get the most enjoyment out of games where I take my time, get immersed, and really enjoy the unique moments. I still come across these moments from time to time, where I want the game to last forever, if only for a chance to experience a few more thrilling moments; however, on the whole, I push forward in games, crossing missions off as I go, more or less enjoying myself, but yearning for the moment when I’ll achieve a final victory.

This is all made worse by the fact that when I do finish a really terrific game, I’m upset that I plowed through it so unenthusiastically. I’ll rarely make it back for another whole playthrough (with the exception of a few true classics that I replay frequently), despite wanting to indulge a bit more. I seriously fear the day when I can’t find a game or two that really sucks me in. It seems to me that a lot of older gamers reach the point where gaming becomes a chore.If I ever reach that point, you will see a very unhappy Chris. I don’t want my childhood to die. I just want to grow up to be like this guy:

Anyway, back in the real world, I hope that I can capitalize on my problem solving abilities/compulsions/desires. The good thing is, it’s one of those skills that never really sounds bad in an interview. Who doesn’t love a problem solver? The downside is that I really need a job where that problem solving provides total satisfaction. Right now, I feel like the only way for me to achieve this is by working for myself. Nothing really sounds fulfilling compared to building a business, confronting and solving new challenges on a daily basis. Now I just need to find a place to start. Any ideas?