Computing power. Look how much it has evolved in the past decade. I think it would be cool if I focus this posting about how I came to learn so much about computer systems and how it charged my imagination through childhood – The long but short story of my journey with video games… so far.
I was born into a generation where my early childhood memories were “pre-computers”. Not that computers were nonexistent – I just hadn’t experienced a computer at my fingertips until around the age of 7. I remember my primary school receiving a shipping of computers, and set them up, first, in my class/stage block. I was in Year 2, and we had just moved into these new buildings that had been built into the ground and finished sometime in 2000. The Library there (also in all the other blocks along the 3-step building) were fitted with a square of computers, all running Windows ’98. I also remember around this time, maybe sometime just before, my grandparents had bought a Packard Bell which I believe ran Win95. As quick as a snail it was.
One of the first things I managed to do with a computer, was draw with ‘Paint’. At school I remember a class exercise was to draw the lunar surface of the moon. I remember later, on my grandparents computer, drawing a picture of a bloodied Osama Bin Laden (after the 9/11 tragedy). It was not long after, I discovered pc gaming. At school during lunch, people could play SimTown (I was never quick enough to book a computer). My grandparents would take me to Cash Converters when I used to sleepover, and I remember getting Eraser and Spec Ops. I had no idea how to play or control anything in Spec Ops, that darned 3D army game that took forever to load. So Eraser, the 2D game based on the 1996 Arnie Schwarzenegger film. I also loved playing whatever was on my old Men In Black cd that I got from a Burger King meal (before they turned into Hungry Jacks). These games were so simple and fun – I had no idea what was to come with computers in the future. Though, for Christmas of 1999 I received a Playstation console capable of 3D gaming! One of the very first games I ever played was Driver – the great cops ‘n’ robbers driving game, where you play as an undercover cop known as Tanner. Man I loved that game, even when watching Dad play the game (sometimes it was too hard for me to do myself, so the master driver was more successful completing missions). I had a ‘steering wheel’ controller which I used sometimes – pretending to “drive” in real life. I remember watching the introduction cutscene as the game started, and I couldn’t believe how realistic it looked. From the clopping clacking sound of his shoes hitting the concrete ground as the mystery man walked through the car lot garage, towards his black mustang. The plip and plop of the water dripping from the metal pipes hanging above. Click, clock, the car door opens, and a sequence of intense police-car chase realism unfolds. That cg footage has blown my mind for years since. It took many, many years to be left speechless by another cg cutscene.
It was a world away from the pixel art animations from the Atari Lynx – Dracula was scary yet beautiful – Batman Returns was too difficult for me – Roadblasters was simply intense – TOKI was always fun until when reaching the boss/battle stages fueling rage inside me because I couldn’t defeat them – Hydra was alright for a little while – I’ll never forget how fun Warbirds was – and i’ll never forget the soundbytes from Pinball Jam. I remember walking through Target with Dad looking at all these games.
In 1999, for my birthday, Mum and Dad got me a Gameboy Color, 3rd anniversary of Pokémon edition. With it, I believe I got Pokémon Yellow and TG Rally with the rumble feature. I remember finding it very disorientating playing these games while standing (as Pokémon was top-down 2D and TG Rally was in 2.5 dimensions). It was great fun having these games in hand. Later on, I eventually got the Game Boy Camera – great for Funtography.
Driving games brought me to love cars. That black beast in Driver, burning out around every corner was A Ok! Hot Wheels Turbo Racing was crazy fun, though. Dad would bring home from shopping, a little toy Hot Wheels car every once in a while, as I loved playing with toy cars. This game brought “playing with cars” to a whole ‘nutha level! Car games were all about speed and skill. Need For Speed III: Hot Pursuit was all about those two very factors. This brought me on to Gran Turismo 2. When we could eventually afford to buy it, it came in a thick cd casing. It had something like 2 or 3 discs inside. Back then, I thought it was so real – the Playstation was capable of rendering a video game so realistic to my eyes… It was a great simulation, and as seeing in one scene of ‘The Fast and The Furious’, gave me goosebumps. The guy had a Playstation “with screen” built into his dash/center-console, playing Gran Turismo 2 while waiting for the real-life race to begin. That’s professional passion right there!
Around this time, Driver 2 had been out and about. An older friend of mine who lived around the corner said that he had a copy of this game. Ian was a prankster, and I was crazy about the game, so I think he thought it was fun trying to tease me with having the game. Not long later though, I got this incredible game, where you are capable of running around by “getting in and out of your vehicle!”. This was such a crazy development that I had a hard time trying to comprehend. For years, I was bound to a car. The door was the limit. But now you can get out, and truly play as a figurative character. It also surprised me to see that there were two black Playstation discs, part 1 and part 2 to the game. Thinking back on it now, the black surface of the underside of the disc, was such a strange design/DRM detail. But I loved it! One cool thing that I learned (in reference to PS discs), from lending the game to my best buddy around the corner – in the evening when i’d want to go home and take my Driver 2 with me, simultaneously, they’d not be done playing, so we figured out a cool little trick. They weren’t playing missions, just free riding, so we took the disc out while still playing the game… It never shut down or ceased. The game still continued to play after the disc had been taken out (only for a while I heard though). I went home with my game while they still were playing it!
That pink-roof’d mini cooper inside an underground maze dropped my jaw. Even that yellow beast hiding down in that Chicago baseball stadium garage surprised me. Even when I discovered that you could sit down on some seats and push buttons to open doors, etc, opened my mind to what was possible. That “feeling”, and notion of environmental atmosphere that you witness and become emerged in while playing these kinds of games, give you very warm memories and you feel as if you are part of these worlds. I loved that game from the very moment you leave the RED RIVER BAR.
I believe it was in this year that Top, my Thai friend around the corner (who went to the same high school I ended up going to years later – I remember him walking home in his shiny blue baggy jeans, sitting outside with his homework with his candles that he used to play tricks with. He’d touch the flame and show that he couldn’t get burned – I tried it, only once!) gave me a game that I only ever played one time. I remember late on some evenings sitting next to him in his back door living room, watching him play his games – one in particular, Resident Evil. It was a scary zombie game that was a little too gory for me to really enjoy. One evening, he gave me that game as a gift. I remember opening it and seeing a VideoEzy sticker or stamp somewhere, and he explained that it was on sale, so he bought it (it didn’t look like a rental since I knew what that looked like). So I said thank you, very much so, and went home with it. One Saturday morning, I decided to see what this game was all about. Not 60 seconds into the story, I got the fright of my life and switched the console off at the switch! I never played that game again (pretty funny, thinking back on it).
Another horror for me, though enjoyable to some degree, was Alone in the Dark. I remember playing the demo quite a bit because I thought it was cool to play in amongst darkness with a flashlight (much like a ghost game demo I played years later, in 2006 with a friend from high school, Geoff – we liked a good scare). That was until things started jumping out at you from hiding under water, etc. A game I rented from VideoEzy with the similar “static camera”, was Dino Crisis. It reminded me of Jurassic Park – a film series I absolutely admired (got to see some sets and such from the movies with Dad, in Universal Studios, November 2001).
Christmas of 2001, I got a game from my Pop, which was a classic in my eyes. The Italian Job, though not the same as Driver 2, proved to be really fun, though I think I fell out of interest sometimes because of the maps. London wasn’t as attractive as a place like Chicago or Las Vegas, in my eyes.
It was after this time when a game called Grand Theft Auto III came to my attention. Just when I thought there was no one tougher than Solomon Caine or Charles Jericho, I discover a guy named Claude (or ‘kid’). I initially read in a Playstation magazine about this sandbox game that had some controversy about flying planes in this New York City based game, after the 9/11 attacks. After the game had been released (this was before my connection the internet, so I was unaware it was out at the time), at school my friend Tim (kindy buddy – 7 years older and ahead of me) had brought the game to school with him. It was the end of lunch and I spotted him out in the quad. He was talking and walking with one of his friends to class, talking about the game. I listened in and took away excitement with me.
Playing Urban Chaos was my only way of fulfilling what I wanted to experience then and there. It reminded me of some of the shooting games you could play at the arcade (PlayTime/TimeZone) mixed with the gritty, dark city environment full of crime and thugs. It was based in a place called Union City, and the introduction video shows us that this story begins on the night of December 31st, 1999, as the New Years/Millennium Fireworks activate. I remember also being able to play as some man dressed in green-ish camo, baggy pants, kind of like what I knew Claude would wear in GTAIII. After this time, after seeing screenshots of this true 3rd person, open world/interactive game in magazines (GTAIII), I so, so craved to play this game. It was Driver 2 and Urban Chaos mixed, but in a completely different way.
A friend of mine, Nathan, invited me and someone else over for a sleepover one night. That weekend, what a surprise I had when I discovered he had a PC near his TV lounge, with GTA III installed. I couldn’t believe it. Many, many hours passed by quickly that night as we took turns playing this game, free roaming around Liberty City. Nathan hadn’t played past the first mission, so we played by never completing the first mission – when we died, we’d skip the intro and keep on having fun with Claude in his prison rags. I think at one point we did finish Mission 1, so we had a re-spawn point at the safehouse…. We played a little bit of a futuristic hockey game that he had, and after watching some Olympics on the TV there, we slept (as best I could since I was so awakened by wanting to play MORE GTA – I slept no more than 2 meters away (on the lounge) from that PC!).
That November, of 2002, Mum, Dad & I went to Harvey Norman to look to buy our very first computer (a Compaq). At school, I remember hearing the same question every time an assignment or homework was announced – “Who here has a computer and internet at home?” (for research, etc). Not many hands did rise back then in those good old years. I didn’t care much for assignments or homework back then, all I could ever hope for was a computer for gaming. I think Mum and Dad saved for a computer for many of these reasons – but it was the time and age for when a home could benefit from having such a luxury. So, browsing in Harvey Norman, looking at all the new computers – my eyes were glued to all the monitors. All the screens had a video playing on loop. I’m not sure if it was a screensaver or a video trailer, but whatever it was, amazed me. It showed a man in a black coat shooting his gun and launching his body into the barrage of bullets, in slow motion, forwards, backwards, sideways. I wasn’t sure what it was from… For years I wondered if it was something from The Matrix but I know now that it was actually a promotional video for Max Payne – the latest and greatest video game (something I wouldn’t play until 2009/10). The graphics were insane and back then all the Megabytes and Megahertz specs all seemed mathematical and gibberish to my 10 year old mind. One day, not long after, I remember a pc copy of Grand Theft Auto 3 sitting there on the table in the living room. It was summer, so I remember laying on the wooden floor, keeping cool, with this GTAIII game in my hands, imagining playing it. The PC we eventually bought hadn’t been ready for us to pickup yet, so I sat there imagining playing the game, looking and reading what was on the back of the case (and the manual) for about a week. The day the computer came home (along with 2 complimentary games – E-racer and Serious Sam), I watched Dad like an eagle as he setup the computer. I remember it all set up nice in the bedroom, seeing all those green, blue and purple colours showing up on screen. Windows XP looked amazing. Quickly we installed GTAIII, and it was an experience to never forget. A month or so later, in the heat we had to move everything out into the hallway (for bedroom painting, I think) and I set up the computer there so I could play, as it was just too hot to be outside on my bike. I remember vividly, those hot days with the fan and air conditioning running, playing my Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Age Of Empires II demo, and wrecking havoc in GTAIII, as the sun set each day.
I got very sick one week late that year, and didn’t go on the computer much for a long while. I don’t usually feel like using computers at all when I don’t feel well. Though, that sickness in particular, at the end of 2002 changed how I live my life, drastically. 2003 marks a year that I consider a fresh beginning. Both 2003 and 2004 are years that I remember very, very well. They were good years and sometimes I feel like I might be stuck in those two years, ’03 & ’04. Throughout 2003, one game I think I played most, was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3. I remember playing THPS on the PS-One, thinking how cool it was to ride skateboards. I believe this game was the first instance which introduced me to the deck (I love skateboards and their artworks). I remember a friend Luke (Skywalker? – he was a grand Star Wars fan) had a game called ‘Grind’ which was a THPS clone, but looked and sounded more aggressive with design. Even THPS on the Nintendo 64 had its own look to it (my neighbors Conor and Lucas down the road had some great games on that system – Luke/Skywalker had the grandest collection of games, though. Super Mario SMASH Bros. was my absolute favourite, “Pod Racing” Star Wars Episode I: Racer being a close second. I loved their little trick when games wouldn’t load – they’d blow into the bottom of the cartridge to clear out any dust). Mat Hoffman’s Pro BMX series was pretty cool too. I’d rented it once after playing the demo, but just didn’t feel that love for it as I did for skating. I loved riding bikes (even inline skating at the local skating ring , for a while) for a hobby, but playing it as a game just wasn’t the same. THPS was my choice of preference, and when THPS 2 came about, I was mind boggled by the fact that you could create-a-park and create-a-skater! Multiple custom parks and skaters!!!
I absolutely loved THPS 3 on the PC. I loved getting up close to the comedy and action, and being able to control whats going on so easily ([space], [b], [n], [m] + arrows). Trying to ride my skateboard (which I received as a gift from one of my good old friends Top [his brother Bank and little sister Nadine], from around the corner) wasn’t so easy to control as it were on the computer. One thing I specifically thought was great was the videos that were found upon installation. There was a set of bonus funny and somewhat violent “bail” videos, plus a bunch of clips throughout the credits reel. They were great, and I believe this is where I first witnessed the haggard ways of Bam Margera, in his skate video.
In June of 2003, an experience I remember very well, happened. Almost like back in 2001, two years earlier, when I went to the movies to go and see ‘The Fast and The Furious’ with Dad – a saga of beauty unfolds. I remember sitting in the theatre next to Dad, waiting for 2 Fast 2 Furious to start. All the “young dude’s” sitting up and around behind us. What a great movie. I absolutely loved it. It took until October for DVD release – Dad and I were at the Sydney Car Show sometime during October or November, and I recall seeing a stack of the DVD’s on display for some competition they had along with car accessories. That Christmas, I received the DVD. Much like my birthday in 2001, when I got The Fast and the Furious on VHS – which i’d watch on my little tv next to my bed at night before going to sleep (had to make sure I rewound the tape before sleeping though). That DVD case had a particular smell to it that i’ve never forgotten, and have since tried to preserve (fresh plastic smell? I haven’t found another DVD case just like it). In the days and months after Christmas, I believe I watched that DVD almost everyday – to the point of being able to re-enact every scene. It made me feel good. And in the years since i’ve searched and searched for that ever elusive 2003 Fast and Furious PS2 game, to which I have not availed.
For my birthday, September 23 2003, I woke up to a very special day. One to never forget. I woke and Mum & Dad proceeded to the present presenting ritual. I was sleeping on a mattress on the bedroom floor (we were painting and renovating the bedrooms, one-by-one), and this is where my great day began. I remember opening (in particular) a series of games. Not just any games… Playstation 2 games. I thought initially that Mum (who is the “shopper” of the family) was confused about what console or platform to buy games for. I remember getting Midnight Club 2 (because i’d been playing the demo I got from PC Whiz magazine, for months and months on end), that super cool, wacky street racer game, with incredibly shiny graphics. Another game, which turned out to be a really fun game to play, was The Simpsons Hit & Run. It took a really long time to get through, but I eventually finished it. One game I got, though, was Stuntman. I, to this day, have never finished that game. Dad eventually took over playing that game, and got through a lot further than I ever could. But many evenings of bloodied eyes and headaches from trying not to scream, later, we just could not succeed in completing that darned game. So it remains as the most difficult game I, and my Dad, has ever played. Later that afternoon, back home, my grandparents (Mum’s parents) came over to present me with the 2nd round of gifts. I got the surprise of my life when I opened a large box containing a brand new Playstation 2. Now everything made sense. Mum and Dad had worked with my grandparents in staging a plot to trick me. What a great day!
One game i’d wished for that birthday morn, was Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. This was something I did not expect for… But that morning, I got it! It was for the PC. It was in a cool thick card casing, containing a huge poster map, an install disc, a play disc, a manual, and one since treasured Vice City sticker. As soon as everything was opened and done with, I went and booted up the computer as quick as I could, as I wanted to see this Vice City in action just a little, before going to school for the day. After installation, I played GTA:VC for the very first time (though I did watch my friend Lindsay’s older brother, Mark, play it for about 20 minutes one evening in January of ’03, before he had to take it back to the rental place. I remember going in the car to the rental place with them. It was in Queensland, and from what I remember, it was very scenic, much like the atmosphere visualized in Vice City (based on Miami beach). Palm trees and sunsets. Even the storefront looked like it came out of that game… This is when Mum, Dad & I went up to the Sunshine Coast for a week to visit my best friend who moved to Redcliffe a couple of months prior – what a great time spent with a kid partner-in-crime. We had a lot of fun). Playing it for the first time, was simply an experience i’ll have a hard time forgetting. After watching the intro – seeing that LOAD “VICE CITY” command prompt for Rockstar North, really took me to a time when computers were truly primitive and at the dawn of big developments (according to what I saw on NatGeo’s The ’80s: The Decade That Made Us 2013 miniseries). The first thing I did after riding the Faggio to save-point one, was knock two people off a motorcycle at once with a swift kick from Tommy Vercetti (voiced by Goodfellas‘ Ray Liotta), in front of the Malibu club. I have goosebumps right now just thinking about how insane this was to me. I think it was the perfect next step and level up from playing GTAIII. Water planes, helicopters, and motorcycles added a dimension of freedom to this virtual world I so loved spending time in. I took my sweet time playing that game. I even got a gamers guide from the newsagents in order to find all the hidden packages, etc. It was basically all I played for an entire year, on that PC. One thing that I was sad about that I have never been able to resolve or go back to, was the fact that my computer would crash to BSOD every single time I executed the Cherry Popper factory ice-cream truck side-mission. I really wanted to be able to deliver ice cream to the inhabitants of Vice City while playing those cool jingles!!!
Christmas of 2003, was great. One game I got that morning was something I really looked forward to after the disappointment I experienced from THPS4 (I rented it once, played it once, and for some unknown reason, I had no interest in it). Tony Hawks Underground was under that tree, and it was the first thing I decided to stick in to the PS2 while I ate my breakfast (Milo flakes). What a great addition to the series. The new direction it took excited me. Of course, I liked the rebellion aspect of things and personalisation features it had which enticed me. My jaw dropped when I saw the playable character get off his board and start running around, climbing things. I loved the new “transfer” maneuver – switching over the KISS stage while they play Rock ‘n’ Roll All Night! Great game. I gained a lot of skill playing games through playing this one. I got so good at it over summer, I even was able to help Conor and Lucas through some missions – like that one where you do the Hawaii McTwist. That day though, I enjoyed a little of the Rachet and Clank demo I had on one of my demo discs. That night though, wasn’t all smiles and cheers. We went to Pop’s house with Christmas cake ready for dinner and nighttime fun. He wasn’t there, and as it turned out (from memory) coming home from my uncles Christmas lunch that day, Pop collapsed outside the house, and went to hospital. I think this was the very early signs of what two years later, sadly, took him away from us.
That summer I enjoyed a lot of Stuntman, THUG, GTA:VC, Hit & Run, Rachet and Clank demo sessions and one other demo (among many) that came included with the PS2, a rally game. It was pretty realistic and very eye opening. The physics and sound design amazed me. “Car game” graphics had come a long way in such a short amount of time, in my eyes. About a year earlier, with my friend Lindsay, around the corner at his cousins house, I witnessed my first PS2 hands-on experience. Stacey (Lindsay’s cousin who wasn’t around at the time – he wouldn’t have wanted us anywhere near his dear Playstation upstairs) had Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec. Wow, what realistic graphics it had! Leaving in the rain, I saw his other cousin playing the very same Kellog’s Nutri-Grain Age of Empires II game on his PC near the stairs (it was a super steep, cramped house). It must have been popular.
Throughout 2004, whenever i’d stay at my grandparents house for sleepovers, they’d always take me to the video rental store. One game I remember getting, simply because of the frustration I felt when playing it. Enter The Matrix – such a cool game, but so difficult! I took it back to the store in tears (not being able to finish it). I went for the less complex NBA Street 2 – which the video store guy was surprised to see me back so soon, having completed the game in what he saw as a surprising feat.
It was in this year when my friend Chris would invite me over for sleepovers. He loved HALO. I remember just how much he hassled his parents for an Xbox with that game. When he finally got it (maybe around July of ’04) I was there with him playing Co-Op HALO. That was pretty amazing. The Xbox seemed capable of rendering even better graphics than the PS2!
One day, Dad and I went to visit the GamesWizard store in High Street, and to my surprise, they had a console hooked up to a tv there (for testing out new games) with Driv3r set up. I played it for a few minutes and loved every second of it. Completely 3D with shiny new looking graphics, guns, buses, motorbikes, sports cars, etc. Craziness, set back in Miami where it all started (a bit like GTA Vice City)… though I think the demo I played at the store, was the ‘Nice’ map. I’m not sure when I got that game, maybe for my birthday in September 2004, but whenever it was, I had such a warm feeling when playing as good old Tanner. Walking in and around his home, fans spinning, sunset shining in through the glass wall. Absolute beauty. I felt great playing there. Though, the game wasn’t so easy. It will take many more years, alongside San Andreas, to complete this monster of a game.
That year was largely spent obsessing over the announced Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Having connected to the internet via dial-up around Christmas of 2002, I was able to keep up to date with a lot more news and updates on things like games (using the pre-installed MSN browser, news was just a 20c cent dial up click away – I think it will be hard to ever forget that dial up tone). Even access to cheats for Vice City and THPS3 was easy (rather than having to sift through my old cheat book – an actual book full of cheats, in alphabetical order). I remember looking in disbelief at seeing this character in screenshots, sitting on a bmx bike, next drive-by shooting, all in this atmospheric evening/nighttime looking world. It looked great! Later on, learning about there being multiple cities and there being a mountain land with huge trees, like a forest, I was just so hyped up. Even little things like being able to hook up a truck to a trailer and rumors of Bigfoot, tickled me. So I traded some older not-so-amazing games, and payed a little $, to preorder this amazing game. When the countdown ended, and one day late in October, the day it was released, I was down at ebgames with my Dad that morning to pick it up (day off school of course!). I remember feeling so protective of that game sitting deep down in this little thin plastic bag I was holding. I couldn’t wait to get home to stick it in the PS2 (this was before Hot Coffee was discovered).
For the next 4 years, there were no more Grand Theft Auto games to be released. San Andreas marked the final chapter to the 3D generation/universe full of novelties, connections and crossovers – Cool crossovers such as the naming of characters in GTAIII & VC “Tanner/Dick Tanner”, a nod towards rival ‘Driver’. Even GTAIII’s Claude appearing in San Andreas, giving us some backstory on how they got to Liberty City. Even in Driv3r, a nod back to Rockstars GTA Vice City, a hidden character (in each city) can be found, named Timmy Vermicelli – a joke referencing Tommy Vercetti. Grand Theft Auto IV, the first GTA in a HD universe, was to come in April of 2008 – but until then, I still had many great games to experience. Plus, it took me a couple of years to get through San Andreas’ story (couldn’t get through ‘Black Project’ without a friends help – Alex was a gaming/computer god. He introduced me to the world of pirates aka Kazaa.Lite.++, in 2004). I let Dad take over playing Driv3r, on one condition, I have to be there to see the stories unfold (it was even very stressful for Dad to get through). I believe it was late in 2006 or 2007 when Dad finally completed the final mission, leaving us with the ending cliffhanger.