So today’s my first day at Kotaku and I’ve been told I can introduce myself however I want. Which is great. I can’t offer you chips and chocolate through the internet, but we can talk about video games. Let’s do that.
Introducing yourself is weird, awkward and kind of impersonal. I’m not a big fan; it feels a lot like going to a job interview, trying to convince someone of your ability, your intelligence, your overall worth. It’s not me.
So let’s do something else instead. Let’s do something that will kill a few birds with one stone—because I’m all about killing birds. Wait, that’s not right. I meant I’m all about throwing stones. Bugger. That’s not right either.
What I meant is that I'm all about video games! So let's talk about some of the most important video games to me, the ones I have the fondest memories of. That way you get to know me a lot better, and that way I get away with not talking about myself. At least not in the traditional manner, anyway. Here we go!
F-117A Stealth Fighter 2.0 (Microprose, Amiga/DOS/Macintosh, 1991-1994)
Perhaps the best introduction is the one I received to video games, which came courtesy of the fine folks at Microprose. Released as F-19 Stealth Fighter on various platforms from 1988, the version my family had access to was on an old-school 286, although I can't remember the precise clock speed, was the sequel F-117A Stealth Fighter 2.0.
The computer was set up on the kitchen table and plugged in was a cute, two-button Gravis joystick that still has price of place in my family's computer room to this day. Now that I'm much, much older, I understand my family set me up to fail. "Hey Alex, come and give this a try," my mother said, while my older brother and father watched on.
It was never going to end well. Expensive aircraft should not be put in the hands of small children. But now, at the tender age of 28, I can understand why my family would have been so amused at watching their youngest spawn take off and hover in the air for a few seconds before nosediving into the runway.
My piloting skills eventually improved with time, although I never did graduate from the easiest of difficulty settings. But the experience served as a wonderful primer into the world of Microprose, a developer whose name would later become synonymous with greatness thanks to the Civilization series, X-COM, Transport Tycoon Deluxe, the Rollercoaster Tycoon series and more.
Myst 3: Exile (Presto Studios/Ubisoft, Win/Mac/Xbox/PS2, 2001-2003)
Like most families, the computers were in a shared room so that my parents could keep an eye on what my brother and I were getting up to. It was cramped with bookshelves and wardrobes taking up the majority of the area.
The bookshelves were crammed with boxes and boxes of ancient floppy disks, with old operating systems, games, software and God knows what else. But what was primarily the key about that room was the fact that much of my time with my mother took place in there.
It wasn't by design. My father, now retired, worked for a few decades as a engineer on merchant ships for various companies. For the majority of my life he's been a chief engineer, keeping an eye on any and all of the mechanics that ensures ships transporting iron ore, wood chips, oil and everything else, continued to stay afloat.
The problem with such a job is that it requires time away from your family. When I was born, my dad was doing six month stints away from home, floating away on the world's oceans. Six months on, six months off. Those shifts would later be pared down to three months, then to a nebulous six-to-eight week period, but it was always the same yearly requirement: six months on, six months off.
How on earth my parents are still together is a mystery to me. But the end result of that living arrangement was that my mother, brother and I ended up spending a lot of time in that small room. She still uses the computer—it's since been upgraded from the 286 that used to house Solitare's Journey and all manner of DOS games—there.
Perhaps for a lack of entertainment, she began to take an interest in adventure games. And in the 1990's, that put you in either one of three categories: the FMV-riddled rubbish that exploded onto the market around the launch of the CD-ROM; the point-and-click titles built on the SCUMM, or similar engines, like much of the early LucasArts classics; or the precursor to the "walking simulator" series of games, titles that blended some FMV with high resolution still frames or 3D-generated environments that the player explored.
Mum worked through the original Myst and Riven on her own, but playing through adventure games together became something we could bond over. After cutting our teeth on the roadtrip, tournament-style mode of Solitaire's Journey, we combined our intelligence to defeat Zork Nemesis, the underrated Zork Grand Inquisitor, the first two Broken Sword games—the first of which we later replayed together when it was released on Android and iPad—and the third Gabriel Knight.
A family friend every year used to visit my brother and I during the school holidays for a couple of weeks, and we ended up transferring our habit to him as well. One year he opted to return the favour by gifting my mother a copy of Myst 3: Exile, the most accessible of the traditional Myst games.
It's the only game I can remember playing through largely as a group activity, something that wouldn't be replicated until many years later when me and my friends got heavily inebriated and decided to see how awful CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - Deadly Intent could be. (Turns out it's a much more pleasant experience than playing alone, particularly if you have a spare water bottle on hand to peg at your friends should they fail the miserably weak puzzle sections.)
The connection my mother and I have with adventure games has endured, too. Over Christmas I took her through the majority of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, a game which feels eerily like the modern evolution of Myst, Zork and all of those FMV titles that never quite worked. And despite the changed experience—the graphics have improved remarkably, an Xbox One controller had replaced the mouse and keyboard and the premise was a smidgeon more believable—it felt as natural and as relaxing as old times, the times when Mum and I would happily spend hours untangling the bizarre web that passes for Adventure Game Designer Logic.
Counter-Strike (Valve/Sierra, PC/Mac, 1999-2003)
If it wasn't for my decade-long association with Counter-Strike, I wouldn't be sitting here writing this post. That love has bled into other games—sometimes competitively—as well, but no matter what happens, I always end up coming back for that round-based hit of adrenaline that only Counter-Strike seems capable of delivering. I have plenty of stories—good and bad—but I thought I'd share one of the more positive ones, since this is a Monday and nobody needs a reminder of how awful things can be.
It was in December 2003 in an internet cafe on George St that I became a little less socially awkward.
The last competition for Counter-Strike 1.5 was being held that day. Steam launched a couple of months earlier, but the added computing requirements were staggering. Gamers went from running CS quite smoothly on Celeron and Duron 700's to needing a 2ghz+ PC just to get 100fps.
I was meant to be playing in a mix team on the day, but this was my first LAN, so I did what most nerds do at a gaming event: find a corner and support the wall.
I only knew one person in the scene then, a friend from school who helped run one of the competitions at the Sydney Gamers League. Unfortunately, he was a fairly unpopular figure who didn't go to LANs often, so I was on my own.
After a several minutes, a tall, slim man whose voice seemed to naturally bellow over the crowd of 80 or so people came up to me.
"Are you Dippa?" he asked. I said I was and told him I was waiting for my team.
The man's name was Rob (xoR), one of the players from Exhale, one of the best teams in Sydney at the time.
I still don't know to this day why Rob decide to come up and introduce himself. At that point, my only recognition among the community was a writer: I'd started putting together a recap of eSports news from around the world on a fairly regular basis.
Rob took a real liking to me though, and promptly pulled me out of the corner and introduced me to everyone he knew in the room. I can't remember most of the people I met that day, bar the ones that continued to attend LANs later on in the years.
Importantly, he knew one of the guys I was meant to be playing with, so he could find out what was going on. I'd spent an hour introducing myself at this point.
Some shenanigans later, my team didn't end up showing up on time, so Rob organised for me to play in another team.
Once I'd gotten set up and started playing, Rob took things a step further.
"Hey guys ... come check this out."
So out of the near 100 people that were in the venue, by the time the second half of my match has started, Rob's turned around and gotten half of them—many decent players in their own right—to stop what they're doing to watch me instead.
The match on de_cbble ends up going into overtime; I'd gotten some frags here and there, put in a reasonable performance so far but nothing special.
First round of overtime ends up in me planting the bomb and winning a 1v2. Back then, overtimes were still played with pistol rounds, so this was a massive advantage.
Second round my team takes B and plants again. A CT tried to hide behind the box just in front of the connector, so I promptly pumped three deagle bullets into the box for a free kill.
I turned around to head up the ramp to cover the hallway. As soon as I arrived, I saw a flash skeet past in the hallway.
It worked last time, I thought, so why not again?
One bullet into the box later, the crowd behind me erupted as the head of the poor counter-terrorist exploded into the wall. I downloaded the demo after the tournament; it was the perfect one-bullet deagle frag.
Second half of overtime ended up with me winning another 1v2 clutch to save the game. I don't think I've held down the "E" button with as much force in my life; I'd have died if I choked the defuse.
I didn't know who he was at the time, but RooK (one of the stalwarts of the Sydney scene) later congratulated me for putting on a decent show in overtime. That was the start of my CS "career". Thanks to the efforts of Rob, I managed to get an offer to play in fX, which gave me a reason to continue attending LANs. (I'm still friends with some of those players today, incidentally. Matchmaking in CS:GO has brought a lot of old-timers back to the fold.)
The train timetables meant I only got to play the one game that day. If it wasn't for Rob, nobody would have noticed and nobody would have given me a chance.
Hodj 'n' Podj (Boffo Games/Virgin Interactive, 1995, Windows 3.1)
A large amount of my gaming experience can be explained by the fact that my family didn't have a great deal of money. As it turns out, being away on a boat for half the year—especially when you have a mortgage to pay and endured the insanity of interest rates in the 1980's and 1990's—pays a lot less than you'd think.
Fortunately, in my dad's time off he worked with a friend developing medical databases. That often resulted in him coming across a lot of old equipment, things he could pick up cheaply and then offload to his inquisitive offspring. We knew there was better material out there—the wonders of reading Australian and UK PC magazines back in the late 1990's will do that—but we had toys to play with.
Until I built my own PC years later, I began exploring the wonderful world of abandonware. Digital distribution didn't really exist around the turn of the century; it was there, but not a particularly bandwidth or cost efficient solution for gamers or developers. So when studios collapsed or a title was no longer available for sale in your local store, a weird situation eventuated that was akin to going on a treasure hunt.
I became a frequent visitor of The Home of the Underdogs, an abandonware archive and repository that was run by a journalist in Thailand. It was a treasure trove where I could experience titles that I couldn't purchase myself, uncover genres I never knew existed and discover developers I didn't know I was interested in.
One evening, having exercised a penchant for board gaming, I came across the intriguing Hodj 'n' Podj from Boffo Games. It revolves around two princesses and two princes who have to scour their little world, enduring various mini-games and riddles to uncover the clues and items necessary to unlock their true loves (or something).
The problem is the game only natively worked on Windows 3.1 and Windows 95. It refused to run in Windows 98, even in compatibility mode, and I was never able to get it running on any other machine.
It wasn't until recently when I got adventurous and got a version of Windows 3.1 working under DOSBox—on my Macbook Air, of all things—that I was finally able to play Hodj 'n' Podj again. It took the better part of a decade, although that was mostly due to a lack of trying. And also because I heard a horror story about how someone managed to torch their master boot record trying to get the Johnny Mnemonic FMV game working under DOSBox (another Windows 3.1 special).
So hopefully that gives you all a better understanding of who I am. I'll be working late here at Kotaku and I'll be trying to bring more of that PC and eSports experience to the site, although I won't be neglecting the consoles or other platforms either! We're all gamers, after all.
If you want to get in touch with me directly, you can hit me up at @thedippaeffect on Twitter. And you can always address me directly on the site as well.