What about Consoles? – My Brief History #4

When I started writing this series of posts about my life as gamer I didn’t expect to do a post on console gaming. Why not? Because so far it has been a significant part of my gamer experience. I expected to give it honorable mention in a wrap comment, along with mobile gaming. Yet here we are and I am writing this. What happened? The short answer is that I got myself an Xbox One for Christmas, so one way of the other, a console will be part of my life for a while coming, and before that happens it makes sense to take a status on my console experience so far.

The longer answer to the ‘why get a console now?’ involves retrogaming, media centers and surveillance cameras and the Raspberry Pi. Here is how: As mentioned in a previous post I am the generally happy owner of 3 Pis. Two are media centers, the third is used for various experiments.

Now, we have a spot in the house that we want to be able to check occasionally when we are away from the house. A quick solution for the budget aware person is to grab a Raspberry Pi, connect a camera and DIY. That’s what I am gonna do and that’s gonna set me back one Pi.

Then, regarding media centers: I have two Rasperry Pis running Kodi (one per TV) and that is a fine solution, except that one of the pies is not performing well and I want at the very least to have a backup. That could be another Pi, but trying out heavier hardware could be interesting.

Finally, as my first post in this series indicates, my heart still beats for old arcade and early computer games. Fortunately emulators are available that provide the opportunity to reply these games, either on a PC or *something* else. Again, the quick solution for the budget aware person involves a Raspberry Pi and, for example, an installation of RetroPie – a Linux package specifically build to run RetroArch on a Raspberry Pi. A great idea in principle, but I never was happy with the result, with the main gripe being controller setup. I just can’t get a stable setup with a wireless BlueTooth controller. So next step for me is to try building on hardware with native wireless controller support. I was already starting to look into options for building a NUC-based solution for this, when it occurred to me to check current costs of a gaming console. Turns out that both the PS4 and the Xbox One are now reasonably priced. Then, while I am not a fan of the Black Friday concept, I still checked if an Xbox could be bought at a reasonable price. Turns out it could. Directly from Microsoft even. No doubt to lock people into their games eco system before they get a Stadia or switch to Play Station 5 instead of getting the Xbox Series X when it arrives in 2020. And apparently also to keep people from buying more Raspberry Pis. In any case, soon I will unwrap my new Xbox and grow much wiser in the way of consoles. Time will tell if I succeed with my projects and whether gaming catches on – at least for the kids.

My brief history of gaming #4 – The Consoles in my Life

I am pretty sure that my earliest gaming experience was on a neighbor’s Atari 2600, some sort of tennis game and since then console gaming has always on the edge of my gaming universe, with a few trips inside. We shall see what my Xbox will do about that, but That may be a out to change, but I’ll start at the beginning.now I start at the beginning.

After the Atari next experience was the small handhelds with LCD screen. Nintendo’sGame & Watch: Octopus and Trojan Horse and Towering Rescue from Gakken. Very simple games by today’s standard, but quite exciting for a kid in the early 1980s and more than enough to make you want more.

I then took the Commodore path of 64 and the Amiga path and didn’t pay much attention to the console alternatives. I suspect that many consoles weren’t marketed very well in Denmark either – probably the market is too small.

What finally brought me to consoles was SSX Tricky and Dancing Stage Megamix, (played on floor pads) on the PlayStation 2. To me the biggest thing on PS2 was Final Fantasy X, my first experience with a JRPG and that way of telling stories, I also tried out Final Fantasy X-2 and Final Fantasy XII. However, I only went fully into FFX, possibly because of an unfavorable relation between the sofa-tv distance and the screen size, or perhaps the risk of tripping over the controller cable or the noisiness of the console. in any case, my PS2 experience topped with FFX and I haven’t played console game since. So on the eve of unpacking my Xbox One, this is the time to make status.

Memorable Games (that I played)

  • Half-Life – this is the only time I have played this classic game. Something missing in my education, I know.
  • SSX Tricky
  • Dancing Stage Megamix
  • Final Fantasy X

Memorable Games (that I would have liked to play but didn’t for various reasons that won’t fit in this headline)

Looking back, it would have been great to play some Mario games and meet Sonic the Hedgehog.

Also, I might have played more of the Final Fantasy games as they came out. I have tried the ports of Final Fantasy VI and VII (not the upcoming 2020 remake)

Little Big Planet also looks fun – maybe next time.

I also missed the Nintendo Wii – it looked fun as a party game, but I was never convinced how it worked in other situations – perhaps I should take a look at the Switch. but first things first, I’ll go unpack my Xbox One.

Featured Image

The featured image shows the fruit bodies of a annosus root rot fungus colony I found during recent walk in a nearby forest. It was a great trip and I really enjoyed the fall forest with my kids. They helped my find lots of different fungi – the best of which are shared in my Instagram feed.

Related posts

Thoughts of Games – My Brief History #1

Becoming a Gamer – My Brief History #2

IBM Compatible Gaming – My Brief History #3

IBM Compatible Gaming – My Brief History #3

This post links to quite a few computer game store pages where the game in question is sold. Please be aware that I am in no way affiliated with the stores, the publishers or the developers, and I receive no commission from any sales. Should anyone reading this post go on to buy any of these classic, old games, then I am just happy that the people who enjoyable gaming moments back then get extra recognition.

On my list of must-play-games I recently made it to The Witcher 3, which I found very enjoyable after playing the tutorial a couple of times (I tested out playing via Steam Link, but didn’t quite like the experience, so my PC after a couple of attempts). In fact I enjoyed it enough to consider playing the first two games in the series first – also in order to understand who is who. And read the books. I’ll probably watch the Netflix series too : )

My brief history of gaming #3 – Playing the PC

I got my first PC in the summer of 1993. Like most of the PCs at the time it was a beige box and built around a 386 CPU, and it was intended for schoolwork as I had just finished high-school and would enroll in university soon after.

It was not a fancy machine in any way. At the time the only thing that distinguished PCs were the CPUs, which at the time ranged from i386 running up to 40MHz, and i486 at 25, 50 and 66MHz. I know I started at the less ambitious end of the scale, but I generally believe that if you don’t know why you need the more expensive model, you shouldn’t get it (I know that to some people just having the most expensive is reason enough, but I am not like that).

I soon found good reason to buy more powerful equipment though. Not just games, but also more serious stuff like exploring the world of fractals  during my early mathematics studies and then programming too, including simulation of chaotic driven/damped double-pendulums. I picked up an i387 mathematical co-processor quite early, which did wonders for my fractals, but other than that upgrades were mostly about increasing raw CPU power. The videocard rush had not taken off yet and to confirm that state of PC gaming it should be noted that sound card were not yet standard equipment yet (this was long before sound cards became integrated on motherboards).

While I might have shot too low in my initial purchase I got plenty of opportunity to upgrade and I had these:

I had that box until 2002. In the same period RAM went from 4 MB to 256 MB and disk storage from 160 MB to 12 GB. My primary OS was from Microsoft (DOS, Windows 3.1, Windows 95 and 98), but I also tried out OS/2 Warp and started running dual-boot setups with Linux. By 2002 though, much of the box had become obsolete and I moved on to a full replacement.

Gaming-wise, I was happily surprised. The first game I played on that machine was Prince of Persia (the original one). I was soon introduced to Wolfenstein 3D and X-Wing had launched in spring 1993 and I realized I might have aimed too low on the specs. Other early games from the period were Warlords 2 and The Lost Vikings. Then Doom came out in December 1993 and changed everything, but I also got to play Star Control 2 early on – a game with such unique dialogue and humor, which still gets headlines in the gaming news.

Memorable Games

In my early PC years I got to play a bunch of games that are still considered classics and which all demonstrated how the more powerful hardware allowed a wider range of games and ideas. Also, over the 9 years I build on that box, the games industry moved very far.

Many of these games from the time have become available again on GOG and Steam at very reasonable prices and packaged with DOSBox so that they can run on modern OS and hardware. No need to dig out the old installation discs.

I also played Diablo which is considered a classic with its own franchise, but even though I have completed it twice, I somehow never felt compelled to explore the franchise further. Maybe I should : )

Featured image

This image is a detail from the Mandelbrot set, generated on my first PC in 1993 using Fractint.

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Thoughts of Games – My Brief History #1

Becoming a Gamer – My Brief History #2

 

 

Becoming a Gamer – My Brief History #2

I believe the term “gamer” is relatively new and while playing computer games has been part of my life since the mid-eighties, I have never thought of myself as a “gamer”. First, I am sure the term has not been widely used until recently (checking Wikipedia, the term is known since 1422 so I may be wrong, but perhaps it is only with the recent mainstream focus on eSports (outside Korea) that usage has spread), second, I have suffered from a misconception that being a “gamer” is mostly a young man’s game, mainly for those a strongly focused enthusiasm…

Actually, one reason for starting this series of posts is that I finally realized (accepted) that the label applies to me as well, just as much as I am a gardener because I tend a garden and I am an aquarist because I keep an aquarium. I play, ergo gamer.

My brief history of gaming #2 – Next was Amiga

In 1990 I upgraded and replaced my Commodore 64 with an Amiga 500. The natural upgrade path at the time if you were on the Commodore track, at least if you hadn’t passed by the Commodore 128 along the way. I didn’t and I know very few who did and they all booted directly to C64 mode anyway.

So I got the Amiga and wasn’t really blown away. “of course”, you might say with the eyes of today – switching to a 3 year old model must be underwhelming, but coming from an 8 year old model, by today’s standard you would expect more? It would be like upgrading from an iPhone 5 to iPhone 8. Or, if you into Android, from a Galaxy S3 to S8 or A5 (2017). I never had an iPhone, but I tried both Galaxies, only recently having had to replace the absolutely adequate if unspectacular A5. “absolutely adequate if unspectacular” probably describes my A500 experience pretty well.

I had the A500 for 3 years and what I primarily remember or for is my first run at serious computing, doing both text processing for school (Kind Words” on a CRT screen) and my first database to keep track of Ultima V npc conversations. The Amiga was actually the place where I finished Ultima V (yes!) and a couple of SSI gold box games.

This may be unfair statement, but I don’t recall the Amiga as revolutionizing gaming (and my viewpoint is certainly based far from the main industry and press). Of course graphics improved, but I don’t think gameplay changed notably. To me the A500 is more memorable as a transitional platform at the time: if you needed powerful machine in 1990 and the budget was tight, then it was a viable solution. Also, who had foreseen Commodore crashing and the boring PC being Doom-ed suddenly to become much more soon after. I’ll get back to that in future posts.

Memorable games

My list of memorable Amiga games is surprisingly short. It is not that I kept playing on the C64 because I sold that one, instead it must be that I simply played less. My Amiga years cover my age between 15 and 19 years old and I am happy to have made that discovery! As a teenager I must, after all, have been into school and friends.

  • Ultima V: I finally completed this excellent game
  • SSI Gold Box Games: Curse of Azure Bonds and Champions of Krynn (maybe Deathknights too): Some fine Dungeons and Dragons Games
  • Sidewinder: My favorite Amiga shoot’m’up
  • Millennium 2.2 and Deuteros: Two resource management and exploration games, the later a sequel of the former. Actually, this type of game may have something new on the Amiga and they were great to play.
  • Logical: A fine puzzle game and something I hadn’t seen before either (there is a C64 vrsion, but I nver played it). Googling around I am happy to see several remakes/clones around for PC : )

Featured image

The sun setting over Riga Airport.

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Thoughts of Games – My Brief History #1

How to say Goodbye at Work

I am changing jobs this weekend and so it has been a week of goodbyes (with an exciting week of hellos coming, I’m sure).

Leaving a place you have worked for almost 10 years is pretty big, so saying a proper farewell to the colleagues with who I have worked closely for so long is important to me, and therefore I also spent some time thinking about the best exit speech to use in various situations. And since this job change has been coming for some time, I have also had time to think about the best possible lines to say/write.

First of all there has times when I just wanted to slam the door or call in sick a few days before my final workday and let that be it, but while that may be satisfying in the very moment you do it, that would be such a waste of opportunity and I am sure I would spend years afterwards wishing I had said something clever instead. For example, when a colleague of mine picked a shorter straw in a rightsizing exercise, he demonstrated some greatness of mind by stating “this was not the promotion I had hoped for” – not bad in such a moment, and much better to be remembered for, instead of just being the angry guy (even when it is justified, and I have been there too) or the guy who didn’t care about the friends form work. I don’t think there is  a “do nothing option”, even if you don’t feel like saying anything. People do notice and whatever you may think, there is almost always someone that care.

Starting from nothing there is a wide spectrum of things to do instead. My job is pretty straightforward with limited drama and absolutely no public interest, so there will never be epic poems, roman à clef‘s or Netflix series written about it (and we already have Dilbert and ‘The Office‘ in two incarnations to cover most of the general absurdity of office and IT work), so a few, well selected lines is what it should be, and it is tempting to look for a good quote to either use straight out of the box, quote to paraphrase for extra impact with the initiated and sometime just to be heavily inspired by.

Quotes, however, come with issues. I.e., quotes have context. So even if the words are cool, then the entire thing will fall flat if the recipients don’t know where it is taken from and what it originally meant, unless is is great enough to stand without its source.

Consider “hasta la vista, baby!” which quotes Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Terminator 2 – Judgement Day”. The movie is from 1991 and you can no longer count on people around you having seen it, so the line may make little sense. However, to those who know the source, the undertone of impending violence make this line problematic as well. Saying something like that to people, will make them wonder what do you actually mean?? The same goes for “I’ll be back“. Very Terminator, not a nice promise to make to those who gets the line and pointless to everyone else.

Or the conversation that includes the excellent line: “This conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.” It doesn’t end well for the entity who said it in 2001 A Space Odyssey.

so long and thanks for all the fish” – if you are familiar with the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy you will recognize this as the last goodbye from the Dolphins just before Earths destruction to make way for a bypass. To everyone else it must be gibberish and just seem arrogant. To the few initiated, it will it is nicely nerdy, but most likely arrogant as well (noting that the book makes a point out of Dolphins being more clever than humans). I actually used that greeting once myself, happily intending to be slightly nerdy and slightly arrogant; probably the greeting just landed me in a “meh” bucket and I was forgotten so much faster. I didn’t appreciated that at the time, but thinking back, I would have said something else.

“this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” – is also a great line, the very last from Casablanca – a movie with an absolutely marvelous script and it is hard to resist borrowing good lines if they fit. But then again – the context of exiles and expatriates in Morocco during World War 2’s Vichy regime should be used with care.

For a while I was inspired by Rutger Hauer’s final words in Blade Runner, though I might have changed the original “time to die” into “time to leave”. I even tested it out at a small reception held in my honor, with fair results (speaking face to face with a small group allows you to make adjustment to the presentation) and I considered this:

We have seen things that others would not believe
Great things, small things, things best forgotten. Even C-beams glittering in the dark.
Because we remember now, none of this will be lost in time (like tears in the rain).
Time to leave.

Interesting salute if you know the background, but once more the context problematic (no spoilers though : ). Also, a reference to ships on fire would actually be bad taste in my particular case.

So while to the initiated, a quote immediately call on imagery from great movies, with great characters saying great things, but even then the context of the movie won’t fit well with the present situation and leaving with a quote is only good if the quote can stand for itself, since you can’t rely on people knowing the source of the quote (or even that it is a quote).

This is what I wrote in the end:

Dear Colleagues (current and former)

Today was my last day working for the company after almost 10 years.

Thanks you all for the time we have shared together and great stuff we achieved.

I wish you all the best going forward.

Best regards,
Allan

Not the most brilliant or most exciting perhaps, but no one will even suspect hidden meanings or symbolism, and I am pretty sure that I or anyone I know will never be embarrassed by it.

Featured image

Very apropos the topic of the post, the featured image is a sunset, the photo taken this summer in Thy, Northern Jutland. Such beautiful light up there.

Thoughts of Games – My Brief History #1

I just made my first game Steam purchase purchase in 2019. For mid-August that is quite unusual, because ever since joining Steam in 2012 (Skyrim was first), I have accumulated games at a steady pace, in particular during the various sales events up to a point close to the GAMBLE state (i.e., Games AMassed Beyond Life Expectancy). Now it seems that I have stopped buying. Partly, I am sure, because I realized that spending money on games I will never play is sort of silly, and whatever game I am interested in, it will always come on sale again, and buying one game that I play at full price is a better deal than buying 4 games at 50% of that I won’t play. However, to fair to myself, I have been aware of this fact for a while, but maybe I just couldn’t stop just kept collecting stuff, like all the Beamdog remakes of Infinity engine games (which I probably won’t play anyway, but I already own them on CD/DVD and played through them and AD&D 2nd Edition hasn’t aged that well, but I still bought them once more). But partly also – I believe – because now I am actually playing something specific, instead of thinking about all the games that I might play if only I had/took the time to do it. And that is great!

And there is always another Steam/GOG/Epic/Ubi/Origin/Humble Store sale coming…

And whatever I do, there will never be a complete collection of remastered infinity engine games, because the Icewind Dale II source code seems to be lost forever

Now, speaking of games, why not share my story of gaming?

My brief history of gaming #1 – It began with the C64

Well, it actually began with the few arcade machines that stood around the town where I grew up. One in the hallway of the sports center had games like Scramble, Bomb Jack and Buzzard; from the grillbar I remember Ladybug, Xevious, Xain’d Sleena, Silk Worm and Flying Shark. All very exiting and very expensive for a pre-teen (sadly, I never excelled in any of those games). After seeing a friend’s Commodore 64 I quickly calculated what an excellent return I would have on that investment and started saving up (Sunday newspapers..). In March 1986 I got the machine and Press[ed] Play on Tape for the first time. I had the C64 until 1990.

I learned BASIC (yes : ) programming on the C64 and briefly saw the desktop future in GEOS, but it was mostly playing games and sharing that excitement with friends that I did. It was a great time and it is fun to think back on the friends and the games we used to play and which, it turns out, formed me as a gamer.

The RPGs

  • Wasteland, many times over and over until I found Base Corchise and could finish what I started.
  • Ultima V, though a broken floppy disk stopped my progress. I handed the game back to the store and got the Gold Box Champions of Krynn instead. I eventually finished Ultima V on Amiga.
  • Bards Tale 3 (maps, maps and maps on checkered paper) and Dragon Wars (built-in discovable maps, pretty cool

The Shoot’m’ups

These games that originally drew me to home computers. Many enhanced the shooting gameplay with excellent music. Xevious was underwhelming, but several games I rememeber fondly:

Other games

Stuff I missed

I never played an Infocom text adventure game; I briefly tried one of the Magnetic Scrolls adventures (probably The Guild of Thieves), but I don’t think I had the necessary language skills or patience at the time to dive in.

Apart from listing games I didn’t play I might also do a section of computers I didn’t own or even try. Being older and wiser now, I would love having had both a ZX81 and a ZX Spectrum (whether I would have loved having them at the time is another matter). I am not so sure about the Amstrad CPC (which I thought would be my first computer for a while, before ending with the C64), whereas the Apple II would have been a natural first step, had I been older. And then there were all the other home computers of the day, many of which that are mostly forgotten now, like Microsoft’s MSX, the Enterprise etc… I’d love to see those in action or at least in a museum.

Afterthoughts

Those were great years of games and computer fun, and I often miss that old machine. Of course, the odds that it would still work after 30+ years are slim, with its datassette and 5¼ floppy drive. And judging how long time I linger whenever I load up a C64 emulator (not long), it is probably fine like that,

Featured image

Dark clouds and a newly harvested field close to home; picture taken on a recent afternoon walk.