Summary: JCal turns 40 today and he recounts his life in gaming and most memorable experiences! See how he brings constant youth and enthusiasm to the industry.
Being not only a gamer at 40 years old but also one that happens to get paid for writing about the industry is certainly something that warrants a small essay (and for those of you who think this is self-indulgent…..no comments from the peanut gallery). It’s a little weird to be born in a time when just a few years later the first real game consoles and home computers started showing up in people’s homes and therefore starting up the massive industry that covers everything from small one man game dev teams all the way up to multi-million dollar projects that sometimes employ hundreds of people. There are people in the world younger than me but still adults who have never lived in a world without video or PC games and there are people older than me who might still consider this industry to be a recent “fad” that doesn’t seem to go away.
So where does that leave people like me? I’m not quite sure to be honest. I remember being very young when the first Pong games came out and watched in amazement as I saw friends play the game on their TV screens (my parents never bought us a video game system). Later I would play games like Pac-Man, Space Invaders and more either at a friend’s house or via a local arcade. The cultural impact of those games were definitely felt by me but I can’t say that I was a massive gamer in my youth primarily because we didn’t have a console or PC at our home at the time. Yet I knew that somehow this form of entertainment was going to grow and evolve into something much more than a fad.
I actively re-entered playing games in the 1990s as I tried to get my communications degree from Lenoir-Rhyne College in Hickory, NC. The PCs in the computer rooms had Doom and Descent installed and I knew that gaming had somehow caught up with my visions of what it could be back in the 1980s. These were not flat 2D cartoon worlds that made me catch mushrooms or chase a blue ghost but 3D worlds to explore and experience (and of course shoot at things). The one-two combo punch of Doom and Descent not only made me an obsessive gamer but also made me want to learn more about the industry and eventually to write and report on its comings and goings. I learned about people with names like John Carmack and John Romero and Will Wright. I learned about upcoming games like Duke Nukem 3D and Quake, both of which were right up my alley when I began playing them. I heard about some upstart called Epic that had a long-in-development game called Unreal. I read about the coming revolution in 3D graphics with something called “3D accelerators” and a company called Voodoo3D that was leading the charge to make graphics even better for games.
Yep I was hooked; not just about playing the games but wanting to learn more about them and maybe take my newly earned communications degree and report, somehow, on the industry. After working for daily newspapers for five years I made the move to become a full time game journalist in 2000 and that’s where I have stayed to this day.
Getting my very own PC in 1995: It was a Gateway with a 1.6 Ghz Pentium and I still use the speakers it came with as my primary speaker system. It was great to play the games that I had enjoyed in college on their PC s on my own (and not have to worry about being caught
Playing my first multiplayer game of Quake on the Internet: No more blowing away monsters; I was shooting at “real people” from all over the world. It was laggy over my 56k modem but I didn’t care. I was rocket jumping and blowing up players in glibblets. Good times.
Attending my first E3 in 1997: E3 was held in Atlanta in 1997 and 1998 which meant it was only a few hours away from where I lived in Morganton NC. I attended the Sierra press conference where the CGI intro to Starcraft was first shown and got to play a very early version of Half-Life. I went behind closed doors to see an early demo of Prey and Max Payne and saw games that never got released (the Babylon 5 space shooter; so sad)
Installing my first Voodoo3D add-on card: Nowadays putting in an add-on card to your own graphics card sounds crazy but lots of people like me were hooked on GLQuake and had to have it. It started a revolution in graphics that in many ways hasn’t stopped.
Hearing about something called an “Xbox”: The late and very lamented Next Generation magazine broke the news months before that fateful GDC press conference in 2000 about the launch of Microsoft’s first game console. I can remember being shocked that this company was going to enter something that it had never done before and indeed many people felt for a while this was all a big put on by Microsoft to scare Sony. It wasn’t, however, and for the first time I became interested in owning a game console.
There are tons of things that I could mention that are memorable to me that relate to games (getting my first big news scoop; interviewing game devs, etc) but as I said in the beginning reaching a 40th birthday isn’t just about looking back but looking ahead to the future. To that end here are my very humble and very off-the-top-of-my-40-year-old-head speculations on where video and PC gaming will lead us.
Console and PC hardware will eventually merge: With consoles getting web browsers and the ability to download movies and TV shows and PCs becoming more user friendly its only a matter of time before the debate between console and PC gaming will become moot. Sooner or later someone will create a device that blends the ease of use of consoles with the expandability of PCs and that will become the one-size-fits-all media center for games, movies, music and more.It may not happen in 5 years time but maybe in a decade it will occur….and it will be a good thing.
Displays will get bigger for everyone and become interactive: In about five years time there will be a ton of households with at least one TV display that’s at least 42 inches or bigger and when that happens expect to see a lot more attention being placed on games that look good on that TV, even from Nintendo. In 10 years time we will see those screens become more interactive with touch screen controls and we could see a true revolution in how we control our games.
VR Tech is still a long way off: We may see improved virtual reality technology in things like theme parks within a decade but in the home I don’t see anyone hooking up some glasses to play a game like that in your living room even 10 years from now.
Portable gaming will get a huge boost: As PC technology concentrates more and more on the portable market I think we will see portable PC gaming as a huge way to sell new products. Being able to play a game that looks as good as Crysis on a slim PC with high speed wireless Internet access for multiplayer action anywhere you want is something we will see happen within 5 years.
The indy game developer will still be around: While we will still see the big publishers crank out the massive budget games it’s clear that with the Internet and the promise of true digital delivery and payments we will continue to see innovative small games from small teams get made. Microsoft’s plan to bring that kind of game to Xbox 360 via XNA Games Studio Express will just be the tip of the iceburg in a few years time as all the console makers will make their consoles friendly to indy game developers.
Now that I am 40, I have realized that being my age isn’t just about looking back or looking forward. It’s also enjoying what I have right now and it’s very good indeed. I hope to continue to write about games and the industry for many years to come.
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