One Man’s Computer Gaming Odyssey

  • My experience in – and passion for – computer gaming
  • A Computer-Gaming Odyssey
  • The early years

Computer gaming has been an interest of mine since I was a child. This article is part reminiscence and part history, tracing the development of gaming culture over the decades.

My youthful experiences – in the 1980s – included playing Pac-Man on some of the early Atari models and playing the early installations in the legendary Ultima, Wizardry, and Bard’s Tale Series on my beloved Apple //c. While the Ultima series was comprised mostly of two-dimensional tiles, the early Bard’s Tale and Wizardry titles involved a rudimentary grid-based first-person view.

By today’s standards, the graphics could be described simplistically at best. Over the years, game designers continually sought to extract more from the limited potential of Apple II and Commodore 64 personal computers. (Although I do not include, here, the IIGS)

Computer Gaming

Bard’s Tale 3 ‘The Thief of Fate’ – was perhaps the most impressive title to emerge for the Apple II- not long before the line was abandoned to concentrate instead on Apple’s Macintosh series.


For its time, ‘Bard’s Tale 3’ provided a sprawling game world and devilish, maze-like dungeons. Given the extraordinary limits of the Apple // line of personal computers, the musical score of the Bard’s Tale titles was lively and ‘pleasantly catching.’ It comprised the ‘pinnacle’ of what could be achieved with the limited 128 kB Apple // c frame.

Handheld electronic games were also popular at the time. Popularity at school rested partly on possession of titles such as Frogger, Scrambler, Burger Time, Donkey Kong, and others.

Even then, gaming was not ‘just for the kids’. Computer roleplaying games, however, were always my favorite – and they still are. I even recall my mother staying up late at night, entranced by my Pacman handheld electronic game.

No one had even heard of ‘Massively Multiplayer games OR of the internet at the time. Some of my favorite memories of my youth include days I spent at my local library, playing the quiz game ‘Millionaire,’ wagering 5 1/4 inch floppy disks on who would be a winner. Back then, amongst enthusiasts, there was a real sense of community.

Looking back now, it is hard for younger gamers to envisage the joy my friends and I knew – despite what today would seem to be rudimentary graphics and sound. And while my generation may have ‘moved on’ in our expectations for modern-day gaming, I enjoy occasionally reminiscing about a simpler age’ – now so long ago.

into the 1990s

As ‘time marched on – into the 1990s – I found myself turning to the PC as the Apple //c ‘passed into history. The advent of VGA – and then SVGA – graphics while I was in secondary school – marked a milestone – and the quality of the gaming experience improved markedly also.

During this transitional phase, the ‘Gold Box’ series of Dungeons and Dragons games set the standard. The ever-renewable D&D franchise would serve developers well for many years to come. Even within this series, the difference was marked between the original titles – available on the //c – and those that made the most of the then-groundbreaking SVGA graphics.

Also, computer roleplaying games were mainly characterized by turn-based rather than real-time combat. But the 1990s saw a paradigm shift to ‘pause and play’ or ‘real-time’ combat.

Meanwhile, the later installations in the Ultima series boasted interactivity, which – for the time – caused the sequel to ‘stand out from the crowd.’ I still remember the ‘buzz’ I felt from making bread in Ultima VI and even cooking it in an oven. Trivial by today’s standards, such ‘touches’ added character to the Ultima franchise.

This was also the real-time strategy genre’s ‘coming of age’. Dune II and Command and Conquer, in particular, set a basic template that was to be remodeled and improved upon time after time.

The same might also be said of the first-person shooters – which during the 1990s included such titles as Doom and Wolfenstein 3D. These titles spread like wildfire in this ‘heyday’ of ‘shareware’ and again provided a standard template later refined and expanded to include player versus player action.

The advent of multiplayer and online gaming – into the new Millenium

In good time, first-person shooter gaming and the real-time strategy genre were to evolve to the point where player versus player gaming became a lucrative ‘sport.’ Today, Quake 4, Starcraft, Warcraft III – and other titles – are played competitively – often with thousands of dollars at stake.

Into the late 1990s, the computer roleplaying franchise expanded to provide for online and massively multiplayer gaming. Ultima Online comprised one of those original titles: just as the internet was ‘taking off,’ but broadband was still rare.

Ultima Online, in particular, was marked -originally by an uncontrolled ‘Player versus Player (PvP) element. This allowance for ‘Player Killers’ (PKs) greatly reduced the game’s enjoyability. Later, developers were to learn from this – and provide ‘PvP’ under more controlled circumstances – often only with mutual consent.

Also, the late 1990s saw the rise of ‘first-person’ titles such as Everquest. For some time, the Everquest franchise ‘ruled supreme’ – comprising the standard by which genre games were measured.

But in the mid-2000s, Blizzard’s World of Warcraft (WoW) erupted onto the scene, providing new opportunities for (consensual) PvP combat, lush environments, rewarding multiplayer, and appealing animations.

WoW also struck ‘the right balance’ in instances of player death, with the resultant penalty not being so onerous as to compromise gameplay seriously.

World of Warcraft’s beautifully rendered cartoon-like animation with no pretense of realism is featured as one factor behind the game’s appeal and longevity. This also might be seen as one factor behind Blizzard’s eclipse of the ‘Everquest II’ title – which failed to capitalize on its forerunner’s success.

Perhaps WoW’s only weakness- and that of other massive multiplayer roleplaying games (MMORPGs) – is the tendency for gameplay to be reduced to a ‘grind’. Players can glean only so much fun from ‘camping out’ for spawns.

Despite this, as of 2009, millions of gamers continue to enjoy the World of Warcraft franchise, with two major expansions being released and possibly more to come.

Opportunities for meaningful PvP are also important for many. Epic overarching storylines are also desirable and comprise a central feature of Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) – perhaps the best MMORPG of 2007.

Most importantly, a player should never be lost for something to do. Hours of ‘grinding’ are not good enough. Other recent competitors of WoW include Dungeons and Dragons Online and Warhammer Online.

Dungeons and Dragons Online, in particular, encourages cooperative rather than solo gameplay. The class designs complement each other.

The challenge for MMORPG developers is to balance options for single and multiplayer cooperative play while minimizing the all-too-familiar ‘grind.’ upcoming titles planned for release this year (2009) include ‘The Old Republic’ (based in the Star Wars universe) and ‘Stargate Worlds.’ Amongst all this, Industry watchers are left to speculate about who will usurp the ‘WoW’ crown one day.

Looking back: single-player gaming – late 1990s to the present day. The late 1990s and early ‘2000s’ saw more breakthroughs in the depth and complexity of first-person shooters, computer roleplaying games, and real-time strategy. We will close, however, with a final consideration of the CRPG genre. This period was especially marked by the ‘Baldur’s Gate series, the ‘Icewind Dale titles, and the masterful ‘Planescape Torment. Bioware’s ‘Infinity Engine’ provided lush graphic backgrounds accompanied by moving musical scores and deep, immersive, and epic plotlines. Adaptable as ever, the Dungeons and Dragons franchise was brought to a new generation. Despite a massive fan base, though, the Infinity Engine line was abandoned before its time – and the much-awaited ‘Baldur’s Gate III’ never emerged.

Meanwhile, the ‘Fallout’ series provided a gritty third-person and turn-based gaming experience. Its post-apocalyptic themes developed such a solid following that – in 2008 – Fallout 3 was one of the most anticipated titles of the year.

Diablo I and Diablo II also emerged during this period, marking a new age of ‘action RPGs’ and heralding a new era of ‘cooperative’ online multiplayer gaming. The series is notable for its deeply atmospheric music and dark and foreboding environments.

The series has been so popular and resilient that even now, almost ten years after Diablo II, veteran gamers eagerly await the new installment. Diablo III looks set to be one of the best-selling CRPG titles for 2009.

Other recent impressive titles include Elder Scrolls IV’s Oblivion,’ Bioware’s ‘Neverwinter Nights series, and the ‘Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) series.

Neverwinter Nights I & II provided a ‘makeover’ for the Dungeons and Dragons franchise, with expansive user-created content and customization opportunities.

‘Oblivion,’ meanwhile, provided an immersive world with many individual characters – each with their quirks, voice-recorded dialogue, and routines. Oblivion’s graphics were groundbreaking for the time – and have left industry watchers to speculate: What’s next for the Elder Scrolls franchise? Many suppose a new installment will emerge in 2010.

Meanwhile, The ‘Knights of the Old Republic series (also by Bioware) introduced players to a Star Wars universe set several thousand years before the subject matter of the original Star Wars universe.

Finally, the KOTOR series (I&II) featured epic storylines, detailed character development systems, immersive gameplay, weapon and armor customization, and spectacular combat animations. Such elements comprise solid fundamentals borrowed from ‘The Old Republic’ when released sometime in 2009-2010.

In conclusion

2009 is set to be a most interesting year. Aside from what we have already considered in this feature, there are many titles in production – many for release this year.

Red Alert 3 was one of the best real-time strategy titles of 2008, offering challenging multiplayer combat with innovative and often humorous storylines and units. 2009 will see another installment in this series: Red Alert – Uprising. For some, this expansion will undoubtedly find its way onto the ‘must-have’ list.

Meanwhile, mass Effect II, Dragon Age, Guild Wars II, and Star Trek Online will likely be amongst the most popular in their respective genres. Twenty years ago, virtually no one could have foreseen the evolution of game genres and computer technology that has unfolded since.


Alcohol scholar. Bacon fan. Internetaholic. Beer geek. Thinker. Coffee advocate. Reader. Have a strong interest in consulting about teddy bears in Nigeria. Spent 2001-2004 promoting glue in Pensacola, FL. My current pet project is testing the market for salsa in Las Vegas, NV. In 2008 I was getting to know birdhouses worldwide. Spent 2002-2008 buying and selling easy-bake-ovens in Bethesda, MD. Spent 2002-2009 marketing country music in the financial sector.