What gaming has done to me

Pssst! Hey kid, wanna play some Counter Strike?

A few months ago I wrote in my Nostalgia Trip about the time I first came in contact with computers and video games and showcased what probably kick started my love for this entertainment medium. When I was seven years old we moved to Valencia, Spain, but left the computer behind so it took a while for me to get in front of a keyboard again. Curiosity, ingeniousness, luck and good friends have shaped my perception of gaming and rewarded me with amazing experiences throughout the last 15 years. And who doesn't want to know how I came up with my nickname? :D



Like many of my generation, the 90s kids got their first gaming experiences from video game consoles. Many of my friends at the time had a Play Station, which was the "cool" console to have, but there was also the occasional SNES around, a neighbour of mine even had a Sega Mega Drive. For Christmas '97 my sister and I got a Nintendo 64 bundled with Super Mario 64, a game that I instantly fell in love with. I still remember the first two hours playing it, jumping around in front of Princess Peach's Castle having absolutely no idea what to do. It was probably the first 3D game I've ever played and I was completely lost; I wasn't able to leave the front yard and all the doors inside the castle were closed, except one. Inside that room there was nothing else that a huge picture hanging from the wall, no other doors except the one I used to enter said room. It took me hours, until I once jumped past that massive wallpaper and saw the image wobbling, to realize I had to jump into or through the painting to start a level. Dozens if not hundreds of hours later I had collected 124 out of the 125 available stars, but never ended up finding the last one.

That was of course before the current internet era we are in now where, if you don't know what to do or can't find something in a game, you just look it up on google for half a second and you get your answer. Sure you had your magazines with tips and walk-throughs, but looking at it from a today's perspective, you would really miss that easy and quick internet access for your information gatherings. But sometimes you like to stay in the past, that's also why I still own an N64 and around 12 games for it.

Two other absolute gems I played on the N64 were Star Wars Ep.I Racer and Diddy Kong Racing. I'm not a big fan of racing games, even though I enjoyed my decent amount of time with games like Need for Speed Underground 2 or the Trackmania series (what I enjoy from them is the tuning and track creating part, more than the racing itself), but SWR was amazing. The huge variety of maps, the crazy speeds the pods would get to, the amazing sound from the engines and environments, the ever increasing difficulty (yes, no rubber band AI) to the point where one tiny error can cost you the first place, I loved it. You also were able to fine tune your pod, there wasn't any visual customizing, they stayed true to the pods from the film and adding a few new ones, but you could buy many upgrades for each of the 23 available pods to make them unique. One thing that I will always remember is how my friends never knew how to boost; when driving straight forward you had to push the stick upwards, wait for a boost bar to fill up and when it was at 100% you had to let go from the throttle for a split second and press it again. You have now gained a massive speed boost but your engines are over heating and the pods controls is much less responsive, knowing when to use this and managing your engine temperatures gave you a huge advantage.

Unreal Engine render from 2014 of how it would look like in the current generation, and the N64 counterpart.

Diddy Kong Racing, on the other hand, is a more casual game, pretty much a Mario Kart clone done right. The main things that set it apart from Mario Kart are the vehicles, you can play with karts, hover crafts and planes and the upgrades are classified as red for weapons; blue for boosts, green for traps and purple for shields. Each category has three levels, for example the first red balloon will give you a dumb fire rocket, if you pick up another red balloon without spending the first one, it will get upgraded to a homing missile and the third balloon upgrades it to 10 dumb fire missiles. I have good memories from this game but also some I am not very proud of today, like for example how I got the game in the first place. Back then, when I wasn't even 10 years old, my dad had a new girlfriend, a middle school teacher in her mid 40s, in my (pre-teen) eyes the kind of teacher that is tired of having to deal with children all day long and just wanted my father for herself. So, as the little fuck I was, I had no better idea than take a $100 bill (it's about the same in Swiss Francs) out of her purse, and later that day act like I found it underneath a shelve when we went to the store, allowing me to buy this game on the spot. It worked, but to this day I'm still not sure if she ever noticed and if she did, thanks for the game!


My dad and my uncle have always been fans of planes, probably because my granddad was an air plane engineer working for Swissair, specialised in the Douglas DC-3 (that's that paratrooper transport plane you see in every WW2 movie). That's why my dad got a flight simulator for his PC and a joystick as soon as he could to be able to fly at home, and of course he showed me how to. First of all he had the most amazing joystick I've seen and used to this day, the Microsoft SideWinder Force Feedback Pro with huge motors in its base that delivered the most realistic force feedback possible, really giving you the sensation of controlling a huge metal bird. The experience was even greater when playing Microsoft's Combat Flight Simulator, the vibrations when shooting a .50 cal or when your wing was damaged and you had to counteract the forces pulling you to the side, no commercial joystick from nowadays could ever deliver compared to that SideWinder.

If I recall correctly, the first PC we had in our house in Spain was bought when Windows XP got released, so between October 2001 and sometime in 2002. Even though I didn't have access to a computer prior to that one, I was already in possession of two PC games; Tzar: The Burden of the Crown and Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six, the first one being a game I still play from time to time, even my father who's close to 60 years old still plays it, and it's all in Spanish!


Tzar was a 2D RTS that used pre-rendered 3D sprites, like for example Donkey Kong Country used, with gameplay similar to Age of Empires, but in my opinion much prettier. With huge maps and wast amount of resources the rounds could take as long as 10 hours if you take the defensive route. My father likes to play every few moths for a little bit and a round can take him over a year since you are able to save an ongoing game. It also came with a cool map editor with paint like tools to crate the terrain and a drag and drop system for all the props. The first PC game in my collection of over 100 titles (not including digital copies).

Rainbow Six was the first FPS I played as a kid, horrible graphics comparing it to today's standards, and you didn't even see your gun, just a tiny cross hair. The amazing part was spending hours on hours preparing and planning out the "combat phase", where you precisely planned the path every team would take through the level and which action at which point they would execute. The standard difficulty was pretty much set to "if you get hit you die" and the AI of the game isn't joking around, they will take you down. Back then I had to play it on the PC in my mums office at home and, like 95% of the time, I wasn't allowed to use it, so what did I do? Quite easy; When she left home to go to work, I put in the CD, installed it, played it for an hour or two, uninstalled it and turned off the PC. Perfect crime. But one day, she lost her job. I wasn't really concerned about the fact that she wasn't earning any money to feed my sister and I, but more about the fact that I now would never know when exactly she was coming back home. I had to find a way around that because the school year was almost over and I had a 3 months long summer ahead of me and I really wanted to play.


At some point I found out about internet cafés, a place where you had public access to a computer? How amazing is that? I asked around and found out about a video renting store the next town over that had computers and internet, so I took my copy of Tzar with me to school, and walked to the shop in the afternoon. Today I would tell you that what they had were thin clients, a screen in a metal box with a keyboard and probably a trackball for a mouse. I didn't know that and went to the counter and asked if I could play Tzar on their computers, showing them the game I brought. She looked weirdly at me and said in a slow and confused voice:

Lady - Sorry, uhm, I don't think we support that yet.
Me - When will you support it? When can I come back?
Lady - I don't know what you are doing with that but I don't think we can help you...

Something tells me she had no idea what I was holding in my hands, nonetheless, I had to keep looking, so I went and asked around in my own town, and a place called Cybercafé Net got recommended to me. I was quite confused when I arrived there, it looked like a bar, I had the counter to my left, tables at my right and all the way to the back of the establishment. I went to the twenty-something year old guy serving drinks and asked him if I could play Tzar there. He said sure, the computers are right over there to the left, let me set up an account for you. In 2003 it was still allowed to smoke in bars, the ventilation there was somehow bearable, yet the smell was quite noticeable. I went to the dark corner on the left side behind the bar, and separated by some wooden jealousies were between 15 and 20 computers with CRT monitors, the towers fixed under the table. I sat at one right next to the wall and logged in, put the CD in the tray and installed Tzar. Nice.

I went to that place for a few days in a row, it was about a 10min bike ride away from home. One afternoon I was playing at my usual PC when a younger fellow leaned over and asked me: Hey, do you want to play some Counter with us? (that's how they called it in Spain). I asked him what that was, and he said it was a game where you shoot each other, police vs. terrorists. I explained to him that I had never played something like that, I have no idea how it works. Don't worry, I'll show you. Start Counter-Strike. Start Counter-Strike indeed, after only a few rounds it got me completely hooked, making me visit the Internet Café nearly every day for the next few weeks. That game, in combination with the LAN experience in that bar, everybody shouting at each other was amazing, and I still miss it to this day. But the best was still to come. One day a guy from my school drops by: Hey, I know you from school, what are you doing here? - he says. He was a new guy at our school and I haven't had much contact with him to that point, but I recognized him. I'm here playing Counter-Strike, how about you? - I said, and he went on to explain how his cousin is running the café and he also plays CS. Not only that, but I also found out he lives only a few hundred meters away from where I do, and after a few afternoons we became BFFs; Marsu say hi! :D

When I asked him if I was allowed to post this picture he told me to go fuck myself, so that's a yes!

How my nickname came to be, Part I

For those who didn't know (how dare you!?) my name is Daniel, and those first evenings gaming in that café I just played as Dani, but all the other kids had those cool nicknames so I also needed one. At home I had a Metal Hammer magazine that I got out of curiosity and on the front page there was a band called Annihilator. To this day I've never listened to them, but that name caught my attention because, if I only added a D in front of that name, it would spell my first name at the beginning. Dannihilator would become my first gaming nickname.

We spend so many hours in that Café, and thanks to being a friend of the owners cousin, most of the time we played for free or just a tiny fraction of what we would've paid. A good example was once, after playing for around 5 hours (2.75€ would have cost 27€ for us both) his cousin said he needed to buy cigarettes and he was short of change, and we gave him 2€ and everything was fine. He went as far as closing the café each Friday afternoon (!) so we all could play in a private tournament. Amazing. One time we invited a guy we knew (we called him Moo because he once wore a t-shirt with a cow that said moo) and his brother to come with us on Friday for a tournament. When he said that he never went and didn't have an account, Marsu told him that no worries were to be had, because he could use an "Invited" (guest) account. After playing for around 6h they were about to leave and Marsus cousin stopped them, because they didn't pay, and they said they thought they were invited as in "for free" and we ended up having to pay for them... fucking Moo!

How my nickname came to be, Part II

Two of my class mates had though out a way to give themselves acronyms as something like a three letter signature. They were both football fans so Rafael made it to be Rafa Del Madrid (Real Madrid FC) or RDM, and the other one chose to be Miguel Del Barça (Barcelona FC) or MDB. I was never really a fan of football but I also wanted a such an acronym and being that I was already using Dannihilator as my nickname I used that; DanniHilatoR became DHR.

It wasn't until a year or two after that summer where we got our first own computer. My father thought it was time for my sister and I to get a better tool to study, work, and for using the internet. Of course I was pumped and even went as far as, with the help of the local computer store, setting up the computer and peripherals to my likings.The highlight of the system was, before TFTs became mainstream, a 19" 16:9 CRT Monitor from Samsung, probably one of the last CRT wide screens ever to be manufactured. First I installed it on the big desk I had in my room but I wasn't allowed to use it, which is like putting candy in front of a child and prohibit him eating it. One day I had the amazing idea of setting my alarm to around 2 AM in order to play for a little bit while my mother was asleep, the only problem was that I had a glass window in my bedroom door, so I covered it with my blanket, without realizing that if the hallway leading to my room was pitch black you would still see the lights being on. As you can imagine that didn't go all to well for me, considering that I also didn't take into account that she always stood up to pee in the middle of the night. She caught me, so I had to move the PC to the living room and put it on a tiny little table where you couldn't even fit your legs under.


How my nickname came to be, Part III

In summer 2005 I went to a trip to Canada with my father for 6 weeks, cruising around with our rented RV. That was by the way the first place I ever got to play Counter Strike Source, I made my dad let me play for an hour in one of the cafés in Banff that had it. One of the things I took with me for that trip was a gaming magazine that reviewed Battlefield 2, and I was excited for that game as much as I was for playing CS:S when I got home. At this point I gotta say that I enjoyed that trip immensely and I wasn't just focused at games; I loved hiking, barbecuing, the mountains and the amazing time with my father, whom I never had much time to spend with since he stayed in Switzerland. But of course as soon as I got back home I took my savings to the store and got myself a copy of Battlefield 2. When I went on to sign up I noticed my nickname DHR was already taken, so I had to improvise; DHRx000. Don't ask me why or how, but I managed to screw up something with the game and had to reinstall it, and I forgot my nickname so I created a new one, thinking for sure it was like last time. Well, uhm, there it was: DHR_000x

To this point I was pretty much hooked to shooters and gaming in general, I also have to admit that I played World of Warcraft for quite some time but I'm not going to go into details on that, not that it is bad at all to play that game, but it was kind of a boring time in my past as a gamer. On the side I kept playing CS:S and specially Half-Life Deathmatch, where I co-founded the E=MC² Clan with people joining from all over Europe. I created many maps on the Source Engine as well, for both CS:S and HL2DM and still have all those awesome guys in my Steam friends list. I would soon have my 18th birthday and would leave Spain to come back to Switzerland and start studying and, of course, the first thing I did was take all of my savings and get a computer of my own, one that could run Crysis! Man I still remember when I first booted up that game, that maniacal laugh when seeing those amazing graphics, that felt like leaping 10 years into the future of gaming.


Since then I've played so many games, owning over 300 physical and digital copies combined, made friendships that will hopefully last for a lifetime (KingB00 and Stealthkilla say hi as well!), build my own computers and used the same Microsoft SideWinder X6 keyboard for 8 years now. Created maps for different games, made stuff in Photoshop and even some not to shabby video editing. Managed clans in two games, HL2DM and OGame, created and administrated two different forums and now own the content of this blog. This blog means a ton for me, I am able to write down all the gaming related things that go through my mind and share them with people around the world who share my interests. Thank you guys for reading I'll maybe see you on the battlefield!

Cheers

DHR_000x


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