Shepherds Bush, London, under a decade ago. I was standing around in frustration at my recent efforts to accomplish what I thought would be an ideal; my attempt to progress at an Unreal Tournament 2003
World Cyber Games qualifier came to an abrupt halt at the first hurdle (came fifth in a group where three move to the next round), then found myself out of my league in the FIFA
qualifiers (I’m good enough to beat my friend many times, but not good enough to score a single goal
against the pros).
After uttering a list of expletives (which only happens when something I really really really
want to achieve goes begging), I returned to looking around the building at the various games to play. Whilst this was the first in several stepping stones towards convincing myself that I wasn’t cut out at all for pro-gaming in the minor leagues, I never really lost the love for competition and winning things. Ever since I won a large piece of McDonalds merchandise answering a question in a newspaper, I was bitten by the bug. Several videogame competitions were won, for decent games too.
I never won a games console before though. That was to change the moment I headed upstairs for another look at the Xbox stand.
Earlier on, I had a look at the newest console on the block. Microsoft had been largely ridiculed by gamers and critics up and down the videogaming world for its Xbox. They were thinking how it had the power of a mid-range PC, with a control pad that could barely fit into the hands of those holding it. And they all had experienced enough grief from their operating systems, so goodness knows how functional their console will be. A few months into its release, the laughing stopped. It had the games and the balls to back up Microsoft’s claims, and by the time I was at the WCG event, Halo: Combat Evolved
had been on the shelves for about a year.
I’d be lying if I didn’t want an Xbox. The Battlenet LAN centre I attended had one set up, with the newest Dead or Alive
, Burnout 2
, Steel Battlion
and Project Gotham Racing
amongst the games it had available in the first couple of years. They were great fun, and not only that, the LAN centre could link the consoles up to Xbox Live. I was hearing and witnessing great stuff. On top of that, IGUK were presenting competitions (yay!) with the chance to win copies of Xbox games and other prizes by getting the various LAN centre all-comers to set times, scores, etc. This, in retrospect, was an awesome way of advertising Microsoft’s machine.
I played two games, Burnout 2
and Midtown Madness 3
, thoroughly because the opportunity to win something was there. I got a copy of Burnout 2 for setting one of the fastest times, but the chance of putting my skills to a Midtown
challenge was thwarted by cancellation. Oh well. It wasn’t like it was as fun as Burnout
anyway. And Burnout
had no annoying female characters bitching about you and your driving. And less visible bugs.
At the London event, I gazed at the booths holding the new Top Spin
, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer
and any other new game the Xbox team could show. I also spotted Midtown Madness 3
there, so I moved on to another booth to play something I hadn’t already put my hands on.
The next time I visit the area, I see flyers about with information of a competition on the four Xbox consoles situated in the middle of the floor. The prizes on offer; one Xbox console with game and remote for the winner, one console and game for the runner-up. The game this challenge will be set; Midtown Madness 3
All of a sudden, I realised that this was my opportunity. All those hours spent in Norwich, throwing vehicles around virtual representations of Paris and Washington D.C. How many of the people around me had the same amount of, if not more, experience than I did on the game? I signed up, and returned to the floor when the time came.
There were several groups of four players, so I had the good fortune to analyse what would go on in each of the races. The first was a normal sprint to the finish line in…buses. Yes, buses. Naturally, the organisers were going to have fun watching us manoeuvre the things around a city course that wasn’t built for racing them. Looking on, I noticed one particular corner catching out the drivers playing over the linked-up consoles. A sharp bend close to the final straight had participants stuck to the edge and each other, desperately trying to haul their metal public transport machines away from the trap. I made a mental note of that potential slip-up point.
My opportunity had come, and I made the most of it. I was doing well, and I was in second place. It would guarantee me passage for the next round, and I was some distance away from third position. I came up towards the corner of peril and…I’m stuck. OH BUGGER, I’M STUCK. Third place catches up to me, and in its attempt to navigate around me, becomes stuck as well. As soon as this happens, my big metal block comes unstuck from the concrete and powers away. I knew I had lost most of my advantage and all that separated me from third place was a small amount of stopping distance. It was a drag race down the straight to the finish, and it all hung on acceleration and speed…
…and I made it. Second place, and through to the semis. I was really shouting when I hit the corner and trapped myself. Kinda doubt I would have forgiven myself if I jammed myself out of contention.
The semis moved us to the venerable Mini as the mode of transport, whilst the game type was altered. The game type was ‘Stayaway’, since in order to win, you had to be ‘it’ and keep from making contact with the other drivers for the longest amount of time. Obviously, being ‘it’ was going to be tough; three other drivers wanting the same thing was bound to have awkward periods of bunching, then once I became ‘it’, I’d have to try and make a break with the previous owner plus two others racing after me. One benefit from my amount of time on MM3
was knowledge of getting around Washington D.C. and that was about to be used very wisely.
The game started around the foot of a hill near a park (possibly around Constitution Avenue), and the bunching started. Minis clashed into each other in the hope of getting points, only to have that chance snatched away. When I managed to become ‘it’, I raced away into the park and left them charging after me. I can’t remember the exact details of how distance was formed between me and them, but I think I managed to head in a north-westerly direction, using my memory of how fast to go on each road to force mistakes from those unaccustomed to playing on those routes. In the end, a comfortable win. I gained a lot of confidence from that result, and entered the final. Beat two of three other players and the Xbox was mine!
The final was to ramp up the difficulty and haphazardness to maximum. ‘Capture the Gold’ was a mode I was familiar with. Grab gold located on the map and stash it for points in an allocated area. However, we were now in charge of the fastest vehicle in the game, the Koenigsegg, in icy conditions within the French capital. To take a supercar and try and take corners where the back end of the vehicle could slip out was a tough undertaking, but trying to slow the car down at high speed in a straight line was hard enough. In the game, I was lagging behind two of my three competitors, each having about double the money I had. My only chance to gain the upper hand was to wait in an area of the map that was not only away from the opponents but also would end up spawning somewhere near the area I was situated. Quite risky, since I may not get the gold spawn I needed until late in the game, where someone may be so far ahead, the game is finished.
Suddenly, a yellow icon appeared closest to my vehicle. I made for it, making sure I gingerly turned each corner slowly to make the journey easier on my vehicle, which had gained a fair amount of damage throughout the match. Then, it was a case of heading towards the drop point after collection. Easier said than done, since I not only had to avoid spinning out, but also had three Koenigseggs homing in on me. Although I was taking my route carefully, knowing that a slip-up might let the others catch up or the gold be taken off me, my enemies were throwing caution to the wind and their make-believe supercars into virtual brick walls. They were gaining and they didn’t care how they did it. They didn’t care that wrecking the car would take a long respawn that would remove their momentum, they had the same thing on their minds. The Xbox that I wanted to win.
I was dodging speeding chunks of metal by bare inches, sometimes at shocking velocity. I hauled myself up to first, but the game still had several minutes left on the clock. Then a duel was forced against another racer who took to guarding the drop-off point when I nabbed the gold. I wrecked the car and had to wait moments soaked with nervousness to reappear. Slowly edging away from the pack with the gold that had been accrued, I couldn’t let up or get complacent. The seconds were counting down…3…2…1…
That’s it. I had done it. I released my sweaty palms from the gamepad and…well, I can’t remember what I did straight after that. I accepted the big box the console was in, with the game and remote, and had it put in a bag. I was happy. I met up with the second place guy who also got an Xbox. It was a guy who I knew on the IGUK Unreal Tournament
leagues in a LAN centre in the north of the country. Turns out he also got some practise in for MM3
. We had a chat before we left. Catching the tube back the short distance to Hammersmith, I got back to my hotel I was staying and laid the Xbox down on the floor. I called my mother to tell her what I won. She sounded surprised and glad, especially when I informed her as to how much it would have cost to buy. I hung up and rested in the room.
Looking back, I would have returned a bit despondent if I never tried to win the console, because the expectation of performing in the WCG qualifiers didn’t bear fruit and wouldn’t have had much to replace it. But I should remember that being at a gaming event is a reward in itself. You get to do the things you love. You get a glimpse of the future. And you never know. You might win something.