I have two passions: music and computers/videogames/technology, or as I like to condense it, being a nerd.
Passions have always been interesting to me. I've of the opinion that the majority of people have a passion, it's just a matter of finding it. What always keeps me up at night, though, is when I wonder why people are passionate about things. What switches have to be pulled in someones head to make them devote years of their life to something? And why am I passionate about music instead of, say, professional cup stacking? Passions are abstract; they can change, and sometimes new ones can come out of seemingly nowhere, as I've come to know.
I grew up a nerd.
My father was a businessman; more specifically the C.O.O (chief executive officer) of a successful traveler's insurance company. He was one of a few people who essentially helped run the company, a company where computers and technology were integral, so he'd always have the latest technology to bring home for work. Laptops, Blackberries, Smartbooks, all were brought home so he could work, and, by extension, so I could fiddle around with them, building my budding affinity for computers. One day, though, he brought home something different.
The first thing he told me about Myst was that "It's hard, I couldn't figure it out myself!", immediately giving the game an air of something different, something on an entirely different level. At that point, I had been playing videogames for only about a year or so, just as something to do between playing with Legos and reading constantly. Just by looking on the CD case I could tell it was something else.
When I first played it, I felt exactly like the game had wanted me to feel: Like I had just fallen into the pages of some surreal fantasy novel, with no idea as to where I was or what anything did. The game had no manual or instructions, so I dived into the opening book at the intro with no idea what to expect. At first I'd just walk around the small island, exploring, sometimes pressing one or two buttons to see what would happen. As I played longer, I found men trapped in books, gazed at stars indoors on a sunny day, and operated an elevator made out of a tree. It was an amazing experience, especially considering I was only about 7 or 8 years old.
As the years went on, I played videogames more and more, sometimes on the PC, but much more often on my N64. Mario 64, Glover, and Star Fox 64 took up my time. I had few friends, but the ones I did have were all because we both liked the same Nintendo or Playstation game. I moved to Virginia in 2001, and met my best friend, Brian, who of course loved videogames as well. Through him I got into the second game that fueled my passion, and introduced me to real multiplayer.
Almost 10 years later, Brian said that the moment he saw Age of Empires on the clearance rack at Officemax, he knew that was the game for him. Me and Brian both loved the game to death. He had an affinity for Roman and Greek ancient history and culture, which rubbed off on me. Adding to this, his dad works as a network security consultant, so we always had at least 3 or 4 old computers lying around for us to play multiplayer on. Setting up LAN between him, me, his sister and his brother taught us the basics of networking and multiplayer LAN games (a tradition we still love.) From AoE we went to AoE 2, that I had bought, to Empire Earth for a while, to Battlefield 1942.
Battlefield was our first competitive PC shooter. I had gotten it first, and after playing online and joining a clan, Brian finally got it and we started playing in co-op LANs with CPU players. The versatility of the game was and is amazing. In one round we'd go from snipers, to fighter pilots, to grunts, to anti-tank, all within a 25 minute game. One of us would go recon and spot out targets for the other manning an artillery gun miles away. We played it for a good two or so years, then downloaded Desert Combat to tide us over until BF2, which expanded the game a lot for us, and gave us our roles: In anything with two seats, he was the pilot, I was the gunner. In the Apache, we were unbeatable.
Battlefield 2 was another paradigm shift for both of us. We had downloaded the demo a few months before it released, and found that multiplayer was a lot more involved than just a server list. There were squads, more vehicles, teamwork, all that. Gameplay was intense, but so were the graphics. The jump from 1942 to BF2 graphically was big, and because the graphics were getting better, we naturally started gravitating towards PC hardware; graphics cards, RAM, CPUs, overclocking, all that. His dad's tendency to have closets full of old computer hardware spurred us along even more.
Me and Brian both were hugely into computers by the time we started high school; in fact we both went to a technology specialty center so we could turn our love into a career, preferably one in IT or networking. I only went there for a year before switching schools due to various circumstances, but me and Brian kept gaming like we always did. The beginning of my Sophomore year of high school was when I found my second passion.
I had always been a music fan to some degree, but my career choice was always to work with computers though, maybe be on a game development team. Music was much more an amusement than a passion. But after I switched schools my original aspirations began to shift; my dream of working with computers became less likely to happen. I switched to a closer school, one without the technology specialty center, and started listening to a lot more music than usual, finding acts like At The Drive-In, Sonic Youth, and The Fall of Troy. These bands made amazing sounds I had never heard before, and had energy like I had never seen. I had already been playing guitar for about 2 years and knew that I loved it, but just like Myst, I knw that this was a new level.
My passion for music grew as time went on. I started writing my own music. I met friends with similar music tastes. Learnt guitar more and more and loved it more every single day. Computers were amazing, but guitar...guitar was this abstract and amazing thing. Being able to nail every single note of a song was and is the greatest thing in the world to me. I had switched classes; from nerd to musician. For the next year and a half I pushed gaming to the side and lived music. The technology side of things, however, would show up again.
I met my bandmate and friend Sam when I was at the tech center with Brian. I got him hooked on The Mars Volta and At The Drive-In, and we eventually started making our own music. Because we were both nerds, we became obsessed with music gear. Mixers, effects pedals, recording gear, computer interfaces, DAWs, samplers, synthesizers, drum machines, amps, guitar, you name it, we loved it. Genre didn't matter, we loved all gear, and we owe our obsession to us both loving computers and technology.
It's only recently that I've noticed how much I owe to being a nerd. I wouldn't love gear as much had I not gotten obsessed with computer hardware thanks to Battlefield 2 and I would'nt have an established notion of how music can make people feel like the soundtrack to Age of Empires did and still does make me feel. It may be sacrilegious to lump gaming/technology/computers into one term, but to me they all mean the same thing. Being a nerd to me means being a part of a community that loves something that everyone else may think is "uncool", it means loving the more technical, "smarter" things in life; programming, computing, gaming, you name it.
My dream is to make and play music as long as am physically able to, preferably my whole life. That's what I'm going to school for, that's what I love doing. But no matter what I do in pursuit of my passion, there will always be a part of me, in the back of my mind, that wants to learn IT or networking, or be on a game development team. There'll always be a part of me that's passionate about computers and videogames.
In short, no matter what I do, I'll always be a nerd.
STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl was a game I admittedly went completely apeshit over in the 500,000 years leading up to it's release; this obsession included devouring every single bit of information including but not limited to downloading the hard-to-find Russian language multiplayer beta just to run around and shoot at nothing in empty servers.
And it was fucking awesome.*
Shortly thereafter, the game itself came out, I played it through within the course of maybe 3 or so weeks, and overall I was fairly sort of overall mostly happy about it. My second playthrough was the one that started de-tinting the rose-coloured eye lenses on my gas mask.
One of the first things I noticed about the game, even during my first playthrough, is that it had/has a very weird definition of "Open-world". GSC says open world and in my (maybe 15 or 16 year old) mind, I was expecting essentially an Oblivion-style world that you'd enjoy exploring as much as you'd enjoy actually playing the game. Instead the game was what I can only describe as a "big hallway in Ukraine."
It definitely had an open-world flavor, but it was far from what it tasted like. (A yuk-yuk-yuk.)
Also, the graphics. Graphics have never been a make-or-break deal in terms of games for me, but the game honestly looked like it belonged in early 2004 rather than 2007. Along with that, the long text-dialogues felt cheap; I'd rather they have made at least some exchanges have accompanying voice acting, even if it was in the mother tongue of the people. On the subject of combat, you could empty a round into a lightly-armored thief and he'd still be able to call his friends, kill you, play his guitar, and translate the Iliad in the time you were reloading. Mods were the games godsend, but I still felt dissapointed.
And then they took away the blowouts.
Essentially: hurricane + radiation + in fucking Chernobyl, these would've been awesome had they been put in the game. Not only was the concept in itself amazing, the idea of having to stop and hunker down in a house while the world went to hell outside sounded epic. Unfortunately, they were nowhere to be seen.
THIS COULD'VE BEEN A REALITY DAMMIT.
Alright, on to the good bits.
To start, the overall concept and atmosphere of the game are amazing. You'll hear what could be either a dog or one of your fellow Stalkers having their blood sucked from their throats by a cross between a bullsquid and something out of my fucking nightmares. The labs were even worse; my flashlight was more like a LED keychain in comparison to the all-encompassing darkness. The screams of mutants every 4 minutes or so didn't help. I don't play horror games, but STALKER's definitely one of the scarier games I've played if not because of just sheer atmosphere.
This coined the scientific phrase "Fuck that."
The game's unique sense of horror is also to be commended, instead of ghosts and goblins, the monsters in STALKER were all essentially man-made. The games tagline is "Man-made hell", which I love. The idea that a place like Chernobyl can be so terrifying it warrents the idea that it's something completely outside of humanity, when in actuality it all stemmed from a horribly failed experiment is an awesome concept, along with the concept of being a scavenger, survivor and mercenary in this man-made hell.
To me, STALKER is the perfect example of seriously under-appreciated and ill-used potential. I still can't nail it down to weather it's "good or bad", but either way, I seriously respect it's ability to create an atmosphere that's completely original.
* I don't know a lick of Russian, so it was as fun as expected. So it wasn't.