I wish I could say that my initial foray into video games started with a wonderfully iconic game like Super Mario Brothers or Contra. Unfortunately, early in my youth, my family lacked a Nintendo Entertainment System. Yet, what we may have lacked in home consoles, my father made up for with personal computer equipment. We had a Gateway 2000, complete with a DOS Tree and Windows 3.1 set-up. Even better, we had a lush environment of software packages. There was no expense spared with our dot-matrix printer or 8 MB of onboard RAM.
My father adored the computer, more than I can probably ever realize. His love of his heavy-duty PC translated directly to the kinds of programs he bought – including games. I remember watching my father anxiously clicking away, consulting manuals, or staring indifferently at the screen while trying to figure out riddles. The game that really stuck in my head as a child was Conquests of Camelot: The Search for the Grail
. Maybe it was the donkey, or the VGA color, but I craved to play the game. One on fateful day my father actually let me.
Conquests of Camelot
was part of a dying breed. It required the keyboard for its text-parsing interface, but also allowed players to utilize the mouse to move, inquire, and just generally do things more precisely. It was a religious experience for me, but one that I would have to go back to later to complete. Conquests of Camelot
was a fairly unforgiving game in terms of its progression. Very early in the game Arthur is forced to adventure across England to Glastonbury Tor. After meeting with a cursed hag, killing a wild boar, fighting a Black Knight and saving Gawaine from near-death, Arthur is stopped by a set of riddling rocks.
Questions like this to an 8-year-old are the reason why I was not able to complete the game:
"To unravel me you need a simple key, no key that was made by locksmith's hand, but a key that only I will understand. What am I?”
My father refused to help me with the mess, and always stopped my advances to call the 1-900 Sierra Help line. Thankfully, there was a respite on hand, one that rekindled my desire to continue playing video games and opened my eyes to the RPG genre. It was wonderful game that spawned a series came to my attention as I scrolled through the endless titles available in the Tree. It was Hero’s Quest I: So Do You Want to Be a Hero
It was an innovator of the action/adventure genre, combining RPG elements and rich, but palpable story-telling elements. The game took place in the magical barony of Spielburg, which was a place that seriously needed a hero. Hero’s Quest
was a quirky affair, filled to the brim with satire that floated over my head. Upon booting up the game, players had the opportunity to pick one of three archetypal classes; Fighter, Thief, and Mage. Each class had the potential to solve each riddle in the game differently, which provided a wealth of replayability and splendor.
I loved how easy it was to dig into the game. Signing adventure logs, and typing “Ask about Baba Yaga” were excellent tasks for one so immature. The physicality and statistic garnering was the real selling point for me. I happily typed “Climb tree” or “throw rock” for hours on end, while steadily watching the statistics rise. Fighting in the game was not as tiring as it was in Conquest of Camelot, and created an almost euphoric experience. The combination of stat gathering and simplicity of the over-the-shoulder block, parry, and stab routine was, again, perfect for me at the time.
The greatest accomplishment came from actually completing the game, which at that point my father informed me that he had the sequel to it. I had missed it because of a title change as the result of a lawsuit. Quest for Glory 2: Trial by Fire
was a perfect continuation of its predecessor, and even allowed players to import their characters. I remember the first time I booted up the game and realized just how difficult the experience would become.
Trial by Fire
had an overzealous mapping interface. In the effort to make the game seem massive and sprawling a veritable maze of hallways and doors was created to get to each unique area of the land of Shapeir. Worse, the outside environment was a collection of endless “skareens,” created to disorient and give the impression of scale. Needless to say, my Trial by Fire experience was scant. While I managed to beat the game, there was not a sense of exclamation. I remember seeing how many points that I had gotten out of the total amount that could be gained and being disappointed. I played the game sloppily and missed out on the majority of elements that I would go back and find as a young adult.
But there were more saving graces on the Gateway 2000. The Curse of Monkey Island: LeChuck’s Revenge
, Conquests of Longbow
, Maniac Mansion
, King’s Quest
I-VI, Leisure Suit Larry
, and even a few Space Quest
titles were available. I dabbled in all of them, and grew fond of a few.
My family eventually did get a NES, but I only tooled around with it for a bit. I never created that bond with Mario, nor was I able to regain my love of the RPG genre until the Christmas that I received a Super Nintendo Entertainment System, which rewrote all the rules again. Games like Earthbound
, Tecmo Secret of the Stars
, Illusion of Gaia
, Secret of Evermore
, and the Breath of Fire
series defined my love for the RPG and propelled my hand in future purchases. All these games defined my further experience of the video game medium, and broadened my horizons with the infinite amount of accessibility that consoles seem to possess.
Yet, I still remember Conquest of Camelot
and Hero’s Quest
. Those were the real games that created my affair with the medium. Without those two titles I would not write about games, play games, or probably even understand what all the hype is about. In a sense, they compose the essence of my being a gamer. They are my history and lore, my wonderment and fixation.
(By the way, the answer is "riddle")