Industry giants talk about the games and systems that inspired them
Everyone has the story of how they got into video games, and we all remember the first game or system that made us fall in love with the art form. At E3 I spoke to a variety of people about the game or hardware that made them truly fall in love with video games, and what follows is an amazing variety of stories about the history of video games and how some of the people who make our favorite games got to where they are now. People told me these stories with the same slightly wistful tone normally reserved for beautiful ex-girlfriends or boyfriends. So how did you get here? What game or system made you fall in love?
Mark Lamia, studio head of Treyarch
I grew up with every video game system. I literally had the Magnavox Odyssey. I want to say it's the Atari 2600, but it was probably the PC. The depth of the games on the PC, even strategy games like Chris Crawford's Balance of Power, were so incredibly addictive. The fact that you could do the diplomacy. Games like Civilization, and the first Mechwarrior had a huge impact on me. Being able to customize your Mech before taking it out on a mission. I remember the impact that Mechwarrior had and storytelling, really getting into the characters. The late 80s and early 90s there were these games that were so deep and complex for me. These games that you spent so much time playing, and you start thinking about the art form and what you can do with it.
Bruce Straley, director of The Last of Us
I’m a child of the 70s. There was these woods where the stoners and the teenagers went to before I was of age, and I thought that was the coolest thing ever. Then a construction crew came in, ripped down the woods, and built a 7-11. I was so angry for so long, until I found out they had an arcade. When Karate Champ, and Track and Field, and Donkey Kong Jr. showed up in the side… remember how they had those side rooms? You had the candy aisle, and you had the side room arcade with one or two games. It was on. That was the beginning of the end. I don’t know how much many I spent in that room, that was the greatest thing ever. So yeah, child of the arcade.
Rasmus Hoejengaard, the director of creative development at Crytek
I started playing on the Commodore 64 when I was a little kid, I started making music on it. The thing that really got me hooked on games was the Amiga 500, and that became the Amiga 3000, and it kind of trickled on from there. I was always interested in games, and about 17 years ago I made the decision to make a career out of it. But that’s how it started.
Garth DeAngelis, lead producer of X-Com: Enemy Unknown
Final Fantasy Tactics pops in my head. I played that when I was 14, and it was the first game to make me play hooky from school. I had never played hooky from school before. I told my parents I was sick so I could play this game all day. I fell in love with that tactical depth, and the investment that I had in those units, and building them up, and I could change classes. The story was amazing, even though the localization was terrible. I fell in love with that game, and it started my love affair was strategy gaming as a whole, and that’s what led me to Firaxis.
Dan Sochan, producer of Sleeping Dogs
Zelda. On the NES. Hands down. There were definitely many games, I was playing a lot on the Commodore 64, Law of the West was a huge inspiration for me. That was the earliest game where there was branching dialog and there was kind of action, it wasn’t just text-based. [One] of the Atari games I loved was KeyStone Capers. But Zelda was the first game that blew me away with its depth. I bombed every square inch of that game to find the hidden caves. The exploration there and replayability and being able to upgrade my character, and my health would continue to increase, the sense of reward when I got that heart and held it up to the sky. I teach at Vancouver Film School as well on Game Design, and I always go back to that and Mario. They do a great job with very basic graphics to make the player feel empowered. I’ll still go back and play Zelda, and I love the graphics and the sound effects, everything. Spectacular.
Quinn Duffy, game director of Company of Heroes 2
There are a number of moments. I wouldn’t say it was a particular game or system, it was the experience of playing games with my friends. I’m old enough to have played games on Vic 20s and Commodore 64s, everyone will talk about how old school they are. For me it was sitting down and playing with my friends. We would design these kind of co-op experiences for ourselves, I remember playing Wing Commander and one of us would pilot the ship and one of us would manage the shield. That’s the kind of communal experience I love. What made me fall in love with the genre, or the art form as you say, was when I saw Homeworld for the first time and I came to apply at Relic and I saw that game in action and I haven’t seen anything like it, and I haven’t seen anything like it since. That first feeling of awe rekindled all the love for gaming. I could see where you could potentially take gaming, and I don’t think we’re there yet. I think we have years to go yet. Watching the camera move around that mothership? Staggering. Just staggering.
Ron Rosenberg, lead producer of Tomb Raider
I started out gaming with Pong, and I remember my dad bringing Pong home and it blew my mind as a kid. You could turn it on and something happens on your TV. From then on I was hooked.” Part of the reason I’m with Crystal was Tomb Raider, I have memories in college with my now-wife and Tomb Raider was the only game she would play with. Both of us were little bit socially inept geeks, and we bonded over that experience. It was the classic thing where she solved the puzzles and I did the combat. That’s special for me.
Darrel Gallagher, head of Crystal Dynamics
In Europe it was called the Binatone, it was a system in the seventies, you could play Pong, there was a light gun on it, and racketball and also soccer, I think. That was one of my earliest memories, I had been in love with games since I was very small. One of my fondest memories was playing a system called Acorn Electron, which was a classic in Europe. It was like a cheaper, red-headed stepchild of the BBC Micro, so it had a little less RAM and a little less CPU and was a little cheaper. I had wanted a gaming system for years, and I convinced my dad it was good for my education. He said he didn’t want to buy me video games, but I said this was sensible, it was basically my first PC. It was my ploy to get a gaming system, which was a semi-sensible learning tool that also played games. I have many fond memories of playing games on that on my black and white TV that was ten inches. The other one is probably, I started working in the very early days of PlayStation. I joined Sony right as the PlayStation came out, or just after. I remember seeing the PlayStation for the first time and I went over a to friend’s house, they were room mates, and they both had 32-inch widescreen TVs. It blew. My. Mind. I was like, how is that even possible? A 32-inch TV? Oh my God I wish I could be that rich. They had a system link on the original WipeOut, and said I had to come over and play. I walked in, and it literally blew my mind. The music, the visuals, going to 3D for the first time, it was the sort of thing where the whole experience playing next to someone on the couch with the system link. It was like a whole realm of my mind was opened up in a way that couldn’t be put back.
Paul Reiche, CEO of Toys for Bob (Star Control, Skylanders)
It was the HP 2000. It was a teletype-based system. I started programming computers back in 1971, Lawrence Hall of Science is this awesome museum in the hills of Berkley that Mark Cerny of Marble Madness fame. He started there as well. I went to junior high school with him and his brother, so I know how smart they are. They kicked my ass, every. Single. Day. So Lawrence Hall had, downstairs, an HP 2000 which has 12 teletypes I believe, set up. Then it had games like Trek, Hunt the Wumpus and Star Trader. Playing those games and the drama, how do I explain this to people, you have this yellow paper and you type it in, clink clink clink and then you hit Enter, and then you wait. You say okay, what’s going to happen? And then yes! Photon Torpedo blew up! I was so excited. I still have those rolls of yellow paper. To this day those are kind of the fossilized memories of those great experiences. You really had to invest your own imagination into it. So, to me. That was step 1. Step 2 was Archon, which I had the good fortune to make. I had worked with TSR Hobbies on Dungeons & Dragons, that was another of my passions, and I had the fortune to work with Jon Freeman and Anne Westfall. And we said to ourselves, can we do this sort of monster chess hybrid, strategy and action? And then we finished it, and I played it, and said wow, this is really fun. And you’ll see in many of the games through But I think Dan Bunten's, later Dani Berry, her M.U.L.E. was the first game I didn’t think was possible. To this day I still play that game. She was one of the great game developers of all time, and I miss her tremendously. A very courageous person.
Warren Spector (Wing Commander, Deus Ex, Epic Mickey)
I’ve been doing this for so damn long. It’s like three or four. I played Pong, I met Nolan Bushnell last night and had my picture taken with him. That game stole a ton of quarters, I was a teenager when it came out, so that I was huge. Dungeons & Dragons, I played a lot of that, table-top Dungeons & Dragons game, that changed my life. I remember so vividly playing Star Raiders on the Atari 2600, that was the first game I ever played where I said that’s not me watching something, that’s me saving the world. I’m in another world. And then Ultima IV, which taught me games could be about more than just killing monsters. If you made me pick one of those I’d go with Star Raiders, I went to a party one night, and everyone was standing around a 25-inch television, which was the biggest television any of us had at that point, all of my adult friends were staring, their faces lit by the phosphor dots. Bruce Sterling, the science fiction writer was a friend of mine, he was my first Game Master, and his wife was sitting there playing Star Raiders and [we] were all rapt, we could not tear ourselves from the screen. It was transportive in that way.