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An interview with MobyGamer

This 28 year old BBS hacker turned suburban dad knows more about classic PC games than any one person should.

Q&A; with Jim Leonard

Why MobyGamer? Big Melville fan?

"Moby" is an old hacker term meaning "huge", "all-encompassing", or "the big one". Obviously the hacker slang was inspired by Melville, but I wasn't thinking of Moby Dick when I thought of the name, just the slang.

Where do you live?

I'm originally from Winnetka, Illinois but I now reside in Naperville, Illinois. While I lived in Chicago for a stint, having a wife and two kids will eventually move you to suburbia, no matter how much of a gamer you are. :-)

What is it about the suburbs that's so good for a wife and kids?

You know that "only in your dreams, pal" vision you have of the nuclear family, with Tommy and Jane playing in the back yard, with the family dog Spot chasing a ball, the wife making dinner in the kitchen, etc.? Once you get that vision in your head, the only place where it feels right is in the suburbs.

Another good reason to move to the suburbs is to avoid Chicago public schools. (ducking)

Where do you think that suburban vision of yours comes from?

It's what my parents tried to provide for me, so it consequently became what I've always striven for. We're on this little blue marble for only 80 years or so; once you're gone, you're gone. So I wanted to have an ideal family life and contribute something to the world. So far, the only real contributions I've made that are truly important are named Sam and Max.

Besides spawning, what do you do?

I currently work for Check Point, makers of FireWall-1 and other fine internet security products, as an Internet Security Engineer.

How did you become qualified to be an Internet Security Engineer?

How does anyone become qualified to become anything? An equal blend of chance and experience. My previous job was for the now-absorbed-into-CA defunct billion dollar company PLATINUM Technology, and I helped set up and configure firewalls, and other miscellaneous security tasks along with my regular Unix admin duties. When a headhunter came calling asking if I knew someone who could do this and that, etc., I responded, "Yeah--me." So here I am. My job prior to that involved trying to protect bastion hosts (unprotected computers that are directly connected to the internet, not behind a firewall) from attack, and that was always a losing battle, so I got Internet security experience there as well.

Reading between the lines of your question, I can see that you're probably expecting a different answer. Let's just say that my regular moniker "Trixter" wasn't always a demoscene handle, and that I donned that handle in 1986--the same year I got access to a modem. I'll leave it at that.

Trixter - you don't care to share any now-beyond-the-statute-of-limitations tales of the old days with us?

Not if I want to stay out of trouble. But one harmless story I could pass on is the never-ending fun you could have with BBSes. "Hard core" BBS SysOps would usually install a back door in PCBoard and others that would shell out a MODE COM2: CON (or something similar; this is a decade and a half ago) at will which would redirect all console input/output to the serial port driving the modem. This is so you could dial in remotely and, with some limitations, get to your DOS prompt. Think "hacker's PCAnywhere".

But they rarely chose a decent password. So, to have lots of fun, you'd create a dummy account, wait for it to be approved, then wait until 4:00am when the guy was obviously asleep and just hammer at that access point until you guess the password right. If you stuck to all lower-case letters, you could usually get in 5% of the time in about 90 minutes with a brute-force program running on a 2400 baud modem. Once in, go straight to c:\pcboard or c:\wildcat or c:\slight or what have you, and just go to town editing files. This is why edlin, as crappy an editor as it was, was very useful to learn, because it used the standard DOS TTY routines, and was one of the few programs you could run once you were in.

Usually I would attempt to grant myself more download credits or stuff files into my download queue (gotta love Zmodem!), but since these were binary files that were annoying to edit with, I usually just screwed with the message boards instead. I would take messages that were unread by the recipient and insert stuff like "F&*#k you, you g*ddamn motherf&*#ker!. Ah, the joys of teenagers... The next day, I'd watch the carnage from my regular account.

And then the next night I'd play Wizardry or go to a movie. Such is the life of an adolescent.

Tell us your personal gaming history. What machines and games did you grow up with?

My very first computer gaming experience was playing the classic Adventure on an Osborne. For those too young to remember--I'm almost too young to remember myself--the Osborne was a luggable CP/M machine with a tiny monochrome screen. This was in 1980.

However, I didn't start gaming on a semi-regular basis until grade school, using the Apple II, in 1983.

Can you remember any of your favourite Apple II titles?

Unfortunately, I can remember what all of them looked like, but not necessarily what their names are. I can definitely remember Moon Patrol, Star Trek (both Apple II ports of the arcade games), Stellar 7, Transylvania, Mask of the Sun God, Paratrooper, Wizardry, Karateka, and Cannonball Blitz. There were many others, in particular a neat little platform game that had great graphics--you were a little blob that moved and looked quite comical and cartoony--but all I can remember about it is that the name of the programmer was Asian. I could definitely pick it out of a screenshot lineup, though.

Okay, what next?

The heavy gaming *really* began in 1985 on an AT&T; PC 6300 (an 8086-based PC clone running at a blazing 7.16 MHz). And in 1986, I discovered BBSes with a 1200 baud modem. The rest, as they say, is history.

Of course, I had a healthy dose of coin-op arcade games from 1982-1994. I stopped staying current after that; I don't enjoy playing games you simply can't win on a single quarter (it's extortion, I tell you!). For those who are wondering, I officially kick ass at early games Punch Out, Red Baron, Crazy Climber, and Tron. And I can definitely hold my own at Mortal Kombat (even as Sonya).

What games are you playing these days?

I am literally playing anything and everything ever made on the PC at any given time. As editor-in-chief of (plug plug), I fact-check the entries before approving them for the database. That amounts to very diverse gameplay every week, from 1981 to present day.

If you threatened me with a baseball bat, I'd admit that I've been enjoying the guilty pleasures of Half-Life, Unreal, Unreal Tournament, and Star Wars Episode I: Racer. And my wife and I like to play You Don't Know Jack when the kids are in bed.

What's so guilty about Half-Life, Unreal Tournament and Star Wars Racer?

In my writing and projects, I usually try to educate people on how older games don't suck simply because they're old. Many had innovative gameplay because they had to; they didn't have elaborate sound or fancy eye candy to fall back on. Adventures that took weeks to solve (or never ended, like Darklands), multiple intricate subplots, vast galaxies to explore (Captain Blood, Starflight), etc. were some of the great qualities of older games.

Unreal Tournament and Half-Life are guilty pleasures for me because they have none of these elements. What they do have is very tasty eye candy. And, when the wife and kids are in bed, I fire them up just because they look pretty and I get to run around real fast and shoot things with big guns.

Why Unreal Tournament and not Quake 3?

I guess I'm just a UT person--UT has more of an oldskool flavor. It also has the feeling that a ton of thought was put into users--the interface, the ease of joining an online game, the extensive options you can tweak, the mutators... and the online gaming is quite compatible with firewalls :-). I also have modest hardware (a Pentium Pro 200 with regular NVidia TNT PCI), and Unreal Tournament works acceptably on my machine, whereas Quake 3 does not. If Quake 3 had options to dial down the features to make it run acceptably (or better yet, an auto-detail "minimum framerate" option), then I might feel differently. It may have this, but I didn't see it obviously placed in the Q3 demo.

What are your all-time favorite games?

There have to be at least 50 games I could mention, but Wasteland would probably have to be in the top five. The existence and application of skills was the single most innovative RPG development at that time, and I'm surprised to see that most modern RPGs are only starting to pick up on that.

I've also been a fan of Cinemaware games, because they tried to raise the bar of gaming experiences. Sometimes they succeeded, sometimes they failed; but the results were always interesting. Out of all the PC conversions, Rocket Ranger was the best Cinemaware game in terms of the overall strategy/action blend. (Sinbad was the worst.)

Cinemaware - how did they try to raise gameplay? What happened to them?

Cinemaware was a collection of programmers and designers under the umbrella of Robert and Phyllis Jacob. Robert wanted to raise the level of computer games into interactive entertainment -- similar to the almost universally-hated "Interactive Movie" genre of games today. However, his vision was slightly different: he wanted to take the best types of movie experiences and convert them to home computer games. The graphics were full-screen, lavish, and detailed; the music was epic. All this on a regular machine, years before 256-color graphics modes (most NTSC Amiga games were 320x240x32 colors) and long before CDROM, so everything was pixeled by hand under the extremely talented James D. Sachs. He also supervised the PC CGA graphical conversions, so the PC ports had some of the best CGA graphics of any game to date.

The storylines themselves were inspired directly from established movie genres. In fact, many of the genres they borrowed were classic 1930s-style pictures, which made for an interesting blend of styles ("playing" a classic "movie" on the computer). Take, for example, some of titles they produced for the PC (and even more for Amiga):

  • 1930s classic genres:

  • Defender of the Crown: Robin Hood-style swashbuckler

  • The King of Chicago: Gangster picture

  • The Three Stooges: Obvious :-)

  • Rocket Ranger: Flash Gordon-style movie serial

    They were experiments that worked, and there was nothing anywhere near them when they came out. Unfortunately, a series of bad decisions and lost moral within the company caused it to fold in the early 1990s. There is a website at, but it doesn't do anything and I'm unfamiliar with who it's registered to.

  • So other favourite games?

    Twist my arm some more, and I might tell you that MS-DOS version of Hack (*not* Nethack) and I have spend hundreds of hours together. And I only finished it for the first time last year--after nearly 14 years!

    Finally, under influence of mind-altering drugs, I might crack and admit that I really liked Tass Times in Tonetown. The whole thing was just so new-wave punker that it struck a chord with me. No idea why.

    I'd like to twist your arm and feed you mind-altering drugs - tell us about some more of your favourite PC classic games!

    Oh geez; do you really want to get me started? :-) Other than the ones I've already mentioned, let's see what my brain can spit out in no particular order:

    Thexder, for having arcade gameplay on modest hardware. Silpheed, for also the same reason and being an all-around good early shooter. Stunt Track Racer, for not only having addictive gameplay, but also for being a 3-D 1st-person racing game that ran impossibly smooth on a 4.77MHz PC. Wibarm, for trying to blend Thexder and console RPGs into a single game. Cinemaware games Defender of the Crown, The Three Stooges, S.D.I, and The King of Chicago, for having some of the best CGA graphics I'd ever seen in a PC game. The original Wizardry, for making dungeon crawling so dang addicting. Most Infocom games, for pouring their heart and soul into an immersive experience of interactive fiction; A Mind Forever Voyaging and the Sorcerer/Spellbreaker/Enchanter series come to mind. Pinball Construction Set, for being one of the first intrinsically cool things to just play with. Digger, for being the best blend of Dig Dug and Mr. Do!. Zyll, for being the first--and only--real-time dual-player role-playing interactive fiction text adventure game. (I'm not kidding--look it up on MobyGames if you don't believe me.)

    And if I can venture into the 1990s, I'd have to name Wing Commander, for providing a cinematic experience on a 386-16, and Out Of This World, for the same reason. Both of them were the technical and design innovation leaders of their time. I'd also have to mention some other innovation leaders, like: Under A Killing Moon, for producing clever-looking 3-D environments you could navigate in realtime (they rendered the light sources and shadows into the textures, and concentrated on writing a fast non-shaded/non-lightsourced texture mapping engine); Sherlock Holmes, for reproducing decent multimedia video requiring only a single-speed drive and an 80286; Mean Streets, which had rudimentary "multimedia" on any PC.

    Like I said, don't get me started. :)

    I'll tell you what early PC games I did not like:

    Most Sierra games--you either love them or hate them, and they just rubbed me the wrong way; I felt the interface was too clunky. Some Infocom titles (Hitchhiker's Guide comes to mind) were just ridiculously hard in some places and sometimes required purchasing the Invisiclues hint book to get past a section. And, of course, any commercial game that turned out to be written in BASIC (many early SSI strategic games), since they only worked correctly on a true-blue IBM PC or PCjr.

    How can people get access to old PC games?

    There are legal and illegal ways to do this. Inevitably, the easiest way to get your hands on old PC games is the illegal way. There's a long debate as to whether or not it's legal to copy old games if they're over 5 years old, but take it from me and several lawyers: It's illegal. (disclaimer) So don't do it under punishment of incarceration. I will not be held liable for any trouble you get into. (/disclaimer) I'm writing a feature article to appear on MobyGames that will explain Abandonware in a nutshell and present both sides of the argument, so you can look for that in a month or two. A lawyer friend is reviewing it right now, actually.

    Legally: People can visit their local Cyber Exchange and pick some up, although Cyber Exchange is starting to drop DOS games from their inventory. There are sometimes local shops that buy and sell software -- there's one in Naperville called Software Re-Runs (no, that's not why I moved there ;-) ) -- but they're hard to find unless you know the area. Ebay is an excellent source as well, as many people sell their older games just to get them off their hands. If you have some older games and just want to trade, visit the Used Games Trading Zone.

    Illegally, you can visit one of the hundreds of Abandonware websites. Just type "Abandonware" into a search engine along with the title of a game you're looking for and see what you get. Most Abandonware websites are crap, but one that really respects the games and the people who created them is Home of the Underdogs. I won't give a URL since it moves from place to place, but once you find it, you'll know.

    If you're a real software collector and treat software as collectables (ie. you want the box to be intact, you want all little trinkets and materials to be included, you want old and rare stuff, you want the "alternate release" or "European release", etc.) then there is sadly no place to go as of yet except a few isolated people via email, such as "Ye Olde Infocom Shoppe". This may change in the relatively near future, however.

    What technical advice would you give to people trying to get these old PC games to run on their computers?

    I've emptied my brain into a document that describes how to do this. That document is at least 30 minutes' reading, but the key thing is speed. Most old PC games crash because the host CPU is too fast and blowing some timings. So slow it down with a slowdown program, pop your turbo button off, go into the CMOS to disable all the caches, etc. Do what you have to do.

    And if all else fails, you can usually get an 8088-based PC off of Ebay for less than $30, or a real true blue PC for less than $50. I myself own about 8 classic PCs specifically for classic gaming, but that's an extreme measure that most people don't have to go through.

    How many hours do you spend gaming a week?

    With the birth of our second child on November 15th, not too much right now. But I used to average an hour a day, with about four hours over the weekend. I plan to corrupt my two young sons at an early age so that I have more competition. My older son was launching and playing educational games with a trackball when he was 2.5 yrs old, so I think I've got him on the right track. :-)

    What are the most promising developments you've seen recently in gaming?

    Although it's not my favorite genre, the resurgence of role-playing games is extremely promising, and welcome. The ease of joining online, *free* games is also a great development. Half-Life and Unreal Tournament come to mind: Just double-click on a server and you're off and running.

    Another slightly unrelated promising development has been the re-release of classic gaming titles in either bargain-bin or compilation formats. For example, Interplay is republishing all of the classic "gold box" SSI AD&D; adventures in a single compilation that provide an amazing gameplay satisfaction-to-money-spent ratio. Hundreds of hours of *decent* award-winning gaming for only $29? I love it!

    Do most of your friends game too?

    My cohort and partner-in-crime, Brian Hirt (also co-founder of, is an avid gamer and has gotten involved with Civilization: Call to Power for Linux and Alpha Centauri recently. He also kicks my ass at Pod Racer. And during lunchtime at work, there's always a LAN deathmatch with between 8-12 people each day. I have a few more friends who are interested in real-time strategy, Starcraft in particular. Other than that, my friends all think I'm bizarre.

    What would your perfect game look like?

    You mean, "What would your perfect game *play* like?" Gameplay is what it's all about. Fancy visuals don't mean a thing; when you play Wasteland, all you get are textual descriptions about what's happening. But with the right choice of words, those descriptions paint pictures in your head that no 3D accelerator can match.

    The ideal game... Well, the Ideal Game would probably be any game that managed to immerse you in a huge, immense, detailed world that would fill you with hundreds of hours of adventure, mystery, and comedy--*without* relying on killing people so that all the politically correct activists and parents wouldn't be in an uproar. But idealistic games aren't possible, so pass me the rocket launcher and stay out of my way!

    Why isn't it possible to have a large enveloping game without killing people? We don't get to kill people everyday and most of us aren't constantly bored (are we?).

    Blame the suits! Around 1996, high-level people in game companies started to dip into computer game development above and beyond what was considered acceptable by game developers up until that time. "Quake was a hit--let's develop something just like it and capture some of that market for ourselves!" As long as first-person shooters are popular, there will be killing and destruction in the future of gaming.

    You blame the suits for the increase in Quake-like killing spree games? Don't people just like to play games like that?

    People like to play good games like that. But count the number of Quake-like games injected into the market over the last three years and the only ones worth playing are Unreal, Unreal Tournament, Quake 1/2/3, and Half-Life (which uses the Quake II engine). That's a royally small percentage of the total number of 1st-person shooters out there.

    I should clarify that there is strong evidence of "the suits" starting to back off--probably because the games they forced onto the market didn't sell. And I was sure that the RPG was all but dead until Fallout, Fallout 2, Diablo, and Baldur's Gate came out. Thank god for them.

    Who would you like to meet or hang out with from the world of gaming?

    Being a hacker at heart, I would give anything to talk with some of developers of early gaming software to see how they got around technical limitations, or why they chose some of the things they did. For example, the early King's/Space/etc. Quest games draw everything in low-res, but they do so in a high-res graphics mode. In god's name, why?! I would love to ask John Stephenson (the developer of the AGI interpreter that Sierra used) that question. Or whoever came up with the copy-protection that early Electronic Arts booting games used, that resisted duplication efforts for years. Or Bruce Artwick, who somehow pumped full-screen 3D graphics out of a 4.77MHz PC at about 2-4 FPS for Flight Simulator.

    Marketing and Advertising people would be cool to meet too. Like Nancy Fong, the art director at Electronic Arts all throughout the 1980s and 1990s. She managed to hide the Electronic Arts cube-sphere-pyramid "EOA" logo in the box covers of the first 37 game titles EA ever produced. (In some illustrations it's obvious; in others it's hidden very well.) Or the people responsible for the "feelies" in Infocom games, like the glowing wishstone in Wishbringer. It must have been hard to market games that didn't have fancy graphics (or any graphics at all). I'd love to pick their brains about what worked and what didn't.

    I was able to track down the patent owner for RealSound earlier last year and talk with him about the birth (and death) of RealSound, so sometimes I get my answers. But there are so many people, and so little time...

    What kind of contact have you had with developers of classic PC games?

    I've had the pleasure of talking or emailing with John Ratcliffe, Michael Berlyn, Michael Abrash, Dan Illowsky, and Tony Van. I hope that as MobyGames is discovered by more game designers, both classic and modern, that this number will grow. I'd interview Randall Don Masteller and Nancy Fong if I could work up the nerve...

    Tell us more about RealSound - I don't know about that. Did you write about it anywhere online?

    It's mentioned briefly at That Oldskool Beat, but I have yet to finish the complete rewrite of that section that mentions it, so I'll talk about it here: RealSound is the patented process that Access developed in 1987 as a method of reproducing digitized sound through the PC speaker.

    The stock PC has no real sound hardware to speak of, so any digitized sound without additional hardware was a technical achievement. Other games had done this as early as 1983 on the PC, usually by halting interrupts while the PC speaker (which is only capable of sine waves, full on or full off, nothing complex) was toggled between "FULL ON" and "FULL OFF" faster than the speaker itself could actually respond. The result was a reasonable facsimile of digitized sound output, albeit a bit soft and sometimes muddled. The obvious side-effect of this is that the PC was "frozen" until the sound stopped playing.

    RealSound had two major advantages over that conventional technique in that 1. it was louder and clearer, and 2. you didn't have to turn off all interrupts when you wanted to play a sound. Being louder and clearer was of course an advantage, and it was achieved without programming: They went to a sound studio, held up a small 4-watt PC speaker ripped out of a PC, and told the engineer, "This is what we're mastering for." Through (audio dynamic) compression, the sound was made as "loud" as possible without noticably clipping before being digitized. Not having to turn off interrupts to play a sound, however, was very significant and allowed the speaker to be used just like a conventional sound device--playing sound effects while the game is running, replaying speech to match the movements of a face onscreen, etc. It slowed the computer down a lot, this is true; but slowing down and stopping altogether are completely different things. I believe the technical details of reproducing the sound without having to turn off interrupts is what the patent covers.

    This is all before the Sound Blaster was invented, so it was a real treat.

    Do you ever wish you had a job in gaming, designing games or writing about them?

    I write about them all the time at MobyGames, so that wish has come true. My real wish is that I could make my living doing it.

    Do you think you'll still be playing games in ten or twenty years?

    Until I die. Although I have a sneaking suspicion that the older I get, the older the games I'll want to play will get.

    What will games look like fifty years from now?

    Holographic projectors will surround you in your environment, as will octa-stereo sound. Your own fingers and hands will be the pointing device, the mouse long extinct. Force-feedback vests and suits will register feedback directly on your body. Total immersion.

    After Adventure, what were some of the earliest games you remember playing?

    The earliest games I can remember playing are a mixture of platforms. This is because at the time of the videogame revolution, my family wasn't making enough money to actually splurge on a console and game titles and still put food on the table, so I usually played games at friend's houses and at the arcade with allowance money. Atari 2600 games were of course some early experiences, but only early titles like Adventure, Yar's Revenge, and Space Invaders. I also remember playing a small bit of Intellivision and Odyssey 2 titles as well (K.C. Munchkin rocked--for a challenge, create your own maze with no walls and see how well you do when the monsters can home in on you without obstructions!). Arcade game memories from 1980 to 1985 aplenty, like Tron, Spy Hunter, Wacko, Punch Out, etc., but since the arcade operator near me was cheap, I grew up thinking that the pirated ROMs/boards he had were the real thing. (To this day, I somtimes refer to Donkey Kong as "Congorilla" and Phoenix as "Space Firebird".) In addition, I was drawn for some inexplicable reason to vector-based games. Tempest and Battlezone were mind-blowing for my 10-year-old brain once I got to higher levels, but I grew extremely good at Red Baron and Star Wars. And a particularly fond memory is me putting a quarter in the jukebox to play the intstrumental version of Yaz's "Move Out" (the instrumental version was very early synth-pop techno) while I played the laserdisc game Cliffhanger from beginning to end on my other quater.

    At your local arcade growing up - how could you tell he was using pirate ROMs? The gameplay and graphics were the same but the title screens were changed?

    Yep! As any MAME enthusiast will tell you, piracy of early arcade games was fairly easy--just pull the ROMs, suck the data out of them, burn new ROMs, and use them to power up that cheap Scramble cabinet you have in the corner. The arcade operators could then keep "current" with games, because you wanted to keep new games coming into the arcade so the gamers wouldn't get bored. In the case of Congorilla, the gameplay was different in that the title screen was different, the colors were different (horrible, actually), there was no music (although the sound effects were still there), and the gameplay cycled between all four screens all the time. Otherwise it was identical.

    So, back to your early games:

    I also officially kick ass at Nintendo's Punch Out, Duck Hunt, and ExciteBike. It is okay to laugh long and loud at that last statement.

    Why would we laugh long and loud at your skills in Punch Out, Duck Hunt and Excitebike?

    Because my skills at Punch Out, Duck Hunt, and Excitebike are representative of the time and money I spent playing them. :-) Although I can play Punch Out for at least 30 minutes on a single quarter, which was a skill I had forgotten until MAME supported Punch Out and I gave it a shot. I even have a custom-built arcade cabinet joystick that my friend Brian built for me as a birthday present, and I use it to play Punch Out at least once every two months.

    Do you own any gaming consoles today?

    Current ones? No. Classic ones? Of course. :-) I leave the Atari 7800 hooked up permanently so my 3-yr-old can play Pitfall with me when he gets too excited (yes--playing a game actually calms him down when we've tried everything else), but I have a Colecovision, Atari Jaguar, and 2 Atari Lynx as well. I have a Sega Genesis, but I think everyone does...

    Other early favourites?

    Far and away my most favorite early electronic gaming came from portable units, like tabletop arcade conversions (you remember: they took 4 C batteries and had a glowing gaseous-plasma display), hand-held LED-based games (Mattel Football!), and hand-held LCD games (you know them as the ones that Tiger Electronics seems to be infatuated with producing these days, although Tiger wasn't around back then.) These we were able to buy for birthdays or Christmas, since they cost about $50 (which we could afford, whereas a console for $175 and games for $25 each we could not). I still have my table-top Galaxian 2 (by Entex; you could play the defender or as a descending bug), Crazy Climber, and TRON (by Tomy). For the hand-held LCDs, I played the flip-top dual screen Donkey Kong Jr. (until my brother fried it with static electricity), Dungeons and Dragons, Pyramid (probably not the real name), and Bouncing Babies (also not the real name, but it's what most people know it as). Dungeons and Dragons was neat; you had a small 3-D representation of a 4-way corridor displayed every time you had to make a movement decision, and you had to search for an arrow and use it to slay a dragon. Sounds simple, but was a clever miniature representation of the vast Dungeons and Dragons gameplaying universe.

    What games do you plan to show your kids early on?

    Modern educational games. There's no need for them to have oldskool gaming forced down their throat until they make the mistake of asking me about it. But if they want to get a console, I'll do my best to recreate what I remember most fondly about my early days of gaming: Having a separate room (or TV) for the console; having comfy chairs to sit in; having a library of games that your friends do not have so that you can trade when you got tired of the same old stuff.

    As the old games are rereleased, and you play your old floppies alongside the new titles, what major differences in gameplay emerge?

    Now that's a good question, and one that has a surprising answer: Not much. Older games and modern games differ in focus and presentation, but basic gameplay is the same. Older games stress thinking, immersion, and ideas. Newer games stress visual beauty, voluminous audio, and ease of interface. But whether or not you're invoking spells through cryptic words or visual icons, it's still the same thing. It's been said that you can break down all types of computer games into three basic roots: Tetris, Spacewar, and Rogue. I completely agree with this.

    The one exception to this is real-time strategy games. Older large-scope strategy games were turn-based, whereas newer strategy games usually don't make it past the marketroids unless the gameplay is real-time (or unless it's independently published). This isn't necessarily a bad thing--I'm just noting the differences for you. Each type has their strengths and weaknesses.

    You don't think Half-Life has innovative gameplay? People rave about the plot twists and innovative puzzles.

    In single-player, yes. Don't get me wrong; I'm not bashing the game at all. I bought it for $44.95 myself. But how many other games can say the same thing? That's what makes me sad. We should have at least 5 to 10 "Half-Life"-calibre games every year, and I haven't seen that since the 1980s.

    So granted that most games follow from a very few classic roots (aside from real-time strategy), what games have recently established themselves as "contemporary roots"

    I'm not sure I understand the question, but I'll assume that you're asking, "What games are genre mainstays in today's gaming industry?" Well, it would be pretty obvious, I'd think: The 1st-person shooter, the real-time strategy, or a combination of the two. If your question was asking for modern genre-defining titles, then I guess that all games today could be broken down into Quake, Command and Conquer, or (no surprise here) a combination of the two. If you'd like to rephrase the question, I'll be happy to answer it again.


    Websites has to be my favorite right now, and although that sounds like yet another plug, it's not: New game entries get added every day, and I am continually surprised to see a couple of games that *I've never heard of* get added each week. I thought I knew practically everything about the early PC gaming scene, but the gaming community has educated me otherwise. It's fascinating.

    I used to frequent and until the novelty wore off. was a neat place to hang out while the demo was being developed. is home of my favorite OS. has a great set of FAQs regarding FireWall-1, which are a real boon to anyone who has to install or configure it. Finally, I get a sad, secret pleasure out of Belly laughs every time.

    As an aside, I find it interesting that you ask about websites and not Usenet groups or IRC channels. I have been both a lurker and contributor to and for over half a decade (in fact, I voted on the creation of back in 1993).

    What music do you listen to?

    After a long stint of Jazz, romantic- and modern-period Classical, and New Age during my high school years, I have mostly listened to anything electronic, dance, or funk for the last decade, with a passion for combining all three. "Good" techno, as I like to call it. (Yes, there is such a thing as good techno.)

    My very favorite music is baroque-period classical music; it's mathematical perfection.

    I have been caught listening to New Wave neo-punk music from the late 70's/early 80's from time to time; Missing Persons, Blondie, etc. And The Ramones rule!

    Can you give us some examples of good techno?

    Not off the top of my head, no. Most of the music I listen to has no name or title, or is off, etc.; But a few selections from Crystal Method and Aphex Twin would probably be a good place to start.

    How about some examples of the musical mathematical perfection of Baroque era classical music?

    Any of Bach's popular three-part inventions, and many Telemann pieces as well. Bach was the undisputed king of Baroque-period music; he produced more music for the church during one year of his life than most composers do their entire lives. While not all of it was great, a large amount of it was very good (considering he would bang them out in less than a day).

    Read books?

    Non-fiction? All the time. Fiction? I can't remember the last time I read fiction, other than high school. Some say that depreciates me culturally. My response is that I find just as much "culture" in the wit, ingenuity, community, creativity, and social interaction with the gaming, pirating, and demo scenes as I do in books.

    When I do read fiction, it's usually Sci-Fi short stories.

    What non-fiction are you reading these days?

    :-) For fun, mostly anecdotes about the early days of personal hobbyist computing (no surprise there). But what I read most often is computer game manuals. The manuals that come with games are a clean source of developer credits--who programmed the game, etc.--which I need to verify or enter data into MobyGames.

    I'm sure this seems sad to many people, but I did two lifetimes of reading fiction when I was a teenager, from (Stephen) King, to Thoreau, to Shakespeare, to Orwell, to Austin, to Tolstoy; from several books of science fiction short stories, to The Scarlet Letter, to Pohl's Gateway, to Austin's Pride and Prejudice. I'm done. I've always read what I wanted to, and now I want to read non-fiction, mostly about history's clever hacks and computer nostalgia.

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