Posted on June 13, 2011
How My Dad's Love Of Games Helped Foster My Game Development Career
Please excuse me, just one more time, so I can write some final thoughts about my dad, and how he helped me in my career. Last weekend we had had his memorial at my house, and so I’m trying to put some final thoughts together, to give him a good send-off.
My dad did not play video games very often, if ever. However, he loved to watch us play, and he supported our computer dreams since their inception. Here are some thoughts about where he steered us, early on, in the right direction to help foster a love of games and game design and development.
-Board Games: Jack Straws
This seemingly simple game of “Pick Up Sticks” was the first game I can recall ever playing. The red box taunted me from the high shelf in my dad’s room. I could only play it with his permission. Why? because it was so easy to lose the little pieces. Each “stick” was an intricately molded tool or object that could very easily stick to the other pieces. To play the game, you would start by dumping the pieces in a pile on a table, then take turns removing them, one by one, without disturbing any other pieces. The gameplay was simple, yet it took amazing strategy and concentration to get good at it. In some ways, this might be the perfect game. Almost no set-up, very few rules, totally different every time you play, and fun as hell. These are still my own personal tenants for a great game. I get goose bumps when I think about playing this game back in the 70’s with my family. Other great board games my dad introduced me to an early age: Parchesi, Scrabble, Bushwhacker and Chess.
–Early 1970’s Arcade Games: Wild Gunman at the Old Town Mall
In the early to mid 1970’s, before I became obsessed with the Atari 2600, my dad took us to a placed named The Old Town Mall. Now legendary in the minds of people from the South Bay in Southern California, the Old Town Mall was part hobby shop (Paul Frieler’s Historical models, comic book store, stamp collecting store), part crafting arena (local artisans, candle making shop, glass blowers, custom t-shirts), part amusement park (two dark rides, flying bees ride, carousel, 9 hole miniature gold course), and part amusement midway (shooting gallery, huge arcade). The whole place was themed like the turn-of-the 19th to 20th century with cobblestone pathways, building facades, old-time street lighting and people in costumes. There was even one of the very first “food courts” in the United States located at the north end. In hindsight, it was an amazing place. I loved it as a kid, but I don’t think I fully appreciated it until it was gone.
We usually entered the mall through one of the North entrances, which was also the entrance to the arcade. No matter what we were doing, my dad always had time to stop and play some of the games. He was drawn to games that reminded him of his own childhood, playing cowboys in the hills and fields of Manumit Boarding School. His favorite game was Wild Gunman by Nintendo. This mid-1970’s game featured a light-gun and a projection movie screen. Your job was to quick draw the cowboys before they could shoot you. My dad would tell us stories about his childhood while he put on the holster and got ready to play. My brother and I were fascinated by his ability to outdraw the bad guys. After he played this, we would enter the mall, and go straight the the shooting gallery. After shopping he would take us to the “Raw Juice Store” for refreshment. We probably only made this trek a couple times, but in my mind, we did it every week. It’s one of my fondest memories, and it taught me that games and entertainment are best enjoyed with other people.
-First Video Games: Tandy TV Scoreboard:
Years before we convinced my dad to get us an Atari 2600, he arrived home from work one day with the “Tandy TV Scoreboard”, what has to be be one of the most bizarre looking Pong games ever made. I’m positive the odd look and feel of this unit was what drew him to it (also, it was probably really cheap). The unit had one detachable controller, the other controller was attached to the unit that connected to the TV. There was nothing remarkable about the games: they were pong and pong-a-likes. There was nothing new or interesting about “TV Score-bored” (as we called it), and honestly, we grew tired of it very quickly. What was remarkable was that my dad brought this home for no reason: it was not a birthday, or Christmas, or anything else. The surprise of it all was thrilling. Sure, it was Tandy, and it was lame. Sure we played it a few times and it stopped working, and sure, overall it’s failure probably postponed an Atari 2600 in our house for a couple years. However, the event still taught me some valuable lessons; surprises are a great thing, innovation is important even in a “me-too” products, and most important of all, you don’t need a special occasion to have fun with your family.