Friday, May 20, 2005

DOOMed

This is an old post from my first blog, the Ink Smudge. I felt like including it here. I wrote this in May of 2005.

So I work at a software company. There are many topics that come up in conversation over and over again. The Star Wars Prequels, the Simpsons, South Park, what's really wrong/right with the government, comic books, obscure movie references and...video games(many of these stories are told in some kind of "accent"). Many of the guys at the company either have had or are currently in the throws of a deep video game addiction. I was an id Software junkie back in the day. Back in 2000, work would end and the office would play Quake III for at least two hours after work. Every day. Sometimes we came in on Saturdays to play. Civ3 was the worst. On three separate occasions I have thrown that game away because it took up so much of my time.

Those of you who are still reading this are doing one of two things. You are either shaking your head and saying, "what a doorknob" or you are nodding your head, raising your hand in the air and saying "Preach on!" I'll take the good with the bad. At least you are still reading.

Okay, where am I going with this? Well here's the thing. I do not have a college degree. I made several attempts but never walked across the stage. My mom has her degree but my father never got his. I have two great parents but the combined salaries of a police officer and a public school teacher didn't exactly put us in the country club...er...club. I'm not saying I had it bad. I had it good. But with no degree, no marketable trade and no trust fund, how was I going to make a living?

So there I am back in 1994. I knew that it was just a matter of time until I dropped out of college. I went from being an out of state full time student to an in state part time student to a flunky who got up and walked out of his astronomy final exam because I did not have a clue what I was looking at on the planetarium dome. I failed astronomy. Astronomy for crying out loud.

One day while I was at work (I was a radio dispatcher for a wrecker service) a co-worker handed me a floppy disk. It was your typical 3.5" disk that some people mistakenly called a "hard disk" at the time.

"Here," he said, "Play this game." It had one word written on it, DOOM.

It sat in a stack on my desk for several weeks. I was busy with my real full time job, which was keeping up appearances. It's hard work keeping up the illusion that you are a serious college student when in actuality you're just reading Dragonlance novels and screwing around with whatever pirated games you can get your hands on. Anyway, I popped in DOOM and I saw that opening screen. Then the first person POV comes up. I'm in that hallway. I walk through that first door and that first monster jumps right in front of me. Pure 2D Pixelated Horror! I hit the Enter key to fire my pistol. The monster screams. I hit the key two more times and he falls. My pulse is racing. I'm sitting up in my chair (There is that great shot out the window to your right as you your character down the hallway). It looks like the level just goes on forever.

I played until 10 am the next morning.

That is what did it for me. It started with Doom. My Packard Bell 486sx 25 Mhz with 4MB of DIMM memory, 110 MB HDD, a 2x CD-ROM and a 16 bit sound card barely played it. And of course, the 2400 Baud modem. So I learned how to upgrade. First the RAM went from 4 megs to 8 megs. Then I got a clock trippler to take my chip to a 486 75mhz with the DX math co-processor. Then I figured out how switch out that 100MB drive for a 1.0GB Western Digital (set me back over $300). Then I disabled the on board modem and installed a screaming 14.4k modem so I could play doom head to head against other people (I played John "You're No" Romero once on DWANGO). Now this is back in the day where no one really knew what the heck they were doing when it came to upgrading computers. This was the day of comm port conflicts, IRQ conflicts and jumpered motherboards/hard drives. Don't even get me started on deciphering modem initialization strings. You couldn't look it up on the web because the web didn't exist yet. There were no books because no one had done this before. You just figured it out for yourself and pieced together the rest from FAQs and ReadMe.Docs that came with the downloaded addons.

Then there was Doom II and it all got kicked up to another level. Full blown editing tools were floating around. I would play DOOM II all night with my friends and then we would start making our own levels (WAD file maniacs) when we woke up the next day. Then there was Quake I and OpenGL hit big. Everyone had to learn how to get their PCs to run the 3dFX video card so that all those crazy colors and the crisp resolution would come through.

If you are still reading then I thank you. I got a little carried away there. Why did I go into all that? That is where I learned how to be a programmer. I learned how to trouble shoot, how to research, how to think about abstract things in my head and hold it there long enough to type some commands that would make it show up as a level in the Doom II engine. If I could not figure something out then I would pour over books, download files and talk to other like minded junkies until we did figure it out. Programming in QBASIC as a kid was interesting but DOOM made it fun.

So in closing, if it had not been for id Software and their groundbreaking games Castle Wolfenstein and Doom, I'm not sure where I would be. I'd be like that guy in the Sting song, "I got no prospects, no education, I was lucky to get a job at this gas station." In my case it was working for AAA. But now? I started working in the Best Buy PC upgrade/repair shop in 1995. In 1996 I went to technical support for a software company and ended up writing software for them until I left in 1998. After that I went to development full time, building experience and a skill set a little at a time until I got to where I am now. Am I on top of the world? Heck no. But I can write half decent code and solve the tech problems that come my way due to the time I put in figuring out how to make hardware run a game and then how to make that game do more. Without id Software, I don't know if that would have happened.

So now, as far as economics go, life is good. Debt is going down, savings are going up and as long as I stay current I take care of my fiscal responsibilities and finance my writing endeavors. Speaking of which, I need to get on that. Remember to keep moving. You don't wanna get telefragged.

Wikipiedia: Doom

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