The writers of Rock Paper Shotgun just finished a series on what games made them gamers. For the final installment, they asked developers and other critics to contribute their own stories. I wrote one up although my examples tend to show how I became a designer, not necessarily a gamer:
Legacy of the Ancients: Although heavily influenced by the Ultima series, LotA was a lot more accessible and had an interesting twist – no experience points! A few quests rewarded the player with better attributes, and equipment of could be upgraded, but I never had to wander the wilderness gathering up XP from hapless monsters. After slogging through all of Bard’s Tale over a period of months, playing LotA was a revelation to me. The focus was on exploration and adventure, not grinding, so much so that as soon as I beat it, I sat back down and finished it again in under eight hours. I learned from LotA that we don’t need to make players “earn” their fun with camouflaged treadmills.
Seven Cities of Gold: I was a Spanish conquistador discovering the New World – except it wasn’t the Earth that we already know. Instead it was a new one, randomly generated inside my computer – different enough to surprise but similar enough to feel real. Further, the suggestive allure of my Commodore 64 spinning for multiple minutes creating new continents and mountain ranges and river valleys was immense. It was the future, and I knew it. I learned from Seven Cities that the best game content didn’t need to be hand-written.
Adventure Construction Set: I finally got to make a world of my own! Too bad it’s locked away on a floppy somewhere in my parent’s basement, but the experience of building my own little game definitely made me dream of doing it for real someday. More importantly, ACS showed me the value of a data-driven design – new games could be built entirely on top of a fixed code-base. The design space was defined by which parameters could be altered, which raises an interesting question I am still trying to answer about who it the primary author of a game – the programmer who exposes the variables or the designer who fills them in?