Sometimes I have felt like a really pitiful creature. One of those has-beens that had success at an early age and then completely failed to make the most of it, who then goes around trying to say “Hey, I can do it again”, but somehow never can. It’s complicated. It eats at the heart of who I am, and it’s a pattern.
Patterns are not always good things. They can hold you back. My pattern, ever since the mid 90’s, has been that of the misunderstood rebel. I am most likely neither, of course.
October was a very important month for me. To cut a long story short, I started to celebrate my achievements. For the first time.
I don’t know whether many 24 year-olds are properly equipped to fully appreciate what is happening to them when they have mega success. I certainly wasn’t. I was a kid. I had no mentor. I had no guidance. I was writing award winning games and… so what? I would go back to my bedroom and continue an isolated existence, reading game magazines and working on the next thing. I would play music to myself, code by myself, hell talk to myself if it helped solve a difficult programming problem. For the younger readers out there, I must remind you. The Internet as we know it today did not exist, and 300 bps modems (yes 300!) were cutting edge and expensive and there was nothing to connect to anyway. Early pioneers were mostly alone, and our achievements archived in print… in game magazines.
This past month I have been been doing many things that have been putting me back in touch with my past. I did not start out to do this, it just kind of happened all at once. I made my first ever appearance at a retro games expo (PlayExpo) in Manchester and was interviewed by Gordon Sinclair. Anthony Caulfield filmed an interview with me for Bedrooms to Billions. I was a VIP guest along with Martin Hollis at the opening of Italy’s first video game museum. My parents came and watched my talk which was about my story. If one week of my life was going to force me kicking and screaming to face up to my past, that was it.
I enjoyed the whole experience certainly. It was good for me. I loved seeing so many people kick out of meeting me. That’s not something I experience normally, and to be honest, not something that I ever have really experienced in my life. Signing games, posing for photographs, playing the odd game of Kick Off with a fan. I would be lying if I said I did not enjoy that attention.. but it was more than that. It felt like my past, my 25 year old self, had just jumped forward in time to meet Dino old enough to be his father.
Dino, what you did was cool, I said to him (or him to me). Look at the expression on their faces as they play your game. Look how they are happy to meet you. You did good things, Dino. Don’t forget.
I left that 25 year old behind 22 years ago, and I have probably never properly grieved for his absence. The party never happened. The PR and press went on their way, the industry did it’s own thing, I grew up painfully and slowly, dealing with the bullshit that we all have to deal with in life, gradually losing touch my self, and wandering like a lost soul occasionally (and almost out of desperation) forcing myself to meet people to try and make something happen (whatever that something might be). Recently one such told me “We never really understood why you came to see us”. I replied, neither did I. I was looking for something, but perhaps I was not ready to find it or even know what it was.
The last couple of days I have found new archives of game magazines which contain many reviews of my games, chart positions, advertising and so on. Going through these has brought me more than nostalgia; it has also brought me a deep sense of awe at how creative and vibrant the young industry was at that time. Looking at the screen shots, I find myself stimulated and inspired, imagining how the game would play and what the design was. I found old favorites too like Xenon II and Archipelagos and Speedball 2. One of Jeff Minter’s original Grid Runner games (I highly recommend his Grid Runner on iOS, it’s been the only game I play for the last few months).
Of course, turning my mind to practical matters, I started to collect the reviews of my games because I simply don’t have my own copies. I left them with the 25 year old me, and he did not look after them. This inevitably turned to the thorny question of the game awards that I like to put on my CV and in promotional materials. That’s normal right? I mean, what is the point of winning an award if I can’t mention it? The problem is that I don’t have the physical awards (Anil Gupta took them back when the 25 year old me had his proverbial back turned) and without the magazines there’s no proof. Until recently searching for evidence online proved fruitless, but technology and the community have come to the rescue. Whole archives of certain classic magazines, such as The One and CU Amiga and Ace, have complete (or nearly complete) archives, including advertising!
Surely, I said, I will be finally be able to prove my claims even to the ‘incredibly high’ standards of Wikipedia! Muahahahahahahaaa!
Yes. It matters. It matters to me, because I have to get back to my 25 year old me and pull him forward from the year 1990 to 2012 and sit him down beside me and celebrate and tell him he did a great job back then. I need to ask for his autograph and if I can take a picture with him. I need to be his fan. His greatest fan. But also, I need to convince him we can work together, that I can be his mentor and help him realize his full potential.
You and me Dino. Your youth and my experience. There’ll be no stopping us, my son.