Video Games and Table Top Wargaming: A Romeo and Juliet thing?

“Insert Coi-nnn”
~Gorf video game

She looked at me and went- Boop! Bop…. Boop…

Hello all and a very good year to you. It’s been gang busters busy with things like replacing broken laser cutters, and you know, all the stuff life and holidays toss at you. I’m happy to report I’m back in the saddle for another year of Bloggery!

I’m going to start this year talking about one of my first loves. You know that one that moves in on the block and they just puts all the others to shame? The one that when she’s at your house- all the other boys come over- not to play with you, but to play with her. Or just watch her. Yes, I’m talking about that Christmas when my grandmother bought my brother and yours truly, a Colico pong game.

Pong at First Sight
My brother, cousins, friends and I loved that pong game. It really became more of the neighborhood arcade than just a console for the house in today’s standards. We burned the game’s pong court lines into the old RCA two channel black and white TV we had. 
The only thing in the barrio where I grew up that came close to an arcade was the two old pin ball machines in the Laundromat- but everyone knew they were just bait to get mugged.   I loved how everyone would talk afterwards about the close call of a game or how they “angled” the ball just right to get it past their opponent. The dialogue and emotion is what really hooked me into the game. The Video game.

Look at the periscope on that thing!
Skipping Forward
In the early 80’s an arcade called the Time Zone opened in Old Sacramento, about a 10 minute bicycle ride from where I lived.  This became my new utopia- the cacophonous sounds- the lights and not in the barrio.  I ended up working in “Old Sac” at various stores.  Lots of cool games like Joust, Berserk “ Get the Humanoid” and of course Space Invaders- but my  golden go to over and over was Battlezone. Battlezone had something no other game at the time (except maybe the sub torpedo game) had- and that was you put your head into a small window periscope thing and played. This created for all intents and purposes a “virtual” world.  I was in the game (this of course was B.T. – before Tron). The immersion of the game, no matter that it was just vector lines in green was so awesome to me- the emotional hook that I was part of the game.  That feeling is still the pudding proof that I strive for when I make games today.  Not that I had any clue at the time that I’d make a living making games, much less live past 21. 

There was another part of that emotion of playing Battlezone. You were vulnerable. You had no peripherals, your sound was blocked by the game, and your hands were on the controls. Any ganger  could take you out before you had the chance to react. I remember one close call. I was lucky- the manager of the arcade and I had become friends, good friends. He used to patrol the arcade with the largest screw driver you’ve ever seen (I think it was for working on tanks or battleships!) and on one occasion literally had my back in an altercation.   That taught me another thing. Video games create community just like sports or other games. 

 Dragon’s Lair
I still remember the day I came down the stairs into the din of the arcade, and there front and center was Dragon’s lair.  It was new; it was a cartoon, a Don Bluth creation, on a new fangled laser disc. Players, at a stage in the story had split second decision to go right or left; which way you went changed the story and outcome.  Honestly I was crap at it. I couldn’t get past the first few stages consistently, and dropped at least $20 trying. But, and this is where it got interesting to me- there were kids that WERE good at it. So good at it that we the collective Time Zoners would pony up tokens to keep them going to the next level- this was social gaming!  It wasn’t just because we wanted to see the ending, although that was totally part of it, we all wanted to win, and had found a champion that could help us do that.

Today- and One Step Beyond
For the past 12 years I’ve had the great honor of working at Cryptic Studios, where we make Massive Multiplayer Online games. Over and over one of the special things I see happening in our games is community. Our community gets married, buries heroes, and supports each other against invasions, evil villains and dragons on a daily basis. Partly for fun (geeze I hope) and partly because of bragging rights (The Colico was in my house after all) but mostly because of the community.   

Actually there are two communities. There is also the one that I work with. A super bunch of uber talented witty folks. Folks that have your back when your nose is pressed to the screen. 

This is a huge mimic cake that my wife Maria made for our NeverWinter Launch!

Now, I’ve also been playing and making war games for almost as long as this story goes back. Yes I love the toys, and making terrain to tell a story, and a bit of the bragging rights, but what I enjoy the most is the community. You- you reading this. You who had my flank. You all who willingly play tested my games and suffered through my bad grammar! You who trounced my starship with Mecha!  You, who entrusted your children to me and letting them play in my games- And for joining in as well!  You who without pause lent me super glue to fix a dismounted gun. My community. 

 Thank you.


  1. What a great story, thanks for sharing! I'm not into video games, but with regard to miniature wargames and boardgames, community - playing together, sharing experience and knowledge - is also one of my main motivations in gaming.

    1. Wargamingraft- thanks for the comment, and I am glad this resonates. Let's not also forget the friendly " one upsman-ship" part of the community as well. I love when I build a flying machine for my goblins, that the next game date a friend has built a PAK gun " an elephant with a bolt thrower, crewed by dwarves" !

  2. Dude! I remember going Time Zone. My main arcade was the one out at Birdcage Walk, but I too remember when Dragon Lair showed up. It was literally a "game" changer.

    It's interesting how you describe the communal Dragon Lair game. Both like a village picking a champion to defend them, & venture capitalists investing in a promising business project.

  3. Ahh....the heady days of the neighborhood arcade. We alternated playing games in the arcade and playing the latest dungeon from Dragon magazine in the food courtyard in front of the arcade. I have fond memories of hanging out with friends there. I've enjoyed playing in your various games (physical and virtual for several years). Thanks for sharing your creativity and more importantly your friendship.

  4. You know that your cake looks like "the Luggage" from the Terry Pratchett Discworld series

    1. Chris- it's a mimic- so very similar!

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