About a decade ago, back when I actually enjoyed my day job, I used to work as a contractor. I was good value for my employers, and I went out of my way to maintain a morally consistent stance when it came to the tools of the trade – the thing about contractors, I (and the tax office) argued, was that they provided their expertise and tools to their employers.
So I had all my own hardware, and bought all my own software. Anything that was required, I bought – that seemed completely logical to me. Someone wants money for something they made? Fair enough. Hell, I even bought WinZip once upon a time – and how many people can say that?
Anyway… at the time I programmed in Object Pascal, using a fantastic IDE called Delphi. The latest version, Delphi 7, had been released in August 2002, and I’d promptly upgraded through my usual software supplier, Microway. It was a great upgrade, and I fired it up every day in joyful anticipation of the development process.
But this post isn’t about programming, or my tools of choice… it’s about gaming.
And, at that stage of my life, gaming was a very sporadic pursuit – twice a year, a game would arrive with the purchase of a new piece of PC hardware (graphics card purchases presented me with Deus Ex and Soldier of Fortune, amongst others), and I was a big patron of the Quake series; whenever a new game was acquired, I would play it incessantly until completion (usually requiring a couple of non-working days)… but between those episodes, there was precious little gaming going on. And there was certainly no video game consoles in my house. Ever since I became a C64 owner at the age of thirteen, I was a PC snob: how could a console – a toy, emphasised by the departments in which they were found in stores – possibly compete on any term with a computer?
But then, on the 9th of October, 2002, I received a phone call that would change my attitude… and most likely changed my life.
“Pete… it’s Chris, from Microway,” was the response when I answered my mobile. Chris was my regular contact there.
“Chris! What’s up?”
“Good news! You remember that competition you entered a few months back?”
I did not. I had no idea what he was talking about, and relayed that to him.
“Oh,” he said, slightly taken aback, “…well, when you bought your copy of Delphi 7 you were entered into a sweepstake. And you won!”
“Great!” I said, still completely unaware of what he was talking about, but excited nonetheless. “So… what’d I win, then?”
“An Xbox console,” he replied.
Now, quite honestly, my heart sank a tiny little bit upon hearing that. My head had gone racing ahead with ideas like “ten year MSDN subscriptions!” and “a new monster PC workstation!”… so the reality felt a little less impressive. Still, the gears started grinding, and I figured I’d be able to sell the Xbox to one of those silly console “gamers” at work and pocket a couple of hundred bucks.
After a bit of stuffing around – Chris wanted me to clear the prize-winning with my manager, which wasn’t really a problem due to my self-employment – the Xbox was given an address, and dutifully shipped.
It came into my possession on Thursday, October 10, 2002. Ten years ago today.
I thought I’d give it a look, and unboxed it, hooking it up to my TV. The weight, the textures, the styling of the Xbox was fantastic – it felt significant, and the controller (an original Duke) felt like a weapon. The rumble of the Xbox boot sequence tantalised on a bass-rumbling level, too.
But… there was no game to play. I thought these things had always come with a pack-in game? So – off to the local video store, only to discover that they only stocked PS2 and N64(!) titles. Into the city I went, to the closest department store; their range was brash and colourful, and the names meant nothing to me. But then, at the bottom of one green-tinged case, I spied a logo: “Bungie,” it said.
Years earlier, I’d played a demo of Marathon on my Macintosh IIvx – I’d loved the tone and feel of it, but not enough to go out and buy it in the software-starved Mac market of the mid-nineties. But that flicker of recognition encouraged me to pick that game up, purchase it, and wander home, curious as to how one could possibly control an FPS with that massive controller.
By the end of that weekend, I was convinced: it was doable. In fact, it was more than doable… it was perfect.
I was not merely convinced… I was converted.