My Road to Gaming

A few years ago when I decided to start exploring the world of PC gaming, I set out with three criteria: it could not, like major titles such as Call of Duty or Ghost Recon, require a significant amount of capital just for the the privilege of participating in this hobby. Whatever I ended up choosing had to have a low price tag or, preferably, cost nothing at all. Further, my distraction of choice had to run well on a mediocre machine: I refused to suffer through jittery gameplay on an overclocked processor. Finally, it must not require a great deal of time and effort just to attain a reasonable level of proficiency. I had precious little of either to spend gaming, and none if my unwillingness to eschew everything pursuing a skill of arguably practical application meant a thirteen year old who did nothing but tap himself closer to RSI every day would beat me repeatedly. These stringent criteria left me few candidates, primarily small Flash applets like Helli Attack 31 and Motherload. As you might imagine, each of these gave back in accordance with the amount of effort I put in; in other words, very little. So I set off in search of something more fulfilling.

I get the exact order of events confused from this point onward, but over the next few years I discovered a number of other great games. In as best an order as I can remember, I started with Fate: The Traitor Soul, the only exception to my rule of not putting any money towards this hobby. At that point rule #1 had not become a guiding philosophy yet, but still remained a restriction imposed by my lack of excess capital around the age of ten. The browser-based Fallen Empire: Legions came next, which did not meet my minimum hardware requirements and thus lent itself to a overall poor experience despite performing exceedingly well as an intriguing source of entertainment. Another title by InstantAction called Lore: Aftermath followed. While impressive and a lot of fun, Lore: Aftermath suffered from the same downsides Fallen Empire: Legions did. No matter, Combat Arms soon occupied the whole of my attention as the closest I ever came to console-quality gaming. Between bouts of warfare, numerous Flash-based distractions managed to keep me occupied, interspersed with my sole encounter with massively multiplayer online role playing games, Runescape, and then, later, Battledawn, although I would argue that it erroneously classifies itself as a MMORPG. And then I found Roblox.

Although I enjoyed Fate a great deal, it literally had no end. I played an adventurer exploring dungeons, completing quests, and battling monsters as I worked my way through increasingly difficult levels moving down an infinite rabbit hole facilitated by the game’s randomized level generator. Given the creation mechanism for each successive floor, Fate’s dungeon allegedly went on forever; however, it actually bottomed out at 2,147,483,647, where the game would crash upon entry. With more than two billion floors though, it may as well have been infinite. Fallen Empire: Legions and Lore: Aftermath, on the other hand, as first person shooters, had finite ends of just a few minutes per round. Unfortunately though, their parent company, InstantAction, struggled to monetize any of its franchises and so both eventually died out. A few developers managed to keep the two up and running, but neither attracts anywhere near the numbers they once saw.

Like InstantAction’s short-lived forays into online, browser-based gaming, Nexon’s Combat Arms also fell into the first person shooter category. As a mercenary soldier, players would join matches and fight on a variety of maps in a number of modes, much like Battlefield, Call of Duty, and Modern Warfare. However, Combat Arms required both a powerful computer and a significant time investment, neither of which I had or intended to put towards becoming better than those who spent their entire days this way. Combat Arms also had the added disadvantage of exemplifying some of the worst traits traditional console gaming has gotten a bad reputation for over the last few years, such as racism, sexism, and an overabundance of obscene and wholly uncalled for profanities. So although I could turn the quality settings down, disable some of the bells and whistles, and get it to run reasonably well on my dated laptop, I rarely enjoyed this experience. Before long, I abandoned Combat Arms just as I had Fate.

Peppered throughout my numerous transitions, I occasionally went back to those simple yet entertaining Flash games I had previously come to like so much. To name a few of the most prominent titles, I found solace during my search in Trech and Trech 2, the Burnin’ Rubber series, Drift ‘n’ Burn 365, Raze 2 and 3, Speed Racer, and RC Laser Warrior. Especially for their genre, the scope of a few of these amazed me, while others served their purpose of a short-lived distraction well.

I also played Runescape for a short while upon a friend’s recommendation. Although the diverse gameplay lent itself to an interesting experience, Runescape’s creators made it impossible to get far without a monthly membership. Given my aversion to an outright expenditure, to say nothing for my feelings regarding a monthly subscription, my tenure here was short and followed by a lengthy stint at Battledawn. Unlike every game I had ever played before, Battledawn takes place in the third person as the commander of a self-sufficient base where players use resources to build infrastructure and armies in order to conquer other colonies and expand their influence. Players can also band together and form alliances to increase their chances of success, adding a diplomatic element that kept every round interesting and different. It also, however, made for an exceptionally trying experience at times, as well as a very frustrating one. Combined with the administrators’ rule by fiat and an ability to purchase course-altering resources multiple times each era, the honeymoon period ended and so did my enthusiasm for Battledawn.

At some point in that jumbled mess of a time line, I discovered Roblox. To my delight, it passed my three requirements with flying colors; most importantly though, I had fun playing it. Like Minecraft, Roblox forgoes complex graphical renderings for simplistic block-like objects and straightforward gameplay. Perhaps this simplicity caused all the serious gamers to turn up their noses at this juvenile platform, because the negative aspects online gaming has become known for as of late do not exist in this game. Everyone that plays Roblox apparently does so for fun, not out of some insane, ego-driven need to crush one’s opponents in mortal combat.

Outside of refreshingly uncomplicated gameplay and a pleasant community, the ability for individual players to build their own completely custom games was one of the most attractive aspects of Roblox. Using the bundled Roblox Studio app, every player could create any sort of map filled with every kind of structure, and set other users loose on it with virtually any item or weapon imaginable. Over the years, this made for some fascinating creations ranging in genre from paintball to plane wars to a simulated assault on Omaha Beach, and quite literally everything in between: obstacle courses, capture the flag, races, cops and robbers — whatever anyone could imagine, given some time and effort someone could build it. Most recently, this gave rise to an especially noteworthy and spectacular game called Apocalypse Rising.

Gus Dubetz and Ethan Witt began building Apocalypse Rising on April 1st, 2008, atop Roblox’s previously mentioned developer platform. More than four years later on July 1st, 2012, they declared it a completed game. Although others had built to the zombie survival genre before them, Apocalypse Rising revolutionized not only this category, but the entirety of Roblox: never before had anyone created such an expansive map, nor one with such detailed gameplay. A wonder to behold especially back in its early days, Apocalypse Rising has yet to see any credible challenges to its dominant spot as one of the greatest games ever created for this platform.

The appeal of Apocalypse Rising is twofold: first, the obvious draw of a game such as this lies in the challenge of surviving not only the occasional zombie, but hunger and thirst as well. Players could spend an hour just looking for a can of soda as their thirst bar creeps farther down into the red, or even longer searching for food in order to stay starvation. To add another element of intrigue, Apocalypse Rising also features the most advanced combat on Roblox today. With fifty-six different weapons strewn throughout the map and a unique ammo and attachment system, Gus and Ethan forced players to pause for thought when deciding on each and every course of action: unlike other post-apocalyptic zombie survival games that came before it, battling other players will invariably lead to death regardless of weapon or skill level; everyone that joins Apocalypse Rising must play strategically, and battle only when necessary, if at all.

Evie Nagay’s article for Fast Company detailing DayZ’s uncanny ability to make its participants feel an unexpectedly visceral emotional response to digital death prompted me to start writing this, because as I read her piece and all the accounts of killing other people to survive, feeling remorseful, and then justifying the act, it was as if she had interviewed me and described every game I had ever played of Apocalypse Rising. I generally avoid combat when possible, but sometimes, with an assault rifle in hand and a long-range scope to gaze down, I break my rule and pick off a player or two. Then, like the players of DayZ, I invariably rationalize my decision.

The similarities between DayZ and Apocalypse Rising should come as no surprise, really: Gus and Ethan modeled their creation after Arma II’s DayZ mod, so of course they would share a number of common traits. The thing that impresses me, though, even more than the former’s ability to elicit that emotional response, is that Gus and Ethan did it in such an ostensibly innocuous environment. I never expected to find a game of this caliber on Roblox, yet there I was, rifle in hand, looking for an excuse after I had killed someone.

Over the years I have gone through all the walks of life with regards to PC gaming, with a special focus on online titles. This search for the perfect pastime lead me all over the internet, to all sorts of places both good and bad. The list I have made here by no means contained every game I have ever played, merely the ones I enjoyed the most. For every game mentioned by name here, there were ten others along the way that all fell short for one reason or another. Until I came to Roblox, and until I found Apocalypse Rising.

Closing in on two months ago now, I disavowed gaming in a rather grandiose gesture that, ultimately, worked very well: over the ensuing weeks I got into the habit of writing every day and started a newsletter, both things I wanted to accomplish as a result of taking this drastic step. Now that I have a firm grasp on what I need to work on and how much energy I must put forth in order to do those well though, especially after Evie’s article and the intense retrospection writing this post prompted, I think it’s time I made my valiant return to gaming. Roblox became my favorite platform for a very good reason so many years ago; to throw that all away because I have trouble managing my priorities seems like such a waste. With some practice under my belt, I feel I can do this well now. And with incredible offerings like Apocalypse Rising, to say nothing for some of the other excellent pastimes individuals have created on Roblox, it’s high-time I got back into the ring.

“up up down down left right left b a select start”. Even some five years later, I still remember that cheat code.