Tom Ortega II

Gaming: Playing both sides

In Business, Cell, Flash*Flex*AS, Playstation3, Programming, Technology and Software, Video Games on September 24, 2008 at 6:37 am

Being an OG – Original Gamer

For as long as I can remember, I’ve gamed (specifically the video kind).  Before I got married, I spent almost every birthday I can remember at Chuck E. Cheese’s (even my 21st!)  To me, birthday equated to gaming.  In addition to those special days, I have a lot of memories in life associated with gaming:

  • When I was 6 or 7,  I remember me and my dad going to our frequent hangout, an arcade down the street.  It was actually a miniature golf course, but we never did anything but game.  We’d play Vanguard together.  As you can see by this image, it had this unique setup.  It was one of the first games I can remember that had multiple buttons.  My dad would drive (use the control stick) while I sat shotgun (took control of the 4 direction shoot buttons).  Oddly, I think this contributed to my sense of it being okay to take the back seat for the greater good.  As long as the team wins, it doesn’t matter which position you play.
  • A few years later, I got my first video game system: a ColecoVision.

    It was friggin’ sweet.  My friends and cousins had the other consoles, but this one was mine.  My parents rationed my usage, using it as a reward for good behavior.  We only had one TV, so it was a simple way to ensure the TV wasn’t hogged up by me and Donkey Kong.  I remember my mom teaching me a life lesson with that system.  I didn’t want to clean up once, so she put the Coleco away.  About an hour later, I went to her and said, “Mom, I’m sorry. I’ll clean up.  Is it too late for me to still play though?”  She said, “No, if you clean up like you’re supposed to, you can play games.”  Ever since, I’ve known that if I screw up, a sincere apology and demonstrable steps of action will usually rectify the situation.

  • When I was 12 or so, my brother (10 years younger than me) realized that the controller he was holding was not actually the one making Mario move.  He cried until I gave him my controller.  He still hasn’t let go of that proverbial controller 2 decades later, as he’s an avid video gamer.  (For a groomsman gift at my wedding, I got him a framed copy of Super Mario Bros. with a NES controller)
  • When Myst came out, I didn’t sleep or leave the house until I finished it.  It was an amazing game that completely blew away any previous gaming experience.  Then the sequel Riven came along and I was just amazed that I could literally be transported to another world.  Unfortunately, it also ruined games for me for a long time.  Those games were an experience like no other.

    The controls were simple: Point mouse. Click.

    The story was unique: It was a narrative, yet still up to the player to unravel in the order he chose.

    The imagery was lifelike: No game had graphics of that high quality.

  • I’ve waited 24 hours in line for both the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3.  The PS2 line I waited in just to hang with my best friend, Miguel.  He was the diehard; I wound up selling mine to my uncle.  I was in the Bay Area for the PS3 launch and knew the Metreon would be a blast to wait at (and it was).  Plus, I wanted to fork over my cash to support Sony’s choice to go with the Cell processor.  That choice was a risk that I wanted to make sure got my vote of confidence via my hard earned cash. It’s now the primary gaming vehicle for me and my son.

I’ve often thought that gaming is where I’ll make my big mark in business. This is because, as you can see above, it was such an integral part of my life.  I have never been a hardcore gamer, but it was definitely a favorite past time of mine. All the interests I have ever had in life (programming, CGI, story telling, film making, competing, mental puzzles, etc.) point to game making.  It’s the only medium that pulls from all of those skill sets.  It’s a unique industry in that, while over 30 years old, it’s still pretty much in its infancy.  Most games are cookie cutter and go after the same demographic.  As processing power increases and the number of cores per chip goes up, it’ll be very interesting to see what affect that has on this medium.

So, what took me so long to get into game making then?

To be honest, it was my wife.  She never said I couldn’t get into game making and she never forbade me from playing them, but she expressed disdain for the industry.  I can’t say I blame her.  Most games out there are crap.  They’re cookie-cutter clones or sequels to the same tired First Person Shooter and/or Massively Multiplayer Online Game.  Games like Braid exist, but sadly are not the norm.  Out of respect for her views on the industry, I refrained from playing games, much less making them.

Has the industry changed then?

No, sadly it has not.  However, I’ve cut my chops in business.  I’ve shown myself and my wife that it’s possible for a two man shop to help change an industry (i.e. with John as my partner in 360Conferences we’re helping change the conference space) .  With the right resource utilization, I feel I can have an effect on this industry and help it expand beyond it’s vicious duplication cycle. Unlike 360Conferences, which serves a niche market, I could have a more “mainstream” product in the gaming business.

Does this mean I’m quitting my day job and dropping 360Conferences?

Ha, ha.  No, not quite.  While I have many traits that I think will help make me a successful game maker, I’ve yet to actually make any games.  I don’t know much about gaming theory, etc.  It will take a few years before I can even think of entering the business as a serious player of any kind.

No, instead I’ll take my first baby steps into this medium.  I’ll start by using the programming language that I’m most familiar with: Adobe Flex.  I’ve seen what people like PlayCrafter can do with Flex in the gaming realm. Therefore, I’m confident that it will suffice for my learning needs for quite some time to come.

Stay tuned to this blog as I’ll be sharing not only my experiences, but also my code.  This way you too can learn to make games, but let me do all the legwork!

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