The Needles

The Needles
Where Have All My Heroes Gone?

Andy Chalk | 15 Jan 2008 17:00
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I need a new BioWare.

Perhaps I should explain. Back in the day, when videogaming - specifically, PC gaming - was young and fresh (as was I, more or less), I was something of what you might call an Electronic Arts fanboy. In my eyes, EA held the same sort of heroic stature that other people would ascribe to musicians or movie stars. They were rebels and trailblazers, out on the edge of the art, not only promising great new things to the hinterland gamers in the world, but delivering beyond our expectations.

They were even bold enough to declare their vision and intent to the world. "We're an association of electronic artists who share a common goal," they said. "We want to fulfill the potential of personal computer." It's not at all an exaggeration to say that when I read those words, I felt a surge of pride at having some kind of ephemeral connection to this new revolution. Powered by the belief that EA's unbeatable mix of creative and technical prowess would bring legitimacy to what at that point was still very much a fringe hobby, I felt like I was witness to the early stages of a phenomenon that would soon sweep the world, like seeing the Beatles play the Cavern Club.

But time passed, as it has a way of doing, and the innovative brilliance behind games like Starflight and The Bard's Tale soon gave way to higher volume and lower standards. As the company expanded and the number of titles it released grew accordingly, looking forward to a new EA game became an exercise in futility. In fact, before long there was no such thing as an "EA game," just games that EA published.

Fortunately, the disappointing void left by EA's descent into conventionality was filled by the glory days of Microprose, whose roots as a renowned simulation developer would eventually grow to include highlight-reel games like Pirates!, Darklands, X-Com: UFO Defense and the wildly successful Sid Meier's Civilization. Microprose in those days was especially notable for its uniquely personal touch, putting the names of company luminaries "Wild" Bill Stealey, Andy Hollis and of course the aforementioned Mr. Meier at the head of its marketing efforts. My attachment to Microprose grew largely because I felt, in some vague sense, that I could trust these three to put out consistently high-quality games. And for awhile, that's how it went.

Of course, nothing lasts forever, not even hero worship. And while Microprose didn't really tank until the mid-'90s, in 1993 it stopped mattering much what they did. With their release of the spectacular and unprecedented Doom, id Software changed the world. I was no longer just a nerd; I was a nerd with a shotgun (sort of), and for better or worse - I didn't much care at the time, which in retrospect was remarkably short-sighted - the world was paying attention to me and my kind.

Single-handedly, id dragged videogaming into what at that time appeared to be the mainstream, fulfilling the promise of all those EA titles from years past. And not only had they made the greatest game of all time, but they actively embraced the rock star lifestyle that had previously existed only in the minds of the most dedicated gamers. They grew their hair, drove Ferraris and flaunted their newfound fame and fortune with abandon. More than anyone else, id made gaming cool.

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