It's 8:30. I walk down the basement steps, avoiding the coats that stick out like pod-people, reaching out to suck me into the wall. The martini glass gimbals between my thumb and forefinger. I have, of course, made it so that it is only the miracle of surface tension keeps the gin inside the clear Y of the glass. I may only be having 'one martini' but I'll be damned if I'm going to let any air sit in the glass. I don't bother flipping the light on as I round the corner at the bottom of the stairs; I can see my way by the blue light of the screens. I like it dark. I like having nothing to distract me from the glare of the flat screens and the low hum of the machines.
Setting the glass down gently on the genuine fake-wood veneer of the Staples desk, I slip my aging butt into the Aeron mesh. I boot the desk: no one I need to see on AIM, email's just spam, server jobs are running, no phone messages, top-ten websites show nothing new.
I take a sip of martini -- medicinal, smelling vaguely of flowers, with the saltiness of the olives just seeping in. I am completely alone. My deadlines are far enough out that procrastination destroys industry before the two of them even bring the battle to my forebrain. I have 90 minutes.
Thank god for Gametap.
After the click, the familiar car-crash-cum-operatic-woosh sound builds in the background. Furtively, I scan my forgotten options like a leper running over my extremities looking for wounds: the stack of cases on the PS2; the white chicklet of the DS; the old favorites and new hotness littering my PCs desktop.
I have stared down the dreaded STACK.
I signed up for Gametap to play Sam & Max. I thought it was just a cute little download service. A bizarre mix of retro-games, just-off-Broadway hits and one proprietary title I happened to want to play. But after a few weeks, Gametap has changed how I think about a precious 90 minutes playing games.
The beginning of a Gametap session starts with Gametap TV. At first, I thought this would be annoying. But it turns out that when I'm sitting in the basement, having a little TV window pop up and start chatting at me isn't a bad thing. After all, how often to I turn the tube or the radio on in the AM when I'm up making coffee, just to have the illusion of companionship? Gametap TV is an oddly compelling collection, not of the obvious -- video game reviews -- but of well-selected like-minded diversion. Clips from good bands making bad puns about old video games. Compelling indy-animation you've never heard of. All those "extras" you never watched on your game CDs.
Gametap TV is symbolic of the entire Gametap ethos. You don't launch Gametap thinking "OK, I'm gonna work on level 32 until I clear it tonight." You launch Gametap for the same reason you channel surf. Because there's nothing on. Or because what is on is just not what you're in the mood for. Or you're just feeling too lazy to actually commit to watching something for an hour. Like everything else about Gametap, it's horribly marketed on its own merits, but in and of itself it's brilliant.
Click. I spend a few minutes watching a surreal interview with the Goo Goo Dolls front man and Space Ghost. Click. A few minutes with Gary Gygax. Click. Some coverage from Comicon I missed. But I'm not here to watch TV.
Click. I head over to the Game Vault. The ethereal lords of Gametap have put a few new picks for the season -- the Castlevania series, Silent Hill 2 -- appropriate choices. Click. I lose 20 minutes playing Castlevania III for no good reason. It turns out to be a great little game.
I finished Sam & Max a few days ago, so I delete that from my cache. I browse around for new stuff. Click. Myst 3? Huh. I played most of the way through Riven, like 124 years ago, but never picked up the rest. Click. And Elysium keeps ranting about how awesome these stupid train games are, so I might as well go through the tutorial for Railroad Tycoon III. Click. Ooooohhh, Time Pilot '84. I plug in the rumblepad. Click. Fifteen minutes later there's a little "bing" as Myst 3 finishes loading. Click. Half an hour goes by. My stomach gets a little queasy from all the head spinning. Click. I'll just chill out with Homeworld 2 and blow some stuff up.
Gametap has changed how I use a precious 90 minutes of gaming. The act of browsing in and of itself is a powerful, positive experience. I go to my local bookstore not just to buy books, but to drink black coffee and wander around the aisles, reading a page of that, a chapter of this. Gametap brings this experience to gaming, and it's uniquely suited for the ADD gamer with too much to do, and not enough time. Sure, I own a lot of Gametap's library already -- they sit out there on the shelves, their ROMs rest peacefully on servers 30 feet away in the furnace room. But I can't surf them.
Gametap doesn't have the latest and greatest. If you've religiously played every halfway decent game in the last 20 years, then it's going to be nothing but retro for you. I'm actually not a big retro guy. I don't think the past is this giant golden age in which everything was great. I enjoy the occasional excursion into pure nostalgia -- a Zork run or a game of Rampage -- but they aren't better games. What the service does have is a library of cool stuff (plus a huge edutainment library, for the parents out there). Games you might not otherwise play. Games that miss the endless rehash collection lists. PC games you always browsed over, but never wanted to drop 30 bucks on.
And the actual experience of trying a new game is brilliant. The interface is designed for browsing like a good TV interface. I can just sit back and use the arrow keys to noodle around, reading about different games, watching the occasional video or interview about them, and if something strikes my fancy, I just click a button and it starts downloading and installing. Console and arcade games install instantly. PC games may take a while, but it all happens in the background.
Better still, once you click, you get the whole experience. For a PC game, you can connect through LAN or 'net servers. For old multiplayer games, Gametap runs multiplayer lobbies that actually work.
It's a phenomenal tool, at a phenomenal price. For the cost of one console game you get a huge library. Do I wish the library was more up to date? Sure. But it will get there. The influx of cash they are inevitably getting from Sam & Max, and soon Uru Live, will give them bolts-in-the-quiver to get better titles, sooner.
I'm sold. If ever a service was designed for a Gamer with a Job. This is it.
Worms Armageddon anyone?