You Never Forget
"Nostalgia isn't what it used to be."-- Peter de Vries
In a burst of eco-insanity muddled with a realization that my waistline isn't getting any smaller, I decided that it was time to get off my duff. So I bought my son's unused bike from him and took it down to be tuned. I used to love riding my bike, and this was a nice touring machine that just needed some TLC. When I went to pick it up, I decided I wasn't getting any younger. I threw a leg over it and coasted down the parking lot with nothing but gravity and my rusty sense of balance keeping me upright as I struggled with the unmarked, Japanese shift levers.
The lady who owns the shop shouted after me, "Don't worry! You never forget!"
She's right, but only as far as she went. I hadn't forgotten what it was like to ride a bicycle. The problem was that riding a bicycle wasn't the same anymore. I'm not the same, the bike's not the same, and the world I'm riding through isn't the same. But I found that I had to do it again, just for the hope of what it used to be.
And that's not the only thing that's coming back. Once I get home, I sit down to my computer. My old Sidewinder has made a recent re-appearance, and with it an old habit.
Hit the power button on the tower. A long stabilizing breath, then ease my neck and shoulders into the chair. The hardware check beeps, then rumbles through the desk surface. My eyes idly watch the blue boxes crawl across the bottom of my screen as my right hand closes around the grip of my joystick. Left, right, up, back, then run the high-hat through the same motions. No hurry here. Just shaking it all into place. Flick the throttle lever full forward, full back and then to center. Hit all four base-buttons and pull the trigger. The screen flashes blue and I log in without even really seeing the dialog box. My background and it's dusting of screen icons burn into the lamp's shadows. Since it's a Tuesday morning and the real world's duty calls, I fight off the double-click that will take me back a thousand years into the future, stomping around a nondescript dirtball on the border of the Lyran Commonwealth.
I can't even begin to list the differences between my 10-year-old self on that beat up old Schwinn banana seat and my 40-year-old self on my Cannondale. Just as the green-lit black obelisk of my current gaming PC would run very large circles around the poor, old 286 boat anchor that ran my first ventures into the Successor States. I'm definitely not rolling the through same realm, either. I remember spending hours crunching my way along my Gramma's gravel driveway to the post-office parking lot, and then around past the back of Mr. Bergey's old truck, and then back around again. Now I've been swept into a rapidly urbanizing suburbia dotted with Starbucks and hipsters. Traffic and real sidewalks are bigger obstacles than my uncle's daffy bike-chasing dog and his loose chain.
And that world at my desk is not the same, either. I'm not in the same relationship with my PC. Concentrating on business computers and console gaming have eroded the childlike zeal I once felt for the Blue-Screen Challenge. Winning past it to even load the game used to be just Level 1 as far as I was concerned. No more. It's taken a lot of effort to bring me back this far, and the years have left me with a mostly adversarial relationship with this hardware. Just as I'm not exactly best friends with my new bike seat; there's not enough super-gel or whatever in the world to make that feel the same. And for those first few rides you feel every creak and crease Father Time has carved into you since your last ride.
Why would any sane person dig up the past like this? Why not just realize that you're different now and you do different things? Because you know if you stick with it, one day you will get a flash of what it used to be like. At some point on a sunny trip, you'll crest a gentle slope and by the bottom of it you'll be flying along effortlessly. It happened for me that first time on the way home from the shop. I had been huffing and puffing my way up this hill, then all of a sudden I was cruising along like that old combo of Evil Kneivel and Superman rolled into one with a huge grin on my face. When it all comes together it just echoes through you. And that is what you really never forget.
This is why Smith and Tinker recently announced to the gaming community at large that they'd like to build a new Mechwarrior game that sort of bore a resemblance to the old ones. They're even going to go back and use the old storyline. They don't even have a publisher, for crying out loud, and here they are announcing a AAA, multi-platform title. What are they thinking? I think they remember. They know what it felt like, and they know we do too.
They released a trailer, and it showed they knew just how to aim it. No marketing bullshots with semi-martial horn music stirring up the background. No throbbing voice over telling us what we already knew. They just powered up and dropped us in. All it took was looking up at that old familiar skull's flat, painted glare fading in through the smoke and it's designation flashing up on the HUD. Sold.
True to form, old-school PC gamers reacted like Weisman found a way to digitally distribute chocolate-covered crack. Then he sweetened the deal with the taste of the old days by promising to distribute the last game and all it's expansions for free to tide us over during the wait. They knew we'd bite, and bite hard. Just like we struck at the lure of Zork, Metroid and Monkey Island. And they hope the echoes of our longing drag our newer brethren along for the ride.
I think it was a solid business decision. They have to be hoping that collective gasp and leap of adrenaline rumbling across the wires push the guys with the money into action. And I bet the CEOs of Logitech and Thrustmaster had huge grins on their face that day. It's been a long time since anyone but the few flight-sim guys left have needed their products.
And just as I hope I can make it another mile along the bike trail tomorrow, I hope they're right. We'll have to huff and puff our way through a couple years of hard development work and the inexorable grinding of the marketing machine. We'll get a couple more trailers rippling through cyberspace to keep us turning pages in our old manuals and clogging whole forums with speculation, rumors and rules-lawyering. I'm already ready. I've found my old disks, books, maps, and joystick. I'll be waiting with one hand on the throttle for this new, old ride.