Decided to rescue the below from languishing in the middle of a post about a demo over on RPS, as a) it was a damn silly place to leave it and b) I want to remind myself to make something more of it sometime.
“… I’m stupidly pleased that Feign Death is back [in Unreal Tournament 3], having been absent in Unreal Tournament 2k3/4. Why? Storytime!
Back in around 1999, after eating some Hot Cross Buns diligently garnished with a brain-affecting plant extract that’s more commonly inhaled, my best friend and I hauled our PCs into the same room and rigged up a serial connection to play original UT deathmatch against each other. After half an hour of our chemically-altered reaction times not making for a particularly adrenaline-fuelled match, I thought it would be really, really funny to hit Feign Death. So I hit F, crumpled to the ground and lay there for what seemed like a couple of minutes, until my mate, slightly frustrated at not being able to find me, eventually ran over my ‘corpse’, at which point I unfeigned death and started spraying bullets at him, causing him to scream and really, actually fall off his chair.
We both laughed long and hard for some time, and then happened to glance at the clock. I realised that, as a result of the slight time distortion effect that can come with imbibing the substance in question, I’d in fact been feigning death for almost an hour. My equally addled friend had, during this time, become accustomed to being in an apparently empty map, and had in fact run past my prostrate avatar dozens of times already by that point – hence the screaming when it suddenly rose up and started shooting at him. We then also realised we’d been very loudly playing Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell on repeat for the entire duration, and the neighbours really weren’t happy about it. Slightly embarrassed about it all, we went out for snacks, only to find that someone had for some reason crossed out the name of every sandwich in the shop and scribbled ‘Ewok’ onto the front of the packet instead. So we came home, ate Ewok sandwiches and played more UT until we both basically passed out at our keyboards.
My best friend passed away unexpectedly two years ago. That night of extreme confusion and Unreal Tournament is one of my fondest memories of him. And that’s why I’m glad Feign Death is back.”
JJ – the friend in question – and I grew up together as gamers. Both of us lacked the cash/parental goodwill to indulge in the Amigas and NESes everyone else seemd to have in the earlier years of secondary school, and so we tumbled into Spectrums and BBC Micros instead. We seemed backwards to our ever-mocking peers, but we were positively drowning in casette and floppy copies of games at a time when everyone else was stuck saving up for the latest Zelda. I didn’t start writing about games until about 2001 (and writing well about games until about 2007), but playing Double Dragon and Chuckie Egg together (and there were far more games we each simply watched the other one play) was instrumental in bumping gaming into my premiere hobby.
We didn’t go to the same university due to some half-thought-out teenage boy-man sense that we should each stand on our two feet, and I’ll always regret that. The gaming continued nonetheless – both of us had PCs by that point, so would swap CD-Rs full of treats with each other whenever we met up. One of those was UT, and a visit to his student house one Summer the source of the above anecdote. Post-uni, JJ became a far worthier man than I – a teacher by trade, and an astonishingly proactive individual both socially and personally. Even his death reflected that – he collapsed in the gym, in training for a sponsored walk of the country’s length. The coroner was never able to find a cast-iron cause, but believes he had an irregular heartbeat as a result of an earlier viral infection. I’m a little too close to saying something stupidly saccharine like “he died as he lived” there. Let’s just say he lived a lot in only a quarter of a century. Me, I plonked myself in front of a monitor around 2001 and pretty much just stayed there. That’s damaged me in a lot of ways, most recently playing a significant part in my breaking up with my girlfriend of seven years. I need to keep JJ in mind if I’m going to change my ways. He wasn’t an intellectual inspiration to me in the way a number of my current friends are, but he’s the only person I know/knew who gave me a strong sense of how I should treat life.
In the couple of years preceding that, he didn’t do much gaming anymore – it was understandably secondary to these nobler pursuits. Not that long before he passed away, he expressed disappointment that I was still labouring away in games/tech journalism rather than moving onto something bigger. I was a little offended; there was enough about that career which I enjoyed to want to stay in it (this was before a couple of promotions pushed me too far into the managerial aspect of magazines, which is why I’m freelance these day), but I also knew I’d never be able to live up to his expectations. He was a better man than I, pure and simple. I also knew our shared gaming history was pretty much over, and that was a little sad.
That said, I’m pretty sure he’d have gotten a kick out of some of the stuff I’m writing about on RPS. The sort of wry, single-idea indie games that are so in vogue would have tickled him, and I like to think he’d have respected the more narrative pieces I occasionally wheel out. It may still have been about games, but at least I was writing, not simply reviewing. I wish he’d seen it, that I could have proven to him I wasn’t going to spend my life going nowhere on a PC magazine.
Anyways. Flecked with nostaglic sorrow or not, that night of feigning death in UT pretty much sums up what I’m always looking for from games, and also the reason JJ was my best mate from age 9 to 26. Some day, I’ll write it up properly – and somewhere that matters, not in a post about a demo.