For as long as I can remember I have been a little nerd with a wild imagination. I liked school and had good grades, but I always looked at the clock, counting hours and minutes until the last clock rang. Then I would run to meet my best friend in the park behind his house where we had dug a hole and set up a small hut. There, our playful senses and imagination at their height, we would transform the park into a mysterious world of heroes, battles and fantastic creatures.
This obviously changed when my first computer came into my life. Well not exactly my life, more the life of my best friend's brother. He was old enough to make money and buy himself a Nintendo Entertainment System (Release Date & More Details!). While he was away, my friend and I would sneak into his room and play games on it for hours, but always careful not to get caught when he returned. Eventually, my friend's older brother moved out and guess who inherited NES? My friend! Now was our time to shine! We can finally play freely without fear of an older brother catching us (only our mum's gnawing that we would go over our eyes. Yeah right ...)
Mario Bros., Donkey Kong and all the good days ... you say, we played it. We would lose ourselves in these games for hours - Unfortunately, Mom, for the times I didn't make it home in time - but they never really scraped it itch to imagine me being in a fantasy world.
It was about the same time when my dad, also a nerd, found a group of people through the local comic book store that invited him to play Warhammer Quest. For those unfamiliar with this game, Warhammer Quest is like Dungeons & Dragons, where a group of players follow a story created and told by the so-called Prison Horse Master. These stories would range from a simple prison jail with tax at the end to large campaigns with multiple angles and stories intertwined.
After each game, my dad would tell me all these amazing stories about what he and his group met in their adventure. From small acts like crossing a creepy swamp to stories of abandoning evil demons with clever planning but ... horrible execution. I fell in love with these stories and my wish for my 10th birthday was that my dad would host a Warhammer Quest adventure for me and my friends. Which he gladly agreed to. My mom made all kinds of fantasy themed snacks for us, like witch fingers from sausage and ketchup and dragon shaped cookies. This was just the beginning. Every birthday since then was a new Warhammer Quest adventure.
One night, just before my 12th birthday, I heard my dad talk to his friends about a new game being released, where you could digitally make your own dungeons and fight monsters, disarm traps and do all the cool things you can do at Warhammer but digitally. The game was Neverwinter's Nights by BioWare. I was surprised at the idea of ??such a game. I had to have it. With a little pocket collection and a little begging my parents, this was my 12th birthday.
The moment I put my hands on it, I ran to my computer only to find out that it would barely support the amazing graphics it had (at least for back in those days). But it was fantastic right from the start and attracted me into the world of Faerund, in the city of Neverwinter where it all began. My English began to be good enough to follow the rich story presented by the creators. A story that took you through a mysterious land full of dungeons and mythical creatures.
I can't even remember how many hours I spent in Faerund's world, but it was truly a happy experience, and I was always eager to spend more. It wasn't long after I quit the game that I began to imagine creating my own story, my own dungeon with monsters, prey and a quest to save the dam in need. I got out my notebook and made sketches of dungeons with chests and traps and how to travel deeper into the dungeon. I really loved the process of creating a place that wasn't real to anything tangible, just like the creators at BioWare did.
As mentioned, Neverwinter's Nights had its own content creation tool, so I tried it. After spending all this time doing my prison manuscripts on paper, it would probably be easy to send those scribbles into the game, right? Well ... this was a lot harder than I expected. Translating your imagination into something tangible and real in a game is a difficult task, and the dialogues I wrote didn't make sense. The dungeon felt a little empty and not as lively as in my head. But this didn't stop me from trying hard and making new plans every day until I made the perfect prison hole, regardless of the "perfect" that meant for a 12 year old.
Now 18 years later, I look back at my games collection and especially at Neverwinter's Nights with nostalgia and happiness, recognizing that this game played an integral part in what I am today. It is not just the game itself that I appreciate now, but more how this game shaped me and helped me discover a world in which creativity and imagination in nerds like myself is celebrated: the world of game design.