When I opened it up, I don’t know what I was expecting. The interface looked really cluttered and foreign. I guess I expected a couple of boxes to come up asking what kind of game I want, the protagonist, the antagonist, and it would generate a game. I was more than astonished to see what the software actually contained. To this day I still don’t know how to use it, but that’s less of my young inexperience and more of my lazier customs. So, needless to say, back then I had no idea what to do. I messed with the map and tiles, I messed with the characters, I made my own character sprites in paint.exe and, somehow, imported them into the game. They looked terrible, but it was my creation, damn it, and I was going to be proud.
Months passed, and my interest with making my fantasy RPG grew into a fever pitch. I had looked up tutorials on YouTube and such to see what I needed to do for scripting, but I didn’t know how to apply it. If I had a class on it, maybe I would learn better, but for the time being I was just a blind, scared child. I remember I made a game and titled it “CASTL FALL,” with either a typo or some stupid design choice rendering the ‘E’ invisible. It was some generic RPG, where you have to rescue a princess and you’re a knight. The whole nine yards.
I finished it, mediocre as it was, and loaded it onto a flash drive. I would pass it around to my friends at school and all of them would feign amazement at how good of a game I made. I was elevated to god-like status among my circle of friends because I was the only one who had made a game, so I was the authority. Never mind the fact that the game was terrible, all that mattered was I had done something and it had impacted them. Unfortunately, all good things have to come to an end sometime.
I was perusing some dubious sites, as is the custom for men entering puberty, and got a particularly nasty virus on my computer. This earned the ire of my parents, a harsh spanking, and all of my data and files on my computer and the things attached to it effectively wiped out or damaged beyond use. My flash drive containing CASTL FALL was plugged into my computer at the time of the incident, and so my game came crumbling apart before me. I have fleeting memories of that day; I remember I cried a lot, not because of the spanking or the disappointment of my parents, but because I had lost my game. I kept the flash drive with me as a memento, just in case one day I plugged it in and it magically worked. It never did.
Fast forward a few years and I’m almost out of high school. I’m in my senior year right now, and I’m on winter break, as the rest of you probably are. I was cleaning my room so I could go out with some friends and I managed to find the same flash drive I kept CASTL FALL on. It was a small, yellow thumb drive in the shape of a square. It wasn’t anything fantastic, so I didn’t recognize it at first, I just figured it was some flash drive I used for school assignments. I had a couple of hours before I had to have my room done, so I figured to kill the time I could check out what was on the flash drive. Old Word documents and PowerPoints are always fun to look back at.
I finished cleaning up my room and plugged that flash drive into my notebook without a second thought. The computer took an abnormally long time to read it. Usually when you pop in a flash drive, it boots up in less than a second. This one took several to read, and then it booted up. To my surprise, there weren’t any school assignments on the flash drive, just one folder titled CASTL FALL. Immediately, the flash drive clicked in my memory. I tore it out of my notebook for fear of infecting it and did a scan on it. The scan came back clean, so the flash drive wasn’t as contagious as I initially suspected. I decided to load it onto a virtual machine. It couldn’t hurt to be safe.
A half hour or so later, I sat back down at my laptop, fired up my VM, and opened up the CASTL FALL folder. There were a couple of other folders inside, such as ‘Graphics,’ ‘Sound,’ ‘Data,’ and generic game things like that. There was an .exe file inside the base folder. I felt a mixture of nostalgia and fear come over me. I wanted to play my old game to see what I had made—probably laughable, now—but I also dreaded seeing what it was in case the virus altered it… unfavorably. I stole a look at the clock and saw I had about two hours before I had to set out. Turning the lights off in my room, I sat in my chair, plugged in my headphones, and opened the file.
Lively, upbeat music blasted through my headphones and made me jump out of my seat. The title screen popped up, a picture of some poorly drawn castle taken with a photograph, the timestamp clearly visible on the right. I remembered drawing it and telling my mom to take the picture, and she reluctantly humored me. I turned the volume down before my eardrums ruptured and pressed NEW GAME.
The music cut out just as abruptly as it began. There was no sound anymore, save for the whirring of my computer and my own breathing, still a bit harried from when the music gave me a scare. The game cut into a shot showing a man, the main character, standing on some beachy knoll. There was water all around him, and the top right and right hand corner of the screen were open for me to walk to. The rest of the screen was obscured by water tiles, roaring around him like a maelstrom. There were some dead pixels here and there, no doubt a by-product of the infection, and some tiles didn’t belong where they were. For instance, a tree stump tile was placed in the middle of the water, hovering over it ambiguously.
There was a sign on the land, and I decided to walk up to it to see what it said. I wasn’t entirely prepared for what happened when I clicked it…
“IT IS A NICE DAY OUTSIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII” popped up on a text box, and the main character’s face at the side became visible. It didn’t look right. The infection probably caused the text on the text box and the character’s face to warp. I didn’t remember a whole lot of what I made into the game five or so years back, so the original text is lost on me. All I have is this distorted representation to guide me. I headed off to the top of the screen.
I was in a valley now, more signs littering my path. I guess young me thought the only way to put dialogue into the game ‘realistically’ was to have it on signs. I read them all and got more of the same results. “SURELY THE KIING IS H425FD5F%,” “TIMETIMETIMETIMETIMETIME,” and “13o5PD05^” were some of the responses I got from clicking on the signs. Nothing terribly helpful. Continuing on through the valley led me to a small outpost and then a dead end. There was an old man stuck in one direction at the outpost, and a little shack. I couldn’t go into the shack, and talking to the man yielded nothing. This infection corrupted my game beyond my initial belief. I had no choice but to return to the knoll and turn to the right.
When I went right I found that it led to two separate paths. One led to a mountain and one led to a castle. I remembered enough to know that I programmed the game to make you go to the castle first, whether you wanted to or not, and so my character began to stride towards the castle. Now, here is where the virus made itself apparent.
While I walked, sometimes my character would disappear, and other times parts of him would be missing from his sprite. Upon further examination, the parts missing from his sprite manifested themselves on other parts of the screen, such as the corners. As well as my character having spasms, the screen also flickered quite a bit as well. Sometimes the flickers would be barely noticeable, but other times it would make my brightness on my computer turn up. The terrain and map also warped suitably. My character must’ve been a god, because I found myself walking through walls and trees with ease.
I arrived at the castle—half of it was sticking off the map, and the other half was in front of me—and entered. I saw that there was a long hallway leading to the king, and two doors to the left and right. When I tried to go to the doors, a text box popped up that said, “RUN:SCRIPT’’50ITEMPARAMETER:DOOR.” I guess the script never processed, because no matter how many times I pressed the door, I would never go through it. This happened for both of them. I was stuck having to go to the king.
I talked to the king and got the same nonsense as everywhere else. I could pick snippets out that made sense, like, “DAUGHTER IS MISSING” and “GOLD HERE IS BOUNTIFUL!!” but couldn’t get the ultimate gist of what was happening. After the talk with the king, I got teleported back to the forked path and could now go to the path leading to the mountain. Trying to go down the path leading to the castle resulted in a forced crash of the VM. I tried this a few different times and got the same response without fail. Up until this point, there has also been no sound. No music, no effects, no beeps, nothing. It was dead quiet.
Going to the mountain inexplicably transported me to a dungeon. I use this word very loosely, because 10-year-old me had no idea how to design anything. It was a big area that was just lava rock floors and the occasional pool of lava. The screen flickered more and more intensely here, and the area names weren’t even names anymore. For instance, I went to one section of the dungeon titled ‘135#@5^636&7GG073e.’ Phantom characters would appear in rows, and the dungeon would begin to break apart. The flickering began to give me a headache…
Eventually I reached one part of the stage titled ‘THE HEART F ARKNE,’ which had a string of phantom characters at the bottom, a lava pool, and a chest. When I opened the chest, the screen flickered and separated into two different hues of the screen. My computer began to struggle a bit, and I could hear the fans hard at work inside the case. What the hell was going on?
When I opened the chest I got an item called ‘THE HEART OF DARKNESS.’ It could’ve been anything, for all I know, because the screen was warping so much I could barely read or tell what was happening. There was still no sound going on. I started to lean in to my chair to concentrate more, the flickering becoming more and more intense. If there was one thing I would do before I went out, it would b
I woke up a few hours later to the sound of my phone buzzing. I had received a slew of messages from some of my disgruntled friends, complaining that I stood them up and that I was a douche. That wasn’t on my immediate list of concerns, though; first I had to reacquaint myself with reality. I had to run through my head a few times before I realized I had fallen asleep while I was playing something on my computer. I turned my head to look at my laptop screen and saw the screen flickering and droning, a quiet but harsh buzz coming from the speakers. My brain felt like it wanted to crawl out of my skull… I was afraid my head would split in half, it hurt so badly.
There was a single image onscreen of my character speaking to a… person. As soon as I reached my computer, the screen stopped flickering. The buzz was still present, however. The flickering was almost nonexistent. There was a text box onscreen saying, “YOU SAVED ME. GOOD JOB…” I suppose the princess was rescued in the end. But how the hell did I get to the princess? I passed out, didn’t I? The first thing I did was shut off my VM, then I shut off my computer, then I popped some Tylenol in the bathroom. My head was pounding.
The time at that moment was 11:47 PM. I didn’t feel sleepy, my head hurt too much. I ripped the flash drive out of my computer and threw it at the wall as hard as I could. Not content with just that, I stomped on it a few times with my shoe heel, leaving nothing but some scattered silicon chips and wires on the floor. The harsh droning of the screen still imprinted in my ears, I stared out the window for a while. My eyes felt like they were seeing the world in dots, like how you feel when you get out of a 3D movie showing. Needless to say, I haven’t taken an interest in making video games anymore.