Odysseus had to subdue elite Trojan warriors, fight mythological creatures, and journey through the underworld before beholding his beloved land of Ithaca. Was it worth twenty years of peril to see his home again? It would no doubt look a lot better after such a tempestuous trip. Everyone at some point takes a life-changing journey. Although not as heroic, I learned a few lessons and a bit about myself during the quest for my first Voodoo 2 graphics card.
Back in November of 1997, I surfed into a news flash: “3DFX Interactive announces Voodoo 2 chipset, 2 to 3 times faster.” I read further. This high-velocity hardware would be backward compatible with games written for the original Voodoo and cost only slightly more.
I had been budgeting to purchase some sort of 3D graphics accelerator card. I had read articles praising all sorts of boards for their increase in speed and visual depth. I saw the likelihood that Voodoo 2 would become the long awaited standard for a market confused with ill-supported products. I had drooled long enough over screen shots. This was the one. The release date was scheduled for 1st quarter, 1998, just two months away!
I dug in and determined to hold my ground until the release of Voodoo 2. During this time, I eagerly tracked the progress in the news. For the first time in my life, I did more surfing than gaming. Who wants to load up a game on inferior hardware? On the other hand, I didn’t yet have the new hardware, only a vision that all the hype I was reading would become a reality.
To be on the safe side, I called up my local software retailer and reserved one of the hot new boards. 3DFX Interactive’s stock had gone public last summer, so the company should have plenty of cash to perfect their product.
February came and I began to worry. All the hype had come to a lull. What could be wrong? By the middle of March I began calling daily to check the status of my order. Nothing. I even went by the store a few times on the foolish hope that my Voodoo 2 3D card would somehow be there. I felt a strong empathy for the sad faces starring at the video card display. No one spoke, yet we all understood one another. There was nothing to say or do, but wait.
To pass the time, I called a few other software retailers and asked if any Voodoo 2 based cards had arrived. They all delivered a unanimous and succinct “no”. What was I to do? Purchasing one of the dated first generation Voodoo boards at this point made no sense, yet the pain of waiting was draining my emotions. The old Voodoo prices had not dropped a penny. I was now practically stalking the truck. Let them arrest me, I’ll be a martyr for the gaming community.
One week after shipping began, I was standing in my local software store clutching one of the hot new graphics card boxes. I could stare for minutes at the fancy artwork on most any 3D card box. I squeezed and caressed the beautiful soft box, more admiring the ornate graphical designs than reading the words.
Suddenly a middle-aged man brushed by me and violently snatched a box from the shelf without even slowing down or looking at it. For a moment the anxiety came back, but I laughed to myself. I finally had the sucker in my hands! I better go.
“What’s in that box?” The cashier asked. I smugly explained the limitlessness of my new product as my limited credit was sucked out of my Mastercard. As I tried to leave the store, everyone starred at me as if I had stolen something. What envy.
“Sir!” The security guard shouted. “Come here please.”
“Here’s my receipt,” I said.
He ignored the paper and asked, “What do they do?”
“Whatever’s in those pretty little boxes. What do they do?”
Simply leaving the store with this splendid Pandora’s box was a challenge in itself. They were just curious, and I was too high to be annoyed. I gave him a hurried description and tore out the doors.
I can install and play a most any game to it’s fullest potential, but my knowledge of hardware greatly diminishes after the power cord is plugged in. My hands prefer the action of clicking over turning, bending and screwing.
It was midnight and I hadn’t blown up anything or seen a single polygon. Attempts to boot my machine yielded a monitor screen blacker than I’d ever seen. In my weakness, I reached for the phone. Tech support suggested that I had a bad card. I would get a fresh start at dawn and exchange the faulty card for a new one. I was so, so close.
THE COUNTER ATTACK
The next day a dreary, gray canopy of nimbus clouds formed overhead. The sky, the ground, everything, lacked depth and texture. The sun was a dim memory. Fog smeared my visibility. Moreover, my whole life craved a third dimension. I closed my eyes only to see thousands of dark, ugly pixels swarming around me.
I called my boss to inform her that I would not be in for work that day because I was feeling ill. Truly, I was sicker than any virus had ever made me. If she pressed me, I would say (in good conscience) that I was having an anxiety attack. She answered and smugly reminded me that it was not a workday.
I raced down the highway at 100 frames per second. My heart pumped blood at 56 kbs. My windows down, my music blaring, and my thoughts focused, I could have passed a hitch-hiking Lara Croft, and never noticed her.
There I sat in the parking lot of my local computer store sipping my coffee and planning my strategy. “How did I get here?” I asked myself. A few years ago I had purchased my first computer with the innocent intentions of using it for word processing. I suspected that computers were essentially boring but necessary tools. Computer games served the purpose of amusing antisocial programmers, nerdish child prodigies, or those otherwise relegated to the indoors. I determined never to join their company…right up to the day that I casually picked up a copy of EF2000 and a joystick. I became so intrigued with the sim that I played it constantly. When I finally grew tired of it, I played through every sim I could get my hands on until there remained nothing to do but write about them.
I prepared myself for the inevitable skirmish with customer service. I would use the Trojan Horse tactic: keep the box buried deep in the bag as if it were some trivial software package until I stood before the counter, next utter a polite “Hello,” then suddenly whip out the eye-dazzling box and declare that I am here to exchange the defective item.
I stood in line behind several dissatisfied customers, all describing in detail how their various products had disappointed them. An old man in front of me sought to pick up his “upgraded” 486 which simply could not be found anywhere. With affection, he described its appearance. “It was my first machine,” he mused (it was practically the first pc). “You didn’t sell my baby to an antique dealer, did you?” The old man tried to joke. I relished the superior power of my P2 would generate with a V2 under the hood. A manager appeared and led the man to the junk room to search for his cherished relic.
It turned out I didn’t need to argue at all. They seemed to respect my desire to upgrade. After all, I sincerely wanted to improve the quality of my life. I swear that I pulled the last remaining box from the shelf.
I don’t remember much about the drive home. When I arrived and reinstalled only to view again the horrifying black screen, I knew that the problem lay in the user, not the hardware. Yes, I had been a fool. I will spare the details but admit that in my haste, I had originally installed the Voodoo 2 board incorrectly. I felt ashamed.
THE FINAL ANALYSIS
I learned: “1st quarter” releases mean late 1st quarter. Read the installation instructions slowly, thoroughly, and in a relaxed state of mind. Patience is an essential virtue for serious gamers. Voodoo is appropriately named.
After passing the tweaking stage, I asked myself if the slab of aluminum wire-wrapped silicon was worth all the trouble. I thought some more. Had I really suffered or just become overindulged in games? The soldiers of Odysseus’ time fought in close quarters with real knives and spears. I’ll take 3D any day.