the birth of a programmer
A bit over a decade ago a series of coincidences made me embark on the quest of becoming a programmer. The event that started everything must have been when thirteen year old me with his old Athlon XP 2400, 256 MB DDR RAM, nforce2 board, an (infamous) Geforce4 MX 440 Windows XP Computer, was trying to play Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic in the early 2000’s. it was a very cinematic experience in the menu, and a glorified PowerPoint presentation inside the Endar Spire. What I’m talking about? Horrible performance. Single digit framerates.
I was determined to get to the bottom of this. Why would my computer betray me at a time like this?
Down the Rabbithole
Of course, I immediately tracked down the only Computerstore in town and went there. It was a tiny shop with three or four employees, boss was still working the register and the entire store had a family vibe to it. Not to mention the shelves stacked to the roof with the newest graphics cards, motherboards, CPU’s, networking gear, printers, pre-built Systems, CRTs and a couple of early LCD’s - with the good old 4:3 aspect ratio.
Now, this PC I had gotten when my family upgraded to a Pentium 4 with Hyperthreading and a Geforce 6600 was already obsolete and the store guy told me that there’s not much to be done, but told me to get another 256MB RAM module now and a better graphics card in the future. I don’t know how much I spent on that module but I vividly remember it was a lot for me back then as a 13-year-old.
Turns out that guy knew what he was talking about, doubling up on RAM made a big difference! I’d now have ~20 FPS and could actually play the game I was so excited about.
A month later I found a 35$ (and also infamous) Geforce FX 5500 at an electronics store and bought it immediately. It had twice the VRAM and it was bigger! Naively thinking that I had struck a bargain and would go home, put it in, turn up all the graphical settings on all my games and just go
Yea. It didn’t happen. Still had too little RAM, my CPU was a slow singlecore and I just upgraded to my second mistake.
It was an improvement from the Geforce4 MX but not a whole lot more. Turns out the worst cards Nvidia ever realeased up to that point were the Geforce 4 series and the FX 5000 series :) A year later Oblivion came out and the FX 5500 didn’t cut it, went back to the computer shop and got a AMD Radeon HD 2600 PRO because it still worked with the AGP bus. Yes, I wasn’t even using PCIe yet…
Tinkering with my computer taught me a lot though, I’d open it up, tear it apart and reassemble it, try to run it without all the components, see what happens, change out parts with stuff I sourced from the dumpsters, breaking Windows XP once a month and reinstalling it, buying books about computers or going to the local community center for internet access as I didn’t have any access to the internet at home until next year, try to squeeze out every single bit of performance from this little shitty slow computer was also highly rewarding. I’d obsess over a point increase in benchmark scores, I’d overvolt and overclock my CPU with a pencil - nowdays people increase a multiplyer in the bios and think they’re overclockers - disgusting XD - and disable windows services, deleting protected system files to free up some space on my 80GB IDE HDD that sounded like a peppermill being thrown down the stairs when it was doing something .. anything..
There was no turning back now.
If you didn’t have internet or money, you had to spend a lot of your time with the same things. When I got bored, I couldn’t watch a YouTube video - YouTube didn’t exist - so what do you do? Well, for me it was either going out, walking to friends houses and asking them if they wanted to come outside and do something because - you guessed it - we didn’t have phones either. Also most of the time, you’d go from friend to friend to friend to friend, often walking for hours, through the entire city till you find someone who has time and can be fucking bothered to come out. I’d always try to plan my routes before embarking and it never felt like I had taken the best route. I hadn’t heard of the traveling salesman problem yet. The alternative would have been playing old games or making my own maps, items, NPCs, and Quests in the original Neverwinter Nights, the only game I owned that shipped with modding tools.
I thought I could negotiate more computer time with the lifegivers by showing them productivity. A futile endeavour
I spent countless hours with the NWEditor, I still remember vividly, sitting in my room, building my first city, populating it with NPC’s, setting waypoints for each of them, making them have a daily routine, loads of dialog and quests …. with rewards that broke the entire game cause I got to set the stats of the items too… That was the first time power corruped me and turned me into a maniac. - all while listening to ‘Ridin dirty’ by Chamillionaire :D
Later I’d buy GameMaker and FPS Maker (which is now Open Source!) trying to make something cool I could show off, but that never happened, GameMaker was too complicated and FPS Maker was the most hideous thing i’ve ever seen and felt terrible. I remember building a D-Day map with hordes of enemies that’d never stop, and you’d have to protect your bunkers for as long as you could. It would work for two waves and then nothing would spawn. Never figured out what was wrong.
Turns out making games is hard and a thirteen-year-old without any programming experience can’t do it.
Prepaid 3G Internet launched. No contract, no need to be an adult, just walk to the store, get a starter kit with USB Modem and SIM card, plug it in, install the software, dial in and surf. It was amazing. Finally I could play multiplayer games over the internet, finally I could look at websites and see what’s on the internet, download free software, free games, discover piracy, download more cough free stuff,…
Fun fact: my 3G internet was a breathtaking 1mbits download (110kb/s) and I paid 25$ per Gigabyte - exactly how much money I got from my granny a month
Eventually I’ve started playing a random Chinese MMORPG called Conquer Online, my first MMORPG experience. I spent so much time on this grindy free to play & pay to win game. Conquer reminded me of Diablo and Sacred even a tiny bit about Neverwinter, so I was immediatelly in love with it and ignored all the pay to win stuff. Then one day another one of life’s coincidences: Googling around for Conquer leveling bots and hacks, I came around a game-hacking forum and on it I’d find something that’d change my life forever.
This game actually had a pretty new private server community and there were private server source codes available for download.