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by Mathew Kumar


In Washington Dulles I am greeted by a stony-faced gentleman, in my memories played by James Coburn, one of the members of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. As we zoom along freeways, a decoration I’ll become accustomed to while in Virginia, he acquaints himself with me and the fact I’m a videogame journalist, a status that I still imagine is liable to get me chucked off the tour and somehow arrested for traveling under false pretences.

"Do you like Microsoft Flight Simulator?" he asks.

I think the last time I played Microsoft Flight Simulator was when it was still a DOS program with EGA graphics.

I clear my throat. "I, um, remember playing it when it was a DOS program. It’s come on a lot since then."

"Oh, yes. I’m a pilot, you see, and I love to play it. Especially since they put real time into it. It’s really something special."

I look at him, and I imagine him sat in front of his computer, lost in Flight Simulator. Observing his hands, I think, yeah, he’ll have bought a yoke and everything. Somehow, the thought of him enraptured by a digital recreation of a real world humanizes him, and I relax. Later, on taking a small private plane from Leesburg to Norfolk, staring out the tiny window, barely a porthole, onto seas of trees blurring into a pixel-mass texture map in my mind, I would think of him again.

After picking up another journalist, a bearded gentleman who’d flown out from Oregon for the tour (sadly he later died of dysentery on the trail back), we are allowed, before the rest of the journalists arrive, an extra special, ‘early arrivers’ tour of the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

It’s a very good tourist destination. Although this isn’t a travel guide, I will say that seeing the Enola Gay is a very strange and somehow upsetting experience.

Some objects just have a resonant power, I guess.

- -- -

Valador, our first stop, despite being a very serious sounding company ("an information architect whose mission is to project and develop our nation’s technological, strategic, and military assets") and having exhibited at the Serious Games Summit held in D.C. mere weeks before my arrival, had the same kind of slovenly game development feel as any studio I’ve ever been to. They had a fairly nice MAME cab, too. Our demonstration was held in a conference room with no coffee and comfortable chairs that beg you to fall asleep. I watched one of the other journalists drift off. Eventually I did too, but not before noting that using the Unreal and Torque engines they produce systems in a couple of months that it would take NASA a couple of years to produce. "Commercial game engines have surpassed anything the Pentagon does," stated Kevin T. Marbie, before glowering at a room where sleeping journalists were outnumbered by staff and people involved in the economic development of Virginia by a ratio of at least two to one[6], "I would know. I used to work for DARPA."

The intensity of his gaze ensured none of us even thought of yelling ‘Snake? Snake? SNAAAAKE!’ at him.

Later, George Washington University campus allowed me to have fun in their Driving Simulator Laboratory. Most akin to playing Namco’s legendary, absurd version of Ridge Racer that featured a full sized Mazda, it amazed me by somehow feeling less realistic than that. Perhaps it was all to do with the graphics, roughly akin to the original Hard Drivin’. Perhaps it was the fact that as soon as you tried to drive on grass you crashed. Much, however, like the sumptuous free three-course dinner I would later enjoy, that I would soon follow by flopping into an actually-quite-uncomfortable bed in a five-star hotel room the size of my apartment, it didn’t really have anything to do with videogames at all.

* *

Up until this point, my modeling and simulation tour experience had served to tell me that the modeling and simulation industry is using technology largely years behind the gaming industry, resulting in software charitably described as ugly and backwards. Generally backed up, of course, with a strong core simulation -- still, it seems amazing to see people demonstrating things that would get laughed off the floor at CES in 1992. This trend continued throughout the tour, which is why I’m not going to bother describing the Virginia Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation Center; the Joint Warfighting Center of the United States Joint Forces Command; SAIC; or the Lockheed Martin Center for Innovation.

Slightly blurry photo of some warsim at SAIC, I think.

SAIC may have given me a nice thermos style mug, and visiting a US Military base after my distasteful immigration process is an incredibly uncomfortable experience[7], but these experiences are, without exception, uninteresting to the general reader of a seminal new games journalism website, even though they’re used to reading 10,000 word pieces on what the author had for dinner, and how that relates to the thematic influences of Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa on Koji Igarashi’s current opus for Konami.[8] As it stands, we’ve only reached the 2,971-word mark.

[Next: Chapter Six]


[Chapter Two/One]


[Chapter Three]

[Chapter Six]

[Chapter Seven]

[Chapter Eight]