Sunday, September 28, 2008

How I Came to Type Fast

This is not a boast. Most people are rather impressed with the speed at which I type. Not that I'm that fast lah, but I think I can bang it out at a decent rate in English that is. My speed slows considerably when I'm writing in Malay (or Bahasa Malaysia, to be more precise) or in truth, in any other language. They also tend to be impressed with the fact that I do not have to stare at the keyboard to look at the keys. I realized that typing fast and accurately is a very important skill in the computer age. It may not be so important in the next generation when they have perfected the capturing and transcribing of actual dialogue. And I am often asked how I came upon such a skill. Did I take typing classes? Was there some software that could help train them to type fast? Did I study from a book? Yes, those are all the ways in which you could learn typing but no I didn't learn it that way. I had a more circuitous but fun route. Two words.

Computer games. 

Or more precisely, early PC adventure computer games. Lots of it. When I was young, I used to go over to my cousins' house which was five doors down from mine every day to play their computer games. Their parents in their wisdom bought the Apple II which had a lot of excellent games going for it at the time. Games like karateka, loderunner, Saigon, Wyndam Hill, and many others were the rage at the time. I played all of them and finsihed most of them. So my poor other cousins usually just watched me I had no computer at home. For some reason my parents had more important things to do other than to look into this deficiency of mine. 

So whilst I played many games on the Apple, it did not develop my typing because most of the controls only required either a joystick (haven't heard that one in a while; and get that grin of your face you goddamned pervert) or a few of the keys on the keyboard to move about. The groundbreaking moment came as a result of my parents foresight and ignorance. They had the foresight to realize that I should be computer literate but ignorant about computers. I should also be thankful that I had no choice in the computer because I would have certainly bought the Apple II as well. As it turned out they bought me a PC. One of the very first around - an 8088 chipset. I don't know what exact microprocessor that was (the 80188 or 80186) but it was definitely one of those because I remembered upgrading to the 286 several years later and it being somewhat a momentous occasion!

Back to the PC. I still remember we went to this shop near my old house in Damansara Utama one afternoon when my parents talked to some guy about computers and pointed at me. I remember being deliriously happy about it even though I would later discover that it was not the computer I wanted. I did overhear that the cost of the computer was around four grand. This was sometime in the early 80's, so now that I look back on it, my parents must have suffered for me to have that computer because they were not earning much at the time. How puny those specifications would be for the current computers. I think even my current PDA/Phone has more processing power than my first computer. 

Anyway, the PC came about a week or two later. I jumped on to the computer the moment it arrived and grew quite disappointed when I realized I was not able to intuitively take to it and that it had far less games than the Apple II. I was so disappointed that I ignored the PC for a while and continued to go over to my cousin's house to play on their computer. I found a few games here and there like Digger (a variant of Pac Man) and Pong (which was ping pong) which were uninteresting and little better than those games on console boxes at the time like Atari, Commodore 64, and what nots. This went on until I discovered a computer game for the PC at the Pineapple shop in Jaya at Petaling Jaya. That shop for a long time became my PC game mecca until I graduated to the Pentium and the game I found there was to be the first of many for myself and for the series - King Quest: Quest for the Crown by Sierra Games. 

It was one of those rare adventure games that came out on the market which had an great storyline and challenging puzzles. I fell in love instantly. I played the game for weeks until I managed to solve and complete it. Finishing the game of myself gave me a huge sense of accomplishment because I solved all the puzzles myself. The King Quest was one of the several lines of adventure games that were produced by Sierra at the time whom I felt were the masters of their craft. I enjoyed and completed almost all their early adventure games in the other series as well such as the notable Space Quest, Police Quest and Leisure Suit Larry for the same reasons - excellent storylines and challenging (not impossible) puzzles. I suppose that is why even these days, my first choice of game is the adventure one and not the FPS (First Persons Shooters) which I have almost no interest in, except where it concerns the graphics because this is where most of the cutting edge technology goes to. 

So how did those games help me out? Although one still used some keys to direct the character in the game, the difference now was that you had to type in the commands for the character. Like 'Get Book', 'Give Book to Sarah' or even longer sentences. I still remember the breakthrough very vividly because it was at a very crucial and difficult part in the very first Police Quest. The quest I was tasked with was to question a particular suspect who was also a biker. What I had to do get his attention was to push down a row of bikes in front of a bar. This was get him out of the bar after which I had to subdue him when he attacked me with my tonfa which my character carried. The difficulty was that the moment my character pushed down the bikes, I had a very short span of time to type 'Use night stick on biker' and the game didn't let me pre-type the words. On top of that it would lock me out the moment I pushed the bikes for a very short while and I could only type what I had to do after that short while was over and there was no indication to show when I could commence typing. So alot of it was hit and miss. I did it so many, many, many times until I could get the timing and accuracy perfect because anything short of it would see my character being beaten to death. 

When I finally surmounted that particular problem, I realized that I now had a skill. Sure it was mostly to type that stupid line but it sparked the idea that I could type faster than I did, and all I needed was practise. And practise I did with the slew of not only visual adventure games but also text ones like Planetfall and Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy for example. I think it's a bit of a shame that we don't have any more text based games anymore and it's all just graphics and mouses these days, because I felt those games had more substance on average than games with graphics. 

Computer games were not the whole story but it certainly was my breakthrough. I refined my skills to a higher level in University when I would raid libraries with my friend, CS Lim and also transcribe lectures and tutorials from recordings I had my friends take. I spent many hours listening to poor recordings and transcribing faithfully every word spoken by the lecturer or tutor because I had a terrible time waking up for lectures in the morning (anything before 12pm was early). But were it not for those countless adventure games I played, I doubt if I should ever have acquired such a valuable and necessary skill in this day and age.

1 comment:

etgohome said...

Haha this is interesting. For me i honed my typing skills (not that it's that good) playing MUDs (multi-user dungeon) over Telnet. They are essentially MMORPGs minus the graphics and mouse.

I spent 10 years of my life playing them, but stopped 4 years back :D