A Father’s Day tribute to my dearly missed gaming dad


My dad played video games before most people knew there were video games worth playing.

I think we got our alien Atari 2600 model in 1979. This is one of many details I desperately want to check out but never will. Because in 2016, my dad—Hugh Walker— unexpectedly fell dead on the sidewalk at the age of 66. He came home from breakfast at a friend’s house and then he was gone. And with it came nearly seventy years of encyclopedic information on every detail of world history and forensic knowledge of the British game development scene in the 1980s.

- Advertisement -

My dad was like a stuffed toy in many ways, but one particularly metaphorical hoop on a string protruding from his back that, when pulled, triggered a breathtaking plot of knowledge and entertainment. It was always a monologue, but overall it was worth listening to. You might accidentally trigger something about the royal turmoil of the 16th century, but it could just as easily be the origins of the film licensing company Ocean Software, or personal anecdotes about how he befriended the Level 9 programmers, the developers behind text adventures like Gems of Darkness AND Ingrid strikes back.

Screenshot: : Level 9 / Mobygames

In 1981, Hugh Walker got the first ever inexpensive (though we could barely afford it) mass-produced home computer, the ZX-81. In 1982, he was sent a pre-release version of the ZX Spectrum 48K to review for the magazine. In 1984 he released the game “Enterfor the magazine entitled Wizard. (I can make a forceful case for this being the first ever roguelite). He regularly contributed to a popular British fanzine called Adventure Poll (in 1990, contrary to appearances, he wrote a long article in which he argued for the inclusion of “character interactions” in games). I remember helping him test unreleased text adventures. And he was coming back from gigantic gaming events like ECTS with bags of goodies – it all becomes even weirder when you find out he didn’t work with computers or have anything to do with the gaming industry. He was an NHS dentist (sort of underpaid) – computers and games were just a hobby.

I was born in 1977, so when computers first entered our home, I wasn’t even in school. Thanks to my dad’s connections, I reviewed my first video game at the age of 11. It’s a bit of a twisted superhero origin story considering my current job, minus the “super” and “hero” parts. And of course, growing up around gaming is the most normal thing imaginable these days, but it was much rarer back then.

Games were a key part of my relationship with my dad. The first time I realized he was capable of fear was when I saw his hand shaking on the mouse as he fought a dragon on level 13 of FTL’s groundbreaking 1987 RPG. Dungeon Master. He demonstrated his enormous tolerance towards me when I begged him to give it a try in the middle of his game UFO: enemy unknown and I would get his entire team killed because I wanted to play it like an arcade game. I learned about his immense, inexplicable patience as I sat next to him and watched him play the original 1991 song. Civilizationharassing him into starting a war instead of calculating wheat prices or whatever the hell else to do in this boring game.

The great schism in gaming

As I grew in my childhood, so did games. Primitive images were created from white text on a black screen, and then entire games were created from these moving sprites. As I became a teenager, video games very accurately reflected how I had separated from my father, as was tradition. The adventures diverged, evolving into both graphic adventures and role-playing games. I went left, he went right. I played every Sierra and LucasArts game, as well as all their knock-offs (as well as the FPS games, of course), occupying his 486 until bedtime came, thankfully giving him his machine back, at which point he sat surrounded by hand-drawn maps on graph paper as he explored dungeon after dungeon. SSI Advanced Dungeons & Dragons games kept him occupied much more than was reasonable, alongside cold classics like Betrayal in Krondor AND Lands of knowledge.

Betrayal in Krondor didn't turn out as well as I had imagined.

Betrayal in Krondor didn’t turn out as well as I had imagined.
Screenshot: : Moby Games

But we kept crossing each other like bumper cars on a crossover track. Collisions occurred when we both wanted to play the same game at the same time, which was certainly the case with the all-time great Looking Glass, Ultima Underworld II, the first game we bought for my dad’s shiny new computer. (This maxed out 2MB of RAM.) But mostly, Dad lost patience with obscure puzzles, and I lost patience with mixing potions. It wouldn’t be like this until BioWare started bending (z Baldur’s Gate), that I would rediscover RPGs, but that would be the same moment my dad would lose interest in the genre.

Luckily for him Old scrolls he never left. He loved them all and somehow never learned how to install a mod. And he loved no one more Skyrim. After he died, one of the admin tasks I had to do was pristine up his computer, which was still logged into his Steam account. He had hundreds hours Skyrim. Although a “record of 1263 hours” for X-COM: UFO Defense suggests that perhaps he left it running in the background quite often. Video games have been a constant companion for him (along with my mother, I should add) for 35 years.

Hugh Walker in a red top, lit by a bright flash.

Photo: : Margaret Walker / Kotaku

My dad was a good man. One of the real ones. He was normal, he failed, he made bad choices sometimes (he bought an Atari ST instead of an Amiga for God’s sake), and he and I struggled with similar anxiety and mental health issues. But he really was Good a person who fights for those who have less, who can change her mind when she recognizes her biases, and who makes sure that the people around her know that she is loved. He had a solid foundation in his morals and I knew he was there for me and supported me.

I remember 2015 very well, just under a year before his death and shortly before his retirement, a great example of him being there for me when I needed him. That day I had it published a somewhat disgraceful interview with famous game creator Peter Molyneux. It soon became clear that Molyneux did I will never finish game supported by Kickstarter Greedyor fulfill your promisesCuriosity winner Bryan Hendersonand I wanted to try to hold this man accountable.

The Internet reaction was predictably large, and despite the fact that almost every claim Molyneux made during the interview itself has since been also proven to be untrue, it sparked a grim response. I received some of the most horrible abuse throughout the day on Twitter, in emails and on my website. At the same time, I had a terrible toothache and, ironically, I had to drive across the country to Guildford, where my parents lived and where Molyneux was based. And dad just understood. He knew I did the right thing, that I stood up for truth and honesty, and he made that clear to me. He hugged me and made me feel safe. He also fixed my tooth.

Another mod photo taken by an RPS reader in tribute to Hugh.

Screenshot: : Nexus/Elianor Mods

We talked about video games all the way to his untimely end. As Dad grew older, his interests narrowed and his tolerance for emerging species diminished. Despite loving Elder Scrolls so much so that it rebounded Fallout 3 AND 4. I would tease him for repeating the same five games over and over again, especially his habit of constantly starting over things like civilian until he found some impossible, perfect route. He was the type of person who would finish every RPG game with a backpack full of potions that he kept for the appropriate amount of time, and then start over and do the exact same thing again.

But this was the last time we came across each other. It was something completely wonderful Legends of Grimrocka traditional dungeon crawling RPG created in tribute to the mighty Dungeon Master. It was so perfect, bringing back memories we both had from 1987, when he played this game on our Atari ST, sitting at the kitchen counter, and I, a nine-year-old, watched in delight.

I played an early review version Grimrockand I managed to get the wonderful developers – Almost Human – to send me a second Steam pre-release code so my dad could play too. Then I commissioned him to write about it RPSleading to a series of completely lame articles titled Dad in the dungeon.

Dad looks elegant on vacation in Greece.

Photo: : Margaret Walker / Kotaku

I really miss my dad. Of course, I miss my father, I miss being able to talk nonsense with him on the phone or in person late at night, and I lament the loss of the vast knowledge he possessed. But the thing that I associate with it more than anything else is video games. He would play Field of Stars. He would have had a lot more patience for it than I did and probably motivated me to continue with this book after its disastrous start. Would watch Amazon Fall, but he couldn’t talk about it without repeatedly explaining to me why he wasn’t participating in the games. For some reason, Firaxis continued production Civilization games after his death, which doesn’t even make sense to me. Why did they care? VI, when dad will never get a chance to play it? I want to pick up the phone and nag him to stop acting stupid and start playing Baldur’s Gate 3. And you know what? I have absolutely no memory of him ever playing Dragon Age: Originsand there’s literally nothing I can do to find out.

What do I want anyone to gain from this wriggling, shapeless thing? Honestly, just so you know that my dad was a good man. He deserves people to know him. And that such a person eventually leaves, often very suddenly. Good to know. Thanks dad. Happy father’s day.


Related articles